In this episode, author Carol Lynn Pearson joins Mormon Matters host, Dan Wotherspoon, for a one-on-one conversation about her new and extremely powerful book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men. In it, Carol Lynn embraces two roles: the first, the position that many have ascribed to her of “wise-woman elder”; the second, “storyteller,” which role no one has ever filled better. From the gifts associated with these titles and her own huge heart and great power drawn from her love of her Mormon people, including its founder who instigated the practice and doctrine of plural marriage, she presents the most compelling portrait to date of the dramatic, heartbreaking, confusing, and emotionally devastating effects of polygamy’s continued haunting presence in today’s Mormonism, a Mormonism that ostensibly ended the practice of plural marriage more than a century ago. Through wonderful confluences of her own stories, the stories of women and men in early Mormonism, as well as stories drawn from thousands of responses she received from people who participated in a survey asking about their understandings of polygamy in past-, present-, and future-day Mormonism, along with terrific research and gathering of wonderful insights from Mormon and non-Mormon teachers and scholars, a compelling picture emerges that strongly suggests it is time to admit the practice is, and has always been, a terrible mistake—one that produces pain and heartache and leads to distancing from God and our highest selves. It is certainly not God’s own form of marriage, nor the Divine’s desires for us. In beautiful and loving ways, Carol Lynn shares reasons for seeing this conclusion about polygamy as an error of Brother Joseph’s as the most forgiving and healing stance toward it we can take, and one that she believes Joseph himself would agree with and encourage us to work to bring it to an end.
Even amidst the many difficult topics and stories the book engages, Carol Lynn retains a positive outlook and reasons for imagining a hopeful, post-polygamous future. She does not leave us with a full de-construction without offering a new vision: moving from “Patriarchy to Partnership,” which, itself, is already a reality she and leaders she works alongside have already begun to know and embody. It is nearly impossible by book’s end for us to not want to join together with great energy in a wonderful (even worldwide, beyond Mormonism) healing adventure.
Please listen to this conversation, which includes Carol Lynn reading many incredible passages from the book, and then add your thoughts, questions, and experiences in the comments section below!
Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men (Walnut Creek, CA: Pivot Point Books, 2016)
WOW! I Have known this book was in the works for about a year, and have been greatly anticipating it. Great work here Carol Lynn, my copy arrived in the mail today, and I have a book group discussion on the calendar for August on it.
Powerful podcast Dan!
Carol Lynn is a true prophetess. So grateful for the work she has done, and continues to do, within the LDS church. Shs truly stands with the least of us, and speaks up for us women and our LGBT brorhers and sisters. With courage, wisdom and love. This is what Christ would do. I am inspired! (and of course look forward to read the book when I get it in the next couple of days)
So, wouldn’t the solution be Polyandry?
Just make Polygamy work both ways, I think this was the way JS intended it… but somehow he was constrained from releasing the doctrine in it’s full form.
I’ve been thinking about this, and unless you pitch eternal families entirely, I agree that this has to be the answer. But does it solve the problem? What about the woman’s story that Carol Lynn read about being excised from her dead husband’s family? Wouldn’t she have the same problem?
Oh, good grief.
That is the only solution that makes sense– everyone is sealed to everyone and sex with anyone in the Celestial realm is condoned because their is complete trust there.
Somehow temple marriage sealings and fidelity to one person your entire life is– despite the eternal significance to the LDS people– more for temporal purposes. While here on this diseased earth, we must be careful with whom we share ourselves with. Not everyone can be trusted and fidelity promotes good physical health and emotional/mental stability.
Thank you for this interview. I cried so many times throughout it. I am one who has left the church because of the pain caused after years of trying to come to terms with polygamy in the past and its implications in the eternities. My leaving has caused a deep division between my husband and myself and my parents and many of my loved ones who don’t understand why I am so affected by something from long ago. I am one of the many who truly has laid awake at nights weeping because of the pain it has caused and the worry of how it will impact our eternal lives. I appreciate Carol Lynn’s love of Joseph, but I have not been able to maintain that myself, but I did try so hard to do so for a very long time. My soul is exhausted and I just couldn’t hold onto to it. But I have profound respect for Carol Lynn and all she does to bring awareness to the pain this issue is STILL causing so many men and women who want so much to please God and live righteous lives but don’t always understand what God really does or does not think of women and if they truly matter as much in his eyes. I will definitely be buying the book.
