Saturday, April 26, 2008

FLDS on the Catwalk

In the opinion section of the New York Times, editorialist Timothy Egan had this to say a couple of days ago about the appearance of the FLDS women

You see these 1870 Stepford wives with the braided buns and long dresses, these men with their low monotones and pious, seeming disregard for the law on child sex — and wonder: who opened the time capsule?

Is Egan for real? Is he now the fashion editor for the paper? A better forum for his comments is the Discovery Channel's What Not To Wear. I mean come on, how pathetic is it that he is dissing this whole community because they favor modesty.

And how about the LDS that slam the FLDS for the same fashionable reasons. LDS members are bombarded with calls for modesty. But their sense of modesty seems to adjust rather nicely to changing fashions in the country at large. LDS dress modestly alright, but it’s relative. What is modest for many in an LDS ward today would likely be deemed immodest 30 years ago.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying it is time to go back to wearing swimming costumes and I hate it that LDS church attire has practically become a uniform, but don't be so petty as to criticize people for actually dressing in accordance with their beliefs, even if they dress like their grandparents did.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Polygamy as an Alternative Lifestyle

Not surprisingly, the FLDS roundup is generating a lot of traffic in the blogosphere. But the range of sentiment is far from uniform. I have been struck at how different my views are from some fellow Mormons. In an attempt to understand these differences, I have tried to consider the reasons for my views and those of those who think differently.

My Views

Generally speaking, I believe polygamists, the FLDS included, should be left alone. America is a big diverse place (or it should be) and there is plenty of room for people to do their own thing. I say live and let live. In this sense, I see polygamy as an alternative lifestyle. People engage of lots of behaviors I don’t but that doesn’t mean laws should be made to make them illegal. This is especially true when it comes to religion. Americans should be tolerant of religious behavior that deviates from the norm.

Of course child abuse should not be allowed, but polygamy itself, is something people should be allowed to practice. And I premise my statements here on the notion that what is really going on in Texas is the suppression of the FLDS church and its polygamous practices and not child abuse per se.

Given that polygamy is illegal, prosecution of it should be engaged in only in the rarest of circumstances and when other things are going on like statutory rape or welfare fraud. Polygamist should not be singled out. Government authorities have a great deal of latitude in what they choose to go after and polygamy should not even be on their list. There are other legitimate ills they should focus on.

Ok, so why do I think the way I do? In trying to understand my outlook, I disclose the following:

1) Family -- I have a historical connection with Polygamy. My grandmother and grandfather were raised in polygamist households. I see from my own family history that the practice of polygamy doesn’t make you a bad person or one unworthy of rearing children.

2) Church -- I belong to a church which originally practiced polygamy. It reveres a man (Joseph Smith) who had numerous wives, some of them in their teens. My Church still practices a type of polygamy (a man may be married to more than one woman in the afterlife although he is limited to one at a time in this life. I would consider myself a hypocrite if I came down on the FLDS for their polygamous practices given the practices of the Church I belong to.

3) Society – I live in a society where people can engage in all types of previously unacceptable forms of behavior. We allow for all types of alternative lifestyles and arrangements but we cannot allow this one?

4) Politics -- I consider myself a moderate democrat but I have a strong Libertarian streak. I believe the State should sparingly regulate personal behavior.

5) Law -- I am a strong believer in personal and parental rights. I believe the Texas authorities have violated the FLDS members’ civil rights and have reached well beyond what is reasonable and justifiable in how they have handled this matter.

Given my perspective, I have been quite surprised by the number of fellow Mormons who think the opposite. Many Mormon bloggers support what the Texas authorities have done. And even more support the suppression of polygamy but have qualms about the way Texas has gone about it. Here is my brief break down of their thinking:

1) Some bloggers think polygamy is just plain wrong. They don’t like it that the Mormon Church practiced it in the past and they don’t like it in any other church that practices it now. They think that there is good reason that it is against the law and it should not be tolerated. They think Texas has done what Utah and Arizona should have done long ago.

2) Some bloggers think that FLDS style polygamy is wrong. They think it has little in common with the former practice of the Mormon Church. They think that polygamy under the FLDS is abusive and insular. They think that FLDS men are pedophiles and control freaks and cowards.

3) Some bloggers think that the FLDS have no heavenly authorization to practice polygamy. They believe that the Mormon Church had God’s permission to engage in polygamy but that that permission was rescinded. As such, the FLDS practice is inherently wrong and a violation of God’s laws.

I don’t find these positions compelling. Perhaps I am blinded by my history and biases. Perhaps I have simplified or misstated the position of those that don’t share my views. I still think we should leave them alone.