Category Archives: Human Trafficking

Mormon Polygamy: No More Marathon to Heaven

 

 

 

 

I recently participated in a 5K Break Free Run in my hometown to help combat human trafficking. This year’s theme was: “STRONG.” There were posters along the paved pathway with messages such as – “Stand up have a voice stay strong,” “An educated child is a strong child,” and “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its hope for the future.”

A few years ago, I entered the same Break Free Run and thought then, as I do today, “More education needs to be made available about coercive polygamy – a form of modern-day slavery.”

Participating in the run this year inspired me to be STRONG and share some of my experiences being recruited and coerced into polygamy. Certain criteria and elements that define human trafficking are also found in Mormon polygamy. The main difference is that polygamists use family members and friends to help recruit polygamy prospects, and religion to get away with it.

Beneath my Break Free Run shirt, I wore a “Hope” shirt, representing my love and support for children and women who have suffered at the hands of Mormon Fundamentalist predators. These victims and survivors have been used as sex objects, birthing machines, domestic slaves, child laborers, exploited workers, collected and sometimes traded among polygamists.  If it seems unreal – I assure you, it is a reality.  That is why, last week, it was meaningful being united with a group of people running to end human trafficking (coercive polygamy was not mentioned, so that is why I decided to write this blogpost). 

This year, I stayed behind runners and took my time while memories flooded back as I was reminded of another marathon I ran: a marathon to heaven. I had been taught that in order for me to attain the highest degree of heaven, I would need to “give” my husband another wife. If I didn’t obey all the laws pertaining to polygamy, and make it to the celestial finish line, I would be destroyed, and my children would be given to another mother on the other side. (Only the righteous are blessed to remain as families forever).

As a child who wasn’t sealed in the temple to her parents, an eternal family meant everything to me. A devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I met my future husband at Brigham Young University. At eighteen years of age, I was sealed in the LDS Temple for time and all eternity to my twenty-five year old eternal mate. After we had our second child, our path began to diverge from the mainstream church. My husband begun having doctrinal questions, and he met others who provided hidden (or what some members consider “less revealed”), LDS history. This is when our marriage started to take a drastic change.

I had learned about polygamy in seminary and was told it was an eternal principle revealed to Joseph Smith, and would someday be lived again. I revered my pioneer heritage, and believed following all the laws of God was essential. Although adamant that polygamy could not be lived in today’s society, I also believed that I was supposed to follow my husband. I was married in the Mormon temple in the early eighties when marital roles were more rigid; my husband worked outside the home, and I worked inside the home raising our children. During the LDS temple ceremony, I was told to follow my husband as he followed God (I made my temple covenants to my husband whereas he made them to God). As my husband taught me church doctrines from early Mormonism, I became very confused because of all the contradictions.  I remembered the covenants I made in the LDS temple.

My husband explained to me about the Manifesto and how the Mormon Church abandoned polygamy in 1890 because President Wilford Woodruff feared losing church property and not gaining statehood, or being popular with the world (another contradiction of God). He explained if President Wilford Woodruff had remained faithful, God would have fought his battles. My husband told members in our LDS Ward that he would give a thousand dollars to anyone who could find a revelation from a Mormon prophet after President Wilford Woodruff signed the 1890 Manifesto. (In his mind, the lack of any new “thus saith the Lord” revelations were a sign that the heavens had withdrawn).

Line upon line, precept upon precept, I was recruited to live polygamy by my former husband, his friends, and Doctrine & Covenants 132. I use the word “recruited” because under normal circumstances, I would never have allowed my husband to spiritually marry and have sex with other women. I grew up in mainstream society where monogamy was the norm, not polygamy.

Eventually, I was moved to a desolate area with other Mormon Fundamentalists and lost contact with my family, and much of reality. My husband gave me religious books to read that prepared me for my submissive role as a plural wife – we would argue, I would apologize, and the cycle would repeat itself – something he referred to as “slipping”. (He called opposing his leadership “spiritually fornicating” which I sometimes did commit.)

Clearly, I had no idea what to expect when my husband spoke of living polygamy. It was unsettling; I had so many reservations. But, I also believed that my role was to follow my husband, as he followed the laws of God (which, to me, included Mormon polygamy and celestial marriage). My husband promised that when he took a wife, he would be careful of my feelings.

During my experience of living polygamy, there were many times it felt as if I was running on a never-ending treadmill that was going way too fast. Once I jumped on I realized I was on a fast track, with no way off. Mothers have nearly ten months to prepare for giving birth to a baby, yet I was only given a couple weeks to get ready to deliver a new bride to my husband.

