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Dinner with the Polygamists


A couple weeks ago, my husband, Nate, asked if I would have dinner with some of the people he works with. One of Nate’s clients is the Colorado City Unified School District, a polygamist community that straddles the Arizona Utah border near St. George. (Yes, that’s where the infamous Warren Jeffs is from.)

Of course, I jumped at the chance. I have read lots about pioneer polygamists, but I’d never actually met any modern-day ones.

We went to dinner with C and F, who are in leadership positions in the school district. They are strong women who talked about their children, husbands, and career ambitions. I was particularly struck during our conversation about the advantage of having sister wives who can help raise each other’s children. I think that gives these women a little more freedom than us monogamists about when/how/if they will pursue a career. In fact, many of the women Nate works with have Masters and PhD’s from schools like Northern Arizona University and Southern Utah University.

As I listened to them, I was ashamed to admit that I had not wanted to see modern-day polygamists as “real people.” I was tired of the Mormon polygamy jokes, and I wanted to do everything I could to distance myself from the modern-day polygamists. I wanted to believe in the stereotypes of men forcing child brides into marriage, of women too oppressed or uneducated to realize how horrible their lives were, of polygamist families living in decrepit trailers. I wanted to see polygamy as evil and oppressive and the people who chose it as a way of life, unenlightened.

In fact, part of me still wants to see it as something to be abolished because if polygamy is a valid model, what does that say about my role as a monogamist wife? What would this say about the roles of women verses the men? And, then, of course there are the theological implications if polygamy truly is an eternal principle, but I’ll save that tirade for another blog.

Now that I’ve met these women and Nate works with them on a daily basis, I’m finding my polygamist wife stereotype falling apart. As Nate and I have gotten to know these people, I see, for the most part, women choosing this lifestyle. The women I’ve met married around the same age or even older than I was when I married (I was 22). They have as much (often more) education than I have and are pursuing successful careers while raising healthy, intelligent children and maintaining well-functioning families.

I’ve heard the stories of abuse, and octogenarians marrying teenage virgin brides on Oprah and the book displays at Barnes and Noble. But, I wonder if that’s more because the sensational stories are more interesting than the majority’s daily lives. Nate isn’t seeing the pictures the media depicts. Granted he’s seen some scandal up there, but no more than most places have to deal.

In fact as he talks with these women, he sees that the idea of an older man marrying a 14 or 15 year old girl is just as offensive to polygamist as it is to monogamist. This is one reason why many polygamists in Colorado City no longer believe Warren Jeffs is a prophet.

Warren Jeffs and others have done bad things, and unfortunately, this tiny group represents polygamy to the outside world. And, yet, many polygamists do not follow Warren Jeffs or support what he has done. When Nate talks about the people he works with, when I meet some of them, all I see are individuals trying to live their lives the best they know how. And, right now, those would be hard lives to live…

Imagine the current state of events in Colorado City. Major networks have crews permanently working in the town, and these reporters have to come up with stories that will attract viewers. This means they constantly sensationalize the hunt for Warren Jeffs and the lifestyle. These are regular people, who have news crews filming them at church, at school, at the grocery store, and even at home without their permission.

Add to this that their communal land trust has been taken over by force by the Utah Attorney General. The school district has been taken over by the Arizona Attorney General, and every police officer in town has either been arrested or de-certified by the Arizona Attorney General. There are two FBI agents permanently assigned to the community of 10,000 people, and approximately once a month dozens of state police officers from Utah and/or Arizona descend on the city to serve outstanding subpoenas or execute search warrants.

Amid all this strife, the polygamists are dividing amongst themselves with one group pursuing an isolationist strategy by moving the religion to Texas, building temples and preparing for the Second Coming. The other group is staying in Colorado City, trying to preserve their lifestyle, and open up to the outside world. I can’t help but think how really hard this whole situation would be if it was happening to me.

