Plural Marriage: Will We Claim a Limited Prophet or a Limited God?

More Good Foundation

More Good Foundation

By Jenny

The recent essays produced by the Church on plural marriage have turned my thoughts inward to reflect on my own journey and relationship with the concept of plural marriage. I have especially ached for the young girls who married Joseph, as I have thought about the young, naïve girl I was at the age of fourteen. I still remember my first pivotal moment with polygamy. I had been reading The Work and the Glory series over the summer and I was struggling through the one in which plural marriage was being introduced in Nauvoo. I’m sure I had already known about plural marriage before then. Even at that tender age, I was terrified that I would die after I got married and would then have to share my future husband with another woman. Yes, I was fourteen!

But now, sitting in my room, tears streaming down my cheeks, I first came into contact with the pain of women who did have to share their husbands with other women. In a fictional book, written by a man who had never experienced that fear from a female perspective, I began my wrestle with a concept that I was too young to fully understand. Obviously, The Work and the Glory towed the line of the church in its sympathetic portrayal of Joseph. My pain and agony over this concept were reflected in the characters that rejected plural marriage and lost their eternal rewards. I thought my feelings were proof of my unfaithfulness toward God. I did not want to be one of the unfaithful ones. But I also didn’t know how I could ever feel good about polygamy. What a heavy burden for a fourteen-year-old girl to bear alone in her room.

But not all fourteen-year-old girls got to wrestle with hypothetical ideas alone in their rooms. Some had to do so face to face with someone they believed was a prophet of God with authority to make his word God’s word. What was their wrestle like? Did they go through the tortuous battle to work it out in their minds and hearts like I did? Did they cry and scream and rage against God the way I did? Did they spend hours on their knees, pleading with God to understand something that didn’t make sense to them? And in the end, did they humbly give in, thinking that a prophet of God must surely know best, that their own feelings and struggles meant nothing compared to his understanding? Did they give in because their desire to be righteous outweighed their own sense of logic and love?

That’s how it was for me. Worn out from my raging struggle, with red eyes and tears dried to my face, I looked in my mirror. I thought about my grandma who had divorced at an old age and had died without being sealed to anyone. “Okay God,” I said, trying to muster the courage I needed to do this. “I will share my husband (yes, I was fourteen!), but only if it will help my grandma to have someone to be sealed to.” And that was that. I had accepted the principle of plural marriage. It felt good. Just like the early saints, I had passed the test. I had proven faithful. Thinking back on that fourteen-year-old girl that I was, I can’t imagine any scenario in which loving Heavenly Parents would be okay with a thirty-eight-year old asking such a young, innocent girl to marry him. The legality of it makes no difference to me because man’s laws are not God’s laws.  I believe God’s laws are meant to protect us.

A decade later I was no longer an innocent fourteen-year-old girl as I searched for a greater understanding of plural marriage in the early days of the church. I learned about Joseph’s deceitfulness to his wife, the secrecies, denials, lies, coercion of young girls, and the rejection of those who didn’t comply. I was no longer a naïve girl who wanted to be faithful at any cost to myself, but I still wanted the church to come off victorious. I wanted to believe that God had commanded plural marriage and that Joseph Smith had acted in secrecy only because people wouldn’t understand that this came from God.

But one major thing had changed in my life by this point. My understanding of God had expanded. I now believed in a God who loved beyond anything I had ever imagined as a fourteen-year-old girl. I no longer believed in a God who asked His children to commit immoral acts like cheating on a spouse or killing a son in order to test their faithfulness to Him. I believed in Heavenly Parents who love far beyond the love I have even for my own children. If I would not tease my own children in such a horrendous manner just to be sure that they are true and faithful to me, why would loving Heavenly Parents do that to us?

This new understanding of God left me with two choices. I could continue to believe in a God who would ask His prophet to lie and cheat on his wife, coerce young girls more than half his age to marry him, and to set up a system that would cause immense pain for women whom this same God calls His daughters, or I could accept that Joseph was mistaken. This was not the God I believed in anymore, so I had to accept that Joseph was wrong. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be gentle and forgiving toward a man with very human weaknesses. I still love and respect him as a man with a vision to build the kingdom of God! I can even accept that he caused himself to believe that polygamy was part of that. Perception can change much easier than we tend to think, especially if it can ease a sense of guilt or sorrow that we are feeling. My perception had also allowed me at one time to fit polygamy into my understanding of the kingdom of God in order to ease the pain of being one of the unfaithful ones.

