Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Jeannie Vincent said they had been warned that life would "radically change" on this "blessed, but arduous journey." There would be a "substantial amount of criticism and scrutiny." She had to spend seven or eight-hour Sundays at church with her children, waiting for her husband so they could drive the forty minutes home. She learned to pack a basket of food and books, the children learned to cope, and the family eventually bought another car. Looking back, she valued welcoming scores of people into their home for meals and longer stays. They felt enriched by the involvement. Bishops' wives are enraged when their hard-working husbands are criticized. Ward members expect access to the bishop at all hours of the day and night. Needed household repairs are delayed. Bishops who announce that Monday will be Family Home Evening or who require appointments are often resented, even as they try to guard a little family time. Still the wives speak positively. "I have always felt that when he is serving the Lord he is really serving our family. . . . It has not been a sacrifice to have him serve, but a great gift to us." Another says, "My only advice is to rely daily on the Lord and to enjoy the calling for the SHORT time [generally about five years] it lasts!"

Bishops' wives are not the only ones with problems. Every mother with a large brood has her Sunday woes. One young mother reported that her family was stricter about Sabbath observance than other LDS families. "The children don't play outside. I try to stay in a dress or at least a nice robe. If I wear pants, I'm more inclined to vacuum. The meetings are a marathon. I struggle with the kids through breakfast; we get out to the car but someone's forgotten something or David messes his diaper at the last minute. I sit in church, if I'm lucky, through the sacrament, go out to the car, nurse David long enough to leave him with his daddy while I teach Primary. Then I nurse David again during Relief Society. We have a roast or something in the oven for dinner. I put the little guys down for a nap, listen to the other kids squabble and complain about what they can't do. We either play [games] or read scriptures. We try to do what we're supposed to do, but it's tough."

Many hard realities work against Latter-day Saint family ideals. Out of the Church's own past, the controversial issue of polygamy continues to rise. Polygamy was practiced openly among Utah Mormons from 1847 until 1890 when it was disavowed and banned. The Church repudiates plural marriage (technically polygyny, a single man married to multiple women), and polygamists are excommunicated. But the heritage of "The Principle" lives on in shadow fundamentalist churches, organizations claiming to practice authentic Mormonism even as leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavow their apostate practices. Plural marriage allowed several powerful men to marry a number of women and raise large families. Brigham Young is said to have married fifty-six wives, many of whom he did not live with, and had fifty-seven children. Joseph Smith was "sealed" to about thirty women, although his only securely documented progeny is from his first marriage to his wife Emma. The huge Mormon clans that result from previous generations of polygamy still dominate Church leadership and life in Utah. Descendants are proud of their polygamous forebears.

A study of marriage in the small town of Manti, Utah, indicates some of the generalities about polygamy in its earlier form. The largest number of plural marriages occurred in the 1850s, declining every decade after that. More than half of the women born before 1852 and first married in Utah were in polygamous marriages for some time in their lives, but the practice thinned out. Only one woman in ten marrying from 1870 to 1890 became a plural wife. Single women found marital partners easily as plural marriage created a scarcity of women. This scarcity served to improve women's position in Mormon society despite its patriarchal nature. A great deal of effort went into maintaining nineteenth-century polygamous households. Many families were at least placid until outside forces intervened. Some difficult episodes in Utah history resulted from the persecution of polygamists, when the men were arrested and imprisoned for cohabitation or disappeared into the hidden world of the "underground" while pregnant women were hounded off to bear nameless children. This persecution united the Mormon people against the government.

After great national pressure, the discontinuance of the practice came suddenly in 1890 when Church president Wilford Woodruff issued a document called the Manifesto. Critical sources say that polygamy was jettisoned to allow Utah to enter the Union. President Woodruff read the Manifesto to the apostles, telling them that this meant an end to further plural marriages and also an end to living in the plural marriages they had already entered into. Polygamy had been justified for fifty years of official Church practice, and when it suddenly stopped, many were upset and confused. A plural wife of Samuel Spaulding later wrote, "I was there in the tabernacle the day of the Manifesto, and I tell you it was an awful feeling. There Pres. Woodruff read the Manifesto that made me no longer a wife and might make me homeless. . . . But I voted for it because it was the only thing to do."

A follow-up Manifesto was needed fourteen years later in 1904. And even then plural marriages continued among those who felt the proclamation was only a public exercise. Out of this trauma emerged a host of splinter groups refusing to comply. These "fundamentalists," as they are called, carry on despite the proclamations. They believe that plural marriage is a divine commandment and, although they believe most of the standard Mormon teachings, they think that the Utah Church has strayed from the divine path.

The polygamists of Short Creek, Arizona, were raided by U.S. government officials in 1935, 1944, and 1953; polygamists were arrested, imprisoned, and prosecuted, producing extreme family disruption. But the raids failed to wipe out the practice and in fact backfired. The colony continued to double each decade. By 1992, 4,500 fundamentalists lived in the town renamed Colorado City/Hilldale. A religious, charitable trust called the United Effort Plan holds the land. Their cooperative life echoes the communal living of the Church in the nineteenth century. The outspoken patriarch of another group, the Apostolic United Brethren, living in Bluffdale, Utah, was polygamist Owen Allred. With eight wives, he raised twenty-three children and twenty-five stepchildren and counted 208 grandchildren. The family lived in four houses on a private road. Allred, urbane and sharp-witted, was excommunicated from the Church in 1942 when he married his second wife. In 2002, at age eightyeight, he spoke to the New York Times to deny that he and his followers were wicked or crazy. "We believe in the original word handed down through the prophet Joseph Smith. I want to say that religion can't just change whenever you want it to. What kind of religion is that?" He estimated that 50,000 people live in polygamist families. (Michael Quinn estimated 21,000 in 1998.) His own group had about 5,000. "I'm a Mormon, that's what I was taught and I can't deny it to save my life."