Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Polys in Court - week 5 - Dr. W. John Walsh's testimony

From transcripts of January 5, 2011.

Dr. W. John Walsh was called to the stand by the lawyer for the FLDS Church.

Dr. Walsh holds a PhD in religious studies from the University of Wales. He also holds a Bachelor of Science (Business) from New York State University, an MBA from Brigham Young University, and a Masters of Science and Jewish Studies from Spartus Institute of Religious Studies. He also completed seminary training with the LDS church. His PhD dissertation was on the essential theology of Joseph Smith who was the first Mormon prophet and founder of the church. He did a post doctoral study at St Mary’s Seminary in the University of St Thomas where he sat in with the seminarians training for Roman Catholic Priesthood.
Dr. Walsh retired from a career in corporate business (Ford Motor Co. and others)to pursue full-time religious studies. He currently is working on a book on Mormon mysticism and working as an independent scholar. He is an expert witness and media consultant on background information about Mormonism.

“I believe, as a general principle subject to reasonable restriction, if a woman wants to live in a house with five men or a man wants to live in a house with five women, as long as they are consenting adults, it's not the business of the government...That’s my personal feeling.”

Dr. Walsh’s testimony was with regards to a report he prepared for this court case and the points highlighted are as follows:

1.FLDS and LDS common heritage:
LDS – referring to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quartered in Salt Lake Utah.
- today the FLDS and LDS share about 95 a percent on theology and about 75 percent common practice.
Both groups were part of the same group prior to a division and they enjoyed 100 per cent common theology then. There has been a slight evolution in theology since and I used 95% as an estimate because the variation is very slight. It is mainly in the area of priesthood institutional type issues. In common practice is it more noticeable and readily apparent in several areas.
Polygamy - the FLDS and other Mormon fundamentalists have maintained polygamist relations while the LDS no longer practices polygamy.

Communal living - the FLDS live in the kind of a manifestation of the united order principle taught by Joseph Smith the LDS teach the principle of the law but do not actually practice it as a community at the present time

Dress - the LDS maintain somewhat mainstream dress standards they blend in more easily with society even though they also have standards of modesty but the FLDS have a more rigid modesty standard and they wear clothes that obvious make them stand out more because they are trying to keep more of their body parts covered from other's views
Theological Texts - both churches accept the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon purports to be a translation made by Joseph Smith of an ancient text Smith found recorded on golden plates. It’s formatted as a collection of books like the Bible and written in a similar scriptural language. The Doctrine & Covenants is a collection of revelations received by Joseph Smith.
The Pearl of Great Price was originally put together for Mormons living in England who did not have access to LDS literature and it contains the articles of faith which was an excerpt of a letter that Joseph Smith wrote that describes the basic beliefs of Mormons and excerpts from the Joseph Smith history, and several scriptural excerpts.

1890 Manifesto – President Woodrough of the LDS church formally announced the cessation of polygamy as a practice in the LDS church. The church made a practical realization they would not be able to continue as a community under the pressure they were receiving from the American Federal Government and therefore they decided that they would cease the practice of
polygamy due to this pressure. At that time they maintained that they still believed in the
principle of polygamy. This position has officially never changed but informally the
millions of members of the LDS church are divided into those two camps. One group would like the return of polygamy and I believe that's a holy principle that should be eternally practised. Another large group possibly each larger than the first group would like to see polygamy not returned they believe it's an archaic practice and so they would like it not to return.

1911 to 1920 The practice of polygamy had not entirely ceased and American Federal government came back to the LDS church and said that as there were still practicing Mormon polygamists and the agreement was not being honoured the sanctions would be reinstituted. There was new leadership in the LDS church mostly from the east who had not practiced polygamy and felt it was best left in the past. The LDS church had a new focus on international growth and embracing polygamy might cause some issues with international governments.

1920 to 1930 – LDS church began a program of purging the church of the problem and excommunicating of anyone in a polygamist relationship. This is what led to the division of the church and the formation of the FLDS and other groups as members who had been willing to go along with the public stance as long as they were left to privately practice it broke away to form loose associations. Some scholars estimate that there may be as many as 50,000 people in these groups with 10,000 of those in the FLDS.

Other fundamentalist groups – Dr. Walsh had interactions with the United Apostolic Brethern and a number of individual Mormon fundamentalists. He attended their worship services, read their literature and asked questions of the leaders and lay people about how they interpreted various common doctrines and what books and prophets they considered authoritative. He reviewed meeting minutes, personal journals and any other written materials available to observe how they were interpreting Mormon belief and practice. He had the same type of interactions with the FLDS.

2. Civil marriage versus celestial marriage – FLDS view civil marriage as a relationship sponsored by government with rights, responsibilities and privileges established by the government that sanctions it. FLDS theology talks about a heavenly family linked in family chains that start at God and goes through all the generations of Adam and Eve to the current including pre-mortal spirits that have not yet been born. The purpose of celestial marriage is to bring every person in the faith community into that family chain because by being part of the family chain they are enabled to inherent the highest degree of glory in the kingdom of heaven. Celestial marriage gives them a place in the chain. The covenant of celestial marriage does not always imply a sexual relationship within the FLDS. An example would be where a widow did not have a family. FLDS believe that everyone is to be part of a family group so she might be sealed in a celestial marriage to a family who would take care of her until she passed away. FLDS don’t being in nursing homes or other people taking care of family members. She might be much older than the man to whom she is sealed and there would not be contemplation of a sexual aspect for her.
The law of placement/placement marriage – The nature and extent of the members’ participation in polygamy is not determined soley by the members themselves but through an arranged matchmaking system within the FLDS community under the authority of the President/ Prophet of the church or the head of the priesthood in the community or someone he had delegated with this authority. The vast majority of pair bonding that is done within fundamentalism are self-selection placement marriage is unique to the FLDS and not practiced prior to the split with the LDS. It began to be practiced in the mid 1950’s as a moved to bring the members of the community back from worldly ways to the basic spiritual values. It was implemented by leaders as a way to make marriage more spiritual if the selection was a prayerful selection by the Prophet.

