The Atlantic Monthly: Obituary of a Polygamist

By: J. Stapley - April 07, 2005

The second to last feature of the May 2005 edition of The Atlantic Monthly is the obituary of Owen Allred (1914-2005). Allred was excommunicated in 1942 and later became the Patriarch of the Apostolic United Brethren (I always wondered about Ronan), a polygamous sect numbering between 5,000 and 7,000 adherents. Surprisingly, though it poked a little fun at plural marriage, the article was completely sympathetic and terminated with a resolve that the polygamy would be vindicated by history. Several aspects of the article are notable.

Mark Stern, the author, draws a parallel between the struggle for the rights of Gay couples and the rights of these polygamists. He draws attention to the similarity of attacking both groups as pedophiles. Stern makes a great effort to reassure the reader that Allred has consistently worked to raise the minimum legal age for marriage.

The article further points to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of government officials toward polygamy. The author asserts that the inaction is a consequence of the looming fear that prosecution would result in a legal battle that would end in court sanctioned affirmation of the practice. Moreover, there appears to be an increase of Muslims in France, Canada and the UK that are practicing polygamy, which practice is gaining acceptance and lends weight to the possible legal ramifications.

The last sentences of the article are telling:

For the best part of a century Allred kept it going, ensuring polygamy’s survival into an era of hitherto unknown “rights to privacy” and modish “tolerance” and “multiculturalism.” Demographic reality suggests that the new face of plural marriage in North America will not be that of Owen Allred or his kind. Still, he might take some comfort in knowing that his sacred covenant and/or lifestyle choice is almost certain to endure and prosper in the years ahead.

Interestingly, the article refers to those things held in common by the LDS church and fundamentalist sects as Mormon and the fundamentalists themselves as Mormons. However, it looks like the author has heeded some of the Church’s council and the article refers to the CoJCoLDS as Latter-day Saints. Not my favorite.

12 Comments

  1. Nice writeup. What an odd place to find a mellow article on polygamy. Before too long, it’s going to be orthodox LDS and Evangelicals firmly against polygamy, fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims firmly in favor of it, and most of America somewhere in the middle.

    Comment by Dave — 4/7/2005 @ 3:00 am

  2. My wife’s cousins on her mother’s side are affiliated with that group. Nice people, very respectful of the church, they just assume that one day the church will wake up and realize that they were right all along about this polygamy thing.

    Comment by John C. — 4/7/2005 @ 9:17 am

  3. So long as the Church continues to teach that serial polygamy is fine (a widower who marries again in the temple, like my dad, will be married to both women in the Celestial Kingdom, provided they all make it there), it seems strange to me that it’s willing to go to such efforts to condemn concurrent polygamy (“It’s not doctrinal.” — GBH)

    Comment by Mark N. — 4/9/2005 @ 12:41 pm

  4. I know that saying this is kind of tenuous, but I think there is a move away from celestial polygamy to “the Lord will figure it out” in modern discourse.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/9/2005 @ 12:48 pm

  5. The current battle against polygamy first initiated by the Tribune and then picked up by various politicians in the State of Utah is shameful grandstanding — the Tribune to sell papers and the politicians to get votes. There is nothing wrong with polygamy and any effort to make it illegal should be seen for what it is — an affront to basic rights of religious freedom. If the smeer campaign behind those who seek to wipe out polygamy is similar to the gay rights agenda, the motivation is not. Religious freedom to practice religion is basic to our Constitution and rights of conscience. Gay “rights” are not on par.

    Legal coercion must of course be brought to bear on those who are pedophiles or who force child brides into under-age marriage. However, such under-age relationships are not a part of polygamy necessarily and they should be distinguished. The real smeer campaign is an attempt to convince the public that polygamy and pedophilia are synonymous. They are not. The political grandstanding taking place in connection with polygamy in Utah is shameful — headed by a publicity hungry brother of a former governor and his ilk. They sully the reputations of their own honorable ancestors in doing so.

