God Did’t Command Polygamy so Let’s Stop Saying That

Brigham Young and some of the women married to him

Growing up in the 80s my parents purchased a full set of dramatized scripture cassette tapes from the Living Scriptures which included all the LDS standard works plus stories from church history. (Suddenly feeling a bit ancient after typing ‘cassette tape.’) I often listened to these tapes while falling asleep at night which is how one night I learned about polygamy. There are many ways to inform youth about difficult topics; leaving them to find out about it on their own is definitely not an approach I suggest as helpful. At the time, I did not recognize or have the language to describe the horror and resulting trauma I experienced hearing Helen Mar Kimball’s story of being sealed to Joseph Smith as a reward for her father Heber Kimball’s willingness to offer his wife Vilate to Joseph when asked by Joseph. As a fourteen-year-old, was my fate the same as Helen’s? Would my parents sacrifice me as Helen’s father, relieved not to give his wife, sacrificed and abandoned Helen? 

In my 20s, I excelled at mental pretzel twists to justify polygamy. This Square Two post details the same thought process I had even as I found polygamy increasingly horrifying. Zina Hungtinton’s heartbreaking story in  Four Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier particularly bothered me. I started questioning polygamy yet also still accepted the justifications that polygamy was necessary to ‘raise up seed’ for God (Jacob 2), that God had commanded Abraham to take Hagar as a wife so polygamy by early church members was acceptable (D&C 132), and that polygamy was a restortation of all things ancient (D&C 132).

Justifications

Let’s take a look at those justifications. Do polygamous marriages ‘raise up seed’ by increasing a society’s fertility rate? A quick internet search produces a number of academic peer-reviewed studies that say no. Polygamous males do have more children than monogamous males while polygamous females have the same or fewer children as they would in monogamous marriages. Additionally, polygamous societies have more single males than monogamous societies. This higher rate of single males means more males do not have the opportunity to have the children they would have in a monogamous society. (Why are the men who are unable to marry because other men have multiple wives forgotten in the polygamy conversation?) The result is that polygamy does not increase a society’s birth rate which means polygamy does not ‘raise up seed.’  It’s tempting to say something snarky such as who would have thought that females are human beings with a limited reproductive capacity who can’t be programmed to efficiently pump out more product – the product being children. Snark aside, here are links to a few of the many articles I found:  Polygyny and the Rate of Population Growth, Fertility of Polygamous Marraiges, Polygamy in West Africa: Impacts on Fertility, Fertility Intentions and Family Planning. Bonus if you have access to JSTOR or other online journal access to conduct your own literature review. For those who want a quick summary specific to Mormon pioneer-era polygamy fertility, read this article: Mormon Polygamists Shared the Flaws of the Fruit Fly

The ‘raise up seed’ phrase in Jacob 2:30 is often interpreted as a reference to polygamy. However, it is important to actually read the verse because it doesn’t say that polygamy is what will be commanded. We, meaning, church culture, have inferred this interpretation. Reading verses 26-30 as a paragraph, I learn that people practicing chastity, which I understand as abstaining from pre-marital and extramaritial sex, is important to God while whoredoms, another word for adultery, is not acceptable behavior. Reading further, I learn that whoredoms/adultery/polygamy are not acceptable because of the pain it causes other people. Anyone familiar with stories of pioneer-era polygamy knows the horror many experienced. Many of us have felt the haunting pain of polygamy lingering in our scriptures, class discussions, and sealing polices and know that polygamy is definitely a ghost that needs exorcising. As for circumstances where behavior that would normally be considered a whoredom might be sanctioned because it actually does raise up seed, the only instance that comes to mind is the story of Tamar. Her husband died and, due to laws at the time, her only option to have children was through one of her husband’s brothers. Because her father-in-law Judah did not fulfill his responsibility to marry one of his other sons to her, she found a way to become pregnant by him. 

We are commanded to learn by study and by faith. Hooray for social scientists who study these issues and have provided us with information about the effects of polygamy on fertitily rates. We now know better than to justify polgamy with the excuse of increased fertility that does not actually happen.  Let’s recognize that with more knowledge, we can do better than to continue recycling this justification.