It is still difficult for me to know how to react to modern-day polygamists. Like Linda mentioned in her polygamist blog, on one hand polygamy seems freeing, to be able to pursue your dreams as you share childcare responsibilities, but on the other hand, I’d be sharing my husband, my children would be sharing their father with a lot of other children. If I accept their way of life, am I helping pave the way to having polygamy come back? Or, would I be supporting an aspect of the Church that I frankly think was a big mistake?

And yet, if I want people to be accepting of my way of life and not stereotype me, don’t I have the obligation to defend others when I see them being persecuted?

So, what is my obligation to these women? I know that the vast majority of them are free to leave whenever they choose. Can I condemn them for exercising their free agency? On the other hand, by supporting their lifestyle choices, am I condoning the instances of abuse? Worse yet, am I assisting the perpetuation of abuse?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Kaimi says:

    Um, wow. That’s all I can say right now.

    Really, really interesting questions, Emily. I’ll try to weigh in with something intelligent in a second, when I have a little time to think through some of these issues. In the interim, thanks for a very thought-provoking post.

  2. bigbrownhouse says:

    I believe the criminalization of polygamy between consenting adults is ridiculous. Abuse and statuatory rape should be dealt with as a separate issue and not automatically bundled into the polygamy discussion.

    That said, I can think of plenty other ways to manage a happy family life and meaningful work than inviting other women to share my husband’s bed. That strikes me as a rather weak “benefit.”

  3. Deborah says:

    Thanks, Emily. I’m not comfortable of our polygamist history — and yet I celebrate our feminist/suffragist history. And the two are so deeply intertwined that you cannot neatly bisect them. The women I most admire for early church history were polygamist wives — many of them proudly so — and lived perhaps lonelier lives, but also lives of great industry (politically, spiritually, economically). But that seems like, well, old history — the wild west, a new territory, the growing pains of Zion.

    Modern stuff? The inherent gender inequity — the concubine image, one master several mistresses — does not sit well. How widespread is the abuse and subjegation of women in these modern communities? To what extent does this lifestyle repress women’s ability to fully flourish? I’ve read chilling accounts. But it’s so easy to stereotype this as a community of “others”; your account reminds me that there is very little that is cut, dry, open, shut about the human story.

  4. Serenity Valley says:

    Emily,

    I really think we ought to legalize polygamy and, as bigbrownhouse says, monitor and prosecute sexual and physical abuse, for the reasons I outlined here (http://ldsliberationfront.net/?p=144#more-144) a few months ago. But even so, I’m uncomfortable at the idea of meeting polygamists, of talking to them about their lives, of finding any sort of common ground, because I have no interest in the nineteenth-century Mormonism to which they are faithful. In fact, it makes me nervous. I can see God in our church today, but I don’t want want to see God in their church as well. I don’t want God to be big enough for us and for them, if that makes sense. It’s too scary, or I’m too selfish.

    I’m sure feeling this way is a sin. Maybe I need to do what you’ve done?

  5. Beijing says:

    “…the idea of an older man marrying a 14 or 15 year old girl is just as offensive to polygamist as it is to monogamist. This is one reason why many polygamists in Colorado City no longer believe Warren Jeffs is a prophet.”

    History repeats itself.

  6. bigbrownhouse says:

    what Beijing said.

    Helen Mar Kimball, 14. Fanny Alger, 16. Flora Ann Woodworth 16…

  7. Crystal says:

    bigbrownhouse,

    Context much?

  8. bigbrownhouse says:

    Beijing was pointing out the irony in stating that the marriage of young teens to adult men is an obstacle to Warren Jeff’s credibility as a prophet, when it is exactly what Joseph Smith did. (Such behavior was not met with universal approval back then either.)

    The names are some of Joseph Smith’s youngest wives.

  9. Caroline says:

    Emily,
    I too have been impressed by certain plural wives I have met at Sunstone. They are smart, articulate and are great advocates for a lifestyle that they feel is legitimate and empowering.

    However, I also try to remember that the ones I meet (and I imagine the ones you met) are among the best, the brightest, and the most empowered of polygamist women. The modern day equivalents of Eliza R. Snow or Emmaline B. Wells. While the majority are not in such privileged circumstances.

