Big Love, bigger questions

BigLoveMy fiance reviewed the new HBO drama Big Love for the New York Sun this week — which meant I got to watch the first several episodes before they air. It’s a very compelling show that normalizes polygamy. In real life, polygamists are known for raping family members, forcing underage girls into marriage, and living on the dole. In HBOland, polygamists are attractive and upright citizens who you’d let watch your children. But, again, if you set apart the obvious agenda against traditional values, it’s an excellent show that begins airing tomorrow night.

There have been many thought-provoking criticisms of the new show, and nearly everyone is in agreement that it’s well done. On National Review Online, Louis Wittig wrote that the slippery slope has become a high-speed luge track:

In late 2004, amid a boiling gay-marriage debate, law professor Jonathan Turley argued the case for legalizing polygamy in a USA Today op-ed. But, he added:

[The] day of social acceptance will never come for polygamists. It is unlikely that any network is going to air The Polygamist Eye for the Monogamist Eye or add a polygamist twist to Everybody Loves Raymond.

Ha ha ha! Fifteen months later and a cable network has, in fact, built an entire show around polygamy. The show goes out of its way to note that the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints banned polygamy in the late 19th century. In fact, much of the show is about a breakoff Mormon sect that does support polygamy coexisting in the same Utah as the Mormons who do not support polygamy. What’s more, the main polygamist family actually doesn’t go to any church at all, having broken away from a polygamist compound. The show, and the disclaimer at the end, are causing quite the stir in Utah.

The Salt Lake Tribune, which has to be one of the few papers with an actual polygamy category, looks into the controversy. Unfortunately, the piece is poorly written and lacks an understanding of the religious issues at hand. I wonder why Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Trib‘s excellent religion reporter, didn’t cover it. Thankfully, AP writer Debbie Hummel wrote a great piece about the stirrings in Utah:

Everyone from practicing polygamists to the Mormon church — which shunned the practice more than a century ago — are anxiously anticipating the fallout from the show about a Utah polygamist and his three sometimes desperate housewives.

Some worry that the series will perpetuate stereotypes from which the state and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long sought to distance themselves. Others fear it will diminish the crimes, such as child abuse, reported in some of the state’s secretive polygamous sects. And polygamists say they’re sure the series won’t accurately portray the “boring” reality of their lives.

polygamy pinThe entire article is well-written and very interesting. Polygamy is definitely a bigger issue in some areas of the country — with rather large compounds in Arizona and Utah and — than others. The Rocky Mountain News has done an excellent job with polygamy coverage for many years. The paper has run lengthy investigative series and short updates on the abnormal communities. But for this story, Hummel kicks the competition. Here’s more:

In 1843, church founder Joseph Smith said he had a revelation from God allowing the practice of plural marriage. In 1890, a subsequent church president, Wilford Woodruff, made public a revelation declaring that church members should stop practicing polygamy. The federal government had required the Utah territory end its endorsement of polygamy as a condition of statehood. Utah became a state in 1896.

Speaking not in a theological way at all, Joseph Smith did an amazing job of launching a successful church. But that polygamy thing has had a staying power that I bet many Mormons regret. Polygamy was only practiced for 47 years, although it was huge during those years, and has been banned for 116 years. And yet “Mormon” is probably one of the first words people think of when they hear the word “polygamy.” For that reason, it’s important for reporters to be very clear about the relationship Mormons have with polygamy:

Polygamy isn’t an issue for modern-day Mormons, said church spokesman Michael Otterson, adding that members understand why polygamy is no longer practiced. . .

He’s also worried that the church could lose some of the ground it has gained in educating the public about the differences between the mainstream church and splinter fundamentalist groups that practice polygamy.

“This, I think, is going to undo some of that. Because you only have to mention Salt Lake City and polygamy and Mormons in the same breath and people will start to get those old stereotypes again,” he said.

I’m not so sure. The show is so obviously a thinly veiled campaign for gay marriage that I think the Mormon issues are secondary. Also, I’d sure love a reporter to ask Turley about his failed prediction.

Print Friendly

  • http://www.religion-spirituality.org/ Religion-Spirituality.org

    Wow! I didn’t realize polygamy was still being practiced in the U.S. Its good to educate the public about this, even if some falsely connect it with mormons. Some people always mix things up but that is no reason to hinder the flow of new ideas.

