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Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife

July 9, 2009


I just finished Irene Spencer’s book, Shattered Dreams.  This former polygamist’s wife writes every sordid and shocking detail you wish you never knew. I was quite literally sick to my stomach for the first half of the book, but thankfully there was a hope-filled ending as the Lord drew Irene out of bondage and unto Himself.  Because of this author’s honesty and bluntness I feel like I’ve gained a better understanding of the world and mindset of Mormon fundamentalism. Of course I was interested to hear the fundamentalist perspective on the modern-day, non-polygamous LDS church.  I think there is a certain comparison to be found between how Mormon fundamentalists view the LDS church and how LDS view traditional Christianity.  Spencer describes how the modern-day LDS church was considered by fundamentalists to be in the midst of a dark apostasy, having abandoned the practice of polygamy that early Mormon leaders had taught and that many Mormons considered “integral to their faith” (p. 14).  The fundamentalists were the ones who were persecuted and had to go into hiding while the LDS church seemed to live in relative ease by comparison.

The author writes,

Torn between God’s law and man’s law, those who refused to give up plural marriage had to go into hiding. Some of them fled to Mexico; others went underground within their own communities…. these spiritual refugees considered themselves the true Mormons, the faithful followers of Joseph Smith and his initial converts. Their mission now was urgent – to preserve the faith in a time of dark apostasy. More than ever, they believed, the Principle must be lived and lived strictly…

We considered ourselves the chosen ones, the pure in heart, the true ‘Zion.’ And the LDS, having abandoned the Principle, were merely worldly. In a way they were worse than the world, since they’d once known the light and gave it up. We prayed for their return.

In the meantime, we hid. And while we hid, we had to eat and breathe the Principle, continually pumping ourselves up in it so we could withstand the world and the church thinking it wrong. We shielded ourselves from outside influences and tried hard to value persecution as proof of our righteousness (14-15).

More about Irene and her upcoming book, Cult Insanity, at her website here:

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 6:20 pm

    I wanted to share a couple more thoughts I had after reading this book. After struggling her whole life to live the original Mormon gospel, Irene nearly went insane and in her desperation she finally came to the end of herself and surrendered to God. During this time she gained what she described as a “sure knowledge of God” where He revealed to her that she didn’t need to keep trying and doing, but to be still and and let God be the doer. When she shared this experience with her husband, Verlan LeBaron, he said, “That’s beautiful, Irene. I hope you’re right. But if your experience is true, it may just do away with Mormonism” (p. 370). Verlan told Irene that if anything should happen to him she could know that they had barked up the wrong tree by following Mormonism. He died in a car accident a week later and Irene left polygamy and ended up becoming a born again Christian a few years later. She described her conversion experience like this:

    At my son Kaylen’s insistence, I moved to Anchorage, Alaska, taking my Book of Mormon with me to show him how he’d been misled when he converted to Christianity a few years before. There was no sacrifice in being a Christian. It seemed too easy to just confess Christ as your savior and think you were saved. I knew we needed to work for our salvation. I couldn’t believe Kaylen turned against Mormonism so easily. (As I’ve said, the roots of effective brainwashing can extend quite deep, and my deep roots had never been fully extracted, despite all my experiences.)

    Once I arrived in Alaska, Kaylen invited me to Abbott Loop Christian Center. I accompanied him, mostly to check out what the devil he’d gotten himself into. As I entered the large sanctuary, taking my seat in a pew next to him and his wife, Jean, I felt guilty. After all my years of devotion to the one-and-only-restored-true-gospel-on-the-earth, what was I doing in a gentile church? But it was while I sat there in that open and free spiritual space that I experienced a miraculous conversion. For how long I had thirsted after God, begged him to speak to me personally, and then done whatever others told me he wanted for and from me? Now I finally heard him speaking directly to my own heart. He called me by name. “Irene, where have you been that you have never worshipped me?” Then the Holy Spirit simply revealed to me God’s unconditional, divine love, fully available right now through the sacrifice already paid by his son. I wept, ashamed to think of all the years I struggled to become a goddess and one day join my husband as the rulers of our own world. I was overcome by God’s mercy and love that had been there all along, just waiting for me to receive them. After years of religious sacrifice and suffering, I finally understood that Christ really is sufficient.

    Never again would I have to jump through strange, agonizing hoops in order to cajole God into accepting me. In fact, the god I’d been taught all my life to worship and obey didn’t really exist at all. That god was not very powerful, not very good, and he required us to completely reject some of the most beautiful things the true God had for us. The deep human desire to unite exclusively with one person of the opposite sex is not evil and is not to be shunned. God set it up that way before the Fall, and he never changed it. He certainly never declared it a sin. My belief in what the Mormon fundamentalists taught about God and salvation had been so sincere, I embraced their miserable prescription for life and marriage. One can be sincere and at the same time be sincerely wrong.

    Mormonism adopted polygamy from an ancient social custom from biblical times and made it into an essential principle for exaltation in heaven. Along the way, polygamy became a means of controlling believers and turning them into submissive pawns. Through it, prophets controlled believers and men controlled women, all allegedly in accordance with God’s will. No one seemed to acknowledge how terrible it was for everyone to live it – women, children, and men as well… The hardship itself is taken as a reason to carry on; it’s held as a martyr’s badge of honor. Mostly, though, it’s just denied. The only reason polygamy works at all is because the people who practice it so fiercely believe they are living God’s will (from Shattered Dreams, pp. 380-381).