Moving on. Did God command Abraham to take Hagar as a wife? Here again is where it is important to actually read the scriptures. Genesis 16:2-3 tells us that Sarah requested that Abraham go into her maid and “gave her (Hagar) to her husband Abram to be his wife.” Under laws of the time, Hagar belonged to Sarah. Hagar was an enslaved person with no choices regarding what happened to her body or her life. While Sarah and Abraham’s actions regarding Hager were lawful, it was not moral of them to take away Hagar’s agency. My heart aches for Hagar. Let’s stop attributing Abraham and Sarah’s actions to God. Let’s also understand Sarah’s actions by learning how females in patriarchal societies are valued for what their bodies can produce so we can instead value females as whole human beings. Let’s stop justifying Abraham and Sarah’s abuse of Hagar’s body by saying the ends justifies the means because many people descended from Hagar. 

Pause. I must sit for a moment and hope for healing for all of those in this story, including those who inherited generational trauma. This is why I believe the gospel – the good news of Christ Jesus who lived, died, and was resurrected – is about the gift of healing. 

Finally, let’s consider the justification for polygamy as a restoration of all things ancient. There are many practices from the ancient world that nobody is clamoring to restore – enslavement of adults and children, stoning, human sacrifice, sexual slavery, and genocide to name a few. Just because people did something a long time ago does not mean it was God ordained then and needs to be practiced now. We also misunderstand restoration if we view it primarily as a restoration of things or practices. Patrick Mason in Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st-Century World explains how restoration refers to a restoration of people. In this book he shares the interesting history of how our understanding of restoration was influenced by restorationist religious movements in the United States in the early 1800s. His book is worth reading in order to examine our views regarding the meaning and purpose of restoration. 

What Next?

Now knowing that these common justifications for polygamy do not justify polygamy, where to go from here regarding this topic? We can look to Mormon pioneers for an example. During the 40+ years of building the Salt Lake Temple, there were several instances when construction did not meet the standard of “building not for today or tomorrow but for all eternity.” Construction that did not meet this standard was undone and rebuilt. Did people at the time worry about how redoing work might reflect on the previous work done, the veracity of the church’s truth claims, or leaders’ priesthood authority? I don’t know. I don’t know if everyone was in agreement about the need to re-do work, if some people were scared, if some people were enthusiastic, or if some people were annoyed. All I know is that they re-did work that did not meet the objective to construct a high quality building.

What is the work of the church today? Hopefully it is bringing people to Christ, building a community of disciples, and supporting people as we grow, develop, heal and become whole. The doctrine of polygamy still present in our beliefs and temple practices actively harms that work and it needs to be ripped out. 

There are many questions regarding marriage relationships after this life. Some may ask about people who have more than one spouse during their lifetime. There are people in my family of origin, extended family, and ward family who have endured deaths of beloved spouses. All the people I know have remarried. It is a sensitive topic because each person – females and males – love both their deceased spouses and their current living spouse. Do past practices of lived polygamy mean that polygamy as practiced by early church members is necessary in the next life to allow for the variety of situations surrounding death, divorce, and remarriage in the next life? I say no. We know so little of what the next life will be like, despite what Doctrine and Covenants 132 says. This section, as the kids say, is sus. One reason this section bothers me is that the language about wives treats women as objects to be obtained by men. I do not believe that my Heavenly Parents see me as an object. Ever since the first time I read this section as a teen, I feel nauseous when I read it. I trust my body because it doesn’t lie. It consistently tells me that not everything in this section is from God.

Even during Joseph Smith’s life, the practice and understanding of polygamy evolved. Why can’t we as the church evolve now? We can recognize that early church members hopefully did their best and we can honor their sacrifice and willingness to try to figure things out. We can also acknowledge that in the practice of polygmay things happened that were not ok with God. Church members do not need to justify the doctrine or practice of polygamy because the church will not crumble to pieces if it is admited that the collective understanding about this topic was incorrect. The church as an institution can do what the builders of the Salt Lake Temple did and rip out something that does not assist in the work of bringing people to Christ and offering healing. Whatever answers exist regarding marriage relationships in the next life cannot be built on the cracked foundation of polygamy.

