Guest Post: Doctrinal Inconsistencies — Relationships, Sex, Sin

by Kathy Bence

During the first session of general conference, I was disappointed to hear Elder Oaks address a topic that has troubled and confused me for many years. He was dismissive and suggested members not worry about it, rather than providing clarification for a doctrine that is spelled out in Section 132 and is part of our temple sealing practices. Historical plural marriage and the prospect of eternal plural marriage conflict with lessons the Church has taught me and I would have preferred to hear an explanation for how this teaching is justified in light of other teachings. If I could share just three contradictions with Elder Oaks, perhaps the following are the ones I would choose.

The Commandment to Cleave

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” This familiar verse, found in the Old and New Testaments and Pearl of Great Price, was the basis for what I was taught about marriage as a youth: God sanctions marriage and wants a man and a woman to cling and give their all to each other. In conflict with this, years later I would read in Doctrine and Covenants 132 where Emma was told to “cleave unto Joseph and none else” at the same time Joseph was marrying other women which, of course, contradicted my previous understanding of what God prescribed. With multiple wives married to one husband, there cannot be equal cleaving on either side. The woman will be left with only a part of her husband, both physically and emotionally, and the man will never feel the closeness to a wife because his attention will be divided.

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, married monogamously to Henry Jacobs, then polygamously to Joseph Smith and later polygamously again to Brigham Young, had more than enough credentials to speak on this topic. She said that women in polygamous relationships “expect too much attention from the husband and … become sullen and morose”. She explained that “a successful polygamous wife must regard her husband with indifference, and with no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy.”

While Zina’s advice may be the best way for a woman to survive a plural marriage, it reinforces that cleaving and giving all have no place in polygamy. Where she suggests that women expect too much from their husbands, I suggest that women have an instinctive desire that comes from God to be a sole wife, equally bonding and reciprocating love with their spouse. After eating the fruit in the garden, God tells Eve that her desire will be to her husband. On the other hand, Zina’s survival tips advise women to abandon this righteous, God-given desire in order to successfully live polygamously.

Plural marriage not only interferes with a commandment God has given men because he cannot effectively cleave to multiple wives, but also a virtue God has given women because she cannot effectively cleave to her husband as a plural wife. Both sides of this polygamy pickle—the man’s side and the multiple women’s side—guarantees a less than ideal marriage relationship in this life and a very sad expectation for an eternal companionship (or an eternal multiple-partner relationship) in the next one.

The Law of Chastity

From attending church as a youth, I also learned boundaries that included the law of chastity. This was a blessing in my teenage life, but now my adult view sees the inconsistencies. Plural marriage, from either the perspective of what was lived in the past or what might be lived forever in the future, is a one-sided law with an imbalance hurting the side that most needs the protection—women.

The lessons presented to me as a naïve teenager suggested that women were the gatekeepers of sexual purity, which is why girls should dress modestly and not do anything to encourage immorality. I came to understand that premarital sex was a sin for both genders, but women were more apt to feel remorse and dismay as a result because they would instinctively place more value on this act. This lesson was cultural rather than doctrinal, and may not be true today, but it would have been true in the 1800s.

The early Saints lived during a period much different than ours, the Victorian era, when there was a strong religious drive everywhere for higher moral standards. Add to this culture that women were the protectors of these higher standards and that polygamy would have been off the radar of decency. Yet these wives often lived in the same household—to put it crudely, like prostitutes in a brothel—where they anticipated (or dreaded) their turn for a conjugal visit from a shared husband.

The clash between their Victorian values and their reality must have been jarring. Although they were living a form of marriage, they were sexually sharing their husbands with other women so, unless they heeded Zina’s advice, it was emotionally damaging. This presents a serious inconsistency because God’s law of chastity should protect women and their unique, sensitive feelings about physical intimacy, not break their spirits.

In Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman writes of Emma wanting to know where Joseph was all the time because she was panicked over what he might be doing with one of his other wives (or at least the wives she knew about). To add to her dismay, she was threatened with destruction (Section 132) if she did not remain chaste while her husband was given encouragement to do what must have felt like the opposite.

Moroni 9:9 speaks of the evil of the Nephites in Moriantum who deprived the Lamanite daughters “of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue.” It is conflicting to think of this “most precious chastity” being reserved for a man with multiple wives. It would seem obvious that a man with only one wife would place more value on his one wife’s chastity than if he had a harem of women.

In Alma 39 Corianton is scolded by his father for his abominable sexual sins, teaching us that this is a two way street and a husband’s chastity is just as important.

Fortunately, because of repentance and access to Christ’s atonement, being chaste when entering marriage is a state of mind; however, neither the man nor the woman can have multiple sexual partners during marriage without demoralizing one or both of them. And, as the perceived guardian of sexual morality, it would be even more disheartening for the woman.

Clearly, the law of chastity is challenged by the early Saints’ practice of plural marriage. And while sexual relations may not be part of the next life, some kind of husband-wife connection will be so teaching that plural marriage will last throughout eternities also adds fuel to the fire of contradictions.

The Light of Christ Warns us of Sin

In Moroni 7:16 we are taught, “the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” Additionally, the Church’s Guide to the Scriptures says: “We are born with a natural capacity to distinguish between right and wrong because of the Light of Christ that is given to every person. This faculty is called conscience. Like other faculties, our consciences may be deadened through sin or misuse.”