I can’t believe that a loving Heavenly Father would want polygamy for his children. I left the church because I could not come to terms with this doctrine. I probably could have stayed with the understanding that polygamy was a mistake and that even a prophet can make mistakes. I ultimately left after many years of trying and it caused irreparable damage to some relationships. My husband actually agreed with my feelings and our relationship is great. I still cannot accept polygamy. Either he was a prophet that made a mistake or he was not a prophet at all and then the whole foundation of Mormonism is destroyed. When I left 9 years ago it was not acceptable to even mention the possibility that it was a mistake. I am glad I left because I could not bare the thought of putting that on my children but I still love the Mormons. They are wonderful people.
I am, even still, even not believing that polygamy is God-ordained, haunted by this principle. I cannot see past it in the temple. If I were to die first, I would be happy to see my husband remarry…but not if it means he is sealed to another woman. We’ve talked about it, he understands, but my fear is still there. Polygamy and temple inequities between the sexes drive a wedge between me and God. I cannot hope to understand a God who forever subjugates women to men. I have always known I, as a woman, am just as capable/intelligent/valuable as any man, and to not see that reflected in our holiest spaces is devastating to me.
I cried when Carol Lynn read the excerpt from the end of her book of her vision of what the future could be if we let go of the notion that polygamy is or ever was the will of God. I want to wrap my arms around her for expressing so beautifully the pain and the hope in my heart.
Thank you Dan and Carol Lynn for the time, energy, and heart that you put into this podcast and this book. Thank you for continuing, broadening, and amplifying this discussion and giving voice to many who have surely felt that they had none. I expect that many people do not realize how much other people suffer because of our remaining ties to polygamy, and until they are exposed to the heartache, they will not likely question or confront the doctrine. This is a powerful step in that direction.
That being said, I have to admit I got a little bit frustrated at times during this episode and found myself wishing for a clearer thesis and/or solution. What exactly is our objection to polygamy? Is it that a one-to-many marriage relationship is inevitably dysfunctional? Is it that the current practice of eternal polygamy treats men and women differently and this inevitably subverts gender equality? Is it the ambiguity surrounding how these relationships will actually be managed in the eternities? All of these appear to be involved, and I think each is worthy of it’s own discussion. Perhaps more importantly, each will probably require it’s own solution.
For example, supposing that the primary issue is the unequal treatment of men and women, we might introduce eternal polyandry as others have suggested above. But could this actually introduce greater ambiguity surrounding our eternal relationships? If my husband dies and I am sealed again, how do I know if he has also taken a second wife? Will we now be united in one multi-marital family? If on the other hand, we allowed each individual to be sealed to only one other person, would this actually increase the obstacles to re-marriage for widows and widowers, as now both partners may be faced with the decision to be unsealed to an eternal companion? Either of these alternatives may still be better than the inequality that exists.
For my part, I think that no matter what the marriage practice of the Church, we might significantly benefit from a little more humility and honesty with respect to our understanding of eternity. Even if we took every prophecy made concerning the nature of families in heaven to be literally true, it seems to me that we would know very little on the subject. And based on my experience with Mormon Matters and it’s listeners, I’m guessing most of us don’t take every prophecy literally. To some extent then, a teaching like eternal polygamy can only do as much damage to us as we permit it. If we have faith that it is not of God, then it cannot touch us in the eternities and we need not fear it now. Admittedly, many in the Church do not feel a great deal of control over what they do or do not believe. And what’s more, the society of those who do believe this doctrine can still cause us damage in this life, as in the case of the woman who was sealed to another man and ostracized by her former in-laws. So yes, let’s keep working to change ofttimes harmful Church policies as we feel so inspired, but while we’re at it, let’s also acknowledge, and reassure our brothers and sisters, that God is love and His love is not superseded by the declarations of men, no matter what their authority.
I just read Michael’s reply and it articulates better what I was trying to say in mine. Whatever the question. Love is the answer.
Very nice interview. Love that woman. And love that Dan. An important piece of work. Thank you.
This is Jay again. I have obviously not walked in the shoes of woman in the church. While I have had many wonderful experiences in the temple I am troubled each time by their subjection to men. I had to cross a sealing rubicon when only 3 months off my mission at age 21. The woman I married a week before I turned 22 was already sealed. Her first husband died of cancer after only 10 months of marriage. While I didn’t find anything helpful or comforting in church writings in regards to our situation, my own prayer, study and fasting led me to the conclusion that if I felt impressed to marry Jane, then God would not withhold any blessings from me if he was the just and loving God that I believed in. And so we married. Our two biological boys are automatically sealed to Jane and Bart, her first husband. Our adopted daughter is not sealed to anyone because I had hope that the policy would change.
