One Ordinary Guy’s FAQ On Polygamy

I get a lot of questions about polygamy.  Here is my personal bent.

1.  Do Mormons believe in polygamy?

Depends on what you mean. 

We don’t teach it or practice it on a day-to-day basis, but polygamy permeates our history and it’s still hugely present in the temple and our scriptures.  So we “believe” in it but we don’t “believe” in it, if you get what I mean.

2.  What do you think about polygamy?

As a religious principle, I don’t believe in it and won’t practice it.  I think it was a big, messy experiment started by Joseph Smith and I’m glad it’s gone.  I don’t know what I would have done in Joseph Smith’s day.  I have a lot of sympathy for Sarah Pratt.  I think it should be excised from our current practice, and that a man should not be able to be sealed to more than one woman.  Now, if people want to practice polygamy outside of the Church, I don’t control that but I agree with Jonathan Sacks’ comment:

And the most obvious expression of power among alpha males whether human or primate, is to dominate access to fertile women and thus maximise the handing on of your genes to the next generation. Hence polygamy, which exists in 95 per cent of mammal species and 75 per cent of cultures known to anthropology. Polygamy is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males never get the chance to have a wife and child. And sexual envy has been, throughout history, among animals as well as humans, a prime driver of violence.

Cosmologically, things are a little more tricky.  I believe in the sealing power, I believe in the temple, but I also believe that our actual knowledge about human relationships in the afterlife is slim-to-none.  I have a supreme testimony in the goodness of God and the knowledge that our Heavenly Parents want us to be happy.  That’s about as far as it goes.  

3.  Why don’t we talk about polygamy more at Church?

I don’t think we have any idea what to do with the subject.  We don’t want to disrespect Joseph Smith, but we also really really don’t want to practice it today (except for the functional polygamy that results from temple re-sealings).  So we treat polygamy like we treat gay marriage.

4.  But you’re a guy.  If your wife dies and you get remarried, wouldn’t you want to be sealed to her?  Isn’t that almost unfair to the new wife that she won’t be on the ‘same level’ as your dead wife?

I think it would be amazingly unfair to have an even doctrinally-implied polygamous relationship.  The God I believe in does not subject people to unwanted polygamous relationships [1].  That’s just not how He rolls.  Plus I wouldn’t get remarried, because if my wife dies I will be on her funeral pyre.  I also understand (and agree) that the Church should emphasize and prioritize temple marriage as its highest form of marriage covenant.  No argument from me there.  But the Church needs to resolve the polygamy angle, if –at a minimum — it lets women be sealed to multiple husbands.

5.  Why did we have polygamy?

I don’t know.  I believe that Joseph Smith was sincere in his religious experience.  I don’t think polygamy was instituted to satisfy his lusts.  I also think JSJ had a grand vision of a great family in the eternities that we have largely adapted and abandoned since his death, in part because we no longer practice the laws of adoption.  The arguments about needing to protect widows are hooey.  We need to find ways to preserve that cosmic vision of each of us inseparably connected, without the proprietary nature and utter exclusion that comes with polygamy as practiced here below.

6. What about people that are re-sealed? What’s your opinion?

I know many such people and love them. God will bless them for their devotion to each other. I believe God will cause the best of all of our relationships to be sealed with Him forever. I don’t think that means polygamy. I think it means a transcendent relationship that is not possessive at all. I think it is horribly unfair to impose the casual lens of human polygamy on the prospect of eternal sealings. People I know who have been re-sealed are looking forward to a joyful heaven.

Any other questions?  Hit me up.  I’m an expert.


[1] This was originally a lyric in Bullet the Blue Sky


  1. Question: Were there also polygamous lyrics in the original “Spirit in the Sky”?

  2. Answer: No. That song is anathema.

  3. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” however, definitely is pro-polygamy.

    (On a serious note, Billy Corgan apparently had no problem with both lionizing Kurt Cobain in song and schtupping the woman who created a significant amount of the despair that drove him to suicide.)

  4. The Smashing Pumpkins brought me and my wife together, so I cannot speak ill of Billy Corgan. Bullet with Butterfly Wings is an all-time great anthem.

    Courtney Love, meh.

  5. I once brought up polygamy in a RS lesson and was pulled by the Relief Society President afterwards who said “as soon as you said the word ‘polygamy,’ the spirit left the room.”

    There is real, palpable fear for many women (probably some men as well) when it comes to trying to unravel the theological implications of polygamy.

  6. Food for thought: If 95% of animal species practice polygamy, maybe thats just the natural order of things? Im not saying monogamy is wrong today. But it does seem natural, at least when it comes to primates. If our culture were different I wonder if polygamy would still be around today. God does work with us within our cultural contexts.

  7. I am very interested in this post. I would venture to say that polygamy is very difficult for every female in this church. I say female, instead of woman, because I have been really bothered by polygamy ever since I was little girl.

    I’m curious as to why you say the following:
    “I believe that Joseph Smith was sincere in his religious experience. I don’t think polygamy was instituted to satisfy his lusts.”

    I would like to know what led you to believe that. Maybe you know something I don’t. I simply have no idea why JS instituted polygamy. There has never been any explanation that made sense to me. I guess I feel like it doesn’t much matter what the purpose of polygamy was lust or otherwise, the end result was the same, which was it made men and women unequal not just in the church but in the eyes of God. D&C 132 is absolutely murderous to the souls of women. I can’t read it without feeling sick and dark inside. Kind of opposite of how the spirit is supposed to make one feel.

  8. Steve,

    So what do you do with D&C 132? If plural marriage was just an experiment, perhaps eternal marriage was also?

  9. N8,
    if polygamy is the “natural order of things” than why is it/was it so difficult? I come from polygamous ancestry and let me tell you they were not a happy or thriving bunch. Polygamy caused an inordinate amount of pain. Mostly for the women and children.

  10. I think N8 is more responding to all the arguments that go around for gay marriage. The argument is that homosexuality appears in nature often so it is completely natural and shouldn’t be illegal. For some reason that logic doesn’t extend to polygamy.

  11. Bryan S,
    That is because there is a terrible history of abuse within the system of polygamy. I don’t think you can say the same for gay marriage.