3.Doctrine of Agency – differs from traditional concept that since God created human being from nothing and they have no inalienable rights of their own only those that God gives them and free will is bestowed upon them. Mormons believe that humans are co-eternal with God and have agency of their own that has always been with them and that is an inherent part of their nature and will not be taken away by God nor by other people. And it would be against the theology of the religion to take away someone's agency by either forcing them to enter polygamy or forcing them to do anything else. Forcing and coercion are directly contrary to the theology.

Cross-examination by a lawyer for the AG of BC:

With regards to doctrinal differences between the FLDS and LDS - Dr Walsh was asked if her knew of a collection of works of the FLDS leaders called “In Light and Truth” and compiled by Rulon Jeffs. Dr Walsh was familiar with it and said that it is not used in mainstream LDS religious instruction.

Dr Walsh indicated that he had testified in a court hearing in Texas where he indicated that he had never been to the Yearning for Zion ranch or spoken with any of the people who had been resident there.

He indicated that he was not familiar with any of the testimony file in this reference case but knew who Dr. Larry Beall was.

Description of the marriage ceremony – man and woman think they are representing Adam and Eve and their offering to God which is the practice that was laid out by Joseph Smith and noted in journals of FLDS members. The officiator at the marriage ceremony believes that the declarations of willingness are made in good faith and without duress according to the doctrine. Dr. Walsh indicated that he has not attended an FLDS marriage ceremony and observed this for himself.

No one should be forced into polygamy – Dr. Walsh confirmed that theologically a priesthood holder cannot seal a man and woman together if neither of them wants to be sealed as the act would not be recognized by God. It would be an abuse of power and a deviation from the normative standards.

Returning to the book, “In Light and Truth” – a exerpt was quoted which was attributed to Leroy S Johnson,the leader of the FLDS community from the 50s until late 70s, early 80s.
The quote discussed the responsibilities of men and women of the community and indicated that there were women who were set by good men and refused them. These women were to be cast out for their disobedience. Dr. Walsh confirmed that if a woman’s choice was to refuse marriage arranged for her, there would be spiritual consequences for that disobedience including being cast out from the community. The AG BC lawyer wondered if fear of being cast out might not effect a girl exercising her free will or agency with regards to a marriage arrangement. Dr. Walsh said that in every community there's a symbiotic relationship between the members of the community and what they accept and will not accept as behaviour. In the FLDS if either males or females are exhibiting behaviour that is not up to the community’s expectations, they can and sometimes are cast out. A refusal to accept a marriage arrangement is most often part of a pattern of disobedience that is not conducive to a harmonious community.

Women and self-determination and autonomy – FLDS accept the Bible and it teaches that women should submit themselves to their husbands and fathers. In the book In Light and Truth there is reference to training young wives to love God and their husbands or they will lose them. Dr. Walsh said that training is meant as in teaching. Husbands are responsible for making sure their wives and children have received the right teachings of the Lord and are following them. If the husbands fail in their duty they will face their own spiritual consequences.

Again referring to “In Light and Truth” and a excerpt attributed to Rulon Jeffs who was President and Prophet of the FLDS until he died about 9 or 10 years ago. In this excerpt the man is to be honoured as the head of the household and whether the woman feels he is worthy of her or not, he is her Lord and she is to keep that in mind and ensure happiness in her family. The AGBC wondered if this didn’t indicate forcing a relationship on the woman. Dr. Walsh said that both the husband and wife are instructed that their spouse may have imperfections but it is the job of both spouses as part of celestial marriage to do everything you can to help redeem to the other person. Accept him as your husband and work with him as the man he should be instead of maybe as a man he actually is.

Age of marriage – nothing in the LDS or FLDS doctrine prescribes a specific age of marriage according to Dr. Walsh. A member marries when the Prophet indicates it is time but there is a negotiation between the Elders, the parents and the child involved. The age at which a girl marries varies from family to family. Elders have stated varied opinions of what is a good age to marry from 18 yrs to 16 yrs to first menses.

In evidence from the case in Texas, the AGBC noted that 1 in 4 girls is married under age which would indicate something organized if not doctrine. Dr. Walsh said that this is one out of four girls within a very select community at the Eldorado Ranch in Texas. He said that if you looked at the 10,000 FLDS spread over the US and Canada, one out of four girls has not been married at those ages (12 – 15 yrs). He had no statistics to quote but from his reading of large amounts of literature, journals, personal histories and talking to people he confirmed that a marriage at the age of 12 would be a deviation from historical FLDS practice and most FLDS members would be shocked by it.

Cross-examination by lawyers for one of the interested parties revealed nothing further and centred on the age of marriage and whether there was any formal writings regarding the sanctioning of underage marriage. Dr. Walsh continued to say that while he’d heard some rumours of this occurring had no personal knowledge and had observed nothing in his reading to indicate this was formal doctrine.

1 comment:

  1. "Dr. Walsh confirmed that theologically a priesthood holder cannot seal a man and woman together if neither of them wants to be sealed".
    This is better than Saskatchewan province that forces unwilling persons to "become the spouse of a person who has a spouse" if only one of them wishes it! Polygamy is alive in Canada and it is state sanctioned.
    No-one argues that a province cannot force eligible-to-marry cohabitants to be declared spouses under family law. People do not agree that married cohabitants are eligible to take another legal spouse under provincial family law! Divorce MUST be undertaken before becoming eligible.(except in Saskatchewan Canada)