Monogamist Pot – Meet Polygamist Kettle

Seth - April 24, 2008

A recent New York Times op-ed by Timothy Egan has suggested that we, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ought to be held accountable for our ugly polygamist past. He feels that when people like Mitt Romney say things like “My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs,” they should be held to answer for a legacy of child brides, abuse, and debauchery.

With all due respect Mr. Egan… bite me.

Seriously, it’s high time we LDS dropped the apologetic hand-wringing. What did we do in the grand sweep of American history, that we have to stand hat-in-hand before the American public and beg for mercy? I mean, it’s not like our neighbors smell that much sweeter. What is it about marrying more than one woman that makes Mormons more culpable and reprehensible than other married and unmarried American folk – past and present?

As it so happens, I do have a bit of polygamous family history myself. My family line comes from Jane Scott – third wife of twelve of my great-great grandfather Aaron Johnson. Aaron Johnson was a friend of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, spent the late 1840s shuttling Mormon pioneers across the Great Plains, and founded the city of Springville, Utah in 1850. He married my great-great grandmother Jane in 1845 in Nauvoo. I don’t know the exact ages of all the women he married. I do know there were twelve of them, and one of them was about 17 years old when he married her at the age of 46. I do not know if the marriages were happy, unhappy, or indifferent (or a mixture of all three – as many marriages often are). I have no reason to suspect abuse or coercion in any of the marriages out of the ordinary in late 1800s America.

Reviewing all this, I’m left wondering what, exactly, I’m supposed to be apologizing for in my family history that any other American is not.

“Child brides?” Nope. Common stuff back then – especially in agrarian societies. In fact, older men were often seen as more attractive marriage prospects due to the fact that they were more likely to be financially established – something far more important to people in those days than today.

Arranged marriages? Please. I’d wager half the marriages in the United States in the late 1800s – in Utah or out – were arranged by the girl’s parents.

Abuse? I see no evidence that Mormons beat their wives any more than any other God-fearing American Christian man.
Entrapment? No. Actually I believe late 1800s Salt Lake City had some of the most liberal divorce laws in the entire nation. If Mormons were hoping to enslave their women, they were doing a lousy job of it compared to their monogamist neighbors.

Neglect? No. Aaron Johnson was actually a relatively wealthy man and it doesn’t seem his wives suffered much more than any monogamist farmer’s wife in the USA at that time.

So here’s the rub. If Americans like Mr. Egan actually took the time to observe their own marital histories, they’d probably find that there isn’t anything that they are accusing 1800s Mormons of, that their own great-great grandpappies weren’t doing as well. While my great-great grandfather was working to build a town and support 12 wives and their children, I imagine the ancestors of perhaps more than one or two New York Times staffers were busy raping prostitutes in shady urban back-alleys. At the same time that the ancestors of contemporary Bostonians were forcing their teenage daughters into arranged marriages. And at the same time that the great-great grandads of modern Texans were beating their wives senseless every evening.

And they want me to beg their forgiveness for my history?

That’s not even mentioning the teenage rape and pregnancy that is not only rampant in our modern society, but even promoted and glorified in our pop culture.

Tell you what… I’ll make a deal with my fellow Americans.

The moment you guys are willing to apologize for your ugly monogamist past, I’ll be willing to apologize for my ugly polygamist past.

Until then, I suggest you mind your own business.

122 Comments »

  1. Just to clarify… though honestly, I shouldn’t even have to say it.

    I do not support or condone anything that has been happening with the FLDS in Texas. And for practical reasons (both marital and political), I do not advocate a return to the long-abandoned practice of polygamy for my Church.

    But I am done apologizing for stuff we don’t need to be apologizing for.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 24, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

  2. Hooray! This was awesome, Seth. I loved it.

    Comment by cheryl — April 24, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  3. I’d wager half the marriages in the United States in the late 1800s – in Utah or out – were arranged by the girl’s parents.

    More likely arranged by proximity… I have polygamous ancestors too, but given the choice — back in homestead act days — I would rather have had a young, strong farmer/homesteader of my own. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Laura Ingalls Wilder… ;)

    Comment by C. L. Hanson — April 24, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  4. Amen and amen!

    Wonderfully thought out and well stated, Seth! If I had any influence in the right places I’d promote this post to a major publication or two.

    Comment by Bret — April 24, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  5. “Seriously, it’s high time we LDS dropped the apologetic hand-wringing.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever agreed with a blogernacle post so completely. That was awesome.

    Comment by kwk — April 24, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  6. Yep,

    You really threw it down with this one. A niblet for sure!!!

    Comment by bbell — April 24, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  7. Is there a way you could get this published? Seriously, you need to send this to newspapers all over the country. It’s really that good, Seth.

    Comment by cheryl — April 24, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  8. Thanks guys.

    Cheryl, I don’t think the words “bite me” make for proper editorial content.

    But then again, neither do the words “harem,” “magic glasses,” and “libido” when applied to the founder of a major faith tradition.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 24, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  9. Hear, hear!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — April 24, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

  10. it’s high time we LDS dropped the apologetic hand-wringing

    If Mitt running for president accomplished nothing else, this would be worth it.

    Comment by C Jones — April 24, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  11. Seth, this is the best post on this issue I have read anywhere on the internet. My core objection to the coverage has been the double standard being applied, and you nailed it perfectly.

    Comment by Ray — April 24, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

  12. Seth, you wouldn’t make a good emergent.

    Emergent Christianity is emasculating American Christianity with the need for continual, sentimental apologies over image that amount to nothing in really addressing or fixing problems.

    Nontheless, the Bible does not encourage polygamy. I wish the LDS hierarchy would agree with me on that.

    Comment by Todd Wood — April 24, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

  13. Seth — “Bite Me” works just fine for an opinion piece.

    Todd Wood — Who in the LDS hierarchy insists that the Bible encourages polygamy?

    Comment by Geoff J — April 24, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  14. Well, take a look at divorce statistics throughout the country. Realistically, Mormon men as a whole tend to have fewer wives than non-Mormon men.

    Comment by KVB — April 24, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  15. Todd, I agree I would not ultimately make a great emergent.

    But keep in mind that 1800s Mormonism got its justification for polygamy primarily from modern revelation, not necessarily from the Bible (though parts of the Bible were used as additional support).

    Hmmm…. Think the LA Times would take it Geoff? :)

    Comment by Seth R. — April 24, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

  16. Thank you!

    This post was so well done, that I am more then happy to throw in my support of it. It’s like in the bible, don’t be pointing out slivers in your neighbor, while ignoring the mote in your own eye!

    Comment by Arlin — April 24, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  17. If nothing else you could send it as a letter to the editor at the NYTimes Seth.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 24, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  18. Geoff’s right, Seth. I’m betting they would print it, imagining all the hype it would get. And I have a feeling the hype they would get would be opposite of what they would expect (i.e. people agreeing with you).

    Comment by cheryl — April 24, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  19. *whistles and claps* Yes, yes, yes! I’d love to see an end to the hand-wringing. You’re right. We DON’T have anything to apologize for. Polygamy has been around for nearly all of human history and isn’t anymore inherently prone to abuse than is monogamy. I’ve heard that in India, some people are arranging marriages for their sons and then killing their daughters-in-law for their dowry.

