The Allreds on living and leaving polygamy

Sunday evening, I attended a presentation at the University of Utah by one of my favorite high school history teachers, Vance Allred. He and his wife recounted their experiences of living in a polygamous cult, and explained why they brought their family out of polygamy in 1993.

Vance prefaced his life story by giving a historical overview of Mormon polygamy. He noted that Joseph Smith first addressed the issue of polygamy in the Book of Mormon, where the practice is conditionally condemned. Several years later, Joseph Smith received a revelation (D&C 132 ) that “celestial marriage” (polygamy) is a commandment and required for exaltation.

Polygamy was secretly practiced by Joseph Smith as early as 1833, and practiced to greater extent nearly a decade later in Nauvoo. Once in the Utah territory, free from mob violence and federal reach, the LDS Church began to openly practice polygamy.

Vance then detailed the historical events that resulted in the church’s abandonment of polygamy. There was a series of federal laws passed to outlaw polygamy. Among the first was the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln. The most draconian law was the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act, which disincorporated the LDS Church, dissolved its assets, and resulted in the imprisonment of many prominent Mormons. These and similar laws were deemed constitutional as per Reynolds v. United States, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled polygamy was not a protected religious practice.

Under such legal and political duress, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto—an official denunciation of polygamy. (Polygamy, though, wasn’t really discontinued until the Second Manifesto in 1904, during the Reed Smoot hearings.)

Mormon polygamists believe that the mainstream LDS Church has been in apostasy since 1890. One evidence of this that polygamists use, and which Vance’s father was fond of citing, is that Joseph Smith identified 1890/1891 as likely years for Christ’s Second Coming. But because the church abandoned polygamy in 1890, these predictions never came to fruition. Or so the argument goes.

Vance also debunked several popular myths regarding 19th-century Mormon polygamy.

Myth: “There were all these extra women who needed to be cared for.” In truth, there was always a shortage of women.

Myth: “The Church needed large numbers of children quickly.” Monogamous wives, however, actually bore more children than their polygamous counterparts—an average of 8 children compared to the polygamous wives’ 5.9.

Myth: “Polygamy was only an incidental part of Mormonism.” An analysis of 19th-century Mormon literature shows that only the topics of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith were mentioned more than polygamy. Its importance notwithstanding, he asserted that relatively few Mormons (an estimated 7%) engaged in polygamy. This disagrees with the late historian Richard Van Wagoner’s estimate of about 25%.

So what, then, accounts for the practice of polygamy? Vance said he suspects that much of early Mormon polygamy was and most of modern day polygamy is sex-driven.

After this discussion of the origins and history of Mormon polygamy, he shared his own personal history with polygamy.

Vance Allred was raised in one of the most famous polygamist families. His father, Rulon C. Allred, was the leader/prophet of a 9,000-member strong polygamous sect, now called the Apostolic United Brethren. Rulon had 7 wives (all of whom he wooed with identical love letters), and at least 48 children. On May 10, 1977, he was assassinated on the orders of Ervil LeBaron, head of a rival sect. This made headlines nationwide.

Growing up in a polygamous family was difficult for Vance. His family was scattered across various states in order to disguise their practice of polygamy. He was also not allowed to invite childhood friends over to the house for fear of outing the family as polygamists.

At 19, his father arranged for him to marry a 16-year-old girl, Tana. Vance was initially resistant, because he was already in love with a girl he met at the University of Utah. His father reassured him that, “If you marry enough women, you’ll get all the attributes you want.”

Eventually, though, Vance feel madly in love with Tana. While a polygamist, he married a couple more women, but his love for Tana was never diminished. And when they left polygamy, they left together. (By the time they left, Tana was his only wife; his other two marriages were short-lived.) Vance and Tana have been happily married for 39 years.

They moved to Montana with many others in the Allred group to establish the Kingdom of God and await the Second Coming of Christ, which they believed was imminent. There, they lived the communal Law of Consecration, whereby all possessions were shared among the church. Vance reports that those years were the happiest of his life, because there was an intoxicating sense of purpose, belonging, and community.

When he wasn’t busy building the Kingdom of God, he was busy getting a secular education. Vance studied history at the University of Montana. In 1984, he finished his senior thesis, “Mormon Polygamy and the Manifesto of 1890: A study of Hegemony and Social Conflict.” It was the first historical treatment of the 1890 Manifesto and a robust theological defense of polygamy. Mormon fundamentalists still refer to it today.

Tana Allred then spoke briefly about the struggles of being a woman in polygamy. She recalls wrestling with insecurities that were magnified by having to ‘compete’ for her husband’s love. When she lost weight due to stress and depression, she was chastised by her mother and grandmother for giving the public appearance that living polygamously was anything but ‘celestial.’

