Reactions to the recent Gospel Topics essays on polygamy (here and here) have been widely varied, running on a spectrum from “WHAT?!” to *yawn*. The fact of this diversity raises some interesting questions, especially in light of Jesus’ statement “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” The point isn’t that we all should have had the same reaction (although there has been commentary to that effect); rather, the urgent question is whether we as members of the Church can come together in the face of such diversity—and if so, how.
When I returned to my office after winter break, I found two large brown boxes (with “Joe Christensen” written on the sides) waiting for me in the mailroom. I was pretty sure I knew what they held and, sure enough, upon opening them, I saw copies of Taxing Polygamy, my (finally published!) article dealing with the difficulties that a regime of legally-recognized polygamy would present to the U.S. tax system.
And, in celebration of its finally being published, I thought I’d do a little polygamy-blogging, starting with this broad introductory post. [Read more…]
Consider the following statement and whether you, and other Mormons, believe it.
Give your answers below. If you have more than one, we understand.
Bonus Poll: I was told that I got the first poll slightly wrong. Here is another, related, possibly corrected poll. [Read more…]
About a month ago a publicist wrote in to the BCC Admin address trying to get me a copy of a new book, Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage, by Joe, Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger, with Brooke Adams (New York: HarperOne, 2011). I have to admit, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it at first. I had never heard of the Dargers or their book, and I assumed it was sort of a self-published thing that would be poorly written. But what the heck, I thought, I’ll take a flyer on it. I wrote back and told the woman she could send me a copy. [Read more…]
Now that Big Love is over with, I’ve started watching Sister-Wives on The Learning Channel. This is a show about a polygamous family: One husband, four wives, 16 kids. It’s actually very interesting and I’ve been enjoying the show. [Read more…]
Your Sunday Brunch Special (#3). Utah Artist James T. Harwood, 2: Early Utah Economics and Excommunication
Ok, so for this one, you can eat while you read. <grin>
We continue our exploration of the late James Taylor Harwood and his relation to Mormonism. [Read more…]
So I’m watching the end of the Jets v. Steelers game last night, and it’s about 8:50 p.m., when I realize I’ve missed the second episode in Big Love’s new and final season. But then it dawns on me that HBO repeats the new episodes immediately at 9:00 p.m., so I was able to watch it. (The first episode last week was mainly about all the blowback the family experienced after Bill publicly admitted to being a polygamist.) There were four aspects to this episode that I found particularly interesting, which I wanted to highlight here. (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode yet and is still planning on it.) Also, please note that my characterization is based on my hazy memory, I don’t have a transcript to consult or anything like that. [Read more…]
MikeInWeHo is an old friend of BCC, and currently serves as our Special Media Correspondent, providing commentary on TV shows we can’t watch because we’re too cheap to pay for cable. His past work can be seen here, here, here, and here.
Sunday night brought the premier of the new series Sister Wives on The Learning Channel. The affable Kody Brown and his three wives have opened their home to the world, and we get a new take on contemporary polygamy. This is billed as a reality series, but are these people for real or is this TV with an agenda? [Read more…]
So last week when Judge Walker issued his decision overturning Prop. 8, one of my friends posted as her status update, “Is polygamy next?” I didn’t know if she was being silly or sincere, but if any of you all are wondering the same thing, let me reassure you: No. Polygamy is not next. That’s just something we conservatives make up to scare people. Ha ha, that was a joke (sort of). You know how I know polygamy isn’t next? Because unlike attitudes toward homosexuals, attitudes toward polygamists haven’t improved much in the last hundred years. Most people have at least one friend or someone in their family who is gay, but not many people know any polygamists. Also, when was the last time you saw a movie or TV show character with a sassy polygamist friend? Never, that’s when. And you’re not likely to start anytime soon. (Not until someone options my screenplay, that is.) [Read more…]
This post will discuss the season 4 finale of Big Love, HBO’s series following the lives of a polygamous family in Salt Lake City. Enter the spoiler zone at your own risk… [Read more…]
Here’s another post from the Dialogue editorial board. Many of you know Matthew Bowman from Juvenile Instructor. He is a graduate student in History at Georgetown, and is a member-at-large of the editorial board because he knows about everything. Also, he’s a very good sport about playing Monkey in the Middle with small, unruly children, even in freezing weather. This is his thoughtful take on the Big Love debacle.
Big Love: Res Publica
Last week, for probably the first time in history, TV Guide broke controversial news. And this week, it came to pass; Big Love showed a portion of the LDS temple ceremony; specifically, a fraction of a prayer circle and a portion – probably the most sensitive portion – of the veil ceremony. The consequent and rather predictable Mormon uproar has taken the form of a rally to protect the temple; tiresome email petitions and facebook groups and YouTube videos abound. But what, beneath the surface, is this debate really about? Big Love is a complicated show, and deserves an interpretation that scratches below the surface. [Read more…]
I’m watching the episode now. The bishop and SP just came to visit Barb at home. They mentioned that she and Bill haven’t paid tithing for seven years. She says yes, they’re “inactive now,” they went through a bad time, and she was very sick. So the bishop just comes right out and asks if she’s living in a polygamous relationship. She’s shocked by the question, but after a pause acknowledges that she is. She explains that Bill got a testimony of it. She didn’t at first, but she thinks she does now. They informed her that they were there to determine whether they needed to take action regarding her membership.
I’ll post this now and then in the comments describe the further developments as the episode unfolds.
I’m watching the latest episode of Big Love, and boy is there a lot of Mormony stuff in this one. [Read more…]
HBO kicked off the new season of Big Love with big hopes that it will replace The Sopranos as its primary moneymaker. The series has received excellent reviews, lots of positive buzz, and a multi-million dollar marketing campaign. The executives at HBO are good at what they do.