    Funny how some people (I’m thinking of some of the letters to the editor I’ve been seeing up here) assume that polygamy is inherently unequal. Yet these are the same people who believe in democracy and rule of the people. Of course, polygamy can be practiced unrighteously, but it seems to me that four women can out vote one man pretty easily.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — April 24, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  20. While I don’t think the NY Times would be interested in printing “Bite me,” kudos to Seth. Egan is an asshat; for such a well-regarded author to shell out half-baked ‘research’ and ill-formed opinion is really poor.

    Comment by Steve Evans — April 24, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

  21. Nice job Seth.

    Comment by Guy Murray — April 24, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  22. [...] Nine Moons (Bite Me Mr. Egan)   [...]

    Pingback by The YFZ, FLDS Plight–Some Interim Thoughts . . . « Messenger and Advocate — April 24, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  23. [...] Wow!  And, Mr. Egan ought to know.  His recent article in the New York Times is as revisionist as it gets.  While I responded briefly to Mr. Egan, the best (and most biting) response, far more eloquent than mine, was posted over at Nine Moons by fellow Mormon blogger Seth R.  Well done Seth, and thank you.   [...]

    Pingback by The Revisionist Timothy Egan « Messenger and Advocate — April 24, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

  24. [...] Wow!  And, Mr. Egan ought to know.  His recent article in the New York Times is as revisionist as it gets.  While I responded briefly to Mr. Egan, the best (and most biting) response, far more eloquent than mine, was posted over at Nine Moons by fellow Mormon blogger Seth R.  Well done Seth, and thank you.   [...]

    Pingback by The Revisionist Timothy Egan « Messenger and Advocate — April 24, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

  25. Excellent post! Definitely worth publication!

    Comment by hawkgrrrl — April 24, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  26. Seth rocks.

    Comment by E — April 24, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  27. Egan takes a page from Lawrence O’Donnell in his twisted interpretation of Romney’s speech. Neither Egan nor O’Donnell is as stunningly stupid as they want us to think. Both of them know full well that Romney’s comments do not constitute an endorsement of any historical baggage–much less an endorsement of Egan’s and O’Donnell’s personal vision of Mormonism. Rather than stupid, they are making a calculated and malicious caricature of Romney’s clear meaning. Is it any wonder that Egan does the same thing with Guy Murray?

    Comment by Left Field — April 24, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

  28. Bravo, Well put. This is one rant I am sure many of us all collectively share right now.

    Comment by Doc — April 24, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  29. Very nice. Loved “bite me”!

    Comment by JA Benson — April 24, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  30. Impressive post, Seth.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — April 24, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  31. Wow. I’m a bit surprised at the positive response… Thanks.

    I guess I wasn’t the only one Egan pissed-off.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 24, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  32. Seth,
    Published or not this opinion is exactly what I feel as well. These guys who spout off their high opinions making remarks that are at best flat out libel need to be challenged.

    They are asking for it, and I for one would love to see them treated about as well as a trailer park in a tornado.

    Comment by Jon W. — April 24, 2008 @ 9:13 pm

  33. Seth,

    You can gaurantee he pissed off at least 13,000,000 people in our church, 500,000 in the other Restoration churches and countless others of our friends out their.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — April 24, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  34. Only problem is: As I read Egan’s piece, I sensed someone who didn’t seem particularly pro-matrimony of any kind. I doubt Egan feels any attachment to monogamy. I still like Seth’s post, though.

    Comment by John Mansfield — April 25, 2008 @ 5:35 am

  35. “You can gaurantee (sic) he pissed off (sic – and strong language for Mormon boys) at least 13,000,000 (sic – not nearly that high) people in our church….”

    I am one of this highly inflated number, 13 million at least, and he didn´t upset me.

    This silly, knee-jerk piece by Seth is neither well done nor, to use the term vogue in Mormon circles, nuanced.

    Comment by Shaun — April 25, 2008 @ 5:37 am

  36. “You can gaurantee (sic) he pissed off (sic – and strong language for Mormon boys) at least 13,000,000 (sic – not nearly that high) people in our church….”

    I am one of this highly inflated number, 13 million at least, and he didn´t upset me.

    This silly, knee-jerk piece by Seth is neither well done nor, to use the term vogue in Mormon circles, nuanced.

    Comment by Shaun — April 25, 2008 @ 5:38 am

  37. FYI Seth

    Comment by Guy Murray — April 25, 2008 @ 6:14 am

  38. Seth –

    If you really feel strongly about this (and it seems that you do), why don’t you post something on the New York Times website where Egan’s article is open to comments? Let the Gentiles see your rebuttal and not just bloggernaclites.

    Comment by JWL — April 25, 2008 @ 6:51 am

  39. Seth’s response may not be “nuanced,” but it has the virtue of being honest— which is more than can be said of Egan’s vicious little hit piece.

    Some of my ancestors practiced plural marriage. They did so because they believed that God wanted them to.

    If that is not “nuanced” enough for the readers of the NY Times, then they can bite Timothy Egan for all I care.

    Comment by Paul — April 25, 2008 @ 7:24 am

  40. Spot on, Seth. I second the comments urging you to get this published somewhere.

    Comment by Connor — April 25, 2008 @ 8:27 am

  41. Shaun,
    If you’re going to get nitpicky, why did you “sic” pissed off? It’s a colloquial phrase, used perfectly appropriately and, in any world I’ve ever lived in, is not particularly strong.

    I don’t get the impression Seth was trying for nuance; in any event, Egan’s piece certainly didn’t warrant any subtlety in response.

    Comment by Sam B. — April 25, 2008 @ 8:35 am

  42. Timothy Egan is a lame opportunist flailing the LDS Church only because of whats going in Texas with the FLDS. Weak.

    Todd (12), the Bible is OK with polygamy. You can nit pick the “encourage” thing, because there is no commandment to do it, but there is no question at all that the Bible endorses plural wives when done according to it’s regulations. The Law of Moses contains explicit regulations for the application of polygamy, there are numerous examples of it in the OT setting, there is a single restriction of it in the NT in that bishops are to be husband of one wife, but other than that polygamy was not an uncommon practice among the NT era Jews and there is nothing to suggest Jesus had a problem with it. From the standpoint of the Bible on early LDS Church practice of plural marriage, we have absolutely nothing to apologize for.

    Comment by Kurt — April 25, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  43. Apparently the piece has been effective in allowing you to blow off steam, but as a response to Egan’s opinion piece is seems shrill and way too defensive. I also think the bit about the ancestors of a few New York Times staffers raping prostitutes in shady urban back-alleys is as vitriolic and uniformed as anything Egan wrote (and an unfortunate comparison to boot). Your comments clearly work well in this forum but if you post it as a comment on Egan’s story, I imagine it will gain little traction or promote understanding. But maybe you don’t care and just wanted to speak your mind.

    Comment by MarkB — April 25, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  44. Sam B.,

    You are joking, right?

