Is There Another Approach?

June 29, 2008 | 81 comments
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So asks Ronan. Here’s my polygamy theory–and it is worth every penny you paid for it:

(1) Joseph Smith was devoted to the idea of restoration, which sparked his belief that polygamy needed to be restored.

(2) God permitted Joseph Smith to restore polygamy.

(3) When the cost of practicing polygamy became too high, it was ended by revelation.

Further thoughts on each of the above:

(1) I think Joseph Smith misunderstood what the OT was teaching about polygamy. It is consistently seen as less-than-ideal in the OT (there’s none in the Garden, it is introduced by Cain’s naughty descendants, it always causes more problems than it solves for those who practice it, etc.). I think the “restoration” of polygamy was as necessary and desirable as the restoration of the monarchy or the rule about mixing linen and wool would have been.

(2) So why then did God permit Joseph Smith to restore polygamy when it didn’t need restoring? For the same reason that God allows me to ask stupid questions when I teach in Church even when I pray beforehand to be guided in my preparation of the lesson.

[Sidenote: I would like to see a lot more work done on understanding the concept of "permitted" as an answer to prayer juxtaposed to its more common cousins of "forbidden" and "required."]

I think God permits a lot of our foolish ideas, whether prophet or lowly Relief Society teacher, because you invade with the army you have, not the one you want. And because we (and those forced to listen to us) just might grow from the experience.

And I think that that is why God permitted polygamy (even though I don’t think God would have required its restoration). As we all know, polygamy was a huge test to nineteenth century saints, and I don’t know that it has lessened all that much for some people (particularly women people) who think about the issue today. God is still using polygamy to test and try us (the LDS feminists, the FLDS, the investigators, etc.).

The thing is: If every doctrine and practice and historical aspect of the church is easy and obvious and understandable and justifiable, where would your test of faith come from? You need a Relief Society teacher wasting valuable class time asking stupid questions in order to counterbalance your warm fuzzy from sacrament meeting, else how will your commitment to return to church next week be tried?

How do I explain angels with drawn swords? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe once it is the practice of the church, it is the practice of the church, and obedience is required. Maybe that story became a little . . . overwrought . . . in the retelling.

Which makes this a good time to point out that as near as I can tell, there is nothing even close to (1) an objective source on anything related to polygamy and (2) an objective interpreter on anything related to polygamy. Everyone in the 19th century thought it was either required to get into heaven or a one-way ticket to hell. (And I don’t know that any historian wouldn’t fit into one of those groups, even if their conception of “hell” is less theological and more sociological.)

I think there is a case to be made that polygamy is something of a black hole: I’m not so naive to think that perfect objectivity is ever possible for a historian (or a historical source), but 19th century LDS polygamy really takes the cake when it comes to these things; it’s like your own private doctrinal rashomon!

(3) But when the cost of practicing polygamy became–well, you know what it became at the end of the 19th century–then God put the kibosh on it. I think God gives us (and the prophets) an awful lot of leeway in the exercise of our callings, but draws the line at those things that would completely destroy the church.

It follows from all this that I don’t expect polygamy to be practiced in the eternities by those who didn’t practice it before. (Although I don’t have easy answers for the “loose ends,” including your g-g-grandmother who was Heber’s fourth wife. I trust God to work it out in a way all relevant parties are OK with, though.) But, in general, this theory of polygamy makes sense of all of the major data points for me without making me want to bash my head into the wall.

_____________________________

I made all of this up myself; it isn’t the official stance of the church and I can’t back it up with a laundry list of GA quotes. (And for those reasons I’d never teach it in a church class.) And I’m open to other theories. But I’ve yet to encounter another ‘theory of polygamy’ that puts together all of the pieces in a way that is theologically coherent (to me, anyway). I think my theory might work for blacks and the priesthood and anything else you don’t like, too.

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81 Responses to Is There Another Approach?

  1. E on June 29, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Sounds good to me, Julie. All in favor of adopting Julie’s proposed folk doctrine please manifest it. (I’m raising my hand).

  2. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    LOL, E!

    Thank you for taking my post in the spirit in which it was intended.

  3. DavidH on June 29, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    You can add my vote!

  4. Russell Arben Fox on June 29, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I think God permits a lot of our foolish ideas, whether prophet or lowly Relief Society teacher, because you invade with the army you have, not the one you want.

    Wisely and wittily said, Julie. Thanks for putting this up; it’s good food for thought. (FWIW, I sometimes find myself leaning in the direction of this theory for pretty much every doctrine Smith introduced post-Kirtland.)

  5. Jettboy on June 29, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    ” I think Joseph Smith misunderstood what the OT was teaching about polygamy. It is consistently seen as less-than-ideal in the OT”

    Although polygamy has always been portrayed as less than ideal in practice in the OT, the truth of the matter is that the Patriarchs in the OT were mostly polygamous (the Twelve Tribes of Israel were a polygamous family and Moses had more than one wife). I think those who are against polygamy on religious grounds misunderstand Joseph Smith and in fact minunderstand the Abrahamic Covenant. In fact, there were times when prophets of the OT were commanded to take another wife. As another post a few weeks back said, the New Testament doesn’t exactly have a consistantly positive postion on marriage; therefore, you could argue marriage in less-than-ideal. The Catholics, after all, have taken that position.

    I am tired of Latter-day Saints making up excuses as to why Polygamy was “allowed.” It wasn’t “allowed,” it was commanded without ambiguity! What gets me even more upset are those Latter-day Saints who dismiss the polygamy in the same way anti-Mormons do; as a lascivious sexual excuse made by The Prophet. The revelations on polygamy make it very clear why it was revealed. Marriage to a single man and woman is the ideal, but polygamy is a special dispensation for the development of an Abrahamic legacy.

  6. Jacob J on June 29, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Julie,

    Actual question: On the backend, why doesn’t your theory follow the same logic as at the front end of the theory and propose that when polygamy became troublesome at the end of the 19th century Wilford Woodruff decided to get rid of it and God allowed it. Why are you so ready to accept that it was God that put the kibosh on it?

  7. Paula on June 29, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    The problem is that polygamy was much more painful for many people (and really bad for the church) than a RS teacher saying stupid things in class. And, if marriage between ” a man and a woman” is so important, why would God allow JS to lead the church so far astray?

  8. StillConfused on June 29, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    The best explanation that I have heard for LDS polygamy comes from my extremely agnostic sister. She just looked at the times (women couldn’t vote, sometimes couldn’t even own real estate, large families made your labor pools). To her it made total sense based on the times.

  9. Jacob J on June 29, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    StillConfused,

    Sadly for that theory, it didn’t make total sense to the people who actually lived during those times and I would consider them to be more expert in what made sense in those times than we are.

