“Religion Isn’t a Part of Our Life. Religion Is Our Life”
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER AN ARIZONA COMMUNITY WHERE POLYGAMY IS ALIVE AND WELL OPENS ITS DOORS FOR THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL
New Series “Polygamy, USA” Premieres Tuesday, May 7, at 9 PM ET/PT
(WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 1, 2013) — From the outside, Centennial Park, Ariz., appears to be like many other small towns. Families struggle to keep food on the table; sons and daughters rebel against the strict rules of their parents; women fight feelings of jealousy in their relationships; and elders worry the new generation of youth doesn’t respect the traditions of the past. But what makes this town different is that it is a tight-knit COMMUNITY of Fundamentalist Mormons who openly participate in polygamy, a sacred principle of their faith and an expression of their fight for religious freedom.
“Polygamy, USA,” premiering Tuesday, May 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel, for the first time goes inside the daily lives of families in this COMMUNITY committed wholeheartedly to their faith—even if it means they break the law. For more information on the series, visit www.ngcpr.com or follow us at @NGC_PR.
“For more than ten years the National Geographic Channel has been taking viewers inside the lives of ‘outliers,’ people whose way of life strays from what many consider the norm,” said Alan Eyres, SVP of programming and development for the National Geographic Channel. “But be they preppers or polygamists, they are people, with incredible stories that help us further open a window to the world.”
It’s a lifestyle with a history that goes back generations, but one they must protect not only from outside scrutiny but also the evolving attitudes of each new generation. Some show they are committed to the way of life they’ve been taught, while others push back on the norms they’ve grown up with. It’s a fascinating look at a way of life that can be difficult to understand, while also surprisingly familiar.
But plural marriage is just one part of the story in “Polygamy, USA.” Throughout, viewers are given an inside look at the rituals of this fundamentalist group, including morning prayer meetings, Sunday services, baptisms and funerals.
The COMMUNITY’s elders strive to ensure that outside influences of the world do not distract the younger generation from maintaining these traditions, an immense challenge given the curious stares and whispers often endured when they venture outside the COMMUNITY. For old and new members, sacrifices must be made and middle ground found in order for the town to survive.
The series focuses on three different polygamous families and one of the community’s single young men:
Arthur Hammon is one of the founding fathers of Centennial Park. He helped build the town 30 years ago after he and others separated with a nearby community over a religious dispute.
Arthur now heads up the Centennial Park missionary program, a volunteer army of young, single men that labor for the community. As the leader of this group, Arthur seeks to guide these young men to center themselves before they become leaders of their own plural families. “If the kids decide, okay, I don’t want a part of it, okay,” says Arthur. “They are agents unto themselves. We don’t believe in slavery.” But Arthur can’t help but be troubled by one young man who has chosen to forge his own path: his son, Ezra.
Hyrum Burton is one of Arthur’s missionaries. Though for many, service lasts only two years, Hyrum has served for nearly four. While he’s anxious to finish and move on to marriage, he also believes he must wait until that time is ordained by God. He reflects, “If I follow these rules, you know, maybe I can bring myself to a point in my character growth where the Lord will bless me with a woman.” In the meantime, he organizes athletic competitions and participates in community social events, waiting to see if his interactions with young women in the community will lead one of them to select him for a husband – here, their faith instructs them that God tells women, not men, whom to marry.
Isaiah Thomson is a sixth-generation polygamist with two young wives and five young children. “As early as I can remember, I wanted to live the faith,” he says. His wives Marleen and Becca cope with feelings of jealousy toward each other, but truly believe that they are where God wants them to be. With so many mouths to feed, Isaiah is often forced to leave for weeks at a time for work, leaving the women at home alone to care for the family. But despite these struggles, they plan on having more children and look forward to the possibility of a third wife entering the family.
Michael Cawley, like many others, works hard at marriage—it just so happens he has three wives and 18 children. “People may ask, is it possible to love three women all at once,” he says. “Yes, I can love more than one woman. Genuinely, truly love.” These days he is most concerned with his eldest daughter, Rose Marie, who has reached the age where she can be married, but has not received her sign from God. With encouragement from her father and three mothers, Rose Marie works hard to prepare herself for the responsibilities of marriage, while also praying for a name of her future husband.
