Friday, April 18, 2008
Well. Last week CFI's publicist sent out emails about my book to a number of newspapers, thinking that the timing of the polygamous sect's news might increase interest in my novel.
Somehow one email landed in Australia, and the editor wrote back to me. Polygamy is quite rare in his country, he said, and his paper would be more interested in information than a review copy of my book. So I thought it over for a week and carefully formulated my reply. Only a few hours later it was a lead article in the Australian paper, with the headline: "Mormons aren't Polygamists and Polygamists aren't Mormons."
I am in shock, but very glad to have this exchange of information with the editor. Here is my entire email to him:
Thank you for your response. I am sure the subject of polygamy is foreign to you, so the publicist’s email must have been something of a puzzle.
A brief summary: During a period of about 40 years, early in its history, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often called Mormons) did practice polygamy. Less than 10% of the members did so. The practice was seen as a way to accommodate the fact that there were more women than men who joined the church and participated in its western migration to the area now known as Utah. The LDS church officially discontinuied the practice in 1890, and at that point several splinter groups formed, believing that the church was in error for discontinuing polygamy. The LDS church does not practice polygamy now and excommunicates members who do.
The most notorious of the offshoot groups (at least in terms of recent news coverage) is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (FLDS) led by Warren Jeffs. They lived in a small community in southern Utah which he led, and most people would describe the lifestyle as a cult led by a power-hungry man. Jeff was recently convicted on several counts in Utah, the most serious being named as an accomplice to rape, in the case of a 13-year old girl he forced to marry an older man. It is believed that this practice of marrying underage girls to older men is common within the sect, and is of course illegal as well as immoral. Jeffs is also facing charges in the neighboring state of Arizona. Before his arrest, he established a new compound near Eldorado, Texas, where he moved his “most faithful” followers and young children “who hadn’t been contaminated by worldly influences.”
Several weeks ago a 16-year old girl from the Texas compound phoned Texas authorities and told them she was married to an older man, subjected to marital rape and physical abuse, was the mother of an 8- month old baby, and was pregnant again. She requested assistance as she could not leave the compound with her baby. The compound was then entered by law enforcement officers, and more than 400 children and many of their mothers were removed to a different location where they could be questioned to determine if abuse has occurred within their families.
The girl who called for help has not yet been identified, and now the state of Texas has the daunting responsibility to determine the fate of these children, many of whom have given multiple names to authorities or have refused to name their parents at all. It is turning into a legal nightmare at this point, with so many young children and their parents facing separation due to a lifestyle which is not only illegal, but may have abused some of its weakest members, women and children.
The above URL chronicles some of the recent events in regard to this case and has some related articles.
My book, which was released in November, is about the relationship of two individuals from two opposing cultures – a girl raised in polygamy, in a large and harmonious family, and a boy raised in an LDS family - who meet at medical school. Though they have feelings for each other, they know that polygamy presents an impossible barrier to their future. She is expected to return home to take care of her people, and will eventually become a plural wife, and he cannot embrace that lifestyle. How they continue to develop in their practices after medical school, and how they reconcile their differences after a chance encounter gives them another opportunity to be together, is one major theme of the story.
One of my other purposes in writing the book was to clarify that Mormons are not polygamists and polygamists aren’t Mormons, and that abuse and mistreatment can be found in any culture. In the end, the families of both young people must learn about tolerance and acceptance, and discover that what they have in common is much more important than their differences.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about this current situation as I have described it, or my book, which does not seek to sensationalize polygamy, but to provide a compassionate look at individuals from both cultures. You are welcome to quote any of the above statements in your publication.
Janet Kay Jensen