  12. Kristen, I definitely agree with you about the effects of polygamy. I’m basing my evaluation of Joseph Smith’s bona fides on what I’ve read in our own history. I think he truly believed he was enacting divine will. That’s as far as I’m willing to go.

    Old Man, what do I do with 132? Same thing we all do with all scripture, I guess — take what I can from it and move on. I don’t believe the modern church is obligated to retain polygamy in order for eternal marriage to survive.

  13. Polygamy is an area where I think the institutional church’s reluctance to clean up some sloppy doctrinal and historical remnants has allowed the more zealous/orthodox faction within our church culture to build a set of folk beliefs that keep polygamy alive in their minds and beliefs. The institutional church then lends tacit approval to those beliefs (willingly or not) simply by its silence on the matter. The orthodox Mormon approach leads inevitably to that kind of thing, since it generally doesn’t allow for a belief that maybe the reason the church’s teaching or policy on something is just sloppy and mistaken and the result of leaders who simply don’t think it’s important enough to deal with (or can’t agree with each other on how to change it, so they just don’t).

  14. Steve,
    You walk a very interesting tight rope. I’m fascinated by it. Truly.

  15. Appeal to nature is an inherently unstable proposition. Case in point: many animals have an innate desire to sacrifice all – even their own lives – for the well-being of the children. Other animals have the innate desire to eat their children.

  16. Kristen, I am sure that many therapists would agree with your assessment! That said, I strongly suspect that my perspective is not that unusual: we want to hold on to Joseph Smith and eternal marriage, but we reject polygamy.

  17. I don’t know why you have such sympathy for Sarah Pratt.

    You say you’re an expert. Can you name the men and women who were implicated (by their own testimony in some cases) with the illicit intercourse confessed to the Nauvoo High Council in May 1842? Have you read the handwritten copy of the women’s testimonies, contained in the Val Avery’s papers bequeathed to the Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library? If so, what do you make of the assertion Matilda Nyman made regarding Catherine Fuller and Dr. John C. Bennett and her reason for claiming they had been intimate?

    Can you name the chapter in Genesis Joseph was reading when he claimed to have received the revelation?

  18. Meg, I am smiling here.

  19. I suppose I ask merely because I don’t understand why the battle between Bennett and Joseph on this matter is not better known. At best people refer to Bennett’s activities as an unauthorized system of polygamy. Most seem to presume that Bennett was operating under a mild misunderstanding of Joseph’s instructions.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s sort of my nutshell theory about polygamy: Back in the early 19th century, “restorationism” was in the air (you might call it a religious fad), particularly in the guise of Alexander Campbell (with whom Sidney Rigdon had been associated before joining Joseph Smith). Campbell was a creature of the Scottish Enlightenment and didn’t really believe in miracles; for him restorationism meant trying to approximate the worship practices of a house church as one would find, say, in the Book of Acts (so no organs, stuff like that). Campbell didn’t have much use for the OT. Joseph blows right past Campbell and seeks to create a biblical restoration (i.e., including OT practices and not just NT ones). So I see polygamy in this light; it was an attempt to restore biblical practices, including or even especially OT ones. Polygamy is in that way analogous to the things we do with a biblical basis that other churches really don’t: priesthood (not of all believers), temples, “kingdom” talk, etc. The rumors that he was even contemplating restoring animal sacrifice, if only briefly for symbolic purposes, fits in with this view.

    What this little theory doesn’t really explain is why Joseph went nuts with and doubled down over it. He could have made his point with a symbolic plural union, or with two or three or four wives. The large number of wives seems to derive from the idea of kingdom building. In the end it was a huge mess, the effects of which we’re still living with all these years later.

    Personally, I’m not particularly bothered by polygamy, because I’m descended from polygamists about whom my parents had evident pride, which they instilled into me as a boy. It has got to be tough to have been taught zero about the origins of the practice and then have to absorb it all at once from a fire hose. So while I’m personally ok with the history, I don’t blame anyone else for being troubled by it.

  21. Most people tend to gloss over that we practice both polygyny and polyandry. If anyone thinks only women have to think about what it means to have the possibility of being not the only in their marriage, they’re sorely mistaken.

  22. Meg, the battle between Bennett and JSJ is not known for the same reason a lot of things about JSJ are not known — we don’t just read, period. Bennett was not a polygamist – he was a philanderer. His teachings were not part of marriage ceremonies or the temple cosmology. Bennett was all about the action.

    The Genesis question is interesting, especially if we are to go back to 1831 for the origins of the revelation. Based on where he was at with the JST there are limited options available. It was most like Genesis 16, though Genesis 25 presents a lot of the origin questions that 132 answers.

    BTW, my expertise is that of being an ordinary guy, not an expert on polygamy. I defer to far more learned people for such things. I am an expert in my own opinions.

  23. Hi Kevin,

    I submit that the reason Joseph “went nuts with and doubled down over it” had to do with the incredible corruption Bennett created. Not sure if people here were aware of my “Give Brigham Young a Break” post over at M* (which earned me a rebuke from Laura and Brian Hales), but I personally suspect the corruption had touched a vast population, including many in leadership positions.

  24. “People in a severe state of depression fail to see life as a unified pattern and start instead to see it as a fragmented, incomprehensible sequence of pointless events. Social bonds are severed, normal activities seem purposeless – everything seems to be falling apart.”

    “By Contrast, those in a state of mania see life as a gloriously ordered, integrated whole. Everything seems to be connected to everything else and the smallest events seem bathed in meaning. A person in this state is euphoric, full of energy and flowing with love. They are also in a state of high creativity – the connections they see between things, which are often invisible or overlooked by others, are often used by them to make new concepts.” ( Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind p. 202)

    Mania + Hypersexuality = Polygamy

    Click to access Dialogue_V26N04_19.pdf

  25. Hi Steve,

    On Cyber Monday I will be making an Advanced Review Copy of my book about Joseph available, under the title Reluctant Polygamist. As it currently stands it’s 100,000 words, but it might be thinner by November 30.

    I’d agree with you that we just don’t read, period. Except we are not talking here about Joe Q. Public. I’m talking about the JSJ scholars. Why didn’t Compton or Bushman or Avery & Newell seriously explore the tension between Joseph and Bennett as a cause for the many covenants Joseph entered into with women? Even Gary Bergera sidesteps the issue.

