Thursday, May 18, 2006

FLDS: Polygamy in Practice

Jill at Feministe has an interesting post up about the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, a splinter faction of the LDS which still practices polygamy. As described in the articles Jill excerpts, the FLDS seems to be a pernicious cult. They certainly deviate from LDS, and if they claim membership in the Mormon church, they should be excommunicated. The Mormon leadership has publicly distanced itself from FLDS, but it could and should do more--and more loudly.

What's unnerving in the reports, however, is the degree to which the FLDS has insinuated itself into local governments. Here's one section of an LA Times story:
Charged with protecting and serving their community, Colorado City police have long had a reputation for protecting and serving church interests instead.

The force, which covers Hildale as well, is reportedly handpicked by FLDS leaders. Call 911 here, say state investigators, and it is the same as calling the FLDS.

Former police employees and state investigators say officers either ignore molestation allegations or send them to the church rather than to outside prosecutors.

Paul Musser, a former dispatcher for the Colorado City police, was eyewitness to the daily activity of the station.

“Sex crimes were handled very delicately, very discreetly,” he said. “They were taken to the prophet.”

Sam Roundy, a polygamist and former Colorado City police chief, moonlighted as a church security officer. He told investigators from the police standards boards of Arizona and Utah who were evaluating his training that between 20 and 25 times he failed to report child sex abuse cases as required by law.

As a result, state child welfare agencies were often unaware of molestation allegations and unable to help or intervene on behalf of possible victims. Another result was the reluctance of victims to call police in the first place.
That's terrible, and the state needs to step in--aggressively. Unfortunately, another excerpt from the LA Times article gives quotes from people like Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and former Arizona governor Fife Symington--where they're pandering to or defending these communities for their votes.

Monitoring and prosecuting polygamists might alienate a lot of Utahn voters...but the kind of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, child abuse, spouse abuse these articles describe should be sufficient to get moderate Mormons onboard with serious state intervention. I usually describe myself as being ambivalent about the practice of polygamy in theory, as it were, and I have to suspect that I don't really want to think too hard about it. The stories tricking out of the FLDS show that this isn't the vague-on-details-but-vaguely-benevolent polygamy we prefer imagining our great-great grandfathers and mothers practicing, and it's important not to let our sentimental version of the past (which, whatever else, is past) blind us to present evils.

What else could the states do? Isn't there any way to shift the police officers to a new post in a different town? Can that judge who gave a man who sexually abused five of his daughters 130 days (13 served) be moved to a different time zone? Maybe voters in these states should also hold politicians' feet to the fire; anyone praising, as Symington did, this group's "family-oriented lifestyles" should become a political pariah, and you could go from there.

13 Comments:

Anonymous I don't pay:

New (to me) version of an old issue: how does a beleagered minority deal with its fringes, when (and we can understand this) the instinct is to hold the nose and circle the wagons.

The least helpful thing always is calls from outside to denounce. I cringe when Rabbis, for instance, publicly call for distancing or denunciation by mainstream black leaders of Farakhan or Sharpton or whomever.

Good luck to those trying to deal with it; speaking as a an outsider, "They also serve who only stand and wait."

5/18/2006 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I've got to admit that I'm probably an outsider at this point. That said, I'll opine away anyway!

As I see it, there are three tracks here. 1) The Church needs to pronounce much more forceably. Since the President/Prophet answers pretty much only to God, it's hard to bring pressure to bear there. 2) The local voters and political organizations need to ostracize any public leader who coddles these groups. 3) The secular government at the local and state levels need to step up and punish crimes.

I'm not exactly eager to see the federal government wade in; the anti-polygamy legislation back in late 19th century was done very punitively, very hamhandedly, and there remains a fair amount of ill feeling about it. But if the local and state officials aren't getting the job done, the feds should do it.

5/18/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Jordan's grandma:

The way I see it, The Church needs to stop pronouncing that they have nothing to do with the fundamentalists and instead, take responsibility for the Mormon practice that originated with their founder, Joseph Smith.

One of the ways they could do this is to stop maintaining the "scripture" that allows the practice of polygamy in D&C 132.

Another way is to donate money, time and resources to help victims of polygamy and fundamentalist mind control - the women and children who are taught from the time they are born that they must live the principle of plural marriage in order to receive exaltation in heaven. To date, the LDS Church has not donated any money to aid the victims of polygamy.

The Church needs to become part of the solution as they are currently already part of the problem.

