Due to the recent events in Texas there has been an outpouring of media attention, articles, and blog posts on the subject of polygamy. It certainly is a blessing to exercise the divine gift of free expression! However, it is unfortunate that many have chosen to do so to stir up anger and promote intolerance.
During this recent outcry, some have become subjected to confusing and inaccurate information regarding the “Mormons” – members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The “Polygamy Question” has always been one I cringe at. It is not a comfortable subject, and certainly not when there are so many other positive and beautiful things about the Church and the world in general to discuss. There are also painful memories of misunderstanding and violent persecution in Mormon church history regarding polygamy and I suppose this triggers a natural “fight or flight” response in us whenever the topic surfaces.
However, as a sincere and concerned member of the church, I feel that it is important to raise my voice on this subject and contribute a Mormon perspective to the conversation. I would like to gently refute the incorrect information flying around. Hopefully I will also be able to provide some clarity and food for thought. These are my own personal views. The church has not endorsed them. I believe I have diligently researched my answers. If I discover an inaccuracy I will promptly correct it. I have included a few “official” church statements here. However, I also thought it might be refreshing for readers to hear my personal feelings. As such, this post is not designed as an “argument” or “rebuttal”, but rather this is one human Mormon’s view:
1. What is Polygamy?
Plural marriage (commonly called “polygamy”), is defined as one man having more than one living wife at the same time.
2. Mormons are not Polygamists
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nicknamed “Mormons” or “LDS”, do NOT practice Plural Marriage (Polygamy).
3. Polygamy in Heaven?
Some have accused Mormons of being “polygamist at heart” because they have heard we believe there is polygamy in heaven. Ironically I recently read an irate atheist sounding off on this subject. Now, if one does not believe in God, or an afterlife, then it certainly seems odd to me that it should matter to them what another person believes regarding the “other side”! In fact, isn’t it a mute point for any of us to be rattled by “heavenly ideas”? They certainly do not affect us if they are false! This just seems a futile use of precious time and energy getting all worked up over. (Perhaps some yoga or a nice pedicure is in order)
“Outside the Church, Joseph Smith is also known for his introduction of the ancient practice of polygamy through revelation, though this is no longer practiced in the Church and is not often discussed by Church members except in a historical context.” lds newsroom
As far as my research and life-long experience has been, Polygamy after this life is not an official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You will not find this in any of our manuals, nor taught in Sunday school, nor spoken of over the pulpit. There may have been certain respected LDS religious scholars that have pondered and suggested it. It was likely discussed by early leaders of the church. It is not a shocking mental leap. There are certain scriptures that imply this is a higher law. Biblical and modern scripture certainly demonstrates that it is a practice God reserves the right to institute when He sees fit (Bible scriptures referenced previously, Book of Mormon: Jacob ch. 2, D&C 132) . Although this may make an interesting intellectual/scholarly premise, that is all it should be. Once again, a heavenly Plural Marriage is not something that is taught or generally discussed by Mormons, and we do not live our lives nor base our religious practices upon this idea.
What is paramount regarding this subject: Mormons believe in life after death. I personally have no first-hand knowledge of the specific details of the afterlife. I have read “life after death” accounts, but they only give glimpses, and they are varied and sometimes contradictory. God operates on the “need to know” principle. This is simply not something we need to know right now. We have scriptures and prophetic teachings, which reveal that there is a life to come, we will live together as family units in perfect harmony, and it will be a place of absolute peace and joy. Now what more could anyone hope for? I personally look forward to it. (I hope there is a quiet beach and a hammock waiting for me – or at least a brief vacation during my “adjustment period”…wouldn’t that be nice?). The scriptures mention there will be assignments and work for us to do there (good to know, because humans tend to get bored with paradise pretty quickly). Either way, I think it is very exciting. It is reassuring to believe that there is a whole new adventure with surprises waiting after earth life. I believe that God is our Father in Heaven. Each one of us is His child, created as a masterpiece. He loves us perfectly, and so naturally He has a perfect master plan. As I get older, I am finally learning to trust Him more and let Him take care of things. He knows what He’s doing. I for one think that there are certainly plenty enough issues to occupy my time and concentration right now without stewing over the afterlife details! One life at a time please!