  • Stephen A.

    Well, many people laughed, laughed, laughed when opponents of gay marriage said it would lead to polygamists demanding rights, too. Jokes on them. Or maybe the rest of us.

    One of the opinions in the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court noted that government had no right interfering with a person who wanted to love another person. I noted at the time that, if taken as a principle, then government and society itself would have no right to ban polygamy, and polygamists indeed would have a case. Guess I was right, since this is not the first time this has come up in recent days.

    Interestingly, and perhaps coincidentally, this news report ran (found in a Google search) on a South Dakota station, for some reason:

    (http://www.keloland.com/News/NewsDetail5440.cfm?Id=0,46645)
    03/11/2006
    Mormon Church Issues Statement About Polygamy
    The polygamist group that has a compound in the southern Black Hills split from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… more commonly known as the Mormon Church.

    “KELOLAND News has received a statement from the Mormon Church about its stance concerning plural marriages.

    The Mormon Church says groups that continue to practice polygamy have “no association whatever” with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

    The statement acknowledges that Mormons did practice polygamy in the 1800′s. But after receiving a vision, then-Church President Wilford Woodruff declared the practice should be discontinued in 1890.

    The statement also says that no member of the church today can enter into polygamy without being excommunicated.”

    Perhaps it was this story: ” Polygamy follower buys land in South Dakota”
    http://www.heraldextra.com/content/view/169588/3/

  • Michael

    Except there is no polygamy rights movement, outside of cult-like compound in Utah and Arizona. That’s the flaw of the slippery slope argument: there’s no there there. No polygamists are demanding rights.

    And if they do–by some off chance– demand rights, it will be important to keep in mind that they will be religious conservatives making those demands. Fundamentalist Mormons, Fundamentalist Muslims, or even Fundamentialist Christians. If polygamy occurs in Ameieca, it will be a religious movement. And there won’t be Unitarians and UCCers to blame.

  • Stephen A.

    Come on, Michael, surely you’re not comparing Pentacostal mega-church Bush voters with polygamy-practicing Mormon separatists!! That’s like saying Christian Fundies are like Muslim Fundies because they are both termed “fundamentalists.”

    And yes, I very much expect UUers and UCCers (and the liberal brand of Episcopalians) to be TOTALLY behind the polyamists, just like they’ve pushed the boundaries for gay and transgendered people. If it attacks Tradition, they will be first in line.

  • http://www.katiesbeer.blogspot.com TK

    What a subtle way to announce your engagement, Mollie. Congratulations!

  • http://iidb.org Andy

    From what I have read, even after the Woodruff Manifesto, the top leaders of the church still practiced the “principle” causing a national scandal many years later ie. “they’re doing it again!”, also the original Smith “Doctrine and
    Covenant (I think # 132) that revealed the principle was never taken back or repealed in an official way, (saving the practice for a later date?)

    For those who “had no idea” about this stuff, catch up with the Jon Krakauer book, “Under the Banner of Heaven” which, while it is about a brutal murder of an opponent of polygamy within a single family, also intermingles a very readable history of the Mormon practice of it.

    I say this casts doubt on whether Woodruff actually was a prophet and received revelation on this matter, but I’m sure few would disagree since so few in this world are LDS anyway. But lets not forget that the official end-date in your high-school history book is not always the authority on when some practice ended. See the great book “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”

    To say there is no (insert something I don’t like here)-rights movement is a little foolish. There is a movement for everything in this country. I would eat my hat if I couldn’t find a polyg rights organization in 5 minutes on the internet.

    http://www.pro-polygamy.com/
    http://www.truthbearer.org/
    http://www.biblicalpolygamy.com/
    http://www.samchapman.f2s.com/polygamy.htm
    http://www.polygamy.net/
    http://www.mormonpolygamy.com/

    I wont eat my hat.

  • Michael

    I could easily find 100 neo-Nazi websites in 5 minutes. Does that mean there is a growing neo-Nazi moevement in the U.S. that is on the verge of becoming an important political force?

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    Michael, there is a polygamy-rights movement on the religious far left. It is about “polyamory.” The UUs are promoting the movement rather strongly, I believe. See for example the UUPA.

    “Polyamory” is just a general term that means any sort of group sexual relationship, as opposed to “polygamy” which colloquially means polygyny. The best example I know of is the “marriage” described in the latter chapters of Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love.

