Billboards Promote Pro-Polygamy Book

Associated Press/August 3, 2002

Bountiful, Utah -- The billboards along Interstate 15 are a glaring reminder that polygamy isn't dead yet.

After decades of effort by the Mormon church and state leaders to cast polygamy as a thing of the distant past, the billboards advertise a new book that calls polygamy "A Promise For Tomorrow.''

The billboards show somber faces of polygamous Mormon pioneers surrounding the book's title, "More than One: Plural Marriage -- A Sacred Pioneer Heritage.''

"We are definitely marketing a message, trying to show there is another side to this,'' said author Shane Whelan. "Plural marriage seems to always be portrayed as a dark subject, something people are unhappy with. We know some were very happy with it.''

Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is said to have had a revelation in the 1830s that he should marry multiple women. One of the purposes was to quickly spread the Mormon religion, Whelan says.

Polygamy was practiced widely for about fifty years, until church leaders agreed to give it up in 1890 as a condition for Utah statehood.

Whelan sees polygamy as a way to bring back the pre-eminence of the family, which he believes is breaking down. Polygamy would provide children with many mothers and would strengthen society, he says.

Pockets of polygamy still exist throughout the West, though Mormons are excommunicated if caught. The most famous modern polygamist, Tom Green, is serving a five-year prison sentence for his marriage to five women. He is scheduled to be sentenced in August for a child rape conviction related to his relationship with his first wife when she was 13 years old.

Rowenna Erickson, co-founder of the support group Tapestry against Polygamy, says she's heard from residents appalled by the advertisements along the city's main roads.

"Polygamy is abusive and demeaning for women and here they are advertising it,'' she said. "That validates people who are promoting this lifestyle. They are doing it under the guise of religion.''

The Whelans -- she is 50 and he is 48 -- say they are a monogamous couple adhering to their church's beliefs. They've been married 2 1/2 years, with nine children between them from prior marriages.

He wrote and is marketing the book; she helped with the research.

Dale Bills, a spokesman for the Mormon church, confirmed the couple are church members but said in an e-mail, "the ideas expressed in 'More Than One' represent the personal opinions of the author. Shane Whelan does not speak for the Church.''

Whelan's book is divided into two parts, the first a series of 80 testimonials from journals of practicing polygamists. Many are pioneer-era women anguishing over accepting other women into their homes. Some use the rapturous language of divine revelation; others admit to jealousies and feelings of sadness and abandonment.

The book's testimonials lead into the second section, which says modern Mormons should prepare for a polygamist future. Whelan says the Mormon church should screen eligible women and the families they would marry into.

Whelan acknowledges such a change could only happen with the blessing of the Mormon church and a change in the country's laws. He said the beneficiaries would be the area's 30,000 single mothers and their children.

In the book's preface Whelan calls polygamy "a true and pure principle that will once again be practiced ... in preparation of the Savior's Second Coming.''

Rhonda Whelan said she balked when her husband first proposed writing the book. "I was hesitant because it's so controversial,'' she said. "But I had a change of heart when we started. It's a story that needs to be told.''

Publishers weren't so sure. The book was rejected by every Mormon publisher before the couple decided to "mortgage the house, the kids and the dog,'' to self-publish the first 3,000 copies, he said.

They now have a second run of 10,000 copies, also self-published.

Whelan relied on his background as a former marketing director for an insurance company to come up with the advertising plan for the book, which includes four billboards, radio ads and a Web site.

Ron Barton, an attorney for the state who is informally known as Utah's polygamy czar, says he's received one call from a woman concerned about the advertisements.

He explained the billboard advertised a book, not a lifestyle.

The couple say they may write another book, but they won't divulge the topic. One subject that won't be addressed: polyandry, the union of several men and one woman.

"That is certainly not what God intended,'' Whelan said.

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