It's been five days since authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a compound outside Eldorado, Texas owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Tipped off by a phone call from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been repeatedly "beat and hurt" by her middle-aged husband, the cops stormed Yearning for Zion and took 419 children into custody, accompanied by 139 of their mothers, into custody.
To be sure, Yearning for Zion sounds like a horror show. But is it polygamy's fault? I mean, "the principle" seems to work okay on Big Love, right? I wanted a plural marriage expert to weigh in. After an admittedly quick Internet search, I decided on John Llewellyn, a retired Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lieutenant who has been involved with a bunch of polygamy investigations. Once he started talking, though, it was clear that Llewellyn had some pretty strong opinions about plural marriage, and with good reason: He used to be a polygamist himself.
At the beginning of his career with the Salt Lake City Sheriff's Department, Llewellyn and his young family became active in Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mitt Romney kind of Mormons; they will be the first to tell you that they have noting—they said NOTHING—to do with polygamy). A young single mother asked him to be her children's godfather, and somehow that turned into a request to be his second wife. To Llewellyn's surprise, his first wife acquiesced, and thus began his involvement with the Apostolic United Brethren. He quickly discovered that polygamy wasn't for him—he didn't like how it pitted women against each other. Twenty years later, he left the church with his second wife. (His original wife, he says, chose to be "the fifth wife in a more affluent family.")
Since then, Llewellyn has written several books about life in polygamist communities. These days, he's made it his mission to spread the word about the evils of plural marriage, which he calls "a barbaric custom...to accept it is like going back to the Middle Ages." And he's given up church life, too. "I don't want anything to come between me and God," he says. "If there is a God, I'll handle my own salvation. I don't need a pope or a prophet to come between me and God." I asked Lewellyn a few questions about the Yearning for Zion raid, and, uh, he didn't mince words. Q&A after the jump.