‘Rock Center’ to explore Mormon faith, polygamy, customs, and history

The Mormon religion has been brought into focus by the candidacy of Mitt Romney.  While the Church to which Romney belongs has renounced polygamy, Romney's great-grandfather had 5 wives, and his great-great-grandfather had twelve.  So it's not surprising that Mitt Romney avoids talking about his family's history in Mexico.

"It is a uniquely American religion, extremely young when compared to other faith traditions, and now one of the fastest growing churches in the world. It is also the defining force in the life of a man who may be the next President of the United States. Yet few Americans know very much about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as it is formally known. Ours is an ambitious and lively effort to change that ... with surprising results.

THE NEWS..... Links, briefs, & our editorial notes

"Obama's late grandfather is said to have been the first person in the area to wear Western clothes rather than just a loincloth. For a time he converted to Christianity and adopted the family name Johnson.
Later he converted to Islam, taking four wives. Obama's father, who apparently converted to Catholicism while attending a Roman Catholic school, was also polygamous in keeping with local custom, taking an informal Kenyan wife who preceded Obama's mother but remained a consort, according to accounts by local people and the senator himself."
Polygamy Prominent in GOP Presidential Hopeful Mitt Romney's Family Tree  2/24/07
"While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church, the Republican presidential candidate's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.
Polygamy was not just a historical footnote, but a prominent element in the family tree of the former Massachusetts governor now seeking to become the first Mormon president.
Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice."

"Romney’s political problems begin, in a basic sense, with his family history. The authors trace the intertwined histories of Romney’s ancestors and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, beginning with his great-great-grandfather Miles Archibald Romney, who became an early convert to Mormonism in 1837. Mitt’s great-grandfather had undertaken the pioneer journey to the Utah Territory as a boy, and when he refused to abandon what Mormons considered the divinely ordained practice of “plural marriage” — he had three wives at that point — he fled federal agents to establish a colony in Mexico; the family remained there after the Mormon Church agreed to ban po­lygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s gaining statehood. Mitt’s grandfather was not polygamous and returned destitute to the United States after Mexican rebels confiscated the colony’s property. Mitt’s father, George Romney, was elected governor of Michigan in 1962, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1968, and became a member of Richard Nixon’s cabinet as secretary of housing and urban ­development.
It’s an exotic but unquestionably American success story, even though the first generations of Mormon Romneys spent their lives in bitter conflict with the United States. Mitt Romney takes evident “pride in his standing” as a member of “one of Mormonism’s first families,” according to Kranish and Helman. He has given the church millions of dollars and has occupied high positions in its hierarchy. He abides by his faith’s prohibitions on alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and profanity. The authors portray him as an adoring husband, a devoted father and a doer of many unpublicized good deeds."

"On same-sex marriage, Romney has shown a similar kind of willful amnesia. Over the weekend, Romney assured his commencement audience at Liberty University that marriage has long been, and will always be defined as “a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Except, in the case of his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney, whose idea of marriage was between one man and five women. Or his great-great grandfather Parley Pratt, one man who married twelve women.
Call them sexual outlaws, Biblical originalists, or just guys who liked a renewable supply of young women, but Romney’s not-so-long-ago ancestors were anything but practitioners of the kind of marriage Romney claims has been enshrined since the dawn of civilization."
Obama avoids talking about his church and polygamist past as well.  What's more interesting, is that many other candidates are all too happy to talk about these topics.  The "one man and one woman" wording is quite specific.  Some Mormon politicians say "a man and a woman," leaving things comfortably ambiguous in polygamy country.
"A group of about 150 Mormons quit their church in a mass resignation ceremony in Salt Lake City on Saturday in a rare display of defiance ending decades of disagreement for some over issues ranging from polygamy to gay marriage."
     "Among the reasons cited by those resigning are the church's political activism against gay marriage and doctrinal teachings that conflict with scientific findings or are perceived as racist or sexist.  Others cite inconsistencies in the Mormons' explanation of its own history, including the practice of polygamy."