  • Michael

    Sure there’s polyamory and sure there are few people who are trying to raise their awarness, but there’s not movement, no civil rights effort, no anything. That website has counted 9000 hits in almost two years, most of the them likely linked from alarmist Internet posts about the polyamory menace.

    It’s going to be Mormons, Muslims, and Christians who push this issue, not poluamorists. It’s going to be a religious freedom, Free Speech debate.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Thanks Dan, you beat me to it. Except the polyamory movement isn’t a religious far left thing. Many of the polyamorists I know are secular, and a few identify themselves as conservatives (by which the generally mean they’re from the libertarian branch of the Republican party). It does seem to have grown out of the old leftist Free Love movement.

    And some of them do have long-term stable relationships that look like group marriages, though not always with more women than men.

  • Stephen A.

    Avram, you know that (accurate) distinction you just drew between “religious far left” and “secular” folks? Draw the same strong distinction between “conservatives” and “liberartians.” The latter have adopted every liberal social position while the former have not. Big difference.

    As for “polyamory” you’re on the right track when you mention the Free Love movement. It’s less of a movement itself than a legitimization of cheating on one’s spouse. I knew of someone who advocated this lifestyle, and it was emotionally devastating. Think “wife swapping” and “swinging.”

    Polygamy, however, is a real social grouping (though not a big one) and if you don’t think it’s going to gain popularity and strength now that the Hollywood Left has begun to embrace it, or if you don’t think the Religious Left will jump in on this new crusade for “fairness,” you’re kidding yourself.

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com Molly

    And why not? I chuckle whenever someone brings up Biblical precedent as the norm for “one man, one woman” marriage and wonder which of Jacob’s wives is left off that list. Or David’s for that matter. Yep, the left is leading us into hell.

  • Michael

    Polygamy also exists in the Koran and in Jewish tradition and why it occurs among religious fundamentalists and could be easily converted into a religious-freedom issue.

  • tmatt
  • http://www.blackphi.co.uk/webitorial.php Phil Blackburn

    What’s the legal status of polygamous families who move to the US from countries where they are legal? Polygamy remains a hot issue in African churches, see http://www.eni.ch/assembly/0580.html for instance. Several independent African churches view polygamy as being Biblical, with the imposition of monogamy by churches founded by westerners simply being non-scriptural imperialism (e.g. http://aacblog.classicalanglican.net/archives/000058.html). As globalisation increases, will western values continue to change African cultures or will African cultures stretch what is acceptable in the West?

  • Pingback: CaNN :: We started it.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Stephen, I used that phrasing — “identify themselves as conservatives” — for a reason. In fact, one particular guy I’m thinking of calls identifies with both conservatism and libertarianism, but isn’t really either one.

    Anyway, I know a lot of people into various forms of polyamory (or just “poly”). I know a triad (one woman, two men) who consider themselves three-way married (though the state only recognizes one of their pairings), and have for a couple of decades. (The men each jokingly refer to the other as “my husband-in-law”.)

    I know people who have poly marriages — a married couple, but they’re allowed to sleep around outside the marriage, with varying rules (like sometimes the spouse gets veto rights). In some cases this works, and has resulted in stable, happy relationships going on decades. In other cases, it doesn’t.

    I know an unmarried 30-year-old poly woman who says she’ll never get married, because she can’t imagine limiting herself to just one partner (she does have a primary boyfriend, but more partners besides), and she doesn’t believe in poly marriage. (Though she has friends who practice it, with varying degrees of success.)

    Like I said, I know a lot of people doing this. There’s a lot of different ways of handling it, and people are just working out the ground rules.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Avram,

    Sometimes I like to think I have the craziest friends among folks here at GetReligion.

    But I think I speak for everyone here when I say: Dude, you win.

  • matt

    Mollie,

    Avram is talking about my family. Oh! Not MY family, but, you know, like my cousins and nepews and stuff. Makes reunions kinda creepy.

  • Stephen A.

    Avram: I concur with Mollie’s observation. Yikes. I’ve only known one couple/triple. It used to be called “sleeping around” now they’ve got an entire ‘philosophy’ to make it sound nice.

    As for polygamy and the Bible, sure it existed. Where did the Mormons get the concept, if not there? But unless I’m mistaken, this was already considered an *ancient* custom 2,000 years ago.