She mentioned, as an interesting aside, that one of Vance’s nieces is on “Sister Wives”, a new reality TV show on TLC that features a polygamist family in Lehi, Utah. And behind the happy facade displayed for the cameras, Tana claims Vance’s niece is privately unhappy. (This may well be true, but I’m uncomfortable with these kind of accusations. People sometimes say the same of atheists and homosexuals.)

In 1993, Vance discovered that a number of the apostles were guilty of incest and child molestation. He concluded that these men could not be men of god and that the church they headed was a fraud. Upon this discovery, he and his family immediately left the Allred group, and the police helped them go into hiding in Salt Lake City.

The transition from a polygamous cult to ‘normal’ society overwhelmed the family at times. Shortly after the move to Salt Lake, for instance, Vance was admitted to a local hospital on suicide watch. And Tana remembers seeing one of their sons repeatedly say “Stupid boy!” to his reflection in the bathroom mirror, faulting himself for ever having believed in Mormon fundamentalism.

Tana said that each family member needed a “year of healing.” Now, 17 years later, they have all successfully acclimated to their new lives. Vance and Tana are members of the mainstream LDS Church, but most of their kids are inactive or disbelieving. This isn’t a source of familial conflict for the Allreds, however. They respect their kids’ divergent paths.

“My father clipped my and my siblings’ wings,” Vance said, “I won’t do that to my kids. I’ll let them fly.”

And fly they have. Their children are leading fulfilling and successful lives, from studying medicine to playing in the NBA.

I am grateful the Allreds are sharing their incredible story with the public. Sunday’s presentation was filmed for an upcoming documentary about their family; I just wanted to do my small part of telling their story. And I think this blog’s audience can especially relate to it, many of us having left a religious tradition—an often painful, but ultimately liberating experience.

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About Jon Adams

I have my bachelors in sociology and political science, having recently graduated from Utah State University. I co-founded SHAFT, but have also been active in the College Democrats and the Religious Studies Club. I was born in Utah to a loving LDS family. I left Mormonism in high school after discovering some disconcerting facts about its history. Like many ex-Mormons, I am now an agnostic atheist. I am amenable to being wrong, however. So should you disagree with me about religion (or anything, really), please challenge me. I welcome and enjoy a respectful debate. I love life, and am thankful for those things and people that make life worth loving: my family, my friends, my dogs, German rock, etc. Contact: [email protected]

22 thoughts on “The Allreds on living and leaving polygamy

  1. Did they talk about what happened to the other wives and children? There is a brief mention in this story that he married several women, so this wasn’t just a Vance & Tana love story. There are other wives who were part of this man’s family, and likely other children. When he and Tana decided to leave, had the other marriages already broken down or did Vance just say to the other wives, Sorry, I only want Tana, bye bye. I mean, this monogamous model family he and Tana are putting forth is what they are presenting of their family, but it’s only a part of their family, right? If you’re going to do a documentary, then you’d think there’d be a little acknowledgement of how their “leaving” impacted the rest of their family. They didn’t just leave “polygamy”, a church, a group, etc. Their story just feels too neat as it focuses only on this dyadic unit and this unit’s children moving through the story, but ignores the other people who made up other marital units with this man. Don’t mean to harp. It is an interesting story; it just seems as if they’re now marketing the LDS Church and the “bliss” of monogamy when they were once impassioned defenders of polygamy & their Allred church. I also have an issue with people naysaying other people’s choices or beliefs, while they put themselves forward as the “right thinkers”. Thx for sharing.

    • Good thoughts. His two other wives left him, I think, before he left polygamy. When Vance and Tana left the Allred group, it was only them and their children. Vance has only one child not from Tana, and it’s my understanding that he remains close with this child.

  2. “Myth: “The Church needed large numbers of children quickly.” Monogamous wives, however, actually bore more children than their polygamous counterparts—an average of 8 children compared to the polygamous wives’ 5.9.”

    Not that I necessarily agree with the argument that polygamy was a way to increase child-bearing, but it seems that this is a deceptive statistic. The polygamous wife seems likely to produce less children, since her husband is dividing his time with other women. Simple math illustrates that a polygamous man with only two wives has 12 (actually 11.8) children, versus his monogamous counterpart, who I would assume will have an average about the same as monogamous women (8 children). You mentioned that Vance’s father had something like 48 children – how many monogamous men produce at that rate? My guess is none.

    In fact, one might even argue that this is one of the advantages to polygamy. By having multiple women produce children for one man, overall production goes up, while the burdens and demands of child bearing goes down for each women (from 8 children to 5.9).