Polygamous wives had fewer children, study shows  2/27/11  
"...Scientists have now uncovered an odd fact about 19th-century Mormons: the more women in a household, the lower the average birthrate. In other words, the more sister-wives a Mormon woman had, the fewer children she was likely to produce.'Although it is great in terms of numbers of children for successful males to have harems, the data show that, for every new woman added to a male's household, the number of children that each wife produced goes down by one,' said biologist Dr Michael Wade, of Indiana University."

Based on these findings, one would expect the overall birthrate of a polygamous society to go down.  Polygamous men have fewer children (per wife).  On top of that, in fundamentalist Mormon groups, surplus male adolescents are often driven out.

Suicide bomber in Sweden was a would-be polygamist  12/13/10
“'I am married since 2004,' he said on his dating profile, according to a translation of the original Arabic. He described himself as 'very religious' and said that he had two daughters, aged three and one. 'I want to get married again,' he said, 'and would like to have a BIG family. My wife agreed to this. I am looking for a practicing Muslim, Sunni, who loves children and wants to please Allah before me,' he said. 'I am looking mostly for religion.'”

Verdict Is Guilty in Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart  12/10/10
"A federal jury in Utah on Friday convicted an itinerant street preacher, Brian D. Mitchell, in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart, disregarding defense claims that he was insane.
Ms. Smart was taken when she was 14 from her home in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Salt Lake City and held for nine months. The jury found Mr. Mitchell guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity. "

Comment: The insanity defense is very rarely successful.  Although Mitchell acted in a way that many of us would consider insane, his professed religion was pretty effective in manipulating other people--so it could be seen as entirely rational, just as an "insanity defense" is a rational way to make the best of overwhelming evidence against him.

Polygamist Convictions Overturned  7/27/10
'The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday morning threw out the rape convictions of the polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs and sent the case back for a new trial, ruling that the instructions given to the jury during his prosecution were faulty."

The Polygamists  Feb 2010
"The first church members arrive at the Leroy S. Johnson Meeting House in Colorado City, Arizona, at about 6 p.m. Within a half hour the line extends out the front doors, down the side of the building, and out into the parking lot. By seven, it stretches hundreds of yards and has grown to several thousand people—the men and boys dressed in suits, the women and girls in Easter egg–hued prairie dresses.

The mourners have come for a viewing of 68-year-old Fo­neta Jessop, who died of a heart attack a few days ago. In the cavernous hall Fo­neta's sons form a receiving line at the foot of her open casket, while her husband, Merril, stands directly alongside. To the other side stand Merril's numerous other wives, all wearing matching white dresses."

A National Geographic article.  See the wonderful photo of a huge polygamist family.

One Bride for 2 Brothers: A Custom Fades in India  7/16/10
MALANG, India — Buddhi Devi was 14 when she was betrothed. In India, that is not unusual: many marry young. Her intended was a boy from her village who was two years younger — that, too, was not strange. But she was also supposed to marry her future husband’s younger brother, once he was old enough.

Warrants Served on Polygamous Towns in Utah, Ariz.   4/6/10
Government agencies in twin polygamous communities along the Utah-Arizona border were served Tuesday with search warrants seeking evidence on suspected misuse of public funds, authorities said.
     There's a long history of public agencies in these towns doing exactly as the head of the FLDS church wants.  For many years, the local police harassed male teenagers, hoping to drive them out of town so older men who supported the prophet could have more wives.  Details can be found here.
South Africa's President Sows (Another) Sex Scandal  2/2/10
"The South African president has faced many accusations of sleazy behavior during his 20-year-long political career, from corrupt business dealings (the charges were withdrawn) to having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman (which he admitted). Yet his popularity in South Africa appears to be surviving even the latest addition to his scandal sheet: the revelation that last year he fathered a child – rumored to be his 20th – with a woman who is neither his fiancee nor one of his three current wives. "

Children of Elizabeth Smart Captor Allege Abuse  2/2/10
"Elizabeth Smart wasn't the only child to suffer because of the actions of kidnappers Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell.  Now adults, four of Barzee's six children appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on Tuesday and detailed a horrific pattern of abuse they say they suffered at the hands of their mother, biological father and stepfather Mitchell, a self-proclaimed prophet who became Barzee's second husband."

