Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Family history, I am doing it, my family history

We've had a busy July attending family reunions in Idaho. We had one week in Island Park with Christy's family boating, eating, floating, hiking, golfing, talking, s'moring, laughing, play milling, and just enjoying one another and the beauty there. We then had my family reunion on a Friday night and Saturday morning. We ate lots, talked much, did a jump rope making service project, and shared some stories we had learned about our ancestors. I ended up sharing something funny about my grandpa and him spinning doughnuts in St. Anthony with a sleigh pulled by horses and the police not being able to catch him on their ponies.

What I wanted to share was something else that I'll  share here now about my great-great-grandpa (GGG). I've never done much with genealogy. But for this reunion my brother wanted us all to share something from our ancestors and this is what struck me. I didn't share this as I think the awkward factor would've been above 9,000.

I will try to paraphrase and get to the point, but need to give a bit of the pertinent details. So my GGG, Richard Birch, was born in England in 1824. At 23 he marries Ellen Harris. On the same day his brother James marries Mary Ann Hale. They join the church and emigrate to America to join the main body of the church in 1849. Richard and Ellen arrive in SLC in 1853. In 1856, James dies while emigrating to SLC. James and Mary Ann had three young children at the time of his death, and was pregnant with her fourth. To quote from the text, "During this time period the church condoned a biblical custom that specified where a widow exists, her husbands brother should take her for his wife so the deceased man would have posterity and the widow would have support." So, Richard takes Mary Ann as his second wife and he's now step-father to Thomas (7), Mary Ann (6), Edward (2), and soon to be born James. 

This next passage I will quote from the book that has their history compiled so you can experience the same thing I did when I read it. "In August 1865, Richard (41) took his two wives, Ellen Harris (44) and Mary Ann Hale (37), and his step-daughter/niece, Annie (15) to Salt Lake by wagon. The older women thought the singular purpose of the trip was to reaffirm their covenants in the Endowment House. However, at some point during the journey Richard announced his intentions to be sealed to Annie and take her as his third plural wife. We don't know how this news affected Annie's mother, Mary Ann. Unless she'd had inklings, it had to have been a huge shock. As for Ellen, though, persistent family lore suggests she was outraged. She told Richard that if he married Annie, he would never be welcome in her bedroom again. The following year Annie gave birth to a daughter who died ten days later." They apparently worked through the discord as they were all four married on August 15, 1865. 

If your response was anything like mine, you felt a punch to the gut or slap to the face. I had to re-read it a few times to fully understand it, but I still don't comprehend it. This man raised a niece/step-daughter from 6 years old and when she turns 15 wants to marry her. Whaaaaaa? I can't really wrap my head around polygamy at all. I have a harder time wrapping my head around polygamy especially when it's a 41 year old man with a 15 year old girl. I have an extremely difficult time wrapping my head around polygamy when it's a 41 year old man with a 15 year old girl that is his niece and step-daughter. That difficulty in comprehending this is compounded by the apparent secrecy and deceit by the men. The great many accounts I've read to date on polygamy involved the man taking additional wives without the wife knowing or approving. There was no we in this decision. It was the man's decision, the woman's feelings and input be damned. Our minds in an effort to accept what God decrees through the brethren must do all kinds of mental gymnastics to justify this behavior. My mind has grown tired of the gymnastics.

In a short biography it says this about Richard. To be ordained a Patriarch in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a high honor, which but very few men ever reach, and only those who have faithfully served their entire lives to its interest and advancement, are ordained to this high position. Patriarch Birch has been a faithful member, a staunch supporter and an eminent expounder and teacher of the principles and doctrines of his church from the time he joined it as a young man, up to the present time...his long and most honorable career in Summit County has made him one of the most popular and highly respected citizens of that entire section, and now in his declining years he can look back with pride upon a life well spent, with a true devotion and love for his fellowman. 

