We’re coming up on one of the most dreaded lessons of the Sunday School cycle—no, not reviewing the law of chastity with teenagers, the lesson that includes D&C 132 (the revelation on plural marriage). Polygamy is a topic in the Church that is uncomfortable, troubling and, at times, painful to discuss. Recently, however, the Church published a short book by Brittany Chapman Nash called Let’s Talk About Polygamy that I would recommend to read for anyone who wants to better understand our history with plural marriage (for a longer review of the book I put up a couple months ago, click here). In addition, Brittany Chapman Nash sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview about the book. For those interested in the full interview, it is available here. What follows here is a co-post to the interview at Manwaring’s site—a shorter post with excerpts and some commentary.
At one point in the interview, Brittany Chapman Nash discussed her feelings as she researched polygamy. It was connected with her master’s thesis research project, and she:
was initially confused and disturbed as I began navigating this foreign view of Church history that did not fit the tidy paradigm I had curated from Sunday School and Institute classes.
History was messy! It didn’t make sense! I wasn’t ready to accept that the Church was built by people, not two-dimensional superheroes….
I think I experienced the whole “five stages of grief” as I explored this topic. I am certain I would have remained in the “anger” phase if I had not been pushed to dig more deeply into people’s stories and women’s relationships.
For me, reading their experiences and testimonies led to my own reconciliation with polygamy.
Because of this, sharing the perspectives and experiences of those who practiced polygamy in the Church is something that was a focus of the short volume she wrote. She noted that it “was my desire to represent the reality that every participant had a different experience of the practice. It is easy to stereotype polygamy as good or bad, or assume that either everyone loved it or everyone hated it all of the time. The reality was different for every individual.” It was experienced differently by everyone with a variety of reactions.
Building on her experience, she encouraged people to talk more about polygamy as a way to learn from it. As stated in the interview:
We shape our perception of polygamy by how we frame those who practiced it.
There are many aspects of polygamy that are uncomfortable and concerning to us, particularly because of our own time and sensitivities. But, there is much of compassion, respect, forgiveness, and faith that we can learn from the human beings who willingly entered this challenging practice because they believed God commanded it.
We can share the stories of polygamous Saints; their courage and faith to do difficult things and make sacrifices for the gospels’ sake can strengthen our own resolve to be committed to gospel principles. They were consecrated covenant keepers and kingdom builders.
We can be, too.
It can seem odd to embrace talking about polygamy because of that discomfort and pain associated with the topic, but it is something that Brittany Chapman Nash has found to be helpful in coming to terms with our history.
There’s a lot more of interest in the interview, including specific historical questions, so I recommend hopping on over to read it (link available here). She discusses aspects of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, the secrecy of the practice in Nauvoo, abuses of the practice in the Latter-day Saint Reformation, post-Manifesto polygamy, and the plural marriage ceremony. She also explained how polygamy is not essential for salvation, stating that “The sealing ordinance uniting husband and wife is essential for exaltation. Whether that sealing is monogamous or polygamous, the promised blessings are the same.”