“That they may bear the souls of men”

My wife is 37 weeks pregnant, and she is ready to be done.  She’s started writing down a list of reasons she doesn’t enjoy pregnancy for me to use in reminding her next time we start thinking about having another child.  She has also assured me that if creating spirit children in the next life involves pregnancy, we’re not going to have a high population on any planets we create.

With our family growing and the “Come, Follow Me” texts for this week, Section 132 has been on my mind.  It is both one of the most important and most uncomfortable documents that has been canonized from Latter-day Saint literature.  It is important as the textual basis for the idea that: “Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”[1]  As stated in the revelation:

if a man marry him a wife, in the world, and he marry her not by me, nor by <?my?> word; and he covenant with her, So long as he is in the world, and She with him, their covenant and marriage is not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world therefore they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world …

And again verily I Say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word which is my law, and by the new and everlasting Covenant and it is Sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise by him who is anointed unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood and it Shall be Said unto them ye Shall Come forth in the first resurrection and if it be after the first resurrection in the next resurection and Shall inherit thrones Kingdoms principalites and powers dominions all heighth and depths … it Shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my Servent hath put upon them, in time and through all Eternity, and Shall be of full force when they are out of the world[2]

If we’re looking to continue the discussion of braiding threads of Joseph Smith’s theology into temple doctrine, this is one of the capstone moments, where the threads sealing up unto eternal life and the welding of the family of God together in eternity are woven into the braid.

Yet, while my wife was joking about not wanting to spend the eternities being pregnant, there is an underlying seriousness to it in our Latter-day Saint context.  That’s part of why D&C 132 and the implications of plural marriage in our past are a bit uncomfortable or disturbing to me.  To that point, I was drawn to a post by Ziff over at Zelophehad’s Daughters a couple years ago by its title—“D&C 132 for Kids”—because pairing those two together sounded like a complete train wreck waiting to happen that I couldn’t turn my eyes away from.  More recently, the By Common Consent blog has been running a series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132 by Laura Brignone that also lays out the reasons the revelation is disturbing in great detail.  Particularly relevant to the topic at hand of this post is her statement that portions of D&C 132:

describe how women should accept and practice plural marriage to facilitate the blessings, power and exaltation of their husbands. … As read through modern eyes, the language used in D&C 132 describes a woman’s access to exaltation, and exaltation itself, as the process of entering a unidirectional relationship with her husband in which she gives but does not receive; in which her agency, individuality and salvation are contingent on him; to which her only alternative is destruction.

To emphasize the point, Brignone quoted the promised blessings that Section 132 offers to men and women:

Men: D&C 132:37 and D&C 132:55 describe blessings specific to men who have participated in plural marriage as follows: “they… are gods” (v. 37). Referring to Joseph Smith, “I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of… houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives” (v. 55).

Women: D&C 132:63 describes blessings specific to women who practice plural marriage as follows: “[women] are given unto [men]…for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.”[3]

This is, to me, a disturbing view of the afterlife and one that doesn’t sound like a paradise or heaven for my wife.

Much of the underlying implications of marriage in the afterlife in traditional Latter-day Saint thought has to do with expectations that the method of reproduction to create spirit children is sexual reproduction that follows the pattern of mortal life.  This is the logic that Eliza R. Snow used to explain the idea of a Heavenly Mother when she wrote: “In the heav’ns are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare; / Truth is reason—truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”[4]  The expectation that a male and a female need to mate to produce children in heaven may be implied in Section 132’s statement that eternal glory for people married within the new and everlasting covenant “shall be a fullness and a Continuation of the Seeds for ever and ever,”[5] and that wives “are given unto [men] to multiply & replenish the Earth according to my Commandment … [and] that they may have <?bear?> the Souls of men, for herein is the work of my father Continued that he may be Glorified.”[6]  The idea of sexuality in heaven, reflecting the pattern of mortality, may also be one way of understanding Joseph Smith’s statement that the: “same sociality. which exists amogt [amongst] us here. will exist amo[n]g us there only it will be coupled with eternl glory which glory we do not now enjoy,” (though it is taking it a bit out of context).[7]

Elder Melvin J. Ballard openly taught similar concepts about reproduction in heaven as late as 1922.  In a discourse given at the Ogden Tabernacle, he stated that:

What do we mean by endless or eternal increase? We mean that through the righteousness and faithfulness of men and women all those who keep the commandments of God will come forth with Celestial bodies, fitted and prepared to enter into their great, high and eternal glory in the Celestial Kingdom of God; and unto them, through their preparation, there will come children, who will be spirit children. I don’t think that is very difficult to comprehend and understand. The nature of the offspring is determined by the nature of the substance that flows in the veins of the being. When blood flows in the veins of the being, the offspring will be what blood produces, which is tangible flesh and bone, but when that which flows in the veins is spirit matter, a substance which is more refined and pure and glorious than blood, the offspring of such beings will be spirit children. By that I mean they will be in the image of the parents. They will have a spirit body in the image of that parent and have a spark of the eternal or divine that always did exist, but not in that exact form.[8]

Thus, to Elder Ballard, exalted humans continue the process or sexual reproduction in heaven, but the fact that they have some form of ichor rather than blood changes the nature of their offspring from having physical bodies to having spiritual bodies.

