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How the Doctrine of Polygamy Affected My Modern Mormon Life

The other day, I made a comment on my personal blog about how I thought polygamy was still pervasive in the church today. Obviously I’m not talking about its practice (though of course it still does exist in temples today, as living men are sealed to more than one woman) but I’m talking about the long tentacles of this doctrine, a doctrine that reaches through time and make women fear that their eternal destiny is to be a polygamous wife.I can’t tell you how often I agonized over this, early in my marriage, as I would tearfully ask my husband over and over again if he would take another wife in the next life. (What if God commanded you, Mike? Or what if it was just a suggestion from God? What if I disagreed? Would you get rid of me? Etc.) Poor Mike. What could he say to those questions? Of course my faithful husband would tell me that if God commanded him, there was really only one choice. But, he would reassure me, he would hate it.

I no longer cry over this issue. After hours of reading*, discussing, and meditating on this topic, I’ve come to decide that a loving, just God won’t ask for that. So I don’t think that it will even be an option. This understanding gives me great peace. YMMV, of course.

And people’s mileage does indeed vary. A friend commented to me that she’s never been bothered by polygamy, and thinks that under the right circumstances it could be just as viable as any other sort of marital relationship. I with my relativist tendencies wants to agree that it could work for some people – different strokes for different folks and all that.

But there are some things that my gut tells me should not be tolerated, even taking into account different cultural ideals. Subordination and domination within marriage, for example. Spouse beating, for example. And I’m afraid that at this point in my life I’m inclined to put polygamy into that same “not to be ethically tolerated” category. (N.B. I am not implying that polygamy necessarily involves wife beating or domination. Read on for my reasons for believing polygamy is fundamentally wrong.)

The feminist (and the romantic?) in me has a hard time accepting that even in the most ideal circumstances, polygamy doesn’t devalue and disempower the woman to some extent. When the man always has parts of his heart and life that are off limits to each of his wives, when a wife is not a co-partner with someone else, but instead one of several to be presided over – it just doesn’t sound to me like the type of marriage that God would want for his children.

So I’ve made my peace with polygamy – by rejecting it. Have you made your peace with it? How? Have you agonized over this, like me, or is this doctrine just not something you choose to think about?

*Eugene England’s article “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage” was fantastic. He argues that polygamy won’t exist in the celestial kingdom.

** Mike wants me to add that he doesn’t think that polygamy will be a commandment in the next life.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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55 Responses

  1. Tatiana says:

    I’ve made my peace with it in several steps. First by understanding that polygyny necessarily implies polyandry as well, that heaven is unquestionably fair. Next, by falling in love with Joseph F. Smith, from his teachings, that wise and gentle man, and realizing that I would totally have been happy to be his fourth wife or whatever. Next, by understanding that the putting aside of jealousy and the desire to increase each others’ happiness, and the extent of one’s closest connections is a higher principle than exclusivity and something-that’s-akin-to-ownership of another human being. Finally by knowing four guys whom I dearly loved, who dearly loved one another, and thinking about how lovely it would be for us all to be married. 🙂

    In post-mortal states in which there is no time crunch, no necessity for limited attention and effort available to lavish on a spouse, in such states, who is to say that we won’t be vastly enriched by relationships that include more than one?

  2. bigbrownhouse says:

    Tatiana, more than one relationship for whom?

    I rather like the idea of multiple men, but I’ve never seen or heard anything to suggest that LDS polygamy describes anything other than one man/multi women.

    No thanks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I hate polygamy. Whenever I think about its existence, I question God. Polygamy seems disastrous for the women involved. In fact, the world’s still dealing with the consequences of Abraham’s bad parenting.
    I just try not to think about it.

  4. amelia says:

    i don’t really have time to comment extensively at the moment (i’m supposed to be writing a final exam…guilt guilt guilt). but i just want to point out that the fact that you’re classifying polygamy in the same category as subordination and domination in marriage (i’m assuming you envision women as the subordinated and dominated party) and wife beating tells me that you’re viewing polygamy from a very prejudicied position. that’s to be expected, given our cultural biases. but i think we at least need to acknowledge the very deeply seated prejudices that often color discussions of polygamy.

  5. Starfoxy says:

    Oh I agonized over it, but I eventually came to some sort of peace with it (though I still feel a little sick if I let myself actually think about it for any length of time).

    The peace I’ve come to in regards to polygamy is deeply connected to lots of the thoughts I’ve come to hold about women and our existence on this earth and is way too involved (and wildly speculative) to sum up here. In regards to celestial polygamy I believe that it simply cannot exist the way it has been described.

  6. Tatiana says:

    I agree that if it’s only polygyny, and not also polyandry, then it’s totally unacceptable. But it’s not. It’s both.

  7. Bored in Vernal says:

    I struggled over responding to this. I’ve posted my thoughts over at my blog. I hope you all still love me!

  8. Bored in Vernal says:

    …some very tantalizing comments by amelia and starfoxy. I’d love to hear more of your speculations! (I adore speculations.)

