Polygamy Primer

Hey! I’m gonna co-host KVNU’s For the People tonight with Tom Grover, and the topic will be the recent capture of Fundamentalist LDS leader Warren Jeffs. To prepare for the show, Tom sent me this: The Primer: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities.

It was created by the Utah Attorney General’s office, and really is a good read of you want to ramp up on Mormon Fundamentalists in the U.S.

Check it out!


  1. I want to know what took so dang long to do something about this group? I’m not talking about the last couple years that Warren Jeffs has been on the run, I’m talking about the decades that this cult has been operating. It seems that past district attorneys in Nevada and Utah have been complicit in knowing what was going and and not doing anything about it. A whole city of child abuse and they let it go on. Maybe because they thought it would be embarassing to bring up the church’s history with polygamy?

  2. Good Luck John.

    Its a damn shame that Domestic Violence and Abuse are not of greater concern for the polygamist community and society in general.

    You have my most sincere respect for your willingness to discuss this in a public forum.

    All the best.

  3. John:

    Thanks for posting the primer. The domestic violence information is invaluable. A great tool for educating ourselves.

    Thank you for kind and gentle way of approaching difficult and complicated subjects. I look forward to hearing the podcast.


  4. Denaeathay, google for Short Creek Raid, and you’ll get part of your answer. Short Creek is the old name for the communities where Jeffs has been living. In the early 50s, Short Creek was raided– photos made national news, including Life magazine. The photos of families separated made for very bad publicity and that explains a lot of the future reluctance of both LDS and non-LDS police to get involved.

  5. deneathay,

    there is some hints to an answer in the pdf file. they mention the pr debacle when there were images of children being taken from their parents.

    i dont disagree that this group is cultish. however, we cant ignore the difficult balance of respecting religious freedom. i think it is worthwhile learning and understaning this group, and while it may be provocative or offensive to some readers to say so – i think there is real value in understanding the origins.

    what is truly inexcusable is the disregard by oustiders of the lack of freedom and safety within the religious group. admittedly, when i was an active mormon i too remained oblivious to the real victims here. honestly, i cant admit to doing anything about it currently. i will start by educating myself and my family. i dont know that i have the appetite to do more. i wish i could say otherwise.

    the world is greater because of people like hotmomama that have dedicated their careers and invested in an education to help victims such as these. i hope the efforts of these attorneys general are fruitful in helping the victims.

    i hope that warren jeffs and all the predator jerks just like him get their just rewards.

  6. without monopolizing the comments here. i just want to be the first to say that the lds church is NOT a victim in this. not in any way. they are NOT a victim.

    so, hopefully, this discussion will not migrate to “how bad this is for the mormon church” (admittedly, that may disappoint many damu folks)

  7. The posdcast will be available in about 15 minutes. I’ll come back and post a link to it. John has a real natural knack in radio and it was real fun having him guest host tonight!

  8. Thank you for the response. I have read more now. It does seem like there should have been a middle ground between the 50’s debacle and doing nothing though.

  9. denaethay, I grew up in Utah, from an old pioneer polygamist family. Some of that family practiced polygamy until about 1940, so I’ve always been interested in it. I think that part of the reason it was ignored was that there is a bit of sympathy for it, among folks whose ancestros were also polygamists. But I think that people in Utah didn’t realize the extent of current polygamy, and didn’t realize how much of it involved underage girls until 10 years or so ago. Then there’s the difficulty of investigating it in a very closed community. The “persecution” gives the folks a martyr complex, and makes them feel even more special, so it’s kind of a losing battle, or at least has been for many years. My uncle was a policeman in SLC, and he told me a couple of years ago that they knew where the polygamists lived, but had been told by higher ups to just leave it alone– too hard to prosecute, too controversial.

  10. I actually don’t have any problem with polygamy per se. I have a problem with what was going on with the Warren Jeffs brand of polygamy. I don’t know if that comes about from the cultishness of what he had going but I have a gut reaction to hearing of girls being married at very young ages. At the first rumor of that I want action. No girl/woman should have to endure that if it is actively against her will or indoctrinated in her and she feels like she has no choice to receive salvation. I know that I need to know more to make an informed decision but it is hard to not react when you heard of 13 year olds marrying old men.

    – Denae

  11. What I find really ridiculous is that our modern society looks upon polygamy with disgust and horror, yet how sexual promiscuity is so common, normal part of life. A man can sleep around with several girls he finds and hooks up with, yet polygamy is disgusting.

    In other words, it’s okay for a man to sleep around with several girls he is NOT married to, yet it is horrible for a man to sleep around with several girls he IS married to…
    Yet, an honest, good polygamist is trying to provide and love the wife and her children; Whereas the unmarried fornicator is just using the girls to satisfy his sexual desires.

