The trials continue for Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist LDS church, who is already in jail. What I find interesting in this article, and this is the first time I’ve seen the conflict portrayed this way, is that these folks of the FLDS are under the impression that they are battling for their civil rights.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with consensual polygamy. And I bet if you asked most folks how much they really care if a bunch of strangers have plural marriages, they’d say, “Well, it’s pretty freaky, but what do I care? It ain’t my life.” It’s when children become involved, however, that this becomes an issue of compelling public interest, and so it should be. Children must be protected.
What these self-described civil rights warriors fail to notice, in a dazzling display of both myopia and irony, is that in forcing underage girls to marry and consummate marriages with men who may be strangers, their own relatives, or who are likely many years older than they, they deny these young women their civil rights. Coercing women into polygamous relationships, a fate they refuse at peril to their very souls (as they are taught), denies them their civil rights. And whose civil rights are they fighting for by expelling teenage boys from the community to lessen “competition” for wives, and reassigning wives and breaking up families based on politics and expediency? Not to mention that in addition to their assaults on civil rights, they are often engaging in plain assault and rape. These are criminal acts. We have laws to protect children from sexual coercion and abuse in general.
The argument that this is a civil rights issue is so specious that it disrespects all other efforts toward equal civil rights for all groups. No group has the right to have as a tenet of their civil rights the express suppression of some of its members’ civil rights. The free expression of civil rights stops at precisely the point where it infringes on another’s civil rights. They might have an argument if everyone in the community freely chose a life of church-sanctioned polygamous marriage, which would work in a commune of adults. But most of these girls are minors when they are married off. They are not old enough to enter into a contract of any sort, let alone a marriage. They have been raised in this system, and whatever objections they may have must either be stifled or they must leave the only community they’ve known. Submit or be banished; it’s not much of a choice. And as for their male counterparts, those boys are abandoned to a world they’ve never known so that the elders can have more wives for themselves. I have to question the righteousness of a group that would treat its children so.
What we have here is a mini-theocracy, where the church elders (who claim to speak directly to god—don’t they always?) rule via intimidation and the mobilization of peer pressure to enforce ingrained dogma. That defines a cult, and while most organized religions could be categorized somewhere under that same heading, the fact of the matter is that while the Pope may not be impressed with the way I live my life, he’s not said anything to me about it. He certainly didn’t call my parents up and indicate to them that if they didn’t do exactly as he told them in regards to me, they would go to everlasting hell.
As with any system, the system is rigged to make the most of the situation for those at the top, with little regard for the pawns below, who are kept in line by any number of coercive strategies, not the least of which are ignorance and learned helplessness. Also, there’s no denying that the wrath of Almighty God is a powerful disincentive, and has been so as long as humanity has had gods. This is a consideration that churches and other canny sorts have exploited, wielded, and managed to their benefit time and time again, with no end in sight. It still happens every single day, as we see in this case. The fact that this is an ancient con does not seem to mitigate its effectiveness in any way. This is not an anti-religious statement; rather, what I speak against is the point where spiritual guidance crosses the line to power consolidation and maintenance. When your mission becomes one of control and self-aggrandizement instead of uplifting and the self-realization of all individuals in the community, you have lost not only your way, but any claim you may have had to spiritual leadership. To put it simply, who are you to hoard for yourself what the creator you claim to speak with, and for, provided to all? Simple logic immediately illustrates the fraud in progress.
That said, it seems to me that this case parallels many, if not all, power structures at work in the world today, and could afford everyone who is interested in the case an opportunity to reflect on the world we are creating, actively or through our unwillingness to challenge the dominant power structures in our society wherever we find them. What we find abhorrent and problematic in this microcosm, we would do well to consider in the grander scheme of things, though I doubt it will happen. It is easy enough to write the FLDS church off as a bunch of crackpots hiding out in the desert, their situation having nothing to do with us. I mean, seriously, who would willingly agree to be a part of a society where the many are ruled by the corrupt and self-serving few; where the majority, possessed of a strong sense of tradition and self-righteousness, adhere to rules that do not serve them personally and only enrich their would-be masters; where those in charge easily manipulate and sway a populace who is not only used to doing as it is told, but prefers it; where any critique or effort to bring about change is seen as treason, and the perpetrator invited (with prejudice) to go live elsewhere; where the lives of children are routinely put into danger and nothing is done about it; and where everyone who is too scared or too blind to see what is really happening swears up and down that their leader is a decent, pious, and honorable man?