    Don’t liberals usually apply logic and context to the Bible? It sure makes sense to do this in this case.

    A custom 3,500+ years in the past should have little bearing on today’s debate. Even if it is brought up, 1 man/1 woman marriages co-existed with polygamy even back then, making the case even stronger.

  • http://none Deadeye Dick

    I predicted a while back that if gay marriage was deemed legal, polygamy would be next. It is interesting that the Bible thumpers on this list cite the obscure Old Testament passages to reinforce their hardline 100 percent opposition to all divorces and homosexual behavior, but then ignore the much larger body of OT evidence for polygyny. In the New Testament there is stronger evidence for monogamy, even though Jesus himself didn’t practice it unless you believe the Da Vinci Code, but interestingly none for the absolutist position on abortion and stem cell research. I urge my right-wing friends to read Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics–they might find that sexual issues don’t stack up very well in comparison to caring for the poor and working for peace and social justice.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    DD,

    It’s probably a good idea to distinguish between the frequent mention of polygamy and condemnation of homosexuality. In other words, there is no Scriptural prescription for plural marriage so much as notation that it existed. However, there are many passages condemning adultery, homosexuality, etc.

    Also, there is a relationship between the spread of Christianity and the eradication of plural marriage.

  • John

    I am amazed that no one is picking up on the implications of a rising Muslim population in regards to polygamy laws.

  • Daniel

    However, there are many passages condemning adultery, homosexuality, etc.

    Well, not really when it comes to homosexuality, thus the great theological debates we are having now. Unless you consider six or seven oblique and disputed passages as “many.”

    John, I think as Michael pointed out, the rise of more Muslims in this country could be a part of the push for polygamy by religious Fundmentalists and a religious freedom argument.

  • http://exmormon.org Dr. Jon

    The reason that the polygamist utilize mormon doctrine to achieve their means rest on the fact that the support system for polygamy as a sacred ordinance is woven into the laws and philosophy of that religion. These doctirnes were never changed when the official church banned polygamy.

    This doctrine states that a man cannot enter the highest levels of the celestial kingdom without fullfilling the commandment of polygamy.

    Also helpful in the mormon doctine is the concept that men rule over women, that the sole purpose of a woman is to support her husband. Mormon women are not allowed the priesthood and any organization that includes women, such as the womens “Relief Society” are presided over by men.

    In closing, why would a polygamist want to develop a new doctrine to support there lifestyle when an effective guide already exist. Mormon doctine is, after all, equivalent to “Polygamy For Dummies”

  • http://www.philocrites.com Philocrites

    Dan Berger said: “The UUs are promoting the movement rather strongly, I believe.”

    Correction: There’s a tiny independent group of UUs who are trying to promote polyamory within the Unitarian Universalist Association; they’ve even attracted two news stories in the past three years, but they have very very little momentum to show for it. As a religious body and as a religious movement, Unitarian Universalists are not promoting polyamory.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Jeez, Mollie, and I don’t even think of them as the craziest of my friends. (Have I mentioned the guy I know who’s a gay Orthodox Jewish Objectivist?)

    Stephen, polyamory isn’t just dressing up adultery with a nice philosophy. (Well, OK, for some people it is. Not everybody lives up to the ideals they espouse.) The people who take it seriously are very careful to be honest with everyone involved about what they’re doing.

    I was reading just the other day about polygamy issues in Israel. There are Jews who’ve been living in Muslim nations, or other places outside Europe, who haven’t lost the tradition of polygyny, and they want to keep their multiple wives when they move to Israel, or marry multiple wives when there. They complain that monogamous marriage is a modern assault on their traditional values.

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com Molly

    Jesus’ General weighs in.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Something you donn’t hear about in the news much is that there are polygamist groups that prohibit incest and child marriage. They’re religiously driven, not perverts. I have a friend who was a part of the Apostolic United Brethren (better known as the Allred Group), which is not a haven for pervs but kind of the Mormon equivalent of pre-Vatican II Catholics.

  • Keefhalek

    As an ex-mormon, I thought you all would be interested in knowing that although polygamy is no longer practiced in the mainstream church there is still a theological belief on polygamy in the afterlife. My mother is married to my step-father and when they were preparing to get married in the temple (I’m sure you all know about temple ceremonies so I won’t go into it) they were told that my mother would be the “second” wife to my step-father and his first wife (she passed away before my mom met my step father) when they all met in heaven.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Keefhalek, isn’t there also an assumption that the abandonment of CPM is only temporary, as an accommodation to the secular government?

