Imagining Bathsheba

July 8, 2005 | 61 comments
By

Recent weeks have seen stimulating (and occasionally heated) discussion of a July Ensign article on the life of Bathsheba W. Smith. The article, meticulously parsed by Justin Butterfield, omits, together with other biographical material, all references to Bathsheba Smith’s sister-wives and any reference to the polygamous families of her husband, George A. Smith. This conspicuous lacuna looks to many readers like a deliberate effort to edit the historical record, selectively striking embarrassing references to polygamy—and, in the process, variously flouting standards of historiography and simple honesty, dishonoring the memory of polygamous wives, and writing women out of Mormon history. I’m instinctively sympathetic to the concerns articulated by Justin and Kris (I mean really, who wouldn’t want to put themselves in such distinguished company?), and to my mind they raise compelling historiographical questions. They stop too soon, though: the work of writing history is just that—writing and history–and thus the questions we ask about that work need to be both historical and rhetorical.

Consider, for example, the ideological work of a publication like the Ensign. Its function, in my view, is two-fold: to teach individual readers how to be A Mormon, and to teach that collection of Mormons to be a A Worldwide Church. That is, its function is first to assemble the Mormon subject position, and then to assemble the imagined community of Mormonism. Although each of these tasks uses historical information as a crucial source of discursive raw material, neither can be said to be doing anything like modern historiography. Modern historiography, vulnerable as it is to poststructuralist critique, still attempts and often succeeds in something like a reconstruction—if not, as the postructuralists insist, of an unmediated and fully accessible past reality, then still of a (mediated and incomplete, to be sure) recognizable past. The Ensign and publications like it, on the other hand, are concerned not with a reconstruction but with an ongoing construction of person and collective.

It’s misleading and counterproductive, then, to compare the Ensign to, say, the Journal of Religious History. A much better match, in my view, are the periodicals and print publications that Benedict Anderson examines in his book Imagined Communities, discursive technologies that served the emerging colonial nationalisms in the 18th and 19th centuries in the same way, I think, that the Ensign now serves an emerging global church. Anderson’s crucial insight (now some twenty-three years old) is that nationalism as an ideological artifact works as an imagined political community: a collection of people separated in space, most of whom will never meet or even become aware of one another, but who still understand themselves as linked by “a deep, horizontal comradeship.” In developing this claim, Anderson deals with an emerging print culture of second-generation nationalist movements, which, after the strenuous first-generation celebration of historical novelty subsided, began the process of reading nationalism genealogically—as the expression of an historical tradition of serial continuity. He looks at the newspapers, textbooks, and other forms of textual production that emanated from the imperial metropole to the colonies, teaching the far-flung inhabitants what it was to be an Englishman or a Spaniard, and what it meant to belong to England or Spain. History, or History emplotted in particular ways, opened itself as a vast quarry of the raw ideological material necessary for this sort of teaching, formulating the emerging subject position and imagined community as something deep-down always known. As Anderson puts it, “All profound changes in consciousness, by their very nature, bring with them characteristic amnesias. Out of such oblivions, in specific historical circumstances, spring narratives. … Out of this comes a conception of personhood, identity which, because it can not be ‘remembered,’ must be narrated.”

The comparison to global Mormonism and the Ensign is not perfect, of course (and please, let’s not get diverted into an argument over whether missionary work is inherently colonialist), but it is instructive. And one can recognize the basic discursive features of nationalism—in particular, the construction of a subject position and imagined community out of fragments of history—in almost any self-conscious social movement. Protestantism, classical liberalism, feminism, the gay movement, neo-conservatism—they all did and do the same thing, because that’s how communities get made. As an American Mormon, I’ll never know even the slightest fraction of British or South African or Guatemalan Saints, but I’ve been taught to imagine myself as connected to those Saints through the cultural and spiritual tissue of the Global Church—and I do that, in part, by understanding all of us in relation to a common History. Church publications teach us how to do that imagining of self and connecting of community: the Bathsheba Smith article shares a cover with, among other items, an interview with Elder Eyring about how to study the scriptures and a collection of “Latter-day Saint Voices” narratives.

Because the pedagogical task of the Ensign is not to teach “what a Mormon is” but “how to be a Mormon,” then, every word and image between that cover, by virtue of its rhetorical context, will be taken normatively rather than merely descriptively. Why did some readers object so strongly to the photos of housework in last month’s “Strengthening Future Mothers”? Simple: because the photos, by virtue of their placement between those two glossy covers, told us what we should be doing. An article that prominently and positively featured a functioning polygamous family, even removed in time, would inevitably be taken by some as a covert endorsement of polygamy: this is how to be a Mormon.

As I said, I’m instinctively sympathetic to the ambient distress about the violence done to history in the Bathsheba Smith piece, and I think it entirely possible that the Ensign staff got the balance between history and History—between “what a Mormon woman was” and “how to be a Mormon woman”—wrong in this case. I personally would like to see a definitive doctrinal repudiation of polygamy, followed by a frank acknowledgment of its place in our history and a concommitant opening of the church archives and strong institutional support for Mormon history disseminated in appropriate venues—but then my husband would like sports car, too. The Church hasn’t dealt with historical problems this way in the past, and I’m not holding my breath for it to start in the future—not, as some have suggested, because of a sinister or even merely defensive suspicion of women or women’s history, but, more likely, because of difference of opinion or simple uncertainty among the leading Councils. Meanwhile, there are important problems to be addressed in women’s experiences in the Church, in becoming a global church, in calibrating our attitudes toward history. That polygamy doesn’t show up in the 2005 Ensign, in my opinion, isn’t one of them.

Tags: , , ,

61 Responses to Imagining Bathsheba

  1. Nate Oman on July 8, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    ” Meanwhile, there are important problems to be addressed in women’s experiences in the Church, in becoming a global church, in calibrating our attitudes toward history. That polygamy doesn’t show up in the 2005 Ensign, in my opinion, isn’t one of them.”

    To which I ask, “Why not?”

    If community building is in part an exercise in selective historical memory, it seems to me that one of the issues that the community must deal with is the very selectivity of its memory. I am not suggesting that there is some sort of objective or honest history that avoids the issue of selectivity. Rather, it seems to me that by your own argument selectivity itself — what gets put in and what gets kept out and why — is a central issue. That being the case, it seems to me that polygamy is a central — perhaps the central — issue in how the memory that constructs modern Mormon feminity gets put together.