  10. Nitsav on June 29, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    “Everyone in the 19th century thought it was either required to get into heaven..”

    One had to believe in “the principle” as a revealed tenet, but not necessarily live it.

    Nice formulation. (Raises hand.)

  11. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Jacob J, good question. Answer: because I hadn’t thought of it. Now that you mention it, I think it is as reasonable a possibility as what I proposed.

    Paula, I agree that there is certainly a difference of magnitude, but I think the principle is the same. If you are going to allow prophets to make (permissible) mistakes in their callings, I think that pretty much by definition, those are going to be bigger (permissible) mistakes than one lame RS teacher could ever make.

    StillConfused, your sister’s argument made me think of that paper awhile back that showed that southern slaves had better lives (defined as: health, nutrition, death rates, etc.) than poor northern whites. It might be true for what it is, but it doesn’t change the fact that most people wouldn’t choose slavery for a free meal and most women wouldn’t choose polygamy for some help around the house.

  12. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Nitsav, thanks for the clarification. You are, of course, right.

  13. Eric James Stone on June 29, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    To me, the Book of Mormon explanation of polygamy seems to fit what happened during the early history of the Church.

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/jacob/2/27-30

    God commanded polygamy for the purpose of raising up a people unto him, and when polygamy no longer served that purpose, he forbade it.

  14. Lynnette on June 29, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Julie. I particularly appreciate your point about God working with the people he has, with all of our craziness. And I like the idea that polygamy could be attributed to Joseph Smith’s religious enthusiasm–it gives it a human origin without turning Joseph Smith into a lust-crazed villain.

    I am curious, though–how would you fit D&C 132 into this?

  15. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Lynette, I just finished reading your #240 at BCC so I can guess why you are asking that question. I agree completely with what you wrote:

    “As unsettling as I find the practice of polygamy itself, what I find most disturbing about this section is the language used to describe women. I don’t find the possibility that God in fact commanded polygamy nearly as disturbing as the possibility that God sees women as prizes to be awarded to righteous men.”

    I think that even if polygamy was the express command of God (and Eric James Stone makes a good case), some of the language in D & C 132 still cannot be squared against the vast bulk of what the scriptures (not to mention modern prophets) teach about women and therefore we need to see that language as reflective of Joseph’s human weakness. (Or as part of the ‘black hole’ problem–what is our best guess as to the number of years between when the revelation was given and when it was recorded? That seems to me the easiest venue for human weakness to creep into.)

    I am of the opinion that what we call scripture runs the spectrum of “levels” of inspiration and that that doesn’t apply just to entire books or sections but to individual chunks. I think that it is possible to find sublime statements of core eternal truths smushed right up against the prophet’s best guess at to what to say next.

    That said, I don’t think the language is as expressly misogynistic as it sounds to our ears, but rather reflects his ideas about dynastic linkage and an overall context of beliefs about marriage that have little to do with our notions of romantic love. That doesn’t do much to get the sting out though, does it?

  16. Clair on June 29, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Brigham Young said something to the effect of plural marriage and the law of consecration being the foundation or pillars of the Kingdom of God. I believe him. I can sometimes imagine that being the case, in a kingdom of celestial beings. To me, they are related and interdependent.

    But we are not celestial beings. Both principles were established on earth, both ran their course, and both were withdrawn, being replaced by types in the form of familial marriage and tithing. Both have their unworthy counterfeits, IMO, in the dominating practices of fundamentalism. Even in mainstream Mormonism, many or most adherents failed in their application.

    I think both eventual celestial relationships are a realization of the Lord’s prayer in John 17, that the saints may become one, even as the Father and the Son are one. That is a sealing, or a bond as Joseph often said. Is not the unity of the Father and Son, and the love of Christ for his church presented as a model for familial marriage? (I can’t place the physical intimacy of marriage within this framework, so I don’t try.)

    The marriage union, I believe, is both a celestial principle and a type of a greater principle. The marriage of a man and a woman, and the ensuing familial love, is a type and a foretaste of the possible celestial union in love of God’s family, with each being sealed in marriage to all, and all to each. It might be that the order in which we are sealed will eventually be seen as irrelevant – starting with husband and wife and mortal children, but extending to all. Experiencing anything less than full familial/marriage love among all of God’s children strikes me as incomplete and less than Eternal.

    Compared to that, it doesn’t surprise me that telestial beings didn’t or can’t grasp it and do it right.

  17. BrianJ on June 29, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    “raise up seed”

    Talmage wrote an interesting bit on that. He argues that fertility was no higher or lower due to polygamy and that there was no “surplus of women” in the Church. He concludes that there is no basis for thinking that polygamy was commanded in order to raise up seed (unless one admits that the goal was never achieved).

  18. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    BrianJ, another possibility is that the emphasis should be on the words “unto me” and that polygamy did indeed “raise up seed unto me” by creating a cohesive, commited bunch of saints because of their shared affliction and shared identity. I actually think this idea fits into my theory well: Joseph’s (permissible) mistake may have been permissible precisely because it would end in those good results.

  19. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Clair, the problem that I have with the idea that eventually we’ll all be sealed to each other when we’re good enough is that it seems to gut the idea of sealings: if we’re going to end up as one big happy human family anyway, then what was the point of all of these sealings and “forever families”? We wouldn’t look any different from the generic Christian view of heavenly relationships.

  20. Sally on June 29, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    The reasons you stated just don’t ring true to me. There are so many other things in the OT that he didn’t feel a need to restore (stoning for adultery for example) – he just singled out polygamy in restoring all things? And I agree that the prophet can make mistakes, but so many correct principles were restored clearly to JS through visions and visitations. I can’t see the Lord allowing such a huge mistake (if that is what it was) causing heartbreak to so many faithful members and difficulties to the church as a whole, just to give him a little leeway in finding his way.

  21. Jim Donaldson on June 29, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I agree with Julie M (also raises hand). It’s a good formulation. I also agree with Brian (#18) about ‘unto me’ being more important than ‘seed.’

    Other related thoughts: Whether commanded or permitted, polygamy was a bonding experience for us not unlike the Soviet defense of Leningrad. Out of it came a very tough and committed people, something that was likely needed to separate us from the world and get the kingdom built. I also think that the blacks and the priesthood issue served a similar function for later generations. Both were hard to explain and impossible to justify, but we followed by faith, some of us quietly, others not so. Quiet has proven better. I think that these kinds of things keep us humble. Something has to. We can be pretty insufferably proud even with polygamy and racism hanging out in the alley nearby, but these near horrors keep us, at least many of us, from going over the top. Pride could easily be the death of us, and this is one of the Lord’s ways of keeping us from destroying ourselves with it.

    The long term history of chosen peoples is spotty at best.

  22. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Sally, I encourage your doubts because no one should believe anything I say. I did want to correct one thing: you wrote, “just to give him a little leeway in finding his way.”

