Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
302:  FLDS, Section 132 & The Handmaid’s Tale:  Brenda Nicholson

302: FLDS, Section 132 & The Handmaid’s Tale: Brenda Nicholson

Brenda Nicholson joins me to discuss the social life of women in the FLDS church where she grew up under Rulon and Warren Jeffs.   She’s since left the sect and fiercely argues that there is no way, that polygamy benefits anyone. 

Women, she argues are dehumanized in a system that was designed, as Section 132 intends, for the glory of men. More recently Brenda has made some interesting connections between Hulu’s Gilead in the Handmaids Tale and the social hierarchy in the FLDS community.

(Photo Credit: ‘Handmaid’ by Miki Jourdan)


  1. thechair

    Over the past few years, I have changed my views on polygamy 180 degrees, from supporter to ardent opponent. I’m a white, middle-aged male, married once (now about to celebrate 30 yr. anniversary) to a wonderful woman who suffered severe health problems a few years in. I often thought about having to remarry if she didn’t survive. But God was kind to us; she pulled through, and we got our kids raised to adulthood. I grew up in the LDS Church and have Utah polygamist ancestry on my maternal side. Polygamy was in the scriptures, and God’s anointed couldn’t “lead the Church astray.” Then two things happened. First, the more I thought about the basic principles of the American Declaration of Independence, especially the maxim that “all men [humans] are created equal,” the more it became clear that polygamy cannot coexist with western notions of democratic government. It’s never pretty when tried. It simply doesn’t belong, and cannot fit, in Western democracies. This conclusion worked in me like the seeds of a slow growing tree… it took twenty or twenty-five years to mature. Working much more quickly and acutely was my study of Church history. I like biographies. I had read Rough Stone Rolling, but shelved the polyandry and all the other stuff, for 10-15 yrs. But I then read two biographies of Brigham Young, one on John Taylor, then Laura Ulrich Thatcher’s “House Full of Females,” and the coup de grace, “Mormon Enigma,” the principal biography of Emma Smith. After reading just these, I concluded Joseph Smith’s polygamy was nothing but horse shit. The more I read and learn, the more that is reinforced. Now I maintain a list of reasons why polygamy is both morally wrong and bad practice. Gina’s interview of Brenda revealed some things that I added to my list. Here it is:

    -Polygamy is almost always illegal. But where it is legal, it almost always is clouded by trappings of illegality anyway.
    -It fails the Golden Rule and other generalized codes of conduct. For example, it utterly fails Rotary International’s Four-Way Test: (1) Is it the TRUTH? [fosters lies] (2) Is it FAIR to all concerned? [No] (3) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? [No] and (4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? [No].
    -Violates equality by increasing sexual opportunity for men while diminishing them for wives.
    -Creates elite clan lords; it’s feudalistic.
    -Alpha males attract the majority of desirable women; this feeds on itself.
    -It rapidly exhausts the supply of marriageable women in a given region and rapidly drives down the marriage age of females[affirmed in personal conversation by Laura Ulrich Thatcher].
    -The above phenomena forces the males to go to other communities to poach their women and girls.
    -I don’t believe, although I can’t prove it, yet, that polygamy creates more little Mormons (or whatever) than does monogamy. For example, Brigham Young sired only about the same number of kids as he had wives. I am skeptical that typical rationales deployed to justify polygamy are not borne out in reality.
    -Creates pain, loneliness, jealousy, and disharmony in the home.
    -The doctrine of polygamy was smuggled in secretly, through the back door, violating common consent and trammeling agency.
    -The doctrine of polygamy was later discarded in reaction to events in the USA, and its meaning was changed.
    -The practice of polygamy was fostered only with coercive tactics and overreaching.
    -It makes people lie, even where it’s legal.
    -It violates the spirit of the commandment against adultery.
    -D&C 132 is idiocy for idiots. It talks about God “giving” women to favored men, and threatening to “destroy” Emma. It mischaracterizes women–half the human race–as chattel property rather than coequal citizens and free moral agents. This–D&C 132–clashes HARD with the American Declaration of Independence. The early Republican Party–Abraham Lincoln’s party–was right to have in its 1860 platform opposition to both polygamy and the extension of slavery, “the twin relics of barbarism.”
    -Polygamy treats women and “seed” (aka children) as commodities.
    -Makes equal love and respect in marriage impossible as it gives leverage only to husbands who can always discard a disfavored wife if he doesn’t get his way, for whatever reason, with no price to pay.
    -Finally, acceptance of polygamy in light of these objections forces one to distort one’s conscience and moral thinking.


  2. Nancy

    I know you’re not John Dehlin, but honestly I would like to have this wonderful woman on again to relate her personal story in its entirety. She sounds like a person I would really like to know.

    Also: NZ rocks!

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