Poly-What?, or, a Contemporary View of LDS Plural Marriage

Aaron R. aka Ricoadultery, apostasy, love, marriage, Mormon, polygamy 34 Comments

Being from England, we do not really have a Polygamous Pioneer heritage like some from the US.  However, we do have something a little more contemporary.  A few months ago I was speaking to a single woman, who had a few children and had been divorced for some time, about the Church’s history regarding polygamy.  It was fairly routine until she began explaining some of her past experiences with people who had approached her regarding whether she wanted to practice Polygamy, but in a slightly different way.

When her children were smaller she had some good friends, a married couple, who had come to her with an offer of a polygamous marriage in the next life, if she wanted it.  They assured her that this would not involve any physical relationship in this life.  However, this couple would support her financially by paying her mortgage and offering other parental help, if she ever desired it.  Because this couple were good friends of this woman she was not offended but did feel a little uncomfortable and therefore politely turned them down. 

This reminded me of another conversation I had with a friend who had a girlfriend who was a significant influence on his life and lead him to serve a mission for the LDS Church.  She died shortly after he arrived in the mission field.  He felt that he wanted to marry this girl in the life to come so that he could offer her the highest blessings of the Celestial Kingdom.  He was so convinced of this that he felt that he would expect any future wife to understand and accept this before they were married.  He is currently married although I am unsure of how he feels about this now.

I offer these examples not as illustrations of Church wide practices but as a move to understand how this ‘doctrine’ still permeates LDS thought and practice, despite President Hinckley saying this practice was not doctrinal. 

These stories have something in common; I think they are both rooted in the commonly held misconception that polygamy was practiced as a means of financially supporting single women.  This seems to me as though it could be a form of ‘benevolent polygamy’. 

My initial response was surprise.  In the first story I am surprised at the faith of this couple and their concern for the eternal welfare of this woman and her children.  Secondly I feel a sense of wonder and interest in the ways that polygamy may be still being practiced celebately and in private.  She honestly did not feel that there was any physical motive behind the offer, and that interests me.  I am certainly not advocating this, or any other form of polygamy, but am more interested in people’s impressions about this. 

My questions are these:

What are your intial reactions to these variations of polygamy?

Would such people be subject to Church Discipline, if discovered?

Is this practical (in the first example)?  How would the woman break the marriage if she met someone?  Would this lead to some physical expectation down the line?

In the second story, there is a strong sense to me that this would be barrier in his current relationship; how do other people feel about this idea?  Is this a reasonable request?

Comments 34

  1. “What are you initial reactions to these variations of polygamy”?

    My initial reaction is amazement that people are so convinced of how the after-life will be, and more importantly, how relationships will be viewed therein, that they are willing to make financial, and relational commitments based on that belief. I honestly must be the most unspiritual, unenlightened, unbelieving person on earth, because you know what? I DON’T KNOW what death will bring. I have absolutely no idea if the Mormon idea is right, or the Buddhist, or Hindu, or anyone else is right. Since I haven’t actually died, I can’t even speculate.

    “Would such people be subject to Church Discipline, if discovered”?

    I assume you mean “In your opinion should such people…” I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with incriminating people on things they haven’t even done. Minority Report anyone? Are they PRACTICING polygamy or not? Just because they believe it to be true, or even commit to it in another life doesn’t seem like justification for excommunicating people. Having said that, I actually don’t think excommunication is hardly ever justified to be honest.

    Also, along these lines, should we retroactively excommunicate those who practiced polygamy, supposedly sanctioned by some leaders of the church, even after the manifesto?

    “Is this practical (in the first example)? How would the woman break the marriage if she met someone? Would this lead to some physical expectation down the line”?

    Sounds like a scary proposition. Once again, I’m confused at the idea of people making deals over things happening in the after-life. It’s so strange to me. Does the commitment ever have to be honored? How will we know? Who even says that contracts made here carry over to the next-life? The questions just keep piling up for me.

    “In the second story, there is a strong sense to me that this would be barrier in his current relationship; how do other people feel about this idea? Is this a reasonable request?”

    It seems like it would be a barrier, but I guess if both are comfortable with it then I suppose it could work. Probably not my own cup of tea (herbal of course).