  9. bigbrownhouse says:

    LDS Polygamy is by definition polygyny. We’re talking about polygamy in the LDS context, so If you see room in LDS doctrine for something other than polygyny, I’d be fascinated to hear more.

  10. Tanya says:

    What I want to understand is why is automatically assumed that a polygamist marriage would automatically be abusing, domineering and horrible? If a monogamous marriage can be uplifting, fulfilling can it not be said the same for a righteous polygamous marriage? I do believe that God will ask much of us, does it mean that we will have to live with such a marriage. No, I don’t think so, but just because you “Hate” it, you still have not come to terms with it. You are completely discounting the visions and blessings of the many people who were asked to live this principle.

  11. Anonymous says:

    anon in case my siblings read here…

    my peace comes from total rejection.
    I don’t believe polygamy was ever inspired- the prophets were dead wrong, the people sincerely misled.
    I don’t believe present-day second sealings are valid. Or rather, to be valid the 1st sealing must dissolve.

    I believe exaltation is 1+1 fusing into 1 life force and that celestial marriage must be monogamous. I believe it 100% but it came at a heavy price of discounting past prophets, which means the current prophets can be amazingly wrong as well.

    I guess I’ve made my peace on a very unusual place for an active member.

  12. janeannechovy says:

    I’m with you, Caroline. I’m able to accept that it was an historical practice, but as for an eternal principle, no way nohow.

    I like the story of one of my ancestors, Amanda Washburn Chipman, who told her husband of many years (through Kirtland, Nauvoo, and crossing the plains in 1847) in no uncertain terms that if he took another wife she would be outta there. She kept her word and moved out, had their sealing cancelled, the whole ball of wax. She never left the church, and several of her sons had multiple wives, but she just knew it was not for her. And it’s for sure not for me, either.

  13. Laura says:

    Ooh. Long post below:

    I’ve also made my peace with it. I reject it. Ultimately I feel really disingenuous spending my short time on earth trying to make logical the illogical or “live with” teachings and principles that seem wrong at their core. And for me, that includes many more things than polygamy.

    Two years ago I got a job offer in a new town and instead of talking about possibly moving together, my husband told me that I should go alone, that he felt he no longer loved me, and that we should divorce.

    It was all very fast and pretty much out of the blue (things weren’t perfect but they weren’t at the stage of leaving). We’d talked a bit about my “problems” with the Church. Always my problems, my inadequacy, my inability to do the work it took to get “there” on many issues.

    He’d been spending a lot of time with a woman from work and I’d only just begun to feel uncomfortable with their relationship when he told me he wanted a divorce. I confronted him about it but he swore they were just friends.

    Two painful years later I found out they are together, she is baptized and I can’t help but think a temple wedding is the next logical step.

    Should I agonize over the details here? Was he justified in leaving me because of my lack of “knowing”? If this thing is all really true, will I spend eternity married to someone who betrayed and rejected me? What is the process? Does he have to gain my permission to be sealed to someone else? This is God’s plan? Ug!

    I guess I’ve come to the comfortable and peaceful conclusion to most of the hard core existential questions that have reared their heads in my mind since I understood the concept of injustice. That is, that I’ll never “know” the answer to any of them. I think there is both brilliance and lunacy in the teachings of the Mormon faith.

    I’m beginning to feel like life is really just a series of moments and I don’t want to spend my moments working out the polygamous details of my hereafter. If that is damning and sacrilegious, so be it.

  14. AmyB says:

    Caroline, as I read between the lines, it seems to me that your biggest fear is losing agency. Your view of the doctrine polygamy appears to include that women will be made to participate in it against their wills. I wonder if there is another way to look at it. I can only kinda sorta wrap my brain around it if all parties willingly desire to enter into that arrangement with no threat of coercion or judgment.

    I’m not saying I’ve come to any terms with it now, in fact I’m mostly agnostic on what will actually happen in the afterlife. At the very least I tend to think that the next life will be vastly different from anything we can envision now.

  15. Deborah says:

    I was going to write what Amy just wrote . . .!

  16. Caroline says:

    So many things to say!

    Amelia, AmyB, Deborah,I’ll start out by saying that I did not mean to infer that polygamy necessarily involves domineering and wife beating. I was simply using those things as examples of situations I cannot ethically tolerate. Completely separate from polygamy.

    Even in polygamy’s most ideal form, which is the form I would imagine it would take in heaven, I feel it is just Wrong. Because of the way it violates the principle of fidelity, because of the way it necessitates locking parts of one’s heart and life away from a spouse.

    So for me its not really about a loss of agency, it’s about a loss of fidelity.

    Tatiana,
    Very interesting. Even though crazy craziness happened in Kirtland (including instances of polyandry) I don’t think that’s really in the framework of Mormon doctrine as it currently stands. I’d probably be a tiny bit more ok with polygamy if polyandry was an option, but honestly both just leave a bad taste in my mouth. Both seem to me to violate fidelity to be fundamentally unfair for everyone involved.

