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There are at least 100,000 people still practising polygamy in US. Doris Hansen is the director of a Christian ministry that helps women to escape from polygamist groups.
"Mormon Fundamentalist" is a term used to describe a particular religious group or sect (or individual) who espouses the “Mormon scriptures and who follow the original teachings of Mormonism's early leaders, such as Joseph Smith.”
Mainstream Mormonism, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), abandoned polygamy in 1890, because of political pressure from the US Government. Today, the practice of polygamy in the LDS church is a reason to be excommunicated.
It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 Mormon Fundamentalists living in North America, most of them in the Intermountain western states (Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, Nevada), but many are located in other states across the nation, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
Those groups have a lot of power and influence, and has become quite famous in USA, due to reality shows like “Sister Wives”
Nowadays, there are still many victims of polygamist groups, who want to leave those polygamous relationships, but it is very difficult, especially for women with children, due to the secrecy and culture of many of the closed communities which practice it.
Evangelical Focus has talked with Doris Hansen, a former fundamentalist, and founder of “A Shield and Refuge Ministry”, a Christian ministry based in Utah, which aims “to bear the good news of Jesus, and to be an agent of freedom and restoration, for those seeking liberty from the physical, emotional, and spiritual bondage of polygamy and Mormon fundamentalism.”
Question. It may seem, now that we are in the 21st century, that polygamy is something from the past, but you know very well that it is very real, can you tell us about your own experience with polygamy?
Answer. I was born and raised in the Kingston polygamy group in Utah. My father had two wives, my mother was his second wife. Both of his wives had 8 children so I have 15 siblings. As I grew up in a polygamist home, family and group, I saw a lot of brainwashing, a lot of pain, I suffered abuse and was eager to get out of the group when I was old enough to run.
My mother suffered terribly loneliness, it was a hard work raising 8 children alone on a huge farm, and she was often desperately sad. But she believed God would bless her in eternity for suffering this way so she never flinched from her hard life but faced it head on. The first wife was very, very jealous. She was deeply hurt and madly jealous when her husband married my mother. Of course I wasn’t there, but the reports of her reaction at his second marriage was well known.
I saw old men taking young wives, men taking plural wives and not telling their first wife or other wives about it in advance. I saw physical abuse, and learned of a lot of sexual abuse going on in some of the polygamist families.
J. O. Kingston was the leader of the group when I was still there. Kingston had an idea that his blood was “royal blood” straight from Jesus Christ (who they believe was a polygamist). So Kingston devised the idea that all members of the polygamy group must have Kingston blood flowing through their veins, or they couldn’t go to heaven.
With that idea he moved the Kingston’s into the doctrine of incest. They were marrying Kingstons to Kingstons, half siblings to each other, uncles and nieces, cousins and so on. The last item I heard is that about 98% of those in the group have Kingston blood. There have been many incidents of birth defects. They keep it hidden and secret so none will ever know to what extent the defect have taken, but I understand they are now making some changes in their incestuous alliances.
Q. In you opinion, why do women accept to be in a "polygamous relationship"?, is it because of their religious education, or there is something more?
A. Strictly their religious education. The kind of polygamy lived in the Intermountain west is called “Mormon Fundamentalist polygamy”. They are holding onto the teachings of Joseph Smith who was the founder of Mormonism, or the LDS church. Joseph Smith decreed polygamy was God’s supreme command, that it was the greatest revelation he had ever received, and people could go to heaven only if they practised plural marriage. If they knew about it and didn’t obey it, they would be damned.
Other early Mormon “prophets” also taught the same things. The first seven president/prophets of the Mormon church were polygamists and refused to give it up despite USA laws against.
Growing up in a polygamy group/family, they are all taught from the cradle, that God requires polygamy so all are conditioned from the beginning to expect it and accept it. Whether its religious polygamy or not however, women generally don’t like it at all. There may be a scattered few here and there who want that kind of life, but very few.
Q. Most of the polygamous groups are in the Intermountain western states in the USA, but are there any in other countries?, in Europe?, do they also come from the the original LDS religion preached by Joseph Smith?
A. I am not aware how far and wide Mormon polygamy has reached. I have heard of a few pockets of Mormon polygamists in Australia and in England but I have very little concrete information. There are probably others, but I can’t say I know where they would be. However both Canada and Mexico have many polygamists that adhere to the Mormon polygamy doctrine.
Q. After you own experience with polygamy, you founded Shield and Refuge Ministry, why did you found it, and what do you do?
A. I founded Shield and Refuge Ministry to help people who want to escape from polygamy groups, to have a safe exit and a safe place to go out of reach of their pursuers. It is a very frightening thing to run away from family, heritage, and everything else they’ve ever known. It takes courage and they need, not only to feel safe, but to be safe - so we provide them with what they need to, get on their feet, get employment or education etc.