In the Church’s historical narratives of women and men being invited to join a plural marriage relationship, there was always an initial revulsion when the plural marriage principle was introduced. At the onset, they knew this was wrong probably because their conscience, or the light of Christ, told them so. This is another clear contradiction between a Church teaching and the plural marriage practice. Our conscience may be deadened through sin or misuse so living in sin, or contemplating sin, makes it easier to gradually justify what initially we are warned is wrong. As the perceived gatekeeper of appropriate sexual intimacy, with the strongest cleaving instinct, women may feel an even stronger initial nudge by their conscience that this teaching is wrong.

In a similar way today, there are Church members confused and troubled by teachings of plurality of wives throughout eternity. Since I am one of them, I like to think this is the light of Christ helping me distinguish between right and wrong. Fortunately, we are not asked to choose whether to live this practice, but we choose what to believe which impacts our faith in God. As Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.” Sorting out this plural marriage conundrum matters because the clearer our understanding of God and His eternal plan for us, the nearer we can feel to Him.

The Take Away

More women seem troubled by our plural marriage doctrine than men. Perhaps this is because women are on the losing side of this equation or perhaps because this principle conflicts with their experiences and understanding of truth. More than one priesthood leader has been confused by a woman’s concern over the possibility of eternal plural marriage and Elder Oaks seems to be among them. Because it is a non-issue to priesthood leaders, they can say things that do not address the issue for a woman. For example, Elder Oaks suggested we not worry about it. Other common responses to a woman’s concern are: we are not asked to live it now so just put it on a shelf; you will be happy about this in the next life because God will not let you be unhappy; not everyone will be required to live this principle; or my personal favorite, you are selfish if you cannot share your husband to bless other women. If women generally have a more guarded view of sex, an innate desire to cleave to their husbands and, therefore, a conscience warning them that this doctrine conflicts with God’s laws, none of these excuses solve this inconsistency.

God has given us commandments to make us better individuals, to build better families, and to provide a better society. His commandments are for our happiness and welfare. Yet, with all the guidance He gives, there is much we cannot understand about Him. Among the many scriptures that inform us of our limited understanding, is Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”

Verses such as these can be used to condone this confusing commandment of plural marriage. There is, of course, much we do not know and cannot understand about God. But if we accept plural marriage as coming from Him, while at the same time remembering other guidelines He has given through scriptures, modern day prophets, and the light of Christ, this scriptural verse should instead read: My ways are not My ways. The conflicts between plural marriage and God’s other laws are just too stark.

I need and want to trust God. Unfortunately, with plural marriage as a doctrine, God does not seem trustworthy. For this reason, I choose to believe this crazy history and eternal doctrine is not from the loving, just and trustworthy God that I worship. I hope for a future clarification that will alleviate these and many other contradictions surrounding plural marriage. Perhaps Elder Oaks will someday provide it. (For more on why I believe God does not endorse polygamy, see here.)

A wife, mother and grandmother, Kathy loves her family. She also enjoys flying. Two years ago she became an old, but not bold, private pilot.

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54 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    I agree with all of your points. There is so much about the LDS narrative of polygamy that does not add up. About 1 1/2 years ago, I was praying and studying the topic and the Lord led me to an online book that was paradigm changing called, “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy.” It gave me a lot to think and pray about and made so much sense as to why the narrative is what it is in our church, and why we won’t ever hear an explanation or clarification about polygamy. It takes an open and tuth-seeking heart. And of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. “Ask of God.”

    • Anon says:

      He did not fight polygamy. He coerced many women (young and old) into his schemes.
      The “reluctant participant” narrative that The Church force feeds its meme era is false.

      • Anon says:

        *members

      • Kim says:

        Hi, Anon. It’s ok. There is a Brighamite and a Josephite narrative at play here, and if you have believed the Brigham version your whole life, then I can understand why you say that. Have you read the book I mentioned?

    • Kathy B. says:

      Even though I’ve now put two papers online about plural marriage, I’m not the scholar I should be. But I have read what Kim is referring to and I’ve often thought how very sad it would be for Joseph if he was innocent of this horrible history. The problem is that even Emma’s church (now Community of Christ) admits he had plural wives. From the big eternal perspective, Joseph’s reputation will be cleared if it should be. In the meantime, we’re stuck with this damaging teaching and that’s my main concern.

      • Kim says:

        That’s interesting, Kathy. Could you point me to where the CofC is claiming that? Very interesting since polygamy was the main cause of the rift to begin with.

      • Kathy B. says:

        Kim: Sorry I didn’t see your question sooner. If you’ve read Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, you know more about this than I do. I can’t verify from a reliable source that the Community of Christ now acknowledges Joseph had multiple wives…I don’t see it on their website. I only see on Wikipedia the following:

        Today, although Community of Christ has no official position on whether Smith was a polygamist,[46] some members now accept the historical consensus that Smith had multiple wives. Some members have argued that Smith was wrong to introduce polygamy;[46] in any case, most Community of Christ members continue to reject polygamy.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Community_of_Christ_and_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints

        I get pulled back and forth by podcasts and what I read on whether Joseph did or didn’t teach this doctrine. I need to read the book (3 volumes, right?) you recommend. IF Joseph really did fight polygamy, what a tragedy that we saddled him with this history and besmirched his name!!

