Over almost three weeks now, Americans followed a situation in Texas involving religious practice, government authority, and allegations of sexual abuse of children. At the center is a fundamentalist Mormon church that believes in plural marriage.
The continuing story out of Texas touched one Montana community especially deeply. Residents of Pinesdale in Ravalli County are disturbed by the stories coming from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in Texas. They're disturbed by how the people of that community approach the subject of marriage, and by the separation of mothers and children.
KPAX's Ian Marquand went to Pinesdale to learn more about how that community differs from the one in Texas. And also to learn what they have in common. Beginning with the central question.
Ian: "Would I find husbands with more than one wife here?"
Dee Jessop: "You would."
Ian: "So that has not changed in 40 years."
Jessop: "That hasn't changed in 40 years. But frankly, most of our kids that grow up here, we have lots of children, choose not to accept that way. And we honor that."
Dee Jessop came to Pinesdale from Utah in the 1960's. One of the Apostolic United Brethren that came here to make a home, away from mainstream society.
"Pinesdale was actually set up as kind of a refuge. A place where people could live there religion without being noticed by other people."
Today it is an incorporated town that resembles a suburb in the woods, just below the Bitterroot Range. With a town hall, a fire department, a post office and a Main Street. It has its own private school where children attend class through sixth grade, and where principal Dee Jessop has taught and supervised students for almost 40 years.
The school also houses the center of the community -- the church of the Apostolic United Brethren.
Jessop: "We don't claim we're a different church. We claim we're LDS. So we stick with that principle that the fundamentals of Mormonism still need to be maintained."
And that includes plural marriage.
Jessop: "If there's a real choice between the law of God, this is what we feel, and the law of the land, we make the higher choice and follow the law of God. So we have to take the consequences. We know that."
Ian: "You are a child of a plural marriage."
Jessop: "I am."
Ian: "Do you practice it?"
Jessop: "I can't answer that one."
But, Jessop did talk about how plural marriage works in Pinesdale.
"If there are marriages of more than one woman to a man, then of course, these marriages are not recorded as far as the state is concerned. So there's not, as such, a marriage license. But we do have people we feel like can perform those marriages legally. and we feel like they're legal.
Ian: "How would you like the rest of Ravalli County, western Montana, the state of Montana to view your community?"
Jessop: "As not as weird as a lot of people think. We're as normal as anybody else."
A couple of postscripts here -- First, the mainstream Mormons we've spoken with say the Apostolic United Brethren are not part of their church, and they disavow plural marriage.
Also, Dee Jessop says he has relatives in that Texas compound we've heard so much about. But he has no real contact with that part of his family. Tonight at 10 he'll share his views about events in Texas.
Finally, anybody familiar with Ravalli County knows that the name Jessop is part and parcel of Pinesdale. Dee told me that it all began with his father and his wives. Today, the fourth generation of Jessops live in Pinesdale. In fact, of the 210 children at Pines Academy, 75 share that last name.