June 30, 2005
Polygamy in the U.S.
Remind me again what century this is:
James Harmston’s letters to his youngest bride threaten fire and brimstone for her refusal to sleep with him. Not only would Rachael, 43 years his junior, have “a lonely miserable life” in this world for not going to his bed, but it would be far worse in the next.
“Rachael, the facts are, whether you want to believe or not, the end is coming and judgment will be executed in severity, especially for those who have broken their covenants,” Mr Harmston wrote, adding: “For certain I will deal with you in the future eternity.”
He signed himself “Your Husband, King and Priest”, and sent copies of his letters to five of his 18 wives, one of whom was Rachael’s mother, Pauline.
They would be troubling letters from any jilted husband. But from Mr Harmston - the self-declared prophet of a polygamist and apocalyptic sect, the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days - they were terrifying.
This from a long and disturbing article in The Guardian, which estimates that up to 100,000 Americans still live in polygamy, most of them in Utah. And if you’re a victim of an abusive polygamous relationship in Utah—or “mentally ill,” according to Harmston’s assessment of his now ex-wife—don’t expect much sympathy from the authorities:
With the help of Tapestry Against Polygamy, a support group for former wives of such marriages, Ms Strong has taken her case to the Utah state authorities, claiming that the pressure Mr Harmston put her under to have sex constituted rape. “If someone sat there with a gun and said sleep with me, you’d call that rape. But God is scarier than that,” she said. “God is more powerful than a fist.”
The Utah attorney general’s office in Salt Lake City has said it will look into Ms Strong’s case but is clearly sceptical. Jim Hill, special investigator into polygamous sects, said: “She was an adult when all the conduct alleged occurred - an adult consenting to a bigamous relationship … The attorney general is not interested in pursuing people for their religious beliefs or their private conduct in their own bedrooms,” Mr Hill said.
Even if that “private conduct” is frequently sexual assault, often of a minor—and in this case by someone who believes they really are a space cadet:
From the age of 11 [Ms Strong] was taught that Jim Harmston was the reincarnation of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith. He travelled to other planets in his sleep and spoke with God’s authority. Sex with the church elders was a sacrament.
“He says orgasm and witness of the Holy Ghost are the same thing,” Ms Strong said. “Sex is the whole thing for him.”
Seems to be that way for a lot of the religious right.
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