This concept was used to in justifying the underlying logic behind polygamy by stating that if a god needed to populate entire planets with spirit children, it would take a long time if he only had one wife.  Orson Pratt, for example, followed this logic when he wrote that:

If we suppose, as an average, that only one year intervened between each birth, then it would have required over on hundred thousand million of years for the same Mother to have given birth to this vast family…. If the Father of these spirits, prior to his redemption, had secured to himself, through the everlasting covenant of marriage, many wives, as the prophet David did in our world, the period required to people a world would be shorter, within certain limits, in proportion to the number of wives.[9]

To some extent, this was why the statement Joseph Smith made in a discourse in 1843 (cited in D&C 131) where he “said that in the celestial glory there was three heavens or degrees, and in order to obtain the highest a man must enter into this order of the priesthood and if he dont he cant obtain it. He may enter into the other but that is the end of his kingdom,” was interpreted for a long time as having been stated in reference to polygamy for entering into the highest degree of celestial glory.[10]  Pratt seems to suggest the idea by implying that only a man with multiple wives would be able to create spirit children to populate planets quickly enough to be a god.

That is ultimately why I keep describing Section 132 and its historical interpretations as disturbing, uncomfortable or painful to me.  The view of women as the property of men to be used in producing spirit children is not compatible with how I view the partnership I have with my wife.  It is objectifying of women and downplays contributions they make beyond bearing babies.  And, frankly, I don’t want to see my wife being miserable and pregnant for time and all eternity.

Gratefully, since distancing itself from polygamy in the early 20th century, the Church has shifted away from discussing marriages openly in these terms on a regular basis.  The sealing authority and the resulting duration of marriages became the defining feature of Celestial Marriage rather than the number of marriages that a man had at a time.  The new and everlasting covenant began to be seen more as a broader term encompassing the restored gospel rather than strictly plural marriages.  There has been an increased emphasis on marriages being a union of “equal partners” where “husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children,” as is stated in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”[11]

Still, the view of an afterlife where women bear spirit children for their husbands looms in the background of Latter-day Saint cosmology and affects how we view families in this life.  It is the logical background behind the statements in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”[12]  It has been clarified that: “The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation is biological sex at birth.[13]  It’s not a stretch of logic to say that biological sex is primarily key for determining what sexual organs your body has, and that if biological sex is important in eternal identity and purpose, then the underlying assumption is that sexual organs are essential to that eternal identity and purpose.  Thus, the assumption that biological sex is essential to our identity is rooted in the same assumptions that supported polygamy in the 19th century Church.

Beyond the effects of this view on how we understand sexual identity in this life, there are also implications for family life in the eternities.  If temple sealings result in eternal marriages, then if a man is sealed to multiple women during his lifetime, it follows that he will be a polygynist in the afterlife.  For example, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith shared during a 1968 BYU address that: “I am the father of eleven children and to this day, every one of them is a faithful member of the church and all are active, for that is the way they were taught and they were obedient.  They will belong to me and their mothers forever and are the foundation stones of my kingdom.  I said ‘their mothers’ because I’ve had other wives—and don’t be misunderstanding me, I never had two wives on the earth at the same time.”[14]  He added on another occasion that: “If I am faithful and worthy of an exaltation … my children and my wives will be mine in eternity.  I don’t know how some other people feel, but that is a glorious thought to me.”[15]  Elder Smith expected to be married to three women in the Celestial Kingdom, despite remaining monogamous during his lifetime.

Granted, this idea of being sealed to both wives in the afterlife was what won Joseph Fielding Smith’s grandfather, Hyrum Smith, over to the idea of plural marriage in the first place.  His first wife (Jerusha Barden) died in 1837 and he subsequently married Mary Fielding.  The idea of being sealed to both appealed to him once the implications of sealings for eternity were explained to him.  As Hyrum taught on 8 April 1844:

I married me a wife & was the only one who had any write to her— till we had 5 Chi’d [children] the covt. was made for our lives— she fell in the grave bef[ore] God shewed us his authGod has shewed me that the Covt. is dead & had no more force neither could I have her in the resn. but we shod. be as the angels— it troubled me— Bro J sd. you can be sealed to her upon the same prin[ciple] as you can be bap for the dead what can I do for more 2nd. wife— you can make a covt. with her for etern[ity] & sealed to her— & she sd. I will act as proxy for the one that is dead — and I will be sealed to you for eternity[16]

The implications of sealings beyond the graves and multiple marriages in life logically led to polygamy in the afterlife for Hyrum, as it did for his grandson.  It’s a specter of polygamy that haunts the lives of Latter-day Saints today.  It makes for a complicated situation, though, since the alternative to this form of future polygamy is deciding between spouses in the afterlife (though it is also fundamentally unfair that only men have the option of maintaining marriage with multiple mates).

