Tag Archives: polygamy

Mormons are Christians too

I am a big fan of the HBO series “Big Love”, but the fact of the matter is that it rarely shows what life is like for the average ‘Mormon’ family in America or around the world.

Led on by media depictions of fringe fundamentalists, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ has gotten a bad name in some circles.

The fact is that the vast majority of the followers of this particular strand of Christianity are regular folks, including many famous people. Donny and Marie Osmond, stars of their own 1970’s variety show as teens and now again thanks to recent appearances on the popular “Dancing With the Stars” program are part of perhaps the most famous American Mormon family.

Others who have either been raised in or converted to the faith include the man recently selected as the best 2nd baseman of the 2000’s, Jeff Kent, who may one day be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They also include the recent popular “American Idol’ runner-up David Archuleta. And child actor turned adult drama TV star Rick Schroeder converted to the church of which his wife has been a lifelong member.

Perhaps the most important and influential member of the church is former Massachusetts Governor and leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That importance comes from the fact of his legitimacy as a presidential candidate for a major political party.

During the 2008 election cycle, Romney ran a year-long campaign during which he won the Michigan and Nevada primaries among the 11 state primaries and caucuses that he won before dropping out in February of ’08.

There have been some who have criticized Romney’s faith as ‘fraud’ and wondered how, if he truly believes in the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) tenets as a man he can be taken seriously as a candidate. That is ridiculous on it’s face. It’s not like he is worshiping an alien mother ship. And his faith should certainly be no more an obstacle than was that of John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism in 1960 or any other Christian believer.

In running for the presidency and having his Catholicism brought up, Kennedy responded famously: “..if the time should ever come when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office.” Mitt Romney has taken up that challenge and said that he would “no more take orders from Salt Lake City than Kennedy would from Rome.”

That should be the end of that story, unless of course you find something mainstream about Catholicism and crazy about the LDS faith. So what do you know about ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’? It’s time to take a look at some of the key elements of that faith system, explore the legends and the fringe elements, and give you a more realistic picture than what you might have currently in mind.

Let’s start with the word ‘Mormon’ itself, which is generally accepted to mean “more good” and which was described that way first by either Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS movement, or another early church leader. W.W. Phelps. It is also the name of the narrator of the ‘Book of Mormon’, the Bible-esque sacred text of the church first published by Smith in 1830.

The Book of Mormon is widely regarded within the church as not just sacred scripture, but also as a history of God’s relationship with His church in the Americas going back over a 1,000 year period. Smith claims that he received the book from an angel in 1827. It was written on what were called ‘golden plates’, the originals of which Smith had to return to the angel after translation into English.

The main theme of both the book and the faith is described in it’s title page: “convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The book teaches at one point that after his resurrection, Jesus visited some of the early inhabitants of the Americas.

It goes on to teach that Jesus is: “God himself who shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people, being the Father and the Son — the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son — and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”

Along with solid Christian themes, the book delves into political and philosophical areas, especially in regards to the idea of American exceptionalism. It calls America a “land of promise“, and perhaps in what could be a warning to our current time it teaches that “any righteous society possessing the land would be protected, whereas if they became wicked they would be destroyed and replaced with a more righteous civilization.”

Joseph Smith himself was born in Vermont in 1805. In 1823 he claims to have been visited by the angel ‘Moroni’ who was the guardian of and who first revealed the ‘golden plates’ to Smith, and who eventually allowed Smith to dig them up and translate them. The translation was completed in 1830, and the Book of Mormon was then first published and the ‘Church of Christ’ was first formed.

The church in it’s earliest days under Smith’s leadership grew through periods of drama and scandal spreading from New York through to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois among other stops.

Many of it’s early leaders who would go on to become legendary figures, such as Brigham Young, came to the church in these years. It was in Illinois in 1844 that Smith met his end, assassinated by an anti-Mormon group inspired in part by his embracing and teaching of polygamy.

One idea that had triggered much hatred towards the Mormons was this introduction of ‘the Principle’ of plural marriage, popularly known as the practice of polygamy. Smith claimed to be inspired to the practice himself, and it is thus still practiced today by fundamentalist Mormons who believe that they should practice the faith in the way that Smith did.

The LDS church officially banned polygamy in 1890 after it was officially declared illegal, and any church member now caught practicing it is excommunicated.

While it is these fundamentalist sects that draw much attention from the government and the sensationalist headline-seeking news media, and while it also is the main story line of “Big Love”, this relatively small segment does not represent mainstream modern day LDS beliefs.