  26. Oh, shucks. I saw this post and was excited to point those who were interested to Meg Stout’s Faithful Joseph/Reluctant Polygamist posts, but then I find that Meg has already posted comments here. Well, here’s the website anyway.

  27. Kevin,
    “Personally, I’m not particularly bothered by polygamy…”

    These are words I have heard uttered by women…never.
    Since someone brought it up, what about polyandry? Does that bother you?

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristen, no. Although it’s not my cup of tea, I’m not bothered by polyamory in general (among consenting adults, of course). You can blame all those years reading Dan Savage in the Chicago Reader.

  29. Meg, I don’t entirely know why those authors didn’t spend more words on the topic. It may be a matter of generalized focus. There was more than just Bennett going on. But it’s a very interesting topic.

  30. Hi Kristen,

    Personally, I am not particularly bothered by polygamy.

    I’m uttering that vocally now as well, in case merely posting this doesn’t do it for you.

    My many female ancestors who lived polygamy had intense experiences, but were positively inclined towards their sister wives. Elvira Annie Cowles loved Emma and the deceased wife of her mortal husband enough to name her daughters after them. Elvira’s daughters all married the same man, and it is reported by their 20 children that there was never an argument between the three. Things got a bit more spicy among the wives of John W. Taylor, which included two of Elvira’s grand-daughters. Still, they worked together and had picnics together (including a moderately famous one when John married his final plural wife – family vacation combined with honeymoon). Mary Bell was so loved by Joseph Leland Heywood’s three wives that they begged him to marry her, to keep her in the family.

    As for mentioning polygamy, I told the story of John W. Taylor and the bed (belonged to one wife, first wife was lying in it when sick, John lifted sick wife off bed and disassembled it to return it to the wife who owned it) as part of one of my gospel doctrine lesson. I have given talks in Sacrament meeting referring to polygamy and was told at the time that it was a great talk, which people suggested I reformat and submit to the Ensign.

    Polygamy amongst our cultural forebears is a fact with fascinating stories associated with the practice. We impoverish ourselves if we refuse to access that wealth of human experience, even though none of us would want to return to those days.

  31. Not sure about Bennett, but it’s important to remember that, at least in the early days, polygamy wasn’t well publicized. I have ancestors (and I use the term “ancestor” to mean siblings of an ancestor) who joined the church in 1831 and first found out about polygamy when Joseph Smith requested their permission to marry their sister. They were friends with the Prophet, very involved in the early church, and she wasn’t even one of his first ten wives. We shouldn’t be surprised that there isn’t a whole lot of documentation about polygamy in the 1830’s and early 1840’s, because most members were kept in the dark about it.

    On a similar vein, had all of these women started having children, Joseph Smith’s polygamy would likely have become public knowledge much more quickly. As Joseph Smith did not publicly acknowledge these women as his wives at this time, I think there was huge incentive for all parties for there to not be any pregnancies.

  32. “Case in point: many animals have an innate desire to sacrifice all – even their own lives – for the well-being of the children. Other animals have the innate desire to eat their children.” I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle.

    I’ll take a crack at your six questions, although I don’t claim to be either a guy or ordinary:
    1 – usually just the gross ones.
    2 – it doesn’t make mathematical sense or any other kind of sense; there’s a reason it is always rife with abuse.
    3 – to placate the women and prevent spontaneous castrations.
    4 – what’s wrong with being married for time only on a second marriage?
    5 – I tend to agree that JSJ was sincere, but I continue to be baffled that this was such an important question that it had to be asked. Everybody else who reads the Bible thinks it was a cultural relic, but JSJ reads it and thinks “Hey, maybe we should be doing that, too!”? Really? Maybe not due to lust for sex, but perhaps due to lust for personal importance and divine inheritance (to be like prophets of old or Father Abraham, for example).
    6 – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. It is irksome that some of the apostles are in polygamous marriages from a sealing standpoint when women married to a second husband can’t be sealed and are hand waved away that it will “all work out in the eternities.”

  33. “High activity in anterior cingulate cortex is associated with mania – a condition of overexcitement, euphoria, and buoyant confidence – the very opposite of depression. One of the hallmarks of mania is an increased sense of meaningfulness. People in an advanced manic state see significance in every little thing and often think they have insight into some Grand Scheme in which each incident and thing is BOUND TOGETHER in a mystical wholeness” (Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind p. 101)

    “Of the six other male descendants diagnosed as having mental disorders, one committed suicide at about age forty-five after showing signs of manic-depression, and another, who had been diagnosed as schizophrenic (dementia paradoxia), also committed suicide. Documents in my possession from a living associate of the Smith family. Name withheld by request. On 22 May 1993 in Lamoni, Iowa, I corroborated examples of manic-depression in the family with a Joseph Smith, Jr., descendant.” – p. 10 footnote 20

    Click to access Dialogue_V26N04_19.pdf

    Someone should talk to Lachlan Mackay.

  34. Lachlan Mackay is a delightful man.

    The concept that Joseph Smith Jr. suffered from narcissistic personality disorder persists. There was a presentation on that at the 2015 Untold Stories Symposium in Nauvoo. I think it’s bunk, but this is how some people explain Joseph’s history.

  35. Meg Stout,
    To every rule there is an exception. Kudos to you for being so enlightened. I have studied my own polygamous family history, and church history of polygamy extensively. Maybe that is the difference between you and me. I came away with no positive feelings, I’m not saying that the sister wives in my family tree all hated each other or that good relationships didn’t ever exist between the women involved, I’m saying that in general, the practice of polygamy caused deep wounds. Not to mention all many other logistical problems.
    When my polygamous great grandfather died, his sons were working out farming in the fields. His 4th wife sent someone to give them the news and their response? “So the old man kicked the bucket.” After that, they continued on with their chores. That doesn’t bring to mind a loving and cohesive “forever family.” I do have admiration for the people who endured the practice but no admiration for the practice itself.