  17. Caroline says:

    Bigbrownhouse, as I mentioned in my previous comment, there actually were instances of polyandry in the very early church, when things were crazy and secret. Joseph Smith married women (or was it just one woman?) who were already married to other men. It didn’t happen a lot, but it did happen. If you read Compton’s “In Sacred Lonliness” you’ll find a chapter about this.

  18. Caroline says:

    Laura, anonymous, Jeananne,

    I totally sympathize. I don’t know if I can absolutely call the early Mormon form of polygamy a big mistake (even though I’m tempted). I suppose I want to leave the door open for a limited earthly aberration that God thought was necessary in that particular time.

    But as for it in the next life. Nope. Don’t accept that. Your story Laura, brings up some of the problems we living people have to deal with when it comes to the doctrine of polygamy. I personally think that there’s no way you’ll have to be with someone you don’t want to be with, but that doesn’t help the mental torment you’ve gone through, knowing that the man you’re sealed to will seal himself to another woman. Nightmare.

  19. Deborah says:

    Caroline:

    I was concurring with Amy’s speculation about agency because of your original fears (what if God commands it at some point?) and your resolution (based on what I know about God, it wouldn’t be asked of me).

    That said, I find it fascinating that your repugnance of something from Mormonism *history* is heightened by your embrace something truly *modernly* Mormon: the ideal of one man/one woman — a soul-mate relationship — for all of eternity.

    Marriage has had so many incarnations in earth’s history (just last week I was reading a Joseph Campbell article about the invention of courtly love by those amorous troubadours). Many of the ancestors we’ve done temple work for had marriages born of pragmatism. Arranged marriages are still the norm in many parts of the world. And even in this high-tech age where we can connect across the globe in an instant, we generally find our spouses from a very very small pool of acquaintances that we happen to know at a particular time period of our lives. So, as an eternal being, who I happen to meet in my twenties in the town I’m living in is, by design, my perfect foil for the rest of time?!

    Frankly, I find the idea of eternal monogamous marriage as *mysterious* as the idea of polygamy. (And, yes, I dearly love my husband!) I’m certain scores of women are closer to some girlfriends or to their mother or to their own children than they are to their husbands. Are we so certain eternity with one man is more desirable than eternity with a group of people sealed together?

    I believe deeply in fidelity — and find earthly polygamy highly problematic as it generally plays out. But if we have a limitless potential for growth, perhaps there’s a limitless potential for full relationships with other people. Christ, after all, in feeling our pains & problems, entered a faithful “marriage” relationship with untold billions of souls.

    Which leads me back to Amy’s final thought, which gives me the greatest comfort of all: “At the very least I tend to think that the next life will be vastly different from anything we can envision now.” And, I hope, more beautiful. After all, eternity is a LONG time!

  20. Anonymous says:

    So if there is no polygamy, what happens to the undoughtedly large pool of ‘extra’ women without companions in the end?

    It is odd to me that someone would choose to totally reject an idea rather than just realize they are not an exalted being yet, and may not understand things perfectly yet.

    Im really not sure it actually matters. Personally, I dont think the number of people making to a state where they can be married eternally is going to be very large.

  21. Caroline says:

    Go read Eugene England’s article, anonymous. In it, he refutes the idea that there will be more women than men in heaven. If you take into account all the boy children and babies that die (they die more often than girls) all the young soldiers that have died, and the fact that boy babies are born slightly more often than girl babies, that means there is a surplus of millions of unmarried males in the celestial kingdom. All those good women who make it to CK should have their pick of worthy single males.

  22. Caroline says:

    Deborah,
    Perhaps my original, younger fears did have to do with me having to choose either polygamy or no Mike. Now I am more inclined to think that if it will exist, (and I don’t think it will) it will be entirely voluntary.

    Yes, I definitely embrace the more romanticized view of marriage that the church and society currently espouse. You’re right to point out that throughout history, marriage has not been this idealized relationship of love that I currently envision it being in the CK. I’m hoping that all those arranged and pragmatic marriages throughout history will, in the CK, turn into that loving, loyal, ennobling relationship that I envision as ideal. And for that to happen, IMO, it’s just got to be 1 on 1.

    And my ideal of 1 on 1 marriage does not negate the idea of having ennobling and powerful relationships with others in the hereafter. I’m hoping my friends and other family members will be there to associate with. But I don’t think there needs to be a marriage sealing to necessitate that.

    I appreciate your perspective, Deborah. I suspect yours may be more mature than mine, but this repugnance for anything that violates spousal fidelity is just part of who I am. And I want to embrace that.

  23. Deborah says:

    “I suspect yours may be more mature than mine . . .”

    I’m only three years in to a potentially timeless union, so what do I know :)?