  2. J. Stapley on July 8, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    Yes, what Nate said. Moreover, then why even look at the 19th century at all?

  3. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Nate, I see the exclusion of polygamy from the Ensign precisely as an indication that polygamy *isn’t* any longer the central issue in how the Mormon woman is put together—and I for one take that as very, very good news. It’s a messy way to go about making the change, to be sure, and like I said I’d much prefer a clear repudiation and then a frank examination after the definitive break—but for the reasons I lay out above, I understand why this probably won’t happen.

  4. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    J., as I tried to argue above, making history seems to be an ideological weight-bearer in building a community. And plus, for Mormons, our history is structurally–not just ideologically–linked to our claims of authority, so obviously one can’t just ignore it.

  5. Julie in Austin on July 8, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    RW, you highlight instead of alleviating my discomfort: I hate the thought that this month’s lesson on How to Be a Mormon includes a primer on ignoring any parts of your history that might cause you discomfort.

  6. RoastedTomatoes on July 8, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    Here’s the thing–if our 19th-century heritage isn’t important to us anymore, then why is the Ensign publishing a biography of someone from the 19th century? (As J. Stapley said.) If we’re going to look at the teachings of 19th-century prophets (as in the case of the Brigham Young manual from a few years ago, which also omitted all mention of polygamy), and if we’re going to publish the life stories of 19th-century polygamous wives, we should try to tell those lives in a way that would be at least somewhat recognizable to the people in question! Omitting polygamy, which was seen as perhaps the fundamental doctrine of the Restoration by many 19th-century Mormons, doesn’t fit the bill.

    If our only goal is to structure a 21st-century version of Mormonism, we could and probably should do that the same way Protestant churches do: we could jettison our history. But if we feel that our history has value, and if we’re going to keep having teenagers in the Dominican Republic and Russia do pioneer treks, we’ve just got to acknowledge the doctrines that the pioneers understood themselves to be sacrificing for. We don’t have to embrace the doctrines ourselves, but we do have to acknowledge that our legacy includes them.

  7. RoastedTomatoes on July 8, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    Rosalynde #4: That’s the problem–if our history is structurally and ideologically central to the community we want, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot when we leave out some of the historically most important themes of the 19th century!

  8. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 4:35 pm

    RT–yeah, I feel it, I really do. Like I said, I didn’t much like the article either. It would have been a lot cleaner just to leave the thing on the cutting-room floor—but, on balance, I’m still glad it got published. Let me clarify: I’m not arguing that Mormon history shouldn’t be done at all–I strongly support a rigorous Mormon history, and I’d love to see a greater opening of the archieves–just that the Ensign isn’t the place to do it. I agree completely that to excise polygamy from the fabric of present-day Mormonism is an exceedingly difficult operation, and I certainly do not envy the Ensign editors the task! But I’m glad it’s starting to happen, however clumsy the first steps.

    Julie—LOL! I agree, it’s uncomfortable to think about. But it’s part of being an adult. Being an American, a feminist, an attachment parent, whatever, requires us to efface some of the origins of our identification. (And just to reiterate: I don’t think we should ignore polygamy, I just don’t think it must be addressed in the Ensign.)

  9. Steve Evans on July 8, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    Rosalynde, you never struck me as a revisionist!

    I think the goal of having mormon women no longer consider polygamy as part of their identity is an interesting one, and not necessarily a desirable one. You seem keen on sounding out that issue, but frankly I think that it is too historically recent a phenomena to be excised from our psyches. In other words, the Ensign is producing shoddy, revisionist history because the events and ideas it is excising are too recent and too important to be excluded. A couple of hundred years from now, the Ensign (2205 edition) will likely be able to gloss over polygamy in far nicer tones, but for now we know far better. I can appreciate that they are trying to sell us those facets of history which are most important – and for the most part I agree with their prioritization – but in this instance, the omissions are glaring.

    You say that we need to look at both historical and rhetorical questions here. I agree, and I wonder, rhetorically speaking, at your own post here. Why write this post? What are you aiming to accomplish? To defend the Ensign? It’s doubtful you need to do so, in this crowd, and in any event your post doesn’t seem to accomplish the task. Instead, I can’t help but wonder if you’re putting these ideas forward to simply excoriate polygamy a little more, and justify distancing ourselves from it by any means. I’m a little skeptic of the goal.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    Steve, I don’t agree that the Ensign is producing “shoddy, revisionist history,” because I strongly believe it’s not producing history at all. That’s not what it’s for, and that’s not what publications of its kind do. But you’re right, I think, that dealing with polygamy is particularly tricky because it’s still so recent.

    Interesting question about the origin of the post. I started thinking about the issues as a comment on one of the other threads, but it got far too unwieldy for an add-on. But by linking at the beginning to the other posts, I intended to put this post in the context of those discussions. My purpose *is* primarily to defend the Ensign’s general approach to using history, although I’m inclined to agree that in this specific case they’ve got the balance wrong. I’m not crazy about polygamy, obviously, but critiquing it isn’t my main purpose here.

  11. Steve Evans on July 8, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Rosalynde, you know I have to disagree with your assertion about the Ensign: “That’s not what it’s for, and that’s not what publications of its kind do.” That’s exactly what the Ensign does: it sets the standards of accepted practice and belief, and when it says something happened a certain way, by gum that’s the way it happened, as far as we’re concerned. Because of its quasi-doctrinal standing, anything they put in there ends up looking like official pronouncements… which is exactly why they need to be careful about whitewashing the past: some of us might end up actually believing the Ensign.

  12. Steve Evans on July 8, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    …and no, I have nothing better to do.

  13. Davis Bell on July 8, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    I myself have spent many an hour trying to imagine Bathseba; she must have been wicked hot to incite David to committ such crimes.

  14. Matt Bowman on July 8, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    “That’s the problem–if our history is structurally and ideologically central to the community we want, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot when we leave out some of the historically most important themes of the 19th century! ”

    Bingo. I thought about this a little while, and I think what bothers me about the Ensign article – and most history of this kind – is that it implies a static definition of Mormonism, which both our history and theology cry out against. Pretending that the governing definitions of Mormonism were the same for both Bathsheba Smith and Marjorie Hinckley is not only historically, but doctrinally, incorrect. It strikes me as akin to arguing that wine in the New Testament is really just grape juice.

