Sister Wives are Socialist

I know I’m behind the times. I don’t watch television very often, and I don’t have cable or satellite tv. But I recently got a Netflix subscription, and I discovered that Sister Wives was on. Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched all 18 episodes of season 1 and season 2. It really is entertaining. Over and over, I kept asking myself, “how do they afford such a large family?” Season 2, episode 3 answers the question.

Meri and Kody on their wedding day

Before I answer that question, let me give you a bit of info about the family for those of you who haven’t seen the show. Kody Brown, 42 is the patriarch. He served an LDS mission in the Texas San Antonio mission. While he was on his mission, his parents decided to become fundamentalist Mormons who embraced polygamy. (Season 2, episode 2 discusses their conversion.) I will mention that the show is not focused on their theology at all, and only gives passing references to it. Upon return from his mission, Kody decided to convert as well. At age 22, he married his first wife Meri, who was raised in a fundamentalist lifestyle. Meri and Kody have 1 daughter, Mariah.

early photo of Janelle and Kody

A few years later, Kody married Janelle, his 2nd wife. Janelle also grew up LDS, but became a fundamentalist Mormon. Now the story gets really interesting. Janelle’s first marriage was to Meri’s brother. It didn’t last very long, and I’m not sure why they divorced, but they did. So, Kody essentially married his sister-in-law. (This hasn’t been covered in the show yet.) If you think that’s strange, it gets stranger. Janelle’s mom Genielle decided to become a fundamentalist Mormon as well, and she married Kody’s father just 3 months before Kody and Janelle. So Kody and Janelle are step-brother and sister. (Yes, Season 2, episode 2 covers this as well, but doesn’t quite cover all the bases.) Kody and Janelle had 6 children together in their 17 years of marriage. (Incidentally, Janelle is a year older than Meri.)
Kody and Christine weddingThen a year later, Kody married Christine. Christine was also raised as a fundamentalist. At the start of season 1, Christine was pregnant with she and Kody’s 6th child Truely. Season 1 Episode 4 shows the actual birth at the American Fork Hospital.

Kody and Robyn at their wedding

Season 1 details the courtship of a new wife Robyn, who was also raised as a fundamentalist. Robyn was previously married to a man by the name of David Jessop. Robyn and David had 3 children before they divorced in 2007. The show chronicles the courtship, and I hear that Robyn gave birth to a honeymoon baby on Oct 27, but I haven’t seen the episode yet. Among the 4 wives, they have a total of 17 children now. This family tree is available on their Facebook page.

The show has already caused some problems. Following their appearance on the Today Show (chronicled in Season 2 Episode 1), the Lehi Police Department opened up an investigation of bigamy. The Browns decided to move to Nevada to avoid arrest and breakup of their family. Meri announced that she lost her job in Season 2 episode 5. Robyn quit her job in order to marry Kody, and has had trouble finding work.

So, how do they afford this lifestyle? Kody said that’s the number one question he gets. They have some nice cars: a Lexus, Suburban, convertible, and a van. In Season 2, episode 3 they discuss finances, and Kody says

“I hate to say it’s communal, but it’s really very socialistic. We’re all working together for the same cause. We all use our own talents, and everybody works together.”

Janelle and Kody both work full-time. According to this website, Kody and Meri declared bankruptcy in 2005 in Wyoming. Kody owned a firearms company, but now he is a salesman of some sort. Janelle is also full-time, and seems to pull in a pretty good income. Meri worked part-time at a mental health facility, but was fired after she came out publicly as a polygamist. Christine is the stay-at-home mother. Not only does she “rule the roost”, but she is an avid coupon clipper, buying in bulk. As Robyn has come into the family, she has helped Christine with the many children as she has continued to look for work. The first 3 wives shared 1 huge home, and Robyn had a house about a block away. As I understand it, they have not been able to find a huge house in Las Vegas, so they have 4 separate houses now.

As they have pooled their resources, they have had to become a bit communal. I’ve enjoyed Stephen M’s posts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5--I hope I got them all) on the economics of utopias. In the Browns case, I don’t see how they could live this lifestyle without being communal. In that sense, they seem very true to the vision that Joseph Smith had for consecrating all their possessions. The wives share food and resources freely with each other (Christine was surprised to hear that they were out of sugar–Meri admits to using the last of it.) It is this sense of communalism that seems quite in line with early Mormonism. They genuinely seem to get along, and even my wife mentioned that she could see some nice benefits of not having to worry about babysitters and having a built in social support network of the sister wives.

Kody and his wives

I am reminded that early Mormons in Utah were out to create a new economic order: the United Order. Capitalism was strongly denounced by Brigham Young as “profiteering”. Brigham often set price controls for basic necessities. Consecration tries to control the market, it doesn’t like free markets, because free markets often gouge individuals. As I outlined in my post on Consecration vs United Order, the early polygamy persecutions were as much about forcing free markets onto the Mormons as it was about eradicating polygamy. The Perpetual Emigration Fund and all church assets were targeted as an economic problem and driver of polygamy. It could be argued that “gentiles” used the issue of polygamy as a cover to dump the economics of the United Order. Gentiles really wanted to break into Mormon markets, and were prohibited from trading with Mormons by Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. The government used economics to kill polygamy.