4. Brief History of Mormons and Polygamy:
“In 1831 Joseph Smith was studying the bible and pondering over the many instances of plural marriage practiced throughout the biblical times by God’s chosen prophets. The Bible indicates that Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had multiple wives (see Genesis 16:1-3; 29:23-30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1-2). Joseph Smith asked God why He had permitted this practice and was told that God had commanded it for specific purposes. Later, God revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Smith and commanded him to live it. Over a period of years the prophet cautiously taught the doctrine to some close associates.” – from ldschurch.org
Contrary to popular belief, plural marriage throughout the early years of the LDS church was a very limited practice. It was not allowed for just any man in the church to take additional wives. A special calling had to be given directly from the prophet to a chosen priesthood holder and his wife. The first wife always had to give her consent. Each participant entered the marriage covenant as a willing adult. There was no coercion. At no time did the LDS church ever practice “child brides”, nor have they ever tolerated any form of child abuse. I think it is very important to keep the practice of the Mormon plural marriage episode in context with the time period. I have always felt that this was a great blessing from God to send as a temporary command. First, the Lord had established His church on the earth and He wanted it to grow strong and rapidly. Second, There were many widows. Countless women were left without support after losing their husbands to mob violence and illness aggravated by the horrendous illegal and immoral persecution. One must remember that at that time US Law denied women the ability to vote, run a business or to own property. One can imagine the desperate situation this left a single woman. She would rarely have any way, or means to support herself or children without a man in her life. From my research I have found that it was always a great sacrifice financially and emotionally for a man to take an additional wife and subsequent children. This was a very hard and challenging situation for all involved. Members viewed it as a true test of their faith and it was entered with faith and fervent prayer. I want to state very firmly that the practice was never created nor was used as a means to provide a man with multiple sexual outlets as has been proposed elsewhere. It was all about family, love, support and most importantly their sincere desire to be obedient to God’s will.
We all have our own interesting ancestral stories. Plural marriage happens to be part of mine. I feel honored to say that I am the progeny of some remarkable ancestors in the early 1800’s who faithfully and successfully practiced plural marriage. Without them I would not be here.
5. The End:
In 1890 President Wilford Woodruff, 4th president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a manifestation from God that Polygamy was to end. President Woodruff then made an official declaration against polygamy. This was later coined “The Manifesto”. On 24 September 1890, the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles sustained the Manifesto. In the October 1890 general conference all Latter-day Saints sustained this declaration. Today this document is included in the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church as Official Declaration 1 Since discontinuation well over 110 years ago, plural marriage has been forbidden by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As far as Mormon’s are concerned, God has removed this practice from the earth and any person practicing it is in violation of God’s law. Any member of the Church who adopts this practice will be excommunicated immediately. End of story.
6. Polygamy Today:
The Fundamental LDS (“FLDS”) and any other similar groups throughout the world are NOT affiliated in any way with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are not Mormons. Most if not all have never been Mormons. They do not share our fundamental beliefs. They do not dress, act, nor worship the same. However, we do not hold ill will toward these people, because they are children of God. We feel Christian charity towards them. I believe that there are many well meaning, good people involved with these groups. The members of our church have been reaching out to these persons with love and compassion for years and we offer our help wherever possible when they want to leave that life and matriculate into society. We are all deeply concerned about the welfare of any victims of abuse, especially the innocent children.
7. Mormons are law abiding citizens:
Members of the LDS church believe in upholding and sustaining all of the Laws of the Land, in whatever country of the world that they may reside. This is found in the 12th Article of Faith. Any who do not keep the laws of the land must and should be subject to the consequences.
8. Mormons follow a Christian lifestyle:
Those who take a few minutes to meet the Latter-day Saint people will see that we are certainly not a closed community, secretive nor radical. Rather, we are over 13 million strong worldwide citizens who are actively involved in our communities. We give generously to humanitarian efforts. We live moral values and strive to find ways to improve the places we live. We are good neighbors. We are not perfect. Individually we make human mistakes. But collectively Mormons make this world a beautiful and better place.
