A great deal of attention is focused on the recent raids on the FLDS compound in Texas. The behavior of the state has rightly been condemned, most effectively by Les Jones who wrote:
Imagine that some parents in a school district were accused of child abuse. Now imagine that the authorities took every child from the elementary, junior high, and high school away from their parents and put them in foster care. That’s a rough analogy of what’s happening in Texas.
There is no question that that the people in charge of the FDLS abuse their members. The church leaders will evict dissidents, break up families, particualrly by ordering women to leave their husbands.
Why do church members allow the abuse to happen?
The interesting question in this matter is why do the members of the church tolerate the mistreatment? Why do fathers who presumably love their daughters permit them to be given to men as trophies? Why do mothers who love their sons permit them to be sent to slave away in coal mines at a young age? The members of the FLDS are human beings, with all the emotional attachment to their children that is inherent in humanity. Why are people making these horrible choices?
When people are stay in a hostile environment, it is generally for one of three reasons:
1) They are too lazy to leave/change.
2) They are afraid to leave, because leaving would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
3) They are afraid to leave, because they will be forced to abandon something so precious that leaving is more unbearable than staying.
The Sources of Fear:
It is readily apparent that people are afraid to leave for both sets of reasons:
1) Children who leave find themselves cut off from family. Poorly educated, they lack the ability to support themselves and live a mean, impoverished lifestyle. They are literally ‘foreigners in their own country’.
2) The church owns most of the property. Thus a person who wishes to leave usually owns only the clothes on their back and little more. People are not paid; rather their salaries are held in common in a bank owned by the church leaders. They are not permitted to bank elsewhere or to withdraw their money without permission. Church leaders have been known to arbitrarily reduce the balances credited to dissidents.
3) The members of the church are afraid of the outside world. They fear that they face persecution by outsiders. they are terrified of law enforcement.
Predator Pressure and Feudalism:
But why is the church so powerful? Why can it make such demands of its members? The sad fact is, the people who are members of the church have little choice; their fears of persecution are well justified – Mormons have faced persecution throughout their history. Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob who was outraged by his advocacy of polygamy. In the mid 19th century, there were anti-Mormon pogroms. The Federal Government insisted that the Mormon leaders repudiate polygamy before permitting Utah to become a state. The raids in the 1950’s solidified hatred and distrust of the outside world. The fear of persecution exists because polygamists are persecuted in the U.S.
Furthermore, because of the persecution, devout church members faced a difficulty in finding business partners and naturally banded together and did business largely with other church members. This lack of trade allowed church leaders to gradually take over the community’s wealth. In effect the fear of persecution recreated feudalism. The church leaders became the noblemen, and the common church members became the peasants.
As the church gained a totalitarian control of their members’ economic activities, the church was able to isolate their members from being able to function in outside society. The church could exert a totalitarian control of how the young are educated. It could make or ruin men.
Furthermore, the members of the church are denied access to the court system; after all if a man is vulnerable to prison-time for bigamy he is hardly likely to sue the church for ripping him off.
Ending the Dark Ages
By criminalizing their deepest religious beliefs, the state in effect empowers church leaders to abuse the members of the church at will. If the malignant power or the church elders were an arch, the laws banning polygamy would be its keystone. Legalizing polygamy would doom the feudal system.
Parents who felt that telling a church elder to go to hell would not leave them poor would be far less likely to permit their children to be sexually abused or kicked out of their community. Church elders who were aware that their flock could leave at any time would have a great deal of incentive to treat their followers kindly rather than abusively.
There is nothing inherently evil in polygamy itself. Most people would not choose to be part of a polygamous marriage. Some though, for a variety of reasons, do. Absent the violence and fear that is caused by prohibition, there is no reason why their experiences should not match that of Janet Averett who writes:
I was raised in a polygamous home. My dad had two wives, and each wife had her own house and kids. As kids we wore blue jeans, listened to rock ‘n’ roll music and watched TV. We went to public school and many attended college. We fell in love and married whoever we wanted, at or above the legal age.
We now work and live all over the country. I am no longer in a polygamous group, and neither are most of my brothers and sisters.
The laws against polygamy are holdovers from a dark ages where homosexuality and interracial marriages were similarly outlawed. The proponents of outlawing homosexuality and interracial marriage could point to many problems associated with those practice when they were outlawed. However, upon close inspection, all of the violence, degradation, social harms, and psychological problems associated with these former illegal activities were in fact caused by their prohibition. The same is true of polygamy.
Legalization would go a long way to ending the culture of subjugation and child abuse that is alleged to exist within the FDLS community.