    I suppose this guy would consider Irene an Anti-Mormon-Fundamentalist? 🙂

  2. gloria permalink
    July 9, 2009 10:18 pm


    I have not read this book. I have a few others written by women who escaped the FLDS.. but not this one… I was deeply touched by the comment you left with Irene’s conversion to Christ…. I wept…. I gues because although I never lived plural marriage, I was still in bondage to a system that exacted and asked perfection from me… a sinner .. I struggled with being good enough and realizing deep inside that was simply impossible. Like Irene, I found the one true God to be one full of mercy and grace…. I am now free from the shackles of bondage and embrace the liberty of grace …… I am so overjoyed to know that Irene has found healing in the Lord and has also tasted of the joy that comes thru truly knowing that we are of such worth that Jesus shed his precious blood for you, for me and for Irene… and for everyone else out there willing to confess their sins and calls upon the name of Jesus.

    Thank you for sharing this review. I am going to look for this book in my local library.
    God bless,

    ps. I love the new avatar photo of you! 🙂

  3. psychochemiker permalink
    July 9, 2009 11:48 pm

    I would also consider Irene an anti-Polygamist. I hope Irene would be honest enough that she is trying to destroy the current Polygamy sects. I just don’t know many people who would disagree with that intent.

    I would rather those sects didn’t exist.
    But I’d rather it be done in legal and constitutional ways.

    I also think the photo is good, is that your real photo?

  4. psychochemiker permalink
    July 10, 2009 12:58 am

    I might note, aditionally, that claiming polygamy sects practice “original” mormonism is insulting. Polygamy was not part of Mormonism “in the beginning”, and trying to place it there is a historical collapse on the part of the fundies, and a mistake on yours.

    Ever more foundational, and important to Mormonism was and is a belief that God has invested his authority to the Church through a Prophet who carries keys. Fundies do not have these keys, and most of them admit it.

    I could just as correctly claim that the Judaizers were the true early Christians and the rest were apostates, including Paul.
    But I don’t say that, because I don’t believe it because it isn’t true. Besides, we all know that the general apostasy didn’t occur until after the Judaizers were subdued.

  5. July 10, 2009 4:51 am

    Gloria!! 🙂 I’ve missed you. I’m sure life must be incredibly busy with all of your children! It is good to see you again though.

    PC said: I also think the photo is good, is that your real photo?

    Nope. It’s my stunt double. (Of course it’s me!) 🙂 And to be honest I wasn’t sure I liked it very well, but since I have received 2 compliments in one day I guess it will stay for now. Sorry you didn’t agree on the “original” thing. That’s how it appears from where I sit. I kind of consider myself on the “fundamental” side of things, embracing a literal view of scripture. If I were a Mormon and thought the D&C was of God I imagine that I would become a polygamist.

  6. July 10, 2009 5:11 am

    Actually on second thought, I’m not sure I would become a polygamist. I would be torn between D&C 132 (polygamy is commanded by God) and Jacob 1:15 (polygamy is a wicked practice). I might opt for the revelation that was removed from the D&C in 1876 and replaced with D&C 132:

    “Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” -D&C 101:4, History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 247 (as cited on Mormon Wiki)

  7. psychochemiker permalink
    July 10, 2009 1:58 pm

    It looks like the photo was taken at a nice place in nature too (rocks or a lake I can’t tell for sure).

    One can’t invoke Jacob 1:15 without also supplying Jacob 2:27-31, unless one is prooftexting.

    I kind of understand by what you mean the fundamentalist viewpoint. Quite frankly, I think that’s the exact opposite of Mormon thought. Evangelicals fundamentalists often try and rely on the oldest writing (except when it comes to ancient Israel religious beliefs on God-when they don’t go past Isaiah), whereas the Mormon thought is that God’s clearest revelation is always the most RECENT. And that is an assumption that should be discussed rather than the fruit of the assumption.

  8. NChristine permalink
    July 10, 2009 6:21 pm

    Hi PC,

    Hope y’all don’t mind if I cut in. 🙂 You say that God’s clearest revelation is always the most RECENT. This seems different than the LDS approach to Genesis 1-11, which gloms on to secular theories and tries to find a really early belief in many gods. These theories don’t even use the actual text to prove that Israelites anciently believed in many gods; rather, they use supposed “hints” in the text to find beliefs which they say pre-date the actual written text. Thus, we are talking (1) speculation (not revelation) and (2) really early — earlier than the text (according to this highly speculative theory).

    First of all, the text of Genesis 1-3 absolutely nowhere says there are plural gods. There are strong arguments that indicate that the plural pronouns “we” and “us” are referring to angels, and even stronger arguments (in my view) that the “we” of Genesis 1:26-27, in particular, is referring to a unity-but-plurality in the Godhead. I would be glad to discuss this.

    Secondly, the Mormon idea that God’s clearest revelation is always the most recent would indicate that they should regard the gospel of John as “clearer” than Genesis 1-11, as John was one of the last books of the NT to be written. In John 17:3 Jesus calls His Father “thee the only true God.” John also says that Jesus “was with God” and “was God” (1:1). If the “clearest revelation is always the most recent,” then we should be wrestling with John 17:3 and 1:1 even more than Genesis (according to this LDS model), shouldn’t we? Rather, it seems many LDS are putting stock in a speculative (not written) idea that ancient Israelites believed in many gods. (BTW, biblical Christians generally believe in “progressive revelation” — in which God reveals truth more fully through time, but never contradicts prior revelation. See Jessica’s most recent post. I don’t think evangelicals or fundamentalists “try and rely on the oldest writing.” They believe it is all inspired, but that the NT writings are more full revelations than the OT ones. This “progressive revelation” view seems clearly to be the view the apostles had. See Hebrews 1:1-4, Ephesians 3:1-7, I Peter 1:10-12, e.g.)

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