    Comment by Shaun — April 25, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  45. Shaun,
    What, you’d rather he said “he pissed nearly 13,000,000 people in our church off”? That’s a pretty clunky syntax for a strong expression of displeasure; to my ear, keeping the pissed and the off together works much better. (So no, I’m not joking.)

    Or do you mean my assertion that pissed off isn’t strong language? Because it’s not; it’s probably less harsh than bite me which, itself, was perfectly appropriate to the situation, and probably weaker than what Seth could have comfortably gotten away with and still been applauded by many, including me.

    Comment by Sam B. — April 25, 2008 @ 9:31 am

  46. Surely, Sam B., you must be joking.

    Comment by Shaun — April 25, 2008 @ 9:43 am

  47. MarkB,

    Considering how many people are on the NY Times staff, and how many ancestors they have (ever looked at a family tree? They branch out exponentially), I figured it was probably a pretty safe bet.

    But I don’t think I really care. If they want to play the unfair branding game, perhaps it would be useful for them to remember that Mormons aren’t the only people in the country who can be slapped with a negative stereotype.

    Honestly, people throw an uncomfortable Brigham Young quote at us and it’s like we completely go to pieces. We can’t trip over ourselves fast enough to apologize, refute brother Brigham, equivocate muddy the waters with long explanations.

    The problem is, we Mormon bloggers are pretty well-educated about our history. But we are typically talking to people who are hopelessly ignorant of theirs.

    So they get to make butt-headed remarks, and we get to make apologies.

    Nice.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 25, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  48. Beautifully written Seth!

    Comment by Paradox — April 25, 2008 @ 9:46 am

  49. Seth, You compared polygamy’s best to monogamy’s worst. You know better than that.

    Young girls did in fact get married at that time, but it was rare. It was even more rare for them to marry someone more than 5 years older than they were.

    And EVEN more rare was the threat of eternal damnation for their parents if they didn’t agree to the marriage.

    Until the time the LDS church really separates itself from polygamy and takes D&C 132 out of the canon, the Mr Egans of the world will continue to hang this albatross around your necks.

    Comment by Tim — April 25, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  50. Shaun,
    Um, no. But I don’t want to further threadjack this beautiful post unless you’d like to point out to me in what way I must be joking.

    Until then, right on Seth.

    Comment by Sam B. — April 25, 2008 @ 10:15 am

  51. I agree, Seth, that our history of polygamy should be viewed in historical context, and that in that light, marriage and women’s rights issues of all kinds look pretty bad.

    But there are a couple of points, well made by Egan, that “bite me” just doesn’t answer and that are relevant in the discussion of what is happening today in Texas:

    His polygamy “revelation” was put into The Doctrine and Covenants, one of three sacred texts of Mormonism. It’s still there – the word of God. And that’s why, to the people in the compound at Eldorado, the real heretics are in Salt Lake City.

    And Egan’s argument that the LDS church believed for a time that polygamy was God’s law and as such, a higher law than those of the United States government, the same argument that the FLDS church is using now.

    These seem like fair statements, not poor research to me.

    Egan’s blame of the LDS church for causing the problems in Texas is definitely unfounded, and his assumption that justice is being served those children is hasty. But let’s stop pretending that our former practice is above reproach.

    More important than a contest over whose ancestors were most abusive to women, I’m outraged that Egan falsely assumes that those who sympathize with the FLDS do so because of their (blind) faith, not because of a belief on the limits of government or due process. He criticizes religions of ALL kinds (but in particular Mormonism) for justifying bad behavior, when the same criticisms could have been aimed at government or democracy throughout history – we have certainly seen times when they were used by overzealous people to perpetrate wrongs. I disagree with Egan, but find the more important issues in his piece bigger than a rehashing of the politics of polygamy.

    Comment by mel — April 25, 2008 @ 10:24 am

  52. Seth, well written.

    As for the phrase pissed off, it is very strong language in at least one country I am aware of. It is not that strong in the United States where I assume Seth is writing from (sorry, first time visitor).

    For someone outside of the United States to get upset that Seth used the phrase pissed off is analoguos to someone who isn’t mormon getting upset over what the LDS Church says about anything (please notice I wrote says and not does). In short, some people are being a little hypocritical. Watch that beam.

    Comment by Mike Miller — April 25, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  53. I’m sorry, Seth. On one level I share your perspective, but on the other I don’t see how we can divorce ourselves from 40 years of prophets, seers, and revelators practicing plural marriage and declaring it’s necessity for entrance into the highest level of the celestial kingdom. Anyone who has read the Journal of Discourses (I know, anyone who has read all of them should really get a life) can see that the more the Church was challenged on “the principle”, the more deeply entrenched and dogmatic the statements became. Members had to at least declare a belief in the practice to get a temple recommend. It’s part of our past, and the fact that so many of the members of the church have polygamist roots, it will always be a source of controversy.

    Comment by larryco_ — April 25, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  54. Seth: It is difficult not to applaud your sentiment and enthusiasm. I whole-heartedly agree that there is more than a little hypocrisy in “mainstream America’s” (whatever that means) criticism of polygamy as a culture. And it is time someone said it. That said, however, many of your statements (child brides common stuff; half of marriages in 1800s arranged) struck me as equally broad and unsupported as Egan’s tripe. I just don’t know how common teenage marriage and arranged marriage was in US in the 1800s. Do you? Or are you just taking a guess based upon anecdotal evidence? If those statements are true, you have a powerful piece here.

    Comment by fifthgen — April 25, 2008 @ 10:58 am

  55. larryco (#53): I don’t think Seth is suggesting we “divorce ourselves” from our polygamist past. I think he is saying to the anti-Mormons who uses polygamy as weapon, “People in glass houses should not throw stones.” America’s predominantly monogamist society has produced many ills if its own.

    Comment by fifthgen — April 25, 2008 @ 11:07 am

  56. fifthgen has it right. That’s pretty-much what my point was.

    Incidentally larryco, I’m not one of many Mormons who wants to see the LDS Church further distance from polygamy. I think our current stance is just dandy. Namely – polygamy is not practical, advisable, desirable or legal now, but remains a part of our doctrine and our heritage. Nor am I even the least bit in favor of removing Section 132 from our scripture – or altering it at all.

    Which brings me to Tim’s response…

    Tim, the fact that polygamy remains a part of our doctrine does not give Egan the right to equate our forefathers with the FLDS fiasco. There most certainly were and are differences – the biggest one being that our forefathers lived in the 1800s.

    Just because 80 percent of America doesn’t have a freaking clue what their own ancestors were doing in the 1800s doesn’t give them carte blanche to sneer at ours.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 25, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  57. “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

    I agree, but pointing out the sin of other people can’t justify your own. This “unclean hands” rhetorical tool avoids addressing the issue that no one but “anti-Mormons” want to talk about: that Mormon polygamy was a coercive social structure that was forced upon many women and young girls (See the story of Helen Mar Kimball as well as D&C Section 132:54 and 64).

    Additionally, many polygamist wives and their chidren were left to fend for themselves while their husbands fled to avoid prosecution (or left on missions).

    That said, I agree that the current LDS Church shouldn’t have to justify its beliefs and doctrine to anyone but its own members, and equating the LDS Church with the FLDS community is a mistake.