9. Final thought:
I am disheartened to read so many messages of hatred and pure vitriol being posted on the Internet. These comments are directed upon all sorts of subjects and towards all types of ethnic, cultural and religious groups & people. This has not just been an issue regarding the Mormons or polygamist sects, but a tidal wave of intolerance and grave disrespect. Perhaps all of us need to look into the past for a few moments. The greatest atrocities, horror and sorrows endured and perpetrated throughout the history of our earth up to the present moment have begun with words that stir up confusion, distrust, fear, & hatred which ultimately leads to violent acts. (ex: Holocaust, Genocide, War, Segregation, Internment Camps, Terrorism, and so forth…)
I would like to urge that we each make a personal choice to engage in intelligent, calm and respectful conversation on the world wide web. We can agree to disagree. We can state our disagreements and opposing views with an open mind and in a respectful manner. Each voice of reason helps to “quiet the storm” out there.
This life is so very short. There is little time in which to “play our individual melodies”. I hope each of us will choose to live in harmony here – (it will be good practice for our next life!)
Thank you for reading. May God’s Blessings be with each of you, always.
Check out this fun video from “The Mormon Next Door”
Congratulations on an excellent post. I also wrote a post on the subject at the request of a woman in India who reads my blog. Her response was heart warming and made me realize how important it is to make our voices heard.
This is what Elder Ballard has asked us to do, and I commend you. I would like to say I am an LDS woman, and have had my own conversion. Polygamy is a difficult subject and one in which as a wife who loves dearly her husband I have cried over. Which is exactly the correct reaction. Polygamy is not something that anyone should expect to feel good about. I think we are innately given the desire to be with one spouse, as Adam was given Eve, and Eve Adam. For this reason, Emma Smith is my hero, how difficult to trust that it was a command from God. For so naturally it would seem a perverted desire by man. I promise you there must have been a strong witness by the spirit that this was from God because of the strength and indepence of Emma Smith, she could have refused it. Joseph Smith loved her dearly, immensely, she was his greatest comfort and best friend. It tore him up to know how this would affect them both. It was only under the threat of death by an angel of the Lord that he submitted to this principle.
And then it ended. But because it is a principle from God, we are of the impression that though we feel it will never be needed upon this earth again, we do not know, so we do not condemn it, when and if it is a mandate from our Father in Heaven.
To anyone who wonders if the women of the LDS church are forced to do anything, we are not, we do not practice polygamy and anyone involved in extra-marital affairs is dealt with by their priesthood leaders in an effort for justice and mercy for the victim and offender.
Every time my husband comes home from a priesthood meeting he is told to love and cherish his wife, to be kinder, more gentle, and to be a support and loyal companion.
I am loved, I am independent, and empowered.
We do not practice polygamy, we do not know all the reasons God has asked his prophets and people to practice it, as in the days of Abraham.
What a well written and informative article. Thanks for sharing with the world. I agree with everything written here, both in the post, and in the comments so far.
I’m glad we have this outlet for our feelings about tender matters. There is much strength in honest and good reports.
Thank you Janet, Miguel, Lucinda and Anne for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments.
Mormonsoprano, may I gently say this?
God never asked his servants to practice polygamy.
Todd, Thank you for visiting the site.
The Bible indicates that Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had multiple wives (see Genesis 16:1-3; 29:23-30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1-2)
It’s been awhile since I visited your site. This was indeed a huge topic and I happened to write about it as well.
The main question I have and that I posed in my post was this: If polygamy is practiced in the temples, why is the church coming on so strongly against the FLDS? Shouldn’t the church acknowledge the fact that polygamy is a part of it’s history at least instead of sounding so negative about it. It makes the church look suspisious to many outside the church.
I do like what you said about us not knowing what the afterlife will really look like. We’re so limited here on earth to just a few things that we “know” but in reality we’re walking by faith.
Hi Aaron, thank you for visiting the site and sharing your comments. I respect your concerns. I believe I have addressed them in my article.
I would like to clarify for my friends of other faiths: Polygamy is NOT practiced in Mormon temples!!
“Polygamy is defined as one man having more than one living wife at the same time”.
Latter-day Saints are never allowed to marry more than one living individual at the same time. Just like most people of other faiths, a member of our church may choose to remarry after the death or legal divorce of their spouse. Just like all marriages, the location is a choice. Many choose to have the ceremony performed within a beautiful LDS temple. Some do not. My grandmother eloped with her second husband. They were married by a justice of the peace and honeymooned in Vegas. 😉
I wholeheartedly agree with you Aaron: Walking by faith, staying close to our Heavenly Father and enjoying our earthly life is the key to peace and happiness.
