QUESTIONS ABOUT LIFTING THE VEIL OF POLYGAMY
Why a documentary about polygamy?
When we were first approached with the idea of producing a documentary on the subject of polygamy, we initially backed away from it. However, as the Lord led, we began to gain a very significant education about the realities of polygamy, or Mormon Fundamentalism, that exist in this country, especially in Utah and the surrounding areas. We were challenged from the beginning: why is there so little outreach from Christians to the Mormon Fundamentalists? It was a question we couldn't answer.
Who participated in the documentary?
Lifting the Veil of Polygamy incorporates the stories of nine former Mormon Fundamentalists, some of whom were born into the polygamist groups, and others who were converted (typically from mainstream Mormonism) into the groups, but all of whom have since left and found true freedom in the biblical Jesus Christ.
What has been the reaction from the polygamist community to the documentary?
As always, this is often difficult to gauge, especially from the more isolated groups. We do hear "through the grapevine" that many of them have viewed the documentary, but many are afraid to contact us. Some who do may express their anger that we have, in their view, denigrated something they hold sacred. While still others have, through the video or contacts made through the video, have found freedom from polygamy, and freedom in Jesus Christ, which is of course our primary objective!
What has been the reaction from the mainline LDS community to the documentary?
Again, there is no "typical" reaction; probably the most common reaction from mainline Mormon viewers is to view it as anti-Mormon propaganda, and take offense that we associate polygamy with Mormonism. (In the documentary, we make clear distinctions between the mainline LDS Church, who rejects polygamy, and the fundamentalist groups, who embrace it. We also discuss the historical aspect of polygamy, and show how mainline and fundamentalist Mormons share a common heritage.)
Many Latter-day Saints, however, are shocked when they see the documentary, especially those who are converts or from the younger generation, because they learn things about Mormon history and doctrine that they'd never been taught before. Some have told us that in their attempts to refute the information on the video, have found--from Mormonism's own historical documents--that its claims are true. Like fundamentalists, it has been an instrument in a number of Mormons finding true faith in Jesus Christ, which gives us great joy!
What is being done to help those who are involved in polygamy and want out?
While it is not true for all fundamentalist polygamist groups, many people, especially women, who wish to leave the lifestyle often find themselves unable to, because of extreme isolation, threats from leaders and authority figures, and just plain fear of hellfire and damnation.
One ministry that endeavors to reach out to the men, women, and children seeking freedom from polygamy is A Shield and Refuge Ministry, which was born out of Living Hope Church's (now Main Street Church) involvment in Lifting the Veil of Polygamy, and it is directed by Doris Hanson, one of the participants in the documentary. Several other organizations have also sprung up independently, whose stated goal is to help address the needs of those seeking to escape a polygamist situation. Some of them are Christian-based, and some are nonreligious humanitarian. However, the need is much greater than most people realize. We invite you to visit A Shield and Refuge for more information about this ministry, the needs it meets, and if you are interested, how you can become involved.
What is the relationship between Mormon fundamentalism and the mainstream LDS Church?
Officially, there is no organizational or legal tie between any of the Mormon fundamentalist groups and the mainstream LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). However, all Mormon fundamentalists are considered offshoots of Mormonism.
The mainstream LDS Church is simply one of several dozen different organizations that that lay claim to the historical Mormonism of Joseph Smith. (It just has the distinction of being by far the largest of all the sects of Mormonsim.) Some of those offshoot churches embrace polygamy, and some do not. The term "Mormon fundamentalist" or "Mormon fundamentalism" is typically used to denote those breakaway groups that practice polygamy, which at one time was also practiced by the mainstream LDS Church. In fact, many of the modern-day polygamist groups broke away from the mainstream church when the main LDS Church gave up the practice of polygamy.
By the way, the use of the term "Mormon fundamentalist" is frowned upon, and even considered offensive within the mainstream LDS Church, principally because the mainstream church seeks to distance itself from their polygamist "cousins". Nevertheless, it is a legitimate, accurate term, and it is used by many polygamists to describe themselves.
In 1890, under pressure from the US Federal Government, the mainstream LDS Church abandoned the practice of polygamy. This outraged many Mormons, many of whom continued to practice polygamy in secret. A few decades later, the Mormon Chruch took an active stance opposing polygamy, excommunicating anyone who were found to be engaging in the practice. This eventually led to the formation of breakaway groups of "fundamentalists," some of which formed early on, and others of which organized much later.
The mainstream LDS Church vigorously disavows any connection with the fundamentalist sects; LDS President Hinckley has even gone so far as to declare publicly that "there are no Mormon fundamentalists." This is of course misleading, as the fundamentalist groups consider themselves to be Mormon (though not members of the LDS Church), and follow the Mormon scriptures and the teachings of the early prophets. It could be argued that Mormon fundamentalism is much more closely related to the pure, original Mormonism than is the mainstream LDS Church.
How are the Mormon Fundamentalists and mainstream Mormons alike and different?