Note: Because polygamy has been a challenging topic for me to digest, I had not read Ghost of Eternal Polygamy by Carol Lynn Pearson prior to writing this post. I have since started reading it and while it is painful to hear the stories of both people who lived this and people haunted by this practice, it provides what I consider essential information about this topic. I look forward to reading the second to last chapter which is titled “Toward a Partnership Tomorrow.”

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45 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    Fantastic post. I love your analogy about ripping out and redoing the parts of the Temple that weren’t up to eternal standards and how we must do the same for our doctrine.

  2. Tygan says:

    I’ve also heard that polygamy allowed wealthy men to take care of the abundance of widows that were around in the early days of the church. You know, since it’s impossible to help a widow or her kids without marrying to her.

    • Katie Ludlow Rich says:

      Yes! And it blew my mind when I realized that polygamy was the cause of the supposed excess of widows. When two men are murdered and thirty-eight women are suddenly widows to be “taken care of”? That’s a problem caused by polygamy, not solved by it.

    • Joni says:

      How on earth did young Tommy Monson manage to take care of all those widows in his ward without marrying them? I guess we’ll never know???

      • Chris Zollinger says:

        And maybe this story was fabricated by little Tommy Monson as he told so many other tales to appeal to our supposed ‘childish’ brains and emotions…

    • Bryn says:

      Right‽ Even setting aside the commandment that we care for “the widows and orphans,” the argument that polygamy was to take care of widows (or help single women cross the plains) doesn’t hold up. The women that Joseph Smith married, and those that Brigham Young married, include young girls and women already married to living men.

  3. Matt says:

    Wonderful post! Thank you. The world-wide church went for 126 years (1852-1978) being taught and believing that God ordered the priesthood ban and the church has not crumbed since finding out that it was never God’s doing. It’s time to acknowledge that polygamy was never supposed to be. Thank you for publicly voicing that. With regards to polygamy, the church is a trauma victim, and in order to heal and move forward, the trauma needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.

  4. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    So awesome.
    The stop of evolution frustrates me. When marrying wasn’t feasible, sealing to the prophet was done, believing that this connection would increase rank for the family in this or the next life.
    That shifted to the “family only” model we keep today, only recently allowing deceased women to be sealed to more than one man.
    Personally, I think we should shift even more, disregarding gender, allowing families to be built however those parties involved mutually desire, emphasizing that no sealing remains in effect for those who no longer want to be part of it.

  5. Caroline says:

    Terrific post. Thank you! Polygamy was likewise horrifying to me when I was younger and worried that that might be my eternal future. It’s still deeply troubling to me, but I’m happy that I have rejected the idea that God approves of or even wants polygamy in the eternities.

    I remember several years ago I was talking to Armand Mauss, a Mormon studies scholar, and he mentioned that polygamous Mormon wives in the 1800s were usually more like single moms, living by themselves with their kids and often navigating a hard road of poverty. That whole idea of “marrying polygamously in order to take care of women” falls apart when looking at so many women’s stories.

    • Erica says:

      Yup! My Great-X polygamous grandfather lived in town with his two younger wives, while the older two lived out on homesteads. One winter they got snowed in until spring and almost starved to death with their children. Thats a win for benevolent patriarchy!

  6. James Berlin says:

    I find it very ironic that the child of the original Exponent, Exponent II, is now advocating something totally contrary to what the original Exponent so strongly advocated. Speaking of its first editor, Louisa Lula Greene, Shirley M. Thomas wrote the following in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

    “Reluctant to become the editor because of her lack of experience, Greene said she would consent if her great-uncle, Brigham YOUNG, would call her to the position as a mission. This he did and gave her a blessing as well” (p. 985).

    Commenting further, Thomas stated:

    “Loyal to the Church leaders, the Exponent often carried articles defending the practice of POLYGAMY. The paper’s Independence made its case the more persuasive since, as one outsider observed, the writers were obviously not ‘under direction’ or “prompted by authority’ (Bennion, p. 223)” (p. 985).

    I find you your article neither in harmony with nor supportive of the current Church leaders, nor defensive of the divinely-sanctioned practice of polygamy, which did indeed “raise up seed unto the Lord.” I am one of many who descended from those faithful pioneers who sacrificed much, even their all, to establish a covenant people unto the Lord.