    I wonder if the empowering aspects of polygamy are really only available to a few people of a certain social/economic strata. My husband had dinner with some polygamists who lived in the middle of nowhere when he was a missionary in Montana. He was struck by how desperately poor and downtrodden and isolated these people were. I wonder if that is more reflective of the majority of polygamists than these few who I see at Sunstone.

    That said, while I find the practice personally revolting and ultimately degrading to women (despite efficiency arguments), I too can’t see why it should be illegal between consenting adults.

  10. Mike says:

    As Caroline mentioned, I had dinner with some polygamists (one man & three wives) while I was a missionary in the early 1990s.

    Like Caroline said, I was struck by their poverty. They lived on a compound of three old trailer homes outside a small town in Wyoming. I think the poverty was partly a result of them living in a small town where income levels were already low, partly for having many children, and partly due to economic persecution by other locals–who were nearly all LDS–who all knew the family was polygamist. From what I gathered, poverty was common among the known polygamists in the area, although those who practiced in secret were able to maintain their secular opportunities.

    It was an event I’ll never forget. In complete seriousness, the dad offered us multiple wives if we came back after our missions. I was impressed that their family was very close and tight, and my analysis at the time was that this was due to their sincere love for family life as well as the need to band together in the face of local persecution by regular LDS.

    They tried to challenge us on our knowledge of Church history, etc. I remember the dad and first wife having more knowledge about early LDS polygamy than the other two wives. The dad and first wife were originally highly devout LDS before “converting” to LDS fundamentalism after serious study. The other wives were born into polygamy and seemed to only know the apologetic version of their history.

    Strangely, I left the compound with a surety in my mind that it was not right for me to practice polygamy. I didn’t go in trying to resolve anything, but I had previously encountered polygamists on my mission and had read some of their material to understand their claims. I suppose I felt the experience a sort of challenge, and my testimony of the current LDS Church was strengthened in the process.

    And even though I left convinced that their practice was wrong, I also left with an empathy for them and their challenges. Especially for the children who would face an added persecution during those already difficult public school years.

  11. Tam says:

    Emily – interesting post. Thanks. You posed this question:

    “… by supporting their lifestyle choices, am I condoning the instances of abuse? Worse yet, am I assisting the perpetuation of abuse?”

    The idea of polygamy being abusive seems to be a common thought, but why is it considered to be a more abusive marital arrangement than monogamy? Young women can be forced into monogamous marriages (and they have) just as well as being forced into polygamous marriages. I’ve met many women in my life who have endured abuse in their monogamous marriages/partnerships and they were largely susceptible to the abuse because their husband/partner was able to isolate them. They were alone. The aloneness of monogamy potentially opens women up to abuses that they might be protected from in a polygamist situation, i.e., there’s safety in numbers. Terrible stories of abuse can be found in both marriage systems; thus, I can’t see that either system lends itself more to abuse than the other.

    Given that, I don’t think that accepting/supporting someone’s choice to live a polygamist lifestyle supports abuse any more or less than accepting someone’s choice to live a monogamous lifestyle. I agree with bigbrownhouse that abuse is a separate issue altogether.

    While I am a monogamous LDS woman who has struggled with the church and its attitudes surrounding women, polygamy causes me little concern. If practiced righteously, allowing everyone’s agency full reign, I can see polygamy being both freeing and empowering for all concerned – men, women and children. The key for me is agency. I don’t believe God will force any of us, male or female, to live a polygamist lifestyle in the eternities if we don’t want to.

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

  12. harijans says:

    Hi, Emily’s husband. I wanted to add a bit, and respond to a few comments. First off my background on the polygamist issue. As Emily mentioned I work extensively with the Colorado City Unified School District (CCUSD). Starting in 2003 there were allegations of fraud and discrimination at CCUSD (CCUSD is a one school, K-12, district). Eventually these allegations led to the school district being placed in receivership. Receivership is a status normally reserved for bankrupt or close to bankrupt companies in which there are allegations of fraud. Never in the history of the United States had a school district been placed under receivership. A receiver is appointed over the district and that receiver essentially becomes the district superintendent, business manager, principle, and governing board for the entire district. My company was appointed as the receiver for CCUSD, and the responsibility fell to me to fix the district, and investigate the allegations of fraud.

