A brief apology for the LDS apologia regarding the FLDS

Over the course of the FLDS-Texas debacle it became somewhat common to hear commentators finding in LDS support for the civil and familial rights of the FLDS a kind of holy envy. Much as reformed Jews are often characterized as having deep respect for the Orthodox who keep all the mitzvot, we were occasionally portrayed as having some sort of buried respect and nostalgia for the patriarchy and pedophilia of the FLDS (which, in turn, may cause one to question the nostalgia of our detractors, but that is another topic).

I would suggest that our vigorous objections to the manner in which Texas Child Protective Services behaved comes from several sources, not a one of which consisted of our collective secret desire for unclipped hair. Instead, I think that there are two fundamental motivations behind the LDS defense of the FLDS.

First, most American LDS actually believe protections established by the US Constitution. As victims of governmental abuse in the past, we do not delight in seeing any particular group suffer under the unconstitutionally-invasive thumb of tyrannic government. While I doubt our own history in this regard is spotless, I nonetheless believe that, for US Mormons, most of the outrage was grounded in our own history of persecution and government intrusion.

Second, I think that most LDS in Utah were happy to have the justification provided by the Texas Court of Appeals for the approach taken toward the FLDS in Utah and Arizona. Many times over the course of the raid and hearings, comparisons were drawn between the Western and Texan methods. Implied in many of these comparisons was that the sort of sympathy I alluded to earlier is what motivated the Mormon Utah Attorney General (and, somehow, the non-Mormon Arizona Attorney General) to approach crime amongst the FLDS with restraint, as opposed to a desire to actually only punish those engaged in harmful acts. The ruling of the Texas Court of Appeals adds weight to this interpretation. Restraint in approaching isolated peoples is a self-evident good; it does not and should not require additional justification.

So, it would appear that, unless you consider the judges of the Court closeted polygamists (have their TVs been checked for old episodes of Big Love?), that it is possible to grant those nasty old men and their child brides some rights without secretly wanting to start a compound yourself. I myself have been saving up my sympathies for the inevitable raids on the Strangite compounds in Wisconsin.


  1. John C.,
    Amen to your first reason. As to the second, not being a Utahn myself, it such justification of Utah’s approach doesn’t resonate with me, but I do applaud the more measured (and constitutionally supportable) manner in which Utah and Arizona have proceeded.

  2. John C., you’ve pretty well nailed the reasons for my own repeated public statements, which actually are less pro-FLDS than anti-Texas thuggery. I would only add that tied very closely to your first reason, there is a strong element of fear that this kind of tactic, if successful in Texas, will be extended toward others, including us. In other words, it isn’t only a memory of past outrages, but a fear of future outrages closer to home.

  3. most LDS in Utah were happy

    It’s been an even more complex issue for the LDS in Texas. Casually talking with members I know here who have followed the story, I see these themes (conflicting and contradictory):

    a) Why couldn’t Utah have dealt with it before it got here? And if they couldn’t deal with it, then don’t question the methods of the state of Texas.
    b) General squeamish over the alleged polygamy/pedophila.
    c) Disapproval over CPS methods (it would be difficult to describe how hated CPS is, and how incompetent they are perceived, as an institution in Texas, EVEN before this event)

  4. Hit return too soon.

    I think most members in Texas — at least ones I know — seem to fall into the category of my #3 — disapproval over how it was handled and conducted.

    It’s funny how native Texans argue over whether “leave them alone; let them live how they want” or “seize first, ask questions later” is the more appropriate “Texan” response.

  5. John, you nailed my feelings perfectly, especially when you add Ardis’ reason.

    There are people in this area (SW Ohio) who happily would support the destruction of Mormonism if they could find a legal way to do so. Some of them are very good people whom I respect in many ways outside of religion. I’m sure what happened to the FLDS could not happen to the LDS here on such a large scale, but my knowledge of those who would support it lends a degree of passion to my reproach of the Texas CPS.

  6. Phouchg says:

    This whole LDS/FLDS episode simply brings to bear the ongoing Mormon persecution complex. Even tacit approval of the FLDS side raises concerns in those who are not LDS. The mainstreaming that the church has been attempting in the past 20 or so years is still not working.

    Or to put it another way: the LDS church is the ugly girl at the dance who is all dressed up and is convinced that everybody wants to dance with her, but all the cool guys are laughing at her behind her back while they dance with the Catholic girls.

  7. Thanks for the comments, all.

    My impression is that all of Utah Mormonism breathed a sigh of relief when the Texas CoA decision came down. I am curious as to what our reaction would have been had we not received that validation.

