Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dr. John Walsh - Mormon Scholar

John Fraser wrote in The Province today:

It would be an "abuse of power" if a woman was forced into a plural marriage, a Mormon scholar told a B.C. court Wednesday, as the case testing Canada's law against polygamy resumed following a three-week break.

Dr. John Walsh, a witness called by a lawyer representing fundamentalist Mormons, testified that Mormon theology decrees that people not be forced into polygamy and that "God would not recognize" the marriage if a woman was forced into such a situation.  "It would be an abuse of power and a deviation from Mormon standards," he said.

Walsh admitted his comments were restricted to the theological doctrines of Mormonism, and did not necessarily reflect what is actually happening in communities that practise the religion.

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman has been tasked with deciding whether Canada's anti-polygamy law is constitutional.  The issue was referred to the court after two leaders in the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful, B.C., — Winston Blackmore and James Oler — had polygamy charges against them stayed in 2009.

Walsh testified Wednesday that there is no dogmatic statement in the Mormon religion on the age of marriage for women and men.  He admitted under cross-examination he had heard of a girl marrying at the age of 13, but insisted that was a "deviation" and that most Mormons would frown on marriage at such a young age.

Walsh — who has a PhD in religious studies, but described himself as an "independent scholar" who does not work at a university — was allowed to testify as an expert in Mormon theology after his qualifications came under close scrutiny from several lawyers at the trial.


My Comment:  Dr. Walsh spoke knowledgeably about the schism in the Church of Latter Day Saints that took  place during the 1950's.  It was during this period that positions hardened among the pro- and anti-polygamy groups, so that the church was left with a majority in favour of rejecting  polygamy, and the remainder choosing to continue its practice.  After the schism, too, "placement" marriages (i.e. decisions made by the Prophet about who should marry whom)  were abandoned by mainstream LDS members.

This afternoon, two videos were offered as evidence.  In the first, Brent Jeffs, author of the book Lost Boy, described his life growing up with Warren Jeffs as his father.  He experienced many difficulties, was eventually thrown out of the FLDS, and is now married and a father outside the religion.  We heard him say that his daughter will make her own life choices, and have no decisions thrust on her from above.

The second witness was formerly a wife of Winston Blackmore - #10 until Blackmore married two of her sisters a year later.  She desperately wanted to have a real relationship with her husband, but he rejected her every attempt at emotional intimacy, saying he didn't have time.  After to giving birth to six children with Blackmore, she left the FLDS feeling deeply frustrated by the unfulfilling life life she was forced to live. At one point she told the court that Blackmore had more than 20 wives about 60 to 80 children before she left.  Despite her experience at Bountiful, she told us she believes that the law against polygamy should be struck down.

1 comment:

  1. Placement marriages were never a mainstream Mormon action. The LDS Church began to reject polygamy in 1890, and before 1910 was excommunicating anyone who entered into new polygamous marriages. In the 1930s the Church pro-actively rooted out sympathizers with continued polygamy through test oaths. It also applied pressure to Utah to inprison polygamists at that time. The division over polygamy happnes by 1910, not in the 1950s.