    In this capacity, I traveled to Colorado City every week for almost two months. As Emily mentioned the town experienced a split several years ago. There is a fundamentalist group which follows Warren Jeffs and refers to themselves as the first ward. Then there is a second group that has grown over time that does not follow Mr. Jeffs, they live in the same area, in a community called Centennial Park, they are often referred to as the second ward, or second warders. Almost all of these individuals believe in and/or practice polygamy.

    In the summer of 2000, Warren Jeffs forbade first warders from speaking to second warders. Over the next week 60% of the faculty and students resigned and withdrew from the public schools. However, the superintendent, business manager, accounting office, and principle who are all followers of Mr. Jeffs did not resign. They continued to control the school, and more importantly the school’s funding.

    When I first went up to CCUSD all of the first ward employees resigned. Some quit on the spot, others gave two weeks notice, but I suddenly found myself in charge of a school district with no expertise or experience of my own, or in the school.

    I immediately began interviewing candidates for vacant positions. I interviewed dozens of people without pretense to gender, race or age, and ended up hiring the best people I could find. I hired polygamist wives for the following positions, business manager, superintendent, principle, accounts payable clerk, head chef, and payroll clerk. I am sure they are not all first wives (it is a bit of a taboo to ask such questions). And I am sure each one is well-educated, intelligent and generally very happy with their life choices. Every one of them had at least an associates degree, many had masters or PhDs.

    In the time I spent with these women we experienced a great deal of stress. And as with all stressful situations, the ordeal will either draw everyone closer together, or push them apart. I worked hard to make sure we drew closer together. I learned many interesting and important tidbits about their religion, community and lifestyle that I wanted to share with you.

    1. Children with different mothers, but the same father do not distinguish between who is their half brother or sister.

    2. The religion believes that family platonic relationships are more intimate and sacred than sexual relationships. The pursuit and attainment of this belief is what makes spouse sharing possible. The Jealousy factor that is a hang-up for me, and many monogamists is minimized (but does not disappear) through this belief.

    3. Public displays of affection, even in the home, or in front of other wives is considered crass and improper.

    4. When a reporter asked one of the women who worked at CCUSD “how do you decide who will have sex with the husband?” (I can’t believe someone would actually ask that question). The response was (with a straight face) “Each night we draw straws, and whoever draws the short straw has to sleep with him.” While this was a humorous (and untrue) response, it does capture the essence of closeness that normally exists between sister wives. Often times sister wives have as close or closer relationships than the husband and wife. As one polygamist husband complained to me he said, “The one thing you always want to do is keep harmony in the home, because if you make one of them mad, you better believe you made all of them mad.”

    5. This was the most interesting to me. The way a polygamist marriage is created. Married men do not court other women. A plural marriage is almost always initiated by a woman who would like to join a family that already exists. The unmarried woman will go to the leaders of the church and ask them if she can marry into that family. The leaders then discuss it with the husband who will be taking on the second wife to see if he is open to the idea, and has the resources to support an additional wife. The husband then discusses it with his current family to make sure they will support the idea. If everyone is in agreement, then they move forward with the plural marriage.

    That being said, women are free to pursue a plural marriage at any age, and some do start trying to join other families at very young ages, such as 14-16 years old. I will not speculate on the possible explanations of such a trend, but I understand such occurrences to be very rare. Every woman I work with flatly stated that their daughters will not be permitted to marry until they are 18 and most encourage their daughters to wait until mid-twenties.

    Keep in mind that this group of polygamist do not follow Warren Jeffs, the second warders do not speculate on what Jeffs’ religious group practices, but will say that any underage marriage they have heard of was instigated by the underage woman. I know this is in stark contrast to media representations, and first hand accounts from some of these women. I do not know who is right and who is skewed in their recollection of these events. There are similar conflicting accounts regarding the famous “Lost Boys” and other media characters.