    The church is _supposed_ to change over time – that’s what continuing revelation means, and the motives in striking polygamy from this Ensign article and the Young manual strike me as a perhaps unconscious denial of that. Rosalynde’s argument is a way to bind the church together today, but it’s just as important to bind ourselves to the church of the past, and viewing those members as ourselves in different clothes is not the way to do it. The Restoration is a process, not an event.

  15. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    Steve, what do “practice” and “belief” have to do with modern historiography? If the Church were actively trying to suppress any other venues for Mormon history, were closing their archives to anyone other than Ensign staffers, then I think you’d have a point. And sure, if the Ensign is going to *not* do history, then I’d like to see them signal that more clearly, and do more to point members to appropriate sources of history. The Ensign is not perfect at what it does, and I’m not arguing that it is, but to evaluate its effectiveness I think we need to understand what it’s actually doing.

  16. A. Greenwood on July 8, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    Incidentally, the Ensign’s failure to highlight polygamy is not the same as denying that it happened and was real important to the Church. Even given the Ensign’s quasi-official status, no one is going to read the Bathsheba Smith article (yes, I had the same initial thought that Davis Bell did) and think, well, Polygamy must not have happened! They might conclude that polygamy is now in disfavor, and they would be right.

    The simple truth is that it is not Bathsheba Smith’s polygamy that is an exemplar for us today so there’s no point in emphasizing it.

    Two cheers for revisionism.

  17. RoastedTomatoes on July 8, 2005 at 6:39 pm

    Let me mention another aspect of this kind of revisionism that bothers me. The Ensign doesn’t do history, as several comments have pointed out. But it does help the large majority of church members figure out how to think about our faith community and our heritage. Polygamy is an inescapable part of that community and that heritage, and everyone knows about its historical existence. For this reason, it’s important for the Ensign to help members figure out how to think about polygamy. When the Ensign writes polygamy out of stories where it naturally fits, the magazine sends the unintended message that polygamy is a shameful secret that we should WORRY about a lot!

  18. Daniel on July 8, 2005 at 6:39 pm

    Dang, I was hoping Rosalynde was going to offer us a textually-based explication of what Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife) must have looked like.

  19. greenfrog on July 8, 2005 at 6:54 pm

    I’m curious at the apparent similarity of the role Rosalynde persuasively argues for the Ensign with respect to the Church and the role I recall Izvestia playing in the old USSR.

    Both of them present to a defined group a model of what being a participant means as well as a view of the community that is composed of such participants.

    And both of them were as instructive by what they left out as by what they included.

  20. Jack on July 8, 2005 at 7:11 pm

    greenfrog,

    Are you sure that’s a fair analogy? Should we assume that God sits at the top of a repressive regime because he doesn’t tell us everything?

  21. greenfrog on July 8, 2005 at 7:14 pm

    I’m not aware of God publishing either of the periodicals I mentioned. I think that each was/is published by well meaning humans.

  22. Jack on July 8, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    Ah, but God, too, is well meaning and has seen to it that a number of texts have been published which are, no doubt, somewhat abbreviated.

    But then again, I should be careful not to criticize others too much for not being more like God.

  23. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 8, 2005 at 8:13 pm

    Ever since I listened to Jan Shipps talk here in Plano, and looked at the ethnic group characteristics of the LDS Church from about 1910 to the 1960s, the function of polygamy to create an ethnic group, to prevent assimilation and to help the Church survive through the 1920s and 30s has seemed very significant. Now I hasten to add that is my perspective, not hers, but it is what I took away from reflecting on what she had to say.

    Look, for comparison, at the Communities of Christ — what have they become in the past 10 years and where have they been heading since the 1960s?

    I had two very personal experiences that made me reflect. First, a friend got a transfer just months before his wife finished her Masters. She ended up living with us until it was done. Now there were things that obviously did not happen, but it was very much like having another adult in the marriage, especially the way she and my wife got along. I was glad when she left, though I would gladly visit with them. I’ve been in a number of situations since where I’ve dealt with women who bonded well and my desire to be “one of the girls” (so to speak) isn’t high.

    I also had a friend whose wife kept hoping for polygamy. She had a room mate she loved, who was terribly unappealing, but who loved to do housework. Her response to almost any input was to do housework. Before the friend and his wife married, she lived in the cleanest apartment in all of Utah. She discussed her desire to bring her friend home with her and her husband’s response reminded me of the stories that we read about men who were told to “do their duty” and who were happy when they were turned down.

    One could easily set up a system where wives did all of the courting and just announced to men who was entering the marriage and where the eligible group for adding to a marriage would be limited to what used to be referred to as special interests. I can’t imagine any men excited about such a system. I know I gladly pay taxes thinking of that as an alternative method of support.

    But … all musings aside, I know that we are children of God, not “adults” (or even “young adults”) of God. That means many things. Above all it means the message of Nephi, that we do not know the meaning of all things, but we know that God loves his children.

    Does he require some of them to have blue thread in their hems, not eat shrimp and follow elaborate rules? Yes, and for reasons that may not have made sense to many of them. Are others given simpler rules? Yes. Did Abraham get tested? Yes. Are we tested like he was? More than we know some times. I wish I had better answers, but when my five year old wants to know how nuclear fusion works I remember some times we just need to keep growing up and learning patience as much as anything else.

    and

    I guess part of it is just what do you want to emphasize? For example, talking about my dad growing up, I usually leave out the fact that he tied an olympic record at age 17 (and got a plaque put up to him at his high school). Is it true? Yes. Does it fit in the narrative of his life?

    Not really, becaus they I need to explain how he broke his foot, how that related to derailing his running, then how he broke his back, and recovered, etc. It introduces a major rabbit trail into any story about him growing up to talk about him taking his bicycle on the rail system in Los Angeles (before it was destroyed by Firestone, etc.), borrowing some shoes and running the race of his life in the L.A. Coliseum.

    As for my mom, I don’t mention that she is George Emmanuel Mylonas’ daughter.