When I’ve suggested to temple presidents and even to a Seventy that it would seem to make sense to seal Jane to both Bart and I, and trust God to work it out in the next life, it was consistently suggested to us that Jane have the sealing cancelled. Neither of us felt good about that. It didn’t seem fair to Bart, puts Jane in an awkward position, and shows little faith in the good character and capability of God to sort such things out.
I am an active, believing, temple going member of the church. I suppose I believe differently than typical members, but I like many members, I believe the church has a special mission and temple ritual and the sealing of relationships a beautiful and helpful thing. But I think we take it all too literally. I think we worry too much about things that need not be worried about in terms of the next life and specific relationships. Work for the dead, to my way of thinking, is work for the living. It is a construct to help us love more deeply and faithfully in the present and in the future. I am confident that God will work out (or let us work out) the relationships that matter most to us to all our satisfaction within the bounds of individual agency.
It is enough for me to just strive to love well now and trust that tomorrow will take care of itself. Doesn’t that sound like something a God of love would espouse?
Love your perspective Jay,
God is perfectly capable of sorting these things out, and like you… I believe the temple is also our assignment from God in linking families together.
Let’s do the ordinance for everyone, and let God do the validation of such practices.
Carol Lynn and Dan — Thank you so much for this!!! No aspect of Mormon history troubles me more than polygamy. I have four daughters, and the thought of them spending eternity as polygamous wives breaks my heart. That sounds like hell, not heaven.
I loved the podcast, and I’ve bought the book. I can’t wait to read it!!!
Eternal Polygamy certainly isn’t the only ghost that’s haunting Mormonism, but it’s one of the biggies. And CLP is clear and pointed enough to make it impossible to not see (We got a problem here!) yet always soft and compassionate enough to avoid causing offense and giving anyone an excuse to look away. As Dan suggested, this may be the start of a REAL discussion. It’s gonna be interesting!
“…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411) Joseph Smith made this statement preaching from the stand to the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo on Sunday May 26, 1844.
What if Joseph was telling the truth and didn’t practice polygamy at all?
Loved the book. As I read about Carol Lynn’s great grandmother Mary Oakey leaving, I did a happy dance. But as I settled down to what this must have been for her and her husband I cried. So many hearts broken, so many families divided by this doctrine. Reading journals and books from these brave women it’s very apparent they were suffering from depression and betrayal trauma. What is sad is there was no help for mental problems. Many were classified as going mad, Some took drugs to sooth the pain. It is very real what happens to a person when the spouse is betrayed. Whether there is permission or they show up on the doorstep in a wagon, the betrayal is real and is felt by the spouse.
As I sit in my group of women who have been affected by spouses suffering from sexual addiction I see the same eyes. The heavy hearts.The betrayal is real and shows up in many forms as PTSD. It is measurable and very real. I’ve often compared my situation to polygamy. I’ve lived with an addict for 37 years. Sometimes sober, sometimes not. Having to live and raise a family with someone that’s not always yours is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.The worst thing about living with an addict is the lack of emotional intimacy. If we are to become one and have real intimacy we need to feel safe and secure. The problem with polygamy is the women didn’t not feel either safe or secure with their spouses. Therefore, no intimacy between couples. I have always felt in the church that marriage and intimacy were taught to go hand in hand. This is what Gods wants for us. No way did this come from loving Heavenly Parents. Great read . Loved the journey you took us on.
Thank you for this interview. I hope she will be invited to do many more. These stories need an airing. And I pray that the church will change before losing the rising generation of girls who, thankfully, have a better sense of themselves than I did.
I was one of the bewildered ones coming away from encounters with Section 132, teachers, bishops, and, significantly – my own mother – with the grim realization: God loves men more than women. He loves my father more than my mother, and my brother more than me. What other explanation can there be for what the church teaches us about God’s supposed command in 132 to subjugate women with the Law of Sarah?
Then we can deal with the fact that many men and women – and there should be no difference between them – have and will be married to more than one person (serially) in mortality. Our temple policies and culture need to make room for this.