    I don’t believe that at all. The point wasn’t Joseph’s development; the point was the effect that polygamy had on the saints then and on the saints now; the point was to see how the members would respond to the heartbreak and difficulties that you mention.

  23. Zanthor on June 29, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    It seems to me that most people want to imagine a God that comports with their values rather than find out 1) whether God actually exists and then 2) what exactly is God’s character.

    For this reason, folks raised in a society constructed of modern mores tend to think “eternal marriage = great! (and therefore believable) but polygamy = awful! (and therefore unbelievable). Many people do this without stopping to realize that both polygamy and eternal families were totally bizarre ideas to 19th Century Americans (anybody read the autobiography of Parley P. Pratt).

    But here’s the rub: the revelation on “eternal marriage” and the revelation on polygamy are one and the same (D&C 132). Using the logic of some comments here (in reverse), one could argue that Joseph was correct about polygamy but allowed his own personal opinions to dictate all that nicey nice stuff about us all being together forever. In fact, the Bible itself has many evidences of plural marriage but none of eternal families. Furthermore, if you take the research of Ed Firmage, you will find that monogamy is the exception to the rule throughout history and its us moderns who are the are doing things different. I wonder– will we find ourselves getting to the pearly gates with millions of forbears who are hunky dory about polygamy and it’s just us who thinks the Celestial Kingdom is a black hole? I don’t know. (But for those who are freaked out by that thought, I would remind them that even though polygamy is normal in human relationships historically, it is Joseph’s own revelation—Jacob 2– that says it’s the exception in the Lord’s Kingdom).

    I accept the Book of Mormon’s explanation for Polygamy. Jacob 2 was translated by Joseph Smith well before the practice was started or revealed, and helps remind us that if the Saints had chosen to disobey either the starting or stopping of polygamy, the Church may have not survived. In fact, I find it telling that many (perhaps more?) Saints found their way out of true Mormonism due to their attachment to polygamy rather than by their revulsion to it.

    Was polygamy a test? Absolutely! But was it the type of trial born of haranguing the Lord such as in the situation of Martin Harris and the 116 pages? The historical record indicates this was clearly not the case. In fact, the beginning lines of Section 132 are telling: “Therefore, aprepare thy heart to receive and bobey the instructions which I am about to give unto you…”

    If there is one thing that all prophets testify to, it’s that the Lord is at the helm of his Church. Perhaps it is fitting that it was President Woodruff revealed that the Lord would take the prophet out of his place if he led the people astray and that doing so was not in the program (see comments to Official Declaration 1). Why is it that we are so eager to apply that to President Woodruff but not Joseph Smith? This issue is not about the color of manuals or even if Main Street SLC should have been turned into a plaza. It is a doctrine central to Mormonism. Just as Mormonism rises or falls with Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith rises or falls with the revelation on eternal marriage.

    I cannot and will not chalk up one of Mormonism’s most fundamental doctrines—eternal families— to the whims or mistakes of one prophet.

  24. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    “Just as Mormonism rises or falls with Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith rises or falls with the revelation on eternal marriage.”

    Zanthor, I hope you’ll read Ronan’s comment #225 at BCC about this kind of thinking.

  25. Mark IV on June 29, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Even if we choose to think that polygamy was God’s will for the church and not a mistake on Joseph’s part, we are nonetheless confronted with the mess that was made of it’s implementation. The argument that it was instituted for the purpose of raising righteous posterity is weakened substantially when we realize that for the first 10-15 years (until after Joseph’s death), women were having themselves sealed to the prophet instead of to their husbands, even though their husbands were church members in good standing. There are lots of women whose formal names are something something Smith Young, of whom Eliza R. is maybe the most well-known. The idea for both men and women was to try to seal yourself to the most righteous person you could think of so you could be part of their family in the next life. Brigham Young finally put an end to this practice.

    We think of Brigham and Heber C. with their dozens of wives as the original instantiation of polygamy. It wasn’t. The original practice was even stranger and harder to justify, assuming that were even possible.

  26. Blain on June 29, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    17 — “Raising up a seed” doesn’t necessarily mean producing more children in the absolute. It was about raising up more children in certain blood lines, which were traced back to royal lines, which were traced back to the great patriarchs. That was the first great Mormon interest in genealogy.

    My problem with this proposal is the convenience of having the prophets being wrong when they teach things that are unpopular or with which we disagree, but we’ll sustain them when they agree with us. It’s hard to reconcile when God demands things of us which the world ridicules, and with which we aren’t comfortable. They might not even make sense to us. But God’s wisdom doesn’t have to pass the muster of making sense to us or the world. There is no parable where the Kingdom of God is likened to American Idol, where we call in to support the doctrines we think are the best, and then ignore the rest.

    And I understand that we’re all buffet Mormons. That’s not the point I’m making here. I’m not saying that everybody has to agree with me, or do things my way. We get to choose what we believe and what we do, but we don’t have the luxury of deciding for God what is right and wrong. When we find ourselves disagreeing with God, we need to work humbly toward a better understanding of his will and how we can better follow it. The hubris in expecting it to work the other way around annoys me to no end.

    My understanding was that Joseph really was commanded to do what he said he was commanded to do. I don’t expect he had a perfect understanding of that, but I don’t think he was as wrong you’ve portrayed here. I believe the practice was correct, although it was not carried out correctly in all situations. It was not intended to be easy, and hard things aren’t always done well. I believe that it was withdrawn in a process related to a need for changes in the relationship between the Church, and because it was drifting in a direction of harem-building as older men married younger women. The more people tried to run it to fit their own desires, rather than God’s intentions, the more it became what people dislike about it.

  27. djinn on June 29, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    But this sidesteps the entire portion of the practice that is so distasteful to so many of us; didn’t the woman have some say? Didn’t we exist as something other than, uh, possessions?

  28. Zanthor on June 29, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Julie,

    I am fine with Ronan’s comment at BCC (#225) to the degree that it comports with what Elder Eyring said, that “every word strengthens or weakens faith”. In other words, it is inadvisable to argue points such as polygamy to the degree that they cause investigators or people in Gospel Essentials class to ditch all aspects of the gospel. Such actions would clearly be counteractive to nurturing the “seed” that Alma spoke of. On the other hand, being unwilling to testify of a doctrine one feels to be true and that is a major point of our enemies can damage young testimonies as well.

    I surmise that Ronan does not fall into the category of the wavering investigator or Gospel Essentials neophyte–nor do most of the posters on this blog and BCC. I realize that some people may have compartmentalized this issue to the degree that they will leave the Church if they force themselves to think about. And I do agree that everyone should be in church on Sunday and everyone should be keeping the Ten Commandments, even if they do not understand or even believe in polygamy.