Since I have discarded polygamy from my understanding of what the kingdom of God looks like, I have discovered a more loving peaceful kingdom to dwell in. It is a place where young girls are no longer victims of Joseph’s possibly well-intentioned, yet ill-fated marriage construct. It is a place where my daughters will not have to live with the agony of thinking that they might need to share their husbands for eternity, while fearing that their own feelings make them unfaithful. It is a place where God the Mother and God the Father love all their children equally, and They would never command a man to hurt their daughters in any way or for any reason. It is a place where our Heavenly Parents do not see our disdain for the practice of plural marriage as unfaithfulness to them. They are proud of us for speaking up about our feelings

I realize that it is hard to bring Joseph down to the level of a man with natural weaknesses when we have revered and deified him for so long. It is especially hard under scrutiny from the rest of the world. They can’t possibly understand what this means for us as Mormons.  Our church is experiencing growing pains. I know personally how this painful process is going to feel for us because I have gone through it in my own faith over the last few years. But there is so much beauty and goodness on the other side of this.

My hope would be that Joseph himself has already repented of his own sins in regards to plural marriage. Why can’t we also repent of it as a church? Why can’t we stop allowing young girls to be his victims? Why can’t we say Joseph was wrong, we have made progress since then, and now we know better? If we could accept Joseph as a man with sexual appetites and imperfect understandings of God’s ways, then our understanding of a more perfect, loving God can expand. But if we continue to accept that Joseph’s claims of plural marriage came from God, then I’m afraid the God we believe in is limited in His ability to love, to parent wisely, and to give moral directives that will help us to be happy. What will we claim in the next chapter of Mormonism, a limited prophet or a limited God?

 

What was your experience trying to understand and relate plural marriage to your life?  How do you feel about it now?

Read More

Nachos and Green Tomato Salsa

canning jarsMy husband is getting ready to attend a play with friends. I am happy to stay home and putter, but he hesitates with keys in hand, looking around the kitchen with a concerned expression. “I may not be home in time for dinner.” One of the many perks of our empty nest is that occasionally I find myself blissfully alone. “I know. I will be fine.” He opens the fridge. “There may be some leftovers.” “I told you, I will figure something out.” He says, “You ate all the Wheat Chex last week.” Now I am annoyed. “Go! I will cook for myself.” He snorts and leaves. I go off and hermit around my workspace until hunger drives me back to the kitchen. I peer in the refrigerator, the freezer, the pantry, the refrigerator again.

My husband is truly gifted at cooking. I am not. This was established early in the relationship. On our first date he made a picnic lunch with teriyaki pheasant. A few dates later I burned a chicken concoction and we went out for pizza. In the first year of our marriage we attempted to trade off, but when my husband started graduate school, he took over. He said he wanted a “creative outlet.” We were both relieved.

It is hard to know what came first – my profound lack of aptitude or my subsequent lack of interest. One usually follows the other. For years I have sat on a stool at the edge of the kitchen island, watching my husband intently, trying to figure out the difference between us. We are both smart. We both love to eat. Perched there, eating scraps of food out of prep bowls, I have discovered clues. My brain thinks in geometric lines, taking apart and putting things back together in a linear process. If the points are not perfect in my quilt blocks, I remake them until they line up. I think: what is the most efficient way to go from point A to point B? What are the steps to achieve a specific result? My husband’s brain thinks like a lava lamp, organic, he perceives a million details at the same time. He chops and stirs and sautes this and roasts that. He senses temperature and color and somehow five dishes appear at the same time. If something doesn’t taste right he adapts the other ingredients to balance. He thinks: what flavors go together? What recipe fits the weather?  

Today I decide to make myself nachos. I find chips, pre-shredded cheese and an old piece of steak which I chop up and layer on the top. I turn on the broiler and can hear my husband’s voice in my head telling me not to burn them. In fact, why not use the microwave?

Our children grew up in a home where Dad was master of the kitchen, not just cooking, but preparing gourmet meals that people came to rave about. Dinner at our house was a culinary adventure and we loved entertaining as a family. I tried to feel that my contribution was bringing home the bacon rather than frying it up in a pan, but the referenced woman in the commercial could do both and look sexy. I worried that my lack of domestic proficiency diminished my value as a wife and mother. One Mother’s Day this was reinforced when the boys came home from Primary presenting a project they had made in class. It was constructed of two paper wheels held together by a brad. The top wheel had a window revealing tiny messages and pictures underneath. The title read: “My mother does many things for me!” and when the child turned the wheel, the captions below read “She bakes cookies!” “She makes dinner!” “She washes my clothes!” “ She meets me after school!” To which my little son gleefully confessed, “I told them that my mom doesn’t do any of those things!” My older son shook his head thoughtfully. “No, no she doesn’t.”  

