My reaction to John’s reaction to the LDS reaction to the FLDS situation was a little different. I really don’t think that we’ve been overly apologetic, as a people, for polygamists. In fact, I find it horrifying how quickly church members and leaders were to throw those folks under the bus.
The most prominent reaction comes from Elder Quentin L. Cook, a recently-sustained member of the Twelve. In a smiling, amiable, six-minute video (available through the church website), he sets out a number of points. He starts out on some overall concerns:
-Confusion (a term Elder Cook uses repeatedly) about the difference between LDS and FLDS does not serve the church.
-News readers potentially misunderstand the difference, and this is confusing to the public.
-It’s a concern to the church. Our members are not polygamists.
-The media uses the term “Mormon” without always clarifying the difference.
Elder Cook makes an “appeal to the media” not to say Mormon while referencing polygamists. From there, he goes into a discussion of differences between the LDS church and FLDS and other offshoots:
-The church has 13 million members. These sects are small.
-The church is worldwide and has many converts.
-The church is “mainstream” (a word Elder Cook uses repeatedly).
-Church members are educated and encouraged to get an education.
-We don’t practice arranged marriage.
-We have a number of occupations.
-We’re not separate communities; we’re mainstream; we’re not isolated.
-We don’t dress funny or have weird hair styles.
Finally, he reiterates that news stories that don’t adequately distinguish between the two groups are “of great concern to members of the church.”
The Press Room also released a short summary of Elder Cook’s remarks. The press release noted:
Elder Cook said it is very confusing to the public when some media use “Mormon” to describe the Texas-based polygamous group that is currently under investigation for possible incidents of child abuse. He reiterated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with over 13 million members worldwide, is not connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy.
Drawing contrasts between the Church and polygamists, Elder Cook said that Church members do not live in isolated compounds, arrange marriages, dress in old-fashioned clothing or wear unusual hairstyles.
Rather, they are participating members of the communities in which they live throughout the world, get married at the average age of 23 and are well educated. In fact, 60 percent of Church members in the United States have some college education, which is 10 percent above the national average.
A similar quote is given by church public affairs rep Mike Otterson. He’s quoted as saying, “We don’t look like these people, we don’t dress like these people, we don’t worship like these people, we don’t believe in the same things as these people.” That’s the end of the quote.
This reaction — the only official church reaction I’ve seen to the whole FLDS situation — is something we ought to be ashamed of.
The FLDS raid was an abomination. An increasing number of news reports about the FLDS raid paint the scene as nothing short of horrifying. Hundreds of children were torn from their parents; little children were brutalized, crying for help, wandering helplessly; desperate mothers were torn from their nursing infants. (It brings to mind Christ’s words about the Abomination of Desolation — “woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days.”) News stories (like this and this) chronicle the environment:
A boy estimated at age 3 walked along a row of cots asking for someone to rock him after he was separated from his mother, one employee wrote. Two CPS worker trailed the youngster taking notes but not helping him. His brother, age 8, eventually took the child into his arms and sat with him in a rocking chair.
“That little boy will always be in my mind,” the employee wrote. “How can a beautiful, healthy child be taken from a healthy, loving home and forced into a situation like that, right here in America, right here in Texas?”
And the first (and only!) thing that the church formally says about it is, “hey, don’t confuse those guys with us.” To add further insult, this is done in the most belittling way possible — “look, we have much better hair than those guys. We’re not freaks like they are.”
Similar attitudes are echoed in the membership. I received multiple copies of a horrible e-mail, juxtaposing pictures of Steve Young and Ken Jennings with news shots of traumatized FLDS moms waiting outside a courtroom to plead for their children. “This is what a Mormon looks like” (Steve Young picture). “This is not what a Mormon looks like” (FLDS moms). Shudder.
(Not all members have been so cavalier. Guy Murray — blessings on him — has done an admirable job from the beginning of chronicling and protesting the horror, over at Messenger and Advocate. Others, like Ardis Parshall, have also consistently spoken against the abuse.)
As a press strategy, the church’s approach seems to have worked pretty well, at least in the short term. Every CNN story I read about the raid contained a disclaimer, like “The FLDS, which teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven, broke away from the mainline Mormon church, which disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.”
If that’s the payoff for throwing our FLDS brothers and sisters under the bus, then we sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.
I can’t help but wonder if the church was given a test — and failed. We had an unprecedented opportunity here to stand up against injustice and oppression. We had a chance to truly comfort those in need of comfort. This opportunity was particularly relevant, because the oppressed FLDS were suffering for exactly the same beliefs that we once claimed, and that we were persecuted for — a persecution that retains an important place in our memory as a people.
And yet, when a similar persecution comes up in modern days, all that the church can do is to (quickly!) say, “hey, those folks aren’t us.” Instead of making appeals to the media that they not confuse our names, why not make an appeal to the media that they blow the lid off this horror?
In the past, our ancestors has faced brutal oppression for the very same practice, and called out for help to others, and most others simply stood impassively by. Now, when the tables are turned, we’ve shown that we’re capable of impassive bystanding, too.
Isn’t there something in our history, doctrine, or culture that should make us want to stand up for the oppressed FLDS families? Hell, doesn’t the Proclamation’s language on families suggest that the church ought to have formally said something about this massive attempted sundering of families? Even while maintaining our differences, can’t we stand together as brothers and sisters?
What would have happened if the church had made an official statement like,
“The reports coming out of Texas about treatment of FLDS children are horrifying. Simply mind-boggling.
Now, to be clear, we are not FLDS. They split with us over polygamy, nearly a century ago.
But we absolutely stand beside them in condemning this harsh state action. The state must stop actual abuse, but no abuse has been shown individually. And the state should not break up families — including FLDS — over mere religious belief. We condemn in the strongest terms the district court decision that upheld this action.”
Instead, we waited until the moment passed. And now, it’s too late. Moral guidance now comes from others, like the ACLU, which recently released a (belated) statement condemning the raid. Legal guidance comes from an appellate court decision reversing the lower court. And barring further misadventure, FLDS families will be reunited soon. Meanwhile the sole guidance church members have gotten from our leaders about this topic is a talk about how our hair is better than theirs.
I wish we had done more. I really don’t like the way pottage tastes.