    Regarding Abraham, the Lord said:

    Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him (Genesis 18:18-19).

    Abraham’s life was such that the apostle James noted that “he was called the Friend of God” (James 2:19).

    Regarding Joseph Smith, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:

    “I love and bear witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Through his personal association with the Lord, his translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, and the sealing of his testimony with his martyr’s blood, Joseph has become the preeminent revelator of Jesus Christ in His true character as divine redeemer. Jesus has had no greater witness nor more devoted friend than Joseph Smith” (“Born Again,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Ensign, May 2008, 79-79).

    Ultimately, the Lord’s opinion of Joseph Smith and the work God initiated through him is what matters most:

    “And I will give unto him a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him. And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work. And he shall be great like unto Moses, whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel” (2 Nephi 3:8-9).

    If one has developed or chosen some other opinion of Abraham or Joseph than that which the Lord has declared, then I suggest another careful reading of all the standard works and greater attention to the words of the living apostles and prophets, and like those writers and editors of the original Exponent, “loyalty to the [past and present] Church leaders.”

    • Bryn says:

      That’s a whole lot of words. I haven’t counted, but it looks like you might have said more words than the original post did. I’m curious. What about polygamy makes you so eager to defend it? Because there was a lot that Prophets have said, and that they have done, that we no longer day and do because we’ve received more revelation, which God promised. So the only reason I can see for your fierce reply is your personal feelings about polygamy.

      • James Berlin says:

        Hi Bryn, and thanks for your question. Sorry for being too wordy for you. It’s a weakness, perhaps. I’ll try not to say anything more after answering your question, unless you really want me too, even if you respond to my additional comments below, but I thought your question deserved a response.

        If by “fierce reply” you mean “untamed” or inconsiderate of others, that was not my intent. If you mean “bold,” then yes, I hope to be bold in this matter. It is part of what I think Peter admonished when he wrote, “be ready always to give an answer to every [wo]man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

        The reason I replied as I did is because I believe plural marriage was commanded and/or approved by God for His purposes. My sincere desire is to be fiercely loyal to God and His Church. I am also fiercely loyal to and in love with my wife of forty-plus years and hope to be united with her, and her alone, for eternity.

        I have studied my own family history as well as Church history and recognize at least some of the challenges that came with this command, as I do with many other commands from the Lord. My grandfather was the firstborn son of “the second wife,” so those stories of its challenges are close to home. I replied as I did, in part, in honor of my great grandmother, and several others of my ancestors, who sacrificed so significantly to live and support a principle that they believed in. To do otherwise, from my perspective, would be disrespectful of and disloyal to them.

        I might add, that from a strictly anthropological perspective, it is a little arrogant for us of a Western-Christian perspective to assume that our monogamous marriage practices have been and are superior to much of the world which has and does practice otherwise.

        Most marriage practices are challenging and there are horror stories in all of them. To cite only the negative of any of them is disingenuous. In an attempt to balance the original post and its subsequent comments, I wrote what I wrote.

        I’ll end (you never thought I would ;-)) with a quote from Helen Mar Clark Callister, my wife’s 3rd great grandmother, written around 1878:

        “To raise my voice in public has ever been a source of embarrassment to my sensitive nature, indeed I always feel my inability to address even my sisters in this capacity but duty and justice demand that my voice should now be heard and would that my faith in defense of my religion might echo and find an accordance in the heart of every true hearted woman throughout the length and breath of this country. I know the principle of plural marriage to be a truth. I have lived in polygamy for the last thirty years and was among the first to enter that sacred principle. I have shared hunger, poverty and toil with my husband‘s first wife whom I love as a dear sister, together we trod the trackless wilds to reach these then sterile valleys. Together we battled the hardships of the ‘first year’ the remembrance of those days are too indelibly stamped upon my mind ever be erased. I have seen my husband stagger from warrant of food. I have heard my babies cry for bread and had nothing to give them, but with increasing toil and by the blessings of God our efforts were crowned with success. How well I remember the first bread although much was course unbolted flour it was manna to our taste. Through those trying scenes ties closer then sisterhood bound us together and the principle of plural marriage was firmly planted in our souls. And now that peaceful homes and smiling plenty have succeeded those bitter hardships these invaders come seeking to spread destruction through our fair Eden by sundering these sacred family ties, and may God mete out to them even the measure they are seeking to mete out to us.”

