Friday, March 9, 2012

Fighting to Defend Religion

Uh, no thanks.

I will just go ahead and live my faith to the best of my ability regardless of what anybody else thinks or does about it.

This is the reaction I had to an exchange I saw on Facebook (the kind I really dislike because they get the participants absolutely nowhere) in which some were bad-mouthing the woman Rush called even worse names and someone else was trying to defend her. The exchange came down to an accusation from the bad-mouthers that there were evil people out there intentionally and admittedly trying to destroy religion, ours specifically, and we had a duty to "push back" to defend our faith.

I am learning a different lesson from transcribing my 2nd Great Grandfather's prison journal. Once again, I in no way want to defend or promote plural marriage, but I respect him for his beliefs and even how he (and the church) dealt with it when he was imprisoned for over three and a half years for entering into more than one marriage. It was against the laws of the land but a practice of religious faith.

As I have mentioned in discussions of George C. Wood, it's rather amazing that he did not fight any harder than he did. Sure, he had some occasional negative thoughts and expressions about his captors. I mean, who wouldn't? But he led no prison revolts, no escape attempts, no hunger strikes, no political protests or even grandstanding. There were a few symbolic points made by prisoners singing hymns, etc. He served his time, was pardoned, and went right back to his two wives and children and had a few more.

Here's some more evidence of the attitude he had. While in prison, he was called to testify in court about another man, Joseph Dean*, accused of violating federal laws against polygamy. My account comes from the Ogden Standard Examiner of September 25, 1886. We'll pick up Grandpa Wood's testimony with this response as to whether he ever discussed plural marriage with Dean:
A. - I have conversed with Mr. Dean about the doctrine of plural marriage.
Q. - Did he say he believed it was right?
A. - I can't recall that.
Q. - You believe that it is right, do you not?
A. (emphatically) - I do. And past that, I know it is right (a buzz in the courtroom.) 
 Mr. Dickson - I don't care about that. What did Dean say about plural marriage?
A. - I took no note of it. I do not care anything about it anyway. (Laughter.) 
Mr. Dickson (hotly) - Well, I care about it considerably. 
The witness finally said he thought he and Dean agreed in a general way on what they were talking over.
And as I said, after a three years and seven months in prison, George went right back to his wives and family.

There is another interesting little brush with federal law enforcement officials in November, 1895, just before Utah Statehood on January 4, 1896, finally ended federal territorial law in Utah, even if the Utah State Constitution and new state law would prohibit plural marriage. (In compliance with the 1890 Manifesto and Utah law, George C. Wood did not enter into any further marriages. He simply honored the two he already had).

The teenage journal of my Great Grandmother, Addie May Wood, unfortunately has a page missing. She is writing about her father's continued problems with the federal marshals because they suspected there were babies being born in the Wood Family home from more than one wife. Now is not the time to speculate what could be missing and why, but we do have this:
Then in a few minutes she got up and opened the door.  And a Marshal stepped up.  Nellie said, “Here is a man, Pa.”  He went out and shook hands with him.  He said, “I have a warrant for you, Mr. Wood.”  The dog was barking so that he would not hear what he was saying.  And the dog frightened him so as he would of took Pa in the house and then it would have been many years in that old penitentiary. Pa said, “Go in the house and I will take the dog to the barn.”  The Marshal stood as if he was dumb and Pa went to the barn and right through to the hills and on as fast as he could.  In a few moments the Marshal came to his senses and went to searching for him, he and his company which was at the other door.  They hunted and hunted but found nothing.  We were in the house almost holding our breath for we did not know what had happened.  In a little while they came in the house and Mr. Dire told Ma that Pa had got the best of him for once, but asked her to please tell him that the best thing for him is to leave this country.
George did leave the country. While one may wonder whether the marshal was suggesting he might want to go to Mexico or Canada as other polygamists had, President Wilford Woodruff provided George's solution by sending him on a mission to England. He left in February, 1896. Seven months into his mission, his second wife gave birth to a daughter back at home.

Polygamy today is not the test, except maybe a little in how we deal with our history. The tests today are many and varied. Regardless of the specifics of any problem, I think the example of Grandpa Wood evidencing his faithfulness and willingness to sacrifice is solid on the principles of D&C Section 121 that the Prophet Joseph himself learned in Liberty Jail. That's something even more challenging than plural marriage.

It's not about waging war or "pushing back" on those who disagree with our faith and practices. It is simply living our faith and practices the best way we can with unfailing charity.

*Joseph Dean (1855-1947) had married Florence Ridges (1866-1942) on 11 June 1885 in the Logan Temple. Florence was a half-sister to Adelaide Ridges Wood (by a plural marriage, her mother being a daughter of Parley P. Pratt). Adelaide was my 2nd Great Grandmother and first wife of George C. Wood. So George and Joseph were sort of "related."


  1. Fascinating stories. I'm sure glad we don't struggle with that nowadays. And by "that" I mean multiple wives AND lawmen at the door.

  2. I shouldn't have to point out the obvious, but please note in the testimony how careful George is not to lie and at the same time he tries not to reveal any more than he has to about his friend and brother-in-law. About himself, he did not hold back. And then later when he successfully runs away from the less-than-bright marshal, he doesn't actually lie, he did take the dog to the barn, he just didn't tell about the plan to head out the other door and keep going. From other indications in Addie May's journal, her Pa had hiding places prepared up in the hills to the east, now full of fancy houses and golf courses. (It's called "EagleWOOD" for a reason).

  3. "It is simply living our faith and practices the best way we can with unfailing charity."


    Fwiw, in regard to your comment, I believe in creative honesty. Iow, I believe in being scrupulously honest, but I believe in picking and choosing how much of the truth I share and how I phrase it. There are many reasons for this, but I love the examples you mention in your post.

    1. "creative honesty" - that's an interesting way to put it. I've tended to draw a line between "honesty" as an attitude and way of life opposed to "truth" which can be a cruel sword when used improperly, i.e., in a "dishonest" manner.


Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!