Bio: My name is Michelle, and I grew up in Utah County, Utah. My ancestors were Mormon pioneers, and I grew up strong in the church. My dad worked at BYU, and naturally, I attended there as well. I went on a mission and had a deep-seated belief in the church. I managed to graduate from BYU without finding my eternal companion, and when I got a job in rural Wyoming, I was concerned about my prospects for finding someone to marry. Eventually, I found someone, and this is that story.
When I moved to Wyoming, I was a return missionary, a BYU graduate and I was starting a real job in the field I had graduated in. For all intents and purposes, I was a successful young adult. However, I was 24 and not married. In Mormon culture I was basically an old maid. When I met Rick in the single’s branch, he was 25, a convert to the church, an entrepreneur, and the most eligible Mormon bachelor in town. He was charismatic, he was spiritual, and all the Mormons thought he was the “golden convert” so to speak. He had converted at 19 and started studying the history of the church like his life depended on it. He became the resident expert on dealing with the anti-Mormons and often took fellow single members of the church up into the mountains for campfires where they had discussions on gospel topics and shared their testimonies. How we met and ended up together is a story for another day, but we married in the spring of 1999, and I thought I had landed the jackpot of Mormon husbands. He was very immersed in the gospel, and we had deep discussions about things that most people didn’t talk about. We talked about the temple ordinances, and the symbolism, we talked about polygamy and early church history, and we talked about Joseph Smith and who he was. I knew about all the obscure stories, the stone in the hat, Fanny Alger, the challenges with Emma and polygamy. And I thought it was fun to dive deep into Mormon theology, doctrine, and history.
It was fun until it affected my life in a very real way. I always thought that the discussions we had were interesting, but polygamy was against the policies of the church. It was illegal. We had been married about 7 years, and Rick had a thriving business in Utah Valley. We had two small children and on the outside things were going well for us. Our marriage wasn’t great, but we were plugging along. At that time, he had a secretary that he became very close with. He would come home and tell me about her, and the gospel discussions he would have with her. She had been inactive in the church, and he was trying to help her grow her testimony. Then, he started talking about how he felt like she was supposed to be a part of our family. He talked about how he was drawn to her. Now this woman was not single. She was married, but supposedly unhappy in her marriage. Rick felt that because she had not been sealed in the temple, that her marriage was not really valid.
The interesting thing is, I liked her. She was beautiful, she was kind, and we were friends. As Rick talked about her, I wasn’t angry about how he felt about her. This happened over the course of several months, and the way he talked about her, and the way I felt about her made it so I wasn’t jealous. Also, I was intrigued by the ideas he was talking about. He slowly and carefully brought up polygamy. But he didn’t call it that. He said that “polygamy” was what the world called it. That it was a principle that was deeper than that. It was the principle of the plurality of wives. He talked about abundance, and how there was more than enough love to go around, and how our family could be bigger and stronger with more people in it. He eventually told me that God wanted us to study the doctrine of polygamy. He said that God had essentially called us to be modern-day pioneers of polygamy so to speak, and that we needed to figure out how to live it and do so WITHIN the church. He didn’t want to leave and become fundamentalists. He wanted to figure out how to live a doctrine of the church that had never been taken away, and that still had blessings associated with the practice of it. I also think that he was looking for a second wife that he could have biological children with. I had been unable to get pregnant, so we had turned to adoption. We had already adopted two babies, but I knew he was anxious to have biological children. He was looking for another woman to have babies with.
In the end, I think that his secretary eventually couldn’t handle the idea of polygamy. I think she was just interested in a fling with the boss, and his talk of multiple wives and deeper doctrines of the church was too much for her. She ended up quitting and begging him never to contact her again. Rick had been in love with her and was devastated. I hadn’t really realized the extent to which he had been involved with her and was reeling from the revelations. I thought they had just been building a friendship and talking about possibilities. When I found out much more had happened, I was crushed.
