Crusty Logic Christianity & Liberty

Texas Raid

Hooray for the authorities down in Texas for saving 416 kids from imminent danger! Polygyny, arranged marriages, child brides, teen parents, beds in the temple. Something must be done. And it has.

I’m no fan of polygyny, I personally consider even 18 too young to marry in our day, and there is no shortage of Mormon teachings with which I disagree. However, was uprooting 416 kids from their parents and throwing them in to group homes the right response?

It’s important that we put this entire situation in context. We need to understand the historical perspective, the current situation, and what to do to avoid a catastrophe like this in the future.

Background: Who are the FLDS?

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? They are the original Mormons.

The Mormon church ‘officially’ renounced founder Joseph Smith’s teachings on polygyny in 1890 so that Utah could become a state. Polygyny however continued to be fairly widespread among the Mormon faithful. In 1905 a stronger and real stance against Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s Polygyny teachings caused a split – some of those adhering to Smith’s teachings remained and just kept a low profile but most left and formed their own groups. The FLDS is the largest of these surviving groups and the one generally believed to most closely adhere to Joseph Smith’s original teachings, not just with regard to polygyny, but other areas as well. There are believed to be somewhere around 12,000 FLDS members today.

They believe in the Bible (the original LDS translation) and in Jesus Christ as Savior. They believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that God gave them the Book of Mormon through Joseph Smith. Similar to the Pope for Catholics they have a single head of the church referred to as ‘The Prophet’. The current prophet, Warren Jeffs, is at this time serving a prison sentence for aiding in the statutory rape of a minor for his part in the marriage of a 19 year old man to a 15 year old girl.

[Edit 5/21/08: A couple of people have pointed out to me that the FLDS did not officially split from the Mormon church until around 1932, not 1905 as I said above.]

Perspective: Some History

Most people today, when they hear about men with multiple wives, arranged marriages, and teen girls getting married, are quick to label those involved as abnormal or perverts. Let’s take a look in the family closet.

Polygyny. “Polygyny is wrong. Of course it is…” Really? We may not like it, or agree with it, or understand it, but is it inherently wrong? Many Christian leaders scream that allowing homosexual marriage will lead to the worse sin of polygyny. Would this be the same polygyny featured throughout the Old Testament? The same one that the God of the Old Testament gave explicit rules for how to practice and how not to? The same one where God told David that if all the wives he’d already given him were not enough that he’d have given him more? When did God change his mind?

Like it or not polygyny is never condemned in the Bible and in fact is both directly and indirectly condoned. It is not a part of the Greco-Roman culture we’ve inherited in the western world, but it is not anti-Biblical. Perhaps more on this later.

Teen Brides. For the first 50 to 100 centuries (or more depending on when you believe humans first inhabited the earth), up through about the 3rd or 4th century after Christ, the average age of first marriage for women was about 14 with most marrying between 13 and 17. It rose to around 16 over the next 2 or 3 centuries as marriage was delayed for some due to changing economic conditions. About 2 centuries ago, with major shifts in numerous areas of society, it jumped up a bit more and for much of the 19th and 20th centuries bounced around between about 19 and 22. In just the past couple of decades though, with more women devoting time to post-graduate degrees and careers, its risen rather dramatically to around 24.

The minimum acceptable age has never really changed though. It’s remained steady at about 12 or 13 throughout all of history until our own generation. Until maybe the 1970’s nobody would have batted an eye at a 14-year-old marrying. As recently as 1970 (yes, that is recent for some of us) 4% of marriage licenses issued by the State of Texas itself were to girls younger than 16 including 3,602 15-year-old girls, 1,460 14-year-old girls, and 55 girls under 14. Their husbands included 2 50-somethings, 7 40-somethings, and 41 in their 30’s. And this was after years of decline in marriages by those under 16.

Interestingly, from looking at legislative testimony, the reason the minimum age began to be raised in the past few decades does not appear to have been so much for the protection of young girls, but because we no longer had a society and culture that supported newly married couples as previous cultures had. This was compounded by women entering the workforce and the two-earner family becoming more of a norm (and for some a requirement?) Those marrying at the traditionally younger ages were more and more finding the going very tough.

