Just Wanted to Crawl Under My Chair . . .

At the Detroit airport tonight, waiting for a late flight, I just wanted to crawl under my chair as I and about 100 other people near me watched the lengthy CNN special report on Warren Jeffs, the polygamist wanted for several serious crimes. The story did little to explain the difference between Jeffs and the LDS Church. His group was described as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his Texas compound/temple was shown and then followed with images of the Salt Lake Temple. Ugh. But they did fail to show photos of Gordon B. Hinckley surrounded by girls at Young Women’s events – let’s be greatful for that.

Don Krakauer, author of the nasty rantings in Under the Banner of Heaven, was the expert brought in to discuss polygamy. He did have the decency to note that the LDS Church has long abandoned polygamy, but the editing by CNN would probably have confused a lot of people. As all these people watched this story in fascination, I really felt very little desire to do any missionary work tonight. I guess I could have stood up and said, “Hey, everybody, I’m a Mormon, and I promise I’ve only got one wife. Just one, really! So, any of you want a free Book of Mormon?”

Well, my poor attitude in the face of perceived public opposition gives me something to ponder. There will be more of this, on other issues. We will be painted in negative light for our stance on the family and on morality, for example, and done with such effectiveness that others will want to cringe and crawl under their seats rather than be identified as a member of a “hate group” or anti-woman cult or whatever the spin will be.

Plus I really don’t like polygamy and can’t really explain why it would have ever been implemented in any dispensation – too far outside my cultural values and personal paradigms to make sense. There are plenty of things I don’t understand, especially when it deals with remote events that can be interpreted in several ways, which is why I really need to rely on the core things I can understand and experience now: the divinity of the Book of Mormon, the reality of prayer, the power of the Priesthood, the goodness of God, the incredible power of the Atonement of Christ, the small but clear miracles that occur when we seek to serve God and follow His commandments, and so forth. Maybe some day other things will make more sense to me, but for now, a lot of faith is still required.

I just hope I can have more strength in dealing with whatever negative publicity and public opposition lies ahead for the Church. It won’t be easy. Matthew 24 indicates that even the very elect will be deceived, and I seem to recall that a footnote there indicates that some will also want to just crawl under their chair.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

65 thoughts on “Just Wanted to Crawl Under My Chair . . .

  1. Jeff, other than the subtle confusion by using inappropriate graphics, was there any actual misinformation in the news report?

    I get the impression that you’re not crediting the news-watching audience with enough intelligence. Don’t most people understand that all religions have splinter groups?

    Besides, preaching to crowds waiting to board their flight is frowned upon these days. Airports kicked out the Hare Krishnas years ago didn’t they? Or did the HK’s just give up after deciding airport proselyting didn’t have a good enough ROI?

    Last time I traveled, I checked all my baggage except for a laptop case (sans laptop) carry-on into which I had put one each of all 136 translations of the Joseph Smith Testimony (plus a few English). I sat next to a nice Iranian guy on my flight home. He spoke English and Persian/Farsi. [grin]

  2. Bookslinger:

    I don’t know that most people understand about splinter groups. Most people don’t even know the basics on mainstream Mormonism.

    Plus there’s splinter groups and then there are splinter groups. Some people may get the impression that the LDS Church winks at these splinter groups just as, say, some mainstream political organizations wink at more radical ones or how some Catholic Church leaders treat Opus Dei, etc.

    I don’t know that there’s an easy way around it. Television journalism is inherently (and deliberately) superficial.

  3. Jeff,

    I used to assume that people in general must be sophisticated enough to sort through the direct misinformation and indirect editing detritus one always finds in national news coverage of our church and related groups. Then I moved out of Utah, was introduced to people who had never actually met a Mormon before, and learned that my assumption was in fact a delusion.