  • Keefhalek

    Honestly, I was never taught or led to believe that “Plural Marriage” would ever again be introduced to us as church members. There was always a feeling of “whew, glad I wasn’t a member back then” whenever the topic was brought up in Sunday school. I was raised in Califronia though and we were collectively considered less dogmatic than the Utah Mormons.

  • DC

    I am in no way an advocate of polygamy. However, I am an advocate for presenting clear arguments.

    Stephen A. said: “As for polygamy and the Bible, sure it existed. Where did the Mormons get the concept, if not there? But unless I’m mistaken, this was already considered an *ancient* custom 2,000 years ago.”

    That’s an interesting statement. We should probably differentiate between Law (from God) and Custom (from man), b/c the Jews were certainly given laws (from God through Moses) that required them to enter into polygamous relationships under certain circumstances (read whichever version of the OT you choose).

    I think it’s hard to say it was *ancient* custom 2,000 years ago, since many of the Jews were still living in accordance with the Law they were given, AT THE TIME OF CHRIST. If the argument that we can dismiss it b/c “it is over x years old” is valid, then what other laws (defined as customs) can we discard?

    Thou shalt not commit adultery? Oops, I think we already discarded that one (society, collectively speaking). Stealing, killing, idolatry … which ones do I get to throw away? AND, since it’s been approx. 2,000 years since Jesus was here, can I toss everything He said into the *ancient* custom pile as well?

    *Ancient* doesn’t mean *repealed* … so the argument against polygamy needs to be a little stronger than the “let’s dismiss it b/c it happened so long ago” argument.

    One more, the eradication of polygamous practices with the spread of Christianity is as much (if not more so) influenced by the cultures where Christianity was initially and most prevalently adopted (e.g. Roman / Greek). Separating the two is very difficult if not impossible. What if Christianity had been adopted primarily in Persia, and then spread from there?

    Here are the two questions that we should answer (my opinion, obviously): Where in the vast (now over 2,000 years – but be careful if it’s *ancient*) Christian codec did God say, “Ok guys, polygamy is now off the table – Yes I gave it as a law a long time ago to those guys over there, but it doesn’t apply anymore.”? And, do we accept the channel through which that information came?

  • Keefhalek

    DC – I don’t have any answers but I think your two questions are very interesting. There’s a wikipedia article that offers some information about the history of polygamy in Christianity here: Wikipedia . According to the article Saint Augustine said, “Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife, so as to have more than one wife living [emphasis added].” This is in line with your own comments about cultural influence in the eradication of the practice in Christianity.

  • Stephen A.

    DC, I think you missed the word *CONTEXT* in my last post, and I think you’re guilty of some fallacy in logic by saying this ONE law means ALL laws. Even Jewish scholars make serious distinctions between violating various laws in the Torah, some being more grievous violations than others. (As for the 10 Commandments, I think you’re being a bit too cute, but even there, adultery is far less serious than murder, though both are quite bad, obviously. Even though no one was aruging that point.)

    I could be funny, too and say that since God told Noah to build an ark, we should, too! Or Adam was told to populate the earth. Should we take that as sexual license to procreate in the extreme?

    More seriously, just because God gave some laws to some people for a particular time in history and for a particular purpose, that doesn’t mean those laws apply to ALL people – even all Jewish people – but certainly not to Christian People, since (as we all know) Christians, thanks to Paul’s discussions with, and interpretations of, Jesus as recorded in his letters, are not living under laws given to the Jews.

    I will leave it to Jewish scholars and historians to back up what I believe to be true about Judea around AD 1: that polygamy was not rampant, nor common. But I’ll admit I could be wrong. And if I am, so what?

    As I said, using as an argument that polygamy (or any other law OR tradition) was practiced in the OT or in Judea or in Rome is not really a good reason that it should be or MUST be practiced now.

    As our homosexual and liberal friends often (correctly) remind us – in one of the few times they use the Bible other than for bolstering Liberation Theology – we don’t stone adulterers or put people to death for eating the wrong foods or for sitting close to women who are menustrating.

    Nor should we.

