Friday, August 3, 2012

Mormon Polygamist Caleb Darger Renounces Plural Marriage And Fundamentalist Mormonism, Joins Mainline LDS Church

On August 3rd, 2012, the Daily Mail published a fascinating story about a young man in a Mormon polygamist family who chose not to follow in his family's religious footsteps. Caleb Darger, the 21-year-old son of independent Mormon polygamist Joe Darger, joined the mainline Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And while Joe is disappointed, he accepts his son's decision and has not attempted to deny or disinherit him.

Caleb is one of 24 children, and the Daily Mail says little else about him. Joe is married to Vicki Darger and Valerie Darger, twin sisters who are 42 years old, and their cousin Alina Darger, who's 43 years old. Vicki is Caleb's mother. Joe was once a member of the mainline LDS Church, but was excommunicated when he embraced the principle of plural marriage, a practice indefinitely suspended by President Wilford Woodruff back in 1890. Joe defines himself as an Independent Fundamentalist Mormon, meaning he has not attached himself to the Fundamentalist LDS Church or any other organized polygamist sects. Joe clearly condemns Warren Jeffs' behavior and applauded efforts to bring him to justice.

The Daily Mail cites the family's blog as a primary source of Joe's reaction to Caleb's conversion. From an April 2012 post entitled "Choice In A Polygamous Family", here's the key excerpt:

Recently my son, Caleb was baptised into the LDS, or Mormon Church. We showed up with all the parents, most of the older children, and I think quite surprised the bishop, who remarked on the size of the multitude there to witness the event. He asked us to get up and state our relationship to Caleb and why everyone was there. All three of his mom’s, got up and proudly proclaimed that they were his mother and were there to support him in his choice.

Needless to say there were a lot of shocked faces. I wondered how many of those church goers would have come to a Fundamentalist baptism if one of their children were in similar circumstances? My feelings were very torn that day. I was proud of him. Caleb is an immensely talented musician, scholar and a good person. He had expressed to me that he felt the Church gave him the structure and helped him in his relationship to God. I could not feel bad about that aspect.

However, as the time came during the baptism for what we call the “confirmation” where they asked all the “worthy members of the Priesthood” to lay their hands upon his head, I realized at that moment I was both literally and figuratively outside of that circle. Though the priesthood is one of the most important aspects of my life, and while I can recognize their priesthood, they do not recognize mine.

It saddened my heart to think one of the most sacred and important parts of my lives was not fully connected with my son. Such is the consequence of choice. I was both happy for him and sad for me. Choice by its nature means our children will not choose right all the time, or certainly will not choose what I think is right. Yet I believe that is God’s plan as well. None of us do choose the way we should all the time. That is the reason for His grace.

Joe Darger has been interviewed by a number of media sources, including the BBC's John Sweeney in that infamous interview on Mitt Romney, and a video appearance on This Morning Live back in May 2012. In September 2011, Joe and his wives appeared on ABC's Good Morning America, primarily to promote their book "Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage". And on ABC's 20/20, Amanda, one of Caleb's sisters, is reported to have gone in the opposite direction of Caleb, joining her fiance in a more traditional fundamentalist Mormon group in Arizona and has recently begun wearing more conservative, longer dresses and a bundled hairstyle. The primary objectives of their publicity campaign are to paint a different picture of polygamy than that broadcast by Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist LDS Church, and to raise awareness about their lifestyle and loving family.

Ironically, the campaign to legalize gay marriage in the secular realm could lead to a relaxation of restrictions upon plural marriage, particular for those engaging in it for religious purposes. After all, if gay marriage, which is an abomination without any historical validation, can be justified, how can plural marriage, which is merely an expansion of monogamistic heterosexual marriage, be condemned? Anyone who supports gay marriage but opposes plural marriage could be successfully portrayed as a bigot.

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