    Comment by ECS — April 25, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  58. “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

    I agree, but pointing out the sin of other people can’t justify your own. This “unclean hands” rhetorical tool avoids addressing the issue that no one but “anti-Mormons” want to talk about: that Mormon polygamy was a coercive social structure that was forced upon many women and young girls (See the story of Helen Mar Kimball as well as D&C Section 132:54 and 64).

    Additionally, many polygamist wives and their chidren were left to fend for themselves while their husbands fled to avoid prosecution (or left on missions).

    That said, I agree that the current LDS Church shouldn’t have to justify its beliefs and doctrine to anyone but its own members, and equating the LDS Church with the FLDS community is a mistake.

    Comment by ECS — April 25, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  59. I once asked an LDS missionary if he thought there was anything wrong with polygamy. He said he had big problems with the way it was practiced now.

    I honestly don’t see how the FLDS are practicing polygamy in any practical way different than the LDS church just over 100 years ago.

    It was against the law. It was practiced in isolation. It was socially unacceptable. It brought legal and social pressure upon the church. Some where pressured into it. Some entered into freely. It was viewed as righteous and directed by God by those who practiced it.

    So what if it was in the 1800s?

    Comment by Tim — April 25, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  60. Tim,
    When the church started practicing polygamy it was not against the law. The reason it was practiced in isolation was because they were driven out of society to their own isolation in a location no one else wanted.

    It did bring legal and social pressure on the church…so what! The Word of Wisdom brings social pressure on us now.

    Some women today are pressured into marriage, by pregnency, parents influence, social pressure or even an abusive boyfriend. I would think any society that has any marital situation at all will have those who are forced and or pressured into it.

    I think polygamy when directed by God is righteous.

    I don’t think we have anything to appologize for when it comes to polygamy. Seth’s points are well taken and I agree.

    Comment by Don — April 25, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  61. ECS: I think the question is, was Mormon polygamy in the 1800s MORE subject to use as a tool of coercion and abuse, and were those polygamous wives more vulnerable to abandonment and neglect, than monogamous American society at the same time. I have my own opinions about this, but they are just opinions; I don’t really know. The anti-Mormon crowd’s willingness to make broad assumptions that the answer to those questions is “yes” does not justify “our” broad assumptions that the answer is “no”. I would love to see some data on this (but not enought to actually do the research myself!)

    Comment by fifthgen — April 25, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  62. Tim, tell me one thing that the polygamists were doing that the monogamists of the time weren’t also doing.

    You might argue that in Utah’s case, abuses were more systematized. But isn’t that more a result of having a centralized control economy and society, rather than a direct result of polygamy?

    The fact that it was in the 1800s does matter because it tells us were to find a control group for comparisons. That’s one of the defining features of most of our critics. They operate without a much-needed control group.

    Your protestation that it was illegal means little here. It was also illegal for women to vote at that time. Lots of things were illegal back then that should not have been. I’d argue that polygamy was one of those things. I never did find the Supreme Court case on the matter particularly convincing.

    The real reason that polygamy became an issue is because the Mormons happened to be in the way of American Manifest Destiny and got run over. That’s the real reason so much federal attention was directed our way.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 25, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  63. Seth,

    I think the post was more aimed at Joseph Smith than Mormons in general. He felt that Joseph Smith started polygamy because of lust, and then justified it with religious doctrine.

    Comment by California Condor — April 25, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  64. Fifthgen – are you saying that women were on the whole “better off” in polygamous relationships? You may be right, especially given that women had few legal rights to begin with in the 1800s. That said, Section 132 diverges from the polygamy practiced in the Old Testament, because Mormon polygamy did not recognize the first wife’s right to veto her husband’s choice of a second wife (the Law of Sarah). Thus, Mormon polygamy was arguably less generous towards women than the polygamy practiced in Old Testament times.

    In any event, I’m not persuaded by the argument that because monogamy has serious issues, supporters of monogamy aren’t in a position to criticize polygamy. Especially polygamy that involved young girls and women who had few legal rights to protect their interests.

    Comment by ECS — April 25, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

  65. ECS: I am not really arguing anything. I am saying that assuming, without facts, that all polygamous familes were abusive or neglectful is unfair. And I just have seen no data to suggest that women in Mormon polygamy were better or worse off than other women of their time. I descend from polygamists on several lines. None of my great-(etc.) grandmothers were teenagers when they married. As far as I know, none were abused or neglected by my great-(etc.) grandfathers. So, based upon my own knowledge and experience, I am unwilling to call all polygamist families in all times as abusive or dysfunctional. That is all I am really saying.

    Comment by fifthgen — April 25, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  66. ECS,

    Why are we the only ones being criticized though? Mormonism was founded in the midst of a very rough spot in US history. There is a lot that was ugly about that time period. But it is also a time period that the schooling of most of America skips or glosses over. Thus, most of the American public remains largely unaware there were any problems.

    Then they encounter a tunnel-vision account of early Mormonism and suddenly it’s like “Oh my goodness! What horrible people!” Completely unaware that if Mormons weren’t shooting exactly par for the course, they were shooting pretty close.

    It’s like we Mormons have been required to bear the ENTIRE historical burden of guilt of a time-period most of America is trying to forget ever existed.

    “But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.”

    Leviticus 16:10

    And it isn’t just figurative either. They literally did drive us into the desert.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 25, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

  67. Seth,

    Nice post. I thought you might be interested in comparisons of marriage ages in 1880 and 2006. The table below gives the percentage of the total number of females in each age group that have never been married.

    Age 2006(All) 1880(All) 1880(UT)
    13-14 — 99.6 100
    15-17 98.6 94.8 94.3
    18-19 94.7 78.7 58.8
    20-24 75.3 48.4 29.2
    25-29 43.1 23.2 6.0
    30-34 24.0 14.3 14.3
    35-39 16.7 10.8 0

    The 2006 data is from the Census bureau
    The 1880 data is from the IPUMS site, However the Utah sample size is a really small sample size.

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  68. Seth,

    Nice post. I thought you might be interested in comparisons of marriage ages in 1880 and 2006. The table below gives the percentage of the total number of females in each age group that have never been married.

    Age 2006(All) 1880(All) 1880(UT)
    13-14 — 99.6 100
    15-17 98.6 94.8 94.3
    18-19 94.7 78.7 58.8
    20-24 75.3 48.4 29.2
    25-29 43.1 23.2 6.0
    30-34 24.0 14.3 14.3
    35-39 16.7 10.8 0

    The 2006 data is from the Census bureau
    The 1880 data is from the IPUMS site, However the Utah sample size is a really small.

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  69. ECS: In any event, I’m not persuaded by the argument that because monogamy has serious issues, supporters of monogamy aren’t in a position to criticize polygamy.

    I don’t think what’s at issue is the relative merits of polygamy. It’s how we regard and judge polygamists (as well as the majority of Mormons who never practiced polygamy but were part of a group that condoned polygamy). To fairly judge their actions we need to take into account their social milieu. If they were “shooting par,” as Seth puts it, that doesn’t justify polygamy or any of the other practices that modern Westerners like ourselves dislike, but it should temper our judgment of the people who engaged in and condoned those practices.