        While I don’t feel able to discern the truth about Joseph and this history, I know my Church today teaches he embraced this practice, that it came from God and will be eternal. I believe this is damaging doctrine.

      • Kim says:

        Kathy, I just love you! Your honesty and humility are so refreshing. I have not studied everything out there on polygamy either, and I am also trying to put the pieces together because the current LDS “doctrine” and church history as it stands is troubling at best, horrific at worst. I’m right there with you! I just want the truth. It has been interesting to seek with eyes open for any possibility, including narratives that I would have dismissed outright without even considering before. It’s been a game changer. I still have to discern, but it gets easier to see. It is especially troubling to see denominations in every form change their doctrine/history based on convenience, pride, and to get gain, power, and authority. “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy” (yes, three volumes with a plethora of evidence) gives a lot to think about. It is so confusing for sure, but I believe James 1:5, and that is the only way I’ve been able to make sense of it all.

        I checked out the Wikipedia link you referenced on the Church of Christ (formerly called RLDS) and found some interesting information I’d like to pass along. The article states: “While the RLDS Church had long been known for its strong anti-polygamy stance, its outreach efforts amongst the Sora people in India brought a re-examination even on this issue.”

        Hmm. Why are they re-examining the issue, you might ask? Well, I looked up the Sora people (also on Wikipedia) and this is what it says: “The Sora family is polygamous. The total household economy revolves around the woman member who is hardworking and who helps her husband in ploughing and harvesting crops in addition to attending household chores exclusively…Marriages are made by bride capture, elopement, and by negotiations.”

        Could it be the Cof C is talking of changing it’s stance so they can get more followers? Don’t know the answer to that, but it is a strange coincidence, if not.

      • Kathy B. says:

        Amy, it feels like deja vu…Community of Christ possibly being influenced by a polygamous group sounds like the early church possibly being influenced by the Cochranites, a polygamous group! I remembered the place I’d heard the idea that Community of Christ changed their tune on Joseph’s polygamy: Lindsay Hansen Park has two episodes with historians discrediting Joseph Fought Polygamy–Episode 138 and 139. You’re probably familiar with her thorough work. But, again, I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to make a call on this except to say as you do that the history is troubling at best, horrific at worst. Then add to the history our teaching that makes this practice eternal and I believe we are perpetuating something damaging to God’s name and harmful to His children.

    • Anna says:

      To me it doesn’t matter much if Joseph practiced polygamy or not. We are in the branch of the church that followed Brigham Young, so if Joseph fought polygamy, then the people who followed Emma and started a church with her son have the “true church” and we are an apostate branch. Or, Joseph practiced polygamy. Either way, we are in a church that did practice polygamy and we have doctrines that say it is an eternal practice. So, the options are find a different church, or accept polygamy, or just reject the whole thing. Seeing as I live too far from any congregation of CoC, I just have left Mormonism in any form.

      • Miriam says:

        Good points Anna. For me, it is not so cut and dried about a “true church.” Apostasy has always been an eternal principal. If there is opposition in all things, it means all things, including the realization that leaders to make mistakes, get it wrong and lead people according to their own will instead of the Lord’s. We place too much trust in others. He asks us to come to him. Not people and prophets. The Community of Christ has departed a great deal from its beginnings–as has the LDS church. I don’t fault you at all for backing away completely from Mormonism. It’s a mess. Christ dealt with the same thing during his day–Saducees and Pharisees who proclaimed absolute authority and were too caught up in the outward appearances. Today, we are no different–men and women who seem to fit this description: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” Matt 15:8

  2. Dani Addante says:

    I like your point about the verse to cleave unto your spouse. I was reading a novel once, and I came across a sentence that said something like, “You can really only give your heart to one person.” And it made me think of polygamy and how it must have been awful for the LDS women in those times, since their husband wasn’t faithful to them. I feel bad that Emma was told to be faithful to Joseph, when he was not in return faithful to her. Thanks for your thoughtful post. It clearly articulates why polygamy is wrong.

  3. Chiaroscuro says:

    My heart breaks for Emma. Joseph took secret wives behind her back and married women who were already married – both against the ‘revelation’ outlined in D&C 132. The blatant coercion in 132 made me not trust God for decades. A loving God would not destroy a woman for not being willing to have her heart broken repeatedly. I wish the church would come out and clarify their position on polygamy. The way Oaks dismissed this woman’s concerns was intentional, as a lawyer he is a trained orator. He is trying to induce shame and silence about legitimate concerns women have about polygamy.

    • Kathy B. says:

      You give the clearest reason this doctrine is harmful. In my other paper I quoted a source that states the 3rd commandment is the most serious commandment: don’t take God’s name in vain–He won’t hold us guiltless if we do. God tell us it’s the ONLY commandment that we won’t be held blameless for breaking because when we do bad in God’s name we turn His children away from Him. This teaching has made many doubt God and repelled countless potential converts who prefer not to learn about a polygamous church. Our public affairs efforts attest to that fact, which is why the Church’s name changed, etc. All to separate us from this teaching that still has a part in our scriptures and temple sealings.

  4. Violadiva says:

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful response! Eternal polygamy is such a source of pain for so many women, and you’ve articulated compelling explanations for why that is. Thank you!

