After posting a series of three articles on Mormonism, I was fortunate enough to get a few responses to my blog posts from members of the LDS Church. They were all extremely gracious and genuinely concerned about “setting the record straight.” Most wanted to remain anonymous; however, Steve posted directly within the comments section on the blog and invited any and all people curious about his faith to contact him. Thank you Steve for your openness and willingness to participate in this important conversation.
Steve’s comments were very detailed, and it has taken me a few days to digest enough of the material to form an adequate response and to identify areas where further clarification is needed. Because the material is lengthy, I will be breaking it up into sections, which I will post in a series over the next few days/weeks (depending on the demands on my time in the real world). This first response is dedicated exclusively to the thorny subject of plural marriage.
Please see below a portion of Steve’s original message my response:
Steve: I just randomly ran into this blog post through Google, and since I have a little bit of time on my hands, and there have been some comments or requests for a response from a Mormon on this post, I don’t mind responding. Just a little background info—I am a young entrepreneur, my wife is a student finishing up her master’s degree, and we have a little baby girl almost 8 months old. I love composing music, studying science, and playing most sports—but especially soccer. I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a young age and have been a member for close to 20 years. I did serve a full time mission for the church a while back at 19-21 years old, but currently do not hold any special or authoritative position in the church in which I could speak officially for the church. For the most part, I’m just a normal guy and I’ll do my best to “weigh in and correct or clarify any misrepresentations [the author might have made]” from just my own personal standpoint as a Mormon. Quickly going through, here are some of the things the stick out to me as misrepresented or wrong:
“readily overturned major doctrinal tenants on polygamy… in the interest of political expediency.”
“readily overturned major doctrinal tenants on polygamy… in the interest of political expediency.”
There are a few loaded issues with this statement. The doctrines or policies I believe you were referencing were not overturned readily, and from a Mormon perspective definitely not out of political expediency… Mormons believe in continuing revelation through our leaders who we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. If you are familiar with any revelation found in the LDS cannon, including the Bible, it is more often than not given in a response to a particular question weighing on the mind of God’s people. God cannot answer a question if it is not asked. It should not be surprising then that in the late 1800’s when Mormon’s were being heavily persecuted over polygamy that the Prophet leading the church would inquire concerning its future…I am personally grateful that God has given us prophets who help us as a people and a church to course correct and leave behind former ignorance.
KM: Polygamy is not just an idea or practice that was carried out by a few misguided members of the church. It was a basic tenant of doctrine, etched into scripture, and supposedly the direct word of God. I have excerpted passages from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, attributed to a revelation from God to Joseph Smith, recorded in Nauvoo in 1843, but “known” by Smith since more than a decade earlier. I provide the link to the LDS website where the complete text can be found. Section 132 deals primarily with the covenant of marriage and explicitly justifies polygamy (in great detail). I have abbreviated the section below (it appears that the Lord suffers from an extreme case of literary reduncancy), but I urge all to take a gander at the original text.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many awivesand bconcubines—…
34 God acommanded Abraham, and Sarah gave bHagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
35 Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, acommanded it.
37 Abraham received aconcubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also andbJacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into theircexaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.
38 David also received amany wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.
39 aDavid’s wives and concubines were bgiven unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the ckeys of this power; and in none of these things did he dsinagainst me save in the case of eUriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath ffallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I ggave them unto another, saith the Lord.
40 I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an aappointment, and restore all things. Ask what ye will, and it shall be given unto you according to my word.
41 And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man areceiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy banointing, she hath committedcadultery and shall be destroyed.
42 If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has acommitted adultery.
43 And if her husband be with another woman, and he was under a avow, he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery.
44 And if she hath not committed adultery, but is innocent and hath not broken her vow, and she knoweth it, and I reveal it unto you, my servant Joseph, then shall you have power, by the power of my Holy Priesthood, to take her and agive her unto him that hath not committed badultery but hath been cfaithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.
46 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you aseal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bbind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you cremiton earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven.