Thank you Dan and Carol Lynn for the interview and the book! My copy arrives today and I am looking forward to reading it. As a young missionary in Germany, we were visiting a well-to-do woman with the district president; she was the mother of a convert son. She thought well of me and she asked about Joseph Smith and his polygamy, horrified at the idea, and asked if I would marry into such an arrangement. With my understanding at the time, I answered a resounding yes, if that was what God wanted of me. She couldn’t believe I would believe that or the church and we never visited with her again. I have thought about that many times through the years as I gained experience and feeling about this issue. And I feel sad. When I married I struggled a lot with depression and insecurity because of a diminished sense of knowing who I was and my unremembered childhood trauma and the ghost of eternal polygamy. 31 years ago it came to a head in great inner turmoil and anger as I thought about my eternal life: I can work as hard as I can in this life trying to serve God and to love my husband and my reward for that is to be one of 6 wives, and he doesn’t have to do much to earn those 6. I heard a voice that said, “You will have everything you want,” and I felt joy fill my body and soul, I felt drenched in joy, and I saw something. My greatest experience with Spirit in my life. I haven’t been married for 29 years, but I have believed in partnership all those years like Carol Lynn alluded to in the interview, it just hasn’t been realized yet. I have close friends who feel that also. That is everything I want.
Oh happy day! This is amazing! Someone finally had the courage and deep loyalty to get this out in a graceful way that might be heard. Thank you, Carol Lynn. Your sincere love for this church is palpable and vital. You as the messenger is a perfect fit. I’m thankful you felt the call to crack this shell open. I can’t wait to witness the shakeup this book will bring. I’m personally sick of “shelving” my pain about polygamy and my role as a woman. I’m feeling a glimmer of hope now. There’s some change about to ooze.
Dan, over and over I am impressed by your sincerity and smarts. I’ve never heard you in any discussion that I don’t agree with and appreciate your perspective. Keep up the great work!
There is another piece that I would add to the scriptural justification sought in D&C that I didn’t see in the comprehensive argument Carol Lynn made against polygamy. This has bothered me for 30 years but is never talked about in church:
D&C 132:1, 38-39:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—
38 David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me [39 Bathsheba and Uriah].
Yet in the Book of Mormon, the “most correct book ever written,” we read otherwise:
… . This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon, his son.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
Oh. I attribute this difference to the savior paying for their mortal sins. One of my favorite Institute instructors (although he did not share the feminist view that I have) said that God is a merciful god and it is better for us–when we need to evaluate others–to err on the side of mercy rather than justice.
Don’t misunderstand me, I want all polygamy – past, present, and future – wiped off of the earth’s religious practices as much as anyone else. That being said, I’m left unsatisfied with the conversation on this episode as well as Carol’s final reading about the great good that will come from disavowing this doctrine because I didn’t hear her or Dan explain how that is even possible, even within the Mormon church alone, when the church does and will forever practice eternal sealings being a necessary doctrine and practice within the church. Logistically alone, how CAN the church end polygamy without ending the doctrine of sealings being an essential ordinance to exhaltation?
For example, what would happen for the sealed widow or widower who later remarries again in the temple? Currently, the widower can have a sealing to his new, living wife and they can be sealed to their future children because of the doctrine of polygamy. Take away polygamy and what do you do with the new marriage? Make it for time only? No sealing to their children? What if this is the living wife’s 1st marriage and she wants to be sealed to her husband and future children? What you’re doing by taking away polygamy is setting up that scenario to look like what is the current (and sad) scenario for any widow in the church who remarries. She can only be sealed to one husband and must choose (if the church will permit her to) between her deceased, sealed husband (and sealed children with him) and her new, living husband (and any future children they may have). The only answer I can logistically see for these scenarios, so long as eternal sealings are still a church doctrine and practice, is polyandry. Not that I want that either.
The above scenario is just the logistic one. Now add the understanding and position the church takes on the bible and biblical characters such as Abraham, David, Solomon, etc. – the position that all of these are actual, historical people, that they were God’s prophets whom God spoke to and commanded to practice polygamy. To apply Carol’s final wish to disavow polygamy, the church would also have to take on the new positions it has shown no indication (that I’m aware of) of ever taking that it believes maybe Abraham (or others) weren’t all actual, historical people, or if they were that their polygamy wasn’t a command from God after all.
Do you see the hurtles I’m seeing? I cannot conceive of how polygamy could ever be disavowed while still preaching the essential ordinance of sealing of spouses and children to be necessary and practiced. The logistics of remarriage, whether by death or divorce, requires it as far as I can see so long as sealings is a taught and practiced doctrine. The best the church could do would be to add polyandry, and I’m not a proponent of that either. And then there’s the conversation to be changed about how to interpret bible stories, characters, practices, prophets’ fallibility, etc.