    It’s amazing how frequently people–friends and coworkers, even–ask RT about his “other wives”. It’s even more amazing how such inquiries, coming from Northern Californians, are very often attempts at showing cultural understanding and tolerance rather than voyueristic rudeness :). Polygamy comes up frequently, and it’s always embarrasing.

    I deal with the personal ramifications of our church’s long-abandoned polygamy in much the same way you do. Beyond that, I’ve decided that the best way to combat media stereotypes about Mormons is to give people who have crazy ideas about us the real story. That is, a long, unasked-for history of Mormonism, its schisms, Jacksonian America, the reasons our ancestors may have felt so embattled that they holed up in the mountains, and an analysis of post-manifesto LDS doctrine. Usually, right when I get to the words “Missouri genocide”, I’m met with a dazed look and the questions, “I don’t understand this at all, do I? You’re not all the same, are you?”

  4. People do not understand about splinter groups nor do they care to understand. Did anyone see American Mormon? It is a documentary where people were asked questions about Utah, the LDS church, etc. While it is meant to be funny, I found it sad to see how most people still see us as polygamists. Stories showing the temple while talking about the FDLS are irresponsible. People are very visual. What they see they often remember better then what they hear.

  5. Although the Church takes great pains to distinguish itself from the splinter polygamist groups, it is not clear to me why a disinterested observer should be expected to accept the distinctions the Church makes. Although the Church can decide who is and who is not a member, the Church can’t change the facts of historical unity with the modern day polygamists, the common source of authority for the practice, or the shared geography that continues to bind the Church to the splinter groups. The Salt Lake temple was literally built by polygamists – why shouldn’t the media show it in a story about polygamy in Utah today?
    Therefore, I think it is helpful to move beyond our paranoia about being associated with the splinter polygamist groups in the media or popular culture and accept that there are rational reasons for media to make the connection.

  6. If we accept these “rational reasons,” however, we are cutting the ground from underneath our feat. The question still exists: what do you say when reporters/friends ask what you think of it? Do we say, “I understand why you would connect us with one the FBI’s most wanted. After all, we have so much in common.” The Jeffs case is about a lot more than polygamy.

    Rational reasons or no, the public mind is not rational (why else would there be attacks on muslims in the aftermath of 9/11). The public mind does not look through a sterile academic lens. Hence, mistakes like associating the temple with Jeffs can cause tremendous damgage for someone who knows little of our faith. They are inexcusable for honest journalists who wish to portray the world as it actually is.

    But even non-Jeffsian polygamists cause us problems. We have to maintain our image (a genuine one at that) of separation from this ideology (I come from polygamist stock so I’m at liberty to claim this). The fact is: we do not engage in it or endorse it in any way. To give an inch to modern polygamy, which is almost always associated with immorality, would mean our death in the public relations arena and take away our credibility as moral forces for good. The perceived barrier between Mormons and splinters is already weak indeed. We ought not allow it to be weakened further

  7. It’s a conspiracy to indirectly slam Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate. One doesn’t have to dig up dirt on him. Just associate these criminals with Mormons and then just remind everyone Mitt’s an active Mormon…

  8. Small correction: it’s Jon Krakauer, not Don. Just FYI.

    I agree with Randall, that in theory it would help if the Church would distance itself from D&C 132, though they could never do that. Herein lies the major problem, the Church isn’t distant from D&C 132. And Polygamy is a doctrine still held by the church, it’s simply not practiced anymore. The unspoken caveat is that it is going to come back, either in this world or the next.(That’s the theory anyway).

    Polygamy is an eternal principle. And anyone who has spent a fair amount of time with a member will pick up on the fact the subject is still very much thought about and agonized over by mainstream LDS.

    The Church’s PR people always point out the 1890 manifesto, but even that is a perfect example of how inextricably linked the Church is to Polygamy. The practice of polygamy didn’t stop in 1890. The authorization of new polygamous marriages didn’t stop in 1890 either.