  5. Wayfaring Stranger says:

    When you read the Bible stories dealing with polygamy (Abraham, Jacob, David, etc.) there is ALWAYS conflict. None of these stories are about happy families getting along and loving each other. Children fight and kill each other. The husband plays favorites with wives and children. Wives fight amongst themselves. It was exactly the same thing with polygamy before the Second Manifesto. And yet you never heard/hear Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or our leaders today discuss this aspect of polygamy-ever. Why? Because the act and results of polygamy go against so many of God’s other commandments. In my own family history the true horror of polygamy and its fallout was passed down to my sibs, my cousins and me through really unhealthy behaviors and attitudes that were the results of polygamy. After discovering some very horrifying things in my family history that had been perpetrated on a loving and ignored 1st wife and her children (supposedly done in the name of the Priesthood!) it was easy to see and understand the generational family disfunction. We held a cousins’ meeting where I presented the stories that had been discovered and we all covenanted with each other that we’d be the generation that broke this cycle-whatever it took. Afterward I felt so strongly that the Lord was pleased with our group decision-and that none of this entire mess would’ve happened without polygamy. A more recent experience also brought great distress to my family. My sister suddenly died of complications from a traumatic head injury. A year and a half later her husband remarried another woman in the temple for time and eternity. It was almost more than my mother, my brothers and I could bear. Most of us skipped the wedding because it was too painful for us to witness the act that would require my sister have to share this man with another woman in the eternities. Obviously she had no say in the matter! His family (all males except his mom) thought that we were being hyper sensitive. Polygamy was just plain wrong back in the day. The ghost of polygamy that we now have is also an abomination. How do we get these men in the Q15 to understand the pain and distress we feel as a result of this pernicious pseudo-commandment? I refuse to believe that polygamy was/is God’s will. Will we have to wait until the oldest of the old men are all dead and gone before we can get honest answers to our serious and valid concerns? I certainly hope not. (My apologies for the long comment. If you can’t tell I feel very strongly about this topic.)

    • Rachel says:

      Wow! Thank you for sharing your personal stories and passion. I am especially moved by the covenant you and your cousins made.

    • Kathy B. says:

      Thank you for sharing this. It’s so obvious that the fruits of polygamy have been horrible. I naively thought that plural wives, depressing though it was, had to be of god because it was in the old testament. But I now understand, as jewish scholar Dennis Prager said, “Torah narrative is just as important as Torah law.” It’s very sad that your family had to experience these negative narratives. I can only imagine how painful it is to see that repeated today, especially to your sister that has no say in any of this. I hope you can find peace and perhaps remember that, even though it’s locked into our thoughts as Church members, this principle can’t come from a just and loving God so only on earth will we be tormented by this possibility.

  6. Rubyflower says:

    To me the worst part of polygamy is lack of choice. The way the Church had it it set up it potential forces women into polygamous marriages against their will if they happen to die before their husband. I also think that women dead or alive have a will of their own. They just assume the first wife is OK with this. They never assume that she may leave him in here after. We do sealing all time for couples that are deceased and some of those statically speaking were terrible we just don’t know which ones were so we seal everyone. But we don’t think that these people will have to remain sealed against their will. I think that is the same with this. I just don’t think men want to entertain the idea that by sealing themselves to a new women they may me loosing the first.

    • DB says:

      Rubyflower, I’m a little confused by your statements. You start by saying that women may be forced into polygamous marriages against their will and end by saying that they don’t have to remain sealed against their will. Which do you believe?

  7. DB says:

    I’ll pose this question for anyone interested. Do you believe that the sealing ordinance, as currently practiced, robs someone, anyone, of their agency in that it forces an unwanted relationship on them? If so, why do you believe that? Remember that in proxy sealings, women are sealed to multiple husbands just as men are sealed to multiple wives.

    • AnonWidow says:

      I’m just beyond ready for this to be true for living women, not just dead women. The additional burden that polygamous sealing policies dump on already suffering widows is inexcusable.

    • Rachel says:

      Widowed women can be sealed to more than one man with the assumption that she will have to chose which husband she will want to stay with in the next life. I believe divorced women have to cancel their previous dealings but I’m not certain. I don’t know about proxy dealings. But like I said, I’ve always been taught that the woman would have to chose to which husband and to which children she will remain sealed in the next life. Men can keep all their wives and all their children.
      As for current practices? I don’t think anyone is necessarily “forced” but we don’t know what to expect in the next life. We know that Emma Smith was told that she would be destroyed if she didn’t obey. Joseph Smith told teenage girls that their eternal salvation depended on their obedience to polygamy. That sounds like force and coercion. Are we going to be put in those same situations? There is no clarification or counsel. We’re told just not to worry about it.

      • AnonWidow says:

        Living widowed women may not be sealed to more than one man while she or any of her husbands are living. In my lived experience, that just piles more suffering on someone who is already dealing with a heaping share of suffering.

      • DB says:

        “I’ve always been taught that the woman would have to chose to which husband and to which children she will remain sealed in the next life. Men can keep all their wives and all their children.”

        Rachel, to me, this was the whole point of DHO’s talk. We don’t know. We don’t know what “life” will be like. We don’t know what eternal society or relationships will be like. We don’t know what choices will have to be made. We don’t know. If we think we know, we’re wrong because we don’t know. So we should focus on what we do know which is to love God and everyone else, and just trust God about everything else.