  2. **What are your intial reactions to these variations of polygamy?

    The abstract idea of polygamy doesn’t bother me at all. The practical matters of who, when, and how are all-important. Alarm bells are ringing over the first story, because the church does not teach that particular practice and in fact would not allow such a “marriage” — celibate or otherwise — to occur in the temple, as it would be a marriage contrary to civil law. The mere fact that a couple would even propose such a thing is alarming, because they could be doing it only on their own initiative, which makes me wonder what other doctrinal variations might be cooking there.

    The second scenario isn’t alarming at all. The church has in the past, and so far as I know does in the present, occasionally allow such posthumous sealing ordinances in individual cases.

    **Would such people be subject to Church Discipline, if discovered?

    Quite possibly yes in the first case, because they are proposing something not sanctioned by the church, and something that could in fact lead to more extreme proposals. (I’d probably say that counsel from a priesthood leader, rather than formal church discipline, is the likely first step, since it’s possible that their proposal was a genuine misunderstanding, correctable with proper teaching.)

    The second one, absolutely not, because the young man would have to make his case through discussion with his bishop and however further up the line it would go. No temple sealer would seal a live person to a deceased person to whom he was not married in life just on the young man’s request.

    **Is this practical (in the first example)? How would the woman break the marriage if she met someone? Would this lead to some physical expectation down the line?

    Not practical in the first case because it is completely contrary to church practice. She could neither enter into a temple sealing nor break one on her own. The last question doesn’t arise because the church wouldn’t sanction the sealing in the first place.

    The second would of course be practical if he received a recommend for his live sealing from the proper authority. He couldn’t arrange it on his own hook.

    **In the second story, there is a strong sense to me that this would be barrier in his current relationship; how do other people feel about this idea? Is this a reasonable request?

    It would be no different, in my mind, than if he had been sealed to this girlfriend as his wife while she was still alive, then been widowed and married again. Second spouses often have to deal with the fact of previous sealings. Whether it is a barrier or not depends on the character of the second spouse. It would not bother me in the slightest, personally.

  3. <em.No temple sealer would seal a live person to a deceased person to whom he was not married in life just on the young man’s request, which means that it would not be a matter for discipline since the permission would have been given before he attempted it. (Forgot to finish making the relevant point there.)

  4. “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power…, are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead. …If a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word; when they are out of the world it cannot be received there, because the angels and the gods are appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore, inherit my glory; for my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God” (D&C 132:7, 18).

    That doesn’t seem to leave much room for DIY celestial polygamy.

  5. As far as I understand, a major reason we’re here is to prepare for “the next life.” Therefore, we live by very strict rules. So why should we believe that “the next life” exists under a completely different set of rules? However, to a lot of religious folks (both LDS and non-LDS), this logic makes perfect sense. God wants us to control our appetites just so that we can let them go completely wild later.

  6. Some years ago, I knew a man in his late 20s who had been engaged to a woman who died before they were married. They were posthumously sealed, and he was listed on church records as a widower, despite never having been legally married to anyone. He remained close to his in-laws. He said that if he ever married again, he expected to be with both in the next life.

  7. Could such sealing be performed during the “Millennium” or something?

    I suppose it comes from modern prophets assuring single people that “no blessing will be denied you.”

    Other than that, I think it’s a nice sentiment and more power to them.

  8. “This reminded me of another conversation I had with a friend who had a girlfriend who was a significant influence on his life and lead him to serve a mission for the LDS Church. She died shortly after he arrived in the mission field. He felt that he wanted to marry this girl in the life to come so that he could offer her the highest blessings of the Celestial Kingdom. He was so convinced of this that he felt that he would expect any future wife to understand and accept this before they were married. He is currently married although I am unsure of how he feels about this now.”

    The question is would the girl want to marry him? Maybe his concern was for nothing and she’s quite happy frolicking with all the men on the other side. 🙂

  9. Neal,

    I don’t want to get into the debate on sealing keys, and who passed on what to who, but I do think there has been some discussion of DIY covenant making between men and women by past leaders.