    Am I ashamed of my dad? Do I think there is anything wrong with being a fast runner (I’m not, I was always a little short and a little overweight)? Of course not. But it is too much of a story to interject into talking about him unless someone has a spare half hour to add to the story.

    Am I ashamed of my mom (or my grandfather)? Not at all, I love her a great deal and admire her. But do I really want to explain that she is the missing black sheep of the family, the woman of mystery, etc.? My interview for a mission almost got completely derailed when my branch president at BYU found out who my grandfather was. When I let his name drop in a conversation with Hugh Nibley (without any mention that I was related), the response was that he was underappreciated and deserved more attention.

    I think there are a lot of narratives like that. Facts that cry out for context, and that without the context are just distracting, with the context they overwhelm any short story. You won’t find any mention of those facts on my website (60,000+ hits a week at http://adrr.com/) or at my blog.

    My thoughts, at least. From doing the same sort of editing when talking about my parents or trying to discuss my life. Heck, when I was asked how many children I have several times this month, in each case I merely responded that we had two living with us at home. Am I leaving out that I’ve buried three children? Do I leave out the miscarriages as well? Yes, but it overwhelms the narrative, no matter how central it is to my life.

    Was I dishonest when in mediation this month the other side told me I just didn’t understand real emotional distress or loss and I just let it slide? No, because there was no way to discuss the issue without letting it overwhelm and hijack the conversation.

    Ask yourself if the missing matters are really hidden or if they are an invitation to a threadjack?

    I live my life avoiding threadjacks. I can’t blame the Church for it in shorter articles — especially when they cite to the longer sources with all the information.

    I still think those are legitimate comments on the entire topic.

  24. kris on July 8, 2005 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Rosalynde –

    I appreciated reading your take on this whole issue and have to say that I still disagree with you on what role the Ensign is supposed to fulfill. Part of my annoyance over this issue springs from the fact that if I have any type of professional training, it is that of historian, specifically a graduate degree in women’s history, so I am looking at this issue with different eyes than the average Ensign reader. I think a commenter at FMH summed it up better than me, when he said:

    “What I find really upsetting about editing polygamy out of history is that many important women suddenly become non-persons. Joseph Smith’s plural wives are suddenly forgotten women, as are many of Brigham Young’s wives (and George A. Smith’s wives). Then when you are forced to deal with an important woman, such as Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young (to give her her full name), you either leave some of her marriages out, or you tell the story with incorrect chronology to leave out the polyandry, or attack the first husband, Henry Jacobs, in unjustified ways. Actually, all that is so difficult and dangerous, that it is much easier to just leave Zina’s story alone. To me, this phenomenon is part of the bigger message many conservative or institutional Mormons have: in Mormon history, women are not really that important.”

    Those doing Mormon history are so lucky because there are just so many primary sources, so it is tragic when we try to erase people who are generally more difficult to find, historically speaking. The Ensign can do history, just differently and perhaps with greater accessability than BYU Studies or JMH. By saying that only more professional type journals can do it, confines it to an ivory tower where it doesn’t belong, especially in this Church. As I mentioned in my post, a mere sentence acknowledging this part of her life, would have sufficed. Finally, many members in other countries have never heard of Dialogue, etc. I didn’t even know they existed until last fall, and I live in Canada!!

    If the worldwide church can’t get an honest introduction to our history in the Ensign, even if it is just a tiny taste of it, where are they going to find it?

    P.S. I’m thrilled to be in the distinguished company of Justin and yourself :)

  25. comet on July 8, 2005 at 11:41 pm

    The Ensign is ideological through and through. The church’s committment is to ideological truth, not historical truth. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but the church’s number priority is to maintain a distinctive identity and sustain institutional growth. It will call into action whatever historical facts serves its purposes and excise or deemphasize facts that detract from currently perceived institutional needs. Sounds Machiavellian but this is a young and inexperienced church that is still coming to grips with the fact that it literally makes history everyday, the unintended kind that is in excess of the ideological space it likes to think itself in. So while the church as an institution will likely continue to groom its autobiographical history for internal and external consumption alike, it will always be fighting a rearguard action against doppleganger mormonisms ghostly apparitions that nip at its heels such as the various mormon fundamentalisms. I think what the Ensign shows us is that the church hasn’t found a way to recuperate polygamy as either benign, transitional or aberrational and so it just ignores it leaving it for later generations to deal with. It’s a sign of our youth, vigorous but immature in the ways of dealing with things beyond our ideological reach.
    Incidently, with the rise of mormon studies, the church will be increasingly at pains to to define the terms of its discourse regarding its own past vis-a-vis the professionalization of its history in the academy which brings its own kind of sophisticated tools and authority.

  26. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 11:41 pm

    RT, you make an excellent point in #17: the modeling of a faithful processing of polygamy would be immensely helpful, and the Ensign would be the natural place to do that. It’s my hunch, though, that as of yet there’s no consensus among church leaders—and certainly not among church membership—about what that sort of faithful response should look like. I think we need to figure out what its status is presently before we know how to process it historically (and by “process it” I don’t mean treat it historiographically—like I’ve said a number of times, I support an ongoing project of modern Mormon history.)

    greenfrog—I’m not familiar with the materials you cite, but the comparison seems entirely plausible. I don’t think we need to be defensive about the fact that the Church, even with its celestial mission, behaves like a terrestrial organization. I prefer to bring that clear-eyed perspective to bear *both* on the project of Mormon history (undertaken somewhere besides the Ensign) and on institutional features of the present-day church.

  27. annegb on July 8, 2005 at 11:47 pm

    What Nate and J. and Julie said.

  28. Taylor on July 8, 2005 at 11:48 pm

    Rosalynde,
    I actually agree with you about your identification of the rhetorical function of the Ensign, and I too am sympathetic of the desire to build Mormons from the Ensign.

    I disagree with some of the comments that imply that your position makes the 19th century irrelevent to contemporary Mormonism. It is exactly the opposite. The 19th c. is supremely relevent, which is why polygamy is excised. It is seen as too dangerous…and I sympathize with this view as well.
    However, I agree with your critics here that the normative weight of such excisions must be considered. I don’t think that the Ensign needs to be the place that members are educated about difficult issues in Mormon history (but I acknowledge that this needs to be done. I prefer SS class personally). The Ensign is given to non-members and part members too. It doesn’t need to deal with everything, or to be subject to the canons of historical accuracy. Consequently, since I am a historian and I care about Mormon history, I don’t read the Ensign, perhaps to my detrimant.
    I guess that what I am trying to say is that the rhetorical function of the Ensign regarding our past is that history is a poweful tool that can affect our faith. I strongly agree with this, but I think that the history that the Ensign produces creates more problems when it is exposed as being so bad.