    Bigbrown said:

    “I believe the criminalization of polygamy between consenting adults is ridiculous. Abuse and statuatory rape should be dealt with as a separate issue and not automatically bundled into the polygamy discussion.”

    I couldn’t agree more. But blame goes both ways. The polygamist will not allow people to look at their community to see if this is happening, and law enforcement agencies are assuming that the worst case scenario is true.

    “That said, I can think of plenty other ways to manage a happy family life and meaningful work than inviting other women to share my husband’s bed. That strikes me as a rather weak “benefit.”

    While this is difficult for a monogamist tradition to understand, sharing the husband’s bed is just not a big deal for them. The strength and intimacy of their relationship with their husband has very little to do with their sexual relationship. I can say it, but I do not understand how it is possible. Just the thought of sharing my spouse with another man elicits murderous jealousy in me. Such is not the case in Colorado City.

    Caroline said:
    “I wonder if that is more reflective of the majority of polygamists than these few who I see at Sunstone.”

    I can assure you that the norm, at least in Colorado City which may be the most accepting place in America for polygamists, that the women and men are afforded as much education as they want to pursue. Families go to great length and sacrifice to send their children to college.

    We have 27 teachers in our school that are all certified. Only three of the teachers are men and the average education level of our teachers is slightly below a master’s degree (Bachelors +30 hours). In addition, any who want their master’s degree are able to pursue that degree through a variety of ac
    credited programs. We also have 17 teacher’s aids, of which, 14 are pursuing higher education.

    The public school is a highly performing school in the state, and the students regularly compete in music, arts, business, and science competitions at the national level. Education is one of the highest priorities in their culture. In a town of 10,000 there is one public school, one charter school, and at least eight different private schools. Of young people who go away to school, over 90% return to live in Colorado City when they graduate.

    Again, I am speaking of a group of polygamist that do not follow Warren Jeffs, I have heard very different things about his group and education, but I cannot confirm or refute anything said. I know that Warren Jeffs group runs at least seven private schools in Colorado City, and I have spoken with their administrators who claim to have a well-rounded curriculum.

    I also know that Jeff’s group does not allow television, only certain movies and music, and reading or writing fiction is forbidden. That being said, I have seen plenty of Direct TV satellites on houses, R-rated videos for rent in stores as well as a typical flare of cheap romance novels. I suspect that such tenants are much like the Mormon “Eat meat sparingly” doctrine.

    Mike said:
    “I think the poverty was partly a result of them living in a small town where income levels were already low, partly for having many children, and partly due to economic persecution by other locals–who were nearly all LDS–who all knew the family was polygamist. From what I gathered, poverty was common among the known polygamists in the area”

    Poverty is always going to be a problem when you support 15-30 kids on one or two jobs. I find Colorado City to be at the extremes. Some families have been highly successful, have enormous net worth, and live in mansions that would blend in on the Newport shore. Others live in rather severe poverty. The extremes are shocking, but on average, Colorado City incomes are similar to other rural communities in the south west.

    Tam Said:
    “If practiced righteously, allowing everyone’s agency full reign, I can see polygamy being both freeing and empowering for all concerned – men, women and children. The key for me is agency.”

    Six months ago I would have completely disagreed with this comment. Today, I have to admit that I have seen polygamy working in a way that I think God intended it to work. Don’t get me wrong, I am not converting or anything, and it is not, by any means a utopian solution. I have seen some of the classic warning signs of physical and sexual abuse in Colorado City. But those signs are no less common than they were in my high school, or middle school in Henderson, Nevada. All I can really say is that I now know many, very happy, honest, intelligent, and enthusiastic polygamists.

    The only real comical comment I would make in response is that I am not so sure it is empowering for the husbands in these families. Many of the men I met just looked overworked, dejected, and depressed. I will not speculate on what would put them in such a state.