    As an example, most of us honor Abraham Lincoln even though he was a racist. The fact that he was part of a racist society doesn’t in any way condone racism, but taking that into account does allow us to honor him despite his not conforming to our current standards.

    Comment by Tom — April 25, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  70. Seth R (#47): I just don’t see how telling someone their great great grandfather’s was a rapist is going to get them to rethink their views about our polygamist forbearers.

    I think my problem with your overall approach is that I am not sold on your strategy of fighting fire with fire. While I am proud to be the product of men and women who put their religious/marital practices above the law, I also understand that getting others to see the beauty of matrimonial civil disobedience in the name of God is a tough row to hoe. You may be mad as he** and not going to take it anymore but what do you hope to gain by your approach. I don’t expect us Mormons to be lap dogs and I am not about to apologize for something I am actually proud of, but I’m not going to tell someone to bite me because they don’t share my elasticity when it comes to religion and marriage.

    Comment by MarkB — April 25, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  71. Tim #49,

    Young girls did in fact get married at that time, but it was rare. It was even more rare for them to marry someone more than 5 years older than they were.

    This isn’t quite correct. See my plots of the 1850 Census on the FAIR wiki for the marital distribution vs. age for females.

    I wrote “Of note is that 41.7% of women married as teenagers compared to only 4.1% of men. The mean age for men was more than five years older than that for women (27.6 vs. 22.5). For young women, marriage in the early to mid teens was rare, but not unheard of as both the anecdotal and statistical evidence above show. Teenage brides married a husband that averaged 6.6 +/- 4.7 (std) years older. To put that in perspective, 13% of the time the husband was over 10 years older than his teenage wife.”

    Here are some more statitistics from the 1850 Census on age differences.

    wife’s marital age | mean age diff. | max age diff.
    13| 12.0| 12
    14| 8.67| 12
    15| 8.00| 11
    16| 7.57| 33
    17| 7.58| 38
    18| 6.21| 27
    19| 5.91| 28

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  72. fifthgen #61,

    Those are good points. I suggest a good place to start on learning the pluses and minuses of 19th century Mormon practice polygamy compared to US and frontier monogamy at the time would be Kathryn Daynes’ More Wives than One.

    This should be required reading for the Egans, O’Donnells and Hitchens of the world (preferably before ignorantly ranting) to go with their reading of Brodie and Krakauer.

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  73. Don #60 said.

    When the church started practicing polygamy it was not against the law. The reason it was practiced in isolation was because they were driven out of society to their own isolation in a location no one else wanted.

    Actually it WAS against the law, in every state and territory in which it was practiced (including Mexico and Canada) It’s hard to refute that Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy in secrecy.

    Keller #71
    Forgive me for not nailing that 5-10 year age difference. My main point was that it was uncommon for women to marry men who were 20+ years older than they were.

    Comment by Tim — April 25, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  74. “Why are we the only ones being criticized though?”

    In this case, it’s a matter of timing. The FLDS are currently making headlines, and it was inevitable that someone would write an article drawing negative comparisons between the FLDS and the LDS. Thanks, Mr. Egan.

    “Completely unaware that if Mormons weren’t shooting exactly par for the course, they were shooting pretty close.”

    Nope. In the 1800′s, polygamy was considered one of the “twin relics of barbarism” – the other being slavery. See Sarah Barringer Gordon’s excellent book “The Mormon Question” for a detailed account of just how horrified (and titillated) most Americans were at the Mormon practice of polygamy. While a sociologist might draw comparisons between polygamy and monogamy and find them “on par” with respect to their relative propensities for and actualities of abuse, most Americans continue to associate polygamy with barbaric, backwards societies. This association has been confirmed for many by the strange customs and appearances of the FLDS women who have been cruely paraded around in the media as of late.

    As Mark B. eloquently put it, you’re not going to win any arguments by pointing out that the monogamists were just as bad (or worse) than the polygamist Mormons. And we’re just talking about polygamy here. I haven’t heard Mormons are responsible for EVERYTHING that went wrong in the latter part of the 1800′s.

    With respect to your Leviticus reference, they might have driven Mormons to the desert, but that was in part due to the Mormons breaking societal laws and customs because of their practice of polygamy. I’m not so sure the scapegoat analogy applies here.

    Comment by ECS — April 25, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  75. Tom – I understand that we should be careful not to judge the polygamists too harshly given our modern sensibilities. That said, the social millieu for the Mormon polygamist was that people in the U.S. have _always_ considered polygamy to be an abhorrent practice and polygamy/bigamy has been illegal for centuries. Mormon polygamists knew they were breaking the law, and refused to comply until they were faced with the destruction of the Church.

    Racism, on the other hand, was perfectly acceptable and even codified in state statutes until the latter half of the last century.

    So even according to the standards of their day, the Mormon polygamists weren’t even close to a triple bogey, let alone “on par” with monogamists.

    Comment by ECS — April 25, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

  76. Tim,

    I can readily forgive you, especially since I was just showing off :) .

    Let me point out that about 1 in every 40 marriages in 1850 featured a man being 20 years or more older than his wife. That is close to the same ratio as females being married at age 15 or younger back then.

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

  77. #75 ECS, I also think we should use caution when judging 19th century Mormon polygamists with our modern sensibilities, but I don’t think 19th century anti-Mormonism sensibilities are any better of a standard.

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  78. Tim, Keller said most of what I was going to say. There appears to have been a fairly significant social change from around 1850 to 1880 although by 1860 the changes were already pretty thoroughly underway. So it went from there being quite a few young marriages to there being quite few. I note that most critics tend to quote the 1880 figures. That’s partially because they are more easily available but also because they put things in bad light. However the key period is actually 1830 – 1845. Yet it was 1820 – 1850 that America seriously began rethinking what it meant to be a child and establishing more of the boundaries and social structures we now take for granted. So it is quite a bit anachronistic to read back into practices on the American frontier social structures and traditions that were not yet in place.

    I should also note that after WWII there was an other huge drop in marriage age. Marriage at 14 & 15 was actually very common up through the end of the 1950′s. This was also when much of the understanding of the social impacts of young marriage (which we once again now take for granted) were first understood. (i.e. the huge link between teenage marriage and poverty)

    I put up two papers at my blog that some might find interesting.

    The first is “The Timing of Marriage in the Transition to Adulthood: Continuity and Change 1860 – 1975″. It’s after the relevant period of 1830 – 1845 but is still quite illuminating. 1865 actually appears to be the period when marriages were at their oldest until recently. In 1865 only 10% of women were married before 19. That continued to drop with time until the 1830′s when the age was 18.3.

    The second paper is “Changing Patterns of First Marriage in the United States”. Once again it covers the period from 1880 onward and so isn’t entirely relevant for Nauvoo Mormonism or earlier. However it does have some very nice graphs overtime for women 14-18 and the probability of their being married. The racial differences were quite interesting.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  79. Sorry. Typo in the about. It should read in that first paragraph, “So it went from there being quite a few young marriage to it being quite rare.

    Comment by clark — April 25, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

  80. Clark,

    Thanks for making those papers available. Even though I have been researching theis subject off and on for awhile I hadn’t seen these yet.