  29. annegb on July 8, 2005 at 11:51 pm

    and what Daniel said…well, what Stephen said was pretty good, too. I’m easy today.

  30. Rosalynde Welch on July 8, 2005 at 11:52 pm

    Stephen, thanks for your comments! Good to see you around these parts.

    kris–In all honesty, I think the sort of role for the Ensign you envision sounds great; it would definitely serve the needs of members like you and me, but I’m not convinced that it would serve the needs of the global Church. The question of alternate venues is a good one. I believe that the Church does put out a few publications that work a little more like history than the Ensign or the RS/Phood manuals–dealing with soft-core polygamy and so forth, I believe–”Our Heritage” and “Truth Restored.” This is still pretty soft stuff, but maybe a stiffer version could be put out in the same “reference” category. BYU Studies does real history, and enjoys a pretty strong institutional endorsement, but obviously is not yet very accessible to the larger church membership (although it would sure like to be!).

  31. alamojag on July 9, 2005 at 12:48 am

    I’m with Rosalynde on this one. Adding a discussion about polygamy isn’t what this article was about. Polygamy is just too much of a hot button issue to be mentioned casually. If the article were to discuss her polygamy, that is the ONLY thing that many people would take away from it.

    That is the answer to Nate’s question “Why not?”. Unless there would be an accompanying full discussion of polygamy in the rest of the magazine, all inclusion of the issue does is bring up the “when did you stop beating your wife?” kind of questions. While a simple mention would be “intellectually honest”, and satifactory to people like those who read and post at T&S, it would only create confusion. It is not hard to see the next round of anti-Mormon literature to take such a mention as tacit approval, not only of the practice in the past, but of the current practice by splinter groups.

    I suspect that was a large part of the decision making in the editing room–do we give an incomplete story of a remarkable woman, or do we include an issue that will overshadow everything else the article would say about her? The Ensign simply isn’t the forum for that, unless, as I said above, polygamy is THE topic of the magazine.

  32. Taylor on July 9, 2005 at 1:02 am

    The best thing would have been to just write a new article instead of hack up an existing one. I think that is what made this issue particularly noticeable in its selective history.

  33. kris on July 9, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Rosalynde — LOL re: soft core polygamy !!

  34. Julie in Austin on July 9, 2005 at 12:44 pm

    How’s this:

    “Unlike the Saints today, Bathsheba lived during a time when the Lord sanctioned polygamy. Consequently, she was married to . . . . ” and then you move on.

    Is it really that complicated?

  35. alamojag on July 9, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    Julie in Austin,

    That would work for you and me, relatively educated readers with a better than average understanding of the practice, but Rosalynde in her post wants a repudiation of the practice, and the acknowledgement that the Lord sanctioned it at one time just leaves open the questions of why He did, and when it changed. It is just too much of a hot button issue, especially on the Wasatch Front where the writers and editors live, to casually mention it without further explanation.

    Sure, the story could have been done better. I think Taylor’s suggestion that it be a new story rather than rewriting an existing one would have been much better. Bathsheba deserved better.

  36. Naomi Frandsen on July 9, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    I worked at the Ensign for about 9 months several years ago. LaRene Porter Gaunt, author of the Bathsheba Smith article, has written a little bit of soft-core Mormon history–a collection about 19th Century Mormon women, among other things–and is the full-time editor in charge of all of the “history” articles. Sometimes she solicits articles from outside scholars, sometimes from general authorities, sometimes she just writes them herself. She wasn’t trained as a historian, but she’s a great editor and a great storyteller, too, if my memory of Ensign staff meetings serves me correctly. LaRene, like all of the church magazine writers and editors (good, professional, intelligent people and journalists), writes for two audiences: the worldwide church (especially since the content in the Liahona and the Ensign became identical about 3 years ago) and correlation, the committee through which all church copy passes. Maybe part of the frustration on this thread is with correlation, the body that, Ensign editors will be the first to bemoan, frequently sucks the life out of otherwise interesting articles. Who knows what this article looked like before correlation–it may have been exactly the same, or it may have contained content that was stricken. I don’t know who is on the correlation committee–I think it’s a rotating committee that includes both general authorities and lay members, both men and women. I’ve never sat in on one of their meetings. But I think they serve an important purpose, and I think the institutional unity of our church–a quality that becomes increasingly important, the more I think how other religions are run–is at least partially owing to them.
    Personally, I agree with Rosalynde–the Ensign is a social, rhetorical text. Since the late 1980s (the death of the long-time editor), it has not styled itself as a journal of scholarship. And to be truthful, I’m glad these names–names of 19th century Mormon women–are being passed along in any form, even in a narrative, folk form like the Ensign. I think that the article doesn’t tell the whole story and definitely leaves out extremely critical parts of even the basic story, but even so, I’m glad that we’re still telling stories about her.

  37. Lisa B. on July 9, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Rosalynde: If the church repudiated polygamy as you (and I) wish it would, what would you do with multiple sealings? Or what (idealogically) do you do with the idea of possible Heavenly polygamy? Would such a repudiation also require an assertion that monogamy IS the order of Heaven? Along with some doctrinal clarifications or practice changes with regards to sealings, multiple sealings, and sealing transfers?

  38. Ben H on July 9, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    Fabulous post, Rosalynde : ) thanks for sharing, and persuasively arguing for, your insight!

    Fun to see you around here, Lisa Bushman.

  39. kris on July 9, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that the Ensign should be a journal of scholarship. I think Julie’s suggestion would have been fine. As Justin pointed out, Bathsheba Smith believed in the principle and lived it for many years. To know this, no imagining is required. Here are her own words:

    “Mr. Smith and I believed firmly in Joseph Smith as a Prophet of the most High. We believed that he had sealed his testimony with his blood. I became thoroughly convinced as well as my husband, that the doctrine of ‘plurality of wives’ as taught by Joseph the Prophet, in our hearing, was a revelation from God; and having a fixed determination to attain to Celestial Glory, I felt to embrace every principle, and that it was for my husband’s exaltation that he should obey the revelation on Plural Marriage, in order to attain to kingdoms, thrones, principalities and powers firmly believing that I should participate with him in all his blessings, glory and honor.

