Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mormons split over polygamy practice, expert says at trial

By Daphne Bramham

(Vancouver Sun)  Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially renounced polygamy in 1890, a religious studies expert says that mainstream Mormons are nearly evenly split over whether it should continue to be practised. W. John Walsh said Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court that the LDS church's official position remains that polygamy is banned, but that it's possible that somewhere between 50 and 60 per cent of the church's members "would like a return of polygamy, which they see as a holy practice."

The other half would not like to see a return of polygamy and deem it to be "an archaic practise," said Walsh, who was testifying as an expert on behalf of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in a constitutional reference case that will determine the validity of Canada's law prohibiting polygamy. (The FLDS split from the mainstream church over the practise of polygamy and the FLDS is the largest group of so-called "fundamentalist Mormons" in North America. Walsh estimated that there are 50,000 fundamentalist Mormons in North America, 10,000 of whom belong to the FLDS.)

If Walsh is right, that suggests that if Canada's law is struck down, it could cause a major schism in the LDS church and would likely mean a large contingent of disaffected Mormons wanting to immigrate to Canada. Membership in the LDS church is estimated at about 13 million worldwide with 6.7 million living in the United States.

Prior to his testimony, Walsh's academic credentials were questioned by lawyers for the attorneys general of B.C. and Canada. As part of his challenge, Craig Jones for B.C. read portions of two articles that appear on an Internet website under Walsh's name. One is entitled What is the Purpose of Plural Marriage? and the other is Why Did the Church Abandon Polygamy?
Under oath, Walsh said he didn't recall having written either, noting that he wrote "hundreds and hundreds" of articles 15 to 20 years ago after he first converted to Mormonism. Some were posted on Internet bulletin boards and have since been posted on other websites in full or in part. None of those, he said, reflect his scholarly work.

In the first one, Jones characterized the author as "a big cheerleader for polygamy". In it, Walsh writes, “There is no doubt in my mind that your attitude toward plural marriage will determine your place in eternity.” Those who choose 'plural' or 'celestial' marriage have a chance at the highest realm of heaven – the celestial kingdom – while those who don't may find themselves alone for all eternity.

Walsh went on to call polygamy “the natural order of things” that men would have multiple wives (polygyny) and women would not have multiple husbands (polyandry) because polyandry would not result in the greatest number of children.

“When a man is limited to only one wife, some women will have the choice of marrying a worldly, carnal man or remaining unwed,” Walsh writes. “If men were eternally limited to only one wife each, some women would never have the opportunity for exaltation.

“Plural marriage remedies these penalties by enabling every woman the opportunity to have a righteous husband, enjoy the blessings of motherhood and fill the measure of her creation.”

Under questioning, Walsh said Wednesday that as a general principle, he believes polygamy should be legal with "reasonable restrictions" as long as it is between consenting adults. He also said that he believes it's unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would today uphold that country's anti-polygamy law as it did in the Reynolds case, which resulted in the mainstream Mormon church renouncing polygamy in 1890.

The U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity to hear a constitutional challenge to its law in 2007, but the justices declined to hear it.

1 comment:

Seth R. said...

I would be very, very interested in where exactly Mr. Walsh got his figures of 50-60% of Mormons either being OK with polygamy or desiring a return of it (he was a little vague on which claim he was making).

I'm a member of the LDS Church and I have no particular problem with polygamy per se (though I take the view that it should be equally available to men AND women if practiced). But my definite sense after 35 years in this church is that I am in a distinct minority. The majority of members of the LDS Church do not seem to much like the notion of polygamy and even fewer want to see it come back.

Even if Walsh is including spinoff groups like the FLDS and Allred factions (both of whom practice polygamy) in his survey of "Mormons", you'd think they would be offset by the RLDS Church (now simply known as the Community of Christ) which is decidedly anti-polygamy.

In short, I find Walsh's numbers highly suspect.