All these together left me to wonder how Carol can write her wish (which I wish as well), but not include for her audience how that is supposed to happen and what it would demand of the church to change about itself. Am I missing something here?
I had very much the same concerns. Does anyone in this discussion have any ideas about how these obstacles might be handled? Personally, I feel like the best and most workable solution might be for polyandrous sealing to be introduced and for the Church to acknowledge a certain amount of mystery/ignorance surrounding how such families will operate in the eternities. The sealings could thus be thought of as a bestowal of eternal potential and an expression of eternal commitment upon a partnership rather than a statement that “this relationship is guaranteed to continue in this form forever.”
Carol Lynn addresses this in the book.
Carol Lynn – Thank you for this book. I was out walking when I put this podcast on to listen to. Thank goodness it is a really hot humid day where I am so I wasn’t embarrassed with the tears flowing as they mixed with my very sweaty face as others walked by.
I do think this is a book that will be well known for quite a long while. I ordered it right on my phone so I can get it in time to read this weekend.
After 49 minutes, I had to stop listening. I was very disappointed in her approach. She wanted to shoot the messenger.
I hope you will revisit Carol Lynn’s approach to acknowledging that a prophet–and everyone else for that matter– is human and subject to err.
Consider my experience:
I was always taught that “a prophet will never lead the church astray”. Throughout my college years, my mind broadenedand I had stirrings of doubt in my faith. I gained a vivid testimony of Book of Mormon. I studied the Doc&Cov and prayed earnestly for a testimony of it before serving a mission. I felt a remarkable feeling as I prayed: Joseph was just a man. Yes, he was doing the work of the Lord just like I was trying to do. We just had different tasks.
I became more aware that many of my ward members and many general authorities would publicly revere Joseph as a super-human person. This was unsettling. Although I do acknowledge the wealth of knowledge Joseph brought forth, I cannot dismiss the fact that he was human. I have not been able to sing with Gerber anymore the words: “Hail to the man who communed with Jehovah! Jesus annointed that prophet and seer…Hail to the prophet!” I mean, I commune with God everyday. I inspire others to seek a closer relationship with God. I receive personal inspiration sometimes for the benefit of others around me. I am a mouth-piece for the Lord. I mean, “Are we not all prophets?” I do not believe Joseph was more faithful than others. I believe he had a different task to perform and if he wouldn’t have completed the task, then God would have chosen another to do it. The important thing is to follow your heart. Therein lies your most important tasks. Joseph had a yearning in his heart to know more of God’s truth. His prayer was answered in a powerful way. You, too, can receive answers to the burning questions in your heart if you ask God too.
By listening to my own heart, I became troubled by polygamy during my college years. As I prepared for my mission by receiving my endowment in the temple, the realization that every women must promise to let her husband lead their family to salvation never set right with me. A woman is just as responsible to lead herself and her children to God as is a man. This troubling thought lead to me never being able to submit to a marriage relationship. If it is a lonely road I must walk to follow my heart sincerely, then I must walk that road to the end.
I ultimately left the church over these very things. We each have a spiritual journey to take in this life and I respect yours. However, it’s painful to think about someone forgoing marriage and children. My family brings me great joy. It took me a long time to accept the fact that I don’t have the answer to so many things. I wondered how that would effect my children but as they have grown it has become clear that it is good. If I had given them all of the answers the church gives they would feel as troubled as I did. I left the church just before my oldest child’s 8th birthday. I was the relief society president at the time. It was difficult but I couldn’t bring myself to have him baptized. I finally had to face the fact that I didn’t know a lot of things that I had accepted as facts. My kids are almost grown and they are amazing. I miss the community of the church and I even miss having an answer to almost every question. The answers come at a high cost though, it means there is no room for questioning and no room for descent. I have come to realize that behind all of the happy faces is a good deal of sadness. I wish you well in your journey.
Carol Lynn, how did I miss the opportunity to fill out one of your surveys? I have a story to tell, that of a man who married an already-sealed widow. If you’re still gathering data and you want my input, please send me a questionnaire. It’s obviously too late for your book, but I’d really like to tell you my story.
davidcnelson1 (at) gmail (dot) com
This episode finally helped me say out loud and proudly believe that polygamy was a mistake. I don’t see a single downside to believing this, even if I turn out to be wrong! I’ve told my husband he can do whatever he wants if I die first…go ahead and remarry her for eternity because it’s a load of crap anyway, so how can it harm me? And again, if I am wrong, then he’ll have to choose who wants to be with forever. I’ll just be an angel blowing a trumpet.