What a nice tribute, right? How great that they didn't look upon him and judge him for his polygamous lifestyle or marrying young 15 year old girls that are his niece. How nice he was able to hold callings in the church and be so well respected. What a different perspective we have when something is deemed to be of God and approved by the brethren. How great it will be when our LGBT brothers and sisters can be looked upon and given the same loving tributes for their service in the church. What changed from then until now? I'm appalled that this was supposedly approved of God. Am I to believe that if polygamy were approved today that I (coincidentally I am 41) should be able to marry my 15 year old niece, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever? When I asked my sister in law if she'd grant permission to marry her 15 year old daughter if polygamy were in effect and her husband died, she mentioned something about sharp knives and loss of certain appendage(s). Yikes! Yet I think that's quite an appropriate response. She did consent however to be my plural wife. Or maybe I imagined that part.

This history stuck out to me even more as only a few days after reading this we had the pleasure of listening to Carol Lynn Pearson give a talk. (I would recommend her books for anyone with a gay relative or seeking to understand. It should be mandatory reading for every leader in the LDS church, IMHO). There was more to her talk, but one thing she mentioned was about her great grandma. Her husband went on a trip to get supplies and he came home with supplies and a surprise. He had a lady that would be his second wife. She didn't accept this news very well and left him and took their three children. She ended up homesteading 160 acres in Dingle, Idaho on her own. I thought to myself she could have taken the church approved route, the route approved by the brethren, and probably lived a more comfortable life. But at what cost? I believe at great mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional cost. She chose the path that was most authentic and most aligned with her spirit and what she felt to be the most healthy. Can you blame her? What would your response have been given the circumstances of your husband showing up with another woman that he'd like to be his second wife? I applaud this woman who didn't tolerate this practice and left her husband so she could be true to herself. I can't fathom why the wives of my GGG stayed and allowed a 15 year old daughter marry her uncle/step-dad. It boggles my mind. 

What boggles my mind even more is we look back on this and somehow my GGG gets a pass. We want to make such a huge deal out of being gay and gay marriage. It's so perverse and wrong. Yet when we look back at our pioneer ancestors, we ignore they married young girls/nieces, were secretive and deceptive in obtaining new wives, and we praise and highlight what sacrifices they made, what dedication they exhibited, what commitment and faith they had. I agree their lives are amazing. I hope and pray one day we get past saying don't define yourself by being gay, just like we don't look at our ancestors as defined by polygamy, or their apparent proclivity for marrying underage girls and believing it should be done even if the wife protests. I hope we look back on our gay pioneers of today as favorably as we do upon our first pioneer ancestors. These gay pioneers that have suffered and sometimes died due to our lack of compassion, due to our inability to look upon them as equals, due to our slower than molasses on a cold winters day ability to listen to them and learn from the prevailing science and social advancements and understandings. What's that you say? Our church doesn't bend to social advancements? Then go ahead and marry that 15 year old niece, marry another woman without your wife's knowledge or consent, or deny a black man the priesthood. 

And please explain these quotes to me. “…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”
- Prophet John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227

"It is a fact worthy of note that the shortest lived nations of which we have record have been monogamic. Rome...was a monogamic nation and the numerous evils attending that system early laid the foundation for that ruin which eventually overtook her." - Apostle George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 202 

There are numerous other quotes that say the same thing from the brethren about monogamy. I'm puzzled why there's a 180 degree change of stance from only 150 years ago. It appears that the downfall of nations is monogamy, not gay marriage or the gay 'lifestyle'. It's actually the straight, monogamous lifestyle that is the downfall of nations. It's the choices that straight people make. Why is monogamy an evil when polygamy is practiced? Now that polygamy is outlawed, the evils of society shifted to being gay and acting on it? Why aren't we still focused on the evils of monogamy? Shouldn't our church be using all that energy, money, resources and efforts they're using to fight gay marriage to bring back polygamy? I think they'd have better luck bringing back polygamy at this point than stopping gay marriage. I would prefer all that effort be focused on humanitarian efforts actually. But I'm just a drop in the ocean of Mormonism and my voice doesn't make much of a ripple.

Carol Lynn Pearson talked about the continual rise we've experienced and are striving for in society. It used to be okay to kidnap people in Africa, ship them to America, and make them your slaves. Own them as property and treat them as less than human. Our society accepted that it was okay, until that notion was challenged. Women used to not be able to vote, until it was challenged. Blacks couldn't hold the priesthood, until it was challenged. Gays couldn't be authentic or marry...

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