Then within a matter of a month, someone new was interviewing for the vacated position. A woman. A strong, single member of the church. Rick came home and told me about the interview and told me that they had started discussing gospel topics, and eventually he told her, “look, I really feel like in order to fulfill the measure of my creation, I need to live the principle of polygamy.” Her answer to him, was, “oh of course! Of course you do!” And when she said that to him, it was like the heavens opened, and the angels were singing, and he realized that he had been prepared to actually meet her, and that THIS was the woman he was supposed to add to his family. This was someone he was supposed to marry. When he told me about the experience, and that he had just been distracted by the other situation, I told him hell no. I told him I didn’t want him getting involved with another woman. He very calmy and quietly told me he was going to do this with or without me. When he said that, I realized that I could do what he wanted or leave him. I had two small children at the time, and was completely unprepared to leave him, so I prayed hard for confirmation that we were doing the right thing and jumped on board. I ended up going to the temple around the time, looking for answers and some kind of sign that what we were doing was approved of God. As I was sitting in the celestial room, I looked over to the table beside me, and saw the Doctrine and Covenants sitting there. I picked it up and let it fall open on my lap. It opened right to section 132, which is about plural marriage. I read the first 3 versus which read:
Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—
2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
I felt like God was speaking directly to me, telling me that it had been revealed to us that we were supposed to figure out how to live it, and that we must obey. I felt like it was my “Abrahamic test” to figure it out and walk this path. After that experience, I surrendered to the things that my husband was asking of me.
For three years I walked that path. We essentially lived as polygamists. He proposed to her and gave her an engagement ring that I helped him pick out. He bought her a house. We each had a date night during the week. Mine was Fridays, and hers were Saturdays. At the beginning, we met in a park, all three of us, and I told her that she was allowed to date my husband, but that I expected them to date like teenagers in the church date. I expected them to be appropriate and follow the “For the Strength of Youth” standards. They could hold hands, and kiss, and chastely date. It turns out they did not follow those rules.
Now, one might ask…. how did he expect to stay a good member of the church, and still live polygamy. It’s against the policies of the church, it’s illegal, and definitely not accepted in mainstream Mormonism. Well, he had a whole plan. In his mind, a civil marriage was just a piece of paper that the government required. The temple sealing was the real marriage. So, his plan was for he and I to get a civil divorce. We would remain sealed of course. Then, he would civilly marry HER, and they would petition the church for a sealing clearance. Basically, asking if they could get sealed, even though he was already sealed to me. Then he would essentially be married to both of us since he would be sealed to both of us. BUT, in the temple, it says that you shouldn’t have sexual relations with someone unless you are LEGALLY and LAWFULLY married. So, in his mind, legally, was the civil marriage, and lawfully was the temple sealing. So, in order to have sex with both of us, his plan was to just get civilly divorced and remarried like every other month. And he planned to do that part in Guam. Since it was a part of the US, but then the records would not be readily available to anyone who was looking.
That was his plan for staying a “good” member of the church, but still living the doctrine of “plurality of wives” that he felt like God had called him to do.
He never actually ended up executing the plan. For three years, she was part of our family, and we waded through the messy parts of basically living polygamy. I expected them not to have sex until they were officially married. They still claim they never did, but he would end up sleeping over at her house. I truly hoped that things were as they claimed. They were watching a movie, he was too tired to drive home, he was just going to crash at her place.
Those three years were miserable. I hated every minute of it. We had to keep everything secret. Since we were living a “higher law” as he said, and no one would understand. Twice during that time, I told him I couldn’t do it anymore. Both times, he basically told me that he wasn’t willing to let her go. He had made a commitment to her, that he wasn’t willing to break. Finally, I decided I was done, and I didn’t care if God had asked us to do this, I was willing to risk damnation and hell. I told him I was leaving, and that he should marry her. They were already engaged anyway. I expected them to get married a few months after the divorce was final. They got married secretly the DAY after the divorce was final. And then they had a baby 29 weeks later. A baby that to this day, they claim was a preemie.
My story relates to Under the Banner of Heaven, because there are MANY people, not just obvious fundamentalist mormons who believe that the modern church has strayed from its roots. Whether it is polygamy, blood atonement, or any other misogynistic, patriarchal teaching, those beliefs are still active today. Sometimes they are underground and not obvious to most people, but they are there. I lived it, and it was miserable.
READ THE REST OF THE STORIES IN OUR BLOG SERIES, LIVING UNDER THE BANNER HERE