    However, readers of these blogs tend to be intellectual folk who either accept Mormonism in spite of their knowledgeable (and even heterodox) views of Mormonism. In defense of both free speech as well as the notion that people of strong minds are not going to run crying to the bishop to have their names removed as the result of my or anyone’s else’s comments in a forum like this, I believe that my comments are appropriate and are a tenable viewpoint within mainstream Mormonism. And not just that, they actually, they are the view of mainstream Mormonism.

    Unlike the D&C section on the proper role of Governments or John Taylor’s eulogy to Joseph Smith, Section 132 is given in the Lord’s voice to Joseph. Furthermore, the entire Church (by common consent has accepted it as cannon. I’ll go even further to point out that the Church’s current website defends polygamy and Elder Oaks has given credence to it in his recent speech “Timing” (see http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=684).

    I am fine with and welcoming to all Mormons whether they agree with Section 132 and even those who don’t know it exists. But in the appropriate forum, I will testify of its truthfulness. I still believe that its falsity (and I don’t for one moment believe that it is false) would be a massive blow to Mormonism.

    With respect to Mark IV’s comments. I realize that the notions of “sealing” have grown with succeeding prophets (it was President Woodruff who ended the practice of sealing individuals to prophets). But as for the practice of polygamy per se, Jacob 2 and later statements by prophets (as well as practices anciently—when a restoration was not needed) give credence to the practice of plural marriage as a practice both occasional sanctioned and directly commanded by the Lord. ( I for one do not know that Abraham was actually sealed to all his wives and concubines.)

    It is difficult to have such verbatim revelations and say that Joseph was simply “seeing through a glass darkly”.

  29. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Blain writes, “My problem with this proposal is the convenience of having the prophets being wrong when they teach things that are unpopular or with which we disagree, but we’ll sustain them when they agree with us.”

    Nothing in what I’ve proposed suggests that we are excused from following the prophet if we decide that he’s wrong. I do think that Pres. Monson could preach something that is right or wrong and the Spirit might convince me NOT to do it for some reason, but in general, we are bound to follow the prophet even if we think he’s out on a limb.

    Blain, I don’t think anyone has suggested that God was wrong. I’m assuming that we all believe in prophet fallibility here, though, so whether the prophet could have been making a (permissible) mistake seems a fair question, but one entirely different from whether God was wrong.

    djinn, what is the “this” to which you refer?

  30. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    “It is difficult to have such verbatim revelations and say that Joseph was simply “seeing through a glass darkly”.”

    What does this mean? Verbatim of what? The fact that a revelation is given in the Lord’s own voice is not evidence that every word in it is perfect. There is this great Joseph Smith quote:

    “Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen and ink;—and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”

    That doesn’t sound to me like someone who thinks that there is such a thing as a “verbatim” revelation.

  31. rmarshan on June 29, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Random thought: If God brings back polygamy today, I’m totally fine with it. My husband is the one who dislike the idea.

  32. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Blain, I meant to say that I really like the last paragraph in your #26, and I find it somewhat likely that the kernel idea of polygamy could have been commanded but that the execution (including some of the language in 132) reflected some of the worst weaknesses of the men and women involved. However, I don’t necessarily see it starting “pure” and becoming “sullied” over time, since some of the most disturbing aspects of 19c polygamy (including polyandry and misleading spouses about other spouses) seem to have been there from the beginning; of course, this is all complicated by the ‘black hole of historical sources’ problem.

  33. Bob on June 29, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    #27: If you want to see a strong woman in charge, go to my G/Grandmother’s web site: Maria Louisa Pickett. (sorry no link).
    She had three husbands + six kids. No one told her what to do. Her mother was murdered, read the story and come to your own conclusion. One of her sons was Waldemar Pickett Reid who taught 40 years at UoU.

  34. Clair on June 29, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Julie (19), I agree that familial marriage is something special and eternal. But in fact, we are all sealed to each other through our intersecting ancestors and descendants. I don’t see anything approaching that relationship in generic Christianity, in which the primary/only relationship is between the individual and Christ. There is no fulfillment there of Elijah’s promise of hearts turning, etc.

    The language of John 17 seems transcendent – comparing the relationship among the saints to that between the Father and the Son. I am looking for a place for that in our eternal families beliefs. Sometimes we can become too family-centric, as odd as that may sound.

  35. djinn on June 29, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    You should change professions. Toot sweet. You’r argument boils down to — it doesn’t make sense, so, uh…. as I have no ancestor stories I have to deal with, tough cookies. Suck it up. You just use slightly more words to make the point. I’m continually amazed by your intelligence, but here… your argument could be used to justify anything at all. Examples not included; use your imagination, peeps.

  36. Julie M. Smith on June 29, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Clair, I agree with you that we can be too family-centric. At the same time, I am sealed to my husband in a way that I’m not to my nieces, let alone random other people. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t shoot for the unity of John 17, but at some point my sealing to my husband doesn’t mean anything if our relationship isn’t any different than my relationship to any random person.

  37. Matt W. on June 29, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Interesting, but how do you deal with women and men being sealed post mortally to multiple spouses in the temple today?

    I sometimes speculate that our understanding of sexuality and reproduction denies us our ability to understand post-mortal relationships. I like to think of it all as being more in line with the concept of interlinking all of is in the most natural form possible. The Law of Adoption and the Law of Polygamy went away around the same time, and were replaced with a different (better, I think) order. It’s all about giving everyone an opportunity to be linked in.

  38. Matt W. on June 29, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Interesting, but how do you deal with women and men being sealed post mortally to multiple spouses in the temple today?

    I sometimes speculate that our understanding of sexuality and reproduction denies us our ability to understand post-mortal relationships. I like to think of it all as being more in line with the concept of interlinking all of is in the most natural form possible. The Law of Adoption and the Law of Polygamy went away around the same time, and were replaced with a different (better, I think) order. It’s all about giving everyone an opportunity to be linked in.

  39. Bob on June 29, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    It seems there is a wish to seal off Polygamy with a yellow tape and call it a ’19th C. Crime Scene’.
    Yet it echoes today in Mormon thoughts on marriage, family, sex/SEX, the afterlife, and in those women on our TV (FLDS), who dress way too much like they are still in the 19th C.

  40. Ray on June 29, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    To say this on the correct thread:

    I believe our view of this is colored greatly by our inability to conceive of any other structure for marriage than one that includes a sexual component. I do not believe in a polygamy in the hereafter that includes sexual relationships as we know them in the here and now; I have no problem believing in a polygamy in the hereafter that includes creating and raising and nurturing spirit children – since we have absolutely no idea in any of our canonized scriptures or prophetic pronouncements about how that will be accomplished or what that means in practical terms. We have no clue what it means to take “intelligences” and turn them into “spirit children”. Remove our sexual assumptions, and what does it mean to be sealed and be eternal parents? We really have no information whatsoever, so we also have no idea whatsoever what monogamy and polygamy mean in that realm. All I know is that I and my wife will function unitedly “as one”. Since I also can see that in quorum presidencies and other groups, I can envision it happening in some kind of “communal sealing structure”.

