More Polygamy on TV

So I’m flipping channels this evening and happen upon a new show on the National Geographic Channel, called “Polygamy, USA.”  It premiered a week ago; the second episode, “Winter’s Ball,” will run later tonight.  Unlike Sister Wives, which focuses on a single family, or the Dargers, also a single family, this show gives a broader picture of the Centennial Park group in Arizona.  (Centennial Park split from the FLDS back in the 80s, and don’t practice the abuses encouraged and required by Warren Jeffs.)

So I’m still watching the first episode, but so far there are three things I found quite fascinating:

1.  They have a “mission program,” in which young men who have graduated from high school may elect to participate.  But they don’t travel away from home or proselyte.  Rather, it’s largely a community service endeavor, and an attempt to help these boys grow up into responsible men.  So they do things like clear weeds at the cemetery, pick up the community’s garbage, build community buildings, and so forth.  It was interesting to see this different vision of mission work.

2.  Unlike other forms of polygamy with which I’m familiar, neither the men nor their existing wives choose a new wife.  Rather, it is the prospective new wife who is entitled to revelation about whom she should marry.    Really fascinating.  They talk to a good looking, single  young man, who says he has his crushes, but they’re irrelevant, all he can do is wait and hope that at some point a girl will feel called to choose him as a husband.  So what do you think, sisters, should we import this practice into our own tradition (sans plurality, of course)?

3.  Some things are no different from our version of Mormonism: At Thanksgiving, they hold a “Turkey Bowl,” the young single men against he married men.

Joseph Smith gets coverage, and they just now explained preexistence (in the context of a funeral).

The producers embedded in the community for six months for this project, and you really do get a glimpse into what this particular strain of polygamy is like to live on a day by day basis.  You can see more about it here.


  1. Feminist Mormon Polygamous Wives . . .

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    So now I’m watching the second episode. This community has an absollute rule that girls cannot marry before 18.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    After the woman receives inspiration, the town elders must approve (I knew men had to be in this loop somehow!). If they do, a wedding can take place within weeks.

    Right now they’re sort of focusing on an 18-year old girl who is starting this process and seeking her inspiration.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Ezra, the son Arthur, the leader guy, is sort of a rebel. He has a girlfriend of his own choice, and he’s going to bring her to the winter dance. His father is clearly disappointed in his actions.

  5. Hales Swift says:

    You can’t have a show like this without a thread about the”‘rebel”, whether he’s a rebel amish, rebel trashpicker, or whatever.

  6. Are you referring to the Duggars? They are not polygamous, but rather believe in the “quiverfull” and are conservative baptists and obviously have many children. But it is and always has been a monogamous couple who have no connection to the LDS church, FLDS, etc.

    I know there has been some talk lately about polygamy potentially being in-line with feminism, but I don’t think I can ever come to this conclusion.

  7. Okay, now I feel dumb. I didn’t know about the Dargers!! Guess my polygamy on TV knowledge is not very up to date!!! How do I just delete my above comment?

  8. JennyP1969 says:

    It really shows that whatever you are nurtured and trained to believe in, is believable. Humans will endure anything, put up with anything, sacrifice anything — especially themselves — if they think it’s “right.”

    I wonder what’s wrong with me that if something feels wrong, even if it seems to come from God, I can’t see it as “right.” I could not have put Issac on the alter, nor could I have slain Laban. And sharing my husband is so unhealthy for an intimate marriage that polygamy is never going to be righteous to me.

    Sigh…..good thing I haven’t been asked to do any of them.

  9. Another difference from LDS culture is the discourse of being in the Church vs. leaving it. In Centennial Park, they seem to have internalized individual choice of path to the point that they talk rather nonchalantly about children leaving the community and the faith, as if it’s a normal course of action. I wonder what pressures contribute to this: a consciousness of the difficulty of polygamy, or overwhelming cultural disapproval? Do they believe that one must be a polygamist to attain salvation/God’s highest blessings? How do they theologize children who leave?

  10. Nick Literski says:

    I’m really enjoying the show so far, after a friend of mine who is part of the Centennial Park community recommended it to me. (I’m still waiting to see him show up, though his interview may have ended up on the cutting room floor.) So far, I’m impressed. Like Kevin, I’m pleasantly surprised by their “missionary” program. I can’t help but admire the very genuine love and concern which their mentor/leader has toward all of these young men. I’m impressed that he seems to see his work as something beyond religious observance: he’s actually teaching the young men to become contributing, contientious citizens of their community. Can you imagine the impact, if 18-20 year olds in our society were expected/encouraged to devote their time to community service, under the guidance of a solid mentor?

    We all know that the FLDS image has become the public stereotype of Mormon Fundamentalists, and by extension, polygamists in general. Until now, I have to admit I lumped the Centennial Park community in with them. I’m pleased to see how this group seems to fully embrace the gifts of the modern age, while holding to its principles. I’m surprised to see very attractive young men and women, who clearly don’t subscribe to a deity who requires punishing austerity. I’d like to think I’ve always felt a respect, even a certain kinship, toward Mormon Fundamentalists, but this program has been helpful to me in noticing–and correcting–my own lingering prejudices.

    I don’t doubt there’s some “image management” going on, in terms of what families and individuals the filmmakers are allowed to work with, but I’m still glad to see this community featured.

  11. Having single women choose a couple to join could certainly influence public behavior. If a man wanted another wife he might improve his behavior towards his current wife (at least in public) in the hopes of tempting someone to join. Or, if he felt like he had enough wives, he might give the appearance of being a real jerk. Maybe the current wives could join in and act out a public face of marital disharmony?

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Jen, no worries, the two names are very close to each other.

    Nick, I confess that like you I had just lumped Centennial Park in with the FLDS, and am happy to see that there is a substantive difference there.

    MKOH, it’s fascinating to think about the various possibilities, is it not? That practice caught me completely off guard; I had no idea.

  13. Really interesting, Kevin – and a great example of how badly we err when we insist on homogeneity in how we see things and people. We are the object of mischaracterization so often; it’s enlightening to see cases where we are just as guilty in how we view and speak of others who are different.

  14. John Taber says:

    The Dargers’ daughter married someone from Centennial Park, IIRC.

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