If HBO succeeds and the show is a hit, it may present PR issues on a scale never-before encountered by the contemporary Church. Why? [Read more…]
So I’m sitting here with the windows open on a beautiful Spring day in Chicago, and indulging in one of life’s great pleasures: reading the Sunday paper. My wife is off with her boyfriends this weekend to see Golden Smog and Soul Asylum in Rochester, Minnesota; I’m just getting over a cold, so I’m playing hooky from church; and I’ve got the Chieftains playing on my iPod. Life is sweet. [Read more…]
I started out watching Big Love out of sheer morbid curiousity, coupled with the fact that I was watching The Sopranos anyway. I didn’t think it was very entertaining at first, and I figured I’d check it out for two or three weeks and then move back to Gray’s Anatomy.
But the show is getting more entertaining as the characters develop. It is still no Six Feet Under, but it has potential. So I’ll probably keep watching for now. [Read more…]
For the few that might not be familiar with post-Manifesto polygamy, a very brief overview might be in order. Today members of the Church look at the 1890 Manifesto as the revelation that ended polygamy. However, Wilford Woodruff and those around him, although they may have believed the Manifesto (or at least the idea of issuing the Manifesto) to be inspired, they definitely saw it as a political document meant to save the Church in the short-term. It was not issued to declare the conclusive end to polygamy. And in fact, polygamy continued to be sanctioned and practiced at the highest levels of the Church until at least 1904. Apostles such as George Teasdale, Abraham Cannon, John W. Taylor, and Matthias Cowley took additional wives during this period, while they and other apostles continued to seal men and women in plural unions.
I’ll only briefly say that this history of new plural marriages might at first look ominous, and as evidence of lies and deceit on the part of Church leaders. It is true leaders were not always as forthright, candid, or perhaps as honest as they could have been when it came to the subject of post-Manifesto polygamy. However, I believe a more sensitive, albeit complex, view is in order. The many facets of this view cannot be enumerated here, but suffice it to say, I believe it is possible to judge Church leaders as righteous, honest men, despite the dilemma of post-1890 plural marriages.
So with that all-too lengthy introduction, I come to the lingering legacy of post-Manifesto polygamy. I’ve only begun now to appreciate the huge, in fact, enormous impact these marriages have had on Mormonism and how we are today.
First and foremost, post-Manifesto polygamy forced an answer to the “Mormon problem” as it was called. It came in the form of the Smoot hearings — perhaps the most important recognition given to the Church that they could be considered a part of American culture and society. In fact, I would argue that the outcome of the Smoot hearings was more important than granting Utah statehood. Kathleen Flake, in her new book and in her dissertation, has argued quite convincingly that the Smoot hearings created the compromise between the Church and the government that allowed the Church to continue. As testimony in the trial quickly indicated, polygamy was still very much alive in Utah, much to the dismay of the rest of the country. The Church finally gave up polygamy, and even sacrificed two of its own, John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley, as evidence of their willingness to obey the law. This, I believe, is the beginning of the respect and admiration the Church has grown to have in the 21st century.
Quite ironically, we are almost the exact opposite of what we were 100 years ago. Then we were fighting against a constitutional amendment defining marriage, now we support such an amendment. Then we were arguing for a broader approach to marriage, now we are perhaps the most representative group of the nuclear family. Then, we were separate, despised, and looked upon as a threat. Today, we are respected, and are seen as an important ally to those wanting to preserve the status quo. Then, we were hardly patriotic; we reviled the government and looked upon their treatment of us as injustice of the worst kind. Today, we are counted among the most patriotic; our Boy Scout troops proudly place flags on the lawns of Church members every holiday. We stand as one of the very few Churches to support war in Iraq, even as most others spoke out against it. I would argue the change began with the death of post-Manifesto polygamy.
Second, post-Manifesto polygamy single-handedly contributed to the many fundamentalist schisms that exist today and that still force the Church to confront its polygamous heritage. Polygamy after 1890 was practiced among knowing winks and nods, among double-speak and an environment where one thing was said to outsiders, another to insiders, and still another to those in leadership positions. Because of this environment, fundamentalists today still argue that the Church never intended to abandon polygamy, but that some leaders were simply not strong enough to resist the pressures of the world. The legacy of post-Manifesto polygamy gives them tremendous ammunition in their fight to convince us of the legitimacy of their claims.
These fundamentalists continue to be a thorn in the Church’s side to this day, causing embarrassment and reminding the world that Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy. They’ve forced us into a very uncomfortable position — one in which we have to say polygamy was inspired (otherwise there are some very unpleasant implications for Joseph Smith), yet we also have to confess our own lack of desire to practice it, and we are ambiguous about its future in the Church.
Third, although the practice of saying one thing to outsiders and another to insiders had been practiced in the Church before, it reached its height during the years following the Manifesto. Today, the Church continues to exhibit such a practice. President Hinckley has gone on national television and conducted interviews with high profile magazines, announcing to the world that the Latter-day Saints don’t believe in some of the doctrines that make us most unique. Then he returns and while speaking in General Conference, with a smile and while getting a big laugh, announces that he knows the doctrine of the Church just as well as anybody. From my perspective the message was clear: We’re going to tell them certain things to move the work of the Lord forward, but don’t you all worry about it.
Finally, I believe post-Manifesto polygamy has helped contribute to an environment of shared secrecy and of circling the wagons. Many, many Church members descend from such marriages. Yet they normally keep it quiet. For a Church that prides itself on ancestry and our rich past, those whose grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were part of post-Manifesto unions are normally silent. We keep our secrets in the Mormon Church — we don’t let the skeleton out of the closet. Post-Manifesto polygamy, ironically, is one of those great secrets.