    My approach – simplified greatly for this forum? Joseph was a prophet; he felt that polygamy was commanded for his people in his time; he implemented it as he thought it was supposed to be practiced – in the way that he felt best approximated the eternal principle; it was changed under Brigham to be what he felt was appropriate for his people in his time; we no longer practice it in our time; we have no idea how it will turn out in a future time. The summary:

    I have no clue – and I’m fine with that.

  41. Jacob F on June 29, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Re: Jim Donaldson, #21

    I agree with you. Has anyone done a study on how many descendants the 19th Century apostles who practiced plural marriage have, and then compared it to an estimate of how many they would have had they practiced it? Now expand the population to include 19th Century bishops and stake presidents. I am sure polygamy has had a massive impact on the maturity of the present-day church membership.

    Polygamy, Blacks and the Priesthood — these are like our church’s “thorn in the flesh”; they ought to keep us humble. I wonder if we currently accept anything that will become a thorn in the flesh for future generations?

  42. Jami on June 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

    When it comes to polygamy, I have no answers. In a lot of ways I feel like I am trying to put together a puzzle that is missing a bunch of pieces. It’s just not working. I’ve tried shoving misfits together. I’ve tried just not noticing the huge holes in the image. I’ve tried looking at other people’s trimming and gluing of the pieces. Not working. More pieces required.

    All I know is that Joseph is a prophet. He didn’t fall. I have no testimony of polygamy, but I do have one of Joseph. And that’s just going to have to do for now.

  43. Laura Dulin on June 30, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Hi Julie, Just wondering how you make sense of or take into account the claims and testimonies offered by other early LDS in addition to Joseph of recieving similar revelatory experiences to enter into plural marriage reportedly often recieved in the most intense personal divine communications that this was God\’s will for them. From my limited understanding of CHurch History, we don\’t have record of anything comparable to these in relation to the ban of blacks and the priesthood.

    Thank you for offering your theory.

  44. Blake on June 30, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Julie: So what makes polygamy different than Section 76 or anything you just don’t like? God allowed Joseph to believe falsehoods all around and he didn’t smite him. But how is that really conducive to believing that anything that Joseph Smith was from God? It seems that Russell’s playful idea that anything past Kirtland was just Joseph’s uncontrollable nonsense that we can reject if we choose plays into the notion that Joseph was just a fallen prophet. Why accept anything that Joseph said? Could God ever issue a test of faith on the view you adopt? How is what comes from God different from just equating revelation with what happens to agree with your sensibilities?

  45. Mahonri on June 30, 2008 at 3:13 am

    As there was a question regarding the authenticity of the \”angel with a drawn sword\” story … At least ten separate witnesses recollect Joseph telling them about it, and their accounts agree on most of the major points. Here is a pretty comprehensive compilation of quotes –

    http://straighteningthecrooked.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/the-angel-with-the-drawn-sword/

    Make of it what you will.

  46. Mark D. on June 30, 2008 at 5:12 am

    Blake,

    That is a relatively weak slippery slope argument. Surely you know, for example, that Joseph Smith made pervasive and significant edits between revelations as recorded in the Book of Commandments and the same sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. That is consistent with a sense of continuing revelation and deepening understanding.

    I agree that it is unfortunate whenever portions of the canon are perhaps rightly suspected to be non-canonical, but the instances where this is likely to be the case are numerous. Given the scientific evidence, for example, how can anyone jointly affirm that Adam and Eve lived approximately six thousand years ago and are the lineal ancestors of all humans on the planet? And unfortunately, the internal coherence of the garden account is even worse.

    Ultimately the test of any precept for any serious believer is not rational alone, but also confessional, fideistic, and to some degree confirmed by inspiration. Not quite the same as just believing the stuff you agree with.

    Of course, even if there are problems in D&C 132 (which I suspect), I agree that the position that D&C 132 is uninspired from start to finish is not consistent with any serious sense of Joseph Smith as a non-fallen prophet. The first third or so must be inspired or Joseph Smith is not much of a prophet at all.

  47. Blake on June 30, 2008 at 6:00 am

    Mark: I’m not suggesting a fundamentalist reading of D&C 132 — but questioning the view that it wasn’t inspired from the beginning as Julie and Ronan have not merely suggested, but argued. So I am asking what the criteria are for making any distinction between what they accept as scripture and inspired and what they don’t. It seems to boil down to “I don’t like it” or “it offends my cultural and/or moral sensibilities.” Well, couldn’t the same argument be made to reject virtually anything?

  48. AaronK on June 30, 2008 at 8:40 am

    I prefer not to look too closely at this issue. I am descended from a polygamous great-grandfather. My great-grandmother was the second wife. He was in his 40s and already had a wife and family. She was not even 14. I have great difficulty seeing anything Godly in that.

  49. Seth R. on June 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

    You know, the only reason polygamy is really distasteful to most people is their own insecurities about their own loving relationships.

    “What if he thinks she’s more sexy than me?”

    “He always goes to her whenever he has a problem he can’t figure out.”

    “He just seems so much more cheerful when he’s with her than with me.”

    That’s powerful medicine, and I think that it’s the main reason why polygamy – the kind of polygamy that doesn’t involve robbing the cradle and cult-like isolation – feels so toxic to people today. “I could never share my husband!” And of course, the same thing applies whether it’s polyandry or polygyny (both of which are included in the definition of “polygamy”).

    But what about the eternities? What happens when we are perfected in God’s presence and united in love? Will the same scruples and insecurities apply? I have a hard time believing that they will.

    I was reading Blake Ostler’s description of the Holy Trinity as an “indwelling” of three distinct beings in perfect love. They are, in essence, so united as to inhabit each other’s heads. They share each other’s thoughts and desires. They act as one.

    So, question for y’all…. Do you think Heavenly Mother is jealous of Heavenly Father’s relationship with Jesus? Or perhaps She too shares that “indwelling of love.” I think She does. How does this alter the equation?

    Point is, we don’t really comprehend what love is going to be when we don’t have all the mortal baggage of living in a fallen world.

    My wife and I have almost zero problems with the idea of celestial polygamy. Polyandry, polygyny… doesn’t matter. It’s not an issue to us. I also don’t have a problem with mortal polygamy when the people involved are emotionally constituted to do it right – which some men and women actually are, by the way. I watched that family featured on Part 2 of PBS’s documentary on Mormonism and had to ask myself – really, what’s wrong with that? They look happy, what’s the problem?