I also faced incredulous clucking from other women assuring me of my “luck” in finding a man who would “help out” and cautioning that I had better “hang on to him” as if my inability to time an egg threatened our long term prospects. At first I would defensively explain that it all evened out, that he had a surly disposition and I cleaned the toilet. Eventually I just surrendered and shrugged. I had been judged by the dial-a-good-mother wheel and found wanting.

I don’t burn my nachos but they look boring so I dig through a pile of jars created from my husband’s new hobby, small batch canning. I find something green and chopped and open it. It smells like salsa. I taste it. The hacienda heavens open and choirs of mariachi angels sing. It is delicious. I dump it all over my nachos and devour them.

In his book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon shares that most parents love their children at birth, but must learn over time to accept them. He says that “love aspires to acceptance” and that most parenting happens in the grey area between what we try to change in those we love and what we choose to celebrate as it unfolds. I believe this applies to how we view ourselves as well. Learning when to develop and push ourselves and when to simply be ourselves is an ongoing challenge. There are so many bad habits I know I must fix – my selfishness, my dental hygiene, my matchstick temper. In comparison, I can shelve the less urgent deficiencies, ignore the lists of shoulds catalogued by others and even revel in the quirks that make me who I am. My children may appreciate a mother who can make sock monkeys dressed as literary characters just as much as a mother who knows that Honey Nut corn flakes and strawberry yogurt should not be used to bread chicken nuggets. In the words of the very wise Queen Elsa, I am going to let it go.

Later that night, when my husband comes home, he asks what I ate for dinner. I tell him nachos which actually required use of the oven. Then I say, “So that green stuff I found in the pantry? It is amazing. I ate the whole jar.” He lights up. “It is green tomato salsa. The neighbor brought us all these green tomatoes and I made up the recipe in order to use them.” I assure him that it was the best salsa I have ever tasted. And that I never take his gifts for granted. He wonders if he will be able to replicate the recipe again. I say, “I am sure you will come up with something.”

Read More

Guest Post: A Dysfunctional Marriage

by Margaret OH

My husband and I have been listening to a marriage therapy course with the fabulous Jennifer Finlayson-Fife.  We have found that meeting with a marriage therapist every few years for a “check-up” is great for heading off potential problems and for gaining skills that strengthen our relationship.  At this moment in our lives we don’t have the time to physically meet with someone in an office, but Dr. Finlayson-Fife (my husband and I refer to her as JFF) has been an excellent fit for us and conveniently comes to our house via the internet while our children sleep.

One of the skills that JFF emphasizes is effective speaking and listening in conflict.  I consider myself pretty good at listening but have learned a lot from the class.  JFF lays out strategies for productive speaking: state the facts, give a personal interpretation, make a manageable request.  The listener also has a responsibility: to listen with honest self-examination while holding the valued relationship close in his/her heart.  Both roles require vulnerability and a commitment to the relationship.  In my experience both roles, if done right, are difficult to perform.  It takes a faith in the relationship to be that humble and exposed.

In one video of a case study of a couple acting out a conflict, JFF lays out basic grading for the listener: An F grade for denying that there’s a problem; D for acknowledging there’s a problem; C for acknowledging and apologizing; a B for acknowledging, apologizing, and committing to change.   An A grade is more difficult: it requires seeing oneself through the eyes of your partner and taking ownership of the problem.  It is not just saying, “You’re right, I’ll change”, it is saying, “You’re right.  I see that in myself and I don’t like that about myself.  I am trying to be different.”

I have often throughout my adult life felt like I was in a marriage with the Church. 

Read More

Herstory

Abuela is 2nd from the right

Abuela is 2nd from the right.

Abuela was raised in a small pueblo just after the Mexican Revolution of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Grandpa Angel, 16 years older than Abuela, fought in the revolution. The illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, he killed a man for the first time at the age of 15 in a dispute over the ownership of some pigs. The revolution was good for him as murdering men frequently thrive in violent times. By the close of the war he co-owned a banana plantation and was quite wealthy. His fortunes changed when a drunken bar incident escalated to violence that culminated in a large gun battle in the center of town. Grandpa Angel and his men killed people including some important government officials and had to go on the run. A former general in the revolutionary war helped my grandfather to hide and convert his resources into land and cattle in the pueblo where Abuela lived.

