Politics

Married to children, ‘polygamist leader’ Warren Jeffs gets life

By Richard Poplak 10 August 2011

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints has lost another renegade leader. Fifty-five-year-old Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life by a Texas judge for taking two girls, aged 12 and 15, as his “spiritual wives”, and subsequently raping them. He’ll have the rest of his days to contemplate the spirituality of that act. By RICHARD POPLAK.

The press refers to Warren Jeffs as a polygamist leader, but his marital predilections are a red herring. He’s best described as a child molester, a child rapist and a paedophile. Showergate notwithstanding, South Africa’s own Jacob Zuma, perhaps the world’s most famous polygamist, marries women under consensual circumstances. Warren Jeffs rapes children. There is a difference.

Jeffs belongs to an offshoot of the Mormon Church that likes to think of itself as going back to fundamentals. The sect is about 10,000 strong, and has been rife with child abuse scandals. One of its central tenets is polygamy, a practice the Mormon Church abandoned almost a century ago, and dozens of acolytes have found themselves in Texas courtrooms on trial for marrying a bevy of women and children.

The language of the international press coverage of the Warren Jeffs trial suggests that Jeffs’ polygamy is on trial. That’s not the case. A slew of witnesses, including Jeffs’ own nephew, have come forward to testify that his sexual appetite was geared almost entirely toward children. When Brent Jeffs was five years old, he was repeatedly raped by his uncle. “Justice has finally been served,” he said, outside the courtroom, after Jeffs senior received his life sentence for forcing sex on a 12 year old and a 15 year old.

Why, then, all this talk of polygamy, when Jeffs himself knew that what he was doing was wrong? The church’s Yearning For Zion Ranch compound in Eldorado, Texas, was a sexual space, built for the exploitation of young women and children. During one taped sermon, a voice—thought to be Jeffs—says, “You have to know how to be sexually excited and to help each other … and you have to be ready for the time I need your comfort. This is your mission. This is how you abide by the law.”

Jeffs himself was fully aware that what he was doing was wrong, justifying it through the lens of religion. “Things are happening so quickly,” he wrote, in the church’s version of a captain’s log. “There is an even younger girl that the Lord wants me to take. She is 13. For some reason the Lord is sending me these girls that can be worked with.”

He added, “If the world knew what I was doing, they’d hang me from the highest tree.” It turns out that even in Texas, child rapists receive a fair trial and capital punishment does not extend to include their crimes. Lucky for Jeffs.

None of this explains, however, why Jeffs is repeatedly referred to as a “polygamist leader”. The thread of logic in these statements seems to suggest that polygamy and child abuse are intrinsically linked, when they happen to be only incidentally linked. Most of the recent polygamy trials in North America involve church sects that are essentially covers for child abuse rings, havens for men who want to violate the rights of children.

Polygamy, rather, is the consensual arrangement by which a man takes several wives. The outrage directed at the sect’s doctrinal acceptance of polygamy is really a means of dealing with social unease at the changing status of marriage. If same-sex marriage is allowed, the argument runs, why not polygamy, or, for that matter, inter-species marriage?

Donkeys can’t consent to marriage, but five women can certainly consent to sharing a man as their husband. Ideally, the state’s role is to administer our social institutions, not to set their terms. But the battle for “traditional” marriage, i.e. a marriage between a man and a woman, is such that even a clear-cut case of paedophilia is linked to the “social disease” of polygamy. At this point, Warren Jeffs’ trial becomes an ideological battleground, rather than an obvious instance of rampant criminality.

Marrying lots of children is not polygamy, it’s mass child abuse. Warren Jeffs was convicted for the latter. He’ll be 100  before he can apply for parole. Looks like his God deserted him when Jeffs needed him most. DM


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Read More:

  • “Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs Sentenced to Life in Prison” on CNN

Photo: Warren Jeffs during his trial in St. George, Utah, September 18, 2007. REUTERS/Jud Burkett

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