5/18/2006 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Yes, D&C 132 is pretty awful. And it's objectionable from a stylistic point of view as well; I can't remember the last time I saw such a concentration of "verily, verily"s. I don't think that the Church should strike it from copies of the BoM/D&C, however. Joseph Smith did write it, the Church did practice it, Church history was shaped by it, and Church members still have to know about it.

Where I absolutely agree with you is that the Church needs to talk about the practice more directly and actually address the harms. Right now, IIRC, the official line is that polygamy is impracticable on earth because, again IIRC, that Man is flawed and unready. That's pernicious bull, and that attitude directly contributes to the continued problem of the radical fringe. The Church wants to manage the problem by centralizing authority and disavowing those who don't toe the line. I agree that this approach is not working and is irresponsible.

I also agree that the Church should help the victims of these fringe groups. The Church has an extremely efficient organization of charities, and these should step up. Since these are charities staffed by volunteers (mostly women), at least the people involved will become educated about the extent of the harms.

However, what's going to be key here is identifying ways to put pressure on the Church. The publicity associated with the Olympics led to a first, somewhat feeble attempt at a crackdown, but we see that didn't get very far...

5/18/2006 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous teofilo:

My parents once went to Colorado City and drove around just to see what it was like (when I think about this story, it sure seems like they were totally nuts). They remember gigantic, featureless houses and lots of suspicious glares. They were unaware of the cult aspect of the place, and just assumed that they were polygamists who went right across the border when polygamy was banned (because Arizona wouldn't care) and that the houses were plain because everyone was poor from maintaining such large families. Obviously none of this is true and it's all part of the cultishness of the community, but information about secretive cults isn't easy to come by (especially in pre-internet days).

I don't really have anything to say about what should be done, I just thought I'd share what I know.

5/20/2006 02:02:00 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

Hope you're still reading this.

Of course you're an outsider, and not just in the Colin Wilson sense, which you always have been, but just as obviously you are a different kind of outsider than I am w/r/t the Saints.

David Riesman once wrote en passant that he would have liked to be able sometime to study the psychology and sociology of the passer. He defined a passer as someone who had completely adopted the worldview of the group in which he had become submerged, but of course could not share that group's view of the group he had escaped.

This I would like to think was much more of an issue in the early fifties, when Riesman wrote. I think in those days many Jews were passing as Christians, light-skinned blacks as whites, ethnics as white-bread. The whole situation requires a certain lack of integrity, or denial of the self, so that only in the painful situation of confronting the other/self was the passer not completely comfortable with the new identity. But this is easy for me to say. No doubt the wider world held genuine appeal for many people then, and the warm embrace of enclaves, so nostalgic now, could be demeaning, belittling and suffocating, particularly to black sheep and those no longer capable of belief or respect.

And it's an old issue; in some respects the book of Esther is about this. But it's one thing to affirm and defend, when confronted with your inheritance, and quite another to criticize when you have turned your back and left the fold. A dilemma indeed.

5/23/2006 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

It's tricky. In many rather visible ways, I no longer even pass all that well. Nobody is going to pick me out as a Mormon. (Well, if someone had to choose a Mormon and I were in a group of six possibles, I could see getting picked over half the time.)

But then again I also recently had the very strange experience of realizing that the average Anglican hymnal was about 90% unfamiliar to me and that 75% of the songs I grew up singing were specifically Mormon. Can't just get away that easily.

IDP, my general approach has mostly been "affirm and criticize." This annoys my still-faithful relatives no end, mind you.

5/24/2006 08:31:00 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

You may have inverted what Riesman (and I) meant by passer. Born a Mormon, albeit a sheltered one not exposed to the faith in its mainstream variant, you would be passing as a secular sophisticate,(in those days a WASP) if the concept were still operative. I don't think it is, certainly not in our circles, where authenticity actually confers cachet on odd backgrounds. A half century ago, absent enclaves where values similar to our contemporary ones were already starting to establish themselves, Jews and Blacks really did want to pass, sometimes even to their beloved.

I brought the term up because the issue of what to think/do about the group no-longer-identified-with remains a problem, even or especially to the person unable to see that group entirely from outside, as an other. In your first comment above, you specifically mentioned the 1890s federal crackdown. This is exactly the sort of Field-of-Blackbirds Battle-of-the-Boyne Destruction-of-the-Temple cultural signifier groups often become preoccupied by. In all of the examples I just mentioned, there is a certain bafflement on the part of outsiders both to how this can be significant, and how it can operate to create a sense among a group that it is persecuted when the outside can't see this, and may in fact feel the group unusually successful, even dominant within its sphere.

