A new reality television series highlighting a Utah polygamist family does not greatly concern Valley Mormons, who say their faith has shunned such a practice for the past 100 years.
“Sister Wives,” they say, portrays a splinter group not associated with the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It may be that the show is simply providing America with its latest source of “shock value” entertainment.
A number of the more than 800 Valley LDS church members have not even taken time to watch the show, which debuted a week ago and airs at 10 tonight on TLC.
“I take any media, especially television programs, with a grain of salt,” said Heidi Parkinson, of Danville, president of the women’s organization at the LDS church in the Sunbury area.
They are free to air whatever they like, she said, “but I think people understand that it’s just entertainment.”
“Sister Wives” is about a fundamentalist Mormon man with four wives and 13 children.
Since its debut, Utah police have begun an investigation of the family to determine if a law against bigamy is being violated. The man, Kody Brown, says he is only legally married to his first wife, Meri.
“There are fundamentalist groups that broke off, maybe, from the original church, who still practice polygamy,” said Hugh Benson, bishop of the Sunbury ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It’s clearly not part of the mainstream Mormon church, and hasn’t been for over 100 years.”
However, he said the show does concern him because of the likelihood of people misidentifying that family with the church he belongs to.
The truth is, if a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was found to be practicing polygamy, Benson said, “They would be excommunicated from the church.”
Not only would they be violating church law, but civil law.
“One of the principles of the church is to obey the civil law of the country that we live in,” Benson said.
The church’s 180th Semiannual General Conference began Saturday in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. It continues today.
But officials, including the president, or prophet, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and other General Authorities and general officers of the church, will not be discussing how to deal with any problems the new show may bring about.
“It doesn’t bother us,” said Jocelyn Christensen, of Lewisburg, a member of the women’s organization. “It really is not on our radar.”
Christensen will be watching the conference via satellite with her family this weekend.
As always, she is looking forward to receiving inspiration from church leaders about how to live an easier and happier life. There is an excitement, she said, of wanting to hear what they have to say to members of the church during each conference.
“They just discuss normal gospel principles,” Parkinson said, which “lift us up and inspire us to do better.”
Many, like Cindy Knight, of Port Trevorton, president of the young women’s organization for the Sunbury ward, have built family traditions around the biannual conference. Her five children, she said, bring their pillows downstairs, and they spend time watching it on television together.
“It’s just a neat family time,” she said.
Family values, Christensen said, are what attract her to the faith the most.
The Heavenly Father intends for all children to be a part of a functional family, with a mom and dad, the church teaches.
Families with stay-at-home moms, members who don’t smoke or drink alcohol, or coffee — that is what truly sets apart the Mormon church, Christensen said — not the false belief that polygamy is associated with it.
In fact, that association seems to be fading, despite shows like “Sister Wives” that pop up from time to time.
“It doesn’t happen that often,” Benson said. “Some people do understand there is no affiliation with that.”
And when they think that, he said, “We just have to correct them.”
The new series may actually prove to be beneficial, Knight, of Port Trevorton, believes.
“If it makes people question the faith, they will find out the truth about what we really believe,” she said.
“Obviously, it invokes questions.”
But her life is her testimony.
“I would hope our church is represented by the good works that we do and the people that we are,” Knight said.
Besides, most people know she has a husband, and he has no other wives.
“I believe my husband would say that I’m more than enough to handle,” she joked.