I felt a strange sympathy for the pompous patriarch who discussed his polygamous BC Christian sect with CBC’s The Fifth Estate last week.
I’m not generally congenial toward religious leaders who justify their control over their sad flocks by pretending to have special orders from some magical being, as laid out in one crusty old tome or another.
But reporter Hana Gartner’s patronizing dismissal of the sect’s sexual arrangements made me cringe. She was scandalized, not so much by the subservience of women – let’s face it, she could find that story in legions of religious communities, and more power to her if she’d take that on – but by the sex.
She was indignant at the thought of anyone having more than one partner. And she was incredulous in the face of a culture she did not understand but was quick to dismiss. So much so that one could imagine her in a previous century, interviewing polygamous native Canadians with extreme distaste, and paving the way for the missionaries and residential schools.
Gartner is the quintessential CBC woman. Chronic bed-head conveys a rejection of the prettiness traditionally expected from women on television. And endless assortments of scarves and shawls denote a sense of propriety that too often expresses itself as prudish disdain for sexuality.
And so, despite the fact that the sect’s leader is a total creep, I could see the parallels between his cause and that of the queer community. This is a group of people whose values are at odds with those of mainstream society. Their sexual activities are sensationalized by the media, and may even be interpreted as illegal. These people want the right to be able to build their own communities and to live their lives as they see fit. Hallelujah.
The catch in this story, though, comes with children. I’d be happy to uphold the right of an adult community of people who freely choose to broaden the definition of marriage to include multiple spouses. But the sect perpetuates itself by brainwashing female children from birth, so they’ll grow into men’s slaves.
We are told that some of the women are married off in their teens – while still, technically, children. The issue of consent for teens who have sex with adults generally hinges on the power relationships involved. Surely the word of the omnipotent Christian God holds more power over these girls and women than, say, a janitor at Maple Leaf Gardens might hold over a teenage hockey fan. But janitors go to jail.
A man who lives near the sect wants it left alone. He complains that if gay people or Sikhs were carrying on similarly, you’d never hear a peep about it.
The idea that Christians are under siege while the queers and the infidels do as we please has gained a lot of currency. We’ve become accustomed to the idea that we live in a politically correct society fearful of offending the formerly marginalized, and eager to punish the formerly powerful. Have the tables really turned?
Let’s do a little comparison shopping. Gay people are not allowed one spouse by marriage, let alone multiple ones. And just imagine the response if a similar sect of gay men was discovered – men who raised young boys from infancy to be their sexual slaves once they became teenagers. I expect the death penalty would be reinstated. The white Christian heterosexuals in BC are seen as abnormal, but they are left to their own devices.
As the recent raid of Goliath’s bathhouse in Calgary attests, gay men continue to be criminalized, not just for consensual sex between adults, but for being somewhere where consensual sex takes place.
The freedom of the religious sect also contrasts interestingly with the current worldwide crackdown on child pornography on the Internet. Thousands of Canadians are under investigation. We don’t know the details of the materials seized, but if past busts are any indication, much of it likely involves teens.
Authorities apparently ignore what appears to be the sexual slavery of teenage girls in the BC religious community, and yet they want new laws and wads of cash to jail men who look at pictures of teens having sex.
I have some recommendations:
1) Teach children about sex and personal agency from a young age. Personal agency sometimes means teaching kids to disagree with and even to disobey their religious parents. The fad for funding religious schools – sold as a paean to diversity and decentralization in recent years – must be reversed. As the Supreme Court pointed out in its ruling on the Surrey book ban, a good education is a kid’s best defence against twisted adults. No religious school should receive, directly or indirectly, a penny of tax money. Period.
2) Stop real acts of exploitation against real children, be it at the hands of religious institutions, paedophiles or parents. The current obsession with sexual exploitation alone, and specifically with the consumption of youthful porn images instead of their production, is a symptom of a broad sickness in our culture: the will to make people desire differently, to exterminate ugly thoughts. It’s futile. Stop wasting my tax money.
3) Send Hana Gartner to some sex parties – as a spectator, if not a participant – until she understands that some people like to have sex with lots of people. Her sanctimony is boring and offensive.
4) As for the CBC, ban the non-religious wearing of all shawls, scarves and other neck and shoulder drapery. See note about boring and offensive, above.
David Walberg is Publisher for Xtra.