HURST: An open letter to Montana’s polygamy expert, the governor

By   /   April 23, 2012  /   1 Comment

Dustin Hurst | Franklin Center

HELENA — Dear Gov. Brian Schweitzer,
I want to let you in on a couple of secrets: I am not a polygamist and neither is Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. 

We are, however, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Most Americans knows us as Mormons.
Last week, you reached into the murky depths of political discourse to bring my faith’s prior practice of polygamy, or having multiple wives, to the forefront of the national media.

You told The Daily Beast that Romney, whose lineage runs through Mexico, should be able to relate to immigrants because of the heritage, but will be unable to address that in his presidential campaign because his family hails from polygamist commune in the country.

To protect yourself from appearing a bigot, you added this:

I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.

Governor, I understand that the Mormon faith and its history are difficult to understand. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to explain to outsiders.

The facts are that Romney’s family finds its origins in that community, though the former Massachusetts governor says that his grandfather, who lived there, was not a polygamist.

Unlike Romney, I can safely say my lineage involves polygamy. My ancestors lived in the same Mexico community as Romney’s family.

It’s something my parents revealed to me this past weekend while I visited them in Idaho. I can’t say I was shocked by the disclosure; I long-suspected that I might find polygamists in my family tree if I ever searched hard enough.

Having multiple wives is not something I practice, nor is it a tradition followed by Mitt Romney. It’s a belief held by our forefathers, and disavowed by the church in 1890 under pressure from the federal government.

In fact, any member today found in a plural relationship of any kind is swiftly excommunicated —completely removed from the church and its records.

But the 1890 reversal doesn’t change the fact that polygamy was an accepted tenet of the LDS Church for about 50 years.

Yet, the past doesn’t change me as a writer and it surely doesn’t change Romney as a presidential candidate. We are who we’ve become by the choices we’ve made in our lives, not by the outdated practices of our forefathers.

This question remained in mind after reading your remarks: How does the location of his grandfather’s residence change how Romney would govern as president?

The answer: It wouldn’t.

Your logic reminded me of the rhetorical line of attack rightwingers used against President Barack Obama through the past few years — declaring the president a Muslim because his father was born in Africa; as somehow damaged because he was raised by a single mother.

We don’t choose our parents — or, in Mr. Romney’s case, our grandparents.

Governor, you took a page right out of the rightwing’s playbook. I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Discussing Mr. Romney’s grandparents (or Mr. Obama’s father or mother) does nothing to advance the political conversation. It’s bunk, adding nothing to urgent policy questions concerning the economy, taxes, healthcare, war or the war in Afghanistan.

Of course, you weren’t trying to help Americans understand the issues. You were attempting to damage Mr. Romney and add fuel to the so-called Republican war on women. I get it.

Maybe an honest examination of Mormonism and its relation to women is in order here.

2004 research study by a Dr. Sherrie Mills Johnson at the church-operated Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, revealed that LDS women are at least as happy and fulfilled, if not more so, than women nationwide.

The study showed that on average, LDS women are more dedicated to their chosen religion than non-LDS women are to theirs. They report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction. The women lag, however, in self-esteem, something the study attributed to the church’s high living standards.

Women are an integral part of my church. They always have been and they always will be. They teach, offer stunning music that invites God’s spirit to meetings, and lead disaster and emergency relief efforts. The church’s welfare system — taking care of the poor without government aid — relies heavily on knowledgeable and well-trained women.

In short, women help the church go round.

I understand that. Mitt Romney gets it. Montana’s 45,000 Mormons know it.

But you apparently don’t get it, governor.

What’s weird is that you live less than two blocks from my LDS house of worship, in Helena.
So, I offer you this, governor: Any time you want to discuss how the LDS Church operates today—or in Mitt Romney’s grandfather’s era—please feel free to put on your suit and bolo tie and come over.

On each building, we write “Visitors welcome,” and we mean it.