    Regarding the principle of polygamy it would be disingenuous for a member to say, “We don’t believe in that.” Members of the Church very much do believe it, though many find the principle distasteful. I will give you points for that Jeff… 🙂

    Therefore there is little reason to be surprised that polygamy is closely associated by the public with mainstream LDS still.

    So I’m sorry, but I have little sympathy. The Church made it’s bed long ago, and unless it completely detaches itself from the concept of polygamy, it needs to sleep in it.

    I rather enjoyed Krakauer’s own metaphor: (paraphrashing) Nobody likes the idea that they have a crazy uncle(FLDS)locked up in the attic, who seems to keep escaping, but you can’t get rid of family.

  9. BYUPR, welcome back 🙂

    While there’s substance to what you’re saying about eternality of the plural marriage principle, I, nor anyone I know, believes that plural marriage is essential for exaltation. Previous brethren have said things to that effect, but those are better understood in the siege atmosphere of the late 19th century/Mormon Reformation than as eternal statements of doctrinal truth. Certainly, they will keep their wives in the afterlife (so I believe), but that’s not to say that I will be compelled to take them–I was never commanded to do so.

    Hence, I believe I can say, with doctrinal support, that plural marriage is only nominally accepted as doctrine by the church today in the same way that we believe Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son 4000 years ago.

    Note that focus on Abraham throughout section 132 and that the bulk of section 132 is on eternal marriage and only a handful of verses are on plural marriage.
    In strict doctrinal terms (the historical application is obviously quite different), plural marriage is subordinate to the doctrine of sealing.

    Bottom line is that organizations need not let their past hold the present/future hostage.

  10. I wouldn’t have crawled under my chair, I would have bellyached to the whole airport.

    I don’t have a problem with Krakauer. I think he tried to do the best he could.

    I don’t think the rest of the world cares one way or another, for the moment, it’s entertainment.

  11. An interesting parallel is the Branch Davidians and the Seventh-day Adventists. When news coverage about the Davidians started, it was frequently pointed out (correctly) that they were an offshoot of the Adventists, and some people got the groups mixed up. Over time, most people (I think) no longer associated them with Adventists, and I suspect that will happen in this case. (Off-topic, I might add, the Seventh-day Adventists are great peeople, despite some unusual ideas, although no more unusual than ours. They even do a better job of following the Word of Wisdom than we do.)

  12. I came to this site today to mention something I was pleased to read. I was hoping that the topic of the day wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to mention this, and it’s actually a pretty good match. The something I read was a comment by a novelist who was criticized for getting some facts about Mormons wrong. Here’s part of what she said:

    “Mormons may have some eccentric beliefs … but probably not more than any other religion. We’re just more familiar with other religions’ eccentricities because those religions are older. … But somehow, it’s open season on Mormons — and the press dearly loves to gossip about them. And Mormons are as uncomfortable with people believing that they still practice polygamy as Catholics are with the allegation that ALL priests have abused children. It’s just not true. If anyone were to make the kind of derogatory remarks about any other ethnic or religious group that they make about Mormons, righteous people would object. When we mock the Mormons, people stand silent.”

    The author of this comment is not LDS. You can read her comment here (do a search on the page for “6:39 AM PDT, May 13” without the quotes).

  13. oops, BYUAE, I got you confused w/another moniker (rewinding) Welcome back, BYUAE 🙂

  14. Relax. I read the following scripture this morning. 1 Ne. 4:1 ‘…let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?’

    Nephi is right – God is directing this church, and we have no need to worry. Since I moved away to go to medical school away from Utah, I also realized that there are many people who have misconceptions about our church. These sorts of news stories might make someone wonder why their Mormon neighbor or co-worker doesn’t seem kooky or fanatical at all. It might spark conversation, or investigation, and clear up many misconceptions. I remember reading that Karl G. Maeser, founder of BYU ultimately sought out the missionaries after reading an anti-mormon pamphlet. I just believe that sincere people will not be fooled by this, and than insincere people can fight all they want but it will be somewhat irrelevant. Besides, who knows anything about the notable anti-mormons in the past? Even as recently as the 70’s? They all pretty much enjoy their stage and then go away.

