Utah's latest headlines focus on Mr. Warren Jeffs, president and prophet of the FLDS church. The locals are going to have to be patient while I provide some background for the rest of the 5.99 billion people on the planet who have no idea what is happening in Utah.
To understand Warren, you have to go back to Joseph Smith, the founder of all Mormon groups. Here is the Reader's Digest version.
In the early 1800s, Joseph Smith received visions and wrote, plagiarized, or translated (depending on who you ask) an account of Jews coming to America in the BC and their history up until and shortly after the time of Christ. This is called The Book of Mormon.
The book of Mormon reads much like the Bible and is similar to the core doctrines of Christianity. People started to follow Joseph and a movement was born.
Joseph added teachings, outside of the Bible and the book of Mormon, which came off a bit strange to some. Some groups left (or were forced to leave), but still believed the Book of Mormon to be true even though they felt Joseph Smith had strayed. Polygamy, plurality of gods, jealousy of Mormon prosperity, and Joseph's unilateral power caused all kinds of civil problems. Joseph was assassinated and the core group splintered.
Different groups settled in Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc... almost all of these groups abandoned polygamy (some deny it ever happened during the time of Smith) and the teaching of plurality of gods, and settled into a more traditional Christianity that included the book of Mormon.
Meanwhile, a group of Mormons followed Brigham Young (called Brighamites) out West. The migration West was severe and difficult, which built a unique sense of purpose to this splinter. The Brighamites officially took on the name - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This name is actually shared with a number of other groups who have no affiliation with the Utah church.
The Utah LDS church practiced polygamy unabashed. The most unique teachings of Joseph Smith were clung to, and the territory grew. Utah grew to statehood size, but the rest of country was nervous about giving statehood to a mini-theocracy awash in polygamy.
Prior to gaining statehood for Utah, the LDS church officially denounced polygamy. This caused a number of LDS church members to break away from the Utah LDS church, feeling that they gave up "the principle (polygamy)" due to political pressure. The Utah church said politics had nothing to do with it.
One of the largest polygamist splinter groups is the FLDS church, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Warren Jeffs is the president of this group presently. He is the stereotype of every religious leader who leads a group of nearly unquestioning followers. To be on his badside is to put you out of the graces of god... so the thousands in his church pretty much do whatever he says, even to reassigning of wives to different families and forcing underage girls to marry old men. Warren Jeffs wives number in the forties. There are all kinds of predictions as to what will happen to the FLDS church now that Jeffs will be spending a good long while in prison.
I think the hardest thing for the Salt Lake LDS group to come to terms with is how to juggle the polygamy question. They want to condemn the FLDS group while maintaining the legitimacy of the practice when their founders partook in it. In fact, in theory, they still support it. They believe God the Father is a polygamist with multiple wives (this point is contested, see comments below) who would like to see his children participating in this, just not right now. So it is a complicated dance on a tightrope to distance yourself from the practicers and practice of polygamy while not disavowing it. Tricky.
Unfortunately, America goes to the Middle East to liberate women and children of oppressive regimes, but we allow tens of thousands to remain captive and oppressed within our own land. Check out the trailer for the movie Banking on Heaven to get a glimpse of what life is like for people in these communities. Entire cities exist, where polygamists reign and women and children are seen as chattel.
I have heard the testimonies of women who have escaped from these oppressive communities and have struggled to rebuild their shattered selves. Boys are rejected within homes because they are a threat to older males who seek to acquire more wives. Prophets assign wives to men based on loyalty or reassign their wives as a punishment. Girls are forced into marriages, even young teenagers. As an example, a 19 year old girl was forced to marry Warren Jeff's father, who was 83.
I believe that the sin of Polygamy has never been truly repented of in Utah. Utah looks the other way, weakly justifies it, and quietly props it up; instead of calling it out and rejecting it as the sick and depraved sin that it is. Therefore, polygamy has remained a thorn in the Southwest to this day.
I see Utah as a land of beauty with a gaping wound. This wound will continue to fester until the day it's people become of one heart and reject this sin for time and eternity.
This article actually has sat unpublished for months; I wrote it when Jeff's was first arrested. I was concerned about possibly offending some with this article. However, while reading more news stories lately about Jeff's, I felt compelled to post this. What he has done and what he stands for is no small part of Utah. The circumstance of his community does not sit in a bubble; it has connection and history in the establishment of Utah.
Part of the reason I decided to post was a conversation I had with some friends visiting from Michigan recently. I started talking about Jeffs. They were stunned and one said to me, "You mean polygamy really does happen here?"
The truth is, most of the country has no idea the practice of polygamy goes on here nor how rampet it is. To me, this shows how effective Utah has been in quieting this indiscretion. When the faithful tell the stories of Joseph Smith, polygamy is carefully stepped around. But if there is a need to edit polygamy out of the movies about Smith, if the Utah LDS church does not want polygamy connected with them when Warren Jeffs is in the news, then isn't polygamy something that should be called what it is (sin) and not merely ignored?
I do not write this article to offend; I am not sure that it would cause offense. But if it does, I would be interested to know which part was offensive.