  • DC

    Stephen A. – no stones being thrown here. A) that’s not my intention, and B) you’d know if I was throwing stones. Just a couple clarifications:

    First, I’m not trying to be cute or funny – I’m actually being quite serious. As Christians, we still live under and adhere to the 10 Commandments which were originally given as part of the Mosaic law to ancient Israel; who’s to say which of the other 603 laws in the Torah don’t apply?

    So my questions still remain: one, where in the mass of Christian doctrine do we find the language of “Thus sayeth the Lord” re: marriage, and through whom? AND, do we accept that person as an authorized channel for God?

    The answer to the first is found in the epistles of Paul to Timothy & Titus. The answer to the second is whether or not you accept Paul as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and authorized to speak for the Lord.

    Second, a Jew living “under the law” at the time of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that he was polygamous – it simply means if the conditions warranted it (under the law), that person would have complied w/ the requirements of the law.

    Third, as for Jewish scholars (or other religous scholars for that matter), they have their place but we all know what the Lord had to say about them during His mortal ministry (ok, yes that was a small pebble I just hurled).

    Fourth (and last!), if we take the Bible as God’s word, then we need to have some sort of mechanism to help us interpret which laws apply and which ones don’t. I think we all agree that there are some laws that certainly don’t apply to us. The question I’m grappling with is “How do I know” on questions of law when the Bible isn’t clear? I can’t be dismissive just because I happen to disagree with it or apply some type of relativity (time/space) to it – that’s the same as waving my fist at the Almighty and shouting at the top of my lungs “I’m smarter than You!”

    Point being, we worship a God who thought it was a fantastic idea to adjudicate polygamy to His chosen people, at one point in time. We also worship a God who endorsed a complete Canaanite genocide, at one point in time. A God who told people that the only right way to worship was to spill the blood of innocent animals, at one point in time (PETA would have had a hey-day). Just because we think those things are weird or don’t apply to us, doesn’t change the fact that God endorsed it at one point in time. If God wanted to pass a new commandment our way, how would He do it and what would that process look like? If it was “weird” or “unorthodox”, would we be willing to adhere to it?

    Therefore, in the spirit of not throwing stones, we should withhold our criticism of those who are practicing what they believe to be God’s will for them. I think our energies are better spent trying to more fully understand the God we worship, the grace He has extended to us through His Son, and praying for those who are simply misguided in their own traditions and belief systems.

    And a little debate (pea gravel) in a spirit of love and honesty!

  • Stephen A.

    DC, my original point had nothing to do with questioning the 10 Commandments. I believe we were talking about marriage, not every other commandment/law/custom or tradition. I also think we’ve spilled a lot of electrons over a complex answer when a lot shorter answer would have sufficed.

    As evidence we’re talking at cross purposes, I in no way was implying YOU were throwing stones – at me or anyone else. My comment was simply that there are LOADS of laws and commandments of God that simply don’t apply TODAY or to ALL people (among them, stoning people for adultery or other sins.) I thought that was self-evident, and most Christians would surely readily agree with that. I’m glad you seem to, also.

    That said, I’ll try to be more concise this time: Just because God told Adam, or Noah, or Israel to do something re: marriage, doesn’t mean it automatically applies to Christians or even Jews today. Context is important, and the left and right (and reporters reporting on their statements) should both take care to exercise caution in quoting ANY of those “Thus saith..” statements to ensure proper context.

  • EJ

    Stephen,

    Dave brings up an interesting point that is worth discussing. I think most Christians approach doctrinal questions through self-evidence, as you say. The problem is that “self-evidential” approaches do not generate consensus. Paul said, “One Lord, One Faith, One baptism” and fought hard for unity, but we don’t have that today (or back then for that matter) – Maybe this is because ordinary people have been interpreting the sacred writ without divine help.

    So anyway, back to the topic at hand: This story is not really about Polygamy. Polygamy happens to be controversial and brings the questions to the forefront, but the real question, which I think Dave is trying to raise, is no matter what your opinion is about any particular point or doctrine, it is important to ask, “who says so?” And even more importantly, if there used to be prophets that could say “God told me so”, where are they now when we need them so badly?