    I grew up in Sand, Utah going to school with the Jeffs, the Mackerts and Allreds. They were good people and I respected them. The government learned from its 1950s raids that breaking up polygamous families is not a good idea — but it appears to be a lesson that we are going to have to learn again.

    The polygamists are apostates from the faith — they refused to follows the prophet that they had taken covenants to uphold. But that doesn’t make them criminals.

    Comment by Blake — 4/10/2005 @ 12:33 pm

  6. Blake, I agree, up to the point where underage women are involved or coercion is involved. I think both of these have been grossly exaggerated by the media. And yes I recognize that there is the appearance of a double standard given the age of many marriages in the 19th century. But this isn’t the 19th century and I think the state has the right to ensure that young women aren’t being forced into marriages.

    Comment by Clark Goble — 4/12/2005 @ 12:16 am

  7. […] at is not foreign to the contemporary Occident (which multiculturalism can be seen in this recent post). January 6, 1872 Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Vol 2 pg. 1 E […]

    Pingback by Splendid Sun » — 4/13/2005 @ 12:16 pm

  8. I think the vast majority of Americans know simply little of these groups. The Kingston became famous when a dad beat his daughter uncontious because she did not want to be her uncles 15th wife. This clan is one of incest!

    The Allreds made headlines in the Anita Hill case where they defrauded this woman by a planned intent. Though a moderate group as they go, if you investigate to deeply you’re not likely to be happy with what you find.

    The FLDS, the largest in the US, had as many as 10,000 until the prophet began ousting those that were a threat to his power. Like the independents and those mentioned above, they do indeed take under age brides and underage more frequest than not. Children are denied an education and in the FLDS all of the children were pulled from school in the year 2000. Bleeding the beast, refers to getting a free ride from government programs and the exponential growth has become a unfair tax on the average taxpayer.

    In the case of the FLDS and most of these groups, they are white supremist, taking the Bible verse of “Cain” receiving a “mark” as being turned black. They teach that these races are fithy in the eyes of god. Not debateable as I have 10,000 pages of their theology. Their family values include the reassignment of wives and children at the wim of the prophet, when men disagree with the doctrine or challenge those in high places.

    Evictions where the trust owns the land that the faithful built their homes on occurs. Rape and incest are high! This is do inpart to isolation and a lack of oversight, along with counciling by those not qualified to do so. Then there are illegal enterprises that are permitted because the gentiles are headed to hell any way. The faithful ousted become branded as Apostates, but lack skills and resources to properly relocate. Until recently, with the FLDS they had their own police force and judge who traditionally take their marching orders from the prophet not civil and state authority.

    The Colorado City School district is in shambles from its misuse of state funds, so much so Arizona has pending legislation that will allow the state to take over. The SUV’s the school board uses, District credit cards used to take vacation, the airplane puchased from the son of the President of the school board are examples of waste. Did I mention the employee’s to students is 1 to 3?

    I was the Tri-state representative of FOR KIDS SAKE a child abuse prevention non profit from 1996 to 2001 and both Utah and Arizona were my states. When a child advocate can name 100 underage brides on the state capitals steps, its time to draw a line in the sand. If this was about consenting adults, it would be another story, but to few have written stories on this subject understanding the full scope of the problem. If having sex with your step daughter, neice, cousin and sometimes daughter while all are underage, then call it what it is, but don’t use religion to defend it and call it family values!