    Comment by Keller — April 25, 2008 @ 10:21 pm

  81. “but I don’t think 19th century anti-Mormonism sensibilities are any better of a standard.”

    Neither do I, Keller. I don’t believe, however, that nineteenth century Americans were “anti-Mormon” solely on the basis of their refusal to support the Mormons breaking laws and deeply-held traditions of monogamy to practice polygamy.

    I think Mormons (and Joseph Smith) were unfairly targeted in many cases, but Mormons were presumptuous to believe that their religion gave them a free pass to practice polygamy.

    Comment by ECS — April 26, 2008 @ 4:00 am

  82. ECS,
    There’s no arguing that polygamous marriage wasn’t highly aberrant in 19th century America and if people want to argue against polygamy per se I’m not going to put up much of a fight even though I’m not sure I’ll agree that it’s that big of a deal given how much adulterous polygamy has gone on throughout history by people who are nevertheless revered even today. But people like Egan and O’Donnell aren’t condemning us only for being associated with polygamous marriage, they’re slurring our ancestors as pedophiles, abusers, racists, and oppressors of women. The reason for that is that polygamy per se is debatable, while pedophilia, abuse, and oppression are rightly repugnant to most of us. Hitting us with the polygamy stick doesn’t have the same impact as hitting with the bigger clubs and they want to do as much damage as possible, fairly or not. If people slur our forbears for polygamy, that’s fair but, as I say, debatable. But from what I know of our people and their contemporaries it’s not fair to single them out, as a group, for condemnation as pedophiles, abusers, oppressors, racists, or violent people.

    Comment by Tom — April 26, 2008 @ 6:24 am

  83. Just want to add my kudos, Seth.

    This has got to be one of the best posts in the Nacle I can remember ever reading. Thank you!

    Comment by tracy m — April 26, 2008 @ 8:20 am

  84. I think Mormons (and Joseph Smith) were unfairly targeted in many cases, but Mormons were presumptuous to believe that their religion gave them a free pass to practice polygamy.

    ECS, I am scratching my head over your comment. Are you saying that the Mormons—and Joseph Smith—were fairly targeted in some cases? If so, can you give us an example?

    While you are at it, please explain how Mormons were “presumptuous” to believe that they were free to fulfill God’s commands to them. After all, they lived in a nation whose founding document promises freedom of religion.

    Although non-Mormons certainly found plural marriage to be repugnant, how were they harmed by the practice? The Mormons did not force anyone else into polygamous marriages; nor did they insist on public support for their families.

    Comment by Paul — April 26, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  85. I’m just curious as to what ECS thinks is wrong with polygamy per se, once you conceptually remove it from all the abusive baggage it inherited from the surrounding monogamous culture.

    And by the way ECS, the Mormons didn’t think they could “get away with polygamy” because liberal-minded America would be unable to get around the shield of “this is my religion.” They thought it would be alright, because God told them to do it.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 26, 2008 @ 10:58 am

  86. ECS says: “but Mormons were presumptuous to believe that their religion gave them a free pass to practice polygamy.”

    What does this mean? How were they asking for a “free pass?” What were they asking for, except to be left alone to practice their religious beliefs? I don’t get your point.

    Comment by fifthgen — April 26, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  87. ECS, I think it was very unclear in the early 19th century just how freedom of religion was to be taken. Religious minorities certainly never were treated terribly well – neither were immigrants from souther or eastern Europe whose social practices didn’t always line up well with the rest of the nation.

    Yet let’s be honest. Until Mormons in Utah tested the laws constitutionally it was very much up in the air whether such laws were constitutional. I’d add that in both Canada and the United States the constitutionality of polygamy laws is still very much in doubt.

    This issue of freedom of religion and marriage was an issue long before polygamy became an issue. Joseph Smith famously felt that Elders who married others monogamously didn’t need State authorization to do so. I think he felt that religious concepts of marriage were quite independent of the State view of marriage. But, as history showed, the State felt that it should have control over that aspect of people’s religious lives. This is also why the issue of gay marriage is such an issue. If the State is involved in religious aspects of marriage then one can’t separate out the secular aspects of gay marriage from the religious ones. So the decisions arrived at during the mid-19th century still remain with us today.

    Comment by Clark — April 26, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  88. Re #64:

    ECS, my read of D&C 132 is that the Law of Sarah did apply to Mormon polygamists, except to the wife of the one who held the keys to the sealing power (see v. 64), e.g. the President of the Church.

    Do you have historical evidence that the dire warnings given in D&C 132:54 and 64 were ever made to any LDS woman who was not already married to a serving Church president?

    Comment by JimD — April 26, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  89. JimD – I guess it’s possible, but I’m not sure verse 64 is as limited as you say. First, the Lord already chastised Emma for not accepting Joseph’s additional wives (see verses 51-54, ending with “for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law”). Second, at the very least, the Quorum of the Twelve all hold the same keys as the President of the Church, so their wives would be included as well.

    Comment by ECS — April 26, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  90. JimD – I guess it’s possible, but I’m not sure verse 64 is as limited as you say. First, the Lord already chastised Emma for not accepting Joseph’s additional wives (see verses 51-54, ending with “for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law”). Second, at the very least, the Quorum of the Twelve all hold the same keys as the President of the Church, so their wives would be included as well.

    Finally, I suppose Zina Huntington’s “courtship” would fall under the same category as the dire warnings of Section 132. Joseph Smith told her that God would have him killed if she didn’t marry him. There may be other accounts, but the language in Section 132 was no doubt sufficiently strong to deter other womens’ objections to their husbands’ taking plural wives.

    Comment by ECS — April 26, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  91. Also, the courtship of Zina Huntington falls into the same category as the dire warnings of Section 132. Joseph Smith told her that God would destroy him if she did not marry him. There may be other accounts, but I’d wager that the language in Section 132 was sufficiently strong itself to deter other women from objecting to their husband taking plural wives.

    Comment by ECS — April 26, 2008 @ 4:08 pm

  92. Also, the courtship of Zina Huntington falls into the same category as the dire warnings of Section 132. Joseph Smith told her that God would destroy him if she did not marry him. There may be other accounts, but I’d wager that the language in Section 132 was sufficiently strong itself to deter other women from objecting to their husband taking plural wives.

    Comment by ECS — April 26, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

  93. Um, apparently, I’m having difficulty commenting here, so I’ll come back later and respond to the other comments. Sorry.

    Comment by ECS — April 26, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

  94. I enjoyed your rebuttal, Seth. I had my mouth hanging open after reading that article by a supposed journalist, and found my gut reaction very similar to your own. Egan was being malicious just to be malicious.

    Comment by Sariah — April 26, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  95. I enjoyed your rebuttal, Seth. I had my mouth hanging open after reading that article by a supposed journalist, and found my gut reaction very similar to your own. Egan was being malicious just to be malicious.

    Comment by Sariah — April 26, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  96. Well, it was an opinion piece, right? The usual rules of journalism don’t necessarily apply, although we might hope that the rules of common sense and decency would.