        Why did I reply as I did? Because I will not invade the fair Eden of my ancestors’ past in and attempt to spread destruction and sunder their, and my own, sacred family ties. I have too much reverence for history and for them to do that.

        • Anarene Holt Yim says:

          I hesitate to continue this particular thread, but my ancestors’ experiences with polygamy were not a “fair Eden,” so I’d like to honor them by denouncing polygamy. Starting with Fanny Alger, who was the first to be subjected to “eternal marriage” when she was just a teenager. Her parents (my direct ancestors) subjected her to it at Joseph’s request, then when she became inconvenient, Joseph and her parents literally drove her out of the community. Then I have generations of men and women who went along with polygamy, whether they liked it or not, mostly not. And I’ll end here with my hero ancestor, Charlotte, who refused to enter polygamy with the old rich man who wanted to add her to his tribe, and instead she married the young man her own age that she loved.

          Just because ancestors suffered doesn’t mean their suffering was good or required, and I refuse to honor polygamy just because my ancestors were compelled to do it. Sometimes they just did what they had to do because they were under pressure from church leaders and they wanted to stay part of their community.

          • tennesea says:

            Ditto here. I’m a direct descendant of Jacob Hamblin. I’m angry that an otherwise good man died homeless, in poor health, and a wanted fugitive from the law. He was commanded to practice it, and while he loved each of his wives, they didn’t all get along, understandably. Despite our people making herculean efforts to make the best of a bad situation, it’s *still* a bad situation! Life is hard enough, without adding stupid policy decisions masquerading as “doctrine” that made it unnecessarily harder. As I said elsewhere, there’s nothing virtuous, lovely or good report or praiseworthy about it. There just isn’t.

        • Belle says:

          But you’re a man… Of course you would… Paul said to stay single… And only marry if there is passion but the lord must come first. I find the book of Mormon a Satanic infiltration through Smith… How does ONE MAN get to write a whole book on God? It took hundreds of scholars to get the Bible together and many apostles and generations of bloodline and history… My neighbour pretends to be a mormon.. he is a liar, a cheat and a thief… He persecutes le being a Christian when we are both supposed to be following Christ.. no he follows flesh
          . Like many morman do aka polygamy… “That if the flesh will remain flesh and that of spirit with be spirit’ the Bible warns of false prophets like Smith “for the devil also comes as light” he’s idolised himself and that’s warned of too… “Do not take up any idols” so i can’t see how the morman religion is in anyway aligned with Jesus.

        • Chris Z says:

          I’ll refrain from snarky comments re: your perfect knowledge of the ‘fair Eden of my ancestors past’. It would serve you well James to pick up a copy of Carol Lynn’s Ghosts of Polygamy and try to absorb some empathy for women (and yes for men also) guilted into practicing this abhorrent heartbreaking doctrine. You missed your calling as a spellbinding know it all evangelical preacher 😳

    • Bailey says:

      You are correct that my article does not support polygamy because, as I outlined, after careful study of scriptures and years of pondering, I do not believe that polygamy was divinely sanctioned. I do not believe that a person has to be perfect in order to be called as a prophet. Prophets are people who do their best to fulfill the role to which they are called. Sometimes mistakes are made. I have empathy for the tremendous responsibility a prophet carries. I will show my support by not turning over my conscience and moral authority to them – that only adds to their load. I can believe that the overall sum of Joseph’s and Abraham’s lives were good, that they were prophets and at the same time recognize polygamy as horrible actions on their part. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

      As for the writers of the original Exponent, I only know what they wrote in public. I don’t know what they said in private. Carol Lynn Pearson spent years researching and writing The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. The source material is fascinating. The public vs private words and opinions of Wilford Woodruff’s first wife and the reasons she gave for the discrepancies are revealing. I suggest you read the book. Pearson also addresses the logical fallacy you use of ‘I came from polygamy therefore polygamy is good.’ I won’t say more because she spent much time and effort writing the book and it deserves to be purchased and read.