51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to aprove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
52 And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, areceive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide andacleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be bdestroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an ahundredfoldin this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of beternal lives in the eternal worlds.
61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse aanother, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have aten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to amultiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be bglorified.
64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take aHagar to wife.
KMs Synopsis: God says, “Emma, your husband is going to take a lot of wives and screw around and that’s okay because all my prophets of the past (i.e. powerful men) have done the same with my blessing. Be a good wife and stop complaining, and don’t think you can have sex with multiple partners just because he does. Girls aren’t allowed to have fun. Joseph Smith is my mouthpiece on earth, everybody should just do as he says or be destroyed. ”
It is well-documented that when Smith first presented the idea of polygamy, his wife Emma was understandably adamantly opposed to the idea, and many of his early plural marriages took place without her knowing and without her consent. Then revelation 132 put an end to any questions about the morality of plural marriages. Emma was forced to comply, but after Smith’s death, Emma and her supporters established the Reorganized LDS church in Missouri (Emma did not travel west to Utah with Prophet Brigham Young, the founder of the LDS church). In the Reorganized LDS church polygamy was not promoted or openly practiced.
Even before Smith received the prophecy telling him to take multiple wives, he had a reputation for womanizing. Historical confirmation of this includes letters from Emma’s cousin who repeatedly accuses Smith of “improper conduct with women.” A mob that tarred and feathered Smith in Ohio was said to be infuriated by Smith’s advances on a teenage girl, who later became a plural wife. Some historical documents indicate that the mob’s intention was to castrate Smith. One has to wonder what drove them to such a dramatic course of action.
Emma Smith wasn’t the only person who objected to Smith’s promotion of polygamy. The primary co-author of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery was particularly distraught. He wrote to his brother that Smith’s polygamous exploits were a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” Cowdery was ultimately excommunicated for “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith.” Smith revealed prophecy 132 during this period of in-group turmoil. Also, Smith claimed (as noted above) that he had received the prophecy several years earlier, thus justifying his behavior to date. It all seems just a bit too convenient.
Having thus been established, polygamy became deeply entrenched in the LDS population that migrated and settled in Utah. The United States government made no bones about refusing Utah statehood based on “the Mormon problem,” i.e. polygamy. As Steve notes, the LDS church resisted giving in. California, Nevada and other territories all passed into statehood without controversy, but all of Utah’s applications were rejected. Frustrated by the tenacity of the polygamists, the United States government started chipping away at the Utah territory, annexing great sections onto Nevada. Seeing their autonomy and landholdings literally disappearing before their eyes, the Mormons relented and publicly denounced polygamy. Utah was almost immediately granted statehood. I don’t think there is any doubt in any historian’s mind that polygamy was sacrificed in the interest of statehood and by extension, political expediency.
I am very interested in any information that could provide an alternative way of interpreting these events.
I believe that to admit that the doctrine of polygamy was a “mistake” raises questions about the validity of all remaining doctrine. The argument that that “God has given us prophets who help us as a people and a church to course correct and leave behind former ignorance” suggests that former (ignorant) prophecies can ultimately be deemed to be fallacious. When viewing the entirety of the scriptures, which as noted are revealed through prophecy, how is one to know which are “ignorant” and which are divinely inspired?
Question: If Smith received a prophecy regarding polygamy that was explicit, heavily justified and lengthy that is now believed to be in error, how can one view the rest of the Mormon scripture, received by the same prophet as accurate?
Having said that, as I note in my blog post “The Differences between Mormon Christianity and OtherChristianities,” the evolving nature and continued “revelation” in Mormonism that allows it to correct obvious problems in doctrine is one of the qualities I find to be the most agreeable aspects of the LDS philosophy. It takes a fine character to admit one has made a mistake and to correct it.
I would ask all who respond to this post to do so politely. We are all entitled to our opinions, and need to respect each other’s rights to the same. At the end of the day, it is humbling to consider that we are all probably wrong. I will look forward to a robust and respectful discourse.
 The source I am citing for this information is Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling. Please see Chapter 4.