    • Violadiva says:

      DB, perhaps you’ll be interested in this post, where WW seals over 250 women and children to himself as wives on the occasion of his 70th and 72nd birthdays. These were women and children he did not know in life, nor was he married to them in life. These were not done as dynastic sealings as large families with children (JS occasionally sealed men to himself as sons, for example), as he made it quite clear that these were to be jewels in his crown. He even had a bridal cake to celebrate the marriages. If that’s not using the sealing power to force an unwanted relationship on someone, I don’t know what is. So, yes, many women are sealed to men against their consent, and this is an abuse of the sealing power, treating women like property or possession. Do I think God will honor those sealing and force the women into relationships with that man? Absolutely not, but that doesn’t change how coercive and awful that the sealings occurred in such a way. This distinction might seem inconsequential to you, “well, nobody has to be sealed to anyone they don’t want to be with! God doesn’t force you into relationships!” But the power dynamic of setting it up for the wives to be property of the man certainly doesn’t give women much confidence about dissolving that sealing on the other side.

      And do you know how many living women that I know PERSONALLY have ex-husbands who threaten them with things like “You’re still sealed to me. You’ll still be mine in the next life. And my current wife will be your sister wife, but I’ll like her better than you.” Too many to count, my man. These same abuses of sealing power are being echoed by men today.

      https://www.the-exponent.com/mary-jane-wilford-woodruff-and-the-267-dead-wives/

    • Kathy B. says:

      DB, Not intending to gang up on you, but Violadiva expresses my sentiments exactly. Remember that the Church stopped baptizing victims of the Holocaust because their descendants found it disturbing. These sealing practices are also disturbing for many, including the woman and the family Elder Oaks used as examples in his conference talk. Our temple rituals not only reflect our faith, but provide a window to our actions. Sadly, these sealing practices, along with D&C 132, suggests God commands that women be given as wives, treated like property, and their freedom to choose is insignificant. In fact, some fundamentalist sects justify this exact treatment of women using 132 as the source. Of course this will all work out in the end, but in the meantime our faith should be providing God’s correct teachings that help us live the best we can on earth. I believe that sealing practices and scriptures reinforcing that plural wives historically and plural wives eternally are and were endorsed by God contradicts who He is and who He wants us to be.

      • DB says:

        Not a problem, I wouldn’t mind even if you were intending to gang up on me. I hope you saw my reply to Violadiva which ended up farther down the list because I clicked the wrong Reply link. I also hope you’ll go back and reread my original question.

    • Chiarocuro says:

      This article outlines the inequality in the sealing policies that protects widowers but disempowers and discriminates against widows https://www.the-exponent.com/ye-devour-widows-houses/

  8. JR says:

    DB, Perhaps if you review the post on Woodruff and the “dead wives” it would also be useful to review the comments. There may be some value in trying to understand the 19th century Mormon concept that these sealings were blessings to those deceased women and they were not merely to be jewels in Woodruff’s crown and not merely his property.
    But even some of the current arguments on not cancelling sealings seem to suggest something like being sealed to the family of God is more significant in the sealing ordinances than being sealed to a particular spouse (or parent). It is not easy, if even possible, to make sense of LDS sealings and explanations of what they mean across the entire scope of the varied teachings on the subject from the time of JS to the present. I heard DHO’s recent conference talk as suggesting that he also cannot make sense of it all and chooses to and recommends trusting God to do what is best for each of His children.

    • DB says:

      JR, I absolutely agree with everything you’ve written here. That’s how I’ve always understood the purpose of sealings, that it’s not just sealing couples together but uniting the entire human family together.

      I though it was crystal clear from DHO’s talk that he also doesn’t understand it all and the best he or anyone else can do it to just trust God.

  9. DB says:

    Violadiva, thanks for responding. I always enjoy it when we can banter. I had already read that post about Wilford Woodruff but it didn’t bother me like it did a lot of other folks, and not because I’m a man like I’m sure many readers here would probably claim but really it’s because I have an entirely different perception of sealings and proxy ordinances.

    I think most members of the church don’t think of proxy baptisms or proxy endowments as coercive or forcing those ordinances on the dead against their consent. I think most members see those as opportunities for the dead to accept, or not, according to their own will. Why would someone see proxy sealings any differently? If a proxy baptism doesn’t force a baptism on someone, why would a proxy sealing force that ordinance or that relationship on someone? I don’t believe it does, not in the slightest. So what will all of those proxy sealings that WW did mean for those women in the next life? I don’t think they’ll mean anything, unless they want them to.

    I think living ordinances are no different. I don’t believe anyone’s agency is ever revoked at any time ever so it doesn’t matter what choices we make now, we can always change our mind later. I don’t believe anything can be forced on someone in the next life that they don’t want. Period. That’s how I understand the gospel anyway. I’m sorry for all the women you know who have jerks for ex-husbands. I’m sorry for all the woman who are now married to those jerks but I don’t believe for a second that any of those women will be forced into any relationship in the next life with someone they don’t want to be with.