    • Sean McKee says:

      Brother Berlin,

      Thank you for offering historical context regarding polygamy and the original Exponent. The issue of polygamy aside, your comments bring up an interesting point. You note Louisa Lula Greene’s reluctance to take up editorship of the Exponent. She sought her great uncle Brigham Young to call her to the position as a mission. This he did and gave her a blessing as well.

      Accordingly, shouldn’t Spencer W. Kimball have called Claudia Bushman to the founding editorship of Exponent II? And given her a blessing as well?

      Callings today, at least from my experience, seem like having a job at a Big Four accounting firm – check boxes, answer surveys, and fill out forms. If someone above needs something done, they will get in touch, but otherwise, show up on Sunday, hold FHE, and pay a tithe. Any questions? Just click a link on the church website to refer to videos and articles to address any concerns.

      I think 19th century church callings worked closer to building Zion than anything today.

      Fortunately, Mormons are still enterprising and publications like Exponent II, events like Sunstone, and the numerous independent church member blogs and podcasts keep alive the spirit of the Restoration.

      Thank you for the historical perspective.

      Sean McKee

  7. Cate says:

    Great post! I had thought that the one redeeming feature of polygamy is that biologically it was the most efficient way of building up a second generation – but after reading this, I realize that that was an optimistic viewpoint. Debunking that misconception underlines the feeling I’ve had for a long time that polygamy was a mistake – pure and simple, a mistake. (And I say this as the product of multiple polygamous lines!)
    Getting rid of the offshoots would be such a huge step in addressing gender issues in the church.

  8. Driveby says:

    Just checking here, but the writers of this blog are aware they don’t speak for all Latter-day Saint women, correct?

    • Bryn says:

      What part of the post makes you think Exponent writers believe we do speak for all Latter-day Saint women?

    • Em says:

      Is there anyone anywhere who claims to speak for all LDS women? Of course this blog doesn’t represent everyone’s perspective. The bloggers often disagree with each other, and of course there are millions of women with varying viewpoints on any number of issues. I’m not sure what made you think the author or any of the other bloggers claimed to represent all views.

  9. Dot says:

    It’s impossible for the church to disavow polygamy when Russell Nelson and Dallin Oaks are themselves polygamists. Not only that, but Dallin Oaks thinks the concerns of women regarding polygamy are a huge joke. Men don’t care about this issue and they don’t leave the church over it, so there’s just no reason for leaders to do more than shut down the occasional awkward conversation. Polygamy isn’t going anywhere soon.

    • Bailey says:

      A situation of having a man having a first wife die and then marrying another is to me a vastly different situation than polygamy as practiced in the 19th century where men had multiple living wives at the same time. I have read many stories of men marrying out of obedience to church leaders telling them to marry, out of fear of being told they would lose their entire family from practicing polygamy, and a some for really horrible reasons that led to abuse. Women likewise often married polygamously out of fear. There was a lot of fear involved. As I said in the post, I don’t know what the situation will be for people – both males and females – who have spouses die and then later marry a different person. I am confident that whatever answers exist won’t be found within the framework of polygamy as practiced in the past and lingering in our theology today.

      And, yes, you are correct that Oaks thinking this is a joke and revealing how little attention and care the current church leadership has given this topic means that I’m not holding my breath for change. What I have done is study the topic for myself and share my conclusions.

      • Elisa says:

        It’s different but it’s still a HUGE problem, which as you’ve now read in Ghost of Eternal Polygamy puts a wedge in many relationships.

        So I wouldn’t give a free pass on eternal / spiritual polygamy. It’s awful, it’s demoralizing, it hurts people, it’s wrong.

        • Bailey says:

          The stories are awful. So unnecessary to put people through so much pain. I’m not sure how to word this…I guess I see this situation differently because I don’t really view a man sealed to one deceased and one living spouse as two relationships happening at the same time? Or maybe I don’t want to face the reality of what the current sealing policies mean? I mean, it’s hard to believe leaders are that invested in only allowing men to be sealed to more than one women but the stories I’m reading…yikes. It’s horrifying the damage eternal/spiritual polygamy is still causing. It is wrong.