    In accordance with this purpose I had in the last year, like Sarah of old, given to my husband five wives — good, virtuous, honorable women who had gathered to Zion without their families. Four of these women were considerably older than I and tow of them older than my husband. They were all deeply religious. I was young, only twenty-three years old and Mr. Smith but twenty-eight, though I believe we were mature for our years on account of experiences gained amid the perilous times through which we had already passed. I was proud of my husband and loved him, knowing him to be upright in all things, a man of God, and believing that he would not love them less because he loved me more, I had joy in a testimony that what I had done was acceptable to my father in heaven.”

    Such a testimony is rare, perhaps even precious. If some publication — whether it was a social, rhetorical text or a distinguished scholarly journal diminished my deeply held beliefs and life experiences in a similar way, especially to appease the “Wasatch front” as alamojag suggests, I would feel very violated.

  40. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 10, 2005 at 12:03 am

    Sent a friend a copy of this thread. This is what she said:

    July 9, 2005

    Stephen, that post was just extraordinary. It’s a whole different world, and astonishing to read about. Thanks for sending it.

    I would note only that I’ve known a lot of non-Mormon women who thought that having another wife or two around to help out would be a blessing. But in all my life I have encountered only one woman (not a Mormon) who thought that having more than one husband would be an attractive prospect, and after she tried it she changed her mind.

    Best wishes,

  41. Rosalynde Welch on July 10, 2005 at 10:01 am

    Julie (#34): Julie, do you think that sort of less-than-passing reference to polygamy would satisfy the critics? It doesn’t seem to me that that treatment does anything more to honor the memory of the polygamous wives, or keep Mormon women any more visible in history. If anything, it makes them even more dispensible, since you acknowledge polygamy but leave them out of it. Listen, if next month the Ensign publishes an apology and a full acknowledgement of polygamy in the BS biography, I’ll be very pleased, too—but I understand why they may not.

    Naomi, thanks for your insight about the workings of the Ensign. I still think they should offer you a full-time job!

    Lisa (#37): Lisa, great questions, and, I think, some of the most crucial in understanding how Mormonism will move forward. In short, it would be really, really complicated. I’m not arguing that simply leaving polygamy out of the Ensign constitutes any sort of a coherent repudiation or reformulation of doctrine—simply that leaving it out of the Ensign means that polygamy is now also left out of Being Mormon. I think it could be a first step toward the clarification of the extremely vexed position of polygamy in the present-day church, however. I personally don’t think it would be necessary to discount all prior polygamous sealings in order to make a clear statement that polygamy will not be the sole social organization in the Celestial Kingdom, and that polygamous sealings are not necessary to attain the highest degree of priesthood and glory: I’m comfortable with the idea that there will be various, and variously flexible, sealing arrangements sufficient for exaltation. Still, to take polygamy out of the doctrinal fabric of the D&C will require some retheologizing: it seems to me that a coherent theological Mormon world-view still remains without polygamy, but we might have to wait for a particularly gifted and creative revelator to find his place among the Twelve before that position is positively laid out. Then again, we still need to consider the possibility that polygamy still is and will remain the law of heaven.

    Kris: What a powerful and moving—even inspiring—passage. Also, for me, deeply troubling, for so many reasons. Something like that could never make it into the Ensign. If Bathsheba could summon the faith necessary for that sort of cooperation with the Brethren, I feel sure she would be willing to accept the curtailment of her biography in the Ensign.

  42. Wilfried on July 10, 2005 at 10:38 am

    Allow me to add just one thought from the perspective of converts in the international Church. Whereas long time members, and certainly generation-Mormons in the U.S, would know about our history of plural marriage, such is not always the case of converts in foreign lands. Because of the total black-out on the topic in missionary discussions, lesson manuals and magazines, we do have people join the Church without any knowledge of that past. But they will discover it at some point, usually from outside sources, with all the negative hoopla around it. Then it is, in many cases, quite a shock for these converts, and sometimes a blow to their testimonies. So I must wonder: would it not be better to acknowledge that part of our past, succinctly and honestly, when it is appropriate in the context? Therefore I would tend to favor some mentioning of that part of Bathsheba’s life. Now we give to our converts the impression that there is something to be hidden. I’d rather have them hear a timely explanation from our side than from our detractors.

  43. Kristine on July 10, 2005 at 10:42 am

    Rosalynde, one small quibble: it seems to me that a major part of how-to-be-a-Mormon in the early 21st century is the requirement to be a good missionary. In the U.S., at least, events marking the 200th anniversary of JS’s birth and the publication of Bushman’s biography will likely result in briefly increased attention to Mormons in the media, and many members will have opportunity to discuss the church with their friends as a result of this coverage. Joseph Smith’s polygamy is bound to be included in media discussions of him, and to the extent that the Ensign models an unwillingness or inability to speak frankly, accurately, and insightfully about the legacy of 19th-century polygamy for 21st-century Latter-day Saints, it has missed a crucial opportunity to educate members of the church in a way that would strengthen a key aspect of Mormon identity–being an effective evangelist/apologist for the faith.

  44. Rosalynde Welch on July 10, 2005 at 10:53 am

    Kristine: Agreed. I think you’re making a similar (and similarly excellent) point to RoastedTomatoes’ #17: the Ensign could model for members the faithful response to polygamy (which may well look significantly different from the professional historian’s response). That it doesn’t do so suggests to me that we don’t yet know what that response looks like. I think a precursor to understanding how to process it historically is understanding how to place it presently and in the future–and I don’t think we’re there yet. And it looks like we probably won’t make it there by the end of the year, either—which, I agree, will be very difficult to deal with in the press, etc.

