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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review/Spoilers - "Under the Banner of Heaven" Sister Wives

Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent faith by Jon Krakauer
Written by AmyInTX

The author of this book, Jon Krakauer is probably best known for his book Into the Wild which spent two years on the NYT bestseller list.  I had read that book and really enjoyed it and was very intrigued when I saw that he had written a book on polygamy. 
According to the Author’s notes, he began the book as part of a ‘desire to grasp the nature of religious belief’.  He grew up in Oregon among those of the LDS faith.  He further states that this is not the book that he intended to write but that he was pleased with the result.  The book is written in the tone of a journalist and is heavily indexed and referenced.  It is full of anecdotes which I think all of you will find familiar to your (growing) knowledge of polygamy and fundamentalist Mormonism. 
The main storyline of the book focuses on the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty on July 24, 1984.   At the time of her murder, Brenda was 24 years old and Erica, her daughter, was 15 months old.   Erica was stabbed to death in her crib by her uncle who then went downstairs and along with another uncle, beat and stabbed Brenda to death.   Not incidentally, July 24 is a big day in the Mormon faith, that of Pioneer Day which commemorates the day that Brigham Young and the first Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
The book jumps around a lot, focusing on the history of the Mormon church, how different sects have broken off, beliefs of the faith, the doctrine of polygamy as well as other crimes committed by fundamentalist Mormons.  It doesn't have much of a story line, but is packed full of interesting stories from the Mormon and Fundamentalist Mormon histories and faiths.  Instead of following the flow of the book, I will give you some of the high points and will conclude by providing more details on the murders of Brenda and Erica.
First though, I would like to point out some recurring themes from the book that will no doubt be familiar to those who have taken a deeper look into the faith.   The Mormon faithful, not unlike members of other faiths, believe that they are a special people, set apart by God.  They also have a strong sense of be persecuted and almost seem to enjoy that persecution as a mark of being God’s special people.  Further, there is a doctrine within the church that it is appropriate to “Lie for the Lord” and to “Bleed the beast”.  In other words, to be dishonest to those outside the church is not considered sinful but something that should be done.
·         In 1988, Gordon B. Hinkley, the president and prophet of the LDS Church was interviewed on Larry King Live.  He stated that, “They (Fundamentalists) have no connection with us whatever.  The don’t belong to the church.  There are actually no Mormon Fundamentalists”.  However, the author points out that Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists believe in the same sacred texts and the same sacred history.   The primary difference is that Fundamentalists believe that they have a divine obligation to take multiple wives. 

·         One of the communities mentioned in the book is that of Short Creek/Colorado City .  Three sects reside in Short Creek, including the FLDS or UEP (United Effort Plan) headed by Warren Jeffs.  (This book was written both during and shortly after the death of Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father and the husband of the woman featured on the 20/20 Special, Rebecca Musser).   Short Creek is also the site of the infamous Raid which is when the US Government, with the support of the LDS church arrested 122 polygamous men in 1953. 

·         The book also mentions the Kingston group (Kollene’s father is mentioned by name).  In May 1998, a girl dialed 911 and told police that immediately after she turned 16, her father, John Kingston, had pulled her out of high school and forced her to become the 15th wife of her uncle, David Kingston, 32.  Twice the girl had run away but was caught each time.  At one point, she went to her mother for help who returned her to her father.  She was then taken to a ‘reeducation camp’ for wayward wives and disobedient children.  She was beaten.  She fled the ranch and called the police.  John and David were tried and sentenced to jail, John for 28 weeks and David for 10 years.

·         Another familiar name that appears in the book is Flora Jessop’s.  Flora has been involved in the media due to the disappearance of her sister Ruby.  Ruby was 14 when she was caught kissing a boy in Colorado City.  She was immediately forced to marry an older man in her extended family.  After her wedding night, she was ‘hemorrhaging copious amounts of blood’.  She attempted to flee, running to the home of one of her bothers.  She was allegedly abducted from his home in 2001 by members of the FDLS church.  Flora contacted the police to tell them that Ruby had been kidnapped.  Upon investigation, the police were told that Ruby was on vacation.  The police left.  Unsatisfied, Flora continued to press for help.  The Utah Department of Child and Family Services meet with Ruby who was accompanied by one of her abductors.  In the presence of the abductor she was interviewed and told the social workers that ‘everything was fine’.    A quick google search reveals that Ruby was held by the church for the next 12 years before she escaped in earlier this year with her 6 children.