    I’m no advocate of polygamy, it just seems that those numbers (the 8 vs. 5.9) do not present the whole picture.

    • @Neal,
      I agree with your number crunching, there’s definitely something to be said for kids per family vs kids per marriage.
      Still, I have to throw in my two cents: I don’t think anyone who advocates for children would say this is a good argument for polygamy. If you’re looking to create a baby-making factory rather than an actual family in which to love and nurture a child, polygamy is the way to go. If you really want a “celestial family” that is loving and genuinely happy, I’d vote for monogamy. Women and children deserve better than a husband/father who divides his time between 6 other wives and 47 other kids. Personally, I think polygamy is wrong today and the mainstream LDS church was wrong to practice it back in the day. It only encourages the idea of treating women and children as numbers.

    • However the point is that if the need is for numbers of children, then monogamy is the most efficient way to acheive those numbers. It’s only when you want more children for the MAN that there is any increase through polygyny.

  3. It is a huge oversight to just look at raw population counts when determining whether there is a male/female imbalance in the Church. The more important statistic to analyze is the number of active males/females. This data might be hard if not impossible to find for Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s day, but I have found a Church supported study done in 1980-1 which shows there is a significant imbalance in the male/female ratio in the membership in the United States and Canada.

    https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/IssuesInReligionAndPsychotherapy/article/viewFile/248/247

    A few relevant quotes from the study:

    “For all singles over 30 there are 19 active men (who attend Church weekly) for every 100 active women.”

    “Clearly, marriage to an active male is demographically impossible for many active single females over 30. And even when there are available males, they may possess other personal characteristics that rule them out as potential mates. Marriage is not a universal solution to singleness if the only acceptable marital option is marriage to an active LDS partner.”

    This blog reviews some of the options the LDS church has for dealing with the problem of a shortage of males:

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2006/12/08/solving-the-mormon-man-shortage/

    Maybe Brigham Young and other early leaders weren’t full of B.S.

    • Yeah, it’s funny how you can arrange those numbers in your favor by sending away faithful men, kicking out the rebels and having those who refuse to give up their fiancees castrated. Perhaps Brigham and the other early leaders were bald faced liars — as the record shows over and over again.

  4. Whatever you choose to believe, I wish to present another side of the story. Not to put this man down, but to try to paint a different picture, because not just one person can give the perfect perspective. I happened to know these people, back in the day, and, I’m sorry to hear they were so very unhappy. Their flight from that group, from what I remember, was, indeed, very dramatic. But somehow they’ve got the story turned a little bit, because, as far as I know, in that story, they were not the victims, rather, the other way around. I have always chuckled a little that they have always claimed that they had to ‘flee’ just about the greatest peace loving people you could know. That was absolutely not the case, and anyone who has ever left that group (and there have been thousands, because it is a most difficult way of life) has left on their own accord, with no threats whatsoever. That kind of claim is bordering on the absurd. I am also greatly amused by the claim that his father “arranged” his marriage, and “clipped his wings”. If you know anything about the people he claims to know so much about, and has the audacity to presume he can represent, you know that unless there is some higher reason, they are utterly insane to attempt at living polygamy. And if they ever do it just for sex, it will crumble within a very small amount of time. It always does. With that motive, it is nothing but a farce. I think half the reason he was hospitalized on suicide watch, was not because of a tough adjustment into society. He survived going to college, and any other number of things of that nature while still a member of that group, as many, many members of it do now. Leaving that group leaves no reason for issue when becoming a part of mainstream society, because in many ways, they are so much a part of it. I believe the suicidal tendencies were a result of the crisis in his soul. Because of the changes he was making in his life, contrary to everything he had ever claimed to believe was true. And he had practically shouted from the rooftops his belief in those truths, and lifted the testimonies of others with a gift that most men could never have. I believe his soul was being tried because of those most dear to him that he was turning his back on. And those most dear were very, very good to him, and all his family. And he chose to leave, and accuse them of the most vile things. No wonder he struggled! I, for one, among hundreds of others was very sorry to see him go. And I hope that if he presumes to continue to represent those he turned against, I hope he will be gentle. Because they always loved him. And would still welcome him with open arms if he were to ever return.

    • It’s rather arrogant of you to decide who is “most dear” to this man or that they were “very, very good to him”. I would assume that Mr. Allred knows who is “most dear” to him and knows how good they are to him better than anyone else. It is a form of emotional abuse to try and tell people what they feel. Perhaps you can share your observations and reveal your own feelings and allow Mr. Allred the same privilege?