    I totally admire (and support) your fierce devotion to spousal fidelity. That’s an earthly ideal I’ll stand up for. I just wonder if there aren’t all kinds of permutations of full, rich eternal relationships in the next life. I suppose that my openness to various unions stems partly from watching my grandfather’s devotion to my grandma (a second marriage; his first wife died of cancer after bearing two children). I don’t believe any woman (or man) will be bound for eternity to a situation that makes them unhappy. So maybe it’ll all shake out (hopefully not like Sophie’s choice!) to 1-to-1 bliss for all involved. But if my grandfather and his two wives decide that this is happiness for them? I don’t know, but I’m open to it.

  24. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I came to terms with it early on. It was just a part of my family history. “Great-grandma married the wagon master who saved her from drowning and later he married her sister too.”

    I see it as neither necessarily entailing submission for women nor entailing having a part of your husband’s heart “locked away.” Love is bigger and more varied than that. Just as a parent can love many different children, siblings can love many different siblings and friends can love many different friends.

    I see no reason to reject polygny utterly. There have been problems with how it has been practiced; I don’t deny that nor do I sanction child-brides or competition for the husband’s attention. However, there have also been good examples of it — how many of the famous feminists of early LDS history were plural wives? How many doctors and other professional women in Utah were able to pursue those paths because of the support not just of their husbands but of their sister-wives?

    IMHO, any polygyny practiced in Heaven would only be of the voluntary, supportive and deeply connected sister-wife kind. It doesn’t frighten me in the slightest.

    As for the comment about Abraham’s parenting, that is not a historically tenable argument. The Muslim faith and history of tribal hatreds in the Middle East are both relatively modern occurances and have nothing to do with a man who lived thousands of years before Christ.

  25. Caroline says:

    “However, there have also been good examples of it — how many of the famous feminists of early LDS history were plural wives?”

    Most. However, while they publically defended “the principle” many were privately very unhappy with it. Emmeline B. Wells is a great example of this. Her private diary talks about her agonizing pain and loneliness because of polygamy.

  26. dangermom says:

    I have simply never had much of a problem with polygamy. I do think it was inspired, and that it is possible to live–though very difficult and only with a lot of influence from the Spirit. I can’t say that I particularly want to live polygamy, but neither do I have a huge problem with my husband remarrying if I die; I’ve told him to go out and find someone.

    I don’t think that Heavenly Father is going to force us to live polygamously, nor do I think there is going to be a huge pool of ‘extra’ women; I suspect it will be rather more even, and that polygamy won’t be as common as some people think. But it doesn’t bother me either way, really.

  27. Rose Fox says:

    I should preface this by noting that I am not and have never been a Mormon.

    I think your assumption that polygamy must necessarily involve compartmentalization and secrecy is incorrect. My husband has a girlfriend, and I absolutely adore her. She and I sing in a chorus together and love spending time together. Neither of us has been forced into the situation in any way. I believe her presence in my life enriches me, and she certainly seems to believe that my presence in her life enriches her; she recently took a long trip and kept sending me messages telling me how much she missed me! The three of us have spent many wonderful hours together, singing (we all take voice lessons from the same teacher) and watching movies and traveling and simply enjoying one another’s company. Everything is open and honest, so there’s no loss to anyone, and I think there’s really tremendous gain for all of us.

    It’s all about what works for you. There are absolutely some people for whom this situation would be untenable. Do not, however, make the mistake of generalizing your own experience. All things are possible.

  28. Bored in Vernal says:

    Rose Fox, I’m glad you shared your perspective here. Your situation sounds a lot like my parents. I know that my dad and his two wives were able to share their heart and lives with each other without limits. I think that it certainly is possible for all to be co-partners without leaving anyone out! However, it must be noted that it does require more tolerance and love than many modern marriages are equipped to provide. I am certain that for many early Mormons polygamy would not have been possible without a powerful religious conviction.

  29. Beijing says:

    The idea of women secretly suffering is what I’m most uncomfortable with, and is something that I see in both the ancient and modern polygamy.

    There were women who lived polygamy and publicly advocated it, but privately hated it. There are people today who utterly reject polygamy, who find distasteful so many of polygamy’s consequences and vestiges, who think the prophets and their followers were gravely mistaken to have taught and practiced it…but who keep these beliefs secret.

    What if all women refused to keep secret their feelings about polygamy? What if each woman in a Relief Society room knew that IF she had a serious issue with polygamy (but she doesn’t, of course she doesn’t, she’s got it all worked out according to her secret patented individual speculation), but IF she had a serious issue with polygamy, she would not be the only one in the room with that issue?