The bottom line is that the LDS church is a Christian church, it has over 13 million members worldwide, is the 2nd-fastest growing church in America, it believes in the divinity of and teachings of Christ, and is as ‘mainstream’ as any other Christian faith.

As most everyone who follows this little blog of mine knows, I am a Catholic through and through, and I would enthusiastically encourage every single member of the LDS church, any other Christian church, and any other faith system at all to closely explore and strongly consider joining what I believe to be God’s one true church.

Catholicism is where I believe the best interpretations of his Word can be found. But for all it’s critics out there, the fact of the matter on the LDS church is that Mormons are Christians too.

TV Watch: Big Love

Embed from Getty Images

The cast leads ready for another season of HBO’s “Big Love”

The 3rd season of the outstanding HBO drama ‘Big Love’ from Executive Producer Tom Hanks kicks off tomorrow (Sunday) night at 9pm. For those who have access to a service, such as Comcast’s OnDemand product, which allows you to catch up on the first two seasons, now is the time to do so with the interesting and well-acted story line.

The basic premise of “Big Love” is a polygamist Utah family trying to emerge from the shadowy cult-like past and into mainstream society.

As a Catholic, there is no way that I will ever advocate the family lifestyle of the featured Henderson clan. As a Christian, however, there is much to take from their struggles.

There is a basic recognition, love, and respect for God here, albeit with a number of misguided principles and interpretations inherent in some of Mormon teaching and in the polygamist community in particular. ”

Big Love” also draws strength from its extremely talented cast who you will mostly know from their motion picture work.

The show is set in the suburban town of Sandy, Utah. Family head Bill Henderson, played by veteran actor Bill Paxton, was born and raised in a polygamist cult community, but escaped as a teenager and eventually blended into normal society. After establishing himself with a normal family, fate brought drastic change to the Henderson clan.

In the show, he has set up three single homes in a row. From the outside they appear to be three different families. But a shared rear yard shows the true story. In each home lives one of Bill’s three wives, and with each wife lives the children that they have conceived with him.

His first wife, Barb, is literally known within the setup as ‘First Wife’, and is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn. At one time in the past, Barb and Bill had a ‘normal’ one-on-one marriage, had three children, and belonged to a mainstream Mormon church. Then one day, Barb became extremely ill and was near death.

A young woman from Bill’s former community named Nikki, played by Chloe Sevigny, came to live with the family and help with Barb’s care. It was the beginning of the end for the Henderson’s normalcy.

Largely thanks to Nikki’s help, Barb recovered. But a relationship had formed between Barb, Bill and Nikki, and Bill became ‘inspired’ to return to practicing what is known as the ‘Principle’ of a polygamist lifestyle.

In this lifestyle men are permitted to take any number of wives as they are inspired to and to have children with these women, as long as they can afford to properly support this expanded family. They also are responsible for bringing this family up in God’s teachings.

After a period of struggle with this idea, Barb decided to stay with Bill and enter the lifestyle, and they took in Nikki as a 2nd wife. This eventually spread to a 3rd wife, the very young and perky Margene, played by Ginnifer Goodwin. This three-wife arrangement is in place as the series began.

The show covers the challenges of family life in such an arrangement. From within, the three wives have the challenge of sharing time with Bill, and sharing a life with one another as ‘sister wives’.

There is also an issue within Bill’s first family in that the oldest daughter Sarah, played by Amanda Seyfried, is not totally on board with the whole polygamy setup.

Further stress is put on the family by their ties to the polygamist cult community of Juniper Creek. With both Bill and Nikki having been born and raised there, and still having family ties there, the community insinuates itself into the family constantly, never in a postive way.

Juniper Creek is led by Nikki’s father, Roman Grant, who is played by Harry Dean Stanton, set as Bill’s main antagonist in the first two seasons.

Other co-starring turns come from young Douglas Smith as the Henderson’s eldest son Ben, and from veteran actors Grace Zabriskie, Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place, Brian Kerwin, Joel McKinnon Miller, and Tina Majorino, all of whom are familiar faces.

Bill Henderson supports his family with a chain of Home Depot-like hardware stores, and is attempting to expand into the gaming industry, with the business dealings adding intrigue and challenges to the family.

And now adding further strain is a relationship that he has entered into with a woman named Ana, played by Branka Katic, who he may have designs on making wife #4, something that at least two of his current wives will not welcome easily.

The acting is tremendous in this series, and there is a basic loving, redemptive family story here underneath all of the challenges of an extremely dysfunctional family. I highly recommend ‘Big Love’, a quirky but ultimately satisfying family drama, for adults with a discerning mind and heart.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the regular “TV Watch” series of articles, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on that below ‘Tag’