    And when it comes to widows, or widowers who remarry, I think the idea that they can remain sealed to both of the men or women that they love is something unique and beautiful about our religion. Why do we allow insecurity and fear to poison our love? Perhaps in mortality it’s unavoidable, but why do so many otherwise open-minded young Mormons still insist on nurturing this particular fearfulness into the eternities?

    The mortal implementation of polygamy in America has been something of a mess. But the impulse behind it is actually quite beautiful.

    It says that there is room in the human heart for more than one person.

    And yes, I do think it came from heaven, and not just Joseph’s own misguided desires.

  50. Dan on June 30, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Julie,

    (2) So why then did God permit Joseph Smith to restore polygamy when it didn’t need restoring? For the same reason that God allows me to ask stupid questions when I teach in Church even when I pray beforehand to be guided in my preparation of the lesson.

    I don’t know if anyone else has brought this up yet, but your point is right on target. The Lord allowed Joseph Smith to give away the 126 pages to Martin Harris knowing full well that Martin was going to lose it. I mean we’re talking about the Lord letting his children lose one of the most important manuscripts in the history of the world!!! Just to give Joseph Smith a lesson! Sheesh! I don’t think that I could have that amount of love and patience. It really gives us a deeper glimpse into the amount of trust the Lord gives us to learn for ourselves.

  51. Gerald Smith on June 30, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Julie,
    While I think there is some merit to your idea, I actually agree more with Clair. For Joseph Smith, sealings meant tying people to whoever would most likely be able to be Celestial. Joseph wasn’t so much into a man being sealed to his spouse, as he was people being sealed to those likely to be Celestial. In this manner, both Joseph and Brigham had many men and women sealed to them, even those civilly married to others.
    Polygamy’s focus, especially for Joseph, was to seal people to the household of faith, and to God. Only later, after Brigham Young’s death, were members encouraged NOT to seal their daughters to Joseph and Brigham, but to their own spouses. It was at that time that the focus on familial relations began to change, to what we now view as the nuclear Mormon family.
    So, while I do not believe polygamy is required for exaltation, I do believe that it was imposed on us because Joseph asked the question. The Lord needed a way to test his people AND to begin tying together a Celestial family, and polygamy was the method chosen. I do not believe Joseph wanted to initiate polygamy, as history suggests he was very reticent at first. However, it was, as you suggest, the trial God wished to put in place for a time, to develop an obedient people. Word of Wisdom came about in the same manner, with an innocuous question being asked, and suddenly there is a requirement placed upon the saints.

  52. Zanthor on June 30, 2008 at 11:07 am

    “What does this mean? Verbatim of what?”
    [and]
    “’Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen and ink;—and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”

    Good point. I should not have used the word “verbatim” (see also the commenter who noted the edits to the BofC (D&C) as well).
    However, I do not view the above quote of JS as applying to the core of doctrines and practices. If that were the case, the person who loves liquor or tobacco might say that the WoW was just Joseph trying to placate Emma or that when Jesus said “let the dead bury their dead” that that was just too harsh so it must have meant “let the living first bury their dead”. One could also argue that any message from God was bound to be garbled, so that maybe Moses got the Ten Commandments in reverse.
    As for the poetry and deep feeling of scripture—I agree—human words just can’t do our deepest feelings justice, and they are bound to be an imperfect translation of God’s language. But as JS said in the Lectures on Faith, we need to have knowledge that we are pursuing God’s will. I think that the revelations of the D&C are clear enough and that God is plenty capable of communicating his will to his children. While I will concede what I feel a theoretical point (that God expects us to follow the prophet even if he were “wrong”), I believe that on these major issues, he (the prophet) has not been wrong.

  53. Zanthor on June 30, 2008 at 11:10 am

    …speaking of “scattered and imperfect langauge”…I have no idea why half of that was italicized. :)

  54. Howard on June 30, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Seth R. 49 brings up an excellent point.

    Mortal life introduces the problem of scarcity, infinite human needs and wants, in a world of finite resources.

  55. Adam Greenwood on June 30, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I accept the argument that for liturgical, aesthetic, dramatic, and ritual reasons restoration had to happen, including restoration of polygamy. I don’t see a lot of daylight between your position that Joseph Smith made it up and Ronan’s that Joseph Smith sinned in making it up. I want a refund.

  56. Julie M. Smith on June 30, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Adam, check your paypal account.

    And I’d like to see you expand your thoughts on “liturgical, aesthetic, dramatic, and ritual reasons” because I’m not clear on what you mean. People usually stick with theological, sociological, and demographic. :)

  57. Blain on June 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    29 — But I wasn’t talking about whether or not we choose to follow a prophet we disagree with. I was talking about a different kind of know-better, where we decide that we are right and he is wrong, whether or not we condescend to follow his false direction. I find that problematic. Accepting prophetic fallability covers things like Pres. Monson’s statement that Joseph was arrested and taken to Carthage on trumped up charges, not something like ” just pretended that God demanded I get the top leaders of the Church involved in plural marriage, along with myself, and now I’m in the jail I’m going to be killed in. Whoops!”

    There’s no place where the doctrine is disputed by succeeding prophets, and our practice today fails to refute it in the places it could, even when the practice has been phased out at prophetic insistence, leaving no “evidence” to support your notion that Joseph made this up on his own.

    32 — Then I think we’re in ground where we can find agreement. I wouldn’t hold out that Nauvoo-era plural marriage was “pure,” but that it was more regulated than later Utah-era plural marriage was, even though the former was quirkier than the latter. And, yes, the lack of documents does make historical analysis difficult.

    I don’t mind looking at people of all times and places as being fallible beings that frequently do stupid things, but I do mind looking at people of other times and places with an air of superiority, and I’m finding that in this discussion. They didn’t know how to do plural marriage correctly, and had those quaint primitive ideas about men and women that we, with our superior approach, know to be incorrect because they disagree with what we want to believe. Being later on the scene doesn’t make us smarter or better, and I don’t think we should be so certain that we really understand what it was that they saw when they looked at the same things we look at now. Especially when our view hasn’t had the benefit of additional revelation via prophets to give us better information than our predecessors.

  58. Ray on June 30, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Charity and mercy really are difficult characteristics to obtain and maintain. I’m certainly not there yet.

  59. Peter LLC on June 30, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    therefore we need to see that language as reflective of Joseph’s human weakness.

    That’s easy for us to say now–Joseph is long gone, an Official Declaration put an end to actively practicing certain elements of Section 132, and we’ve got other fish to fry. But what about the language of, say, the current First Presidency on, I dunno, Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families? Who gets to decide when the living or only recently deceased prophets speak that its “reflective of [their] human weakness”?