    Father [George Q. Cannon] now spoke of the unfortunate condition of the people at present in regard to marriage…. I believe in concubinage, or some plan whereby men and women can live together under sacred ordinances and vows until they can be married…. such a condition would have to be kept secret, until the laws of our government change to permit the holy order of wedlock which God has revealed, …– –President Snow. ‘I have no doubt that concubinage will yet be practiced in this church,…– –Pres. Woodruff: ‘If men enter into some practice of this character to raise a righteous posterity, they will be justified in it…”‘ (Journal of Abraham H. Cannon, April 5, 1894, vol. 18, p. 70)

  10. Unless the man is deluusional, we have in our ward a man who couldn’t marry his sweetheart in this life for an unknown reason. I have it confirmed from our patriarch that he has posthumly married her in the temple, and the sealing has been performed, therefore approved, by the Church.
    Men and women of faith shouldn’t make a mockery of the fundamental principles of temple covenants. Errer humanum est, of course, and it is natural for human mind to wander the paths of many feelings, reasonings and ideas. But personal conclusions cannot overwrite the will of our Father.
    Saying this, there are strange stories. I rmember a story in France (yes Aaron, you recognised me!), where, during a temple week in Frankfurt, a sister had a personal revelation that a specific man who was also attending the temple that week would be her husband. She claimed she had this vision. The problem is that this man was happily married to his wife and they were known to have an exceptionally healthy marriage. She had to approach this man and his wife (excuse me Brother, I know this is going to sound weird…) to tell them, and of course this was dismissed. She later recontacted this man, but he wasn’t interested. However, he himself got a similar vision, and then he was troubled. His wife developed cancer and rapidly died, and he ended up marrying the other one. So in some cases, it seems peole have revealed motive or special feelings that cannot be ignored. But I am sure that in DIY poligamy motives, the relevant authorities should keep an open mind for requests and I would expect them to seek the will of God in such matters. After all, new revelations have been given from time to time to dispell preconceived ideas widely held by members.
    I always try to rememeber that ultimately, God’s love is the motive in his dealings with us. He can be solicited.

  11. re: 3, 6. 10: Post-humous sealings can happen, even for people that were not married in this life. This is kinda odd because it assumes alot on the other persons part. Which for me is evidence of the lack of clarity of what the relationship organisation is going to be like on the other side of the veil. I know that the Church’s development of the sealing practice has involved some odd variations: dynastic sealings, adoptive sealings and ‘servant-sealings’? The interesting thing for me in this is that we are just not sure.

    re. 7: I was shocked when I first heard this experience (the first one) but the more I have thought about it I see great love and charity. However, I think I see this view because I am not sure that such relationships could be guarenteed to be up held in the next life. This leads to my first issue. Would the couple still make these temporal commitments on the basis on a tentative plural marriage in the next life? The second issue is one I alluded too in the original post but was not explicit about: this lady has subsequently been remarried. If she had accepted the offer how would she have worked that out?

  12. re 9: What a spectacular quote? I have never read that before. The only problem here is that Pres. Woodruff would be a little disappointed with the arrangement here because there was going to be no direct posterity from this relationship.

    re 10: It was not my intention to make a mockery of temple covenants and so apologise if it seems like I have. In light of what you have said regarding the relationship of personal revelation adn the will of the Father etc. I think that the Church would be uncomfortable with people proceeding in these kinds of relationships, even if they felt they had revelation. The problem is because it is a DIY issue which I believe the Church would discourage. For example, if people want to financially support one family I could see the Church’s policy being pay your money to fast-offering and the Church will support them. I think this occurs because we tried these communal sharing programmes in the past and they did not work very well it seems. What I am suggesting, in a round-about sort of way, is that these relationships would be very heavily discouraged, i believe.

    The second story for me is not as big an issue but in the sense of the relationship, but it was more an example of how this idea still permeates our marriage paradigm. I believe most members of the church, and this is pure speculation, see the after-life as polygamous. I just am not so sure that we really know what the after-life will be like and am surprised with jmb275 that others would be so sure??