  36. Mania is very different than narcissism. Mania explains a wide range of genius and shouldn’t be excluded in the case of Joseph Smith especially as it pertains to polygamy. There’s a strong genetic component, which is undeniable in the case of his posthumously born son David. Furthermore, it appears to be highly prevalent in the descendants of Hyrum Smith. Most of the time it is a curse, but there are rare instances when it leads to unparalleled brilliance, particularly in the case of writers and poets.

  37. Hi Kristen,

    I agree that polygamy, generally, provides a ripe opportunity for strife and abuse. This is part of why I am happy to see the Church’s strict stance towards children raised in polygamous households (which has recently been extended to children raised in same-gender households). I’m also offended that my people endured such hardship and pain to end the practice, when Lorin Woolley ups and decides to do it anyway circa 1926.

    There was a significant problem when the sons of younger wives viewed their father as an old geezer rather than as a father figure. Your story evokes that vibe for me. I saw that in my history for the sons of Mary Bell, who was 16 when she married 40-year-old Heywood.

    I contend that Joseph likely didn’t consummate plural marriages, with the possible exception of marriages to the women Emma explicitly gave to him (Emily & Eliza Partridge, possibly Malissa Lott). I can think of various reasons Brigham immediately set about allowing sexuality in plural marriages following Joseph’s death, many of which I can imagine were inspired by God.

    Thank goodness for the willingness of the United States to force later prophets to question plural marriage as a necessary practice.

  38. IMPORTANT Question: My belief on this subject was always based off Jacob 2:30: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” So I always thought that, considering the persecution of the time of the Restoration process, God commanded the practice of polygamy in order to raise up seed in the church. Perhaps some of you will view this as a ridiculous assertion, but I always thought it made sense, even though that’s not the church’s official stance on it (I think).

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned that yet…

  39. Hi Anonymous,

    For some reasons, characterizing Joseph as manic comes across as negative. Characterizing him as someone capable of unparalleled brilliance doesn’t seem so negative.

    In a way, it makes me grateful for Brigham Young, who I don’t think anyone accuses of mania. His brilliance was organizational rather than creative. Or at least, I think most scholars would state it in those terms.

  40. Meg,
    ” I can think of various reasons Brigham immediately set about allowing sexuality in plural marriages following Joseph’s death, many of which I can imagine were inspired by God.”

    Do tell…

  41. Wes, the actual apologetic given throughout much of Church history until only recently is a corollary of that: believing blood. It wasn’t just raising up seed unto God but specifically the seed of the elect because they were thought to have “believing blood.” Though a potentially harmful folk doctrine, I would suggest there is no shortage of Mormons today who still believe in the idea of believing blood.

  42. Polygamy raised me up, or at least, I wouldn’t exist in this form and with my particular parentage without polygamy.

    I don’t mention the see thing prominently since I don’t think Joseph obeyed that part of the commandment. Brigham did, and it is indisputable that the fervent believers of early Mormonism couldn’t have raised up large families *and* served missions if they hadn’t also been polygamists.

    It is less clear whether polygamy actually resulted in a larger Church membership, based on the precipitous drop in emigration after the announcement that the Church taught and practiced polygamy. However, those who were members of the early Church were sufficiently dedicated to embrace such an unusual practice, enduring intense opposition. This created a fervor that appears unparalleled in American religions of the 1800s.

  43. Count me as another woman who is not bothered by polygamy in theory. Obviously, the practice was and is filled with abuse and unhappiness, and I think depending on the people involved it makes bad behavior easy to engage in. But there were people who lived happily in polygamy. There are people now who do. I honestly don’t know if I would want to live in a polygamous relationship in mortality – I would have to play a big role in choosing any other wives. My husband would NOT want another wife, definitely, so it’s all academic anyway. I have told him, however, that if I die first I fully expect him to marry again, especially if our kids are still young. If he was sealed to another wife, that would be fine with me – in theory, of course. :) I’ve told him that if he dies first, I may or may not marry again. I would not consider it disloyal at all to do so. He seemed fine with that. Perhaps the pressure is off because I could only be married for time and not sealed to another husband. In any case, I think a lot of this debate depends on the personalities and histories of people involved. Kristen’s family had a negative experience overall, and that has colored her view. Meg’s family had a more positive experience, etc.

  44. Perhaps the pressure is off because I could only be married for time and not sealed to another husband.

    And that is a staggeringly huge inequity that should not exist. It makes reason stare, to quote Eliza R. Snow.

  45. Hi Kristen,

    I think it’s sufficient to point you to my recent posts:

    Give Joseph Smith a Break


    Give Brigham Young a Break

    Ignore what I say about the Scannell daguerreotype, since I am no longer persuaded it is Joseph Smith.

  46. Villate, if you acknowledge the abuse and unhappiness, why then are you not bothered?

  47. By the way, this conversation is really interesting and I appreciate it.

  48. Hi Meg –

    It’s unfortunate that such a characterization comes across as negative, although it times it’s certainly well deserved ( see “Lord Byron” ).

    However, I do believe that Joseph’s son David provides an invaluable window into the Prophet Joseph. Charismatically brilliant for a time, and yet both were overwhelmed by their underlying biology. Make no mistake, there is a very narrow window of productivity in mania and both Father and Son exceeded that window which led to Joseph’s martyr and David’s 30 year hospitalization.

  49. I share Steve’s take on polygamy to a great extent, though I’m less quick to say I wouldn’t practice it. I would, if I were convinced God commanded me to, but it doesn’t make sense to me so I find it unlikely. But I don’t claim to understand God very well. I just try to trust Him.

    The only anguish I’ve had over polygamy is that it makes so little sense and caused so much difficulty that it casts aspersions over whether Joseph was a prophet, a fallen prophet, a delusional prophet, or what happened there. If Joseph was a prophet but polygamy was a mistake, it seems like a big enough mistake that God should have called him on it. But my experiences in the church have convinced me it’s the real deal, so where does that leave me? Pretty much where Steve ended up.

    If I had died when my kids were young, it would have been a great comfort to me if God gave my wife and children a new husband and father who would do for them what I would have wanted to do. I would be forever grateful to that man. Would I want him sealed to my wife? Probably. Somehow, in the eternities, I don’t see how I or mine could be diminished by someone else’s gain. I just don’t think it works that way in the celestial kingdom.

  50. Hi Jeff,

    You appear to be making numerous logical leaps in assuming that Joseph’s martyrdom was a result of mania.

