Monday, August 15, 2011
Dancing with the prophet of polygamy
I have found myself in numerous unusual situations over the years (oops, I did it again), but one of the most memorable was the time I spent in the arms of Rulon C. Allred, the prophet and spiritual leader of an estimated 10,000 Mormon polygamists in the U.S. and Mexico.
No, we were not in the throes of “replenishing the Earth,” as Dr. Allred, a homeopathic physician, regularly reminded his flock to do “with vigor, pleasure and the love of God.”
We were dancing.
Although I hadn’t done any ballroom dancing since being forced to do so in elementary school, Dr. Allred and I twirled, trotted, soared and swooped around the dance floor with the greatest of ease. All around us, watching good-naturedly, were hundreds of his followers.
When I had first called Dr. Allred at his Murray office asking to interview him for an article, he icily refused to “cast pearls before swine.” Later that night, he called me back and said God had told him that I had a good heart and that I would do his people no harm. He scheduled an interview with me the next day and invited me to a dance that evening.
I had expected to be a very unobtrusive spectator at this gathering — just here to get some “color commentary” — so when Dr. Allred welcomed everyone, and introduced me, and then said he and I would kick off the evening by dancing together, I was mortified. I am not a dancer — at least not when I’m sober!
I had read that all a woman needs to do in this situation is to submit completely and unquestioningly to her competent partner (sounds like a basic Mormon precept!), and he can maneuver her body into graceful and even complex, rather flashy dance moves that she never dreamed she could achieve.
It worked! All I’d had to do was to go limp and trust in the prophet. He had taken care of the rest. He was a master at getting a female body to do whatever needed to be done, while remaining a perfect gentleman (that sounds like another basic precept).
Because of his slenderness and height, and his benign, bemused expression, Dr. Allred reminded me of Arthur Murray, whose television program appeared from 1950-60. The lanky Arthur and his wife Katharine were among the most beloved personalities of the era. They made dancing look as refreshing as a mouthwash commercial — all tingly and energizing. The satin swooshed, their heads turned to and fro, and their facial expressions reflected effortless pleasure.
I spent many hours with Dr. Allred, his charming wives and several couples in his flock. I attended a service, which wasn’t the slightest bit bizarre, at his Bluffdale church.
Then, I went back to New York to write my article about him, and just as it was about to go to press in May 1977, he was assassinated by members of a rival polygamous sect, led by Ervil LeBaron. He was only 71, and left behind at least seven wives and 48 children.
I am writing this primarily as a counterweight to the horrendous portrait of the polygamous lifestyle that was presented at the trial of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. I am nowhere near an expert on plural marriage, but I do believe that what I saw during my time with the Allred group was a fairly credible representation of how “The Principle” is lived among his followers.
Dr. Allred was a complex man. His moral certitude could make him seem cold and condescending. But he was no pervert, and I don’t believe he would tolerate anything even resembling child abuse or spousal abuse among his people.
I was honored to meet his wives, who ranged in age, I would estimate, from mid-30s to mid-70s. They were very sweet and relaxed. They looked like “regular people” — not dressed in the old-fashioned pioneer getups we often see on TV. They behaved like “regular people” as well — chattering, laughing, teasing and reminiscing among themselves.
They and the other polygamous families I met discussed the pros and cons of their lifestyle candidly.
It would not be prudent to generalize about polygamy from my glimpse at the Allred flock. Rulon and his brother, Owen, who succeeded him, were regarded as moderate and open, relative to other polygamous sects.
But I feel compelled to support the Apostolic United Brethren, often known as The Allred Group, in its statement last week condemning abuses in the Jeffs group and denying that it is involved in these depraved and criminal activities.
I trust that, for the most part, they are good people, attempting to live in a very challenging way because they believe it is God’s will.
Sylvia Kronstadt, a semi-retired writer and editor, blogs at kronstantinople.blogspot.com.