Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Knock, knock, knockin

Last night's excellent "Big Love" episode ("Kingdom Come") ended with two characters knockin' on heaven's door to Bob Dylan's song. Polygamist prophet Roman Grant, who had been shot by followers of a rival polygamist sect, was lying on the sidewalk, full of blood. Meanwhile, teenager Ben Henrickson was receiving his family's version of the Aaronic Priesthood from his father. The backstories to those little Dylanesque dramas constituted the main plotlines of the episode.

Ben's mother, Barb, who grew up in the regular LDS Church, was manipulated into accepting polygamy by her husband Bill; would in her own heart want to drop polygamy and return to the LDS Church; but remains loyal to her family, including her sister-wives, both of whom make their own side arrangements with Bill. Ben, meanwhile, has been having sex with his secular temptress girlfriend on a regular basis. After the parents get him to 'fess up, he proposes marriage to his girlfriend so he can "make it moral" in his parents' eyes. Back at home, Bill asks whether this girlfriend is "the one." Ben looks at Barb and coldly replies that he doesn't know; she's the one for now, and if that changes, he can always marry a second wife. Writer Lance Black explains that this conversation is really a conversation between Bill and Barb, about Barb's own choices and about whether the kids should be encouraged to be polygamists. Barb, aghast at the words that have come out of her son's mouth, cleverly convinces the girlfriend to break up. Evidently without Barb's knowledge, Bill ordains Ben to the priesthood and suggests that the son's life as a plyg will be easier than his has been. I'm guessing Barb is going to find out.

Meanwhile, Bill plays Roman Grant against a rival plyg group, evidently without realizing that the other group has turned to murder, or, as they call it, blood atonement. Bill wants to buy a video poker company out from under both groups and walk away unscathed. Bill's mother reveals that some of the money her brother invested in Bill's project was stolen. Bill griped at his mother and brother, but I noticed that he did nothing about giving up that money. Oh, and Roman got shot. I'm guessing someone is going to find out that Bill is indirectly responsible.

So Bill continues along the road to hell that is paved with good intentions, a road that may lead to him becoming the next incarnation of Roman, the man he has vowed to crush.

One thing that strikes me as mildly interesting is that these polygamist groups are organized, for the most part, as relatively small groups following a strong and/or charismatic, dictatorial figure, who may or may not be benevolent. In one of these groups, they actually refer to a principle of "one-man rule." The LDS Church, from which these groups split, has evolved into an organization with a bureaucratic structure and, essentially, a collective leadership at the top. The understood rules of decisionmaking are such that the organization is institutionally conservative; the structure, collective leadership, and decisionmaking rules--and, contrasted with these other groups, a very large membership base--are such that it seems highly unlikely that the main church will march off the proverbial cliff at the behest of one individual.


Anonymous said...

LDS is not at all a collective leadership. it is just as authoritative, at each level, as the plyg groups.

Randy said...

I'm not sure what you mean. Collective leadership doesn't mean anything more than that a group of individuals acts in unison to lead the whole. It has nothing to do with whether the leadership is democratic or authoritarian in nature. In the LDS Church, collective leadership means an unwritten rule that the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 must achieve unanimity on major policy issues. By its very nature, a rule of unanimity in a collective leadership leads to cautious, conservative decisionmaking. Thus, for example, Thomas S. Monson couldn't just go nuts and, on a whim, declare crack cocaine to be acceptable under the Word of Wisdom (not that he would want to; it's just a hypothetical). I suppose that an actual revelation to the President of the Church would trump the unanimity rule, or would at least create unanimity.