Friday, December 3, 2010

Mormon Polygamy on Trial : Day 7 Summary and media coverage

Strangely, Day 7 was the most difficult day of the proceedings for me on a personal level. Dr. Lawrence Beall, a Salt Lake City based specialist in the treatment of psychological trauma was the expert witness for the Attorney General. Dr. Beall has treated 30 “polygamy survivors” over the past 6 years (or so).

I believe Dr. Beall outlined some very important points during his testimony - and the media reporters have done a good job outlining these items. He described the extreme centralized control of the prophet and priesthood leaders over church members. Beall reported that his patients, who have left FLDS movement, exhibited symptoms very similar to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, having lived in a community where their every action was closely watched and where they could be expelled for being unfaithful or rebellious at a moment’s notice. These “polygamy survivors” have a very difficult time adjusting to the outside world, both due to their lack of practical education and also because they have been taught that the outside world is a wicked and dangerous place. He observed that the women often become expert at suppressing emotions, and tend to turn their abusive experiences inward in the form of guilt and shame. The young men who have been expelled from the group are better able to express their anger and they tend to act out their symptoms in the form of crime, violence and substance abuse.

Dr. Beall explained how the FLDS community is structured like a caste system. The Prophet, and those who he favors, form an inner circle who enjoy tremendous benefits due to their status. Life is not so pleasant for those on the outer circle, and this is where most of his patients have come from. Dr. Beall also explained how difficult it is for adolescents who grow up in this society. Adolescence is a time when we struggle to find our identity. Questioning and experimentation are a natural part of this phase of life, and in FLDS communities, this is not allowed. They are taught if they think and feel something other than what the prophet says then they are wrong. This teaches them to lose trust in what they think and feel as an individual.

For some reason, the media reports tend to ignore the cross-examination phase of Dr. Beall’s testimony. Mr. Wickett’s questioning took an interesting turn when he asked Dr. Beall whether he was a member of the LDS church - which he is.

Mr. Wickett then questioned Dr. Beall about the extensive similarities in doctrine and belief in the LDS and FLDS churches. Excepting for the actual practice of polygamy (the LDS church believes in plural marriage but does not allow members to practice it), and the specific prophet you choose to believe in, the churches are certainly very similar. This might not be obvious in the case of the isolated FLDS communities in Eldorado Tx, Colorado City or Bountiful, BC. However, the similarities become more apparent when you look at the more liberal Mormon polygamous groups like the AUB. In fact, the seeds for Mormon fundamentalism are certainly carried within the mainstream LDS church even today. This is evidenced by the fact that one of Dr. Beall’s patients had come from the Harmston group. Their Prophet and most of the members of this Polygamous Mormon sect, now called the “True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days”, were faithful members of the mainstream LDS church until 1994.

Dr. Beall’s LDS background opened another important line of questioning. It allowed Mr. Wickett to carefully review the history of persecutions that the Mormons endured for their practice of polygamy. Wickett recounted how the Mormons were driven from Missouri and Illinois, how over 1000 polygamous men were imprisoned and their leaders were forced into hiding, When the Mormons still refused to comply, The Federal US government eventually dissolved the corporation of the LDS church and began to seize its assets. Finally, in 1890, faced with the threat of total extinction, Prophet/President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto which officially discontinued the practice of Polygamy in the Mormon Church.

In reality, the Mormon Church just went into a period of public denial while the practice of Polygamy secretly continued among a privileged inner circle until at least 1904 - when this undercover practice was discovered during the Reed Smoot senate hearings. Even after new marriages were no longer officially sanctioned, Mormon Polygamists retained membership in the LDS church, without penalty, until the 1930s. Since they have been expelled from the Mormon Church, the polygamous groups have endured further persecution, criminal prosecutions and raids - ranging from Short Creek in 1953 to Eldorado, Texas in 2008. In spite of this overwhelming opposition, the Mormon Polygamists quietly continue the practice of their faith.

After a quick review of these facts, Mr Wickett asked Dr. Beall’s “Do you think criminal prohibition will ever be effective in ending Mormon polygamy?”

Dr. Beall didn’t know.

Mr. Wickett then returned to an earlier statement that Dr. Beall had made about how the fear of criminal prosecution and the resulting isolation made it more difficult for FLDS women to leave their community or to get assistance from social services and law enforcement in cases of abuse.

Did Dr. Beall believe that de-criminalization of Polygamy might make it easier for them?

Dr. Beall didn’t offer an opinion.

Personally, I believe the facts have already spoken for themselves.

Here are some of the noteworthy media reports from Day 7.

The many faces of polygamy - The Globe and Mail

Many women fleeing polygamist unions suffered sex abuse, guilt: Psychologist

'Polygamy survivors' often frightened for their lives: psychologist

Psychologist describes abuse and robotic demeanour of polygamist women

And some noteworthy blogs on the topic of Polygamy who are following the charter challenge:
(from a non-Mormon - fundamentalist Christian perspective)
(from the FLDS perspective)

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