    • Violadiva says:

      Yeah, I agree with you that nobody will be required to accept any proxy work done for them for any ordinance. I do believe that is how the essence of agency works.
      So consider this: why did the church agree to stop performing ordinances for people of Jewish heritage who died at the hands of Hitler? Why couldn’t they be told, “oh, these Jewish people will be able to choose whether or not they want to accept this Mormon baptism”
      Because being Jewish is something they lived and died for, and to send the message that they need Mormon ordinances to be saved in heaven is adding salt to a wound.
      Likewise, the problem I have with sealings done in ways that do not take into account the consent of the persons being sealed to each other, having not been married in this life, or in the case of divorced people still alive, is that it connects a saving ordinance with a show of power. It’s not the ordinance I have a problem with, people can accept or reject like you say, but disregarding someone’s consent to perform what may be an unwanted ordinance in their behalf is …. something a straight, white cis man would think of doing.
      Oppressed persons are extra aware of systems which disempower their consent. The message of disempowerment these sealings send is painful to many, many women. Perhaps there is a way for you to see that side of it when you hear women share their feelings like this?
      A good friend of mine’s mother died when she was a teen. Her father remarried a second wife and was sealed to her, spoke freely about having both wives in the next life. I asked my friend if her mother had consented to that arrangement before she passed, accepting the idea of a sister wife in he next life. My friend got somber and said, “I don’t think so. But it doesn’t look like she has much choice in the matter now, does it?”
      Living men have the power to put women in these difficult circumstances. Living women do not. It’s an unequal power structure that affects women at greater amounts, and robs them of their ability to consent. That’s the whole crux of the problem in my eyes.

      • DB says:

        Please understand that I’m not saying that sealing practices are not upsetting, I’m just arguing against the idea of lost consent. In the case of your friend, if I were in her place, I would be upset too, not because I felt that my mother had lost her choice in the matter but rather because she would be forced to make choices in the next life that she was not afforded the opportunity to make in this life. Would she accept her husband’s plural marriage? If she rejects the plural marriage, would she force her husband to choose which wife to remain with or would she reject him as well and look for someone else? But like I wrote in my reply to Rachel, we really don’t know what it will be like in the next life or what choices we will have to make which was the whole point of DHO’s talk.

        I also understand that it’s upsetting to your friend that her father is assuming her mother’s consent when he doesn’t actually have it, perhaps because he believes she no longer has a choice. The problem, as I see it, is not that women have no choice but rather they are treated as if they have no choice.

        And what’s with the dig at straight, white cis men? Was that really called for?

  10. Tracy says:

    Seems really straightforward to me:
    Jacob 2:
    31 For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.
    32 And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.
    33 For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.
    34 And now behold, my brethren, ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.

  11. Tracy says:

    D&C 101: (1835)
    1 According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies: therefore we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose: and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest, not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority. We believe that it is not right to prohibit members of this church from marrying out of the church, if it be their determination so to do, but such persons will be considered weak in the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    2 Marriage should be celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving; and at the solemnization, the persons to be married, standing together, the man on the right, and the woman on the left, shall be addressed, by the person officiating, as he shall be directed by the holy Spirit; and if there be no legal objections, he shall say, calling each by their names: “You both mutually agree to be each other’s companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition; that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others, during your lives.” And when they have answered “Yes,” he shall pronounce them “husband and wife” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the laws of the country and authority vested in him: “may God add his blessings and keep you to fulfill your covenants from henceforth and forever. Amen.”
    3 The clerk of every church should keep a record of all marriages, solemnized in his branch.
    4 All legal contracts of marriage made before a person is baptized into this church, should be held sacred and fulfilled. Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again. It is not right to persuade a woman to be baptized contrary to the will of her husband, neither is it lawful to influence her to leave her husband. All children are bound by law to obey their parents; and to influence them to embrace any religious faith, or be baptized, or leave their parents without their consent, is unlawful and unjust. We believe that all persons who exercise control over their fellow beings, and prevent them from embracing the truth, will have to answer for that sin.

  12. Tracy says:

    Brigham took out the above section in 1976. He replaced it with D&C 132, a revelation that he conveniently said he didn’t have the original, and when he was getting pressure from the US government about the legality of polygamy.

    • Eleanor says:

      Tracy, I assume you meant 1876? Also, I have never seen this D&C 101 passage before, nor the history behind it. Where can I get more information?

      The church’s history of polygamy has been a great blight in my life, and I’m convinced that our church cannot fully prosper until our leaders own up to the mistake, disavow the practice in all its forms (including temple sealing policies), apologize (when hell freezes over?), and move on. If half our church leaders were women, I’m convinced we would make much faster progress on this and many other issues of great import.

      • Tracy says:

        Doh! Yes, I meant 1876. You can read this section in the Joseph Smith papers project here:
        https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835/259
        It is not considered a revelation, per se, but Joseph did apparently sign off on it.
        I agree wholeheartedly with you about the church coming clean. There is a tangled, twisted history that needs unraveling. I keep coming back to Emma. Women have gotten the short end of the stick over and over in history. To her dying day, she said Joseph did not practice polygamy. Why is it that we don’t seem to question Brigham and his shenanigans?And what of his public slaughtering of Emma during General Conference? (You can read his Oct.1856 conference address online in the BYU archives where he called her a “damnest liar” among other things over the pulpit.” Very unbecoming of a president of the church, I must say.) And yet, Brigham has said a bunch of crazy things as recorded in the Journal of Discourses, which the church discounts. So, which is it? Is it possible the church cherry picks the narrative?