  30. amelia says:

    several of the comments here have suggested that the problem with polygamy is that women suffer in private when they participate in polygamy. i see that arising not only out of historical fact (it is a fact that some polygamous wives had this experience), but also out of prejudice. there’s nothing inherent to the idea of a polygamous relationship that would result in women (or men) suffering in secret (both rose fox and bored in vernal’s personal experiences witness to that fact). nor would a celestial version of polygamy require anything less than complete willingness on the part of all participants.

    caroline says:

    “…I did not mean to infer that polygamy necessarily involves domineering and wife beating. I was simply using those things as examples of situations I cannot ethically tolerate. Completely separate from polygamy.”

    while you did not equate polygamy to either domineering or wife beating, you explicitly classified it with those two things–you see them bearing enough similarity that they belong in the same category. even if you don’t equate these things, i still think that you’re operating from a position of deep prejudice. that’s not a failing on your part, as most (if not all) of that prejudice is cultural in making. i just think we need to be careful about simply condemning a possible version of human relationship on the basis of prejudice. it’s one thing to say “polygamy is something i cannot do because it would seem impossible for me to access all of my husband’s life” and another to say that because of that, polygamy is therefore, across the board and without question, Wrong. and it’s still another thing to declare that since it is Wrong, god would not require it of anyone.

    i don’t really have a problem with individuals making their peace with whatever teaching by reaching the conclusion that the teaching in question is not something they feel comfortable with on the basis of another conflicting teaching. caroline’s basic resolution of her feelings here is that the practice of polygamy violates the principle of spousal fidelity–a principle of central importance to current mormon principle and practice. one of the difficulties of this life is learning how to resolve apparently conflicting principles and we’ll all make similar decisions about how to balance such apparently conflicting teachings.

    i personally disagree that polygamy inherently violates spousal fidelity. part of the problem is that polygamous marriages, in caroline’s (and many people’s) scheme, looks like a cluster diagram, with the man at the center and each wife off to different sides and their children off to still other sides with no connectsion between the wives except the man. in that scheme, there may indeed be parts of that man’s life that the various wives may not be able to access. but i envision a divine, celestial version of polygamy being something much more equitable where the spouses and the children are all connected to each other.

    my real problem with this discussion isn’t to do with different ways of envisioning polygamy; i imagine that polygamy (just like monogamy) comes in a million different shapes and sizes. my real problem comes when someone turns a resolution that a practice (which has some claim to divine sanction) is invalid on the basis of another divinely sanctioned practice into something so concrete that there is no elasticity left. even a qualifier of “at this point in time” would give me a little relief. because it indicates that the person trying to resolve the apparent conflict of principles recognizes their own finite understanding. that they are not trying to dictate to god or to other people (who are divine in nature and who will become perfect even as god is) what can and cannot be good. that they recognize that they themselves still have a great deal of growing and developing to do. that, to quote hamlet (sorry; i’ve been working on a shakespeare final), ‘there are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’

    i expect other mormons to be open enough in their beliefs that they will accept the possibility of women holding the priesthood. or that god will resolve the matters surrounding homosexuality however he sees fit, up to and including sanctioning homosexual relationships. that god, in his perfect wisdom, justice, equity, and mercy, will resolve any and every problem this world faces in a wise, just, equitable, and merciful manner. and do so without human beings, with all of their imperfect versions of those attributes, trying to dictate to him how to solve the problems. i think i owe that same openness of mind on issues that are troubling to me. even ones that deeply challenge my identity. my trust in god is such that i know however he resolves such issues, it will be right–regardless of what i think i see and know now. if i did not have such a trust in god, i could not believe in him. i don’t see that trust as an abnegation of my responsibility to examine and think for myself. how will i become like god if i don’t work at it? i do see it as a belief in the balance and goodness inherent in life.

  31. Deborah says:

    For those who have enjoyed this conversation, I want to make sure you have a chance to visit Emily’s account of her experience meeting modern-day polygamists: “Dinner with the Polygamists,” from May 2006. It’s a really wonderful post.

  32. Heather O. says:

    I don’t like the thought of sharing my husband with another woman. I doubt anybody does. When we think of polygamy in the afterlife, I would venture most of us think of it like you mentioned, Caroline—live it, or lose our husbands. Or, worse, live it AND lose our husbands.

    But I echo what has been said here already. We cannot totally conceive of what our existence will be like in the eternities, or what our relationships will look like. I envision it sort of like an extended vacation with DH–sitting around and talking with him while we watch our progeny do–um, whatever it is we will be doing. I’m sure it’s not like that, but my point is if we can’t even fathom or imagine what our day-to- day existence will be like after we die, how can we possibly reject ideas about what relationships will be like?

    I am very uncomfotable with the things that went on in the early church, not the least of which was the secrecy from Emma and the torment she must have gone through in Nauvoo. But when it comes to imagining polygamy in the CK, well, I guess I don’t worry too much about it because I trust God. I trust that He doesn’t want us miserable. And I trust that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

  33. Alison Moore Smith says:

    A friend commented to me that she’s never been bothered by polygamy, and thinks that under the right circumstances it could be just as viable as any other sort of marital relationship.

    That’s pretty much where I am. Here are the “right circumstances”:

    I am the beloved wife.
    I am the wooed wife.
    I am the sex wife.