  13. You’ve come up with two interesting cases, here. I do not see a church disciplinary problem here; so far as I know, when a married woman dies, neither the law nor the gospel prevents a surviving husband from marrying again in the temple and presumably the man would be sealed to both wives. I believe that this does not work the other way around (although the law would allow a widow to remarry after her husband’s death and I know of at least one case where a widow married a man who had been divorced in law but had not had his sealing cancelled – this wedding was not a temple wedding, however).
    I do see some other problems though; in the first case, while the couple might enter into an agreeement to support the single mother, the only way the man could be sealed to her in a temple would be if his wife died first. In the second case, while such a relationship is possible, it could put an intolerable strain on the family and I suspect that there would be no way for such a sealing to go ahead. I suspect the church would not sanction a temple sealing for a man and woman who had not entered a legal marriage previously, although it might, had there been a clear intention to marry when one of the parties died (and a clear intention might mean that they had already booked a sealing room and made all of the other committments necessary and possible before the death). It would take enormous faith and patience on the part of any woman who married this man. Let’s also not forgot that the deceased sister might object to sharing her husband as well. As long as we are on the subject, if a deceased single sister can be posthumously sealed to someone (which I suspect is true although I have seen nothing explicitly written on the subject) could she not as easily meet a man she likes in the spirit world and want to be sealed to him?
    Ultimately, we can really drive ourselves crazy with the possibilities. It will all be sorted out in the millennium – and if it isn’t, it is because it doesn’t need to be.

  14. I have to agree with Ardis on the first one. A local leader should talk to these nutjobs before they really go off the rails, but discipline is not necessarily warranted, just a little straightening out. Also, if the woman agrees to this arrangement, is she under financial obligation because they gave her financial support or can she just walk away when it becomes inconvenient (e.g. she wants to marry someone she meets)? I think not.

    On the second situation, this guy will grow up eventually. I would caution any of my female friends from marrying this guy because you can’t compete with an idealized, unconsummated relationship. It’s easy for this guy to remember deceased GF as the perfect person. He will never see her living as an earthly wife: losing her temper, wiping tiny butts, vomiting into her own hair, dealing with sexual incompatibilities, facing the endless laundry and dishes that plague our daily existence. The person he marries will have to live with him through the vicissitudes of life. It’s easy to idealize someone we will never live with. So I say, grow up first, then get married to a real live human being with flaws.

  15. #1–While we can’t know everything about the next life, we can know quite a bit. If you don’t know that the Mormon view is more correct than the Buddhist or Hindu, I have two friends…

    #2–I agree. Although posthumous sealiing is a new concept to me, it makes sense.

    #4–“DIY polygamy” That’s new to me too, but the phrase makes me smile, because it reminded me of this odd situation in my current ward…”

    #8–She’s not frolicking on the other side, since LDS theology indicates any marriage “there” must be performed by proxy “here.”

    #14–“You can’t compete with an idealized, uncomsummated relationship” This is very true, and also the crux of the whole argument. Why is guy #1 still looking when he’s happily married? I think this is quite common among Mormon men, and to get back to the OP, I think this is where polygamy continues to damage the church. It provides a loophole for men to fantasize about other relationships while married, and justify it, damaging their current relationship. If polygamy isn’t doctrine, the Church should say so authoritatively, remove section 132, and rework the sealing policies to reflect that.

  16. Initial Impressions:

    The people offering to support the woman financially and the man who wanted to tell everyone he dated about his “true” love are weird.

    Impressions after thinking it over:

    The people offering to support the woman financially and the man who wanted to tell everyone he dated about his “true” love are weird.

  17. re 16: I have to disagree that it is weird. I think if you accept the polygamy celestial world view, which is pretty common in the UK, then these types of feelings and behaviours are not far away. Although I think they are problematic (primarily because I am not sure about the polygamy after-life thing) I actually think these variations are the product of our culture and ‘doctrine’.

    re 14: I think a leader speaking to them is difficult. Upon what basis could he say anything other than what has been said here about it not being a good idea. Because there is no specific church sanctions on such activity there is no action or counsel apart that can defered to some higher authority apart from personal opinion. Also I see personal revelation coming into the picture. People would pray about it, i guess, and if they accpet would probably have felt it was the right thing to do.

    re 15: I am not sure the Church will change the doctrine around polygamy that because I reckon that it holds that Plural marriage exists in the after-life. Thus we are left with this doctrinally ambiguous status that allows such developments to occcur.

