Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Wages Of Secrecy And Power

Power will be abused. Secrecy will be used to hurt people. The Body Of Christ should have nothing to do with either one.

I briefly mentioned the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in my piece about Jim Marcus's "black box" analogy/theory. I want to look at what that kind of abuse of power has to do with gender. The form of polygamy practiced by the FLDS isn't just wrong. It is misogynistic.

On one hand, arranged polygamy sounds like a heterosexual male fantasy. Of course, nobody fantasizes about being one of guys shunned by the community to improve the local sex ratio. But with even a cursory look at what we know about FLDS it is clear we are looking at something very different consensual adult group marriage, consensual polygamy or polyamory. This is a form of polygyny specifically designed to reinforce and perpetuate the power of a relatively small group of men. Even among the secretive Irish Travelers arranged marriages involve negotiations by both mothers and are reported to be called off when the bride or groom strongly objects. Neither is the case with the FLDS who seem to prefer to marry girls off while they are still too young to even understand what consent means.

In an extreme group like the FLDS it is easy to see that the male leadership, especially The Prophet at the very top of the organization, had too much power. A lot of this power was perpetuated through the same mechanisms that promote bad theology and sick relationships in more mundane churches. A cult of personality around any pastor or any body of belief that can't be questioned works essentially the same way as a cult leader saying middle aged men can marry 12 year old girls, so long as he blesses it.

In the FLDS as in so many other cases it takes the form of men extending their own privilege. When men define women's roles for them it is always to the benefit of the men and the detriment of the women. In mainstream churches it may be the division of labor or how couples are counseled when a marriage is in crisis. Everywhere it finds its way into sermons, sometimes subtlety in the choices of illustrations or jokes. Other times forcefully, emphasizing interpretations of scripture that establish male "headship." I'll never forget sitting through a sermon where the pastor put forth his theory that Lee Harvey Oswald never would have shot President Kennedy if his mother had been a better woman.

I could go on and on. We have probably all had experiences, second hand or not, with churches that told women how to dress but left men to make their own decisions or taught that men could or should tell their wives how to dress. It's all power. It's all wrong. It's all just a matter of degrees from what the FLDS has been up to.

Secrets work the same way as well. Someone will benefit from the keeping of the secret and it will be somebody who is already in a position of power. Even large organizations like the mainstream LDS keep secrets of various types. If the LDS leadership can teach people to hold their tongues about standard temple ceremonies or sacred temple garments, things many thousands of other Mormons see and think about every day, what else can they teach you to keep quiet about?

And who will reap the benefits?

The solution is for people to have no power over each other. No coercion. No force. No fraud. No secrets. No abuse.

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