Premiere episodes include:
Polygamy, USA: Meet the Polygamists
Tuesday, May 7, at 9 p.m. ET/PT
What does it mean to be a practicing polygamist in America today? Nearly 30 years ago, a group of polygamists formed their own community in Arizona called Centennial Park. Among the town's nearly 1500 residents are people at different points in their religious journey, starting with young unmarried men in the town's mission program. Isaiah is in his thirties with two wives and five young children, struggling to keep his young family afloat financially while also looking forward to the possibility of another wife. Forty-four-year-old Michael Cawley has three wives and 18 children, the oldest of whom is preparing herself for her own plural family. Finally, Ezra, son of the leader of the mission program, has chosen independence over the strict teachings of his family. As the years go by, the survival of Centennial Park rests in the passing of traditions from one generation to the next.
Polygamy, USA: The Winter Ball
Tuesday, May 14, at 9 p.m. ET/PT
Living in the fundamentalist Mormon community of Centennial Park, young men and women do not have many opportunities to socialize together. That changes when the town holds its New Year’s Eve celebration. Arthur puts his missionary boys to work decorating the hall and cutting down the trees that will be the centerpiece of the celebration. When the hard work is done, the boys, including Hyrum, put on their best airs for the single women in the community. The oldest Cawley daughter, Rose Marie, is nervous to attend the ball. She’s been waiting to receive her inspiration from God about whom she should marry, and the ball provides another opportunity—if she can get over her shyness. While the rest of the community prepares for the ball, the Thomson home is preparing for the return of the husband, Isaiah, who has been away working for five weeks. It’s Becca’s turn to pick him up in Las Vegas and spend a night away from home while Marleen stays home with the family’s five kids. It’s another challenge for the young women who must balance feelings of jealousy, duty and faith.
Polygamy, USA: The Baptism
Tuesday, May 21, at 9 p.m. ET/PT
In the polygamous community of Centennial Park everything is about growth—children, families, even the town itself. But, with growth, comes plenty of growing pains. The Cawley household is preparing 8-year-old Fiona for baptism, a major crossroads in her spiritual journey and one that has never before been filmed. As part of their family tradition, she will be baptized after demonstrating a thorough understanding of the tenets of their Mormon faith. Arthur accompanies his son, Ezra, to Salt Lake City to recover the broken-down truck Ezra purchased against his father’s wishes. It’s a tense road trip as both attempt to navigate the rift that has grown between them. One of Arthur’s missionaries, Hyrum, shows off his leadership skills by organizing a basketball tournament. He hopes it will serve two purposes: showing the town’s Brethren that he’s ready to lead a family, and possibly impressing some young women.
Polygamy, USA is produced by Part2 Pictures, LLC for the National Geographic Channel. For Part2, Gregory Henry, Amy Bucher, and Kimberly Woodard are executive producers and Brian Lovett is co-executive producer. For NGC, Stephanie Buxbaum is executive producer, Lynn Sadofsky is VP of production and development, Alan Eyres is SVP of programming and development, and Michael Cascio is the executive in charge of production.
About National Geographic Channels
Based at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channels US are a joint venture between National Geographic and Fox Cable Networks. The Channels contribute to the National Geographic Society’s commitment to exploration, conservation and education with smart, innovative programming and profits that directly support its mission. Launched in January 2001, National Geographic Channel (NGC) celebrated its fifth anniversary with the debut of NGC HD. In 2010, the wildlife and natural history cable channel Nat Geo WILD was launched, and in 2011, the Spanish-language network Nat Geo Mundo was unveiled. The Channels have carriage with all of the nation’s major cable, telco and satellite television providers, with NGC currently available in 85 million U.S. homes. Globally, National Geographic Channel is available in more than 440 million homes in 171 countries and 38 languages. For more information, visit www.natgeotv.com.