I would like to address Lucinda’s concerns of a grieving heart. I have thought long and hard about the what if’s in eternity and have come to this conclusion. There is an endowment of love given to parents when an infant is placed in their arms. It is so powerful and physical as well as emotional that no one can deny it. This endowment is a gift from a loving Heavenly Father; it is a portion of his love for the child that he has given you to love and protect. This endowment turns cowards into courageous heros if needed to protect a child. The parents are added upon. When the next child comes, parental love is not divided. The parents receive another endowment of love for the new child.
Isn’t it logical that a loving Heavenly Father would do the same for his sons for the sake of his daughters if he commanded them to participate in the practice?
ama49, the FLDS are not practicing polygamy because the marriages are not legal. Therefore it is adultry. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t expect the LDS church to do anything other than react negatively.
I dated the son of a polygamist in college (not FLDS). He said he didn’t agree with it and his family/ies seemed to respect that. His mom was the second of three wives; no children by the third. His mom’s sister was also in a polygamist arrangement. I do not recall if the grandparents were or not. I never met others in his parents’ group or his aunt’s group (they were in different cities and each group was under different ‘leadership’), but it was an interesting experience to become acquainted with them and I regret that through my moves back-and-forth across the country I had lost contact with his aunt for she had become a dear friend.
They were very generous, non-judgemental people. I was able to witness some of the benefits of a polygamist family (the proverbial extra hands a mother needs) and feel that the experience has helped me to be more understanding of the history of polygamy. Somewhere along the way I’d come across a tidbit talking about the debate between pro-polygamy and anti-polygamy…the pro’s begged for a comparison of societies–they had no prostitution, no starving children, no homelessness….
I’m not interested in sharing my husband. *grin* At least not without a mandate from God.
Thanks for a well-written piece! Really enjoyed it!
Ajoi, Thank you for sharing your experience and giving an insightful comment to ponder.
“The Bible indicates that Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had multiple wives (see Genesis 16:1-3; 29:23-30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1-2)”
It is a fact that Abraham, Jacob and other servants of the Lord had taken multiple wives, but none were commanded by God to do so, rather they were allowed to do so. Please correct me if I am mistaken, but I don’t believe I have read anywhere in the Bible where God gave a command or a law and then later removed it (Matthew 5:18). There are things that were allowed and then later not allowed (such as divorce as seen in the scripture Matthew 19:8). I just thought that it was important to note this. God bless
Thank you very much Lady, for visiting and sharing your thoughtful comment. This is an interesting perspective you have offered: God’s “allowing” vs. “commanding” something. I think this would be something suited well for further discussion, and could certainly fill a new post.
As for examples of a command being given and then removed, the scriptures provide many. The Law of Moses of course is a significantly large one. There are a multitude of components within the Law of Moses which God has commanded are fulfilled and thus removed. An analysis of the laws surrounding blood sacrifice commandments are interesting, detailed in Leviticus (see chapters 1, 12, 22) as well as other books of the Old Testament. When Jesus Christ came to earth, he taught that His coming “fulfilled the Law” of Moses Matt 5:17-22. We believe as Christians that this commandment was placed upon the earth as a symbolic way to teach and prepare his people that one day there would be an ultimate sacrifice made on their behalf. Therefore, The atonement of Christ allowed this command to be removed. Indeed, as he hung on the cross, His final words were—“It is finished” (John 19:30)—indicating that this had been accomplished.
Although further philosophical and biblical conversation is interesting, interpretation of bible passages among sects and individuals differ greatly and thus biblical debate will never “prove” either sides sufficiently. This is why Latter-day Saints believe so strongly in the need for living prophets on the earth. God has always given the earth prophets to guide and assist in scriptural interpretation and in declaring His continuing word to the earth. This is at the very foundation of the “Mormon message” to the world. God is not silent. He speaks to His children today through living prophets just as He did anciently. We declare that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth just as He established it (Ephesians 4:11–12; see also Matthew 16:18; Luke 6:13). We invite the world to study these things, to read the words of God’s living prophets, and to pray for personal revelation that these things are true. It is a marvelous and exciting time to be alive!