Prop. 8 Backer Stands by Views on Pedophilia  1/21/10
"Polygamy is not legal in the Netherlands, but the idea that it is became an urban myth of sorts in 2005 after a man and two women signed a private ''cohabitation contract'' while wearing wedding garb. Consensual incest between adults is no longer prosecuted in the Netherlands, but close relatives are not allowed to wed."
     Our note: The urban myth that polygamy is legal in the Netherlands played a part in the effort to promote Proposition 8 (against same-sex marriage) in California.

Israel Raids Polygamist Compound  1/14/10
"An Israeli who lived openly with at least 17 women and fathered dozens of children was ordered into court on Thursday on suspicion of enslavement, sexual abuse and possible rape. "
     Our note: What does polygamy in Utah and Israel have in common?  The desert and religion. Islamic polygamy (below) also originated in the desert.  More here.

Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism  1/6/10
"The Ikhwan Polygamy Club is managed by Global Ikhwan, a company whose businesses include bread and noodle factories, a chicken-processing plant, pharmacies, cafes and supermarkets. Mr. Ikram is a director of the company."

"While polygamy is legal in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, the club has come under fire from the government and religious leaders, who suspect it may be an attempt to revive Al-Arqam, a defunct Islamic movement headed by Mrs. Hatijah’s husband, Mr. Ashaari Mohamad, who is the founder and owner of Global Ikhwan. Al-Arqam was banned in 1994 for 'deviant' religious teachings."

"The club denies allegations that it is trying to revive Al-Arqam, and says that the aim of the club is to help single mothers and women past “marrying age” find husbands. "

     Our note: Polygamy is on the rise in Malaysia, and may include 5% of all marriages.  This article has a great  photo, with the patriarch in the center of his four wives, with children.  Why four wives?  That's the number sanctioned by Islam, which also provides a number of other protections for the plural wives.

Woman Pleads Guilty to Charges in Smart Kidnapping  11/17/09
     "A woman charged in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart pleaded guilty Tuesday as part of a deal with federal prosecutors and asked Smart to forgive her for all the pain she had caused."
     "Smart said that within hours of the abduction, Mitchell took her as a polygamous wife and then raped her."
     "Mitchell, a one-time itinerant street preacher, is accused of taking Smart as a wife in order to fulfill a religious prophecy included in a 27-page manifesto he wrote called 'The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah.' "
     Our note: This case shows how difficult it was for Elizabeth Smart, then 14, to escape from the captivity of a religious fanatic.

Texas Polygamist Sect Member Guilty of Sex Assault   11/5/09
"The first polygamist sect member to face criminal trial following the raid at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in West Texas last year was convicted Thursday of sexual assault of a child."

Difficulties for Prosecutors in Trial of Sect Leader  11/4/09
"A year and a half after the state authorities raided a fundamentalist Mormon ranch here, the first of a half-dozen leaders of the sect has gone on trial on charges that he had sex with an under-age girl who state officials assert was one of several wives assigned to him by church elders."  Prosecutors relied on genetic evidence, since the girl did not cooperate with authorities.
     Our notes: The child involved was "assigned" to Jessop by church leaders to be one of his nine wives.  This "assignment" process amounts to trafficking in women.  Women become commodities that can be traded to bolster the power of church leaders.
Judge Orders Redaction of Polygamist Documents  11/3/09
"A Texas judge ordered Tuesday that a document showing a member of a polygamist sect had at least four wives who were pregnant or nursing at the same time should be excluded from his trial on charges of child sexual abuse."
     Our notes: We think it's right to go after the leaders of this sect, for abusing minors.  But it does create a real problem for the support of the nine families Jessop heads.  What do our readers think?

Prosecutor: Polygamist Sect Man Assaulted Teen  10/28/09
A 38-year-old man from a polygamist sect sexually assaulted a teenager less than half his age at the Yearning For Zion Ranch, a prosecutor charged Wednesday to open the first criminal trial since the ranch was raided.