  13. T.O. says:

    Hi DB, I had to jump in on this conversation. While I’m unsure if my case is unusual or standard, I have some personal experiences that can shed some light.

    After being sealed in the temple, my ex husband left me. I found out (through a friend) that he had quickly been resealed to someone else. So technically, the three of us were sealed. I wanted to cancel my sealing to him but was told by multiple church leaders that was not a possibility until I was ready to be resealed. I needed to be sealed to this person (who I did not think was a very good person and frankly our church leaders didn’t think was either) for my salvation’s sake. I moved to a new area and had a branch president support me in my request . Unfortunately, I had to get permission from my first husband who never bothered to respond to my request. So I stayed sealed another year. I then moved to a new area where my I wanted to start the process again. My stake president wouldnt have it. He told me I would “intentionally distancing myself from Christ.” He made me pray in his office with him to truly make sure I was in the right. (Thanks, as a 21 divorcée, I really didn’t need more trauma stacked up). I did it anyways, against his will, and was able to finally have my sealing cancelled. This ordeal was unfair and although my husband left me, all of this was left for me to sort through. Fortunately for me, this was a temporary power struggle as a woman, but nonetheless it is unfair and there was NO consent on my part to be involved in any of it.

    • DB says:

      T.O., I’m sorry that you had to go through all of this and I agree that it was handled unfairly. Now, to relate back to the question I posed to everyone, in your situation, had you not had your sealing cancelled, do you believe that you would have been forced to continue your relationship with your ex husband in the next life?

      • Violadiva says:

        DB, you are hugely, hugely, missing the point with this question over and over. We’ve all tried to explain the problems with the power structure, the vulnerability, the dehumanizing way women’s agency is carelessly dealt with. What you insist by posing this question to everyone is that we should *know* that a loving God won’t force us into eternal marriages we don’t want to be in , so what does it matter who we’re still “technically” sealed to. It’s horrifically dismissive and gaslighting my dude to imply that we just shouldn’t worry about such things because God won’t force us. We KNOW that. And yet, even with that knowledge, it is still deeply problematic and hurtful. The fact that you somehow can’t see that after all these comments is baffling to me.

      • DB says:

        Violadiva, when I read through the first comments on this post, what I noticed was some conflicting statements on women’s agency, consent, and choice. Some comments seemed to imply that women both lost their agency but never really lost their agency. It wasn’t clear to me exactly what the commenters here believed. So I asked. What was and is abundantly clear is “the problems with the power structure, the vulnerability, the dehumanizing way women’s agency is carelessly dealt with” as you mentioned. I didn’t ask about that because there was no need to. Just because I don’t address a particular issue doesn’t mean that I don’t understand or recognize it. You say that the fact that I can’t see that after all these comments is baffling to you. Violadiva, I saw all of that before any of these comments. But that’s not what I was asking about.

  14. Moss says:

    Elder Holland said, “To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist.” We, as an institution, need to detach from this mistake that holds us to back in the past and prioritizes a narrative of prophetic infallibility over real people who are hurting. Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  15. TO says:

    Hi DB. No. I actually strongly did not believe that I did, which I felt was God’s reassurance for me. But why make a woman go through all that trouble anyways? If a man could only be sealed to one woman as well, then it would be a shared burden to cancel the sealing. In situations like these, men clearly have the upper hand and ultimate power when it comes to sealings. Why should he be able to be resealed but I should have to wait?

    • DB says:

      Those are questions that more members should consider. Personally, I think men should be required to get their ex wife’s consent before getting sealed to someone else.

  16. anon says:

    There is simply no way to get around it, polygamy and the current practice of LDS sealings are discriminatory and abusive in the unfair treatment of women, and always have been. The church and apologists can try to explain it away. They can twist words, history, context, and doctrine to appease their own cognitive dissonance and feel safe and secure in their emotional testimonies. But any common sense rational person who is willing to be honest and step back from their LDS devotion must admit that it is wrong.

  17. Kathy B says:

    All these thoughtful comments illustrate the need for clarification with this plural marriage mess. Where are God’s representatives on this? While the Church has blessed my life in countless ways, unfortunately, it also introduced this plural wives possibility. So I prefer not to be told, “don’t worry about it.” I NEVER worried about this as a protestant. Only when I learned about it from this Church several years AFTER I was baptized did I worry. I’m out of the closet on this topic because I think our leaders need to understand a woman’s perspective.

  18. Kim says:

    Kathy, I have come across some very curious information from the Joseph Smith Papers that adds another layer on the polygamy issue. Here is the link to a page from Joseph’s original journal. Note that this is almost 3 months after the revelation on polygamy recorded in section 132 supposedly given July 12, 1843.

    http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-december-1842-june-1844-book-3-15-july-1843-29-february-1844/123

    The original text from Joseph’s journal states:

    5 October 1843 • Thursday
    Thursday October 5. morning rode out with Esqr Butterfild [Justin Butterfield]. to farm &c.—— P.M rode on prairie to shew the Some brethren some land.— eve at home walked up and down st. with scribe.— and gave inst[r]uction to try those who were preaching teaching or preaching the doctrin of plurality of wives. on this Law. Joseph forbids it. and the practice ther[e]of— No man shall have but one wife229 [6 lines blank] [p. [117]]

    This is how it ended up in church history:
    http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/118

    Resulting in the final text as it appears in Church History, Volume E-1

    5 October 1843 • Thursday 325
    326 Thursday 5 This morning I rode out with Esquire Butterfield to the farm &c..
    In the afternoon rode to the Prairie to shew some brethren some land. Evening, at home, and walked up and down the Streets with my scribe. Gave instructions to try those persons who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives; for according to the law I hold the keys of this power in the last days, for there is never but one on Earth at a time on whom the power and its keys are conferred— and I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise.