·         In 1826, Joseph Smith was sued by the state of New York for being an imposter.  He had presented himself to numerous people as someone with the ability to find buried treasure through the use of a seeing stone.  Eighteen months after the trial concluded he is purported to have found the golden plates which outlined the Mormon religion.

·         In 1831, as Mormonism was growing more popular, the local newspaper reported the following:  “We have never been able to learn that any of the (Smith) family were ever noted for much else than ignorance and stupidity…(and) a propensity to superstition and a fondness for everything marvelous.
·         Joseph Smith, continually lied about being a polygamist until he was outed within his community.  His first wife, Emma despised polygamy and was very vocal on her views.  At one point she threatened to take a plural husband if Joseph didn’t give up his wives.  In fact, the written text of Section 132 (the polygamy section of the Doctrine and Covenants) refers to Emma by name.  I copied the following from the LDS.org website.  And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and acleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be bdestroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

·         The murders were committed by two brothers of Brenda’s husband Allen.  The mastermind of the murders was Allen’s oldest brother Ronald who believes that he is the one true prophet.  He believed that God told him that he must murder Brenda and Erica along with two other people who assisted his ex-wife in leaving him.  At one point, he told Brenda’s husband Allen that he had been told by God to kill Brenda and Allen did nothing.  He was assisted in the murder by his brother Dan and two friends of theirs.   They had discussed the murders with many people before committing them.  At one point, the murder was discussed in front of their mother, Brenda’s mother-in-law and Erica’s grandmother, who also did nothing.  It gets even more crazy than that, I leave those details to those of you who chose to read the book.

In conclusion I will say that this is long, and it could have been 5 times longer.  This book is meticulously researched and packed full of details that are fascinating.  A must read, though a bit tedious at times, for anyone who is interested in greater detail.


45 comments:

  1. We thank AmyInTX for submitting this!! Guys, taking some time this weekend, I will answer all emails Monday. thanks!

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  2. I Knock Hips With No OneSeptember 29, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    This book was my first introduction to American polygamy. It's riveting and tragic, especially in its coverage of the mountain meadows massacre. Another amazing book if you liked this one (forgive me if you've already reviewed) is Prophet's Prey written WITH Krakauer from the first person perspective of Sam Bowers, and gives a stunning moment by moment account of the FLDS Waco raid and Jeff's records inside the church.
    Thanks for putting up this précis.

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  3. The Author clearly states this is about Fundamental Mormonism, thanks!

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  4. The Author clearly states this is about Fundamental Mormonism, thanks!

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    1. M.S.... Get off of here!!! Your hippy and your kids want your attention!! Not another word until late tomorrow... :) <3 U!!!

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  5. I agree Under the Banner of Heaven is somewhat convoluted reading. I got the impression the Laffertys used the doctrine of blood atonement to justify killing Brenda and Erica. This doctrine stipulates that some sins are so heinous that the blood of Jesus Christ isn't sufficient to cleanse them, and only the shed blood [i.e., death] of the 'sinner' can atone for them. Most prominent of these sins is the shedding of innocent. blood. This doctrine which was reaffirmed in 1954 by the Mormon church is behind the State of Utah allowing firing squads as a means of death in death penalty cases. Older readers may recall the case of Gary Gilmore who was executed by a firing squad about 30 years ago.

    An example of how seriously devout Mormons take this doctrine is seen in a statement by the father of Mark Hoffman, a forger who used bombs to cover the forged early Mormon documents he sold to the Mormon church back in the 80s. When he was charged with murder, his father stated something to the effect that he needed to be given the death penalty, and shot so he could be redeemed for killing 2 people. If you're interesting in true crime and modern day Mormonism, check out the book A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey. The book is out of print, but you should be able to find a used copy through Amazon.com or other used booksellers.

    As far as Joseph Smith goes, a big part of how he was able to deceive so many with his 'other testament' is because that area of New York state had been gripped with all sorts of incredibly unsound theology for quite a number of years to the point it was referred to as being 'burned over.' I haven't been able to learn too much about it, but it seems that it was common practice to use peep stones and the like to look for buried treasure so I get the impression that when Joseph Smith did this, it wasn't as odd as it would be today.

