Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Study of the LDS Church - 5.1 Polygamy

Ahhh…it had to come up didn’t it? The biggest stereotype of Mormons by people uneducated about the LDS members is that they are polygamists, or condone polygamy, or plural marriage. Let’s look further into this in a little more detail.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does in fact have a history of polygamy, but it is not a practice that the church currently authorizes or tolerates. According to the official website of the LDS church, there was a period of approximately 50 years where church members practiced polygamy as a direct command from God. Beginning in approximately 1831, Joseph Smith questioned God as to why some of the fathers of faith (Abraham, Jacob, and others) had multiple wives. God told Joseph in Jacob 2:30, “If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall [have only one wife].” However, not long after this incident, Joseph Smith indicated that God had commanded him to begin practicing polygamy. Smith himself had more than 30 wives (some estimates are anywhere from 33 to 48 or more). He cautiously taught this to some of the higher-ranking church officials and associates. They felt that this was such a trying time for their faith due to the difficultly that they needed direct inspiration from God in order to continue it.

Under the direction of Brigham Young, the 2nd President and Prophet, the Mormons moved west to their current home in Salt Lake City and many other members began to take on plural marriages. Young himself had 55 wives and 56 children. The church began to teach that plural marriage was one of the keys to the Celestial Kingdom ("The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy" (Journal of Discourses 11:269); and "This doctrine of eternal union of husband and wife, and of plural marriage, is one of the most important doctrines ever revealed to man in any age of the world. Without it man would come to a full stop; without it we never could be exalted to associate with and become god..." (JOD 21:9).). Beginning in the early 1860s, the government, under President Abraham Lincoln, began instituting laws that made polygamy illegal and a punishable offense, to which many practicing LDS members were subject.

In 1889, under intense pressure from the government, LDS President Wilford Woodruff prayed for guidance for the church. At this time, he was instructed by God that polygamy was no longer to be practiced. He issued the Manifesto, denouncing the practice and declaring that those who were already involved in this institution could remain, but no other members were to begin practicing polygamy. Those who began a polygamous practice would lose their membership and be removed from the church.

There currently are sects of the Mormon religion that do practice polygamy that are not affiliated with the LDS church. These sects are called Fundamentalists and broke away from the centrally known LDS church many years ago with the banning of polygamy, noting that the church was going into an apostasy by banning a practice allowed by Doctrine and Covenants 132.

Although it is true that many Biblical heroes and fathers were the husband to multiple wives, never in the Bible does God command this or promote this. Never are these people praised for having relationships with multiple women. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it never did much other than cause a lot of problems for those men. It is true and factual in their lives, but not a mandate from God.

It seems interesting that under pressure from the federal government that God conceded His previous command and allowed His people to suffer not by the hands of the authorities by allowing the discontinuance of plural marriages. It is also interesting to note that Utah could not obtain statehood if it was allowing polygamous relationships to be legal within its bounds. Therefore, God, it seems, bowed to the US government and modified His requirements of the LDS members so they could become legal law-abiding US citizens.

At this time, it seems, the LDS church redefine celestial marriage. While in the past it referred to a marriage ceremony held within the temple walls (including all marriages…plural or not), the Manifesto and the laws that encouraged it, forced the LDS church to change the perception of celestial marriage. Today, celestial marriages can be performed to many women who will be wives in eternity to the men they are sealed to, but the relationship will remain celibate here on earth in order to abide by the laws of the land.

The Book of Mormon itself is completely silent regarding the practice of plural marriage. In fact, it states the opposite in Jacob 2:27 when it says, “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none."

It seems that prior to becoming the 4th president of the LDS church, Woodruff proclaimed, “"If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians and do as the world does, then all would be right. We just can't do that, for God has commanded us to build up His kingdom and to bear our testimony to the nations of the earth, and we are going to do it, come life or come death. He has told us to do thus, and we shall obey Him in days to come as we have in days past" (JOD 13:165 - p.166).” However, it seems that he had to recant this statement when he signed the Manifesto and claimed that God had either changed His mind about polygamy or was bowing to the pressures of the US government.

It seems that in recent history (up to just 2 generations back) that many LDS members moved to Canada or Mexico to live out polygamous lives while still practicing the LDS teachings of the faith. They were not subject then to federal laws and as long as they lived quietly, the LDS church did not excommunicate them nor acknowledge that anything peculiar was going on.

No further comments…

  1. If the Book of Mormon is the “fullness of the everlasting gospel,” why does it not contain anything regarding celestial marriage or plural marriage? If this is a means of exhaltation to the Celestial Kingdom, I would think it would be mandated.
  2. If marriage is essential to achieve exaltation, why did Paul say that it is good for a man not to marry (1 Corinthians 7:1)? There is no evidence that he was married at all…and certainly not to multiple wives.
  3. Why was Joseph Smith still preaching against polygamy in October 1843 after he got his revelation in July 1843 commanding the practice of polygamy? (History of the Church Vol. 6, pg 46 or Teachings of the Prophet, pg 234).

Study of the LDS Church - 5.2 Blood Atonement

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