Early Mormons preferred a more socialistic economy of the United Order. (Please don’t confuse this with Marxist Socialism-that is not what I’m trying to say.) I do wonder if some of the virulent free market Mormons of today have forgotten Brigham Young’s admonitions against the profiteering side of capitalism. I wonder if this form of socialism the Browns are doing is more in line with early Mormon thought. Free markets don’t always equate to fair markets, especially for individuals, and Brigham Young did everything he could to regulate the “economy of heaven.” He was quite successful through his death, but later persecutions forced capitalism into Utah, and now some Mormons seem to think that unregulated markets are the “order of heaven.”
What do you think of early Mormon attempts to solve the problem of inequity by eliminating free markets and capitalism in Utah? If polygamy becomes legal again via gay marriage, will the church embrace polygamy?


11 comments on “Sister Wives are Socialist

  1. Brigham Young seemed to embrace some aspects of capitalism. He engaged in some pretty profitable endeavors with some non-member partners also, if I recall. I think that Brigham was more against unbridled captitalism. The economy of Utah was hardly socialistic. I would say that it was more co-operative than socialistic.

    As for polygamy, I doubt that it would be embraced by the church if it were to become legal in the United States, if the Book of Mormon is any indicator.


  2. Yes, I agree it was cooperative. I know some are some who cringe at the word “socialism”, but I’d say these cooperatives were socialistic. I don’t think Brigham Young would say that capitalism is the Order of Enoch.

  3. I have always though it interesting the way people say that poligamy is wrong based on what the book of mormon says then they just ignore the 132 section of the D&C.When it even explaines in the BOM why that princible is taken from them when it states that they are no longer worthy of that law because of the way they treat thier wives. Modern example of doing it wrong is FLDS. Modern example of doing it right is the Browns.(sorry for the bad spelling but you get my point).

  4. MH I was wondering if you know the churches official stand on why the two “Official Declarations” found at the end of the D&C are not just added as regular sections if they are suposed to be revelations by the lord. Or if they are just based on revelations then why not just print the actual revelations. I Also find it odd that the first “Official Declaration” Begins with “To whom it may concern” and most all the other sections in the D&C have at least somewhere in the section. “Thus sayeth the lord”. the way the “Official Declarations are written it looks like they are from one man to another man. while the sections read like they are the Lord telling his people how they should live. (Im not trying to be a troll. I have always wondered about this).

  5. “Inspired Economy?” That’s a tough call. When you look at the economies in the scriptures, most of them seem capitalistic. We all know to render to Ceaser what is Ceasar’s through taxes. But an inspired, cooperative approach would be great preparation for consecration. The problem is enforcing that economy on 7 billion other people and their governments. I assume the City of Enoch had a certain approach to the economy. If we could mimic it, that would be great. If plural marriage is ever made legal, I don’t know if the Church would adapt and change to acccommodate it. There would have to be some major “new” revelation involved, and as importantly, I don’t know whether we would have polygny as well as polyandry. My guess is the Church would pull out of government/state santioned marriages altogether, and LDS would marry or be sealed in a religous manner only.

  6. KPC, good question about the OD’s. I should research it a bit more, as I don’t know, but here are my thoughts.

    In my view, the OD-1 and the footnotes are backwards. If you read the footnote, Wilford Woodruff discusses a vision of what would happen if the church did not abandon polygamy. The Manifesto was a press release, not a revelation, though the footnote contains more information about the revelation. In 1904, the church issued the 2nd Manifesto because of concerns in Congress that polygamy was still being practiced. OD-1 has been included in the D&C since 1908, primarily as way to conteract claims that polygamy continued to be practiced after the 1890 Manifesto.

    OD-2 is also a press release allowing all men the priesthood (a more positive way of expressing it than “blacks can hold the preisthood now.”) I wish we could see the text of the revelations for these 2 declarations. It would make more sense than printing press releases. For whatever reason, the church hasn’t elected to publish the revelations. That’s why they aren’t sections.

  7. So, MH, do you seriously consider it a possibility, or even an eventual probability, that polygamy will become legalized?

    I asked the same question you did: “If polygamy becomes legal again via gay marriage, will the church embrace polygamy?” the day after I started my own blog (on 8 October 2007.) You can read some of the replies I got to that question on that post.

  8. LDSA, yes I consider legalization of polygamy as a possibility, but I don’t know whether it will become legal. The ERA amendment was considered a sure bet to become a constitutional amendment in the 1970s, and there was even a vote scheduled in the Utah legislature to approve ERA. Then when the church stepped in, the measure was stopped. If I remember correctly, the church got involved in Hawaii and a few other states that tipped the tide and prevented ERA from passing. I think the same thing could happen to gay marriage, so I don’t think it’s a sure thing to pass.

    The interesting question is this: if polygamy becomes legal, how would the church respond? Nobody knows, but from the historians I’ve heard, most think the church would not return to polygamy. It was a real divisive issue, and the monogamy crowd seems well entrenched. The deal in the Utah Constitution banning polygamy seems pretty entrenched, so it would be surprising if the church suddenly started sanctioning plural sealings.

    I enjoyed the link–thanks for sharing!

  9. I would give it as an educated opinion — not a prophecy — that the church will not sanction legal plural marriages in the United States [should they become legal].

    It already is legal for plural adults to co-habitate, have sexual relations with each other based on personal marriage covenants, and raise any resulting children — and the church would excommunicate any family found living this way.

  10. Oh yeah — and I was going to say this on your Wheat and Tares version on this post — but didn’t. I guess since I’m here — I will.

    A polygamist family reporting that their success is based on the cooperative sharing began to sound like a good reason for a family to pattern themselves after a gospel-based, egalitarian, multihusband-multiwife, tribal anarchy — as that would also include the joint-stewardships and united order of plural husbands — instead of the stewardship-expanding plural wives only — and would be even more radically “sharing” or “socialist”, etc.

  11. Why do they keep D&C 132 in there and why would God change his mind because of government pressure. Who is the boss anyway?

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