    The polygamy practiced by Joseph Smith and his cohorts strikes me as an easy way to bed attractive women without violating the 6th Commandment against adultery. He regularly took other men's wives, and according to my 4th cousin, our 4th great grandmother was the first secret polygamous wife of one their many apostles. She bore a child she named after the man while married to her 'real' husband who is the spitting imagine of the apostle! The man was one of the Presidents of the Mormon church after the death of Brigham Young. I'm sure this was very common practice as men are attracted to beautiful young women, and women are attracted to powerful men. There was one couple named Law who left the Mormon church when Joseph decided to take the wife. They wrote a letter exposing what happened that some antimormon websites have--I'm sure you could find it by googling it.

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  6. Amy,
    Thank you so much for your review. The book sounds very interesting and one I'm going to request from my library.

    Hayley,
    Thank you for your input. Your familial perspective adds a personal touch to the history. Interesting.

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  7. AmyinTX, , I agree that this book is fascinating and not just on the subject of polygamy. It is a very well written history of the Mormons and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Mormonism, pioneer history, comparative religion, American history. Thank you for your post making the readers aware of it.

    Emma

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  8. Thanks for the great review. I read Prophet's Prey with John Krakauer just recently and enjoy the writing style very much. The book was very interesting and as "I knock hips with no one" mentioned, it's about Sam Bowers' investigation into the FLDS.

    Amy thanks for all the great info. I have just added this book to my wish list on Amazon.

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  9. Amy,

    I haven't read this one. Your indepth review has now certainly made it a priority.
    Thanks !!!

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  10. I just want to say I have really enjoyed all the reviews and interviews in the past few weeks. Thanks for everyone had contributed. You guys are awesome!

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  11. I enjoyed your review. Thank you for writing. That last bit was crazy. It is horrible to think family members sat by and allowed a murder like that.

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  12. Thanks for the review! The book is now on my growing list of must reads. Will be going to the library this weekend. Also, thanks to Mister Sister, whom I hope is off enjoying her family :)

    dj

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  13. Can somebody please explain this article?

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogspolygblog/56909509-185/trust-board-deadline-wisan.html.csp

    What does it mean to apply to be on the board of trustees of the UEP? If it is in receivership, does the state choose the trustees and what are the primary criteria?

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  14. Amy thanks for the great review. I was especially interested in Ruby Jessop finally being rescued.

    Here is a link to the news report about Ruby Jessop's escape:
    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55679319-78/jessop-ruby-flora-arizona.html.csp

    SWB peeps from Arizona-- contact your legislators to keep the funds coming so that law enforcement can assist in more rescues like this!! :)

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  15. No problem everyone. Glad you liked it. It really is so full of fascinating tidbits. :)

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  16. I'm definitely going to read this book. My husband is Morman, and while I respect his right to choose a religion, I'm certainly not Morman. I found the section about Joseph Smith being an imposter interesting. He's so highly regarded by Mormans. I also found the story about Emma despising polygamy completey fasinating! I "assumed" his wives were all of the same mind on the subject of having sister wives.
    I don't say anything to change my husband's view on Mormanism. We have just agreed to disagree on religion. I am just glad he draws the line at polygamy becuase that is where we would part company.

    Thanks for the review on the book. It's on my "must read" list!

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  17. Even if you're not interested in the topic of polygamy, I strongly recommend reading Under the Banner of Heaven, for the brilliant writing alone. It's one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. Krakauer brilliantly weaves the Lafferty murder into the history of the LDS.

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  18. I don't know if someone mentioned it on another thread, but get ready for another 2 shows on polygamy in "Breaking the Faith" and "Escaping the Prophet" where people are running away from the FLDS. http://nypost.com/2013/09/24/tlc-tackling-controversial-flds/

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  19. Thank you, Amy for the great review. I agree that generally there are themes in these books (about the real workings of some branchs of polygamy)..and that is that women are to obey and if they don't they are often married off young and impregnated quickly in order to tie them to the faith. Lots of familiar names, lots of abused women and kids, lots of bleeding the beast and lots of false prophets.

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  20. Here is an article about the upcoming shows. I hope this hasn't been posted on here before. The title says two new series but the text seems to say just two shows.

    The Attorney General of Utah is loudly not mentioned in the article.

    http://www.deadline.com/2013/09/tlc-to-debut-two-series-about-people-trying-to-leave-flds-church/

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  21. I sent a comment in yesterday about " Lying for the Lord", was there a problem with it? It was a direct quote from the site Mormonthink.com.

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    1. karen, I did not see one come in. thanks!

