Let Texas be Texas?

FLDSoverviewRegular GetReligion readers may recall that I am a native Texan, though I must confess of the "prodigal" variety. Still, I speak fluent Texan and my instincts about my native land are pretty good. So that Los Angeles Times update about the unfolding events in Eldorado caught my attention, the one with the headline that said, "Texas has its own view of polygamists -- Unlike Arizona and Utah, it closed a compound forcibly."

So Texas "has its own view" of polygamy and allegations of statutory rape and/or forced marriages of very young girls? And what might that unique point of view be, precisely? Read the whole story, please, and tell me what you think the X-factor is.

Here's the top of the story, which I will unpack a bit.

After a polygamist sect took up residence outside this tiny ranch town a few years ago, the library stocked paperback, cassette and hardcover copies of "Under the Banner of Heaven," an unsparing look at such groups that was suddenly in hot demand.

OK, so the town is full of liberals who loved that book's fiery view of Mormonism and other forms of violent religious fundamentalism in America? It was the kind of book that makes religious liberals happy. Correct?

The local weekly newspaper devoted stories in nearly every edition to the outsiders. And it posted online audio clips of the sect's self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, ranting in a creepy monotone about the Beatles being covert agents of a "Negro race."

Ah, more evidence that this town was worried that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was a bit on the far-out, right-wing side of things. They didn't even like the Beatles! And there were all of those old-fashioned dresses and hair styles.

The people of Eldorado (pronounced el-doh-RAY-do) took in the sect's arrival with nervous anticipation -- because they understood that, unlike in Utah and Arizona, this would not last long in Texas.

There is the question again. What is the mysterious agent at work here in West Texas, something that is not found in places like Utah and Arizona.

The article continues to tip-toe around this question, all the way through. We do not even get a discussion of the possible answers.

Is this a town full of anti-fundamentalist liberals? Is it a town full of Southern Baptists who read Jon Krakauer books and strive to defend rock 'n' roll? Is it a town full of Christian fundamentalists who are hung up about older men having lots of sex with teen-aged girls? You know, the omnipresent moralizers who want to throw water on other people's fun? Are the streets packed with cowboys who want to enforce their own view of anti-religious justice?

The most likely answer is this is a town full of anti-fundamentalist fundamentalists. Texas is that kind of place, you know.

This story contains all the usual details from the past few days of coverage. The new element is this "it could only happen in Texas" theme.

Texas' raid contrasts sharply with the approaches of Arizona and Utah, which have looked the other way for decades while the FLDS put underage girls into "spiritual marriages." The 10,000-member sect was founded in the 1930s by religious leaders who continued practicing polygamy after it was banned by the Mormon Church in 1890.

"God bless Texas," said Flora Jessop, an activist who escaped the FLDS at age 16. "The state has done in days what Arizona and Utah failed to do in more than a century -- protect children."

I am genuinely confused. So you tell me. What's the X-factor? Are the states of Utah and Arizona actually pro-polygamy, at the level of police and civic leaders? Sure the Times is not saying that. Surely.

Now, before you click "comment," let's be clear about the question I am asking. I want to know what you think the journalists at the Los Angeles Times were trying to say. Stick to the journalism question and don't go raging off into a discussion of what you think about the FLDS and/or its critics.

Focus: What was the Times trying to say?

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