  • Keefhalek

    Stephen,
    I had to laugh at your last statement. “If there used to be prophets…”. That question is one of the main selling points I used to use as a Mormon missionary. Although I no longer believe in Mormon theology they have a somewhat logical argument for the return of Prophets and thereby the necessary guidance needed to interpret scripture. I always thought it was just too easy for a new revelation to pop up right at the time Utah was denied statehood due to the polygamy issue but if a person’s belief is in a living Prophet then it is hard to argue against it. At least the Mormons have a solid reason NOT to practice polygamy any longer.

  • Stephen A.

    Keefhalek, that last statement about prophets wasnt me, it was EJ.

    That said, some Christians clearly DO have their own prophets today that give them the authority to practice polygamy, or not. That’s fine, as long as we get that source right when we as reporters write about this.

    And if someone’s misconstruing a prophetic utterance made 2700+ years ago, which was directed to ONE people at ONE time in ONE set of circumstances, and they’re doing it in order to manipulate the social discussion we as a society (or a certain group of religionists) is having, then that ought to be acknowledged, too.

    I’m thinking of folks like David Koresh and others here who was said to have liked to quote OT scriptures out of context for his own purposes. Many other, saner, people do the same thing, sometimes innocently other times knowingly.

  • DC

    And that is exactly the crux of the issue: people who manipulate sacred writ for their own purposes. It can just as easily be argued that the Christian theologians have done exactly that with the New Testament … e.g. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians – that was over 1,900 years ago, to a specific set of people, in a specific set of circumstances. IF it can be argued that what God said to the Israelites 2,700 years ago doesn’t apply because it was directed to them in their time and in their circumstances, it can just as easily be argued that the entire NT is also irrelevant because it was given to a specific group (or groups) of people in a very specific timeframe – and the circumstances were definitely much different than out own. There is nothing being misconstrued here … I’m simply applying the same reasoning to the NT and reaching the same conclusion.

    The title of the blog is spot-on – there are definitely bigger questions raised than whether or not polygamy is “right” or “moral” or “justified”. Anyone who thinks I’m arguing for or against polygamy (I do think it is wrong), or twisting particular elements of the Bible out of context, is drawing simplistic conclusions. The problem isn’t any of the “Thus saith” statements as recorded in the scriptures (or all of them for that matter), the problem is that I can’t see anybody TODAY that can say “Thus saith”. Who is it that speaks on behalf of the Lord for us, in our time, in our circumstances? Because using your argument, I have to dismiss the entire Bible as N/A for a group of people 2,000 years in the future dealing with their own unique set of circumstances. I’ve asked a lot of people this question – I’m still waiting for a good answer.

  • Stephen A.

    You’re right in the sense that a person could reduce the argument to absurdity so that unless God speaks (with His Mighty voice – literally) to an individual or group directly – TODAY – then all else is somehow ‘irrelevant’. But that’s taking things a bit too far, and perhaps willfully muddying up the waters, since very few actually take things to that extreme.

    What I suggested – that most people are reasonable in their interpretation of OT commands to stone this or that person (which was my example) and, by extension, that most will likewise reject the argument “THEY had polygamy, so WE should, too”, without questioning the context – I *believe* is the norm for 95% of Christians. If not, maybe Christianity has changed.

    Sure, some fringe groups will grab this or that quote out of context and claim it still applies with equal force today, ignoring the context in which God was speaking to His people. But they are “cults” not the vast majority of Christians. By extension, we all have heard of the group that, while saying ALL scripture is literally true, in practice only takes PART of it seriously – the part that builds up their leaders, or reinforces a preconcieved notion, such as polygamy.

    A preacher once illustrated the absurdity of out-of-context Absolute Literalism by telling the story of the man who opened the Bible for a daily inspiration and found the verse, “And Judas hanged himself.” This didn’t sit well so he tried again and came to, “Go and do likewise.” Flustered, he give it another shot and read, “That which must be done, do quickly.”

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Over on mormonstories.org: ” It is believed that if Jeppson is excommunicated, it would be the first time a Mormon in a legal, same-sex marriage was punished by the church.”
    It does not take much imagination to conclude that if the LDS authorities (General or particular) embraced Mr. Jeppson (to the presumed applause of the “dissidents”), it would leave without a plausible ground for not letting the “fundamentalist” polygamists back in (to the presumed horror of the “dissidents”). Although, of course, there is no slippery slope.
    And anyway, as I think I posted at the time, exactly why was Senator Santorum’s “If you allow gay marriage, you have to allow polygamy” greeted with a chorus of “How ridiculous! How absurd! How DARE he!” on the political-social left?