This tends to be a touchy subject, because the mainstream LDS Church generally tries to distance themselves from the fundamentalist groups, presumbably because they are weary of dealing with their embarrassing polygamist past, and the modern-day fundamentalists tend to keep that subject in the forefront of people's thinking when they hear the word "Mormon".
Doctrinally, there are few differences between mainstream Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists. They uphold the same books as scripture; they revere the same early prophets, such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, as prophets of God. And generally speaking, the historical doctrines of Mormonism are held and taught by both groups, though mainstream Mormons tend to avoid publicly discussing certain doctrines that make them appear opposed to mainstream Christianity.)
Functionally, the Fundamentalist groups are different organizations, and do not answer to any of the mainline LDS authorities, or vice-versa. Most groups have their own prophet or leader, many of whom claim some right of succession from the early Mormon prophets. Different groups often emphasize different doctrines, but generally hold to the core teachings of historical Mormonism. Many fundamentalist groups view the mainline LDS Church as being in a state of apostasy, because of their rejection of the practice of polygamy and other historic practices. They view the LDS Church as having compromised for the sake of acceptance by mainstream society. Likewise, the mainline LDS Church views the fundamentalist groups as apostate, because they do not submit to the authority of the mainline LDS Church.
Does the mainline Mormon Church really condemn polygamy?
Yes and no. The LDS Church officially mandated the end of the practice of polygamy in the late 19th Century, and began excommunicating members who practiced it in the early 20th Century. However, it puts them in the awkward position of having to condemn something that had been so crucial to their historical development. As a result, the historical aspect of polygamy tends to be downplayed, to the point where the newer generations of Mormons have very little understanding of the doctrinal and historical aspect of polygamy.
Nevertheless, the mainstream Mormon Church still accepts it on a "spiritual" level, meaning that they believe it is the order of Heaven and required for exaltation. In addition, mainstream Mormon men can be "eternally sealed" to more than one woman. If, for example, a Mormon man is eternally sealed (married in the temple) to a woman, she is considered his wife for eternity. If that wife dies, and the man remarries a woman, and is sealed to her as well, then it is believed that both wives will be his wives in heaven. A woman, on the other hand, cannot be sealed to more than one man; if she is widowed and wants to remarry, she can marry, but not be sealed to her new husband, while remaining sealed to her former husband. Upon her death, it is believed, she will revert to becoming the wife of her first husband in the afterlife. Therefore, polygamy is still an aspect of even mainline Mormon thought and teachings, even if not overtly practiced.
Why is polygamy so important to Mormon fundamentalism?
Polygamy was a teaching originally developed by Joseph Smith and further propagated by Brigham Young upon the Mormons' migration to the Utah Territory in the mid to late 19th Century. Polygamy is as much a doctrinal issue as it is a matter of practice. According to Mormon doctrine (Doctrine & Covenants Section 132, and others), the practice of polygamy was required for exaltation to godhood. That is to say, a man was required to have more than one wife, presumably in this life, if he were to obtain the status of godhood. The mainstream LDS Church, following the abandonment of the practice, maintains that the requirement of polygamy need only be met in the afterlife. Fundamentalists maintain that it is necessary to be practiced in this life, and therefore shun the mainstream LDS Church's anti-polygamy stance.
Isn't polygamy illegal?
Technically speaking, polygamy is illegal in the United States; however, here we must distinguish between polygamy as it is practiced by fundamentalists, and bigamy, which is generally described as a man or a woman having a legally-recognized marriage to more than one wife or husband at the same time (and frequently implies that the arrangement is hidden from one or all spouses). The polygamy as it is practiced by Mormon fundamentalists is done with all marital parties' knowledge, and in theory, all parties' consent. However, usually there is only one legally-recognized marriage in a Mormon polygamist situation; the secondary "marriages" are recognized only by the particular sect or group to which the polygamous family belongs.
Why are not more polygamists prosecuted in the United States?
This is a matter of some debate. Because most polygamist families have only one legally-recognized marriage, generally the husband and the first wife, the remaining "marriages" are essentially just adulterous affairs in the eyes of the law. While adultery and/or fornication (i.e., sexual relations outside a marriage relationship) may be illegal "on the books," these laws are rarely enforced given today's social morés, and so it could be argued that if the state began prosecuting polygamist families for adultery or fornication, then it would require a widescale prosection of the practice among the general public.
So prosecutions of polygamists have generally focused only on cases where minors are involved, or where there are other legal problems (tax evasion, fraud, etc.).
Nevertheless, the states where polygamy is most common (particularly in Utah), the states have been criticized for their lack of initiative in prosecuting polygamists even on these viable charges of child sexual abuse and fraudulent activities. In Utah especially, the LDS Church still holds a great deal of sway over state politics, and it is presumed by many that the prosecution of polygamists would run the risk of bringing more visibility to a problem rather embarrassing to Mormonism--something the Church would just as soon avoid. So the LDS Church has been frequently criticized for pretending that the problem does not exist.
