I am looking into connecting the social institutions of government, family and religion, for the socially conflicting topic of Polygamy in the United States from the eyes of Georg Simmel. In a Polygamous family, almost all practices are very ritualized and in many cases, as young women especially, grow up in this environment they find these norms to be conflicting. Polygamy is currently illegal in the United States, and while some churches have disaffiliated with living the Polygamous lifestyle, some people choose to keep their lifestyle from the eyes of the law. There are many cases, including the widely known Warren Jeffs of FLDS church in the Western United States, where the “prophet” uses their self-established power and role in the community to manipulate the youth. The lifestyle described is very much intertwined with family, law and religion, and the roles that people are expected to play when born into such a culture.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, suspended the practice of polygamy in order to be recognized in the state of Utah. The majority had separated from polygamous activities as a whole, back in the late nineteenth century (1890), though a large group kept this lifestyle and were excommunicated from the larger organization of FLDS if they chose to continue with practicing polygamy. There are said to be about six to ten thousand FLDS Church members, with the headquarters being in Hildale, Utah.
In a world where we as women still struggle to get true equality, polygamy can be argued to bring us back five steps. In a sense, women are seen as property of their husband’s, and this rang true when reading of the personal biography of a daughter of a polygamous family who saw the abuse her father inflicted not only on her but her mothers as well. She suffered from physical and emotional abuse, and after escaping the group with the help of some of her family members, she was able to live a life that she finally had control over physically and emotionally.
Rachel Jeffs was one of the many daughters of Warren Jeffs, whom was and is believed to still be, the newest Prophet of his separate sector of the FLDS Church. His family decided to break away from the church after the law changed to stop the polygamous activities, and plural marriage as a whole. His father and other family members did not support that decision and split from the church, creating their own rules with a new structure coming their way.
Using religion for social control, was a pattern that I have seen displayed in many ways over the years, but none as manipulative and deceiving as what Warren Jeffs was corrupting his family and church members with. After his father passed away, he claimed he was told by God that he was the next prophet, and immediately starting setting new rules in place. That was when the issues seen among his group truly began, not only were they still hiding their lifestyle, but he became a household name for the criminal acts in which he decided were accepted by God for him to commit.
As time went on, he would make even more outrageous rules constantly, always changing what he said, to please him in the moment, as documented by his own family members. Things changed so often, according to his daughter Rachel Jeffs, that each new change was seen as temporary and ridiculous by many who had already started to lose their faith due to this new structure. Warren Jeffs has over 80 wives and hundreds of children. He married some of his wives when they were as young as 12 years old. He’s currently serving two life sentences in prison for the rapes of a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl. Even though Warren is in prison, he is still leading his church. Despite his arrest, he continued these orders through his jail cell, and had it sent out to the group, and while many left the orders in which he tried to pass, an alarming amount had also stayed under his leadership.
Men were controlled: Over 70 percent of the FLDS population is under 18 years old. This is due, in large part, to Warren kicking people out. He often kicks out young men so they don’t pose a threat to the old men who are trying collect their multiple wives. He also kicks out anyone who disagrees with anything he says.
Women had their own forms of being controlled and in a way they were treated like child-bearing commodities. Wives are unable to get food and supplies for their home that are not pre-approved by the Prophet and in many cases, are left with little to nothing to eat. Warren Jeff’s increasing “messaging from God” in which he recorded in his cell, only increased the restrictions in which the entire group must follow. Women were banished if they acted out, speaking to a male family ember alone counted as such at times. Women were driven out to a number of homes that each had their own wall and little to no resources inside, and they could be ordered to stay there in solitude for days or weeks at a time for their “misbehavior” or disobedience.
There’s an abundance of evidence of the control used through patriarchal structures, and in the practice of polygamy can be seen through the structure of male freedom, where the husband can have multiple wives and be intimate and have connections with each of them, but the wives are not allowed to intermingle or have multiple husbands. According to two of Warren Jeffs sons, Raymond and Isaac, one of the most outrageous changes was of a practice that Warren Jeffs had taken advantage of, and once he was imprisoned and couldn’t practice it anymore, he started an odd ban.
