ROCKY RIDGE, Utah — Like many mainstream Mormons who embrace fundamentalist church tenets, Charles began questioning in college why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavowed some of its early principles, including polygamy.
In 1990, he and his wife joined the Apostolic United Brethren, a denomination that practices many of the lifestyle choices Mormons espoused in the 19th Century. Today the 41-year-old computer programmer has three wives and 14 children.
“I knew most Mormons believed plural marriage was a true principle and they may have to live it again someday or live it in heaven,” he said. “It’s like saying honesty is a correct principle, but we don’t have to live it right now.”
While polygamists say their lifestyle can bestow countless blessings, it also can draw fierce criticism and criminal prosecution.
Therefore, Charles and his first wife did not want their full names used and turned their backs in pictures taken by the Tribune. His second and third wives, Jeni and Alorah, who are not known publicly as Charles’ wives, hoped with their children, they could safely show the world what they consider to be a blessed life.
Revered as the “Most Holy Principle,” plural marriage is grounded in the early doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though mainstream Mormons do not espouse plural marriage on Earth anymore–those who engage in the practice are excommunicated–the principle is spelled out in Section 132 of the LDS Church’s Doctrine and Covenants as a way to achieve Godhood in the afterlife.
But fundamentalist Mormons, a term LDS leaders find contradictory, do not distinguish between principle and practice. They treat plural marriage as a sacred responsibility. Entering into the principle is a decision the husband, wives and head of the priesthood make together based on each individual’s personal revelations, they say.
In 1994, Jeni joined hands with Charles’ first wife inside a temple. In 2001, Alorah was “sealed” to Charles and the other two wives as well. The reality can be complicated. With 14 children to care for, Charles’ family relies on state welfare. Preventive care consists of herbs and vitamins. Sometimes they pay cash to doctors and for antibiotics.
Charles often loses his job when bosses discover he has multiple wives. As a result, he was unemployed when his son Joseph was born premature. But Alorah, Joseph’s mother, still had a job with benefits to cover the medical costs.
While his father spoke, Joseph, 3, an active toddler with glasses, squirmed in the lap of Charles’ second wife, Jeni, chanting: “Amen, Amen.”
Charles’ mainstream Mormon parents have disowned him twice, but then returned to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren. The grandparents refuse to meet his second and third wives, who together have given birth to six of Charles’ 14 children.
“I could sleep with three different women and nobody would care,” Charles said, referring to adultery. “But if they’re all my wives and I say I’m going to take care of them, it’s a different thing.”
The blessings of plural marriage, such as the friendship of his wives, outweigh the sacrifices and setbacks, he said.
“Those are celestial moments,” he told his church congregation during a sermon one Sunday, his voice breaking with emotion. His first wife and Jeni watched from the pews. “There’s something about this gospel that draws people to give up everything.”