What if Your Social Construction of Reality Is Not Average?
Life is full of diversity and surprises. Not every socialization experience is normal, typical, or otherwise universally identical. A few groups of religious extremists were exposed in the manner in which they socialized their children. Once it hit the national news, many were shocked by it.
Imagine a commune where 13-15 year old girls are married to men over twice their age, where 15-16 year old boys are kicked out, and where the average man has 3-6 wives. Who was the group? The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) which is a splinter group from the Mormons that has a history dating back to the 1890’s after Mormons stopped the practice of polygamy. The FLDS were originally excommunicated from the Mormon Church (officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), placing the word “Fundamentalist” in front of the Mormon Church’s name. Much of the FLDS is a mimicry of the Mormon Church’s practices during the mid-1800’s. There are tens of Mormon splinter groups, most of which have splintered over polygamy or claims to original priesthood authority. The Mormon Church has made concerted efforts to distance themselves from these splinter groups and their extreme behaviors.
I have a close personal friend who left a group formerly affiliated with the FLDS sect. They do not hold the current leader in a very high regard. Warren Jeffs is the FLDS leader in the news today. He followed in the role of his late father, Rulon Jeffs. Their version of polygamy and isolated communal living is open knowledge now. But that was not always the case. In 1890, polygamists who left the Mormon faith lived private lives, taught their own children, and created a sub-culture that was different, but rarely at odds with the main-stream culture.
The Short Creek raid of 1953 was a major turning point for American polygamists. The federal and state law enforcement agencies raided Short Creek, Utah taking custody of children and putting husbands in Jail. After the mothers were shown by national media as being martyr-like, all charges were dropped and the children were returned to their homes. Short Creek eventually became known as Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona (the current head quarters of FLDS members church; see Carter, M. Associated Press, 1998 at http://www.skeptictank.org/mormnut2.htm ). This raid proved to be the precipitating event in the eventual ultra-seclusion of the FLDS members. Most Americans are very leery of secretive actions by groups of people.
Because of an inability among FLDS members to agree upon the next prophet, they split into two groups. By 1968 Rulon Jeff’s (Warren’s father) became the self-declared and agreed upon FLDS prophet. At the time Rulon taught a strong anti-black theology that persists today. The FLDS group is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Laws Center (http://www.splcenter.org/index.jsp). Rulon Jeffs prophesied that he would live to be 350 years old and would turn the world over to God on his 350th birthday. The last decade of his life, Rulon became increasingly ill and died in 2002 (3 May, 2005, NPR.org at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4629320).
His son Warren became extremely controlling and dissolved the 7-member priesthood leadership council, assuming sole control and bringing changes that have led to most of the current clashes with authority faced by the FLDS. Warren became even more extreme and isolationistic in his leadership including: the excommunication of nearly hundreds of teenage “lost boys” (Leaders claimed the inherent need to keep a 3-1 female to male ratio and the boys were inconvenient (because a man can’t get to heaven without 3 wives); excommunication of men from their wives, children, and faith with their families being given to other men; the marriage of very young girls to men in their mid-life stages of adulthood; and ultimately, the building of a receptacle for God’s coming to earth in the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ) in Eldorado, Texas (about half of teen girls taken into custody in 2008 from the YFZ ranch were already mothers and polygamist wives: Google Search Warren Jeffs Images/Photos to see wedding photos of him with some very young brides). This extreme isolation of church members from the main stream of society has included no outside contact, no newspapers or TV, no Internet, and a deeply held belief that Jesus Christ would return and rescue them from a fallen world (see Messianic Movement in the Collective Behaviors chapter).
Jeffs went onto the FBI’s most wanted list. After fleeing custody for a series of months, Warren was arrested on 28 August, 2006 on I-15 North of Vegas. The official media report was that good law enforcement lead to his arrest (in fact the officer did practice remarkable calm and professionalism during the arrest). On a personal note, living in Utah for 20 plus years, I have interviewed a number of polygamist family members and have a few inside contacts today. Among them, the rumor is that Jeffs was “turned over to the justice of the land…and to God for all that he had done.” In other words, among themselves, polygamists discuss the high probability that law enforcement received inside information about Jeff’s whereabouts from Polygamists themselves.
In September, 2007 Jeffs was convicted on 2 counts of rape as an accomplice for the forced marriage of a 16 year old girl to her relative. More charges and civil suits are pending in Arizona and Utah for similar allegations and many of the FLDS Lost Boys, who were put onto the streets, depended on welfare and the criminal justice system for sustenance. (20 May, 2008 from http://www.apologeticsindex.org/f/f39ae.html).
In fact, Jeffs prophesized the end of the world 3 times (April 6, 2005 was the most recent; see 20 May, 2008 from http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl19.htm). On 27, March, 2007 Jeffs was recorded as admitting he was not a prophet and was not worthy of serving in that role since he’d had sex with his sister (taken 20 May, 2008 from http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=508&sid=1037331&comments=true). But his followers continue forward in much of the same path that their socialization leads them. They see themselves as members of an elite religious group, following God’s will. Even when their leaders fall. Such devotion is rare unless group members are raised in social isolation from TV, media, and interactions with “outsiders.” But for Rulon and Warren Jeffs this was accomplished by design not by accident.
Now that you’ve read a brief history of the YFZ, FLDS culture and socialization and recent history, contrast the average US child’s socialization into their life stages to an average FLDS Child’s. FLDS children might follow this course for females: infancy, preschool, home school years, teen marriage as second or third wife to middle-aged man, motherhood, 7-12 children by age 40, adulthood, middle adulthood, and finally later-life adulthood—with years as a widow since she might have been 16 when she married her 40 year-old husband and he would likely die 25 years later, leaving her a widow at 41. The life stages for males would be infancy, home school years, adolescences, and excommunication (from family, friends, church, and world taken from granted around age 15-16), abrupt dislocation from a familiar world-taken-for-granted into a strange, and at times dangerous, work, then who knows after that.