    For what it’s worth, I am persuaded Joseph’s last act before death was pulling John Taylor from the window where he had collapsed and was sliding to a two-story drop that could have been fatal. John thought he was pushed from the window by the bullet that hit his watch, but that is because John wasn’t a physicist and didn’t really know much about the damage a musket ball would impart to something as flimsy as a watch. I suppose if John ever did consider that Joseph’s presence at the window was associated with John’s being moved from the window, he likely suppressed the thought due to survivor’s guilt.

    I have noticed that a tendency to visions tends to follow biological lines, as does other talents, such as musicality. My husband has no talent for prophetic visions and dreams. In my family, there is a substantial history of such visions and dreams, and I can trace which ancestors had dreams and visions and which did not (or at least did not record their experiences with such matters).

  51. Martin, my view is not very different from yours. I would consider polygamy if I were convinced that God commanded me to do it. I’ll let you know if that happens.

    Meg: no bullet hit John Taylor’s watch. That is a myth.

  52. Steve,

    I know no bullet hit John’s watch, that the damage to the crystal and back were caused by the internal gears when John fell after being shot.

    That is exactly why I suppose that it was Joseph Smith, rather than angels, that hoisted John from the window and deposited him on the floor.

    Since John is one of my ancestors, I am rather grateful to Joseph for likely saving John’s life.

  53. Section 132 should never have been canonized. It wasn’t intended for the Church. Joseph never approved the text for publication. In fact, we don’t even have a reliable version of the text, but are forced to rely on a second-hand copy. James Talmage was right to remove it from the canon in his edition of Joseph’s revelations. IMHO.

  54. Re: “We need to find ways to preserve that cosmic vision of each of us inseparably connected, without the proprietary nature and utter exclusion that comes with polygamy as practiced here below.”

    I think utter exclusion is introduced by the sealing ordinance itself. Sealing ordinances assume disconnection/separation as post-mortal default settings (Do they not? I am open to being wrong). I think ‘we need to find ways to preserve a cosmic vision of each of us inseparably connected, without the utter exclusion that comes with’ a literal belief in sealing ordinances.

    Like you, I ‘believe that our actual knowledge about human relationships in the afterlife is slim-to-none.’ I, too, ‘have a supreme testimony in the goodness of God and the knowledge that our Heavenly Parents want us to be happy.’ But this is precisely why I find it increasingly incogitable that God would require sealing ordinances in the first place. As I’ve pondered the billions of souls that have been, are, and will be fellow inhabitants on this planet, the idea that God would require a legalistic ritual – a jumping through of hoops – before allowing togetherness — I am finding that idea astonishingly vainglorious. The presumption that God would deny unity and bonds until LDS sealings are properly executed is becoming preposterous to me.

    I intend neither injury nor insult. I am in anguish over these thoughts and welcome any and all insight. I am otherwise an active, believing member. Can anyone reconcile the church’s seemingly exclusive & elitist sealing doctrine with a God who is no respecter of persons?

  55. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings is an all-time great anthem.”

    Amen. That song got me through my mission.

  56. “I once brought up polygamy in a RS lesson and was pulled by the Relief Society President afterwards who said ‘as soon as you said the word ‘polygamy,’ the spirit left the room.'”

    For a member of the Godhead, the Spirit is a bit skittish.

  57. Jen K: I hear you. I agree that God is no respecter of persons. I would think your concern is even broader as well, expanding to the generalized question of why ordinances matter at all. Such a question is generally beyond my ken (despite me being an Expert), but nevertheless I feel that there is real spiritual power in them and can’t deny the positive effects of such ordinances in my life. I agree that God’s vision of the world and the scope of humanity are much, much bigger than we can conceive.

  58. Hi Jen K,

    You wrote, ” As I’ve pondered the billions of souls that have been, are, and will be fellow inhabitants on this planet, the idea that God would require a legalistic ritual – a jumping through of hoops… I am finding that idea astonishingly vainglorious.”

    As Steve said, this applies to all ordinances. Baptism is the ordinance that is fundamentally required to return to God’s presence, or so the New Testament asserts. Yet there are (tens of) billions of souls that have been inhabitants on this planet who have not received this ordinance.

    In this I see the brilliance of my “manic” Joseph in both tying family relationships to baptism (a pre-requisite to sealings) and ensuring that all women and their children could be legitimately tied into the family of mankind that would receive posthumous proxy baptism.

    As for bring together in eternity, I’m OK with sealings being somewhat fungible. I consider that I will greatly love all in eternity, and so I don’t terribly mind the idea that there could be some rearrangements. However the work of providing sealings to our families, the ones for whom we care more than other humans, makes sense if its purpose might only matter in mortality for any individual ancestor.

  59. Martin,
    “so where does that leave me? Pretty much where Steve ended up”
    I’m sorry to belabor a point, but where exactly is that?” The church deals in black in white. Either it’s true or it isn’t. We can reject that kind of dichotomous thinking along with everything else that we find distasteful, but where does that leave us exactly? Where have we ended up? I think I’m there but I’m not sure where that is if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s just the land of cognitive dissonance. But the tenacity with which Mormons hold to their faith, no matter what, is inspiring and at the same time disquieting.

    And just for the record, when I’m talking about the pain of polygamy, I’m not referring to people getting married again after their spouse dies.That is a very different matter, and of course I would want my husband to find happiness if I were die. I have told him that. We can’t imagine being with anyone else and hopefully we won’t ever have to, but that is not the polygamy that I’m talking about.

  60. Kristen, that sort of dichotomous view is not necessary.

  61. Jen K, I’ll take a quick but abbreviated stab at it. I think God can accomplish his will any number of ways, and the necessity for legalistic ordinances such as sealing and baptism are by His word only. I think he’s established a number of things on the earth through the church because they’re expedient in helping us develop whatever it is we’re to develop. I certainly believe I will associate with people I knew here on earth in the eternities but to whom I’m not sealed. I’m also convinced there are sealed individuals who will have little if anything to do with each other in the hereafter. Yet I have felt an extremely strong tug many times I’ve been witness to a sealing in the temple to which I have nothing to compare, but which feels divine and stirs my soul and my aspirations. It molds my motives and codifies my commitment. Furthermore, I think the role of temple work for the dead is to promote cross-generational cohesiveness, because God could surely have instituted non-earthbound ordinances for them to make commitments if He so chose. This is just my take on it. On the other hand, I do believe that damnation is the default state. While our actions can’t prevent it, we are required to act according to God’s instructions in order to avoid it.