    I think Seth’s rebuttal is problematic, hyperbolic, and inflammatory… but no more so than Egan’s piece. I wish Egan would have toned down the flames a bit, because I think there’s some legitimate criticism in there. But as it is, it serves no constructive purpose. Egan’s piece is a rant, pure and simple.

    I mean, to be fair, I rant against Mormonism all the time. But I don’t expect my rants–when they really are rants and not my legitimate concerns or earnest criticism–to be taken as anything but rants or to provoke any kind of positive response. And I don’t think the newspaper is the proper place for them.

    Comment by Kullervo — April 26, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

  97. Seriously, someone needs to fix the problem that leads to all the double commenting at 9moons. Where is one of those unsung heros of the bloggernacle when you need one?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 26, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  98. The problem I run into is that it takes forever for the comment to post and once it does, it sends me to some odd blank page. But go back to the home page, and the comment always made it through alright.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 26, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  99. “Reviewing all this, I’m left wondering what, exactly, I’m supposed to be apologizing for in my family history that any other American is not.”

    Perhaps the lies and falsehoods contained in Church apologetics that Church leaders and members alike have perpetuated until we have a generation of extremely ignorant saints who don’t even know that some brethren allowed and perpetuated polygamy even after the manifesto?
    Those ignorant saints who are perfectly clueless at how confusing for the saints back then was to see and hear mixed signals left and right?

    Perhaps the anti-Christian way in which we react by fearing the world because “Oh my!!! What is the media going to say!!! Heaven forbid they are going to associate us with them in any way! instead of showing our love (an actual act of TRUE CHRISTIANITY) and support for a community that is going through a historically significant unconstitutional injustice by the government and that is going to leave a monstrosity of a legal precedence? A community that is going to a hardship very similar to those hardships the early saints endured… and there was none to lend a hand.

    Perhaps the way Elder QL Cook referred to them as a “sect” when WE through our arms in the air and scream whenever someone does that to us… yeah, we wail “WE ARE CHRISTIANS!!!! WE ARE CHRISTIANS!!!! Yet, we feel we can point down on them and demean them and subtract significance from their cause?

    I don’t know… I disagree with Mr Egan, but so much hypocrisy, ignorance and deceitful manipulation of historic events may be something we ought to consider when we partake of the sacrament.

    Comment by Elusive — April 26, 2008 @ 10:55 pm

  100. …but so much hypocrisy, ignorance and deceitful manipulation of historic events may be something we ought to consider when we partake of the sacrament.

    Or the Savior. But whatever works for you, Elusive.

    Comment by Rusty — April 27, 2008 @ 6:01 am

  101. Elusive,

    You never really answered Seth’s question about apologizing for his family’s history.

    Do you think he should apologize for polygamy as practiced by his great-great grandparents? If so, to whom should the apology be addressed, and what exactly should he say?

    Comment by Paul — April 27, 2008 @ 7:33 am

  102. Seriously Rusty — your comments are jacked up. Time to call in Stapley or Russ J

    Comment by Geoff J — April 27, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  103. There is a big difference, Seth, between crimes done by people in the course of life and crimes done by people under the direction of God. You conflate the two and miss the mark.

    Because I am a lawyer here in Texas, and because today in my sacrament meeting I listened to Dr. William John Walsh testify about the testimony he gave for hours in El Dorado (we had sacrament meeting today because next week is Stake Conference), I have a little different perspective, and it coincides with Dr. Walsh’s testimony this morning.

    We, the modern Mormon Church, are about 75-80% the same as the FLDS church. Indeed, we started the wildfire that continues to burn in YFZ ranch and similar places. We stomped it out to a large extent around the turn of the 20th century, and now we pretend like it never really burned out of control, or that we started it at all, but surely we are not that disingenuous. Or maybe we are?

    We point with exculpatory pride to the Old Testament practice of polygamy, to modern-day Muslims with many wives, and to other off-beat groups scattered around the globe engaged in non-traditional group marriages, and we say, “See, what’s the big deal; why pick on us?” “We didn’t start this wildfire, and even if we did, we stomped it out. No sorry necessary and no need to help the children who now suffer from the smoke and flames.”

    We act like the FLDS are aliens and not half-brothers. We act like the difference between them and us is like the difference between man and beast. “Where did these loons come from?” “They surely aren’t Mormons.” “Please make sure that you don’t call them Mormons in your broadcasts and columns; we stopped spiritual wifery 120, well 100, well, actually 80 years ago. But whatever the date may be, don’t confuse us with them.” “We don’t like them and they don’t like us.”

    But, like Dr. Walsh said today in his testimony, we are them and they are us, and that is a sobering thought. We have been persecuted like they are being persecuted — their innocent children being stripped from them unconstitutionally and put into the hell that is foster care — and we will be persecuted like they are being persecuted again in the future. Maybe for the same resurgent practice.

    And yet the thing we are most concerned about is distance and dissonance. Not freedom. Not Christian duty (and the irony is thick here as we want to be called Christian so badly but don’t want the FLDS to be called Mormon). People like Egan and Hitchens love the rank duality.

    Rather, we want to make sure that those weirdoes aren’t associated with us in any way. Meanwhile, the whole world thinks otherwise. And the more we protest, the more they think otherwise.

    Call me crazy, but I happen to think that unconstitutional raids on religious minorities bode very poorly for us all. Like Dr. Walsh, I abhor rape, incest, sexual abuse, and all other heinous crimes of which some of the FLDS stand accused. But I think they deserve due process, and I think that only those found guilty after a fair trial should be punished for such crimes. I know I’d want the same for the members of my ward family.

    But I have digressed. This is a very unpleasant reality in which we find ourselves. Doctrine and Covenants 132 is still valid revelation. Men are still sealed to more than one wife (though after the first wife’s death) in our church. Many (most) still believe that polygamy is the celestial marital law. And 400 children born out of this history have been rooted from their homes in defense of the continuation of the fullness of the principle.

    So, Seth, we may have nothing to apologize for today, but if the most we do in the face of this clash is to make style complaints and obfuscative pleas, we may have a lot to apologize for in the end.

    Comment by cyril — April 27, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  104. Just a bit of history to add to the stats. My Baptist born and raised parents married in 1940. My mom was 14 and my dad 21. It was not an arranged marriage, I think both were fleeing their 11 siblings (on both sides) and the requisite helping to raise the youngsters. It was not deemed highly scandalous at all, pretty normal for their peers. They stayed married until death, as their marriage vows stated. I and my only brother converted to Mormonism in adulthood.

    Good job Seth.

    Comment by Mormon son — April 27, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  105. Hi ECS –

    As I understand it, the keys to the sealing power lie in the Quorum of the Twelve collectively but not in its members individually. Am I wrong?

    Moreover, I find it difficult to classify Zina Huntington’s story as coercion. “Marry me or you die”, to me, = coercion. “Marry me or I die”? My reaction would be “Fine. Die, you freak!” :-)

    Finally, it was not my intent to say that verse 64 was limited to Emma Smith–only that it was limited to the wife of a currently serving president of the church (thereby contemplating future church presidents, not just Smith).

    Comment by JimD — April 27, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

  106. Come on ECS.

    How many guys in history have pursued a girl telling her he’ll die if she won’t be his?