In the end however, while we may have reduced the number of 14 and 15 year olds getting married, just as many are having sex and producing babies. Now they just do it without the benefits of marriage. That sure has worked well hasn’t it?

Arranged Marriage. As recently as the late 19th century people would think you absolutely nuts to suggest that two people should choose to marry based solely on their choice of each other. Stephanie Coontz said it best in her ‘Marriage, a History’ something like marriage is too important to leave up to something as fickle as love and romance. Arranged marriage has actually been the norm throughout all of history until just the past century. With the high divorce, single-mother, and teen pregnancy rates, and the problems that come with them, there are a growing number of people thinking a return to arranged marriages might not be a bad idea.

Now, while historically marriages were officially arranged, it was not always a do or die scenario. Anecdotal evidence indicates that many parents strove to arrange marriages that were at least somewhat agreeable to their children. It is also clear, from Biblical and other historical accounts, that women were not treated like chattel, as some would have us believe, but were often independent and highly regarded.


Persecution: Who?

So we stand aghast at the polygyny, teen brides, arranged marriages, dress, and other elements of FLDS lifestyle. We scream that these people are all perverted. Yet historically, they’re more normal than we are.

For many of us who study history, even as rank amateurs, the FLDS doesn’t seem all that strange. They actually seem quite familiar. Their lifestyle, not just with regard to sex and marriage, but many other areas such as living in a tight-knit homogeneous community, is actually very much like that of the Hebrews throughout the old and new testaments or Christians during the first millennium after Christ. We in modern society are the odd ones out. Polygyny, arranged marriages of teen girls, close-knit homogeneous and supportive tribal community. Our Jewish and Christian forefathers, FLDS, or both?

So, what we consider controversial or perverted today was normal from the beginning of the world until just very recently.

For Christians, Jews, and anyone else who worships the God of the Bible and believes in the Old Testament perhaps some editing is in order before criticizing the FLDS on these issues.

First we need to cut out all of the verses giving laws for polygynous marriages such as Exodus 21:10 which states that if a man takes another wife that he may not reduce the food, clothing, or sexual rights of his current wife or Deu 21 where God states how a man is to treat his children if he has 2 wives. Lev 18:18 and others may need to go as well.

2 Sam 12:8 needs the axe because we certainly can’t have a verse with God telling David, through Samuel, that if the multiple wives he’d already given him were not enough, he would have given him more. Last I checked God didn’t actively support things that are sinful.

Finally we must remove the entire book of Song of Solomon. This is after all a love sonnet, and a rather erotic one at that, from a man to his bride. Most scholars I’ve read generally believe it to be a 40-something Solomon to his 13-year-old and 60th bride most likely in an arranged marriage.

Some will point out that Solomon was convicted of sin for his marriages. Indeed he was, but this was specifically related to some foreign women he’d married later in life who he’d been specifically warned not to marry. He was never condemned in any way for multiple wives, the age of marriage of any of them, or for agreeing to an arranged marriage. Nor for that matter, was anyone else in the Bible ever condemned for any of these.

Oh, what about Mary and Joseph? Was Jesus raised by a pervert? In all likelihood Joseph was in his 20’s or 30’s and Mary was about 13 or 14. For that matter was David a pervert? Solomon? Want to take a guess how old Moses and Zipporah were when they got married? Tell me, if Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Joseph, or any number of other Biblical patriarchs who married girls half their age or had multiple wives showed up at your church would they be welcomed? Or would they be turned over to the authorities as perverts?

Perhaps the question for us Bible believers then is do we believe in this Bible of ours or not? Unless we edit our Bibles how can any of us who believe in the Old Testament be too critical of the FLDS for these things?

I’m not suggesting that we should return to polygynous men marrying 14-year-old girls in arranged marriages, but I do think we need to be cautious about how judgmental we are of others. The FLDS may in fact be more Biblical than us.

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