Warren Steed Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison Aug. 9, 2011, for sexually assaulting two teenage girls under the guise of marriage. A marriage, he asserted, was ordained by god and was his duty to fulfill, as well as that of the children whom he is now in prison for raping.
Is it fair to say at this point that he is guilty as charged? One of the staples of our constitution and legal system as a nation and a free society is the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt.
A Texas jury spent less then 30 minutes deliberating the answer it would give to the above question. Yes, he is guilty as charged, the jury decided. And while ruminations of an appeal linger – an appeal, mind you, which may indeed find a way into the higher courts of Texas and beyond – for today, he is a convicted pedophile and rapist.
Let that sink in.
Now, let’s ask a question some may not want to hear. Would he have been guilty had he not been convicted? It stands to reason that had he not been arrested, charged and convicted, he would surely be engaging in the very behavior for which he is now in prison; but, was it wrong before he was caught?
You bet it was. And now in hindsight, as we play this scenario out in our own heads and try to get our minds around what has taken place, our natural progression of thought might lead us to ask this question: Can the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints condemn this man’s actions without condemning their own faith?
Jeffs was the president of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church which lays claim to being the one rightfully established by the founding prophet, Joseph Smith. The FLDS church maintains that it is practicing religion as Smith, ordained by god, ordered it to do.
The LDS church has long since abandoned and condemned polygamy. One might assert that the reasoning was political – a survival move. Another assertion might be that they ardently believe in obeying the laws of the land regardless of their religious beliefs. But if so, those laws are the very laws that Utah, and other states, turn a seemingly blind eye to when it comes to the FLDS church and polygamy.
Why are we not hearing an outright condemnation for polygamy and the actions of this abhorrent man from the LDS church?
Perhaps, to do so places the LDS church in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having to answer some very difficult questions? Questions like: Does the Mormon religion believe that polygamy is, in fact, right and God ordained, and that it will one day be restored to their church here on earth or in heaven?
If Warren Jeffs’ behavior was in fact wrong, how does one reconcile oneself with the fact that Joseph Smith engaged in what may be considered similar behavior – that of polygamy? Would Smith have condoned the inclusion of children in Jeffs taking polygamist wives? Does polygamy lead to more debased sexual conduct as say, pornography, as is said by some to do?
If you are reading into this line of questioning with even a hint of religious condemnation, you are letting your emotions get a hold of you and it is clouding your reasoning. This is not an accusation. These are reasonable questions that a reasonable and moral human being should ask. And, given this recent trial and the stance of the FLDS church on polygamy, it is not unreasonable for us to at least be seeing a connection between polygamy and sexual abuse, whether it is with children or adults.
Jeffs had, as all of us have, the sovereign right under law to a fair trial by a jury, and he was convicted; but what he did may very well still be happening in this land even as I put down these words.
If it is criminal for Jeffs, it is criminal for them.
That said, and this is the crux, the essential question to be asked is: When does freedom of religion cross the line and become simply what this was – criminal behavior?
Jeffs claims to be a prophet and that his actions were not only right, but that no one has the authority to question him. Is he wrong?
Let’s really ask ourselves this, because our answers reveal something about each of us and what we think on the subject of morality; regardless of our beliefs on deity. If our answer is in fact yes, Jeffs’ claims in his defense were wrong, then what, if anything, should we do about the fact that this religion is being practiced right here among us with the same, or variations of, conduct for which Jeffs was found criminally guilty?
It should not even be a question whether sex with under-aged girls should be swiftly and sternly dealt with. But what of the question of polygamy? Should it be protected under the law?
I have questions. So should you.
See you out there.
copyright St. George News 2011