Shouldn't the polygamists be left alone, to practice their own religion in freedom?
First of all, we as a Christian ministry are dedicated to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who will hear it. So while we recognize and value religious freedom, even more, we love Jesus and want to share him with the world. So in a sense you could say we are all about religious freedom--or more accurately, freedom from religion and freedom in Jesus Christ!
Secondly, the issue with polygamy is not religious freedom, but rather, religious enslavement. The victims of fundamentalism, particularly in the more oppresive ranks on the fundamentalist continuum, are not free. They do not have choices. They cannot up and leave on their own, or even display any disagreement with the authorities, without facing serious repercussions. Fear of reprisal from leaders or fear of displeasing God (portrayed as a demanding, spiteful ogre), is what keeps most people "towing the line."
Thirdly, the controlling and authoritarian structure of many fundamentalist groups lends itself to very elevated levels of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of women and children. In some cases, this abuse is not just a by-product, but an actual working component of the fundamentalist lifestyle. We, both as Christians and citizens, have a moral obligation to speak out against these atrocities, and do whatever we can to protect those who have been victimized by this abuse.
What is the typical lifestyle of a polygamist or fundamentalist?
There is no strictly typical lifestyle; some polygamist families live entirely under one roof, others live in multiple houses (in some cases duplexes or tri-plexes). Some polygamist families live in compounds or small towns that are entirely or almost entirely composed of members of their sect; others live scattered among the general population (and generally work hard at keeping their lifestyle a secret). A few of the polygamist men are substantially wealthy businessmen (or are high-ranking officials in their sect), and so therefore can afford to maintain several wives comfortably. The majority of polygamist families, however, live very frugally, and many live in utter poverty. Some fundamentalists live an almost Marxist lifestyle, in which everyone works for the sect's industries and no one owns any personal property, while others may have their own property and jobs in the secular world. So there are many different "brands" and degrees of control that a fundamentalist sect has over the day-to-day lives of their membership; nevertheless, the adherence to polygamy and other early teachings and practices of Mormonism are what they all have in common.
Where in the Bible does it say that polygamy is not allowed?
The Bible's stance on polygamy is best demonstrated in its proclamation of God's ideal for marriage. From the very beginning of Creation, His ideal was one man, one woman. Anything beyond this, while at times tolerated by God, was never instituted by God. The hardships and heartache that resulted from polygamy are also clearly presented (see the life of Jacob in Genesis 29 and following). God's dim view of the polygamist lifestyle can also be seen in his prohibition that the king should amass a harem (see Deuteronomy 17:17). And the New Testament clearly shows that polygamy is not a lifestyle becoming a leader in the church (see 1 Timothy 3). Elsewhere in Jesus' teachings (e.g., Matthew 19), the one-husband, one-wife marriage is presented as God's expectation and goal for marriage.
The issue with fundamentalism, however, is that the claim is made that God commands polygamy, a claim which is completely untenable, biblically speaking. God's attitude toward polygamy in the Bible is at best patient forebearance (just as he patiently deals with all of us, and does not treat us as our sins deserve). In no way can the argument be made from the Bible that God condones, encourages, or commands polygamy.
For a more in-depth study on polygamy in the Bible, we invite you to check out this web page.
How do Mormon Fundamentalists view the Bible?
It's difficult to paint all groups (or even individuals) with the same brush, but generally speaking, the Fundamentalists take the same stance on the Bible that the early LDS Church took--that the Bible is unreliable, that not all of it has been translated correctly, and that the revelation found in Mormon scriptures and from Mormon prophets supercedes whatever may be written in the Bible.
There are those fundamentalist groups that for all intents and purposes forbid the use or even possession of a Bible; others may not take such a hard stance, but will still view the Bible as suspect at best.
Fundamentalists may use portions of the Bible that would appear to support (or at least not contradict) their doctrine. For example, they will point to the fact that the Old Testament patriarchs and men of God often had more than one wife as substantiating God's approval of the practice.
Can Mormon Fundamentalists be considered "Christian"?
Only if you drastically redefine the term "Christian" from what the word has meant for some 2,000 years. Like the mainline LDS Church, the doctrines and teachings of Mormon Fundamentalism are drastically different from the teachings of biblical, historical Christianity--including such basic things as the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of Jesus Christ, the means of salvation, all of which are core issues of Christianity. For more information on the differences between Mormon doctrine and Biblical doctrine, click here.
One difference between mainline LDS and the Mormon Fundamentalists is that the fundamentalists usually do not shy away from those doctrines that distinguish them from biblical Christianity. Some of the doctrines--such as the teaching that God was once a man, and that men can become Gods--are taught in both mainline Mormon and fundamentalist groups; however, mainline Mormons are much more sensitive to how these doctrines sound to biblical ears, and so are often reluctant to publicly own up to them. The Fundamentalists, on the other hand, make no excuse for these doctrines.