          I didn’t address this in the post because I haven’t worked out my thoughts on this; basically I think where things start getting messed up is equating sealings with marriage. I think what sealing actually means needs to be re-examined.

  10. TenneSea says:

    Bailey, fantastic summary of the numerous problems with polygamy — I agree it was NEVER of God, at any time in the history of civilization. And for people like Mr. Berlin upstream who claim otherwise, just ask yourself what the fruits are…? Jealousy, resentment, heartache, poverty, neglect, favoritism, abuse, etc. — and for what? To give a dude some “legal” sexual variety? What other possible purpose could this stupid practice serve? More to the point — I once asked Brian Hales — a man who’s arguably the Church’s leading apologist on the subject: “Is there anything so virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy regarding polygamy such that it would necessitate the Lord violating His own “prime directive” — you know, that thing we fought a war in heaven in the pre-existence over — namely Agency — by threatening Joseph Smith’s life (with an angel with a flaming sword) if he didn’t “restore” polygamy?”. His response was telling; he answered me simply “Those were dark days in Church history”.

    It’s pretty obvious why the Church won’t disavow it. Doing so would throw a massive monkey wrench into the whole “the prophet would never lead the church astray” narrative (despite a boatload of examples to the contrary over the years that could be cited, and in this case, a half-dozen prophets who apparently never bothered to question it). We’re not very good at being honest when it comes to leadership and fallibility. Hence the old joke: “Catholics teach that the Pope is infallible, but no good Catholic actually believes that. Mormons teach that the prophet *is* fallible, but no good Mormon actually believes that”.

    Regarding Carol Lynn Pearson’s fabulous book, it should be required reading for every Latter-Day-Saint.

  11. Lily says:

    What happens to me and all the other women who have never married in this life?

    • Moss says:

      Why would polygamy be the answer? More males die as infants, more males have died young in war- point being, there’re lots of unmarried men on the other side. I don’t think polygamy is the only answer here.

      • JC says:

        I agree. There are also a lot of males who die as toddlers, children, preteens, teenagers, young adults, as adults in their thirties and forties, and onward, without ever having married. There will be plenty of upstanding men for women who never had the opportunity to marry in this life. Polygamy never has and never will be the answer, and anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.

    • Anna says:

      There are actually more baby boys born than baby girls. It is just that more of them die in infancy and all the way up, resulting at age 60 to a huge over supply of females still alive. So, the real question is, what is going to happen to all the baby boys who die before the age of accountability? They get automatic exaltation and will need eternal spouses. Say, if equal numbers of males and females who make it to adulthood finally make it to the CK, there will be a surplus of males because of all those infant baby boys. How are we going to find enough righteous women for mates for all of them?

  12. Sara says:

    Lily, there are many men who died young (children, in war) that never married either so I don’t think that will be an issue. And it has been my understanding that raising up seed to the lord didn’t mean just numbers. That there were more faithful lds women than men and this was a way to produce more righteous posterity. I abhor polygamy and can’t imagine this is what HF wants for his daughters. But the trump card people use is the flaming sword story proving it was from god. Is there much accreditation that this actually happened?

    • Em says:

      Were there more faithful LDS women than men? I’m just curious if there’s a source on that. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense as an argument when you read the anecdotal evidence. These men definitely weren’t marrying old maids who hadn’t been able to find righteous husbands. Arguably teaching that marriage is necessary for salvation, then making it hard to find available women to marry, would do more to drive away righteous men.

  13. Em says:

    I think the conversation about “raising up seed” is well worth having. It didn’t increase the birth rate, as you point out. And actually logically it would decrease the birth rate to some degree, especially among men with many wives. If he is keeping a strict rotation (say, a week each between four wives, or even a day each among 30) it would be really easy to miss a woman’s narrow fertile window. If her cycle is as regular as his rotation, he would consistently miss that window month after month after month. In contrast in a monogamous marriage the odds of hitting the fertile window would be much higher, assuming regular conjugal relations.
    I agree it isn’t of God. It was enormously freeing to come to that conclusion. Either
    1) God is my loving parent who wants me to be happy and values me as much as the men of earth. God holds all people to the same standards and commandments. The law of Chastity requiring abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward applies equally to every person

    OR

    2) God values male sexual gratification and status building over the happiness and fulfillment of women. God expects women to deal with feelings of jealousy and rejection but does not ever expect a man to deal with the same situation. God is content to put women in a position where they have to compete for a spouse’s attention, meaning they should hide discontent to prevent the man from going to a more pliable spouse, but men do not ever need to experience that. God does not have the same standard of commandments for everyone. God is a respecter of persons.