  15. ‘For this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
    For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.’ (Jacob 2:29-30)

    Where does anyone get the idea that God will require us at some future point to take on multiple wives? Or that the church will reinstate the commandment, Especially when Jacob comes down so hard on people for practicing it? I personally have no problem with early church leaders following the commandments of God, but I have never read anywhere where it will be a requirement into the celestial kingdom. Has anyone read any scripture saying otherwise?

  16. You’re right, Andy. NO scriptures whatsoever. You can find plenty of statements by late nineteenth century authorities; however, I believe they were speaking in the context of their time. Many under their stewardship, it was true, would be required to live this principle for exaltation. But Nephi wasn’t commanded it, Peter wasn’t commanded it. Paul certainly wasn’t commanded either. Neither are we. There isn’t even any evidence to suggest that Joseph Smith believed plural marriage to be the eternal order of things.

    Simply put, eternality is far more central to plurality according to the scriptures and present-day revelation.

  17. Therefore, aprepare• thy heart to receive and bobey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

    4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting acovenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye bdamned•; for no one can creject• this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

    And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse aanother, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

    62 And if he have ten• virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

  18. Therefore…

    If you’re simply citing these scriptures so bloggers can have quick access to a key text, then thanks for helping.

    But if you’re using that to prove the centrality of plural marriage to the doctrine, it won’t fly. Quite the contrary, the Lord uses the conditional “if.” Nowhere in the revelation is the everlasting covenant equated with plural marriage per se. It’s instead the Lord’s amendation for a specific situation, much in line with Jacob’s admonition cited earlier.

    Notice, I said that no other scriptures imply that plural marriage is essential for the celestial kingdom. Indeed, the language of that section allows for both marriages, plural and singular.

  19. “Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire….Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ it is the only popular religion there,…”
    – The Prophet Brigham Young, The Deseret News, August 6, 1862

  20. Context of the time please, Brigham!

    The sermon given further states:

    We believe in following the admonitions and instructions of the ancient Prophets and Apostles, and of all good men in THIS OUR day.

    The commandment was for then. Brigham’s tone indicates again that the commandment of polygamy is subservient to being children of Abraham, for this is the religion of Abraham: “Unless we do the works of Abraham, we are not Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The key is the gospel of Abraham, not polygamy. Brigham and the Saints had been commanded, and they observed. The other info about the ROman empire, I believe, was most certainly a personal interpolation.

    Again, there is no universally accepted source that indicates the universality of plural marriage in heaven. It’s simply not taught after the Manifesto in 1890. Only shreds of it are found in the BOM or even the Doctrine and Covenants. To claim that plural marriage is a central doctrine of the gospel is distort the facts.

  21. Brigham Young:

    “The only men who become Gods, even Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.”
    – Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 269

    Joseph F. Smith:

    ” Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or non-essential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. In other words, some of the Saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the Priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false…The marriage of one woman to a man for time and eternity by the sealing power, according to the law of God, is a fulfillment of the celestial law of marriage in part… But this is only the beginning of the law, not the whole of it. Therefore, whoever has imagined that he could obtain the fulness of the blessings pertaining to this celestial law, by complying with only a portion of its conditions, has deceived himself. He cannot do it.
    – Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 28

  22. Walker, I don’t understand why only those who come from polygamist stock should have a right to claim that we need to distance ourselves from those who espouse practices in contradiction to the instructions given through God’s prophet. Those whose ancestry doesn’t include polygamists have just as much right to say this as anyone else.

