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For week ended June 27, 1999 Posted 26 Jun 1999

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Trial casts light on Mormon life

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Trial casts light on Mormon life
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 25Jun99 L8
By Richard Ruelas The Arizona Republic

The jury is still deliberating the fate of LDS church member Scott Falater, on trial for stabbing his wife 44 times and drowning her in their pool. But the trial has opened a window into the lives of LDS church members, allowing outsiders to see some of the issues that members hold dear and some of the potential conflicts in a family.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez pointed to possible motives for Falater to murder his wife thought religion might be at the core of the motive. "Perhaps, she didn't want to attend temple. Perhaps it was her refusal to have more children, as Scott wanted," he said in the trial.

Even the jury has been curious about it, submitting questions to witnesses asking about the Temple ceremonies, about the garments that Temple-attending LDS members wear and about pressure in LDS culture to keep family problems secret.

BYU sociologist Marie Cornwall answers the last question in the affirmative. "It's comparable to any couple in any kind of conservative congregation ... where there's a high expectation of following certain behavior." Cornwall also observes that an LDS family with less than three children might feel pressure, not from the Church, but from fellow members, to have more children, "There may be some experience of social pressure that you've stopped at two," she said. "It would come from maybe other members and come in the form of questions like, 'So, do you plan to have any more kids?' or, 'When's the next one coming?' or things like that."

But Cornwall observes that the Falaters would likely have stopped having to field those questions a decade ago, "They would have felt more pressure around that in their early 30s," Cornwall said. "Once kids are teenagers, no one is going to give them any pressure. There is a time clock operating there."

Cornwall also says that Mormon women don't keep many family secrets, but talk among themselves about family problems, "How do you think they cope?" she says. "Those women are talking to each other."

However, author and former BYU professor Martha Beck disagrees. She spent a decate talking with about 300 LDS women about gender roles, discovering that domestic problems are kept at home. "Very close friends might hear, 'We're having some problems,' " she says, "Often I heard people talk about the face they show at church vs. their real face." Beck says that she is no longer a Mormon.

Cornwall and Beck responded to other juror questions for this article. One juror asked "Why would someone not want to go to temple?" trying to understand Yarmila Falater's desire not to go. Cornwall observed that some members don't feel spiritually ready to go, "It's not unusual for someone to say, 'I don't want to go,' " she says.

Other jurors asked about the affect of a wife's church activity on her husband. Beck said "It would not affect his general standing if he wanted to be in a high position." But Cornwall emphasized that activity can cause marital strains, "Conflict does occur when you've got two different approaches to faith," she said. Beck agrees, "More than other religions, it's very important to a faithful Mormon that their spouse be faithful as well."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information