  18. In the scriptures, monogamous marriage is the standard and plural marriage is a very, very special exception. I nteh Book of Mormon, nobody is ever authorized to practice plural marriage. So, again, why should we assume that as soon as we hit hte next life, everything will be different?

  19. On the second situation, this guy will grow up eventually. I would caution any of my female friends from marrying this guy because you can’t compete with an idealized, unconsummated relationship.

    Kind of like the old LDS joke that has the speaker up at the podium talking about how we all fall short, then saying, “In fact, if there’s anyone in this congregation who’s achieved perfection in this life, I’d like him or her to stand up.” Much to his surprise, this one older brother gets to his feet. The speaker asks, “Excuse me, are you saying that you’re perfect?” The brother says, “Oh, no, I’m just standing up in proxy for my wife’s late husband.”

  20. Greg:

    Joseph Smith – Nauvoo period, and more.

    Brigham Young – Utah period, early Mormonism, Sermons, etc.

    Bruce R. McConkie – Mormon Doctrine


  21. Oh… I get it (finally). This is about people who want to cling to what the Latter-day Saint leaders said over 100 years ago instead of what’s actively taught today. And, without clear guidelines from today’s leaders, people make stuff up, like “financial plural marriage” or “making reservations for plural marriage as soon as we’re allowed to do it.”

    I liken this to the often-talked-about belief in the 1970s among some fellow ward members which said that, in the near future, all Latter-day Saints would be ordered to gather to Missouri. They also seemed to believe we’d be forced to walk there (like the Mormon pioneers) because there wouldn’t be any gasoline left… or some such thing which may-or-may-not have been preached by some general authority many decades ago but isn’t mentioned anymore.

    In my experience, anyone I’ve known in the past 25 years who’s speculated about plural marriage in the next life did not seem to be interested in building up the Kingdom of God or having numerous, righteous descendants or any of the other noble objectives I assign to 19th Century Mormons. Instead, my contemporaries who are fascinated with the idea of becoming polygamists only seem interested in a sort of “authorized promiscuity.” I find the whole discussion very distasteful as a result.

    I’d love to have heard the conversation on the day when Brigham Young and Gordon B. Hinckley got together in the afterlife to discuss the “doctrine” of polygamy.

  22. re 22: you ascribe good motives to the 19th century saints but the people mentioned above whose motives appear pure, because no sex is involved, are bad. This seems very white-washed and completely untenable. Moreover, you suggest that GBH and BY will have some sort of argument about polygamy… i am not sure if i have mis-understood you, but I guess i must have because what you said does not really make sense to me. You seem to be defending polygamy and cutting it down at the same time? On the view mentioned above that the curent prophet is right it seems that you would think that both prophets were right for their time, so why would they disagree.

  23. The 19th Century Mormons had an established system for practicing plural marriage whereas the story at the top of this discussion appears to involve people who are making up their own system. That, to me, is a giant red flag. Plus, the contemporary story seems to involve people trying to make deals which will carry into the next life. In a gospel sense, they clearly don’t have the authority to make deals like that. So it’s clear to me that they don’t understand the principle that they’re attempting to follow.

    The supposed argument between Brigham Young and Gordon B. Hinckley might have something to do with Brigham Young’s assertion that plural marriage was essential to salvation while Gordon B. Hinckley said, on national television, that it’s not doctrinal. Personally, I’d love to watch a debate between the two of them. Personally, I believe that the scriptures would trump Brother Brigham on this matter and I still believe that, while allowable, plural marriage was and always will be the exception to the standard.

  24. It seems to me that there is evidence that Joseph did not have a clear plan in beginning to practice polygamy and certainly post-manifesto polygamy was praticed in a way that was ambiguous, to say teh least. In addition I can think of a least a few instance where polygamy was practised in a way that was not consistent with the general pattern.

    Moreover, i think we have scope in our scriptures and statements by GA’s to indicate that people have some choice of marriages in the next life and so it is not surprising to me that these people have seen their ideas as within the bounds of church doctrine. I don’t agree with them, but i think it is wrong to characterise them with motives that are sexual when I am not convinced that is the case.

  25. Of course I don’t know if the couple in the first story had sexual motives. I don’t know them. What I said was that everyone whom I’ve known who was fascinated with the idea of eventually becoming a polygamist seemed to have a sexual motive. My experience advises my assumptions.

