THE PERPLEXING PROBLEM OF POLYGAMY
It's more than you might think!

 


If you’ve been listening to the news at all lately, you no doubt are aware of the arrest of Warren Steed Jeffs, who is the leader and “prophet” of the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint Church (or FLDS), which is the largest of many Mormon fundamentalist (polygamous) sects. Many of those sects, like the FLDS, are characterized by isolationism, authoritarian rule, and abuse, particularly against women and children.

While not all fundamentalist groups share the FLDS’ violent and oppressive characteristics, it is estimated that there are anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people in North America who adhere to the principles of Mormon fundamentalism. The thing that unites all of these various different forms of Mormon fundamentalism is an unwavering belief in the historical doctrines and teachings of Mormonism as delivered by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Chief among these doctrines is the belief that the practice of polygamy, or “plural marriage,” is essential to exaltation to godhood. When you look at the doctrines and the writings of the early LDS leaders and prophets, there is no getting around that fact. According to Mormon doctrine, if you want to ascend to godhood, you need to practice plural marriage. Period.

Nevertheless, the mainstream LDS Church, which continues to uphold Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as beloved prophets, now prohibits the practice of polygamy among its membership. In 1890, under pressure from the US Federal Government, they officially banned the practice. Today the LDS Church excommunicates anyone who is found practicing polygamy. Ironically, this would make Joseph Smith and Brigham Young ineligible for membership in the church they founded.

Another irony is the fact that while the LDS Church have denied the practice of polygamy, they have not denied the doctrine of polygamy. They have downplayed it, and they have hidden it--in many cases, from their own membership. Today when the LDS Church addresses the topic of polygamy, it is treated as a short-lived practice by a relative few select people, and it is often touted as a social welfare practice—a means of providing for the needs of unmarried women and widows. This is in stark contrast to the way the subject was originally taught by the early Church leaders. In the early days, people who rejected the doctrine of polygamy were excommunicated--just the opposite of what is happening today.

Living Hope’s interest in the subject of polygamy actually has two facets. One is its relevance to the project we are currently working on. Polygamy creates a very consistent thread throughout Mormon history. It presumably began because Joseph Smith couldn’t keep his hands off of women; it continued as a central doctrine of exaltation; leaders of the early church were either established or excommunicated based on their acceptance or rejection of polygamy; movements broke off (and continue to break off) because of it; it continues to be a sore subject within the mainstream LDS Church, and remains a very disturbing problem in the Intermountain West, and beyond, to this day. No other topic within Mormonism has been the subject of so much deception, lies, and subterfuge as polygamy. It could be argued that Warren Jeffs’ lifestyle, doctrines, and beliefs are far more consistent with those of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, than are those of the current LDS leadership. That is to say...if you want to see what Joseph Smith would look like today, you needn't look any further than Warren Jeffs.

The other facet of our interest in the subject of polygamy is one of compassion for the people—men, women, and children—who are trapped in Mormon fundamentalism. In particular, the women in the more oppressive sects like the FLDS have virtually no rights about any aspect of their lives; women and young children are traded and treated as chattel. They are by and large uneducated and as a result, unable to face life “on the outside.”

Mormon fundamentalists, by and large, are “true believers”…that is, they put up with the hardships of polygamy, and in many cases, abusive and authoritative leadership, because they truly want to please God. Because they truly believe that it is necessary for their salvation. What we want to communicate to all Mormon fundamentalists is that polygamy is not the way to salvation—Jesus Christ is, and Him alone!

We are learning that aside from the efforts of a small handful of individuals, there is practically no concerted Christian witness to the polygamist community. They are, in nearly every sense of the word, an unreached people group, right in our own backyard. There are remote tribes in the Amazon jungle that have a greater Christian witness among them than any Mormon fundamentalist group in Utah.

This is changing, though. Through our growing friendships with former fundamentalists who have encountered the true Jesus, we’ve come to share their burden to bring a Christian outreach to the Mormon fundamentalists.

We would like to highlight one new ministry in particular, A Shield and Refuge Ministries. This ministry exists to share the Christian gospel with Mormon fundamentalists through their website, mailings, and one-on-one ministry for struggling or seeking fundamentalists. In addition, they are poised to provide a "safe passage" for women (and their children) escaping abusive polygamist situations. All of the former fundamentalists that we have spoken to have said that there are women in these groups who would leave in a heartbeat if they knew there was a safe passage out for themselves and their children, and a means for their continued survival “on the outside”.

A Shield and Refuge Ministries, in cooperation with other ministries, will provide safe passage, sustained care, Christian witness, and preparation for life “on the outside” to any woman who is ready to leave a fundamentalist group. The challenge, however, is to get the information about the availability of this outreach to those women, and to tell them that Jesus is all that is needed for salvation, not polygamy! And that there is hope, and safe passage out of fundamentalism. We would invite you to learn more about A Shield and Refuge Ministries by visiting their website at www.shieldandrefuge.org.

Another website you may want to check out is www.xpolygamist.com. This contains more information, from a Christian perspective, about the issue of polygamy, and is put together by a woman who has developed her own ministry of outreach to a fundamentalist sect.

These two websites are the only websites that we are aware of that deal with Mormon fundamentalism from a Christian, biblical perspective! This just illustrates how vast is the need and how few are the workers. The fields are truly white for the harvest. Therefore, ask the Lord of the Harvest to send forth His workers!

We encourage you to visit the above websites to learn more about modern-day polygamy and what can be done to reach Mormon fundamentalists in Jesus’ name!

http://www.lhvm.org/email/2006-09-a3.htm

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