Imposing "Christian Family
Values" On The Mormons
By James Donahue
The recent actions by
Texas authorities to sweep a Mormon compound and rip 462 children from their homes because of allegations of polygamy and
pedophilia has not only left the Mormon community stunned, but even has legal professionals shaking their heads.
It has been a sensational
news story, with Texas authorities accusing adults of forcing teenage girls into marriage and sex and, as
one report explained, “creating a culture so poisonous that none should be allowed to keep their children.”
Yet as news television
camera crews moved in and captured images, and interviews of these parents and their children, we have had images of well
dressed, intelligent and healthy people, caught in the midst of allegations of wrong-doing, because they followed an old Mormon
religious system that opened the door to polygamy. The children were all reported to be healthy, none of them appeared to
have been abused, and about 130 of them were only five years of age or younger.
There is something strikingly
wrong about what went on April 3 at the Yearning For Zion Ranch at Eldorado. State and local law enforcement officers raided
the ranch with heavy weapons and SWAT vehicles after they said a yet unidentified woman, claiming to be a 16-year-old girl
at the ranch, called a family violence shelter and complained that her 49-year-old husband beat and raped her.
Was it a set-up? This
group, we remember, was linked to Warren Jeffs, convicted last year in Utah
of forcing a 14-year-old girl into marriage with an older cousin. Jeffs was on the FBI’s “most wanted” list
for months before his dramatic capture, and all of that made sensational headlines because it involved sex, polygamy and all
of the rest.
Members of the Mormon
sect revere Jeffs as a prophet who taught that polygamy brings glorification in heaven. They believe polygamy is theologically
necessary for complete salvation, and site examples of Old Testament figures who took more than one wife.
It seems that all of
the children living at this Mormon ranch, identified as a “polygamous sect,” have been snatched from their homes
and placed under the care of Child Protective Services. The children were bused to foster care hundreds of miles from their
But not all of the mothers
of these children were sharing husbands. In fact, now that more information is known, we learn that many of the children came
from traditional nuclear families and at least one mother was a widow living alone with her child. Yet all of the children
at the ranch were removed.
The incident now is raising
constitutional questions as lawyers enter the picture on behalf of many of the families. As Rod Parker, a spokesman for the
Church of Latter Day Saints noted:
“if you’re a member of this religious group, then you’re not allowed to have children.”
Lisa Graybill, legal
director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas,
said the state “offended a pretty wide swath of the American people with what appears to be an overreaching action to
sweep up all these children.”
Going beyond the legal
aspects of this case, just what is it that the people at that compound were doing wrong? If the allegations are true, some
families were openly practicing polygamy, which has been banned by law for the last 150 years. Some of the wives may have
married in their early teens.
Some states ban marriages
to children under a certain age, often 14 to 16 years, and allow children 17 and under to marry if there is parental consent.
Before 2005, Texas law allowed girls as young as 14 to marry
if they had permission of the parents. Now the age limit is 16, and bigamy is increased from a misdemeanor to a felony.
And make no mistake,
the laws were changed in Texas because the Elderado sect was even then building its new compound
and moving to that location from Utah. Thus state officials
were targeting this nonconformist group even before it arrived.
Images of David Koresh
and the Branch Davidians come to mind as we examine what has happened. Except in this case, when authorities went in with
guns drawn, the women and children at the ranch did not barracade their doors or shoot back.
The Mormons openly practiced
polygamy from the time the group was founded by Joseph Smith, who is recorded to have had 33 wives. His successor, Brigham
Young, who led the sect west to Utah and established its headquarters at Salt Lake City, had 56 wives.
The practice was not
outlawed in the United States until 1862
when Abraham Lincoln signed the Merrill anti-Bigamy Act. But even then, many Mormons ignored the law because they believed
the revelations of God took precedence over the laws of man. This belief appears to still exist today.
Even as authorities cracked
down on the Mormon church, forcing families to practice monogamous marriages, the fundamentalists have secretly continued
to practice polygamy, even going so far as to travel to Mexico to marry additional wives.
At this point we suggest
stepping back and taking a look at this entire picture from an objective point-of-view, outside of both Mormon and Christian
theologies. If the Old Testament Semites and even some of the early Protestants practiced multiple marriages, what happened
to shift the Christian mores to insist that a monogamous marriage is the only correct way of establishing a family?
Just because the majority
of people in a country believe that monogamy is correct, does that make polygamy wrong? And who determined that we must draw
a line in the sand and determine the legal age when a woman may or may not marry and begin having sexual relations with her
husband? Girls at 14 and 15 may be legally considered children in the United
States, but they are physically capable of bearing children of their own.
In other parts of the
world, it is common for men and women to marry at that age.
"The word of sin is restriction.
Do what thou silt shall be the whole of the law." -- Liber al val Legis