  45. Lisa B. on July 10, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    Rosalynde: I hadn’t considered the possibility of simply explicitly clarifying that plural marriage is not required for exaltation. I guess I have already assumed that (contrary to portions of 132) because both there and in Jacob, it is already made clear that plural marriage is the exception rather than the rule. But such an explicit statement would also fly in the face of the understanding and practice resulting from 132 which to many early Saints meant, and to many Saints today means, that plural marriage was and is still required for exaltation even though it is not currently practice on earth owing to respect for the laws of the land (O.D.) and I agree that it could be a complicated matter to tidy that up. Perhaps for the saints commanded or allowed to live it, it was necessary to their eternal salvation?

    You said “we still need to consider the possibility that polygamy still is and will remain the law of heaven.” I don’t think so, necessarily, as per Jacob and 132′s acknowlegement of monogamy as the norm or the rule, and polygamy as the exception. Have you read Alma Don Sorenson and Valerie Hudson Cassler’s section on polygamy in Women in Eternity, Women of Zion? They goes even further than “not required” and make the case that it cannot be required in the eternities because God defined polygamy as a sacrifice akin to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (132:50-57), and that the nature of that particular type of sacrifice is that “we are asked by God to make a conscious choice in a situation in which what He requires of us cannot be regarded as a desired goal from all that we know about God’s laws” (p 197) but that it is a test of faith, after which God provides a ram–an escape from that trial or sacrifice. I don’t agree w/ all their arguments or conclusions, but think that this particular point (these two points–on monogamy being the rule, and the nature of this sacrifice making it clear that polygamy is not what is desired long-term) is well-made.

    re: your comment to Julie–since when has “satisfying critics” been the criteria for church magazine content?

    Ben H.–Likewise. Hey, do you read your T&S email?

  46. Lisa B. on July 10, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    One more comment. I am actually kind of glad to realize that church leaders are so hesitant to discuss this and don’t really want to or know how to handle it. It means I’m not so wrong for being so uncomfortable about it myself!

  47. alamojag on July 10, 2005 at 11:00 pm

    After reading all these comments, I find myself surprised that the Church hasn’t already put together a simple, canned explanation of polygamy. Something like a FAQ on the official website, for example. What did they do to requests for information on the subject during the Olympics? The question had to come up.

  48. Wilfried on July 11, 2005 at 12:18 am

    alamojag, there is an official statement on polygamy on the Church website. You get to it through http://www.mormon.org, which is geared towards non-members. It’s perhaps noteworthy that it is treated under the FAQ’s “Social issues”, not “Beliefs and doctrines”, although the second part of the answer acknowledges a historical divine background of plural marriage and links directly to D&C132 and also to Official Declaration 1. It’s a succinct but straightforward answer.

    On the other hand, if your search “polygamy” on http://www.lds.org, you do not get this reference and you’re led to dozens of documents where the topic is marginally mentioned. Yes, indeed, Mormon is better than LDS

  49. Paul on July 11, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Lisa, wouldn’t multiple sealingshave been done away with long ago if what you posit were true?

  50. Lisa B. on July 12, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    Paul- Yes, if there weren’t the complicating factors of serial monogamy as a cultural practice, free will (making it essential that all exalted beings are in marriages of their choosing eternally, and that those who do not want to be in an eternal marriage at all will not be), ascertaining what ancestor’s choices would be and the importance of free will with proxy work as well, and the historical practice of sealing transfer, which already presupposes that even many earthly temple marriages will not be marriages (at least in the same configurations) eternally and that there is much to be “sorted out” on the other side. This includes which sealings are actually of effect eternally, both based on righteousness and willingness of involved parties. It also includes single righteous individuals who do not have the chance to marry in this life. (Though I do not understand why proxy work must be done in the flesh for ancestors if the “sealing” of singles are somehow going to be taken care of post-earth-life. Perhaps during the Millenium?)

    Barring these complications, perhaps the church could have operated on a one eternal sealing only basis, which has been done for most living women in the church with multiple marriages for some time. That just isn’t what happened historically, and for whatever reason. (My belief is because of the social practice of serial monogamy, but it could also be because of exceptional use of polygamy by God for the purposes stated scripturally–increase and trial of the faith of those Saints so instructed.)

  51. Rosalynde Welch on July 12, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Lisa, re: #45: I’ve read some in the Sorensen/Cassler book, but because I was so dissatisfied with the first few chapters (despite my enormous sympathy for their motivation and objectives), I didn’t read the polygamy sections. It sounds to me like they’ve basically cribbed Gene England’s thesis—that is, polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice—and built a similar case against polygamy on that basis. I love Gene, and I love every single one of his valiant essays, but I disagree with some of his assumptions about monogamy.

    Trying to build a purely scriptural case against polygamy, it seems to me, is tricky, since there’s nothing even approaching consistency in the canonized texts.

  52. ESO on July 12, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    Picture this:

    A 35 year old African convert. As is the practice of his community, he had married 3 wives and had children with 2 of them. He met the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a Church whose presence in his country began in 1989, is only in 3 urban centers, and is seen by most in the country as a cult) and gained a testimony. He expresses an interest in baptism and the missionaries are relieved to find that he is legally married to his wife, but when they find there are two more wives living in the rural home, inform the man that he must divorce two wives and be married to only one. The man knows that westerners are not keen on polygamy, the colonists made that clear. He dutifully divorces 2 wives (much to their shame), making him estrained from his community and embaressing his family, in order to be baptized.

    Two months later, he gets his first Ensign (he is working on the BoM, but has only read small sections of the D&C). He finds in it a very positive article about Americans who praticed polygamy and were sanctioned to do so by the same church he just joined. In fact, these were Church leaders!

    What is he to think?

    (no one has told him WHY the Chruch took so long to spread the Gospel in Africa yet, either)

  53. Lisa B. on July 13, 2005 at 11:32 am

    Rosalynde: I know Valerie was a friend of Eugene. The polygamy section is a later chapter, and was not going to be included at all until some (Maybe including Eugene before his death? I know the book has been in process for quite some time) who read the initial manuscript urged them to address it. Where had you encountered his theory on this?

    I’d be interested to hear your opinions of the main content of the book (the authors’ opinions about what the essential gender distinctions are, and their explanation for why they think women do not hold the priesthood in the same way men do) since I haven’t found anyone else with whom to discuss it yet.

