For example, the budding Christianity movement after the death and resurrection of Jesus around 33 A.D. spawned intense persecution, laying the foundation and reinforcing the tenuous strands of a new faith. Many religions can trace their early beginnings to persecution and martyrdom. Persecution always creates martyrs, whether by death or by mere suffering.The power of sacrifice of martyrs cannot be underestimated.
The Early LDS Church
The history of the LDS Church is a perfect example of the power of persecution to unite people, weed out non-believers and create isolation. The early Mormons were driven from their homes, had their property stolen, were scorned by society, and in some cases were brutally murdered. They were driven to a remote valley in Utah Territory prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad. It was an area renowned for its harsh environment and was almost completely cut off from civilization. This was essential, because the early Mormons sought isolation as a utopian ideal. This is the fundamental history of the religion on which polygamy was founded. The righteous are persecuted for their beliefs and therefore persecution is seen as a sign of righteousness and the rigorous following of God’s laws.
Yearning for Zion Ranch and the Media
Was it the objective of law enforcement concerning the removal of women and children on the YFZ ranch in Texas to provide this particular sect with persecution? That is exactly what will happen as a result of this raid.
The media has supplied us with stories from the YFZ ranch that swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, inflating facts with sensationalism. On one side there are stories of abuse and neglect of children, minors having sex with older men, women being controlled and manipulated by a patriarchal religion. As well as stories of outrageous abuse of the welfare system and a number of other crimes.
On the other end of the spectrum are photos of forlorn fathers occupying huge empty homes, and the faces of desperate mothers whose children were stripped from their arms by a cruel government. Cries from women of the YFZ ranch, as reported by a local newspaper, claiming that what has been done to them is on par with what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, illustrates this exaggerated belief of persecution. Out of their own mouths they call themselves sacrificial lambs for their cause.
Focusing on the Extremes
The media coverage of the raid on the YFZ ranch is neither helpful nor informative because it is too extreme. While all of it may be true, to show only the two extremes damages the possibilities for an open and working relationship between two opposing cultures. An open relationship is the only viable option for ending the violence and abuse that does occur in some polygamous families. While abuse does occur in polygamous families and groups, abuse occurs in any community, any religion and in any country across the globe and is not unique to polygamous peoples.
But what of the polygamous families whose only crime is living the single most important aspect of their religion? What of the polygamous families who are loving parents who are appalled at the notion that they are lumped with abusers and sexual offenders? To define all polygamists by abuse or by the mismanagement of power is a gross failure of communication and a misrepresentation of the truth.
1953 Raid on Short Creek
If history has anything to teach us it is that it will repeat itself until we learn its lessons. In 1953 Arizona law enforcement invaded the town of Short Creek (also known as Colorado City) and the end result accomplished two things. It reinforced the polygamists beliefs and strengthened the commitment to the preservation and practice of polygamy and it created deep resentment, fear and suspicion of law enforcement.
As a result of the 1953 raid, polygamy was forced deeper underground. In the years following the raid the whole event took on a deeply significant meaning. It was romanticized as a clash between the law of the land and the law of God. The members of the polygamous clans viewed the event as a necessary test of faith. Men served time in prison as martyrs. Children and mothers were eventually reunited but a terrible fear permeated every polygamous home. It was not unusual at this time for children in these families to have false names on their birth certificates or have no social security numbers and many of them simply did not exist on paper at all. During this time, polygamy flourished underground as did abuse of all kinds as well as other crimes. The raid of 1953 on Short Creek Arizona was nothing if not a demarcation between the outside world and the polygamist communities, making them less subject in their own minds, to the laws of the land.
Consider this: Polygamy has been practiced in secret and developed an underground following for over a hundred years.
This need for secrecy is a two edged sword. While it serves to protect the religious beliefs and survival of plural marriage it also protects violators, abusers and sexual predators within polygamy. Under the cloak of secrecy, personal accountability is too easily dismissed. This secrecy and covertness breeds fear that influences the entire environment toward the negative and creates a deep distrust and suspicion of outsiders. As a result of decades of secrecy, polygamous groups no longer encourage diversity and independent thought. And they disregard the larger community in which they have thrived.
How does law enforcement resolve this dilemma? The objective should be to seek to understand fundamentalist’s beliefs and their values. The outside world must begin to establish a working relationship based upon respect of differences and development of similarities so that the violators and abusers within polygamy will be exposed. Once the offenders lose their sanctuary and protection, members within the polygamous culture can feel safe to report crimes without fear of losing their families, their homes or inciting SWAT teams to beat down their doors.
By removing what is perceived as persecution and holding those responsible accountable for their actions, these communities could be allowed the freedom to evolve and grow without the constant fear of destruction by an outside force. With cooperation and understanding these communities can be exposed and brought out of secrecy and into the light, where they can be accepted as accountable members of society.
This article was originally written in April of 2008 shortly after Texas law enforcement raided the FLDS compound known as Yearning for Zion or YFZ ranch in Eldorado, Texas removing over 400 women and children. Texas courts eventually returned the children to their families stating that there was not enough evidence of abuse to allow the forced removal of the children. Many families have returned to the YFZ ranch. But the raid produced evidence to indict twelve men on a variety of sex charges.