Friday, August 29, 2014

My comments on the new polygamy ruling

Here's a Q & A I did today with the International Business Times:

In your opinion, how will the latest ruling effect the way the general public views the LDS? The church has been trying to distance itself from its polygamist past. Will this threaten that goal?

Overall, this is bad news for the LDS Church and its public image. There's already so much confusion between the mainstream LDS Church and the rogue fundamentalist polygamists. As polygamy becomes legal, the LDS Church will likely come under pressure to accept polygamists back into its membership ranks (currently, polygamists are excommunicated). With the law on their side, polygamists could ratchet up a "civil rights" campaign within the church along the same lines as we're currently seeing with the church's gays and feminists. All this will no doubt blur the lines even more in the public's understanding, as polygamists gain more status in society.

Do you think the LDS will address the ruling with its congregants? Will it be mentioned in sermons, teachings, newsletters etc?

The more the media covers this polygamy issue, the more likely it will be mentioned in church communications as a countermeasure. I predict that the church will increasingly identify modern-day polygamy as a threat to the mainstream church and its members, along with things like gay marriage, extreme feminism, pornography, and other recent social changes.

Right now, American LDS temples are used to perform both legally recognized civil marriages and eternal sealings of couples and families. As the definition of marriage changes in America, I expect that LDS temples will no longer be used for civil marriages but only for sealings, which are purely religious in nature. I'm sure the church will rather stop performing civil marriages altogether than face increasing legal and social pressure to perform gay or polygamous marriages within its sacred temples.

In what ways will this affect the LDS’ missionaries? Will it be harder to bring new people into the faith? Or is the fact that the ruling is restricted to Utah help them in that regard?

Again, it depends on how the media covers it. If the story stays alive and grows, and if other states and nations start changing their laws too, missionaries will no doubt need to do a lot more explaining. Much also depends on whether polygamists themselves become more vocal in society, claiming their identities and rights as Mormons. Any stronger connection between Mormonism and modern-day polygamy will no doubt scare more people away from the church.

Besides a press release reinstating the fact that the LDS does not practice polygamy, are there any other ways that the church can help distance itself from this part of its past? Do LDS members even care that some think they practice polygamy?

In my experience, many LDS members find it very uncomfortable that some people think we still practice polygamy. Many members feel very uncomfortable that the church ever did practice it. On the other hand, some LDS members may deep down feel sympathetic toward polygamy because of its role in our past history and in our theology. With the legal prohibition removed, some mainstream members may become more openly tolerant of polygamy, start putting pressure on the church to accept it, or even convert to a polygamous lifestyle themselves.

I think all the mainstream church can do is keep making clear that we view polygamy as a grievous sin when it's not authorized by God through his appointed prophet, as it was in Old Testament times and the early days of the LDS Church. As the issue grows, I think the church will become increasingly vocal about lumping polygamy in with other latter-day social trends that the church opposes, like gay marriage, extreme feminism, and pornography. Many members see these trends as influenced by the devil in order to undermine the foundation of families and this American nation.

What is the LDS’ view on the FLDS? Do they live in peace with one another? Or does the LDS see them as a threat in any way (especially with shows like Sister Wives)?

In my observation, the LDS Church strives to avoid any engagement with any polygamous groups, as no good could come of it. I believe LDS church members have been a driving force in trying to make and enforce laws against polygamists, so the new ruling is a blow to many LDS people, including LDS professionals in Utah politics and law. Many members see polygamists as a threat to our good name—they're like crazy, uncontrollable relatives who publicly embarrass us. The LDS Church tries its best to distance itself from polygamists, but everyone knows we have common historical roots and still share some religious DNA.

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