All this being said, there is opportunity to continue to reinterpret the nature of the afterlife and expanding our spheres of influence based on the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  As he stated in a discourse delivered 8 April 1844:

Man existed in spirit; the mind of man—the intelligent part—is as immortal as, and is coequal with, God Himself. … Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. The first principles of man are self-existent with God. … God Himself found Himself in the midst of spirits and glory. Because He was greater He saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest, who were less in intelligence, could have a privilege to advance like Himself and be exalted with Him, so that they might have one glory upon another in all that knowledge, power, and glory. So He took in hand to save the world of spirits.[17]

In advocating the idea that humans were coequal or as self-existent as God, Joseph Smith seems to be expanding on the idea mentioned in the 6 May 1833 revelation (now D&C 93), where we read that: “man was also in the begining with God, inteligence or the Light of truth was not created or made neith[er] indeed can be.”[18]  The idea here is that the human spirit is as eternal and independent in its origin as God Himself is.  Therefore, spirits were not created by Him through sexual reproduction, but were adopted or taken under his wing so they “could have a privilege to advance like Himself.”  Richard Bushman explained it this way: “Those gods take us lesser intelligences, swimming about like fish in the sea, under their tutelage, saying they will teach us how to achieve intelligence and glory.”[19]  After having entered into that exaltation, humans can, in turn, undertake the task of adopting lesser intelligences and “institute laws whereby the rest, who were less in intelligence, could have a privilege to advance like” themselves.

The idea of adoption has the advantage of distancing Latter-day Saint cosmology from viewing women as primarily necessary for producing children, though it has its own problems.  And there have also been ways that have been suggested to reconcile the two together, such as Elder B.H. Roberts’s approach of suggesting that we each have an intelligence that is to the spirit body what the spirit body is the physical body (leading to a pre-pre-mortal existence prior to being born into a spirit body).  If we shift to a strictly adoptive approach, however, a key question arises, namely: “why is marriage necessary for exaltation?”  If adoption and training is the method of spreading godhood, then it seems as though it could be something that individuals can do.  While that would make Latter-day Saint theology more friendly to people who are single, it does undermine the importance of sealings as a sacrament.  Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in Eugene England’s writings that marriage is the setting where we can best experience a complementary opposition that leads us to seeking unity between partners that:

Ideally involves complete sharing — with a separate, co-eternal individual and without loss of our own individuality — of all our singularity, vulnerability, trust, hopes, and potentialities.

Since celestial marriage is the crucial requirement for exaltation to god-hood, Mormon theology suggests that the maturity essential to discovery and exaltation of the self is ultimately possible only in a fully equal, bi-polar but thus complementary, individual-to-individual synthesis.[20]

As President Russell M. Nelson put it: “The home is the great laboratory of love. There the raw chemicals of selfishness and greed are melded in the crucible of cooperation to yield compassionate concern and love one for another.”[21]  In other words, perhaps there is something about the marriage relationship and how it shapes us and gives us the ability to become more like God that is necessary in our development rather than just the ability to reproduce.

I apologize for the angst of this post.  Perhaps, given my family situation, I am particularly sensitive to what I have read into the text of Section 132.  To me, the idea of working in a marriage relationship together to adopt existing spirits is a more palatable vision of heaven than one where my wife is constantly pregnant.  In the end, however, I have no answers on what things will be like in the afterlife, since I’ve never experienced it myself.  For now, I suppose I just have to do my best to follow President Oaks’s council to “trust in the Lord,” since “our canon of scripture contains very little about the spirit world.”[22]

 

Further Reading:

Samuel Brown, “Believing Adoption,” BYU Studies, 52 no. 2 (2013)

 

Footnotes

[1] The Family: A Proclamation to the World, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng

[2] “Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132],” p. [2], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 5, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-12-july-1843-dc-132/2

[3] Laura Brignone, “She shall believe or she shall be destroyed: D&C 121 and 132,” By Common Consent, 28 October 2021, https://bycommonconsent.com/2021/10/28/she-shall-believe-or-she-shall-be-destroyed-dc-121-and-132/. Accessed 2021-11-04.

