Guest Post: Response to ?How Do You Rebuild Your Life After Leaving a Polygamous Sect??

By January 30, 2018

This post comes from Cristina Rosetti, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside and is a Mormon Studies Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah. Her dissertation examines spiritualism and fundamentalist Mormonism.

As new charges and depositions against Warren Jeffs surface, the FLDS is once again in the journalistic spotlight. This even includes a Buzzfeed article by Anne Helen Petersen who captured the way former members of the FLDS are returning to Short Creek (referred to as the ?Crick? by residents and frequent visitors alike), to rebuild a community that was left in ruin following the capture of Jeffs. [i] By any measure, they are succeeding. These are stories matter because they are often missing from work on Mormon fundamentalism. But, there are still other narratives and methods of story-telling that remain absent.

Most people, Mormon or otherwise, who read popular writings on fundamentalism are not aware of how we got here. To be fair, capturing the complex history of fundamentalism requires more space than many journalists are afforded (try writing the entirety of LDS history in one essay, even long-form). Writing on Mormonism is so centrally focused on an unbroken Priesthood lineage that began with Joseph Smith and ends with the current President of the LDS Church that other histories are left behind. The powerful testimonies from members of the Council of Friends, the compelling writings of Joseph Musser, and the lives of current fundamentalist leaders and Prophets are absent. These absences create a void in Mormon history that leave room for spectacle and causes outsiders to wonder how people like Warren Jeffs happened. It also leaves people assuming that all fundamentalists adhere to the same beliefs and practices.

One of the greatest challenges of journalism and ethnographic work is writing about people in a way that forces readers to turn inward and evaluate their own biases. So often, writing about Mormon fundamentalism is singularly focused on things perceived as strange or dangerous, to the detriment of powerful stories of faith and perseverance. When I tell people I?m currently writing about a fundamentalist group, most people jump to pastel dresses, waved hair, and images of Jeffs shackled in a courthouse. They forget that, with hundreds of different groups and Priesthood lineages, Mormon fundamentalism is bigger and more encompassing than we can imagine. Just in the Crick, members of multiple fundamentalist groups have come together to support the growing effort toward revitalization. This includes ex-FLDS, members of Centennial Park, independent fundamentalists, and others. Each has their own history in need of integration into the larger discussion on Mormonism.

As an ethnographer who spends time with fundamentalists from several groups, I am attuned to the concern of things appearing unnecessarily strange. For a place like the Crick, this concern is particularly real. In an effort to dispel preconceived ideas and the inclination toward spectacle, I often tell people to visit the Crick; this includes volunteering alongside members of the community, purchasing items at the Dairy Story and local restaurants (Berry Knoll has the best pizza), or donating to organizations run by former members of the FLDS.

For scholars of Mormonism, the history and contemporary experience of fundamentalists is an essential part of the broader story of Mormonism. This includes allowing members of these communities to tell their own stories and share their diverse experiences in their own voice. Without this, a full picture of the Mormon Restoration will remain out of reach. [ii]

Hilldale is my favorite city in Utah. The first time I visited the Crick, I was inspired by its rich history, resiliency, and the best iced coffee of my life, all of this with the red rock of Zion as a backdrop. [iii] If you want to understand the history of Mormonism and the current state of this community, go to the Crick. It has the most incredible slide in the entire state.

[i] https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/ex-flds-new-chapter?utm_term=.kaDRE0vwL#.jdM8MLBl6

[ii] Unfortunately, for research surrounding the FLDS, this precludes the experiences of active members who are unable to speak with outsiders.

[iii] The best iced coffee used to be found at the Merry Wives Café. This establishment recently shut down and reopened as Mama Cecil?s Barista and Café. You should still go.

Article filed under Reflective Posts Responses


Comments

  1. It is interesting how history is not just facts about the past, it is really an interpretive art and a tool used to establish the legitimacy of power structures in the present. You mentioned that LDS history focuses on the unbroken line of authority. The interesting question is why? why is this the narrative the LDS church focuses on? I think the answer is right here: because there are many legitimate claimants for the authority of Mormonism, and nearly every LDS movement church group or even independent family seems to have an unbroken and direct line of authority to Joseph Smith and founding of Mormonism. Therefore the LDS church chooses to focus its history on creating a narrative that shores up its own legitimacy in the sea of other potential claimants.

    Comment by Benjamin Shaffer — January 30, 2018 @ 10:56 am

  2. It seems that the statement that “nearly every LDS movement church group or even independent family seems to have an unbroken and direct line of authority to Joseph Smith” may overstate what has really happened.

    Steve Shield’s research (Divergent Paths) shows that many break-away groups do not care about a priesthood line or they claim their own authority directly from the heavens.

    The primary lines that fit Shaffer’s descriptions come through Lorin C. Woolley and A. Dayer LeBaron with Woolley being the most prominent. Interestingly, Woolley followers have published very little to help inquirers understand his teachings and the details of his claims to special ordinations that ostensibly complete “a direct line of authority to Joseph Smith.”

    It seems undeniable that the LDS Church has provided much more transparency regarding its”narrative that shores up its own legitimacy.” It would be great for the other “legitimate claimants” Shaffer references to do the same.

    Comment by Brian Hales — January 31, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

  3. This is precisely why fundamentalist groups need to be brought into the conversation. It is true that many groups have not published much about their teachings and claims to authority. But, I don’t think a lack of publication is indicative of a lack of authoritative claim. It is for this reason that my work focuses on ethnographic methods and oral histories. Mormon Studies remains so focused on historical methods that accounts from living people are not taken as seriously. I am hopeful that this will begin to change as new methodologies become incorporated into the field.

    Comment by Cristina Rosetti — February 1, 2018 @ 4:57 pm


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