  13. Deborah says:

    Thanks for taking to time to write this, Harijans. I really appreciate the balance to Anderson Cooper’s nightly expose — from an outsider with insider access (and some compassion). Still not sure what to make of it all . . .

  14. EmilyCC says:

    Thanks for everyone’s comments. I was a little nervous about this post, thinking I might get comments like, “How could you be a feminist and think polygamy might be something you should condone?!”

    The idea of legalizing polygamy is intruiging. I wonder if it would help polygamists who are in abusive situations. The Colorado City polygamists seem very wary of outside help, but that might be rememdied if they didn’t feel like the government was a threat to their lifestyle.

    I wonder where the Church would side in that marriage debate.

    Tam, I’m right with you. Abuse happens in monogamist relationships, too.

    Mike, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s interesting to hear about the Wyoming polygamists. I’m assuming they were FLDS, too?

  15. bigbrownhouse says:

    Emilycc, where is the conflict between being a feminist and believing that adults should be allowed to live life as they choose?

    Remember too, that FLDS is not the only polygamy model in the US. For example, there are a lot of Bantu refugees in this area who arrive with their children, their wife, and…er…their…um…sister. There are non-LDS Christian polygamists, and non-religious polyanderous families, some of whom would appreciate the protection of a legally recognized marriage.

    You ask where the Church would stand on the issue. It’s pretty clear that they only want legitimacy granted to alternative lifestyles that they endorse.

  16. EmilyCC says:

    bigbrownhouse, I don’t think there’s a conflict between being a feminist and a polygamist. My concern was that some readers might feel that way.

    Yes, there are other cultures that practice polygamy, but I’m only questioning those that share a religious background similar to my own. I should have clarified that in my post.

  17. Deborah says:

    Serenity Valley: Let me just say that I admire the candor of your comment; I have a collegue — a history teacher — who is completely fascinated by the news coverage (the same one who wants to do a Big Love debrief with me each Monday). She said today that she wants me to take her to Utah to visit Hillsdale/Colorado City — and she was only half kidding (oh, and she really enjoyed this post, Emily). I immediately bristled at the idea, though I too follow the reports, and I love southern Utah. But part of me doesn’t want to get too close . . . to have a mirror of my polygamous ancestors held up to me, perhaps?

  18. Mike says:

    Emily,

    Actually, the polygamists I ate dinner with were “Apostolic United Brethren” (AUB for short) and not FLDS. AUB had small communities and groups where I served my mission in Montana and Wyoming.

    I met some other polygamists there, too. One I knew was AUB. The others could have been FLDS, but my hunch was that they were AUB, too.

  19. sarah says:

    Very interesting stuff! Though I cannot imagine living in a polygomous marriage, I also don’t see the point of not allowing consenting adults to marry legally — however they want the situation to be configured (including homosexual marriages). When child brides are involved it is another story — but that holds true for monogamous marriages as well.

    All of our lives, interests, relationship dynamics, desires, and beliefs differ, and it seems unfair to hold monogamous (and heterosexual) relationships up as the ideal when the divorse rate is 50 percent and abuse is rampant. Why should monogamous heterosexual relationships be the only “valid” choice for adult women?

    Like any religion, the fanatics are the ones that get publicity. Because of the Da Vinci Code, half the public now thinks all Opus Dei believers are like the killer monk who whips himself. People believe all Scientologist are as nutty as Tom Cruise. Others believe all Muslims are terrorists who treat women like property. Yet I have friends who are Opus Dei, Scientologist, and Muslim, and they are NOTHING like the stereotype. They are bright, strong, creative, independent women and men who just happen to have different beliefs and traditions than mine.

    When a woman doesn’t have a choice about her marriage/relationship, I get angry. But when the choice is made freely, I support her agency.