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  22. I just want to say, that I am so disturbed by all of these books, tv specials, documentaries...etc in regards to all the abuse that goes on in these "religious families (ie cults). You would think we would constantly see this on the news EVERY day.

    Now, when I had my kids they had to have a social security numbers given to them as soon as I could after they were born (for IRS reasons and what not).... Do all these children being born in these communities get their SS number? If so, then that would help in keeping track of them.

    If you are going to tell me that decriminalizing polygamy would bring some STRICT LAWS and the government WOULD be able to monitor these families...then go for it, but I think we know that the laws would be broken, they would take advantage of what was legalized...you give an inch, they take a mile.

    I think the Browns don't realize that they ARE a unique family...not all polygamous families have a TV SHOW and are making millions, most have had so many children they can't afford to live and feed all their children so they turn to the government for assistance....they have no sense of responsibility...AT ALL. When my husband and I got married, we made decisions....like can we afford a house, how many children can we afford, can we buy 2 cars...etc. That just isn't a concept to Polygamist...more, more, more is their motto. So sad. They need to be monitored by our government, every child should be accounted for.

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    1. While watching "Polygamy-What Love Is This?", it was said that the Kingston group does not issue birth certificates until the child reaches one year of age. This way if the infant dies, they don't have to be accountable to the government because the government doesn't know the child existed.

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  23. Have you done a review of Secrets and Wives, the Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy, by Sanjiv Bhattacharya? I just finished it, it was fantastic. It gives a very indepth inside look at the kingston group, as well as some good inside info on other groups, centennial park, the true and living church, Christopher nemelka, bob foster and his compound built in the rock.

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  24. I just want to say: this board has been ON FIRE lately. Good job moderators!! We know it is a lot of work and appreciate your efforts. (We meaning me.)

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    1. Thanks! We are trying to make the blog more of a community blog. we love hearing from all of you!

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    2. Totally agree w/ you Anon 5:51! It is on fire, and it's "terrrrrificccc!" (I think I'm probably too old for many of you to get this particular cultural reference, but it's for Tony the Tiger. Anybody else out there remember him? "Exit: Stage Left!")

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    3. Oh yeah... I get the Tony the Tiger reference. They're grrrrrrrrrreat!

      Thanks not only for the excellent review of the book but for everyone else sharing book titles in the comments section. This notion of "lying for the lord" is troubling and seems as if it lays a foundation for a whole host of abuses against those caught up in these cults and the general taxpaying public.

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  25. Thank you for another great book review. I know many get upset about this book. Isn't the author talking about the fundamental Mormons, not the LDS?

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    1. these brothers were all raised in the mainstream LDS church and later started their own School of Prophets fundie church. iirc, their parents were on an LDS mission when their sons defected from mainstream LDS church.

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    2. the least of theseOctober 2, 2013 at 7:19 AM

      The reply function was not working (above) so forgive please this does not quite fit the progression of thought....

      Just a thought wrote:
      "they (fundamentalist Mormons) have no sense of responsibility...AT ALL. When my husband and I got married, we made decisions....like can we afford a house, how many children can we afford, can we buy 2 cars...etc. That just isn't a concept to Polygamist...more, more, more is their motto. So sad. They need to be monitored by our government, every child should be accounted for."

      You sound refreshingly grounded. Thanks for sharing this post. Just one this one last sentence, causes me to pause. I like it best when "we the people" talk among ourselves. There are also examples of governments which take on(or are handed) powers which should be left to the people.

      It's a fine line. I like dialogue which asks at what points the individual, the persons close community (family, church, schools) should be asked to take part, to bring food, or become a grounded friend to that person, or finally that place of last recourse-- the government.

      When responsibility is dropped so are rights ... and rights are regained with difficulty. When we give away the rights of "the least of these, our brothers," a part of our own rights go with them.

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  26. This has been an outline of the book. It does not mean all that read it believe all.

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  27. Hi. Long time blog reader, but I haven't commented until now. My great uncle also was one of the first to join Kingston group, but my grandpa didn't (Gustafson). Anyway, I thought if you're reviewing this book, you should definitely post this link to at least give a voice to an analysis/criticism of what is being called "non fiction." http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/Krakauer.pdf

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  28. If people want other more accurate NON FICTION accounts...

