Sex And Salvation In Christian Fundamentalist Polygamy
While sitting on his Texas ranch pondering the state of women's rights around the world, George W. need not look as far as Afghanistan. In his "W is for Women" campaign Bush argued that under the Taliban, a regime once supported by the American government, women's rights in Afghanistan were in peril: Afghani women had lost their right to education, their right freedom of movement, and their right to basic health, to name a few. Review of Andrea Moore - Emmett's God's Brothel, by WHRNet Staff, December 2004
In Utah slightly northwest of the Bush homestead the effects of fundamentalist Christianity on women have a terrifyingly similar resonance. In many parts of Utah, within the various extremists sects of Fundamentalist Christians, women are denied education, they are forced to marry at a young age, they are victims of horrific cycles of abuse- physical and emotional, and they live in absolute poverty dependent on the state or their spouse for support.
Andrea Moore-Emmett's newly released book God's Brothel tells the story of 18 women who escaped the horrors of polygamous, abusive relationships in the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and Mormon communities. Moore-Emmett, born and raised in the Mormon faith, provides a space for insiders' to tell their expository accounts of the sexual slavery and abuse rampant in much of Utah, parts of Missouri, Wyoming, and California; states where polygamy is illegal, but tolerated.
The government of Abraham Lincoln passed legislation criminalizing polygamy. In 1856, the Republican Party pledged to abolish the "twin relics of barbarism - polygamy and slavery". In fact, these policies and the prevalence of polygamy prevented then Utah from gaining statehood.
Church leaders of the Mormon faith, founded in 1843 by Joseph Smith, fiercely argued that polygamy was protected in the Constitution under the right to practice religion freely. On several occasions, the church appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn convictions of their community members, and moreover, to recognize the banishment of polygamy as unconstitutional. According to the Mormon scriptures Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, multiple marriages are necessary for reverence: "no men can ever attain the fullness of exaltation… if he does not accept the principle of taking on multiple wives." (in Moore-Emmett, p.21) In 1879, in George Reynolds versus the United Stated, the court ruled that the federal law against polygamy was constitutional. The underlying logic was that Americans could believe whatever they wanted so long as they did not practice a belief that violated the law. Mormon followers at the time refused to accept the state's interference and continued their practice.
The passing of the Edmund Tucker Act in 1887 spurred major crusades (called cohab hunts) and attacks against polygamists. In response to searches and arrests Mormons went into hiding or used the Mormon underground to relocate to Mexico or Canada. In 1890, Church President Wilford Woodruff, issued a Manifesto "pledging to congress that Mormons had given up polygamy, thus paving the way to Statehood". (in Moore-Emmett, p.21) And this caused a great divide within the faithful and paved the way to the splintering of smaller, more extreme sects. Moore- Emmett describes at least 15 of these sects that have membership groups that total from 30,000 to 100,000. With their policy that wedded women must have one child per year, these numbers are growing so rapidly accurate counts are difficult.
The women whose stories are told in the book reveal common trends of sexual abuse, forced marriage including that of minors, and the denial of access or engagement with society 'outside' of the sect or compound. Common to most of the women is marriage at a very young age, incest and extreme poverty for women and children. Most of the women whose stories are told have since escaped their fundamentalist communities, though some continue to practice Christian faiths.
Moore Emmett's book is a solid introduction to both the theoretical underpinnings of Fundamentalist Christian communities in the U.S., and the personal trauma and abuses that result from its practice.
While the book paints polygamy as the root of sexual slavery and violence, this is not simply about polygamy - and whether it should be legal or not. In fact, monogamous marriages also continue to be sites of sexual and domestic abuse. Instead, because polygamy is illegal, and state officials turn a blind eye to these rampant polygamous practices, men and their faith leaders are given a carte blanche within their community. And women are left with no protection from the state or law enforcement.
If "W" is, indeed, for women, the Bush government must address fundamentalist communities within its midst.
For more information on this book, please visit: www.pince-nez.com.
For more information on the women's organization started by many of the women whose stories are featured in the book, please visit: http://www.polygamy.org/.
Moore-Emmett, Andrea. God's Brothel. San Francisco:Pince-Nez, 2004.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The information contained in this web resource does not necessarily represent the views and positions of WHRNet/AWID/WLUML unless stated. This web resource is meant to make accessible the broadest possible strands of opinion within varied movements / initiatives promoting greater autonomy of women. It seeks to inform and share different analysis and experiences.