The role of the first wife was to place the bride-to-be’s hand on his during the wedding ceremony – which I did.

Before their engagement, my husband, who was fourteen years older than the bride-to-be, asked me to write letters demonstrating my acceptance of polygamy – which I did.

Men often expect their wives to become their greatest proponent in polygamy. Turning to them for help in recruiting more wives. Victims often turn, and advocate polygamy. They do whatever it takes to secure favor in the heart of their husband.

As the first wife, I was ill-prepared for what I would experience living polygamy. There was no training manual. No road map, no sign posts along the way, and no role model to follow. (That should have been my first clue.) Not even a small Dixie cup of unpolluted water to quench my thirst. I was on my own; it felt as if I was running in the dark, not knowing where I was going – “If only I had more FAITH!”

Quitting a marathon to heaven was not an option for a die-hard, like me.

I tried steadying myself with fasting and prayer; bracing myself with more priesthood blessings and scripture reading. Although the LDS temple had taught no light-mindedness, there were many times when I’d question why I was living polygamy. It just didn’t make sense.

My husband told me stories. We laughed at the first-wife who was so angry at her husband for living polygamy that she froze to death on a rooftop. I assured myself, “I would never be turned into a pillar of salt, or freeze to death.”

I wrote affirmations to be a better wife, and posted them on my kitchen wall. I was constantly trying to be obedient and maneuver away from Satan. Seemingly small things were often the hardest to bear: Losing a helpmeet and father for my children because days and nights were evenly divided between plural-wives; watching ½ my husband’s clothing being moved out of my bedroom; arguing which plural-wife would “give” the next wife; my husband deciding to stay over at my sister-wife’s house when he was sick because it was less noisy (I thought I was his only “helpmeet”); my husband arriving home from travel on my sister-wife’s night; sitting in the backseat of the car with the children as my sister-wife sat in the front with our husband; having sex after or before his other wife; all living together and a lack of spontaneous affection; feeling like a number instead of a wife; the saga of deciding where to have holidays; wondering who my husband thought about when he watched a “happily ever after” love story; his wives allowance secretly divided; skipping an anniversary day because he was with his other wife; so many birthdays and rotating nights and chaos; husband being heavily influenced by my sister-wife or her family; husband not being around when I went into labor because it was my sister-wife’s night; often feeling like both a single-mother and mistress but never a partner . . . the list felt endless.

I did not understand why plural marriage was so difficult when I believed it was a true principle of God, and loved my family; including my sister-wife. I certainly did not want to be weak or insecure in my marriage. So I pushed on, believing that faith and obedience would propel my weary mind and body. I did not want to die of a broken heart, so I convinced myself that not being destroyed would be worth it. And when my sister-wife told me, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” I kept running.

After a couple years of nearly running myself to death, while my husband ignored the needs of me and my children, and the treadmill kept getting faster with mention of getting another wife (something he referred to as needing a “quorum” of wives to help our marriage), I came to the conclusion that either: 1) I wasn’t celestial material or 2) My husband wasn’t living polygamy correctly.

I finally decided that if this was heaven, I’d rather be happy in hell – and I took a flying leap!

Jumping off the Mormon polygamy treadmill was worth the ALL the risks.  Today I am grateful that my children and I are safe. I never froze to death or turned into a pillar of salt, and I haven’t grown (anymore) horns. I am much happier. We are much happier.  It has taken me decades to understand the manacle machinations of Mormon polygamy.

Every human deserves happiness, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Unlike the marathon to a polygamist heaven, the “Break Free Run” was not a straight and narrow path, and it did not matter how fast or slow I ran because we all crossed the same finish line. Even if someone couldn’t finish the 5K, she would not be disqualified. The sidelines were filled with supportive cheers, colorful tape, posters, and small Dixie cups of fresh water. The mini-marathon to help end human trafficking was about creating a safe haven on earth.

Like others who have recently stood up against sexual assault and harassment within religion, I believe LDS doctrine played a part in grooming me to accept polygamy. The religious teachings from my youth taught me that my role as a female was to look to a male leader, and be submissive to my husband’s priesthood authority, which, combined with the early teachings of the church, convinced me that polygamy was required of God.  Presently, the LDS Church is doing more to educate its members about Mormon polygamy history, and leaders excommunicate members who practice polygamy on earth.

Polygamy is one of the most accepted forms of human right violations against women and children in the world. More attention is finally being given to victims of sexual assault in our country. Now it is time Mormon men, who have used their position of power and authority within religion to sexually exploit women and/or children, must be held accountable.

Human Trafficking:
The United Nations Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines “Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.