    The four Zinas" about a grandma, daughter, and grand-daughter (and then I think one more girl), all Mormon, two of whom, I think, lived in polygamy. It showed the good, the bad, and the horrible, but also wrote about why on earth they went into it and stayed with it. That's early church history, it's written by their great granddaughter. It's taken from their journal and parts are boring, but the rest is fascinating. It's kind of hard to come by, though, I suppose Amazon might have it?

    Also, "A Mormon Mother," I forget who it's by, but it shows the good and the horrible about a Mormon Polygamist wife in the 1880's before they stopped it.

    the sect stuff, which I'm sure is more lurid and truly horrible, I like Irene Spencer's "Shattered Dreams." I learned a lot and it was interesting. In the end the lady became a born-again Christian.

    Also, I know people won't like this, but I really did not get why that one Vegas lady was on the polygamy panel. I only saw one comment addressing this. She seemed to be conned instead of becoming a polygamist, and can of course talk about being manipulated by religious dogma, et (like she talked about on online tv show). I feel like now she is trying to profit and advertise her husbands photography business through this blog, the polyg survivors, and her other appearances. Why haven't people commented on her pitching his and her business so often?

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  29. Even though I am repulsed by most plugs abuse of the government system, esp bc they believe in bleeding the beast, plygs are a small percent of those using and abusing the system. This still doesn't make it right, but I think we should be equally outraged at them as we are the moms on "Teen Mom" and other shows who are profiting off of their shows while using TONS of gov assistance, including gov housing. I was an inner city teacher in NYC for years. 95% of my students had siblings from different dads. 100% of students were on free lunch (the entire school). It was disgusting how nice their cell phones and sneakers were. Their moms were having multiple children from different fathers (which happens all over the US and world), and these fathers were not supporting their families...few were married. The difference between them and Kody--he stuck around more. My point as I type and try to nurse is that we should hold all of those abusing the system to the same standard. I think we on this blog should be comparing/contrasting maybe the Browns to the millions of others I'd mentioned. And why can our disgust be worse for them (even though they are annoying)?

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  30. Anonymous 6:24: Thanks for that link to the LDS' review of the book. It was interesting reading. I always like to hear the other side.

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  31. thanks to amyintx for writing this interesting review of a very hard to follow book read. thanks!

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  32. Not sure if my previous post was approved regarding rewatching Season 1 on Netflix yesterday. I watched the final episodes of Season 1 this morning and two other observations to share PRIOR to Robyn and Kody's wedding:
    1) there is a scene of Robyn showing photos of Kody and the wives to her kids. She points at Kody in the photo and asks one of the girls "who is that?" When the kid replies "Kody," she corrects her and says "Daddy." Knowing now that her ex-husband and their biological father is still in their lives, this is amazingly disrespectful and not cool. I have a stepmom and was never pushed to calling her anything but her first name. Technically at that conversation Kody was still her boyfriend, certainly not "Daddy" to Robyn's kids.
    2) the four women, again PRIOR to the wedding, the four women were on the interview couch discussing splitting Kody's time. Robyn was upset that Kody wasn't getting to spend the 4th night at her place. Christine disagreed and surprisingly Meri agreed with Christine. I missed that before that Robyn wasn't even married to Kody yet and couldn't understand why he couldn't stay at her place already. One of her excuses was that she "sacrificed a lot" with the move and basically felt entitled. Makes me wonder if they had pre-marital sex while now claiming she was somehow "pure" [again] on their wedding night.

    It really was a trip to me to go back and watch that first season as there is a lot more I caught knowing what we all now know, including Mariah wanting to go to Annapolis and that the "private" plyg school she wanted to go back to is unaccredited and the kids are basically given GEDs and not high school diplomas when done.

    Did any of you catch that stuff too?

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  33. K_in_CA: I recently watched that episode that you're talking about where Robyn corrects one of her daughters in saying "Daddy" instead of "Kody" I'm so surprised at how well her kids have adjusted to the family. It just seems too good to be true. Not saying it cant happen, but to go from a relatively small family to having so many other siblings, and having to get along with all of them, it just seems like it would be a difficult transition.

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  34. Thank you AmyInTx, I enjoyed your review.

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  35. Best quote ever on polygamy came from this book:
    “I would say that teaching a girl that her salvation depends on her having sexual relations with a married man is inherently destructive." Such relationships, Lorna Craig argues bitterly, should be considered "a crime, not a religion.” -wrote Jon Krakauer, in Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

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  36. I think many took the post wrong. she merely was telling what the book and the author said.

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