8: The Mormon Proposition  10/20/09
" ...is a new documentary about the involvement of the Church of Latter Day Saints' involvement in the passage of Proposition 8 in California. It's written, and directed by Reed Cowan, produced by Cowan, Chris Volz, and Steven Greenstreet, executive produced by Bruce Bastian, and narrated by Dustin Lance Black. "
     Our note: Interesting to note that Proposition 8 seeks to define marriage as "between a man and a woman...."  While limiting gay marriage, it tacitly allows polygamous marriage.  Hence polygamists could back it too. 
     More that 50% of the huge funding support for Prop 8 came from the LDS.  It's curious that in the 1850s, the LDS nearly went to war with the US to protect their radical (polygamous) concept of marriage.  Yet today, they staunchly object to what they consider radical (gay) marriage.

Polygamist sect man skirted bank laws  9/29/09
A polygamist sect member set to go on trial for bigamy and sexual abuse of a child next month deliberately skirted anti-money laundering laws and used a wife he once abandoned to help front a company in Arizona, prosecutors allege in a court filing.
     Our note: Men involved in polygamy tend to get involved in other illegal activities.  Here's just one example.

Reviews of novels about young brides escaping polygamy  6/11/09
THE CHOSEN ONE, by Carol Lynch Williams, and ALIS, by Naomi Rich

Polygamist wins victory in South African election  4/24/09
"Mr. Zuma is comfortable in the parallel worlds of modern Africa, wearing a business suit among international financiers and leopard skins for tribal ceremonies. He refuses to discuss his private life but he proudly practices polygamy and has observers speculating whether he has been married four, five or six times."

Documentary in the works  12/8/08
Writer Kirk Ellis has been hired to write the script for a documentary titled "Escape," which is the true story of the escape of Carolyn Jessop, along with her eight children, from a forced polygamous marriage under the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.  Release date not yet set. 
     Our note: Escape!  What fun!  Good opportunity for a rip-roaring chase scene.

How Arizona's Polygamist Raid Paved the Way to Texas  8/16/08
"The first time the children were taken, in the summer of 1953, police crept into town beneath an eclipsed moon. A trail of sedans bounced over the muddy road from Fredonia to Short Creek, Ariz., with headlights dimmed. Their mission hinged on surprising the polygamists before they could flee. Overhead, a full moon glowed with a ruddy red light then faded slowly into the Earth's shadow."
     Our note: This beautifully-written account puts the Yearning for Zion raids in Texas into historical perspective.

Tory MPP pushes for Ontario polygamy probe  6/2/08
"Ontario's Liberal government should follow British Columbia's lead and launch a criminal investigation into polygamist marriages in the province, Conservative Lisa MacLeod said today.
MacLeod wrote Premier Dalton McGuinty requesting the investigation after media reports about a Toronto Imam, Aly Hindy, who claimed to have officiated at more than 30 polygamous marriages in Toronto."

Should Polygamy be Legalized?  1/18/06
OTTAWA - "A new study for the federal Justice Department says Canada should get rid of its law banning polygamy, and change other legislation to help women and children living in such multiple-spouse relationships. "
     Our note: There are always powerful forces for the status quo.  No matter what the merits, this idea is unlikely to make much headway.

Polygamy legalization advocated in rural Russia  11/5/09
Since the Soviet Union collapsed, there have been drastic economic changes.  Now some men and women in rural Russia are arguing for polygamy, for economic reasons.  They say that men are in short supply, life on farms is hard for women, and legalizing polygamy would provide support for women and legitimacy for their children.
     Our note: Same as above.  Unlikely, especially if the Russian Orthodox Church is opposed, as it most probably is.  Polygamy starts to gain a following when times are bad, and men are scarce.

Witness: FLDS Men Lead All Aspects of Sect Life  11/4/09
"Women in a polygamist sect were taught that their fathers or husbands and the sect's prophet had the right to direct every aspect of their lives, a former member testified Wednesday in the child sexual abuse trial of a current sect member."  ''As a woman you have no direct connection to God,'' said Rebecca Musser, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. ''Every area of our lives was directed by the church and their teachings.''

