Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb
mamadeb

Big Love, LDS, Polygamy (Very long and somewhat rambly.)

I've been watching Big Love on HBO this year. For those who aren't familiar, it's about a family in Utah that consists of a husband, his three wives and their children.

Note that I'm not calling them Mormon.

This is because only two of the adults have ever been members of the official LDS church, and aren't any more. I suspect that the oldest daughter still is, because she hasn't done anything to be removed yet, but I'm not so sure about the oldest son. None of the other children are. Then again, only two of them are actually school age, and only one has been baptized. The husband was raised in one of the polygamist compounds, until he was tossed out at the age of fifteen; his second wife is the daughter of the leader (Prophet) of this compound. She, therefore, has never been a member of official church, although she does hold the Book of Mormon as holy. The third wife (who, like the second, began as a babysitter) was not raised in any form of LDS - we don't know what, if any, religion she was - and was only baptized when the youngest child of the first wife was. We do know she went to Catholic school, but so do plenty of non-Catholics.

They abstain from alchohol, cigarettes and coffee, and this series has language cleaner than a lot of network shows - so clean that the TWoP recappers feel funny using anything stronger than PG.

So, LDS has long been fascinating to me - Orson Scott Card, homophobia and all, is a brilliant writer, although even he couldn't make a novelization of the Book of Mormon ("Homecoming") readable. This is not to be confused with "Tales of Alvin Maker", which is a fantasy retelling of the life of Joseph Smith, btw, although it's also getting rather boring. And, you know. LDS is the basis for the original "Battlestar Galactica", too.

And it's the US's first homegrown religion, which also makes it interesting.

And my interest has been rekindled by this series, so I've just read three books - Sisters and Wives by Natalie Collins, Daughters of the Saints by Dorothy Allred Solomon and His Favorite Wife by Susan Ray Schmidt. I've also read Jon Krakauer's Under the Kingdom of Heaven in the past.

The first is a very, very, VERY angry novel. It's not safe to do this, but I got a definite impression that the author, who still lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and children, was hurt very badly by Mormon men. The only good men and the only strong women in this novel are exMormons, or never were Mormon at all. The Mormon men are all abusers or complicit in abuse; the women are all either also complicit or thoroughly beaten down. There was an excerpt for a second book at the end of this one, and I think it's along the same theme. I'm really not sure what I learned from this, except that people in very closed groups can be abusive.

The other two books are interesting in that they're two sides of the same coin. The first is written by the daughter of the leader of a polygamist group. She was the favorite child, the only daughter of the third wife, and her father was NOT abusive. The living situation was NOT good - they were very poor plus they had to deal with the father in prison and with living all over the West and in Mexico, plus there was a lot of hiding. She was close to all of the mothers (whom she called "aunt" - one was actually her mother's twin sister) and her brothers and sisters. It doesn't sound idyllic and she resented that she was not on equal terms with men, and she rejected the whole "Principle", and married in the main church. The book is an indictment against polygamy, but not against the people.

Her father was killed by members of a rival polygamist group.

The other book? Her brother-in-law was the one who engineered Dr. Allred's murder. She became a plural wife (number five, I think) at the age of fifteen, married to the group's prophet's brother (not the murderous one.) By the time she was 22, she had five kids. She really did seem to love her husband, but she never had money, never could make any decisions on her own, and he kept marrying other women. (Dr. Allred stopped at seven for a long time, despite his followers' urging - they couldn't have more wives than he did.) This included his own niece. Which further reduced the available money. And she lived in appalling circumstances. She'd also been raised to be a plural wife - young men, it was thought, could go out and convert their own wives and bring them in. Girls raised in the cult were meant for men already married.

Eventually, she engineered a way out (not very hard - she convinced him to take her and the kids to visit family in Utah,and then announced that they were staying. Since it wasn't a legal marriage, there was no need for a legal divorce.) She finished high school and went to college, had another baby by another man (first husband was still willing to take her back), and then married (at the age of 25) a man "of the Christian faith." They had a seventh child together. She's still in contact with her family and her first husband's children. Her first husband? Possibly also killed by his brother.

Solomon didn't "escape" - she could and did choose to live a different life. Schmidt needed to run away.

And neither of these books resemble, much, the compound, Juniper Creek, in Big Love - boys weren't tossed out that I could see, and women weren't forced to dress as though they lived on the prairie. The LeBaron group (the second book) didn't even wear garments - or most of them didn't. She was shocked when her husband did. Some drank coffee. The Allred group is much closer to standard LDS practice, and the kids of the Apostolic United Brethren go to public school and they dress like everyone else.

There is far less anger in these stories, oddly enough.

The compound is clearly modeled on Colorado City, formerly "Short Creek", which is rather more isolationist.

And these are the polygamists that get the most attention.

But there are people like the Hendricksons - people who don't belong to an organized group, who believe they're doing the right thing, who live closeted lives - multiple homes near each other, as in the series, or sharing a multi-famiily house. They may even be members of the official church - subject to excommunication if found out.

And with all of this, I'm having the hardest time trying to understand how Margene, who was not any form of LDS, could be part of this.
Tags: lds, polygamy
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