    Then we have the others: cook wife, cleaning wife, laundry wife, gardening wife…

  34. Naomi says:

    I made peace with it when I read Jacob chapter 2. In it he “condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage.” Obviously it is something that has been needed from time to time, for whatever reason (I like to think that it’s because there are more women then men in a specific area, and since we all need marriage to be exalted…), but I came to the conclusion that if we are not required to participate in the present, we won’t in the afterlife. I don’t think that it’s like the law of consecration, ie., a higher law that we just can’t handle at this time. I think it’s something that is used when neccessary, and when it’s not, it’s removed. And that makes me feel better about it all because, for me, it means it’s not used as a way for men to get their kicks, but to help women obtain the Celestial Kingdom that otherwise would be unable to.

  35. Paradox says:

    I came to terms with polygamy in terms of it being an inspired practice because I know too much about Joseph Smith to think that he had ulterior motives for the doctrine. I respect and love the Prophet Joseph Smith, and to disregard polygamy would be a mark against his credibility as a prophet, which I cannot accept.

    Once I read some pieces by Emmeline Wells from her Women’s Exponent, and I had some conversations at Youth Conference with women of historical and contextual prowress, I felt it was reaffirmed to me that polygamy was necessary to protect and ensure the growth of the early church. Polygamy served so many positive and collective purposes to the Church, I don’t even see the practice in the evil connotation that it has taken for our generation. I believe that the plural marriages that were performed when the practice was on the earth will be binding in Heaven. But I also believe that because there is a time and place for everything under Heaven, polygamy will not be an issue for contemporary Saints to consider. The practice has been removed. The Church has officially forsaken it. Our Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley continues to forsake it for our generation. Therefore, I don’t believe that our generation is among those that would have to make the choice on whether to practice polygamy. And even if we did, I take comfort in that we have been endowed with agency, and can make that choice. And wo unto the husband that takes an second wife when it angers the first, because eternity is a long, long time.

    Even though I do not believe polygamy will be an issue that I must consider, when I think about it in terms of, “Could I ever enter a polygamous union?” I will admit that I have reservations. But I’m also the kind of person that accepts that I don’t know everything. Obviously, if I was to be presented with the opportunity, there must be something I am to learn, and a reason for the opporunity that I simply do not know. For me, that answer is acceptable. And it’s also in my nature to adapt quickly, and I trust that I could not only be happy, but thrive in the arrangement, just as Emmeline Wells did.

    I pray that any and all women who struggle with polygamy will find peace. We have not been given an easy history to understand or explain. However, I think we have the responsibility to do the best we can with what we know. And I know, without a doubt, that our Father in Heaven will protect and guide us in our endeavors. I know that we can trust Him, and sometimes that just HAS to be enough.

  36. Dora says:

    How have I made my peace? By lumping it into that group of “I’m sure that this is one of those issues where the current understanding is impaired, but will be resolved.” Like issuing the priesthood to all worthy men regardless of race. Like women holding the priesthood. Basically, I think the current policy is flawed. Historically, I understand why it was implemented when the saints first crossed the plains and settled in the Salt Lake valley. But it just doesn’t fit along with everything I understand about the nature of marriage and eternal progression.

    I do have problems with how polygamy was instituted in the early church. I don’t like how it was hidden from Emma. I don’t like that couples didn’t have a lot of choice in who was to enter into their family as polygamous wives. I especially don’t like that women had so little choice in either choosing who they were to be wed to, or who their husband would take as a polygamous wife. Marriage is such a complex relationship, that any type of coersion to enter it seems wrong.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Naomi, I think your comment was very sweet, when I see it that way to help other sisters. And I also feel that caroline made very valid points, I do not think is an issue for us in modern days, it was a practice used at specific times in history and there was a purpose to them. I am divorce from my “eternal companion”, and he has remarried, not in the temple, I understand that he need my consent to marry in the temple because I am still alive, it would be different if I was dead. have asked my bishop and even my stake president to help me cancel my sealing but they don’t even want to discuss it until and if I find somebody else. I understand that it was to do with eternity, CK and crossing the veil, but my other side aogues that I made a mistake when i was young and I don’t want to be sealed to it for eternity. I don’t hate my ex or have any bad feelings torward him, I just do not want to be seal to him, I am a daughter of God and he loves me. he wants something better for me and he wants me to be happy and been sealed to him and then he being also sealed to his new wife, I don’t think so, I am no the one, how can I feel special feeling, that soulmate kind of feeling.
    We are not going to be along with our spouse because we are just sealed to him, we have to remember that w are sealed to our parents, and to our brothers and siser who in turn are sealed to their spouses and kids and the chain keeps on growing and hopefully many of us will make it.
    I also want to comment about the more women than men, I never thought about the many men that have died young going to war all over the world, thoughout history, all the kids that died young,I heard somewhere that fetus from miscarriege will be angels I don’t really know, but that is beautifull. and if we see it that way, can you you imaging all the available, worsthy, nordic Gods that will be availabe, nothing to worry about.