[4] Eliza R. Snow, “My Father in Heaven,” Oct. 1845, Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, IL), Nov. 15, 1845, vol. 6, no. 17, p. 1039, https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/part-1/1-14?lang=eng#note9

[5] “Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132],” p. [3], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 5, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-12-july-1843-dc-132/3

[6] “Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132],” p. [8], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 5, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-12-july-1843-dc-132/8

[7] “Instruction, 2 April 1843, as Reported by Willard Richards,” p. [37], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 7, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-2-april-1843-as-reported-by-willard-richards/1

[8] Melvin J. Ballard, “Discourse: The Three Degrees of Glory,” Ogden Tabernacle, Sept. 22, 1922 (Ogden Utah: Mount Ogden Stake Genealogical Committee), 11-12, https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2021/11/04/the-three-degrees-of-glory-by-melvin-j-ballard/

[9] Orson Pratt, “The Preexistence of Man,” The Seer, 1, no. 3 (March 1853): 37–39.

[10] “Instruction, 16 May 1843, as Reported by William Clayton,” p. [15], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 5, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/instruction-16-may-1843-as-reported-by-william-clayton/3

[11] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng

[12] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng

[13] Church Handbook, 38.6.23, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng, accessed 2021-11-05.

[14] Joseph Fielding Smith, “The Blessings of Eternal Glory,” BYU Address 23 April 1968, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/joseph-fielding-smith/blessings-eternal-glory/

[15] Joseph Fielding Smith, Church News, May 6, 1939.

[16] Hyrum Smith, Address, 8 April 1844, Thomas Bullock Report, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/transcript/minutes-and-discourses-6-9-april-1844-as-reported-by-thomas-bullock?print=true

[17] Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978), 11.

[18] “Revelation, 6 May 1833 [D&C 93],” p. [3], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 6, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-6-may-1833-dc-93/3

[19] Richard Lyman Bushman, On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 60–61.

[20] Eugene England, “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage,” https://www.eugeneengland.org/on-fidelity-polygamy-and-celestial-marriage

[21] “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” CR April 1999, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/04/our-sacred-duty-to-honor-women?lang=eng

[22] Dallin H. Oaks, “Trust in the Lord,” CR October 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/17oaks?lang=eng

8 comments for ““That they may bear the souls of men”

  1. Someday 132 will need to be revisited as canon IMO. It contains alot of language and thinking for its time period. Joseph F Smith said it was a letter between two persons, not intended for canonization. I can think few saints were aware of its existence until it was published during the federal prosection of polygamists.

  2. My wife who is now in her 70s, bore 4 children, and spent time in intensive care after each birth, has also said if celestial glory equates to eternal pregnancy, there is no glory for women. Comes back to our understanding of heavenly mother too. Glory or pregnant?

    But if not pregnant then polygamy is unnecessary, and so is hetrosexuality. Win win.

    I really don’t think polygamy solves the problem anyway. One woman pregnant 8 billion times, or 365 women pregnant 22 million times?

  3. That’s a fair point, Geoff. After a certain point, it kind of becomes irrelevant on speed when you’re talking about that scale.

  4. Perspective is everything. I’m an infertile woman who has never been pregnant or given birth, but I have adopted three children. I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing in the eternities the things I’ve missed out on while here on earth. I’ll feel let down if I don’t get to create some spirit bodies. I also expect to do it without pain or discomfort, as I think those things are strictly mortal.

  5. Thank you for sharing your perspective Lisa. I apologize for the callousness of complaining about pregnancy-we had a taste of infertility for several years before we had our first, and I know that it drove us a bit crazy to see that type of thing.

    I think for me, my concern here is, above all else, about the potential to objectify women as existing solely to produce children to glorify their husband.

  6. Wonderful comment, Lisa. I’m sorry that you won’t have those opportunities in this life. But what a wonderful thing you’ve done by adopting those children. I’ve no doubt that you’ve got a very large cache of treasure awaiting you in heaven.

    Many of us moderns have developed a rather jaundiced view of the afterlife–at least with respect to the promises that were given to Abraham. And I sometimes wonder how it is that we’ve forgotten what matters most–even in this life. Can any of us truthfully say — those of us who have children — that we value anything else more than our children?

    I think we will be involved in many different activities throughout the eternities, but the most gratifying of those will be–to be the doting grandparents of a multitude.

  7. Chad, don’t worry about the pregnancy complaints. My children are getting older and I am in a place of peace regarding my life situation as it pertains to motherhood. I’m not in the stage of actively grieving my fertility. I just commented because it struck me that perspective and life experience really does impact how we view this. Also, there is a tendency here on earth to view adopting children as “easier” than creating and birthing them when it is most definitely not, and I wonder if adopting spirits would really be easier than creating them in the heavenly realm. It’s easy to just assume that would be the case, but it’s just that–an assumption.

    I think the issue of the relationship between husbands and wives is more concerning than the childbearing part of it.

    But then, I agree with Jack above about having many people having a “jaundiced view of the afterlife”. I assume that the next life will be wonderful and glorious beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t think anything about it will be drudgery.

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