There are a lot of teenagers who believe their parents like another sibling better, but it was much harder for Brian Mackert, one of 31 children with the same father, to shake the feeling he was less than the others. Brian grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints culture — and his father had four wives, he told God Reports.
Brian can trace his family’s Mormon roots back to the days of Joseph Smith,founder of the religion. But the FLDS church began when members broke away from the mainstream Mormon church after it rejected the traditional religion’s polygamous practices.
Family dynamics in the Mackert household were understandably complicated — a far cry from the one depicted by peaceful sister wives who co-exist in reality TV shows. One of the wives who stayed home to care for the children was abusive, once beating Brian with a wire hanger so badly he couldn’t sit down for three days.
“As I grew up in this strange family, I found that there was great rivalry between the wives and their children,” Brian wrote in a blog post. “My mother and her children were at the bottom of the pecking order. Probably because she was more passive than the other wives and felt that it was her calling to be the peacemaker.”
To make matters worse, Brian wasn’t special enough for the church elders to pick out a wife for him. To the outside world, this sounds crazy. Aren’t the days of arranged marriages over? But for polygamists in Brian’s sect, not having a wife meant not getting into Heaven.
His father was controlling and overbearing, Brian said. Things got so bad by the time Brian was 13 that his mother asked him to leave with her.
“Without any need for thought, my immediate answer was, ‘Yes mom, I’ll go with you. Anything is better (than) the hell I’m living in,’ ” Brian said. “I never asked her why she was leaving. I was just glad to be going.”
Brian’s mother later told him that the reason she left was because his father was molesting some of the daughters, Brian said.
Brian wanted to help his sisters cope with the trauma of being sexually abused.
“I wanted to be there for them, but I had no idea how to help them or comfort them,” Brian said. “I figured I just had to be there for them whenever they needed a shoulder. This (led) to hearing the horrors of what my father had done. It was at times more (than) I could (bear) to sit there and hold them and hear them cry. My hate for my father was growing stronger with each tear that fell from my sister’s eyes.”
A Change of Heart
Brian’s teenage years were marred by drinking and drugs, even after he joined the Navy at 19.
But his service to the country came with one caveat: After his discharge, he wanted to go kill his father — on Father’s Day.
Shortly before Brian’s military service ended, he devised his plan. He would go over to his father’s house, break into and vandalize his home with words that would out him as a child molester, and shoot him while he slept. Brian even went so far as to drive to the house with a gun and paint.
However, before he could cross that line, something changed. He realized killing his father wouldn’t change what happened to his sisters.
Brian turned around and went to a hospital and requested a psychiatrist. For a while, he thought things were better. After he got out of the Navy, he went home and tried to be a good son. He was re-baptized into the FLDS sect and tried to live the polygamous life again.
It didn’t last long.
He wanted to get married, so he went to the church leaders. They told Brian there was a shortage of girls — all the ones his age were being married off to older men. If Brian wanted to get married, he would have to find a girl outside the sect and convert her.
“At this point, I became convinced that religion was only a mind game used by other men to control people,” Brian said. “I began to deny that God existed. I would shake my fist at God and shout out at the sky, saying, ‘God you don’t exist. No God could allow my sisters and I to suffer through what we had suffered and not do anything to stop it from happening. God, if you do exist, I curse you!’”
Brian left the FDLS community and joined the Marines, serving his country once again.
A Few Good Men
The night before Brian left for boot camp, he sat in the front seat of his sister’s car, crying because he was so mad at God. His sister had left their FDLS sect and was now a born-again Christian, and she told him that one day it would all make sense. She had faith in both Jesus and her brother.
“She told me that the reason she knew Jesus could heal my broken heart was because He had healed hers,” Brian said. “She was free to forgive my father for the sexual abuse she suffered. Well, she was right.”
Brian did some serious soul-searching while he was in boot camp. His first duty station was in Japan, where Brian slowly began to realize he needed God in his life.
His next stop was North Carolina. There he met his wife, Dana. They wanted to have children and knew they had to be a unified force when they talked to their kids about God. They discussed it a little, but it got pushed aside when Brian was deployed again.
The next stop was Texas, where Brian learned two of his superiors were Christians. They gave him a book about Jesus that got him thinking. When he returned home, he told his wife what he learned during his time in Texas. On their next deployment as a family to Japan, they joined a church.
“I told her that the only thing I knew to believe was that there was a God and that His Son was Jesus Christ who died for my sins on the cross,” Brian said.
Brian and his wife became Christians in Japan, joining a local church there and trying to live a good, clean life. After 13 years, Brian called his dad.
“I talked to him and forgave him and asked him to forgive me for having judged him, because God hadn’t put me on earth to be his judge,” Brian said.
When Brian got out of the Marines, he felt called to go back to the polygamous community he once called home. This time he wasn’t there to look for more wives; he was there to tell them about God.
He became a pastor and even planted a church in the small city. First Southern Baptist Church in Hurricane, Utah, opened and Brian started reaching out to the FLDS community.
Sure, they’ve had some issues. The church and their home have both been vandalized, but the work they did handing out food after the FBI raided a nearby compound and arrested FLDS leaders for welfare embezzlement went a long way towards giving them a shining reputation.
Brian even started a second church in another polygamous community nearby. Short Creek Fellowship opened as a way for those disenfranchised with FLDS to find comfort, peace and a lasting relationship with the one true God.
Being a pastor is a far cry from the man who almost killed his father, but it’s also a testimony that God can save any man or women from a cult, bad marriage or both.