ST. GEORGE, Utah — Woodrow Johnson was 15, and by the rules of the polygamous sect in which his family lived, he had a vice that could condemn them to hell: He liked to watch movies.
When his parents discovered his secret stash of DVDs, including the “Die Hard” series and comedies, they burned them and gave him an ultimatum. Stop watching movies, they said, or leave the family and church for good.
With television and the Internet also banned as wicked, along with short-sleeve shirts — a sign of immodesty — and staring at girls, let alone dating them, Woodrow made the wrenching decision to go. And so 10 months ago, with only a seventh-grade education and a suitcase of clothes, he was thrown into an unfamiliar world he had been taught to fear.
Over the last six years, hundreds of teenage boys have been expelled or felt compelled to leave the polygamous settlement that straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
Disobedience is usually the reason given for expulsion, but former sect members and state legal officials say the exodus of males — the expulsion of girls is rarer — also remedies a huge imbalance in the marriage market. Members of the sect believe that to reach eternal salvation, men are supposed to have at least three wives. ...
“In part it’s an issue of control,” Mr. Murphy said of the harsh rules. But underlying the expulsions, he added, is a mathematical reality. “If you’re going to have plural marriage, you need fewer men,” he said.
Andrew Chatwin, 39, the uncle who took Woodrow in, left the sect 10 years ago. He explained how the expulsions usually happen: “The leaders tell the parents they must stop this kid who is disobeying the faith and Warren Jeffs. So the parents kick him out because otherwise the father could have his wives and whole family taken away.”...
Mr. Gilbert estimates that 100 boys from his school class, or 70 percent of them, have been expelled or left on their own accord; there is no way to verify the numbers. “There are a lot of broken-hearted parents, but you question this decision at the risk of your own salvation,” Mr. Gilbert said.
The problem of surplus males worsened in the 1990s when the late prophet Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’s father, took on dozens of young wives — picking the prettiest, most talented girls, said DeLoy Bateman, a high school teacher who watched it happen.
Warren Jeffs, taking the mantle after his father’s death in 2002, adopted most of his father’s wives and married others, and also began assigning more wives to his trusted church leaders, former members say. Forced departures increased. ...
Monday, September 10, 2007
Boys New York Times: By ERIK ECKHOLM