    GOOGLE search “Jay Beswick”

    Comment by Jay Beswick — 4/19/2005 @ 2:51 am

  9. Jay,
    I agree with your comments on the issue of children and incest. While we might have our opinions about the issue of polygamy in an the abstract, when it comes to protecting children, I think our mandate is clear. Perhaps part of the reason polygamy was discontinued in the church in the first place was becasue the Lord could see the nefarious purposes to which it would be put. I don’t know, really.
    I do have some difficulty with your comments elsewhere that seem to condemn anyone who acts as legal counsel for these groups, and the the idea that the church should ferret out their tithing and excommunicate them. The collection of tithes happens at the ward and brnach level, first of all, and it would be prohibitive in the extreem to require background checks on everyone paying tithing. Beyond that, however, is the issue of representation. Everyone deserves representaton. It keeps the legal system from being abusive.
    In the end, you link a lot of issues here to the ploygamy issue. I’m not sure all of them fit. I am sure that we need to protect the children in any case. There are, certainly, reasons for the church to distance itself from polygamy as it is practiced in many of these communities, and I agree that it is naive to say that these groups should do what they want under the banner of religious freedom. It does become complicated, however, because we do believe that polygamy as practiced by the early church was acceptable, so what we don’t want is to accept the attitude that polygamy naturally leads to pedophelia. It doesn’t, although it has often been used as a cover for such activities. I’m not sure that outlawing the cover/justification, will get rid of the real problem.

    Comment by S. Hancock — 4/19/2005 @ 1:43 pm

  10. Mark Steyn has put up his Atlantic obituary of Owen Allred on his website.
    http://www.steynonline.com/index2.cfm?edit_id=70

    Comment by John Mansfield — 5/10/2005 @ 10:47 am

  11. Our ward is filled with polygamist groups, I think they have several different prophets, maybe as many as there are dads. But I could be wrong about that. They home-school, although I doubt much schooling is going on, live on welfare, and generally are not desirable neighbors. I worry that they’ll decide to duke it out with us in the middle.

    There are two types (well, in my head): those who dress the part and those who don’t. The ones we have don’t. Listen to me, like they’re my personal plygs.

    I feel sorry for their kids. They look dirty and uncared for. My neighbor across the street was married to Ervil LeBaron’s brother–had left, but he still visited his kids. I think she was 27, she had 7 kids, no lie. I liked her, but again, I worried about that violent streak.

    Comment by annegb — 5/10/2005 @ 2:18 pm

  12. You know, Ill tell you what I think because I am apart of the Allred group. We are normal people wanting to live our lives and practice our religion in peace, just like all of you. We do not believe in child brides, by the way I am 16 years old, but we are judged that way because what everyone sees with the warrens and greens. We dont believe that everyone who doesnt see our way is going to hell. thats what some people think we believe. the majority of us dont dress out of ordinary, just modestly because we believe, just like mormons that our bodies are sacred things. We follow the same things as the LDS church, just believe that we have the restored gospel. I go to a normal public High School, if you saw me you wouldnt guess in a million years that i was a “Plyg” It amazes me to see all these so called christians who wont accept anyone who doesnt have their same belief. I am talking about all the mormons. My parents have always taught me to be tolerant of others no matter where they stand. Just to be an example to them. Is this wrong? Is this the horrible polygamists you picture? I want to be the best person i can be. I want to help other people, i want to be kind and tolerant to all faiths and races. In essence i want to be like Christ. Isnt that the same goal of Mormons? Why is it that you call yourself great christian people yet you teach your kids that they are not to associate with anyone who is not mormon? Now im not against all mormons, i know some very good people. I am friends with people at school who are just great. Im just saying all of you who judge the FLDS people need to take a good look at your own life. I try to judge people as little as possible because i know it doesnt do me any good. I get on my knees 3 times a day, well i try to at least 3 times, and ask heavenly father to help me to be a good person. to give me a purpose in life. I ask him to help me to do good in school. to let me be able to go to college. I am no different than any other teenager. I suffer temptation just like everyone else. I watch a lot of tv that i like even though i realize its not what i should be doing. I have friends at school who are just like me, who say i am just as normal as them. I guess i have just never understood why people think we are so horrible with how happy i have been. Im sure some people go oh shes brainwashed. that is funny to me. people will say anything but that it might just be a good thing. but you know what? non of that matters because i know that as long as i am doing what i should, what other people think of me just doesnt matter. And thats what everyone should go by, dont you think?

    Comment by Nicole — 2/10/2007 @ 12:57 pm

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