  • Rathje

    Regarding John Krakauer’s book … it’s not very credible.

    He gets a lot of historical facts wrong, and quotes exclusively from historians who support the conclusions he is trying to draw (despite the fact that many differing accounts exist, from non-mormon authors).

    And what exactly are the conclusions he was trying to draw? Pretty simple:

    Taking religion seriously leads to fanaticism and violence. Mormons take religion seriously. Therefore their culture is fundamentally one of violent fanatics.

    Anyone who has lived in Utah for any appreciable amount of time would probably wonder if John was smoking crack when he wrote this book.

    Before people start congratulating Krakauer on his “expose” of those nasty Mormons, keep in mind that he wasn’t just attacking Mormons.

    Krakauer’s thesis attacked ALL relgious devotion no matter the denomination.

    If you’re interested in reading what some actual members of the Mormon faith are thinking about issues like polygamy, patriarchy, etc., check out

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.com

    Polygamy has been a recent (and recurring) topic on that blog. Shouldn’t be too hard to find a discussion. The site also links to several other LDS blogs that also discuss polygamy among many other contemporary Mormon issues.

    It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in reading what people who don’t have an obvious axe to grind with Mormons are saying about the religion.

  • Rathje

    Sorry,

    that should have been .org

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org

  • jayman

    Two points. If I’m not mistaken, one, perhaps both of the show’s creators are gay. I haven’t looked at all the comments on this thread, but did anyone else notice that, or think it relevant?

    Second, I want to make a prediction. There will indeed be an alliance of convenience between polygamists, gay-marriage activists, and polyamorists (Unitarian or not).

    Crackpot Mormon fundamentalists and a few other eccentrics want legal polygamy proper; sexual liberationists on the left, whether of the gay-marriage or polyamorist variety want something like marital status before the law for their particular relational arrangments too All these people need basically the same legal argument to achieve what they want, and I think they’ll join forces long enough to try and make it the law of the land. Boiled down to essentials the argument goes soemthing like this: for the law to treat marriage as “an institution” and not just another contract that anyone of sound mind and majority age can enter into with however many other people matching that same criteria they wish violates equal protection. Unless Roberts and co. are willing to overturn Lawrence v. Texas (and I hope they are) that argument is pretty much correct and marriage as a distinct institution before the law will be a thing of the past in less than twenty years.

    One other prediction that may find more assent. The fight on this is just beginning.

  • concerned citizen

    Oh, save us from a society in which some children have two loving parents who have the same private parts! Save us from private, consensual moments of intimacy between committed, loving adults who have all the rights and responsibilities of legal marriage, but have the same letter on their driver’s license! For heaven’s sake, stop the insanity of two people of the *same* gender forming a family and having that family recognized by the government, just as the families formed by two people of *different* genders are!

    I’m so glad you all are here to protect us and point out these thinly veiled gay-agenda-promoting TV shows which clearly aren’t just about making money by getting talked about (and therefore watched) because the material is controversial.

    *ahem*

    If you don’t want gay people to have legal recognition of their marriages because of your traditional values, and can’t see that gay people can have traditional values too (hey… maybe that is why they want to get married! just a thought) – you’ve unfortunately inherited bigotry as one of your ‘values’. Think really, really hard about what you really value, and I’ll bet you find that “penis-vagina pairing” doesn’t appear in the list. What does? Love, family, community, respect, caring, responsibility, integrity. If you think that gay people are anti-all-of-that, you are sadly mistaken, or tragically misled.

    If you don’t want gay people to have legal recognition of their marriages because you fear that it will lead to legal recognition of plural marriages, then word your constitutional amendments to prohibit THEM, and quit punishing my family for the (quite possibly imagined) threat of something that we are NOT.

  • Emily P.

    I am a member of the LDS Church. I believe that a lot of stereotypes about the LDS church shouldn’t be perpetuated, and this show is probably only going to set us back a for a while. Some people have a hard time thinking of the LDS church as being a church which stresses family values without thinking that each husband has 3 wives. I have a friend who went to Disneyland with her 9 children and husband. When they mentioned to a tourist that they were from Utah, they subsequently asked if her oldest daughter was her husband’s second wife. These stereotypes are very real. It’s easy to disregard them when you have to live with them wherevery you go.