Monday, April 21, 2008

FLDS, Polygamy, & the Law

As I'm sure you all know, the authorities seized a large group of children from a compound operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). This is a group that practices what is best described as historic Mormonism. That means that they still practice polygamy. Of course that is against the law.

Now I find this a bit odd in a sense. Our courts have ruled that just about anything goes sexually. There are no laws against shacking up and a lot of people are doing just that. So what if a man shacks up with two or three women at the same time? It's not illegal. Are we going to sweep in take their children from them?

What about stories of children marrying at very young ages? That's not right, is it? Well, it's not right in that it is against the law. Most cultures at most times in history had girls marry shortly after physical maturity. It worked like this: A girl would have her first period and daddy would throw a big party celebrating his daughter's coming of age. It would be his way of saying that his daughter was now on the market. Within a year or two, daddy would pick out the boy he liked for his daughter and the marriage would take place. This would have been common in both Jewish and Christian cultures. So marrying at a young age is not immoral, though it is illegal in the United States.

There is another practical angle to this as well. A girl, younger than age 16-17, couldn't even function as a wife and mother in the practical sense at all. She couldn't drive or do many of the things she would be required to do in normal American society. Further, this would require the husband to be the sole breadwinner. In reality, even most 18 year olds, would have difficulty. This is, in part, because we train our girls to be young professionals rather than wives. This has good points and bad. We really are quite limited in our ability to change this. So it just is, as it is. So apart from living in an FLDS compound, marriage at a young age, in our current society is just not practical, even if it were legal.

How does Christianity view polygamy? There is a lot of confusion on this. Polygamy is not wrong, unless it is against the law. Pastor's are forbidden from practicing polygamy, but not lay people. This is important on the mission field where men who become Christians may have many wives. But monogamy, that is one man and one woman, for life, is clearly God's model. We see this from the creation account in Genesis. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve, Jen, Jess, Katie and Mary. This is why most nations that are a few centuries into the Judeo-Christian worldview will outlaw polygamy. That happened in most parts of Europe around 1000 A.D. So it does take a while for this work out.

While the FLDS group in Texas was in violation of the law, I do have some concern about the way this came down. The government seized 300+ children because of one complaint that now appears to have been a crank. What evidence did the government actually have against the FLDS group before they acted? I raise this because the next time it could be Lutheran homeschoolers in the government's bullseye. In general, I do not like the fact that we have given bureaucrats administrative power to seize children and remove them from the custody of their parents. In my experience bureaucrats tend to act when they shouldn't and not act when they should. They also often develop their own hobby horses, like going after homeschoolers, or deeply religious parents. I would rather risk a child being left a little longer in a bad situation than have children pulled out of a good situation. This, I think, is part of the idea of people being innocent until proven guilty. I also see it as being rather like the first rule for doctors - first do no harm. I see children being harmed more often then they are helped by government intervention. So while I have all sorts of issues, legal, social, theological and moral with the activities of the FLDS in Texas, I'm not real thrilled with the governmental response either.


Kari said...

I understand what you're saying on the government getting involved in taking children out of homes, but these were young girls being forced to marry "old" men. I have heard that the teenage boys get in the way, so are sent to the streets, homeless, because the old guys want all the young girls for themselves. How sad is that! I mean the thought of freedom of religion has entered my mind, but children need to be protected in society. We want freedom of religion, but only within limits, because, if it were completely free, what could prevent, God forbid, human sacrifices? Oh, the laws against murder, so the laws against girls under a certain age getting married must enter in here, right? I feel sorry for all the women & chilren involved, because their entire world has changed(in my view for the better) but people need to adjust to change. I'm sure the women are missing their babies just terribly. Maybe just removing all the girls 9 & up? I don't know.

Walt's World of Religion and Politics said...

The issue that I'm trying to raise is not that there shouldn't be limits or that that these things shouldn't be against the law. I think our laws on marriage age and the like are actually quite reasonable in our cultural context. Rather I'm suggesting that there needs to be solid evidence for the government to intervene. That may have, in fact, been lacking in this case. And who knows, next time it might all the parents who send there children to Pastor Walter's confirmation class. You just never know what can happen when you give bureaucrats too much power.
Pastor Walter