  23. The buffoonery of so-called “Brigham & Joseph” notwithstanding, it’s rather obvious to a sincere seeker of truth that President Young was referring to those who refused to follow the Lord’s direction at the time he made his remarks. If the Prophet tells us to do X, here and now, and we refuse to do it, then we can’t really expect to receive exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. In President Young’s day, the instruction was to participate in plural marriage. Those who refused to follow the instruction when it was given were placing themselves in a position of enmity with God and his Church.

  24. “…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”
    – Prophet John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227

  25. ltbugaf:

    Certainly. I agree with you. Frankly, I was just trying to add credibility to my case–some folks like to say, “What do you say of your friends of polygamist stock?” No worries.

    And to the “ghosts” of these prophets:

    The answer has been given to these quotes. The context has been laid out. I haven’t time to check every quote for its accuracy and interpretation (though hopefully my previous analysis should indicate something about its use in context) To explain more would be a waste of our time and an insult to your intelligence.

  26. Thanks for the above quotes from early leaders. I read them and similar quotes from the same time period. I understand in principle what they are saying. I also agree that if we are to base our religion on the bible that we are going to have to come to grips with polygamy somehow as would Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I don’t think that it is immoral in any way. To say that would be to say that Aberaham and Jacob were living in immorality, as was Joseph Smith. The fact is that God requires a strict moral code for us to follow, and has commanded us to live the law of chastity in all dispensations. Early church leaders, and ancient prophets lived the law that they were commanded and we, along with the nephites live the law that we are commanded.

    Polygamy only has a bad tast in our mouths because of traditions passed on to us by our ancestors and culture, but it was obviously accepted by righteous men in past ages. The bottom line is that God required chastity and fidelity as an eternal law. I have no problem with that.

    That brings me to my biggest gripe about the media coverage about polygamy. We have to listen to the same media that feeds us shows that promote immorality and infidelity as social norms portray the practice of polygamy as fanatical and wierd. I am quickly discovering that chastity and fidelity to one woman is about as wierd and different as it gets in our society. Who has the moral high ground to condemn our ancestors?

  27. What’s worse, someone who espouses the concept of polygamy, but who doesn’t practice polygamy, or someone who espouses the practice of monogamy but who doesn’t practice monogomy?

    “A polygamist who doesn’t polyg or a monogamist who doesn’t monog?”

    Isn’t it a given that most faithful LDS realize or believe that there will be more women worthy of exaltation than men?

    Just look at the membership of the church, the number of converts, the number of active members, the number of active temple-recommend holders. All those stats are obviously skewed towards more women.

    Plus given society’s general ratio of “good women” to “good men”, I could easily envision/imagine at least a 2:1 ratio of women-to-men among those who will be worthy of exaltation at judgement day.

    Just to cover the bases of what some naysayers are going to say next, I do not think that the 90 or 95% of men who had only one wife during the days of Utah polygamy are/were/will be denied exaltation because of having only one wife during that period.

    I believe that in the resurrection and in the millennium, and in the final judgement, a grand restoration and recovery will occur. Or an “evening up.”

    Joseph Smith taught that there is much to be learned and done AFTER this life that will be necessary to exaltation, and that it cannot all be learned in this life.

    So it looks to me that we will learn much about polygamy, celestial or otherwise, in the spirit world and in the millennium.

  28. Don Krakauer, author of the nasty rantings in Under the Banner of Heaven, was the expert brought in to discuss polygamy (5/12. “Just wanted to crawl …”).
    Mr. Krakauer writes very well. He did his research. He presents a fair picture. What doesn’t help are the kind of apologetics found on your web sites and in your blog. We need to honestly face our history. There is nothing to hide or to apologize for. We should invite writings like Krakauer’s. When I pointed out, to one of my brethren in the Maryland Columbia Ward, that Joseph Smith twice performed the liturgy of eternal marriage with the Partridge sisters, so that Emma wouldn’t find out that they were already married, he stopped speaking to me! I find such behavior much more offensive than any anti-Mormon rant or, to make my point again, i.e., F.A.R.M.’s missives. WP