Monday, March 27, 2006

A note on the polygamy sub-plot in the novel Exmormon

My novel Exmormon is meant to be a portrait of what it's like to grow up LDS. Since my focus is the mainstream LDS church, some might object to the fact that I included a significant sub-plot involving modern-day polygamy, which the mainstream church has disavowed.

But the specter of polygamy still haunts the mainstream church. It affects people who are raised in the LDS church -- even far from Utah -- as they learn that the early Latter-day prophets taught polygamy as an eternal principle and taught that not only is there polygamy in the afterlife but that God Himself is probably a polygamist. The manifesto putting a stop to the practice of polygamy did not address the doctrinal questions.

Some faithful LDS may say that what I have written in the previous paragraph misrepresents LDS doctrine. But LDS doctrine is extremely hard to pin down on this point. Despite having a living prophet, the LDS church refuses to issue a statement clarifying or rescinding the teaching regarding eternal plural marriage.

I recall learning as a teen that polygamy was the way of heaven as I learned about my own pioneer ancestors who practiced it. As much a Salt Lake would like to sweep the whole polygamy question under the rug -- and regard any reference connecting the LDS church to the practice of polygamy as a hateful slur -- the reality is that it is a fundamental part of the LDS church's heritage and legacy.

The fact that polygamy remains a doctrine of the LDS church (see Doctrine & Covenants 132) -- despite no longer being practiced -- allows the Mormon fundamentalist groups to attract converts from among the membership of mainstream LDS church.

The mainstream LDS church and its fundamentalist offshoots tend not to support each other nor have anything to do with one another, yet they are tied together by a common history.

To write details regarding the Mormon fundamentalist experience, I consulted with Troy Bowles (who was raised in the Apostolic United Bretheren), and I also consulted with a guy who was raised FLDS, whose blog I have included in my blog roll (Life in a Cult).

I deliberately made the precisions of Joe's background (in the novel) generic enough that he might have come from either of the groups mentioned above or perhaps from a different fundamentalist group. I did this because my story is not meant as an expose of modern-day polygamy but rather is intended as a portrait of mainstream Mormonism, including a description of the extremely complex relationship between ordinary Mormons and polygamy.


Joseph's Left One said...

I don't see how they could argue with your representation of the doctrine of plural marriage. It's spot on.

Polygamy can't just be swept aside as past history because it isn't past history. It is relevant to today's church, as well as to the splinter fundie groups.

Your tackling that part of the story seems honest and thorough to me, even though believing Mormons will cry foul.

Joseph's Left One said...

By the way, you've inspired me. I picked up Les Liaisons Dangereuses on my lunch hour. Can't wait to read it. I told my wife I bought it for the sex scenes. :-)

C. L. Hanson said...

What fun!!!

Les Liaisons Dangereuses is one of my all-time favorite books, so I hope you'll like it.

Won't you get in trouble for reading it, though? I thought you had posted that your wife would freak out if you were looking at porn. So is it okay if it's just stories with no illustrations? ;^)

BTW, I don't remember anything really graphic in the book, but I might have a different standard for what constitutes graphic than your wife does... ;^)

Anonymous said...

I have been reading Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven in complete amazement. His history of the Mormon church and polygamy has left me literally agape at times.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hi Stephanie --

Some of the history is pretty shocking, isn't it?

I haven't read Krakauer's book, but I probably should.

Unknown said...

I'm flattered to have been mentioned on this exquisite blog. Cl Hanson is a very dear friend of mine and having been mentioned as part of her research makes me very proud.
Troy Bowles

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Troy!!!

Thanks for your help on this project!!! I'm really glad you've enjoyed being a part of it. I can't imagine even beginning to tackle the subject of modern-day polygamy if it hadn't been for your memoir and for our other conversations.

p.s. Sorry I didn't reply to your earlier message on Facebook -- I almost never check my facebok messages, so I'm not good at keeping up with the conversations there...