Although raised in humble circumstances, Abuela loved to read and declaim. She first memorized patriotic poems as a three-year-old, declaiming at community events or simple family gatherings. An aunt who married into the family taught school and provided a free education to Abuela, who was reading by age four. Although much of her time was devoted to the typical farm and household chores expected of young girls, in her free time Abuela read every book she could acquire. It was well known in the community that no gift would please her so much as a book (although she also loved to play with dolls). When Abuela was 15 years old, Angel came to the house to visit with her parents. It didn’t matter that Grandpa Angel already had a family in the pueblo with another woman out of wedlock. He settled on a price of cattle and land with Abuela’s parents that greatly improved the resources of the family. Abuela put her books and dolls away and was married.

Read More

Where All the Stories Are LOVE Stories

One of My Heroes. From one of the greatest stories of LOVE.

One of My Heroes. From one of the greatest stories of LOVE.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~Lao Tzu

 

 


http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/461259724/where-all-the-stories-are-love-stories

As a storyteller, I’ve long understood the power of connecting ourselves with our heroes. Growing up I was able to put myself in the shoes of Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Nephi, Indiana Jones, then, eventually Bridget Jones and even Walter Mitty. It’s the power of a story. No matter where we live or who we are, we have the imaginations that stretch us, pull us, and encourage us to aim higher, achieve more, relate, and envision a happy ending–even if we’re at the scary, unknown exposition.

Stories are universal. And a culture is made up of stories passed from one generation to the next. The foundation of the way we define our lives is expressed through stories told in movies, social media, news media, and books written at a given time in history. Over the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the right time in history to make a change in the stories we’ve passed on about the LGBT community.

The trend in our culture has been to portray our LGBT neighbors as misfits, always on the outskirts of normal society, often so eccentric that we are unable to relate. Rarely do you see a movie featuring gay couples sharing a simple kiss, holding hands, or looking at each other with expressions of everyday love– these simple actions are the foundation of everyone’s love story. They make art art and love love– your love and my love. My story, as a filmmaker, is to change this. To make a documentary film about these everyday, extraordinary stories that make us all the same.

I believe in people. I believe in the power of love. And I believe that the thing that connects us to each other, regardless of our differences, is our personal story. Our stories are our lives. They are fleeting. They are precious. They are worthy of being documented. And each one should be told and heard.

I’m reminded often, during this filmmaking process, of  the words of my hero from one of my favorite stories. Atticus Finch understood something during his time that many people did not,  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Maybe that seems simplistic on a topic that has caused much heated discussion and debate, but for me, it’s truly come down to simple love, kindness, and acceptance of those who may at first appear different that I am.

If you feel so inclined, please, take a look at our kickstarter project, donate if you can, and share the link. Thank you.

First Gay Marriages in Utah

Read More

Birth/Rebirth: How I Chose to be a Surrogate

Guest post by Jen Holt

Jen lives in Utah with her husband and 4 children

(note: with Gestational Surrogacy, the egg of the mother is donated by the IP’s, or an egg donor. Traditional surrogacy uses the surrogate mother’s egg. However, traditional surrogacy is exceptionally uncommon as a result of advancements in fertility treatment, plus, it is considered unduly problematic and controversial because of genetic attachment to the surrogate. For any kind of surrogacy, IVF is used to retrieved the egg, create an embryo, and also to prepare and transfer to the surrogate’s womb, i.e. both the egg donor and surrogate need to participate in the IVF process in gestational surrogacy, and both women are usually required to be on the same cycle, which means both women take birth control pills in order to prepare for IVF.)

Twelve years ago my aunt was struggling with infertility. It was heartbreaking for me to see her suffer a loss with an ectopic pregnancy then having many failed IVF attempts after that. I offered to donate my eggs or carry for her because I felt so strongly that she was a mother. That was the plan until she ended up getting pregnant on her fifth IVF attempt. She now has healthy quadruplets. Still, I began to dream of helping another family.

Photo of Jen Holt's belly by Erin Gadd, Pink Daffodil Photography

Photo of Jen Holt’s belly by Erin Gadd, Pink Daffodil Photography

I already had a son from a previous relationship when I started to date my husband. I met him at the time my aunt was going through her infertility treatments. On our second date I mentioned I would be a gestational surrogate one day. We hadnʼt even talked about our future at that point. I sometimes wonder why he asked me out again. But he did. After we married and I had three non-complicated pregnancies, our family felt complete. I no longer had the desire to have another baby of my own but the feeling of “pregnancy hunger” never went away. I knew that my ability to get pregnant and having easy pregnancies was not for me— it was for another family or families. I started to tell everyone I wanted to carry for someone else, but I had a powerful urge to move forward was when my baby girl turned a year old in 2010.

Read More