  38. Anonymous says:

    If men and women were meant to be in polygamous marriages, then Heavenly Father would have given us the example from the beginning of Adam and Eve, and Jane and Sally, and Susan, etc. There were many great prophets of old who only had one wife. (i.e. – Noah, Lehi, etc.)
    I believe the practice was only commanded in times where Heavenly Father needed righteous seed and to test/try his people.
    I have struggled with this issue for 29 years now. How could a loving Heavenly Father do what he did to Emma Smith and other women? Their blessings in Heaven must be incredible! I truly don’t believe that they will have to stay in those marriages for eternity. They deserve to be in happy, monogomous relationships as much, if not more than anyone. I am an active member, but admittedly have negative feelings towards the early polygamist men. Brigham Young in particular. I wish I didn’t. I will stop now, as I have already gone too far.

  39. Mark says:

    Laura, just wanted to let you know that your views are right on target. You’re not broken, you’re not messed up. When everything inside you tells you that polygamy is wrong…..there is a reason. It is wrong. I’ve gone through the same process. My wife is still active, but thank goodness she has loved me enough to try to understand my problems with this abhorrent teaching. Polygamy in my mind has never been a teaching of God, for basically the same reasons you’ve stated. Abraham Lincoln viewed polygamy and slavery as the “twin relics of barbarism”. He sought to get rid of both. Brigham Young didn’t like Abraham Lincoln much….from what I’ve read….., but it is amazing that church leaders quote him all the time. For those of you that don’t understand why polygamy is damaging to women…. please take a deep breath and think. It is damaging to women, children, and men. A husband and a wife have a very special and intimate relationship that simply cannot exist in a polygamist marriage. My wife and I are one. Our children are one with us. We have a great family life. I would not want my daughter or any of the sons and daughters of God to not experience the kind of relationship that comes from a true monogamous marriage. Polygamy entraps young women in a relationship that robs them of their free agency, their opportunity for the kind of relationship that God intended. If we as Mormon’s believe in the New Testament, how can we believe in polygamy. Jesus Christ, his apostles, and all those who came after them….never once taught that polygamy was a celestial creed.

  40. Erika says:

    I stumbled upon this randomly and haven’t read all the comments made… . I just finished reading Escape by Carolyn Jessup about 2 hours ago. I highly recommend it. She does a great job of explaining both why she accepted and wanted to practice polygamy, and why later she rejected it. Reading how she was taught to think, I can really see myself buying it if I were raised in that– it leaves little room for judgment. She also does a great job of articulating and illustrating the inherent problems with polygamy (as I see you have been discussing) as well as some of the issues that were specific to her home, but I am sure are not uncommon.

    A side note: I am not Mormon and was raised in a predominantly Mormon area. It brings me joy to see lively discussion on an issue of faith going on within the Mormon community. Perhaps because I am outside the faith, I have never seen that go on even among my close Mormon friends.

  41. Erika says:

    I have now read all your comments. I am supposed to be writing a paper.

  42. Caroline says:

    Erika,
    Glad you enjoyed our discussion!

  43. Seven says:

    I have also made my peace with polygamy by rejecting it. Your story sounded identical to the conversations I used to have with my devout LDS husband. This Mormon doctrine has brought many tears and heartbreak into our marriage. The answers to my prayers have always been that it’s an abomination. (and there is no “except when God commands” with that answer! 🙂

    Polygamy is harmful and destructive to the sacred union of husband and wife. There are abuses inherent within “righteous” polygamy that are not found in a healthy monogamous marriage. No loophole scripture will change that. Jacob 2:30 in my opinion, has been misinterpreted by LDS. I believe in the RLDS interpretation of Jacob2:30 found here: http://restorationbookstore.org/articles/
    nopoligamy/jsfp-vol1/chp18.htm

    If the link doesn’t work, it’s in Chapter 18 of the book “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy” by Richard and Pamela Price. The book is online if you google it and I highly recommend taking a look at that chapter.

    I can still honor my ancestors without honoring their mistakes. I wouldn’t want my posterity to repeat my sins or errors, however well intentioned.

    I can still remain a Mormon and reject this doctrine, just as many fellow LDS now reject the racist doctrine on blacks in the pre existence. I am no less of a believer than all the other Mormons out there. Mainstream Mormons by definition are Cafeteria Mormons and pick & choose from the buffet table of Mormon teachings and doctrine anyway.

    I follow my conscience, not the arm of flesh.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with a doctrine that causes so much harm to women in the church. I hope to see section 132 removed from the canon someday and polygamy condemned. I also hope to see the church cease the sealings of men to multiple wives in the temple today.

  44. Seven says:

    I’ll try this link once more: Jacob 2:30
    http://restorationbookstore.org/articles/nopoligamy/jsfp-vol1/chp18.htm

    This chapter brought me so much peace during my study and prayer about this doctrine. As a Mormon, I could never reconcile D & C 132 with Jacob 2. I am so grateful a friend sent this to book to me during my struggle.
    I was able to gain a clear understanding that felt true to me. Reading 132 brought nothing but confusion, darkness, and sickness.

  45. Caroline says:

    Seven, that’s a very interesting interpretation of Jacob. I like it. Thanks for the link.

    I am, however, less optimistic about the part of the chapter that talks about Joseph not practicing or advocating polygamy. I’m afraid I’ve read too many articles and books to believe that. I wish I could believe it, though.