    They can’t both be true. So you have to decide which doctrine is more persuasive: God is loving and just. The commandments are for everyone. OR. God wants us to practice polygamy.
    Which one seems more true?

    • Anna says:

      I agree with your either/or description of God. Either we worship a God who loves all his children, daughters as well as sons, OR we are ruled by a God who only cares about his son’s sexual exploits and doesn’t care how miserable it makes his daughters.

      Sorry, but I refuse to worship a god who would command polygamy. He would be a god unworthy of my love or worship.

    • erica says:

      SOOO many of us have come to these same crossroads. <3

  14. Elisa says:

    Polygamy was and remains a rot at the roots of our Church heritage and it continues to bear rotten fruit.

    I don’t think Church leadership will disavow it any time soon. They don’t care as much about women as they do about their own credibility as prophets.

    • Dot says:

      This exactly. And I’m not even sure they all think polygamy is a bad thing.

    • JustTrying says:

      “They don’t care as much about women as they do about their own credibility as prophets.”

      So well stated. The irony is that in the long run it undermines their credibility to an even greater degree when they fail to listen to the concerns of faithful followers.

      So much of the turmoil going on right now within the church could have been prevented–and how we deal with pressing issues now will have ramifications far into the future–the temple building analogy in the post is so appropriate. But I fear we will keep on building, ignoring structural flaws as we go.

  15. Moss says:

    As far as Abraham goes, we misread his story when we insist that Abraham taking Hagar was a positive thing or something God wanted and not an act that showed a lack of trust in God.Throughout Abraham’s story he struggles to show he trusts God to keep His promise again and again and again which is what makes the story of the sacrifice of Isaac the climax of Abraham’s character arc: he finally shows that he trusts God to fulfill His promise of posterity. This all makes so much more sense when we place the Abraham & Hagar story in it’s proper light.

    I see the work of the restoration like the Provo tabernacle- God didn’t cause the fire, but he makes good things come from the bad (the Provo Temple). Polygamy is the same. I don’t believe God commanded it, but he made good things come from it (like those of us descending from polygamous families).

  16. Ziff says:

    I love all of this post, but nothing more than when you called D&C 132 “sus.” Truer words were never spoken. Didn’t Joseph Smith produce it only when Emma challenged him on all the other women he was marrying? It seems super clear to me that it’s just him justifying his behavior.

    • tennesea says:

      Amen Ziff. It’s abundantly clear to me that polygamy was Joseph Smith’s King David downfall. Beginning with his adulterous pursuit of Fanny Alger et al, his lies to Emma, the Church, and the US Government, his ordering the destruction of the paper that was about to expose his adultery — and then, like David, seeking to cover one sin with a greater one — attempting to justify it with “scripture” was the last straw. Section 132 reads like a horror story — because it is one. Jihadist suicide martyrs rewarded with 40 virgins anyone? It’s the climactic stench of Patriarchy made manifest. And the rest of the Church has been paying the too-high price ever since. The Saints driven from Nauvoo. FLDS Warren Jeff’s grooming and ritually raping children on the temple altar; Netflix and Hulu documentaries rightfully mocking this part of our history with all of its ugliness and idiocy, the Church hemorrhaging longtime members who finally learn the truth of this garbage, etc. — these are the vile fruits we are reaping from the filth that was sown. We will never heal from this without first confronting it, cease calling it “from God”, apologize for it and the colossal mess that resulted from it, renounce it completely, remove it from our Temple sealing practices, lest it continue to wreak havoc and harm, especially to our women. Biblical scripture goes out of its way to show that past prophets had their weaknesses and failings. We should have the courage to do the same.

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