Polygamy Porter and other beers brewed in Utah 1/25/09
"Utah still has quirky alcohol laws, including one that sets a limit of 3.2 percent alcohol — a little more than half the amount standard in most beers around the world — for beer sold on tap. But they don’t seem to be holding anyone back. Utah breweries do make higher-alcohol beers, though they are treated as liquor and are sold under more limited circumstances."
     Our Note: Polygamy Porter ("Why have just one?") is good beer.  The name could be a pun, referring to Porter Rockwell, who was a bodyguard of Joseph Smith and later a famous lawman (and assassin) for the Mormons.

Tightening the Knot  6/11/09
"Courts are still untangling the disturbing allegations — were girls as young as 12 forced to marry middle-aged men? — but the questions that cut deepest, about society’s laws versus religious freedom, for example, are even harder to answer.  Fiction can offer emotional truth where other tools fail, and that’s what makes these two young adult novels — “The Chosen One,” by Carol Lynch Williams, and “Alis,” by Naomi Rich — so interesting."
     Our note: Stories of escape from polygamy have been appearing since the 1840s.  Always interesting--these are just the latest examples.

'Big Love’ Gets a Big Tie to Real World  1/19/09
"For the creators and executive producers of “Big Love,” raids in Texas last year confirmed that polygamy is alive and thriving in several pockets of the American West."  "The Texas arrests “changed completely the landscape among polygamists in Utah,” Mr. Olsen said. Before that, “I think they thought they were marching forward toward some sort of social acceptance, and I think this was a huge bucket of cold water that landed on them.”"
     Our note: Big Love is a good show--very realistic.  The creators have really done their homework.

Texas Report Says 12 Girls at Sect Ranch Were Married  12/23/08
"According to a report released Tuesday, sexual abuse of children in a polygamist sect at the Yearning for Zion Ranch was common."
     Our note: The raid of Yearning for Zion Ranch was a disaster in terms of disrupting the lives of residents there, but I'm not sure there's any other way to get the evidence of abuse.  Girls and women will not testify.  If they did, they have children that would be taken away from them by church leaders, and they would be ostracized.

Texas: New Rules On Removing Children From Homes  8/28/08
"Federal court in Texas rules that child welfare workers must obtain court orders in most cases before removing children from their homes after accusations of abuse; also bars workers from automatically removing all children from home if one child is said to have been abused; ruling, although unrelated, comes amid scrutiny of state's removal of hundreds of children from polygamous sect. "

Children of God  7/27/08
"The young women willing wives? abuse victims? of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
     Our note: See the wonderful photos linked to this article, showing the life of FLDS women and children.

Texas Ranch Moves From Raid to Runway  7/8/08
"The polygamist sect that drew the nation's attention in April when hundreds of children were seized in a raid at its Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Tex., has begun to sell children's versions of the conservative prairie dresses worn by its members through a Web site, fldsdress.com, creating something of a fashion sensation."
     Our note: Very Chic!  When we checked the website on 11/9/09, it said they were ending the business.

Polygamy in America--The Oprah Winfrey Show  10/26/07
"What is life really like in a polygamist community? Lisa Ling investigates the changing face of plural families and explores communities that both make and break the stereotypes."
     Our note:  This looks like a rare look beyond the stereotypes.

Boys Cast Out by Polygamists Find Help   9/9/07
"Over the last six years, hundreds of teenage boys have been expelled or felt compelled to leave the polygamous settlement that straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah."
     Our note: If one man has many wives, then many men have none. This is a huge problem, the Achilles heel of polygamy.  The fundamentalist sect in Colorado City (FLDS) has a policy of kicking young boys out into the world--homeless and with little education or warning. For many more articles on "Lost Boys," go to here and search under "lost boys."

After Fleeing Polygamist Community, an Opportunity for Influence   9/29/05
"But in a twist that might have seemed inconceivable when she ran away two years ago, Ms. [Caroline] Jessop and another escapee, Margaret Cooke, stand poised to join the board of a sect trust that owns almost all the property here and in adjoining Colorado City, Ariz. The board, like everything else, has always been run exclusively by men."