And for me it is an interesting test case on the "cultural humiliation" battleline. Here, for once, I as a liberal am naturally inclined to favor intervention, suppression, denial of specialness. You can see I resist this, feeling that just because the minority non-hegemony practice is repellent to me, it is a test of my belief that this factor should always be well-considered and acknowledged.

5/24/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I had read you correctly, but then wrote very poorly.

The thing is that I'm not sure how authentically Mormon I ever was, let alone how authentically Mormon I can now "claim" to be. I have some drummed-in knowledge of the cultural signifiers--the humiliations of the de-polygamizing campaign, the memory of being drummed out of Missouri and Illinois, hymns that come back to me as I hike down Broadway--but there are many other, central Mormon experiences that I totally lack. The patriarchal aspect of the religion, for example, just didn't apply in my upbringing: Dad was the atheist.

I agree with you that the structural position of the person able to pass in mainstream WASPy society is strange. You get to fit in *and* be pleasantly different! But then you spend a lot of time explaining what it means to be who you are. I've perfected my Mormon-eschatology-on-the-back-of-a-cocktail-napkin diagramming skills.

At the same time, and I think this may be important, I feel that I've never really had to renounce the religion. I've simply never felt sufficiently threatened by it that I had to stake out a self-affirming position. The enclaves have always been far away and exotic. ("Wait, your neighbors are Mormon too? Wow, that must be wierd, no, cool... And church dances have boys? Huh.")

The last paragraph in your more recent comment intrigues me. You're talking about the federal govenment's intervening and suppressing the RLDS, right? If that's correct, then my position is that there's a right way and a wrong way to go about such an intervention. The right way would focus on behavior, specifically criminal actions: wifebeating, child marriage, corruption of local officials. The wrong way would be to attack the culture or ideas, or to make an example out of any single individual. Punishment should fit crimes that happened, incontrovertibly, and that were already defined as crimes when they happened.

5/24/2006 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

Yes, that would be the way to deal with any law enforcement situation, and we can hope the lessons of Ruby Ridge and Waco have been learned. And I think that more broadly, intelligent responses for everything from 911 on should have been about understanding, insight, separating wheat from chaff and making distinctions. I think that's good police work, good intelligence work and good military strategy and tactics, whomever thinks me a wuss for thinking so. But I remember everyone from Friedman on right saying something like: "You don't understand, the most important thing is to hit 'them' hard, and exact cause-and-effect connections and guilt for acts do not matter as much as determination, and we could lose impact if we hesitate." Selling my strategy to the American people would have taken leadership: the tone of respect and determination struck by FDR before Congress on December 8th would be a model

You've been reading OW much longer than I have; do any of our present-day Burkes actually concede that we are doing this hard-hitting as much as a demonstration to ourselves as for some abstracted Arab street?

5/24/2006 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

It's hard to pick out very many conservatives who take that position, but a fair number of libertarianish conservatives are writing very critically about the War on Some Drugs.

The Cory Maye case, for example, in which a guy is on death row for shooting a cop who mistakenly barged into his apartment in the middle of the night. Radley Balko, who broke the Maye story, blogs extensively about such abuses of police power in the War on Drugs.

These sorts of abuses are, in many ways, the same police powers that are being abused in the domestic side of the War on Terror; the extension overseas makes conservatives a bit more nervous.

I suspect that a fair amount of that discomfort with extending that criticism of police power to our counter-terrorism tactic has to do with the professionalization of the military. Even conservatives these days tend to think of the military as a profoundly different kind of American institution; they don't know it or understand it any better than I do, but they're more willing to give it respect and free rein...

Burke's notion of the military, however, was much more organic; it was an extension of policy, which was an extension of the deep-seated character of the nation, but he didn't really write very much about the military as such.

5/25/2006 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

Except for that famous quote, responding to (Paines?)calling the army "The nation in arms" that "An army is an instrument."

Did you see where I said something similar about the contemporary view of the military in exchange w/ Idealist last Friday?

5/25/2006 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Yes, I remember that. It's so interesting to think about how a professional vs. a draft army changes a nation's views about what war means. A draft army certainly didn't stop Napoleon, if you know what I mean. One of my weirdest moments as a teacher was when we were debating some aspect of the Iraq war, not yet then launched, and I made a remark somewhat similar to Burke's. My students were horrified, and I was a little taken aback myself.

5/25/2006 02:48:00 PM  

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