    • Vance always leaves out the parts of his life that really make it interesting. So he was forced to marry Tana even though he was in love with a girl he was going to college with. He conveniently leaves out that he was having very inapropriate relationship (that by todays legal standard would put him on a sex offenders list) with a 14 year old girl, while he charmed her with stories of being his queen in the future kingdoms. She was oblivious to his relationship with Tana or the other girl at college and was devestated when his engagement to Tana became public. He later chastized her for not waiting to be his second wife. This is a story of a freak who did not get his way in a polygamist cult so he moved to the mainstream LDS church where he can peddle his stories of “escape from polygamy” where they are gobbled up and he can become an ovenight celebrity/hero.
      It is funny that he always seems to spring up and try for another 15 minutes of fame whenever polygamy becomes a hot topic or another polygamist is having theirs. His story is ever evolving to include any new issue that is being discussed. Any one that knew him or the group he came from knows how exagerated and sometimes completely false his stories are.
      No matter what he still has not learned one basic lesson in life, “tell the truth”. Vance is living proof that “when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved”.
      The nice thing about life is it always has a way of balancing the scales, and Vance will only be able reinvent his stories so many times before they show themselves for what they are.
      If i was a parent at Alta i would be concerned, he may still have an eye for 14 year olds.

  5. good article! I actually am really good friends with 3 of Warren Jeffs’ nephew, Ward, Chris, and Corey Jeffs. They have a very similar story when it came to leaving the church and all of that, so its good to hear other stories similar to that.

  6. “Tana claims Vance’s niece is privately unhappy. (This may well be true, but I’m uncomfortable with these kind of accusations. People sometimes say the same of atheists and homosexuals.)”

    Everyone is unhappy, jon. The difference is the corporate yuppies/suburbanites, momos, and other religious types feel the need to hide their unhappiness; while, Athiests and homosexuals can be openly unhappy.

  7. Great article! I find it interesting that those who wish to leave the cult must do so with police protection. That’s why I blog anonymously… coz you never know what those religious fanatics will do!

  8. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Theology and Doctrine Edition! | Main Street Plaza

  9. Harriet wrote – “I believe the suicidal tendencies were a result of the crisis in his soul. Because of the changes he was making in his life, contrary to everything he had ever claimed to believe was true. And he had practically shouted from the rooftops his belief in those truths, and lifted the testimonies of others with a gift that most men could never have.” I know many, including myself, who have been through something similar. It is excruciating when a person wakes up and realizes that everything they built their life around – was a fraud. To realize your life was stolen. To think back on how your brain even confirmed it by interpreting coincidences as answers to prayer, by seeing miracles that weren’t really there, by realizing you could have walked away from the religious coercion and psychological torture sooner but were afraid of eternal consequences- that did not even exist. Leaving those most dear to him probably added to the fire of suffering inside him. Imagine the crisis his niece will feel when she wakes up. I promise, all those women feel minimized and emotionally, they’re holding on for dear life, like the rest in the Allred clan, to find reasons to keep believing when it hurts so much and you witness such wrongdoing. That’s when cognitive dissonance kicks in. Why do they keep believing? Because they fear it will hurt even more to see the truth, to give up the their sense of life purpose. And by the way, it takes a year just to function again, but it takes more than a year to heal – it takes forever. Brave man, indeed, Vance is. Very brave man.

    • If he was a brave man he would tell the truth, how it really was, not the sensationalized version that he peddles. He was one of the perpetrators of emotional and sexual abuse on others during his days as the crown prince of the Allred group. If he is really sincere why hasn’t he tried to heal any of the damage he created.
      So he leaves under police protection (supposedly) but then jumps in front of every TV camera he can find and to this day visits the town and people he “escaped from” on a regular basis. Does he have to take police protection with him then???

  10. His extended family is sick of him, not because he abandoned their beliefs, but because he always is wanting to bring camera crews around and sensationalize his whole polygamist past. They want to get on with their lives and wish he would get on with his. The poor buggar still can’t let go of the life he “escaped from”. It is still the only place in his world that he gets any validation.
    Hey Vance go accomplish something besides being an ex-polygamist.

  11. Vance was convinced he was going to be made one of the prestigeous leaders of his polygamist group, and even bragged about it to family and friends. When his half-wit brother was given the position instead, he made a stink about it and “escaped”. He spent the last decade plus peddling his victimy “ex-polygamy” story to the LDS church. As recently as 2 years ago he bragged to some of his relatives that he was in line for a “special calling” in the LDS church now. Since that calling has fallen through he now told those family members that he doesn’t beleive the LDS church is true now either. I wonder if he will need police protection when he leaves that church. Maybe he will be on suicide watch again. The poor dear!

  12. Seems that religion is the justification for a whole lot of stuff, how about Adult Responsible, non-religious, consentual polygamy? The Ladies and i have been living and loving each other sucessfully for over 35 years!

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