  20. lorie says:

    My problem with polygamy as practiced by fundamentalist Mormons has nothing to do with two or more consenting adults choosing to cohabitate. From a purely legal standpoint, I agree with bigbrownhouse that the criminalization of such an arrangement is ridiculous and possibly unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. That said, what troubles me is the theology upon which the practice is based. It is solidly patriarchal and, hence, sexist at its core. Although there are cases of polyandry (a woman with more than one husband) in early Mormonism, they were solely temporal arrangements and were never seen as eternally binding. LDS and fundamentalist LDS doctrine was and still is based on a patriarchal, polygynous (a man with more than one wife) model in which the man is head of his kingdom, if you will, and his wives and children are facilitators of his kingdom- building, indeed, jewels in his eternal crown. As a feminist and great-granddaughter of Mormon polygamists, I reject this model as well as all others that subordinate women.

    I don’t know much about other aspects of theology among Mormon fundamentalist groups; however, I understand that many take a sort of retro position on several points of doctrine, including the exclusion of black males from priesthood ordination. Needless to say, this is a belief I also reject.

  21. AmyB says:

    This has been a very interesting thread to follow. I’m on the side of letting consenting adults do what they want. Doctrinal issues and the strict patriarchal structure are another thing. I think it’s very narrow-minded to hold up the nuclear family of two parents and their kids as the “one true” way to do it. That’s what our culture accepts right now, but there are many arrangements in other cultures, such as multigenerational families living together that are just as legitimate.

    At the risk of embarrassing myself, I remember a time when I was quite young (13 or 14) when polygamy sounded great to me. I couldn’t imagine ever being separated from my friends, and we all had a crush on the same guy. We figured the solution was that we could all share him and we’d all be together. It was a great solution to a young teen mind. 🙂

    It’s not a choice I would make for myself right now, but I hesitate to make judgements either.

  22. harijans says:

    I spoke with some of my friends in CCUSD and they would be happy to read this thread and post their own comments, and feedback. No doubt they will also correct some of my poor attempts to represent them as well.

    If anyone is interested in visiting CCUSD/Hilldale, I would be happy to coordinate with them when I am there working to introduce them to some of the friends I have there, and show them the town.

    I also have to add an additional comment concerning the patriarchal nature of the culture. There is an enormous pedastal upon which the fathers of these families are placed. The fathers do still make all decisions concerning families, children formally belong to the father instead of the mother.

  23. Tam says:

    Lorie – thanks for your comments. I share your ire at sexism and the subordination of women. However, I don’t see polygamy as necessarily being sexist. Granted, the way it has been practiced in many, maybe most cases has been in a male-dominated, sexist manner (as just substantiated by Harijans). But I don’t think it has to be that way. It could simply be a man and one or more women creating a family with no one being the head, i.e., no spouse is dominated and the children belong to all parents involved. The crowning jewels are the children, not the spouses.

    The fact that LDS doctrine seems to support polygamy (or as you pointed out, more correctly referred to as polygyny) does not speak to me of male-domination per se, but rather, it speaks to me of basic biology. The central directive given to Adam and Eve, and thus vicariously to all of us, was to procreate. The most efficient means to procreate, from a biological standpoint (for humans), is one man to several women. Because humans have a 9-month gestation period, polyandry and monogamy are both more limiting reproductively than polygyny.

    Now, before anyone expresses concern that I’m implying that men and women are nothing more than studs and brood mares, let me offer a further explanation of my perspective. Moses 1:39 tells us the that the central purpose of God is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” My interpretation of this is that God’s work and glory is to procreate – to have children and raise them to Godhood. The term “God” to me does not denote “Father in Heaven.” It denotes any perfected Being involved in this work. It seems to me that our Heavenly Parents are trying to raise us become like Them, and thus Their commandments and doctrines are designed to teach us to live by the same godly principles They live by. Therefore, we are no more studs and brood mares than is/are God.

    As I mentioned before, I think polygamy can be a very healthy family situation provided everyone’s agency remains intact. Although I have no plans to become a polygamist, the thought of “sharing” my husband with other women evokes no jealousy in me and I rather like the idea of sister wives.