  46. Seven says:

    Hi Caroline,
    I agree. The evidence is overwhelming that Joseph practiced and preached polygamy. I remained unconvinced of the RLDS position on that part of the book.
    It was interesting for me to learn that Brigham Young changed some of Joseph’s earlier sermons to include polygamy in Utah. Much of the evidence relies on LDS sources, with the exception of those who left the church over Joseph’s actions. What a mess it all is! So much deception, harm , and confusion during that time. Makes me think of that song “when you tell one lie it leads to another so you tell two lies to cover eachother, then you tell three lies and, oh brother, you’re in trouble up to your ears.”

  47. Violet says:

    I like that link and actually the post. I love it when someone brings up a past post that I was not aware of.

    Polygomy is such a hard topic. I am glad to see other people’s struggle and resolution with the topic. It helps.

  48. Seth R. says:

    Never had much of a problem with the idea of polygamy in the afterlife. Whether it’s me with more than one wife, or my wife with more than one husband, it doesn’t trouble me, and it doesn’t trouble my wife either. We’ve talked about it (usually after someone blogs about it in the bloggernacle) and it’s not really all that distressing.

    In the case of people who have lost a spouse and remarried, I find it a beautiful and comforting doctrine actually. It stands for the wonderful truth that there is room in the human heart for more than one person, and that the insecurities and fears of mortality will not always hold us back.

    Sure, the mortal implementation of the idea has often been a mess, and I don’t advocate doing it here and now. But I stopped apologizing for the doctrine itself a looong time ago.

    Fact is, there’s nothing to apologize for. It’s a good doctrine.

  49. Caroline says:

    I can respect that it works for you. But it’s not a good doctrine for those of us who value the type of fidelity we practice in this current socio-historical context.

  50. gladtobeamom says:

    I never really had a problem with this doctrine. I have been giving it a lot of thought lately and appreciate this article. It helps me to understand others issues with it. I just wonder myself how it all works in the so called afterlife.

    I am a little worried. My husband is inactive and everyone always asks how he can sacrifice his eternal family. It is scary to think that the man I love and have spent my life with wont be my eternal companion. So if I lucky enough to be worthy does some other couple who I don’t know out of their “kindness” let me join them. (Scary) Do I spend my eternity alone longing for husband? Do I join with one of those who was never married? I could get twisted in Knots worrying about all this. It does drive me crazy. I agree with a pp that I think their will be few who actually achieve and eternal marriage which is sad. This is one of the things that is confusing to me. So if you don’t achieve the highest kingdom do you get to spend enternity just hanging out with everyone but no unions. That is the way I have always understood it. It didn’t really hit me until now. So confusing.

    I am trying to just enjoy life now and not think about it to much though it pops up every now and then.

    I am trying to trust the God loves us and it will all work out. I have always understood any degree will be so much better then here on earth so I cant imagine that we would still have some kind of unions other wise it would be hell for most of us.

    sorry this is long this just brought out some of my many wondering thoughts.

  51. vicki says:

    Would someone mind providinf a link to the Eugene England article mentioned? I could only find an excerpt online. thanks in advance

  52. I’m not married in the temple, but honestly sometimes the idea of being a “ministering angel” is a lot more appealing than being the 24th wife of some dude for eternity.

  53. Caroline says:

    Here’s a line to England’s article. Just scroll down and you’ll see it.

    http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=20301&CISOSHOW=20244

  54. Caroline says:

    Faithful dissident, I know what you mean. Ministering angel doesn’t sound that bad at all compared to the frightening alternative.

  55. One member of the Church told me that I didn’t need to worry too much about not being married in the temple. He felt that the commandment to enter into temple marriage in this life applies only to the brethren. He said that one of the prophets (can’t remember which one) had said that there would be many more righteous women than men in the next life, so a woman like me who lived the Gospel would be given to some righteous priesthood holder. So I said I guess that means that since my earthly husband will be irrelevant, I might be given to him and his wife would have to share. He seemed to think that’s how it will work.

    I totally agree with Laura that “there is both brilliance and lunacy in the teachings of the Mormon faith.” I think the teaching of eternal marriage is beautiful and I love it. The problem is that we don’t know how everything is going to work in the Hereafter and we get confused and depressed by all the speculation when we experience something like Laura has experienced, or are married to a non-member in the case of myself. I don’t want to base all my life decisions on the speculations and theories of some people, even prophets, because they might be wrong. I think we all need to be true to our own conscience and what we believe 100% honestly in the core of our beings the Spirit is telling us. For me, it was to marry my husband and I will confidently tell God that I did what I felt He was telling me was best for me, regardless of what some member tells me I should do. God just might have some plan up his sleeve for those of us who have tried our best and lived an honest life towards ourselves and others. I just cannot believe that there isn’t more to the doctrine of eternal marriage that we just don’t know yet. The God I believe in is just and merciful, so Laura if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll be able to take solace in that, as I do.

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