June 03, 2008

For the greater good?

The Washington Post reports that FLDS children taken into protective custody by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are finally going home: Polygamous Sect's Children Begin to Return to Parents. The article relates a couple of very important additional details. For starters, Willie Jessop, one of the Church Elders, has stated flat out that underage girls will no longer be forced to marry older men. Keep in mind, no one has yet proven decisively that the group actually practiced forced marriage, only that from time to time younger women did indeed marry older men under the guidance of either the Elders or their "prophet", Warren Jeffs. Secondly, and much more importantly to my thinking, during their time away from the group's adults these kids not only organized themselves into daily prayer groups, they "excommunicated" a pair of rowdy 5 year-old boys.

It is easy to look at this group and label them a "cult". It is even easier to create wild headlines about the group's fondness for polygamy and the many marriages between older men and younger women. I think it is important to keep in mind, however, that these people have been living in a manner they themselves have chosen and hold to be sacred. It is arrogant in the extreme to assume that because their religion has led them to adopt social customs not found in mainstream America those customs are automatically evil or degrading of the members.

No one, or at least no one sane, will remain in a relationship that does not bring them some degree of benefit. Obviously, some members have left the group. They have even written books about their lives inside the group and the reasons they left. So it is naive in the extreme to assume that Warren Jeffs, the Church Elders, or anyone else has somehow "brainwashed" the members, forcing them to stay against their will.

In the future, more members will no doubt leave. Now that they have been exposed to the outside world, probably some of the children will grow up and leave as well. That should not be construed to mean that the people who remain in the group are somehow lessened by their choice. Their continued participation in the group will bring them a kind of satisfaction that the modern world cannot provide. This inability of the modern world to speak to the spiritual and emotional needs of sane, mature, intelligent adults is a very real problem that needs to be addressed by all of us.

Options, choices, freedom of lifestyle are all supposed to be highly valued attributes of the modern world. Homosexuality, transgenderism, even vampirism have all been embraced as acceptable modern lifestyles. If we can accept vampires and transgendered seven year-olds, why can we not accept the polygamist practices of a group of adults who only wish to be left alone and allowed to follow their chosen lifestyle?