  62. Steve, you might be able to gain some real points with your wife if you told her you’d rather incur the wrath of God than practice polygamy. I could be wrong but…

  63. Meg,

    One of the hallmark, trademark symptoms of acute mania is hyper sexuality. I think it is undeniable that his hyper sexuality did indeed lead to his martyrdom. ( Find your favorite ER doc, or psychiatrist and ask about acute mania needing hospitalization. Inevitably they all involve hyper sexuality as evidenced by this accidental case which was induced by the prescription of SSRI’s )

    The difference between the creative brilliance of Joseph and the organizational brilliance of Brigham is absolutely critical in trying to reconcile where we are now.

    “On May 4, 1842, Smith assembled nine leading Mormons in the second floor room over his store to introduce them to the temple endowment. Exactly what happened that day is not clear; Brigham Young wrote in his journal that Smith “taught them the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days, and [ I ] received my washings, anointings, and endowments. ” Years later Young recounted that at the end of the evening Smith had told him that “this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances… I …. wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, pintails, and Key words.” It probably never will be possible to dissect Smith’s original plan for the ritual from Young’s later elaboration (John Brooke, Refiner’s Fire p. 248)

    We don’t know what Joseph originally meant, and Brigham’s attempt to clarify hasn’t helped a whole lot either. It is now affecting polygamous families, divorced families, LGBT families and their children, and the children of divorce.

    Somehow, someway, it will need to sorted out. The sooner the better.

  64. Steve,
    If you read what I said, I reject that kind of dichotomous thinking. I’m just a confused soul trying to make sense of the senseless I guess. I was hoping for some insight on how people find their peace.

  65. Eve of Destruction says:

    “I don’t know why x happened. I’m sure the man responsible had the best intentions, even I recognize x is harmful to women in its overall effects, and I sure hope x stops.” Question: is polygamy the only possible value for x, or is this the Ordinary Guy’s approach to Just About Everything That Disproportionately Harms Women?

  66. “Section 132 should never have been canonized. It wasn’t intended for the Church. Joseph never approved the text for publication. In fact, we don’t even have a reliable version of the text, but are forced to rely on a second-hand copy.”

    This could be said about Section 134 and 135 as well. I don’t we have a particularly coherent concept of canon and the Doctrine and Covenants is very even. I would prefer that we relied on the canon of scripture rather than authority. Authority allows us to ignore much of the problematic aspects of the D&C but only replaces it with much more complicated issues of arbitrary power in the absence of law…something like that.

  67. Kristen, I don’t feel that the church does deal exclusively with black and white. You have to start with simple concepts, and those can seem black and white, but when you add them all up, there’s a lot of subtlety. I actually believe I’ve received revelation, and remarkably, it’s only at its very center that it’s been at all clear — it’s very fuzzy around the edges. No matter how black and white things may be presented, we see through a glass darkly. I feel very comfortable in the church despite all the messiness with it’s history. So, where do I end up? Will I be practicing polygamy in the eternities? I don’t think so, but I don’t know. Why did Joseph institute polygamy? I don’t know. I have some explanations that I can accept but which are not entirely satisfying. I just feel that I’ve been given so much that I can keep on keeping with what I’ve got, and trust I’m going to continue to get more.

  68. Eve, I’m not sure your point. You seem quite obviously dissatisfied with what I have written. Are you demanding that I openly reject Joseph Smith as a prophet in order to adequately reject polygamy? Are you suggesting that I believe polygamy doesn’t disproportionately harm women? You don’t seem the coy type, so don’t be passive aggressive with me.

    Kristen: I don’t have peace over this issue. It troubles me. There are several points where our history, doctrine and policies trouble me — this is one of them. Just because I have All The Answers doesn’t mean I’m at peace. Personally, I don’t think we ought to be at peace with this — it should be something where we are continually learning, trying to understand, wrestling spiritually while trying to walk with our fellow saints.

  69. On’e of the questions Steve answered was:

    “4. But you’re a guy. If your wife dies and you get remarried, wouldn’t you want to be sealed to her? Isn’t that almost unfair to the new wife that she won’t be on the ‘same level’ as your dead wife?”

    Angela C suggested a possible answer was:

    “What’s wrong with being married for time only on a second marriage?”

    For the male marrying a second time, who had been sealed to his prior spouse, being married only “for time” to his second wife would mean he would have no eternal tie to his biological children with his second wife.

    For the female marrying a previously married man, who had been sealed to his prior spouse, she would be denied a sealing that creates a bond between herself and God and her children.

    This is why I talk about monogamy, if the only allowed form of marriage, resulting in eternal bastards who could not be joined into the family of mankind.

    As for a woman who has been sealed to a first spouse and then remarries, she is sealed and there is a bond between herself and God and her children that is entirely consistent with the Old Testament ‘levirate’ marriage.

    Now, some men might decide that if they can’t be sealed to their biological children by a previously sealed widow, they won’t bother falling in love and marrying said widow.

    One might say, “What of the man? He will be unable to be sealed in this life, if what you say is the case.” Yes, but he can be sealed into the family of mankind by the sealing between himself and his parents. His children would not be eternal orphans. And we do know that God reserves the prerogative of blessing his faithful children.

  70. The Spirit is not a simpering dowager. How many times do have to say it?!!

    To answer Angela’s question upthread, “4 – what’s wrong with being married for time only on a second marriage?”

    Um… I wasn’t sealed to my first husband, and neither were any of my kids. I wanted that more than I can express. I wanted it enough that I agreed to be sealed to my second husband, even though his request for a cancelation from his first wife was denied. This is routine in the church today, in 2015, by the way. Unless the ex-wife is being sealed to another, the sealing is almost never granted cancelation- EVEN if she remarries another man. Unless it’s a sealing, they keep her sealed to her first husband, EVEN if they both ask for a cancelation. So much for agency. And so much for not practicing polygamy today. My husband is sealed to two living women.