    Comment by Seth R. — April 27, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  107. “Or the Savior. But whatever works for you, Elusive.”

    Yeah, thinking of things we must change to become better Christians may be leaving the Saviour out of the equation for you Rusty…

    I admire you have nothing to repent about! … and a bit surprised you haven’t been translated into the Celestial Kingdom.

    Comment by Elusive — April 27, 2008 @ 9:15 pm


  108. ignorance and deceitful manipulation of historic events may be something we ought to consider when we partake of the sacrament.

    Actually WE ought to consider whatever it is WE have personally DONE. If someone in leadership is deceitful or misleading or abusive that’s their problem – not mine. Get it? Anyway, Seth already summed this up pretty well. Maybe we should start reading posts before we comment on them.

    Comment by cj douglass — April 27, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  109. I admire you have nothing to repent about! … and a bit surprised you haven’t been translated into the Celestial Kingdom.

    Elusive,
    I know, I’m surprised as well. I think they’re just so busy processing the papers of those who spend their time calling the Church to repentance that they haven’t been able to get to mine.

    Comment by Rusty — April 28, 2008 @ 7:08 am

  110. I agree with Cyril. We sit back and do nothing at our own peril here. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

    Comment by Aaron — April 28, 2008 @ 8:41 am

  111. LOL, JimD and Seth.

    Comment by ECS — April 28, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  112. Just for your info – Aaron Johnson married my great-great grandmother Harriet when she was 15 and also her 14 year old sister, and another sister. They were his nieces. (gag)

    I would love for someone to put this into any kind of reasonable context for me. I just dont’ get it. I am an active LDS woman, and I don’t worry too much about polygamy because I know I will understand the purpose for it someday. I just don’t see why so many young girls had to marry men old enough to be their fathers, and in Harriet and her sister case, an uncle?!

    Comment by Pam — April 29, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

  113. Cooment to Cyril

    As far as I understand it, polygamy in the early days of the church did not include forced marriages, or the absolute power of leaders to determine family relationships. This whole FLDS controversy is about control, the usurpation of free will, sexual abuse and other forms of emotional abuse. The practice of polygamy in the early church bears only a superficial resembalnce to what the FLDS are doing.

    Comment by Pam — April 29, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  114. Pam, I actually believe you’re wrong about the determining of family relationships. I’m pretty sure wives got… reassigned in the early days.

    Comment by Kullervo — April 29, 2008 @ 7:51 pm

  115. Like who?

    Comment by Seth R. — April 29, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  116. Pam #112,

    Let me see if I can help with context a bit. I have previously done a study on marital age in 1850, about the time of Aaron Johnson’s marriage to Harriet. If you look beyond anecdotes, and at statistics for that era, Mormons seem a close match with their contemporary Americans on the age issue.

    The same appears to be true of marriages between uncles and nieces. There is some interesting history associated with this covered by Ottenheimer and Bittles. If you want to hunt down some of the lit I have recently read try searching “consanguinity” and “cousin marriages.” There is more information on the latter than there is uncle-niece marriages.

    Here is a brief historical synopsis.

    1) Early on the Catholic Church banned cousin marriages, but for a fee could grant a dispensation for them.

    2) As Protestants revolted, they thought the fee aspect was corrupt. So they simplified the relationships that couldn’t intermarry based on Leviticus. Under that schema cousins and uncle-nieces were permissible, but some in-laws weren’t (affine relationships)

    3) Protestants debated on whether to expand the list to 1st cousins and uncle-nieces as they passed state legislation in American colonies.

    4) So by about 1850 or so I think uncle-nieces marriages were still a gray area with standards varying from region to region. For example an 1830 New York law only banned marriages between lineal ascent/descent lines and brothers and sisters. New England and the South had similar values. Massachusetts’ politicians flip-flopped. Note that cousin marriage is still a gray area varying from state to state.

    5) Around the mid 19th century, genetics started to be better understood (prior to then there wasn’t much that separated consideration about consanguinity and affinity) and concerns about inbreeding defects began to arise. Darwin (who had married his cousin) and his sons began to study the issue as did many others.

    6) Around that time in Britain 4.5% of the aristocratic class had married their cousins while 3.5% of the middle class did. Another study in America showed 20% cousin marriage among a Scot-Irish family.

    7) So during the period between 1855 until 1889, states gradually adapted their laws in light of these emerging studies.

    8) Interestingly Rhode Island still has an exceptional circumstance it allows uncles to marry nieces.

    So there you have it. To judge ancestors on our current scientific understanding would be to engage in the fallacy of presentism.

    Comment by Keller — April 30, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

  117. Keller, thank you very much.

    Comment by Pam — May 1, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  118. UPDATE:

    Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen has issued a formal Church response to Egan’s piece in the LDS Newsroom website. It’s worth checking out.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 6, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  119. [quote]The same appears to be true of marriages between uncles and nieces. There is some interesting history associated with this covered by Ottenheimer and Bittles. If you want to hunt down some of the lit I have recently read try searching “consanguinity” and “cousin marriages.” There is more information on the latter than there is uncle-niece marriages.
    [/quote]
    And here I thought… that was a Southern Baptist Practice!

    Comment by Zak — May 6, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  120. Well, Seth, you have a pretty good argument. BUT what you didn’t mention is that polygamy denies the most fundamental basis of happiness: that polygamy breaks hearts; that there is no remedy that is acceptable when the society at large goes along with the practice. At least with monogamy, when a man takes a mistress or has a fling, a woman has a right to be mad and jealous. In polygamy a woman is dammed and left by the wayside if she is jealous. She is selfish and not “spritual” enough.

    One argument for polygamy that was presented by early LDS authorities is that if a man is married and his wife die, it is perfectly acceptable to marry another wife. Therefore, it should be acceptable not to wait, but to have more than one wife at a time.

    Of course the same argument could be made for women: that since she can have another husband if one dies, then why should she wait. She should have more than one husband at a time. I’m sure that would make the elders turn in their graves–of course with no jealousy.

    And don’t give me that old argument that the men were better equipped to take care of wives and children than women would be. The polygamist wives took care of themselves and their children. That’s one fact I’ve learned from studying the history of the Church. Think about it! The men were off on missions–taking only one wife – or off settling new towns–taking only wife – or off exploring–taking only one wife – or making a trek to Salt Lake City–taking only one wife, etc.

    The women took care of themselves, their children, and contributed to whatever project their husband happened to be engaged. I dare you to study what happened to wives in their older years. How many do you think still resided or had interaction with their husbands. How many do you think ended up alone or being cared for by their children. I believe it was Heber C Kimball who boasted over the pulpit that not one of his wives had cost him a penny!

    At least with monogamy if a husband strays a woman has the right to be mad, jealous, get divorced, find another man and get on with her life.

    Mariah

    Comment by Mariah — June 23, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  121. Добавил в закладки.

    Comment by Головомозгий дешифратор — September 27, 2008 @ 9:44 am

  122. [...] on Seth R.’s post Monogamist Post – Meet Polygamist Kettle at Nine [...]

    Pingback by Zelophehad’s Daughters | My Nacle Notebook 2008: Interesting Comments — September 8, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

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