  54. Rosalynde Welch on July 13, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    ESO (hi, by the way! Glad you’re reading!)–

    Yeah, it’s a pretty heartbreaking scenario, for the divorced wives and children especially, and the church’s current commitment to the nuclear monogamous family makes for some excruciating ironies. I haven’t the slightest idea what should be done with African (and, eventually, Muslim) polygamy—although it’s hard to imagine the church being able to take any position except the (admittedly difficult) one they’ve adopted. But we can and should do better in educating new members about our history—and Wilfried addresses this above, as well. The flexibility of the new missionary teaching system may allow more of this to happen, and perhaps the new member discussions should also include a brief overview that includes the stickier parts of our history. (As I recall, there was nothing like this in the new member discussions I taught as a missionary.)

    Lisa–As a matter of fact, our own Julie Smith reviewed the book here: http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2115 . I express some of my feelings about the book in the comment thread (be warned, the comments start out a little rough, but eventually some constructive discussion happens, if I recall). Very briefly, their paradigm makes motherhood the moral and spiritual equivalent of priesthood, and this is an equation—no matter how comforting to some women—that I just cannot accept.

  55. Dale on July 14, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    Comment 45 from Lisa Bushman, I offer the following: The pro-polygamist factions that have resulted from teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor and even Wilford Woodruff all stake their claim to fame based on the fact that plural marriage is in fact the law of heaven. Principle Voice of Polygamy (web site) would agree with this stance, whereas Tapestry Against Polygamy is the opposite. Often, members of the Church are uncomfortable abut the whole subject. Men end to think of plural marriage in terms of sex: women in terms of “can I be cherished as 1 wife among others?” Anne Wilde has written a book called, “An Essential For Exaltation: Celestial Plural Marriage Essential for The Hisghest Degree of the Celestial Kingdom” published in 1998 by Pioneer Press in Salt Lake City.

    Personally, I think life in the Celestial Kingdom will be very different that what we imagine. We are only given a very broad idea of the daily practicalities, only enough to want to go there. If plural marriage is indeed a requirement, then I believe that we are then in the same boat as single LDS members, who in psire of their best efforts, never seem to marry. They are told that no blessing will be with held if their attitude is right.

    The same idea as expressed in “7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
    8 Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
    9 For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 137:7 – 9)”

    While many today, are willing to sacrifice their Church membership in order to practice plural marriage, I believe that temple work along with the vicarious ordinances take precident now. So I say polygamy ok, but “wait with me one hour”. The time is not yet. dale

  56. A. Greenwood on July 15, 2005 at 11:43 am

    “Though I do not understand why proxy work must be done in the flesh for ancestors if the “sealing” of singles are somehow going to be taken care of post-earth-life. Perhaps during the Millenium?”

    Yes, during the Millennium, I think. If you think about it, there’s really no reason for a Millennium, unless you’re a Mormon and believe ordinances must be performed on earth and therefore that lots of loose ends need to be cleared up. It was a real testimony to me when I realized that the doctrine of vicarious work for the dead really made sense of the Millennium though no one who’d revealed it or preached it was aware of the fact. Made me feel like there was a higher intelligence operating things.

  57. Ross Geddes on July 15, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Several years ago I heard a great story about Bathsheba Smith. I’ve never seen it in print and can’t vouch for its authenticity, but was told it’s a family story. Whether taken as historical fact or as folklore, I think it says something.

    The story is that Bathsheba and an unmarried granddaughter were present in the tabernacle at General Conference when the Manifesto ending new plural marriages was read and accepted. As she left the meeting she turned to her granddaughter and said, “Thank God you’ll never have to live it.”

  58. Lisa B. on July 18, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    Sorry to have dropped this discussion. I think I agree with your basic conclusion about Valerie’s book, Rosalynde. I disagree with the motherhood and priesthood equation, too. Unless it is motherhood/priestesshood = fatherhood/priesthood.

  59. Lisa B. on July 18, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    Dale- So you’re talking only of polygyny, Dale? I think of polygamy mostly in terms of the problems it poses for chastity/fidelity (ie in terms of sex) rather than in terms of the “will I be cherished” question you assume most women are more worried about. I think this problem exists whether we consider polygyny only, or polyandry as well. The only exception to this would be if we assume that sex is only for procreation only, and not also for the mutual benefit, strength, enjoyment, strength it provides to couples, as has more recently been taught (Holland, Packer, others). I cannot imagine even considering a possible future with multiple (concurrent) spouses without it appealing to baser, rather than more godly, instincts and desires. I cannot imagine men imagining this possible future without it appealing to baser, rather than more godly, instincts and desires as well.

    These days, we consider “any sharing of affection” to be infidelity (Pres Kimball). How could polygamy EVER work with that definition of fidelity in effect?

  60. texasviolinist on August 15, 2005 at 10:10 pm

    How would the Church repudiate plural marriage without repudiating Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? (and Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilfred Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith etc.?) The keys to the sealing ordinance are held by the prophet. Upon revelation he can turn its key in the direction revealed.

    It is our job to listen and obey. Remember that Joseph Smith was martyred by the machinations of members who loved the Book of Mormon but didn’t care for revelation, particularly relating to plural marriage. Let’s not be setting ourselves up as authorities on the limits of revelation and the definition of obedience.

  61. Lisa B. on August 17, 2005 at 9:51 am

    Rather than whether Abraham, Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young would be cast in a human/ not perfect/ not fitting the ideal light, isn’t the more important question whether or not our view of marriage properly represents our eternal goal and what is ideal? If God is monogamous and polygamy was indeed exceptional (as it clearly appears to be), then we need to know that in order to understand and worship and emulate God and godlike behavior properly (a la Lectures on Faith). This seems not an insignificant issue to me, since the whole point of being here is to try to become more godlike.

    The church has repudiated racism. Yes, that undermine’s BY’s racism. A repudiation of polygamy would be more problematic if it were not for the practice of sealing transfers in the early modern church and the idea of some sorting out of marriages in the afterlife.

    Polygamy was a larger social practice in Abraham’s day. Perhaps Sarah simply lacked faith in God’s promise of a son, and the giving of Hagar to Abraham to produce a son was a demonstration of that lack of faith. No wonder Sarah got rid of Hagar and Ishmael down the road. What a painful reminder of her doubt, particularly in light of God’s literal and miraculous fulfilling of the promise through her, menopause notwithstanding.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.