    Thanks again to everyone for such an interesting thread of ideas…

  24. Caroline says:

    Tam, interesting comments. One thing I might want to explore more is your idea that polygyny is the most efficient way to produce a large number of babies. I think I disagree with that, since it seems to me that if every single woman was matched with every single man, (assuming the birthrate among sexes is about equal) you would get just as many babies as through polygyny. After all, in a system like polygyny, what are some men going to do for wives if other ones are taking more than one? Creates a fundamental imbalance.

  25. harijans says:

    Polygany works better when men have a lower life expectancy and a lower chance to survive to the age of reproduction. In most polyganous cultures such is the case. The argument presented is a standard assumption for biologist.
    1. Goal of a species is to survive and procreate.

    2. If one of the sexes has a lower survival rate than the other (to reproductive age) then that sex should attempt procreation with more than one mate to maximize reproductive capacity.

    For much of human history males had a lower survival rate than women. Only in the last two centuries has male survival rate caught up to female survival rates, and that only first world societies.

    On Colorado City, I did leave off an assumption from above. While the fathers are placed on a pedastal, and officially rule over the family, and own the children in cases of divorce. The fathers will rarely make any significant decision without consultating their wives, and never make a decision opposite the advice of his wives (assuming the wives all agree).

    Even though the men are the figureheads, the women have strength in numbers, and therefor control most, if not all, of the decisions made for the family.

  26. Tam says:

    Caroline – good point and thanks Harijans for your clarification. I was coming at things more from a “reproductive fitness” perspective, i.e., not all males are equally desirable as mates. Yes, I realize this could get me into trouble, because not all women are equally desirable as mates either and I don’t mean to insult the men folk. It just seems to me from my experience of living in/visiting lots of wards that there is often a plethora of single sisters of various ages and not so many single men. While world statistics may show a fairly equal number of men and women, it appears that those numbers don’t necessarily lend themselves to LDS society. Many LDS women have specific things they want in a spouse (RM, priesthood holder, temple worthy, etc.) and there doesn’t seem to an excess of such men available. Thus, I don’t think there’s a one-to-one ratio of men to women in LDS society. I don’t have stats to back that up – just personal observation, so I could be wrong.

    Harijans – your comments make me smile, thinking a one lone man living with a Relief Society…

  27. paula says:

    harijan, I used to live in Tucson, and drove through that area a couple of times a year, on my way up to Utah. The last time I went through, I was going to stop and eat at the restaurant, and just look around a bit, much, I admit, as though I were going to Yellowstone to look at the bears. But I didn’t stop because there was a whooping cough epidemic going on, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. What do you know about public health there? Is there good access to medical care? Are kids still allowed to attend school if unvaccinated?

  28. harijans says:

    Ugh, you gave me something to work on tomorrow. I am responsible for everything at the public school, and I have no idea if our students are being vaccinated, or if they are required to be vaccinated. I will find out first thing in the morning and let you know.

    On public health. The teachers and students at the school are very aware of health issues in the community. CCUSD does have a very high absentee rate due to infectious disease.

    I am only speculating, and my staff grudgingly agrees with me, that a shallow gene pool may be magnifying the normal flue/cold cycles that pass seasonally through the town.

    There was one week this year that our school was missing between 20% and 80% of our students due to a flu epidemic. We eventually just canceled school until the epidemic subsided.

    I was working at CCUSD with one of the people from our Phoenix office€ during the epidemic, we both got a slight cold/fever our last day at CCUSD, but it was nothing compared to what the students were experiencing.

    Residents of CC will not admit to any problems with inbreeding or lack of diversity in their gene pool. They do have fresh DNA coming into the community, there is a trickle of converts that help alleviate the threat.

    There is some research that documents the occurance of one very rare genetic defect for which two of the largest families in CC are recessive carriers.

    Also keep in mind that CCUSD lies down-wind from the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.

    The Arizona Strip also holds some of the purest Uranium deposits in the country. All in all not a healthy place for genes that do not mutate well.

    However, other than the one severe genetic disorder there has been no research done to confirm rumors of poor health or deformities due to inbreeding.

    Many in the community would welcome such research, as long as the researcher could convince CC of his/her objectivity.

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