  8. Randall says:

    I think the most dangerous risk of the current legal action is that paints Warren Jeffs and the other abusive leaders in a sympathetic light. In the absence of an oppressive state, Americans naturally ignore the FLDS or assume the worst about them. In the presence of the current action, people are forced to respond to their plight and many will sympathize with the FLDS church. It is easiest to sympathize with the mothers and children, but this easily extends to the men.

    An interesting question is whether the ACLU will intervene. If so, will it be in support of CPS and in support of the rights of the young women? Or will it be in support of the FLDS in general and their rights to practice the religion of their choosing?

    My guess: they’ll sit this one out. Polygamy mixes up too many issues–most notably conservative patriarchal religion with liberal sexual freedoms.

  9. Randall, ask and ye shall receive

  10. Kenny F says:
  11. John Hamer says:

    If LDS members are damned if they do on this one, (i.e., damned if they do have sympathy for FLDS members), they would surely also be damned if they didn’t. If LDS members were leading the charge to seize FLDS children, they would be labeled as hypocrites for persecuting fundamentalist Mormons for the practice LDS polygamists were persecuted for over a century ago.

    If you’re damned either way, your options are either (1) do what you think is right and let the consequences follow, or (2) keep silent and let the consequences follow.

    My position mirrors the ACLU’s. I don’t agree with FLDS beliefs on a personal level, but I don’t think the state can prosecute church members as a group; you have try individual lawbreakers for actual crimes. (My disclaimer is that I’m not LDS or fundamentalist, but many of my ancestors were polygamist Mormons.)

  12. Kenny F says:


    Didn’t see your post until after my post. I’m a bit slow.

  13. John H,
    I believe that admitted cohabitation with more than one wife does indeed constitute “breaking the law” in the strict sense. It is Utah and Arizona’s decision to only prosecute if crimes other than bigamy/polygamy are involved that drew the ire of certain members of the chattering class. However, that does appear to be the stated position of the court of appeals.

  14. John Hamer says:

    John C, I agree that “in the strict sense” of breaking the law, cohabitation with multiple wives is unlawful. That’s why I said “actual crimes,” attempting to invoke the de facto sense of breaking enforced and enforceable laws.

    State legislatures don’t spend much time revoking defunct legislation. As a result, lots of things on the books are unlawful “in the strict sense” that are not actual crimes.

    I’m reminded how this was parodied on the Simpsons when Chief Wiggum read the town charter and realized that as constable he was owed “a pig every month and two comely lasses of virtue true.” To which Mayor Quimby quipped, “Keep the pig. How many broads do I get?”

    If a state wants to test the idea that anti-polygamy legislation is not defunct, the best way to do it is to arrest and prosecute an openly polygamist husband for “unlawful cohabitation” alone, without bringing known actual crimes into the mix.

  15. Ditto John. I have very little respect for the FLDS and I think as several have pointed out there are lots of differences from even 19th century Mormon practice. But Texas really urked me off. Especially since I gave them the benefit of doubt initially.

  16. My position mirrors the ACLU’s. But John, I hope your response has a little more to it than the ACLU’s. A former ACLU employee discusses this at Grits for Breakfast.

  17. I understand from close friends, who had a run-in with CPS in Utah recently, that Utah grants CPS far more latitude than even Texas. Furthermore, of all the US jurisdictions, only Washington DC has more draconian CPS legislation. Can anyone verify this?

  18. john jones says:

    For some reason I always preface comments with “I am not flds, I am lds and I do not live in Utah nor have any desire to live there. The first to help “gentiles” understand I have disagreement with some of the practices of the flds and the second to confirm I am not the stereotypical “corporate” type Mormon from Utah. I am a “northern california” Mormon. I guess with all the stereotypes that go along with that. I find it all quite ridiculous confirm,apologize,apologize and confirm. I think the reason we do that is to narrow the off topic questions that detract from the current issue. The flds/texas. All this while I find some looking for my horns and my republican punch card. Usually when I have my “mormons against romney” shirt on it clears the latter up quickly. My point in all this is sharing that I did not really notice it so much until recently as this flds/texas question comes up frequently with my friends. Just an observation.

  19. John H.
    My understanding is that no-one is willing to try someone simply on polygamy charges for the same reason that people are trying to add amendments to the constitution regarding the definition of marriage. The issue appears to be plainly unconstitutional, but no state wants to be the one to provide legal justification for polygamy in the wake of the Texas sodomy case.

    As I understand it, all CPS groups are designed to be very draconian. This is presumably due to the difficulty in proving domestic abuse and the trouble with leaving children and spouse in a home while a long series of hearings take place.

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