    I hate it. And my church doesn’t give a damn.

  71. Hi Jeff,

    You equate mania with hyper-sexuality and project that Joseph was hyper-sexual.

    Was David Hyrum Smith hyper-sexual? I didn’t think he was…

    Joseph’s teachings regarding polygamy has been blamed for his death. I would counter that it was Joseph’s punishment of illicit intercourse that disproportionately led to his death. If Joseph had punished illicit intercourse as a complete prude without attempting to teach the acceptability of (properly administered) plural marriage, then I don’t know that his enemies would have been able to foment such passion to kill him. But the only one who appears to have been solely dismayed by teachings of plurality was Austin Cowles. Despite the fact that Austin is my ancestor, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to find that he, too, had been dabbling in illicit intercourse. Mere anxiety about plural marriage teachings seems insufficient to cause a man to plot murder, as Austin did.

  72. Steve,
    “Just because I have All The Answers doesn’t mean I’m at peace.”
    You are priceless. And I mean that most complimentary.

  73. So, Tracy, was there a reason you weren’t permitted to be sealed to your first husband?

    Story. My father and mother were sealed. A few decades later, my father had an affair and divorced my mother. We would talk about the possibility that in some future time my father might repent and be sealed to the woman who had seduced him into adultery (she did it for the express purpose of “saving” him from Mormonism).

    My mother was fine with the idea of being in heaven as the wife of her erstwhile husband, with erstwhile husband also sealed to the seductress. As she said, “In heaven, I would be the first wife…” Then she would cackle.

    Seductress divorced my father when he wouldn’t agree to disavow his children for going to BYU. So all this ended up being theoretical, since my father never engendered children with any woman other than my mother.

  74. If polygamy is the order of heaven, can anyone explain why it was just Adam & Eve who were placed in the garden, and not Adam & Eve & Rebecca & Jennifer, etc.?

  75. I suppose my descendants a hundred years from now might well seal all my father’s wives to him by proxy, posthumously. And despite the nature of what passed here in mortality, I do honestly hope for these women and their children that they embrace the salvation of Christ, which I believe comes through the ordinances administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just to correct my statement that “this ended up bring theoretical.”

  76. Ancient tradition indicates that it was Adam and Eve and Sophia. But those who presume that every man must necessarily be sealed to more than one woman do not have a solid doctrinal basis for that assumption. Thus speak I, whose prophet ancestor, John Taylor, misunderstood this point. I assert that he was wrong to equate the New and Everlasting Covenant with polygamy. Obviously the Q15 who excommunicated John’s son for polygamy also thought John Taylor had been incorrect in his interpretation.

  77. Sorry, Lilith, not Sophia.

  78. Regarding Lilith: “In Jewish folklore, from Alphabet of Ben Sira onwards, Lilith becomes Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time (Rosh Hashanah) and from the same earth as Adam. This contrasts with Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs. The legend was greatly developed during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism.[3] For example, in the 13th century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she coupled with the archangel Samael.[4] The resulting Lilith legend is still commonly used as source material in modern Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror.”

  79. Kristen – Monogamous marriage also allows and even creates opportunities for abuse. I’ve seen a whole lot of bad and abusive monogamous marriages, including my parents’. Yet I still entered into it because I have faith that it is ordained of God. I know quite a few people who refuse to marry because of the bad examples of monogamous marriage they have seen in their lives.

  80. My church doesn’t give a damn.

    Or maybe it does. Maybe it gives so much of a damn that it allows a covenant to stand because it’s so important in some way we don’t comprehend, and is as much between the individuals and God as it is between the individuals. Maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do about what effect that sealing will have in eternity. Maybe it’s a weird, limited, perverse mortal perspective to consider those sealings as “polygamy” or as something to be abhorred. Maybe your own sealing is not limited or sullied in any way by that earlier sealing but is as whole and complete and perfect as any other sealing. Maybe your sealing, regardless of anything else that is or is not related to it, gives your temple attendance a meaning that is incomprehensible to those of us without such a sealing. Maybe it’s worth a damn, and maybe my church gives a damn about you more than you realize.

  81. Ardis, those are good maybes. I hope someday they become clarified instead of speculative.

  82. ::heart Ardis::

  83. Meg Stout:
    That’s quite a concept, that it would be easier to enter the Eternal Rest of Heaven as an adulterer than as a Mormon. From your tone, it seems like it might be okay to execute a facepalm and head shake at that bit of logic.

  84. Hi Michael,

    Which child of God would you deny the opportunity of repenting and accepting Christ prior to final judgement?

    You might note that I am not one of those who believe that it is necessary to earn one’s salvation through works. Thus it is not inconsistent for me to believe the grace of the Christ who saves me is powerful enough to save all mankind.

  85. Hi Meg,

    I don’t have any of the personal ties to either Nauvoo or Utah polygamy as many here do, and I’ve never doubted that my views are in the extreme minority. I do, however, feel quite strongly that resolving these issues is of paramount importance for everyone since we are still over 150 years later trying to sort it all out. And it’s a mess.

    Wildly charismatic leaders ( who just so happen to be manic at the time ) imposing their view of sexuality on their followers in not unique to Mormons. Perhaps the best example is John Humphrey Noyes of the Oneidas whose utopian philosophy focusing on the individual relationship to God was intended to be a sort of “kingdom of God on Earth” (which doesn’t sound familiar at all…..)

    David’s illness was indeed very different, and perhaps much more brutal in that once broken it appears he never recovered in any meaningful way. I think often of the meeting David Hyrum Smith had with Brigham Young in Salt Lake, where Brigham Young said it was David’s right to lead the Utah church. Power hungry as Brigham seemed to people, he appeared fully ready to honor Joseph Smith’s prophecy that his son David would one day lead the church. And what a different church it would be.

  86. Hi Jeff,

    I assume you haven’t read my “Faithful Joseph” series over at M*. I include coverage of Cochran and Noyes, Ann Lee, and the medical treatment of hysteria.

    It’s actually not as much of a mess as you might believe. It’s interesting, because people presume that it is hard to explain or understand, but I have no problem explaining it to non-Mormon colleagues in a few sentences. They completely “get” the difference between a man who covenanted with women, who produced a down-right prudish people, and folks who exploited women without any permanent bond.