    So what occurred from the journal to the end result in the Church’s history?

    See the Church History draft-
    http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-draft-1-march-31-december-1843/143

    On April 1, 1845, Brigham Young brazenly recorded the following: “I commenced revising the history of Joseph Smith at Brother Richard’s office: Elder Heber C. Kimball and George A. Smith were with me.”

    “I notice the interpolations because having been employed in the Historian’s office at Nauvoo by Doctor Richards, and employed, too, in 1845, in compiling this very autobiography, I know that after Joseph’s death his memoir was “doctored” to suit the new order of things, and this, too, by the direct order of Brigham Young to Doctor Richards and systematically by Richards.” – Inez Smith, “Biography of Charles Wesley Wandell,” Journal of History 3 (Jan. 1910): 455-63.

    • Kathy B. says:

      Wow!! Thank you for sharing this research. To summarize what your links prove:

      From the Church’s own research, The Joseph Smith Papers, Oct. 5, 1843, Joseph forbids the practice of plurality of wives and states that no man shall have but one wife.

      After Joseph’s death, Brigham Young (with Heber Kimball and George Smith present) changed Joseph’s draft. The edits to the original text are clearly distinguishable in a different handwriting and the new handwriting adds that Joseph has the keys and God may direct otherwise and contradict his one-wife commandment. This revision now provides opposing, irreconcilable commands in the same sentence.

      The Joseph Smith Papers prove that the meaning of Joseph’s words were blatantly changed after his death. Shouldn’t we at least get an explanation for how that could happen and preferably get a retraction of the change, which would then erase this doctrine?

    • Kathy B. says:

      And to beat a dead horse…this doctored version of Joseph’s words leaves most of us confused enough. But then add to the confusion the Church’s narrative of how Joseph implemented this practice: God forbade plurality of wives except for an elite, inner circle. In other words, there was one law for God’s low-status children and another law for his high-status children. If Joseph’s intent was reflected in his pre-doctored words, it must sadden him to know of the damage this doctored version has done to God’s name and to God’s children.

    • Anna says:

      Keep in mind that publicly Joseph was denying polygamy, while privately he was sleeping with different women. He was caught in the hay barn with Fanny Alger. So, either he did practice polygamy, before there seemed to be any revelation for it, or he was an ordinary adulterer. Either way, his behavior was not that of a man of God in my opinion.

  19. Kim says:

    From Joseph Smith Papers on the Fanny Alger accusation–letter from Thomas B. Marsh:

    https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-from-thomas-b-marsh-15-february-1838/2

    Agreable to your request, brother [George W.] Harris and myself wrote, and sent to you our testimony, relative to what Oliver Cowdery said about the girl, and mailed it on the 4th inst. but lest that letter should not reach you through the iniquity of men, I here send you the same, with the addition of brother Hinkle’s testimony. They may not be the same words as the other, for we have not a copy of the former letter, however, this is the same in substance, with some addition.

    This may certify, that I heard O. Cowdery say to Joseph Smith Jr., while at George W. Harris’ house, in Far West, that he (Joseph) never confessed to him, (Oliver) that he was guilty of the crime alledged to him. And O. Cowdery gave me to understand that Joseph Smith Jr. never acknowledged to him, that he ever confessed to any one, that he was guilty of the above crime.

    THOMAS B. MARSH.

    This may certify, that I heard Oliver Cowdery say, in my house, that Joseph Smith Jr. never confessed to him, that he was guilty of the crime alledged against him, and Joseph asked if he ever said to him, (Oliver) that he confessed to any one that he, (Joseph) was guilty of the above crime, and Oliver, after some hesitation, answered, no.

    GEORGE W. HARRIS.

    This may certify, that having heard the report about the crime above referred to, I asked Oliver Cowdery, last fall, when Joseph Smith was in the Far West, if the report was true, for said I, if it is, as he is to be presented before the church, I wish to know of the truth of this matter before hand. And he gave me to understand, either in plain words or implications, that it was false. I bear this testimony for the good of the honest hearted in the east, and else where, and for the good of brother Joseph Smith Jr. Brother Marsh will please copy this in the letter to the east, and keep the original here.

    GEORGE M. HINKLE.

    Far West, Feb. 15, 1838.

    Dear Brother, we lament that such foul and false reports should be circulated in Kirtland concerning yourself. We are persuaded that none but those who wish your overthrow, will believe them, and we presume that the above [p. 45]

    testimonies will be sufficient to stay the tongue of the slanderer.

    Yours, in the bonds of

    the New Covenant,

    THOMAS B. MARSH.

    Joseph Smith Jr.

    Far West, Feb. 15, 1838. [p. 46]

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