According to his sons, members of the FLDS Church are not allowed to have any type of romantic contact, even if they are married to the individual. Members can not date, and FLDS members who are married are not allowed to have sexual relations anymore. This meant that FLDS men may have dozens of wives, but he can’t have sexual relations with any of them. FLDS women are impregnated by “seed bearers,” which are basically men who are chosen by the organization’s leaders. These men are the only ones who can have sex with women. The woman being impregnated will have her husband there with her while she has sex with the seed bearer.
Other cultures allow one woman to have multiple husbands, but in the United States, these practices are not legal in most states. As with the male dominated polygamy of the Mormon Church.
Simmel would see these actions as being part of the conflict of society. Sociology being a mixture of structure and culture is a strong point made. This is a culture that may not contribute to the structure of society as we know it, as it is seen as extremely deviant behavior by the majority of the population of the United States. Almost all states have outlawed the practice of polygamy, and families can be separated and imprisoned if found to be going against those laws. But when does it become less about the institution of family and more about the institutions more publicly seen in society such as government and education?
When groups of people are actively being mentally or physically abused, and neglected as well, I believe it is the duty of the state to get involved, despite being a primary group issue. As seen in some of the sources found, shows and books alike describe first-hand accounts of children having to eat from the trash and hide information about their family, in order to survive. Social workers have the right in this country to be getting involved to improve the well-being of the families, but mainly the children, who cannot always fight for themselves and sadly may not even have taught how to do so. According to the data I’ve found, these children may have grown up in this environment from birth, but many want to escape and find it dangerous to do so. At one point, Warren Jeffs would order “blood atonement for sinners” and this disturbing new rule would mean that you have the permission to spill the blood of others who have committed serious crimes against the church, one of the biggest being to leave or escape. Another form of manipulation he used went as far as claiming that someone who killed a sinner could get direct access to heaven upon their death.
Simmel focused his studies on emphasizing social interaction at the individual and small group level, with the size of the group coming into account for various parts of social interaction. The patterns of social groups can be very strong thing to observe and study, especially so with groups such as of Mormon followers. According to Simmel, when the group grows, the sense of freedom also grows. The rules can become more lax or have a weakened effect than they had before. The more wives Warren Jeff’s took on, the more his following depleted, and mainly due to his unethical courses of action. The social interaction of underage girls being forced to marry older men created a loss of faith in many of the followers he once had.
Though Simmel has strayed from focusing on the social laws as being the focus and more on the interaction, some of the strongest arguments against practicing polygamy in the United States are that on a societal level, it could “increase gender inequality and social instability.” The laws in place today seem to use this information as fact, and as a cautionary tale in a way. The way this group interactions could affect society as a whole, through numbers.
Though there are some valid points mentioned by Baude and the Judges involved in the creation of the laws against polygamy, it can be seen by many as another way for the government to have social control over the citizens of the United States. We have seen this with the recently nationally accepted gay marriage, and other current movements. There have been small rallies and protests in the Western states to protect Polygamy, but being a practice seen among a small percentage of the population, in comparison to other social movements, it can be difficult to get the change in which these families need to live safely in their own community and homes.
Though Warren Jeffs community shed a very dark light on the rest of the Mormon Church, there are many families in the United States who choose Polygamy, even without having been raised in a polygamous family themselves. Sister Wives, a television show on TLC is a first-hand example of this, where one religious man has four wives that he had met on his own through dating similarly to how most people date today. They chose this lifestyle and though the show highlights some of their most difficult moments as a family, they each still choose this lifestyle and are not forced into any activities in which they don’t find healthy or safe. Their children go to college, they all dress in “gentile” attire as most people would be seen in today, and their children can choose religion and relationship styles outside of how they were raised if they choose to do so. One mother’s daughter Maddie is married to a man monogamously and is finishing her college degree.
It has been seen that the issues with polygamy come from men who have grown up in this lifestyle, with power in the family and money to connect the power to the control in which they have over the majority of the family members. When the morals and ethics of the individual, as well as the safety and health are upheld, then the arguments against polygamy falter to an extent. Though the pattern of social instability would be hard to truly grasp unless it was made legal, there are more concerning aspects at stake that make the illegal nature of polygamy to be justified.