Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003.
The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern Day Polygamy.
Mackert, M. (2000).
Salt Lake City UT: Truth Publishing. 370 pages, paperback.
Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Self
The author was married at age 17 to a 50-year-old man, his 6th wife in a polygamous marriage, hence the title. The book is her account of her life in a “fundamental Mormon” group along the Arizona-Utah border. The book is an autobiography that reads much like a diary. A personal account of her thoughts and feelings, there are no enumerated chapters and no references. The Preface is 30 pages and is functionally the first chapter and an overview of the book’s content.
She describes how polygamous groups continue despite being illegal and felonies; the law is seldom enforced. The Law of Sarah is considered to transcend federal and state law. It is a Biblical reference to Sarah, Abraham’s wife who could not bear children, so Haggar was brought to him for that purpose. When polygamous men are arrested they make bail or serve light sentences. Though multiple wives and children use different names, they often have the same address, phone number, and physical resemblances, so they are relatively easy to trace. Marriages are arranged through a church elder and it is not unusual for a man to have dozens of children, and in many cases they require public assistance. It is also not unusual for older men to marry a child bride. Women in the colony accept this, but according to the author their acquiescence is due more to fear than to religious duty.
She suggests that the fear is real and based on “blood atonement redemption,” which justifies killing anyone who violates temple oaths or reveals its secrets. One such temple oath is being faithful in marriage. She cites a 1984 case of two murders, a mother age 24 and her 15-month-old daughter.
The author maintains that outlawing polygamy was a condition of Utah's becoming a state, that it was only after Mormon leaders signed “the Manifesto” considering polygamy unacceptable that Utah was admitted to statehood. Still, she cites a 1953 arrest of men, women, and children as an example of how polygamy continues. The men in this case were bailed out, while 43 women and 177 children remained in custody for 20 months. The author describes her own life situation to show that polygamy continued after the 1953 incident. Despite fear of being killed in “blood atonement” if her husband alleged she was unfaithful, his physical abuse drove her to seek and follow the long delayed group policy of separation and divorce.
The book is recommended to anyone wishing to add a case study of one person’s ordeal as a victim of religious belief and practices that deny individual freedom and choice. The current world situation offers thousands of cases where religious belief has gone astray and subjected followers to physical and mental pain. The Taliban of Afghanistan executed men and women at soccer games, whipped on the street women considered immodestly dressed and destroyed 1000-year-old Buddhist statues.
It should be remembered, too, that the polygamous groups described in this book are breakaway or splinter Mormons not accepted by that church, just as Muslim terrorists are but a fraction of worldwide Islam.