We also supply spiritual guidance especially regarding God’s truth about polygamy. It is and was never God’s idea or command for women to submit to a life in polygamy, bearing huge numbers of children and absolute subservience to the male.
We have a web-site: www.shieldandrefuge.org and have been contacted for help from there. We have been contacted by word of mouth and from publicity.
Q. In the US, there is a very famous reality show about a polygamous family, and there was also a very successful HBO series about polygamy. what is you opinion about that?, do polygamous groups have power and influence?, have you been in danger in Shield and Refuge Ministry for helping women to get out of polygamy?
A. There have been 2 or 3 times that I was a bit nervous about my own safety when I was helping a particular woman escape. But nothing that was obvious and nothing has happened. I have received some odd mail or emails, with veiled threats, but again nothing has come of them.
The reality shows are not reality in any sense of the term. They do not reflect true day-to-day life in any Mormon polygamy group. These shows were hatched from an agenda that some polygamists have had for a very long time. And that is to de-criminalize polygamy in the courts. They show polygamy as merely an adult choice with happy, well-adjusted families - but that isn’t real. Their agenda includes presenting the public with the idea that polygamy is just another valid, alternative lifestyle that should be legal and not hidden.
Getting behind the scenes of “Sister Wives” would show the real story. I have spoken with different people who are relatives, very close relatives of the family. They report that what we see on the screen is not what is really happening in their off camera lives and attitudes. I’ve seen polygamy in action. A normal woman is very jealous of other women in the love life of her husband. It’s a natural reaction. And truth to tell, if Joseph Smith had not commanded polygamy, none of them would be living it today.
The polygamists have a lot of power, nfluence and money. The three top groups are the FLDS (about 7500 to 10,000 members), the AUB (Apostolic United Brethren having about 7,000 to 10,000 members) also called the Allred Group where the Sister Wives are from, and the Kingston Group (with from 5,000 to 7,500 members), which is the group I was in. There are tens of thousands of independent polygamists who have no group affiliation.
The monetary value of each of those groups is impossible to guess. I’ve heard that the Kingston group are worth from $500 million to over a Billion dollars.
These three groups own many, many businesses, and most of their employment costs are relatively small because they use the members of their group and pay relatively low wages. There is obscenely little political interest in helping the abuses and the illegal activities of Mormon polygamists, that many people have charged, without proof, that there must be political favouritism or pay-offs going on to have so many politicians turn their heads from so much corruption and abuse.
Q. One of your most recent projects is The Hagar Home, tell us about it.
A. We are asking God for a Safehouse for escaping polygamists, a large facility where we can invite fleeing polygamists to run to for safety and confidentiality. A place for them to be able to stay either long-term or short-term while we help them in the various ways that each individual person or family will need help.
We call it the Hagar Home because in Genesis we read about Abraham taking Sarai’s maid servant Hagar to become the mother of their promised child. The whole story reflects the pain of polygamy in families. But God took care of Hagar, He met her in the desert after she ran, He comforted her, encouraged her, and provided for her. We want escaping polygamists to know that God sees and cares for every person no matter how insignificant or hopeless they may think their situation is.
Q. Shield and Refuge Ministry is a Christian ministry, what God has to say about polygamy?
A. God has forbidden polygamy. His first model for marriage was monogamy when He united Adam and Eve “The two shall become one...” Jesus confirmed the precise wording when He was here so he also put his support behind monogamy.
Deuteronomy 17:17 God commanded the Kings of Israel not to multiply wives unto themselves. The people would see their leaders as their example. Strangely it was the Kings who most frequently practiced polygamy, they disobeyed God in this respect. And especially Solomon did, with 700 wives and 300 concubines.
In 1 Corinthians 7:2 God lays down monogamy as the New Testament way, “each man should have his own wife, each woman should have her own husband.” And in Timothy and Titus, the leaders of the churches were to have only one wife.
Marriage is a model, a “type” of Jesus’ relationship to believers, and Jesus has only one Church (one bride). It Is very clear that although polygamy was culturally okay in the Old Testament times, it wasn’t okay or commanded by God.
Q. What can we do as Christians to help the victims of the polygamy?, what can we do to help you in Shield and Refuge Ministry?
A. Prayers are very important. We appreciate prayers for polygamists who want to get out and seek the truth. So many run from polygamy and also run from their polygamist ‘god’. They hated their religion, so they distrust all religion. Please pray God would draw polygamists to Him, and that He will use us to mentor them not only in His word, but also as they adjust to the real world.
Q. Is there anything else you want to add?
A. God blessed us with a television show which we began in June of 2008. It was called Polygamy, What Love Is This? We broadcast the show for 7 years until the TV station was sold. We have since moved to internet broadcasting so that our message about polygamy, God, Jesus and salvation could still be seen and heard. We tape and release new shows every week. Our website gives full information on how to access all our previous programs as well as our newest broadcasts.