a legal fight with a twist. The state will argue that the sect's children are at risk at the compound, but not because every one of them has been physically or sexually abused.
Instead, they will say that the culture of the church, which encouraged girls to marry and bear children in their early teens, was a danger to any child immersed in it.
"There was a pervasive belief that children having children was what they were supposed to do," said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
To those who study polygamist cultures, the crackdown seems like something out of the distant past. Something that, in the past, had reliably backfired.
That's been my take from the get go: Officials were initially worried the raid would turn into "another Waco," but they had the wrong analogy. They should have been worried it would become "another Short Creek," the 1953 raid in southern Utah that ripped women and children from their homes for 2-3 years before finally returning them all.
To help me think about our core discomfort with this culture's version of a girl's role, choices, and self-determination, this morning I went searching for biblical dicta on marriage, and the following passage jumped out at me:
"in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing doctrines and spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with hot iron; forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
"For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
Of course, St. Paul's point of reference wasn't polygamous marriage, but marriage between Jews and gentiles, a point over which he disputed with Christ's disciples in Jerusalem throughout his various missionary journeys. (I've often wished we could have read St. Peter's rebuttal.)
The Apostle Paul can be blamed for a lot of the attitudes about marriage and child bearing that the state of Texas now aims to prosecute, starting with his admonition, "wives, submit to your husbands." Paul went on to say in 1 Timoth 5:14: "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, [and] give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully." (All quotes from the KJV.) That sounds a lot to me like the values CPS criticized among FLDS women that made them such a threat. (For that matter, as mentioned earlier on Grits, a case for polygamy, too, may be firmly established in the biblical canon.)
Most of Christendom doesn't consider the heretical religion founded by Joseph Smith in America to fall under the Christian umbrella, but Mormons accept the Christian Bible as canonical and a lot of criticisms about an oppressive ideology that too narrowly defines a woman's role (e.g., that her "highest purpose" is raising children, as the CPS investigators testified of FLDS women) can be applied equally to extremist versions of both faiths.
In mainstream culture, we've come to think of this debate playing out between feminists and Christian women, with the latter complaining the former want to "liberate" them against their will from a life raising children and running the household, as Paul advised to Saint Timothy.
The content of the complaint is similar to the backlash from conservative women when Hillary Clinton became First Lady and made derisive comments about "baking cookies." Partially for these reasons, Mormons overall have been drawn largely by the cultural conservatism of the religious right into the Republican party in recent years.
It's precisely this thread of belief, common to Christianity and Mormonism, that animates much of the culture war debate between feminism and religious folk. Quarkstomper over at Street Prophets recently lamented this common ideological thread:
My wife left the church long ago because she felt alienated by the attitudes towards women ... As far as she's concerned, all religions have the same attitudes as this group in Texas. I try to tell her different. I try to tell her that Jesus isn't about enslaving women; that God isn't about enslaving women; that the Gospel isn't about enslaving women. But people like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell and this Warren Jeffs guy tell her I'm wrong.Most Americans today, whether religious or not, take it as gospel that a young women should have a range of options and the ability to choose among them. At the same time, everyone think some options are better than others.
Although the state didn't find many young pregnant teens at the YFZ Ranch, the outcry over FLDS practices has been widespread. The revulsion of 21st century sensibilities to what are essentially 19th century values, attitudes, and practices was painstakingly expressed recently in three posts on Orcinus: Secret Lives of Saints, Are FLDS Women Brainwashed?, and What We’re Not Talking About, Part I: Other Issues With the FLDS.
That baseline, essentially "feminist" position, though, errs when it fails to understand that liberation may come in many different forms, and that a life of service to family and faith may be as liberating, for some, as breaking glass ceilings and workplace barriers are for others. None of us possess any sure-fire recipe for happiness in this short life, and in the absence of such a formula, many still turn to God for advice on topic, as they understand Him, or whatever texts they believe represent God's views.
How odd it is, then, to see this attempt to forcibly liberate religious women from family and faith led by Governor Perry, Gregg Abbott, Rep. Harvey Hildebran (who changed Texas' marriage age to target FLDS), the Texas Rangers, and hundreds of armed police backed by helicopters and an armored personnel carrier.
The question in Eldorado, as in all feminism vs. religion debates, is whether women's call to marriage and child bearing is chosen or coerced. (We know their removal by the state was coerced.) But some who've left FLDS say the kids there are free to reject marriages or leave the community, and I've little reason to believe polygamous marriages disempower women any more than monogamous ones. Columnist Robert Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribune describes himself as "a Mormon descended on both sides from staunch the-federal-government-can-go-to-hell polygamists,"and tells this story about his own polygamist ancestors:
My great-great-grandfather Nathaniel married three women. Wife No. 1 was OK. However, I have a copy of the letter Wife No. 2 wrote to Brigham Young begging him to let her divorce Nathaniel because Wife No. 1 was so mean. See?Kirby's great-great grandmother doesn't sound too disempowered to me.
Wife No. 3 - my great-great-grandmother and one of Salt Lake's first female doctors - didn't bother with the letter. She threw Nathaniel out and became Wife No. 6 to some other guy a few blocks away.
Even so, society's views toward a woman's role have changed a lot since Kirby's great-great grandma's time, much less since St. Paul wrote St. Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago. When feminism's ideological victory finally came, I never expected it would result in self-styled conservative pols using the brute force of the state to seize children from marriages "received in thanksgiving of those who believe." That odd role reversal is one of the things that make this debate so compelling.
A SELF-INDULGENT ASIDE: I couldn't help but think of the FLDS kids riding away from their parents in buses after spending part of yesterday evening entertaining the grandbaby. She's just beginning to talk, and with a little prompting picked up on the phrase "Yippie Ki Yay" from an old country & western song, with her and I repeating it back and forth to one another gleefully for several minutes. (You haven't seen cute until you've witnessed an 18-month old dancing and shouting "Yippie Ki Yay," flinging her arms into the air with a big grin.)
When she left, I wrote this and nearly added it to yesterday's post, then re-read it and found it a little hoakie. As the missus occasionally reminds me, I'm no poet. But on this blog what gets written ultimately tends to get posted sooner or later, so with that caveat and background, here you go:
I'll never forget that sad April day
When the Baptists brought buses and
Cops hauled us away
From our home on the ranch
Where the kids used to play
And sing "Ki Yi Yippe Ki Yay"
I'll never forget how all we knelt and prayed
While men with machine guns
Filed in like a parade
By the hundreds, an army
Swarmed God's holy place
Singing "Ki Yi Yippe Ki Yay"
I'll never forget hearing Judge Walther say
That my parents' beliefs were
Abusive per se
And I needed protection
From them and their faith
She sang "Ki Yi Yippe Ki Yay"
So they brought in more buses and swept me away
Into foster care, now the Judge
Says I am safe
But I don't feel that way
All alone and afraid
Singing "Ki Yi Yippe Ki Yay Ki Yay"
Singing "Ki Yi Yippe Ki Yay"