  60. Clean Cut on June 30, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    I’m impressed Julie. You’ve given voice (artfully and wittingly I might add) to some similar thoughts I’ve had. Nice to see other people articulating it.

  61. cyril on June 30, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Whatever gets you through the night on this one.

  62. DavidH on June 30, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    One of the biggest concerns I have heard expressed in private from a number of female members of the Church (including close relatives) is whether they will be “expected” to share their husbands with another woman. On the other hand, it has been rare for me to hear a male member of the Church lament in a worrisome way that they might be “expected” to take a couple of more wives in the hearafter.

    While there is a substantial undercurrent of discussion or “folklore” in the Church about whether or not polygamy will be “expected” again of faithful members, or during the Millennium, or otherwise in the hereafter, as m&m has pointed out on another thread, this is not a current teaching of the Church (although I do not know of a formal repudiation of folklore that polygamy may come back either on earth or in the hereafter).

    Because the doctrine of plurality of wives is not, or no longer is, a core teaching of the Church, it means that those of us who are not “converted” to its historical teaching and practice can “put it on the shelf” in the same way we put on the shelf some of the other teachings or practices of earlier times.

  63. Julie M. Smith on June 30, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    DavidH, I daresay that if the church taught that we’d be spending eternity torturing kittens, you’d be a little less willing to just put it on the shelf until you got there.

    P.S.–I hate kittens.

  64. DavidH on June 30, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I agree that if we taught that we would spend an eternity torturing kittens, I’d be less willing to put it on the shelf. My point is that we do not have a current unambiguous teaching, regularly taught in correlated curriculum (and certainly not taught by missionaries), that good members of the Church will be expected to spend eternity in polygynous marriages. The fact that men, in mortality, can be sealed to more than one woman does not resolve the issue, because women can also sealed to more than one man (albeit after she is dead). Many say that the woman will have to choose so that only one of her sealings will be effective, but I know of no authoritative pronouncement to that effect.

    If one believes in eternal sealings the question of what happens to a person married in this life more than once (particularly with children from more than one marriage) is a very difficult one. I know of no completely satisfying resolution of the question. Analytically, I do not think the difficulty of the question is increased or decreased by Church’s having taught and practiced plural marriage for a period of time.

  65. Bob on June 30, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    #64:”We do not have a current unambiguous teaching, regularly taught in the correlated curriculum (On polygamy)….”. Answer by many: ” That’s so we can figure it out ourselves”. Question: “But how ?”. Answer: “Put it on the shelf”.

  66. Seth R. on June 30, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I think it’s a fairly clear from D&C 132 that both polygyny AND polyandry are allowed. Here’s verse 42 on adultery:

    “If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has committed adultery.”

    So, if she WAS in the “new and everlasting covenant” – which in section 132, means polygamous marriage – then more than one husband is okey-dokey. No adultery, as long as it’s an authorized temple marriage. Seems clear enough to me.

  67. Julie M. Smith on June 30, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    DavidH, I appreciate what you are saying, but I think that even the _potential_ of celestial polygamy feels like torturing kittens to some people.

  68. Cicero on June 30, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Personally I thought Annie Tanner’s “A Mormon Mother” was sufficiently objective to be useful in understanding what polygamy was like.

  69. Confutus on June 30, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    While I was on my mission, I taught a young woman who didn’t want to be resurrected at all. Nothing we tried to teach about the nature of the resurrection made any difference. I’m pretty sure that if she really understood what the resurrection was, she would change her mind, but after giving it our best effors, I decided that no explanation of mine was going to change her mind or feelings.
    I’ve also observed that that young people often express feelings that change dramatically at different stages of life. Could God answer an “Eww, polygamy” with “Maybe someday you won’t mind so much”? I don’t know, but to me it seems possible.
    I any case, I don’t think it’s wise to limit what God may have revealed to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, or anyone else and proclaim that such and such doctrine didn’t or couldn’t have come from God, based on our own feelings about such doctrines.
    With regards to questions about polygamy in the past, present, or future, I think the answer Jesus gave to Peter when he asked about John is appropriate.
    Peter asked “What shall this man do?” Jesus answered “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.”

  70. Julie M. Smith on June 30, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    “I don’t think it’s wise to limit what God may have revealed to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, or anyone else and proclaim that such and such doctrine didn’t or couldn’t have come from God, based on our own feelings about such doctrines.”

    You aren’t the first one on this thread to suggest that I have theorized what I have because of my “feelings” about polygamy. While I assure you that I’m not crazy about the idea, I’m not motivated by “not liking” it. (There’s plenty of things I don’t like that I support–see the next thread!). My problem with polygamy (esp. as practiced in the 19c) is that I see it as incompatible with virtually every other major tenet of the restoration. It’s about lining up our core ideas and saying “one of these things is not like the other . . . one of these things is not quite the same.”

  71. Ugly Mahana on June 30, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Julie, I really appreciate this perspective. Prophets and apostles and scriptures ought to mean something different to a people encouraged and commanded to be individual priests and prophets than to those who must see scripture and revelation as infallible, ineffable, and inerrant. You’ve given me some good gristle to chew on.

    Like others, I do not like the idea of rejecting outright the language of D&C 132. However, I think you may be on to something with the idea that Joseph was permitted to institute the practice of plural marriage, not because it is an eternal prerequisite for heaven, but as incident to the restoration of sealing and to teach the import of the same – even though the practice was not without flaws.

    My own third way is to say that while I do not believe believe polygamy is or will be required in the eternal worlds, I also do not believe that polygamy, per se, is against the order of heaven.

    I prefer to think about plural marriage as something that applies to other people, not myself or my immediate family. Thus, for example, because I do not want to picture Hiram Smith deciding between his first and second wives, I accept that he may validly choose to share eternity with both, and that they both may choose to share eternity with him. By the same token, I do not believe that I, or anyone else, will have to choose between living with God and living monogamously. After all, weren’t some, or at least one, apostle ordained following the manifesto who had refused to take a second wife prior to the the receipt of the revelation referenced therein?

    Because this doesn’t tie up all the loose ends* for me, I really appreciate your post and the comments that followed it. Thank you.

    (* Some loose ends: First, one way that this post has stretched my thinking is in regards to the difference between the rights of women and men as described in D&C. 132. Second, I am agnostic on the matter of women receiving more than one husband in the eternities. Third, I believe that God will work out the details in some relationships, but that only those marriages approved by God will last eternally, and that God does require authorized mortal sealing, whether done in person or by proxy.)

  72. jessawhy on July 1, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Julie,
    Haven’t had a chance to read the entire thread, but I do like your approach here. This is something I will spend more time thinking about.
    It also explains how I’ve been feeling since my friend’s toddler died a few weeks ago. Many of the family members at the funeral talked about the death as God’s will or that the baby had a mission in heaven, but I kept thinking that it was a result of human error (a preventable household accident). So, to think that God permitted his death, but didn’t cause it really makes more sense to me and actually gives me peace in a way that the other explanations haven’t. But, dealing with death is such a difficult issue.
    Thanks for your post.