    The notion that there wasn’t a clear, consistent practice of polygamy in the 19th Century only bolsters the fact (which is surprising to most people) that only a small percentage of LDS men were ever authorized to have plural wives. But we’re more than 100 years past that now. The church is very consistent now. And that story at the top of this page is just kinda creepy. The proposal would hurt both the single mother’s ability to progress in this life and her children’s ability to belong to a normal family. Niether the church nor common sense would approve.

  26. “how this ‘doctrine’ still permeates LDS thought and practice”. I find this whole subject very interesting there are many motives that individuals have when contemplating polygamy,

    the first story. I would suggest the strongest motive is anxiety. for both men & women. The UK is an ultra conservative monogamous society, this perhaps feeds this polygamous paranoia. Mormons who feel the need to conform to church “Doctrine” but do not and can not understand the full ramifications. would then theories, justify, & satisfy there our conscience to allow them to adequately believe in something that carry’s huge social stigma and abhorrence. There are other fears attributed such as wives having to accept another woman, men worrying will they be forced to do something the don’t feel 100% comfortable with and what will there wife think. History has taught us to fear this subject, again however in our attempt to justify the actions of the past we over compensate and jump in with both feet, and to compensate for our own fears we seek to appease through making it a consultation between husband and wife.

    there are many psychological schemas at work with in the modern Mormon mind, but if “Benevolent Polygamy” is a result, two individuals seeking to make sense of something through altruistic means is very interesting. I’m obviously only speculating the guy could just like having intimate chats with her and conned his wife into it.

    also although i think the guy in the second story is a little weird, true love in my mind would be to wait for her, she was willing to wait two years why can’t he wait 60-70 years?

  27. Post

    re 27: I think your thoughts on this are very interesting. Just to make sure i understand, it seems you are highlighting a kind of schizophrenia when it comes to this doctrine both of moral repulsion placed against doctrinal necessity. In this regard the quiet assumption that God is a polygamist which is used to justify the past practice in the minds of many people perhaps haunts them. However, I wonder whether the same thing accounts for the way that Brigham and Heber practised polygamy and the reason it becamse ‘essential’ for salvation. It was so repulsive to them that do so it was made a condition for their exaltation and by implication for everyone else.

  28. As an educational psychologist, a partial explanation for “polygamy practiced as a means of financially supporting single women….a form of ‘benevolent polygamy’, could be this:
    Males are hard wired for sexual pursuit which involves a variety of behaviors to capture and control females. This has been shown in PET scan’s where measurement of brain activity in the hypothalamus, which, in human and animal studies, is associated with dominance and aggression. PET scans demonstrate a significantly higher activity level in males,in this region of the brain, when viewing films involving these activities. The difference likely involves hormones (like testosterone) and sensitivities to those hormones in specific parts of the male hypothalamus.
    Males are also socialized in the LDS culture to identify with traditional ideals of masculinity like domination, risk taking, and competition. Collecting a “harem” of women loyal to him may be innate. Men are hardwired to pursue novel individuals, as a way of, in evolutionary terms, spreading their influence or seed. So I would guess that the initial promise of “friendship marriage” is simply a way of gaining some initial capture control and dominance of the woman and her children.
    Females, in evolutionary terms, seek to find a mate who will protect her and especially the children she may bear or have already born. Lisa Diamond, PhD, who is an associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, found that not only do other mammals, (female rats in this study) have more extensive brain circuits for a bonding chemical, oxytocin, human women show greater release of the neurochemical during sex than men. This was according to a 1998 study in “Physiology and Behavior”.
    So the idea of benevolent polygamy may be hard wired. If I were the woman pondering the “marriage offer”, I would be very careful, as her friends may have boundary issues regarding relationships, and the “control” behavior may follow the initial capture offer, if she allows the situation to proceed and intensify. Many behaviors that are domineering are described in the LDS church as benevolent.

  29. This reminds me of pointless discussions between native, South American missionaries and the born-in-the-church missionaries from the United States. The topic: Is it better to know first-hand the cleansing power of repentance or to never have sinned? The idea was that most of the born-in-the-church missionaries didn’t have to repent of anything “serious” before becoming missionaries while the South Americans may have had to overcome lots of sins before joining the church.

