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Heartbreak

June 25, 2014

 

lois_fire

It’s been a rough week for me re: my fellow Mormon sisters. If you’re unfamiliar with what has happened, and even if you know all about it, the best articulation of the issue that I have read is this interview with David F. Holland, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School. I would put that link in blinking lights if I knew how to write the code. Note: it’s pretty academic but very good.

Anyway, the combined effect of the news of Kate Kelly’s disciplinary notice and excommunication on Monday has made much of my Internet experience as noisy and frightening as if someone had yelled “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and it has made my heart as sad as would a death in my neighborhood, even though I personally have not been a supporter of Ordain Women. I think that’s true of many of us, regardless of to what extent we agree or disagree with OW. And just as it would be very difficult to process one’s feelings about a death while running to a fire escape, this combination of frenzy and pain hasn’t always brought out the best in people. That hasn’t been the only side to it, though. While I don’t agree with OW in many respects, I am so grateful for the opportunity they have provided to think more carefully about women in the church. I’ve loved the conversations I’ve had with colleagues, friends, family, and leaders on this topic, and for the most part, those discussions have redoubled commitments and hope for improvements, fostered patience in the process, and fed a desire to comfort those who are struggling.

On top of that, while all this has been happening in real time, I’ve been going back in time with my seminar reading, getting to know more about polygamy in the early LDS Church.

The stories vary, as you’d expect, but mostly it makes my heart break for these people, trying to do what they think is right, at times fighting their darkest feelings in the process. Our reading for today included Annie Clark Tanner’s autobiography, A Mormon Mother. (This link to a BYU Studies review of the book gives a good summary and overview as well.)

a mormon mother

The book is a retrospective and seems to be, at least partly, Annie’s attempt to explain to her ten children and to her grandchildren how she ended up making the choices and living the life that she did, including as a plural wife. Most of her children were born after the 1890 Manifesto in which the LDS church banned the practice of polygamy. In this hindsight, Tanner describes how she grew up as the daughter of a second wife and tried to be a good and obedient girl. Consequently she supported plural marriage, and she held this attitude when she went to Brigham Young Academy (the forerunner to BYU) in 1882-83. While there Joseph Marion Tanner, a visiting professor, took an interest in her, even though the academy president, Karl G. Maeser, said, “He knows that it is contrary to my wishes that such things should occur at this school” (44).

In the vein of explanation Annie asserted, perhaps too comprehensively, that “women in polygamy were converted to the idea of the superiority of men.” She went on to say, “All men in the Mormon Church held the Priesthood which was not conferred on women. This fact always bothered me a little…” (55). Reading this passage this week…sigh. (And again, see the interview with David Holland linked above to touch on both sides.)

The account told of Annie’s interactions with Mr. Tanner’s first wife.

The next morning she and I went for a buggy ride, which was the customary way to entertain friends in the country. Mrs. Tanner, having observed that I had been comparatively indifferent to her husband, brought up the subject of polygamy. I told her that without her approval, our affair was at an end. “Why,” she answered, “don’t you love him?”

“Independent of that,” I replied, “without your approval, our interest in each other will go no farther.”

She then related her father’s and mother’s miserable experience in the principle, and excused herself for the aversion she felt for it, but concluded, “I have no children although I have been married five years. I can’t deprive Marion of a family, and of all the girls I know, you are my choice” (57).

Annie married Mr. Tanner, but their marriage struggled from the beginning. Because of U.S. government pressures against polygamy, they spent their wedding night apart, and, back in her family’s home that night, she recalled looking at her simple glass of milk and bread as her wedding supper alone.

I think this is enough of a glimpse to illustrate why it was heartbreaking reading, but for me it also gave me admiration for Annie and even some sympathy for Mr. Tanner. To escape the persecutions against polygamists, he fled to Canada. Many others did as well, and many more went to Mexico.

 

Today’s reading

Annie Clark Tanner, A Mormon Mother.

 

Quotables

Regarding Annie’s unhappiness, “It reminds me of Middlemarch.” -Richard

“If you don’t have sources, no matter how good your question is, you’re not doing research. You’re meditating.” -Richard

 

Tidbits

We also read a list of arguments that Mormon men, citizens of Salt Lake City, submitted to counter anti-polygamist legislation on March 31, 1870. My favorite was resolution #7:

Resolved, That while we thank the American Bible Society for sending us the Word of God, we think it a strange inconsistency for a Christian nation, which has received its Bible from inspired men who were polygamists, to send that Bible to us and then proscribe and disfranchise us for following the precepts thereof and the practices of its inspired prophet.”

 

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