    This is a perfect example of the world calling good evil, and evil good. [Yes, Joseph Smith’s brand of polygamy was good divine.] Obviously, sexual abuse, pedophiles, etc can be found everywhere, in any society, because Satan is amongst all peoples. Singling out certain cases, then putting a label on an entire people is ridiculous. Calling a single, black mother from an inner city a crackwhore, would be like calling any polygamist a sexually abusive pedophile. I bet there are some fantastic, good-hearted, and faithful polygamists, yet deprived of the full, true Gospel, unfortunately. I find the same arguments used against the Polygamists today as I found in the early days of the Church.

    Joseph Smith righteously married young girls too. [However, Warren Jeffs is not a prophet, and I doubt he has much inspiration at all, yet I don’t know if the man is evil – I don’t know enough about his situation.] Because similar arguments were made against Joseph Smith, I am not too quick to judge Warren Jeffs. There is definitely a high likelihood he’s a wacko, deprived of the true spirit of God, but that’s not for me to decide or even know!

    Brilliant subject though. Orson Pratt definitely convinced me of Polygamy. We need not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for that divine principle is an essential part of it. Thanks for the post.

  12. joseph smith married young girls. that we can agree on. to classify it as righteous is a huge leap of faith.

    the fact that he was a prophet, by your standards or anyone elses, doesnt qualify his delinquency as righteous.

    lots of folks have claimed to be prophets and those some prophets have followers that agree with the prophets’ claims. so what.

    you never met orson pratt, so he clearly did not convince you of anything. perhaps an anecdote related to pratt was inspiring to you, and makes you love polygamy. but he didnt convince you of anything, of that i am most certain.

    i like this topic too. its time to call a spade a spade. if there is abuse, prosecute. if there are violations of law, prosecute. on that we all mostly agree. however, i would also like to see a saner retelling of mormon history in a way that wont discourage more abuse and remove the cloud that this form of child abuse and sexual abuse could have somehow been inspired or could somehow be inspired again.

    that said, i dont disagree with the consenting adults arguments. but, in this case, where children are brainwashed and sheltered since birth, even that argument has many holes in it.

  13. ME,

    Excellent post. I think the “brainwashing” is one of the byproducts of a closed, underground society such as we have seen in the FLDS in Colorado City.

    I think it’s tremendously important not to alter or force the beleifs of any group, but I do admire Mark Shurtleff for his efforts to build bridges and lines of communication with the varied polygamous communities. Opening them up will do a world of good in removing almost all of the problems with the isolation.

    To some degree, all of us, even those that leave the church accept the reality to which we are born or given. I think it is only fair to allow polygamists the same kind of standard. Differentiating that from brainwashing in a closed society is quite difficult. Many people accept the religion to which they are born, and the same should be expected of polygamists.

    The state has a duty and a responsibility to preserve BOTH religious freedom and individual liberty. Quite a task and a dicey place to be, but AG Shurtleff seems to be doing quite well.

  14. ME,

    Must I even clarify?  Orson’s words convinced me of the divinity of the true order of polygamy, and the feelings and thoughts I received during the process melted my heart in humilty and desire for greater santification. 

    Likewise, the Lord’s words (or scriptures as many might say – or perhaps even the Lord’s words through living Prophets) convinces people of truth.  The Lord, through the medium of his words, convinces people of truth.  Would it not be safe to say that the Lord convinces people of certain things without the necessity of having to meet the Lord?  Thus, likewise, I felt I was safe to say that Orson Pratt convinced me of such a principle, even though I have not met him in mortality. Thanks for the post.

  15. ok se7en, that i understand a bit more.

    likewise, the words of survivors of abuse have convinced me of its harm. the history of polygamy in the church has convinced me of polygamy’s harm. there is no denying that polygamists that are the target of the investigations by the attorneys general of utah and arizona are the product of joseph smiths work. in my opinion, it is impossible to credit joseph smiths creation with the current church organization with its core belief in eternal polygamy for se7en and all other subscribers, and discount the existence of the various sects of mormonism that practice polygamy today in the here and now.

    those polygamists are inspired by pratt’s bio just as you are. the difference, their ancestors held to their beliefs and stayed loyal to polygamy, yours did not. you were able to grow up in a church that has taught you to postpone your polygamy ambitions until death, their ancestors continued on what they considered to be the higher and more inspired path. lucky you se7en. and lucky me. i cant imagine the anguish of trying to reconcile the conflicts of those born into that life. i empathise with them. though, i do think its time to make the opportunities greater for the next generations.

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