    To me, the discussion was pointless. For those who wanted to debate the issue, it seemed that one’s personal experience was assumed to be the better way. So they thought that everyone else would be better off if they’d lived life the same way as themselves. Was Brigham Young’s inclined to the same thought process? I wouldn’t be surprised.

    I find it interesting that so many of us can dismiss what Brigham Young said about racial issues or the “Adam-God Theory” but we continue to be distressed over his assertion that plural marriage is essential. As far as I can tell, none of those ideas is backed up by scripture.

  30. Greg, Re: “The supposed argument between Brigham Young and Gordon B. Hinckley might have something to do with Brigham Young’s assertion that plural marriage was essential to salvation while Gordon B. Hinckley said, on national television, that it’s not doctrinal.”
    Some later prophets testified, in the name of Jesus, that celestial marriage meant plural marriage.
    In the book, The Politics of American Religious Identity” by K. Flake, which is a historic account of the seating of senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle, Joseph F. Smith was quoted regarding plural marriage as saying in sermon, “I understand the law of celestial marriage to mean that every man in this Church, who has the ability to obey and practice it in righteousness and will not, shall be damned. I say I understand it to mean this and nothing less and I testify in the name of Jesus that it does mean that.” (Sermon in JD, 7 Sept. 1879)
    As an educational psychologist, I observe and analyze children’s playground behavior frequently. This attitude seems akin to the little boy, who upon being caught doing something that is socially unacceptable, orders all of his friends to join in the same behavior as a condition of being in the social group. The boy likes the behavior and does not wish to give up the behavior or condemn the behavior as destructive to his society, so he coerces others by requiring them to behave in the same manner in order to justify and normalize his own behavior. In American schools, we work with children who were required to engage in sexual behavior to be initiated into their social groups such as steet gangs, where girls must be “sexed” into the gang in order to receive the protection of the gang. Gang member initiation behavior is occuring at younger ages, 5th and 6th grade students are now targeted for initiation into gangs as their foot soldiers.

  31. I hear you, Jo, but your example grates on me. As far as I’m concerned, Jacob 2:30 sums up what happened in 19th Century Mormonism. Relationships authorized by God are a far cry from sexual initiation into a gang.

    I would need a more complete quote from Joseph F. Smith to conclude that “plural marriage” and “celestial marriage” meant the same thing. Even the quote you included says something about “the ability to obey and practice it in righteousness.” Under current church policy and the current commandments from God (using Jacob 2:27-30 as a guide) I haven’t been given the ability to live the principle of plural marriage. So there’s no conflict between what I’m doing and what Joseph F. Smith testified that I should do.

  32. Greg,

    Brigham Young and the teachings in Jacob regarding polygamy directly contradict one another.

    Jacob taught one man and one wife, and that having multiple wives and/or concubines is an abomination UNLESS commanded by god. So, the general rule is 1 man and 1 woman, but there are exceptions.

    BY taught that the romans invented the idea of one man and one woman and that it was evil and that it contradicted the commands of god. BY taught that the correct way ALWAYS is polygamy. He directly contradicted the BoM.

  33. Greg, I understand your frustration. How do we understand the apostles attitudes toward polygamy, which even then was considered socially inappropriate in American politics. Reed Smoot faced expulsion from the U.S. Senate due to the attitudes toward the Church and the aftermath of polygamy. There was significant discussion in that era regarding the nation’s long standing “Mormon problem”.
    How the “Mormon problem” was worked out in this country during these early years influenced the politics of how America both tolerates and limits religious organizations.
    Public school have similar difficulty working with subcultures in America, as we are required to accept that children from these subcultures (even gangs) which operate by a different set of rules and practices than traditional mainstream attitudes. Comparing modern subcultures with what was considered in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s another subculture seemed reasonable when discussing the context of sexual politics and sexual practice in that group.
    I like to understand behavior by reframing it in terms of “playground politics” as it tends to strip the complexity from the situation, as behaviorally, children operate in simpler ways. This is similar to using a parable to explain a more complicated situation and it is a practice common in counseling. Why did it grate on you, as Joseph F. Smith’s view are well established?

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