  73. Alison Moore Smith on July 1, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Julie, thank you for a new perspective. I thought I’d heard all the proposed views out their. I like this as an addition.

    #40
    I believe our view of this is colored greatly by our inability to conceive of any other structure for marriage than one that includes a sexual component.

    No kidding, Ray. In fact, I’m counting on it. What a drab eternity it would be otherwise.

  74. Aaron Brown on July 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I haven’t read most of the comments. I have no “theory of polygamy”, and for reasons I cannot explain, I don’t find thinking about polygamy (and coming to terms with it, and what it means) as crucial or as pressing as grappling with the Priesthood Ban, and a handful of other issues. I’m sure there’s some fascinating aspect of my personality and personal history that accounts for this, but I do not know what it is.

    But this post forces me to think about how much of early Mormon teaching I’m willing to jettison without throwing out the whole baby with the bath water, so to speak. And while I really, really, really, really, really would like to agree with Julie and Ronan, I’d be lying if I said I did. Sorry, but I just can’t make it work. I loathe polygamy, I cannot make sense of it, but to completely jettison the idea that polygamy was God’s will feels to me like a stake in the heart of the Restoration and the idea that Joseph Smith was a Prophet in any real sense. This doesn’t mean I think Julie and Ronan (and others) are crazy apostate devils. It does mean that I think the rejection of polygamy as divinely-mandated is a step too far. It bends the plausibility of Joseph Smith as a “prophet” to the breaking point. Note that there are lots of troubling aspects of 19th Century polygamy that I can dismiss as excessive and not-in-keeping with God’s will, but to dismiss the whole practice is to dismiss too much of early Mormon teaching for it to remain a viable faith system.

    I am fully committed to the idea that “a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such,” and I am not uncomfortable listing specific examples where the prophets have most emphatically been not acting in that role. But I suspect most of us who believe this still imagine that there is a line beyond which the invocation of this principle goes too far. I think wholesale rejection of polygamy crosses mine.

    Aaron B

  75. Aaron Brown on July 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I haven’t read most of the comments. I have no “theory of polygamy”, and for reasons I cannot explain, I don’t find thinking about polygamy (and coming to terms with it, and what it means) as crucial or as pressing as grappling with the Priesthood Ban, and a handful of other issues. I’m sure there’s some fascinating aspect of my personality and personal history that accounts for this, but I do not know what it is.

    But this post forces me to think about how much of early Mormon teaching I’m willing to jettison without throwing out the whole baby with the bath water, so to speak. And while I really, really, really, really, really would like to agree with Julie and Ronan, I’d be lying if I said I did. Sorry, but I just can’t make it work. I loathe polygamy, I cannot make sense of it, but to completely jettison the idea that polygamy was God’s will feels to me like a stake in the heart of the Restoration and the idea that Joseph Smith was a Prophet in any real sense. This doesn’t mean I think Julie and Ronan (and others) are crazy apostate devils. It does mean that I think the rejection of polygamy as divinely-mandated is a step too far. It bends the plausibility of Joseph Smith as a “prophet” to the breaking point. Note that there are lots of troubling aspects of 19th Century polygamy that I can dismiss as excessive and not-in-keeping with God’s will, but to dismiss the whole practice is to dismiss too much of early Mormon teaching for it to remain a viable faith system.

    I am fully committed to the idea that “a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such,” and I am not uncomfortable listing specific examples where the prophets have most emphatically been not acting in that role. But I suspect most of us who believe this still imagine that there is a line beyond which the invocation of this principle goes too far. I think wholesale rejection of polygamy crosses mine.

    Aaron B

  76. Julie M. Smith on July 1, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    “I’m sure there’s some fascinating aspect of my personality and personal history that accounts for this, but I do not know what it is.”

    My guess is it has something to do with your being short an X chromosome. :)

    More seriously, yes, polygamy is a very large thing to chuck. But I guess the way I look at it is that if you are willing to chuck 100 small things, does that have a greater or smaller effect than chucking one large thing? Further, I think motive matters. “Polygamy was the result of an overactive libido” is a far cry from “polygamy was the result of a misunderstanding of the OT that God chose not to correct.”

    That said, I think you articulate a very reasonable position. It is ironic that you declined to call me an apostate devil because not five minutes before my 10-y-o called me a “she-devil.” But I had tried to hug him, so I suppose that’s fair.

  77. Jia@ColorMeUntypical on July 3, 2008 at 2:37 am

    I have a hard time with talking about Polygamy. Mainly because I hear so many Mormons say that they believe Joseph was a prophet, they testify it, and yet if you bring up polygamy, they act as if he made a big mistake and God had nothing to do with it. Was Joseph not worthy, or Brigham or John Taylor? Was Wilford Woodruff the beginning of “good” prophets? No. Polygamy was commanded of God but I don’t believe the world was ready for it. Many times it’s stated in the Book of Mormon that there are things they are taught but since the world is not ready for it, it is not yet revealed or allowed to be written.

    I think it was commanded (not allowed or permitted) for several reasons.

  78. Alison Moore Smith on July 4, 2008 at 2:46 am

    My guess is it has something to do with your being short an X chromosome. :)

    My sentiments exactly.

  79. Elizabeth on July 4, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Correct me if I am wrong, but it was always my understanding, from what I had been taught, that even when the church was practicing polygamy, that it was still rare: only 10% of members practiced it, and of those 10%, most only had 2 wives, not dozens. Have I misunderstood this whole time?

  80. Elizabeth on July 4, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Also, found this on our Gospel Link:

    Believing that all exalted men are practicing polygamists generates logistical problems that are not easily resolved. Eugene England observed that there are 104 males born for every 100 females and that more male children die before the age of eight than female children. Accordingly, if we take into account that the children dying before reaching the age of accountability will all be exalted (D&C 137:10), then we actually have an abundance of men in the celestial kingdom. Eugene England, “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage,” in Multiply and Replenish: Mormon Essays on Sex and Family, edited by Brent Corcoran (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 118; printed originally in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Winter 1987): 138-54; see esp. 151-52.

  81. Darin on July 14, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    We are taught to judge by the fruits.  Polygamy started in secret and ended with deception.  If it was of God, why wasn\’t it revealed to the Mormon public and then practiced?  I have yet to find any good fruit from polygamy.  I don\’t by the \”it was a test\” or the \”it brought us stronger together\”  I think walking to Utah was enough to cover those two.  And if it was of God why isn\’t it more clear?  Everything else is pretty clear with the exception of blacks and the priesthood, which I also don\’t buy into.