    It is interesting that most women involved in the non-ceremonial instances of sexual intercourse (Noyes’ complex marriage, Cochran’s spiritual wifery, and Bennett’s illicit intercourse/spiritual wifery) are nameless. When women were brought into Joseph’s system of covenant marriages, they become well-documented.

  87. As someone who is resealed: I can only say that I cherish and love both of my wives. If the second marriage were for time only, it would be a cheat for her. So, I can only say that for equality, marriage in heaven must mean much, much more than we can ever imagine here. Love is eternal.

    Here is another case where continuing revelation is sorely needed for clarity.

  88. Meg,
    “It’s interesting, because people presume that it is hard to explain or understand, but I have no problem explaining it to non-Mormon colleagues in a few sentences.”

    I’m sorry, I get that you know a lot about this subject, but this sounds really smug and condescending to me.

    I have been a member my entire life, I am a descendant of polygamists, I have read and studied about it extensively and I have never understood it or been able to explain it. And it is quite clear from this discussion thread that I’m not the only one.
    In addition to the mess of polygamy I see in our church’s history, I see a lot of mess when I look at Warren Jeffs and many FLDS groups. These are a direct result of JSJ’s polygamy.
    D&C 132 is a big mess in my opinion. I can’t make any sense of it whatsoever.
    I’m happy you are so at peace with it all but it’s not that simple for everyone. And you saying it is simple doesn’t make it so.

  89. Meg,

    I have no intent whatsoever of convincing anyone one way or another about Joseph or his motives. What I mean by a mess, and I do believe it’s a huge mess, is that we are still saddled with the unfinished business of not only trying to understand Joseph’s original vision, but also trying to extrapolate the pieces he so clearly left unfinished. Current temple language that so many women find offensive is a result of polygamy’s legacy, and even today the baptisms and sealings being withheld form LGBT families are being treated in “the same” way as those of polygamous families. Polygamy, plural marriage, celestial marriage, what have you, sits at the crux of all Mormon theology. There is no easy fix.

    “When women were brought into Joseph’s system of covenant marriages, they become well-documented.”

    I think of this often too, as I walk thru Temple Square as stare at the statue of Joseph and Emma which is sandwiched between the COB and 47 E. South Temple. Perhaps “well documented” on paper to those in the know, but undoubtably absent in public display and memory.

    I have read a bit of your series, but not at and will at a later date. This, however, caught my eye in the Decade of Delay:

    “Imagine, then, if Joseph and Emma thought this attack was a direct result of an early attempt to practice plural marriage. It would be no wonder that they both would approach plural marriage as though it would lead to Joseph’s death.”

    Well, it did. And there are those in the throws of acute mania who are absolutely convinced they’re receiving instruction from Deity. Perhaps. Much more likely though is Prophet Joseph after passing thru The Refiner’s Fire became one of those not only Touched By Fire, but engulfed by it. It’s our mess to fix.

  90. When I read this whole conversation and speculation about the hereafter and marriages and children and worlds and populating them and eternities and sealings, I actually start wishing NONE of it is true. I would rather everything is over after we die than polygamy and eternal child bearing under a system of patriarchy. The whole thing makes me vomit. So, you all can banter with your studious studies and I am going to be over dreading the undiscovered country, over the toilet.

  91. Kristen, I agree with everything you have said. You are much more articulate than me so I am sitting back nodding my head with everything you have said.

  92. People have been sealed to each other and both sides will agree they don’t want to be with each other. A man marries in the temple, a few years later ,his wife committs adultery, leaves the Church and marries outside the Church to a non-member. There are no children in the first marriage. That man will have no interest in remaining sealed to her and vice versa. The second wife he marries is going to wind up being considered his first wife.
    And no, we don’t have the information in this life to know just what a sealing means. It’s something we do on on faith. Perhaps women should stay sealed for the reasons Ardis suggests. I take comfort realizing that we are likely billions of years old and it follows that we have solid relationships with others we have no memory of in this life.
    It is doctrine that before this life, we were all organized into families –that’s how we got here.
    We have no memory of it. Joseph Smith told BY that it was important for the Saints
    to keep the Spirit with them because families were disorganized here from how they were formed there–he didn’t want them making mistakes marrying. We know error is a part of the mortal experience. It is quite probable that you belong in a certain family order. If it’s messed up here, it’s still known there and should be in the hereafter. I think we likely can’t remember now, but we bonded with others premortally as our parents, children or spouse(s). Our relationships must already be in place. It’s crazy to think that in a short mortal window span of 10 years–between ages 20 and 30–we choose an eternal companion–when we have the least life experience at that age. There’s just a lot more going on than what meets the eye. What we do know is that the Lord is very organized in all He does. He must have us organized.
    And I always thought if someone wasn’t faithful keeping temple covenants, they voided that sealing?? Anyone know?

  93. P.S. It’s also possible sealings may be transferrable at some future point if we’ve been faithful.
    What will matter is just that we were sealed to God and it’s still in force so you just change who you are sealed with. Who knows?

  94. S, I’m with you. The whole irritating thing about polygamy is, if it is eternal in nature in any form (even limited to some), count me out, I’m not interested. I would prefer not wasting my time here with the church. No anger, just pure indifference to the plan of salvation if that is case. I only really desire plain old fashion truth from the church, informed consent so to speak, but we don’t really get that.

  95. Had to go watch a movie tonight with daughter, so wasn’t here.

    I used to get more upset that some people didn’t “get” what I’m talking about. A while ago I tumbled back across a comment thread from December 2014 where I was a bit of a nut, because back then I was really angry that no one understood and, particularly, that prior scholars hadn’t figured these things out already.

    The truth of the history has been like the purloined letter, hidden in plain sight, The truth is that families can be together, in all their bewildering complexities, though some families are sanctioned to prevent the feckless faithful from committing to marriages that are far more complex than optimal. Our love for our families inspires us to perform baptisms on behalf of those loved ones, and their loved ones, and back in time as far as records (or perhaps someday visions) can stretch. As family, we’ll gather them all in, the saints and the scoundrels, the teetotalers and the drunkards, the broken-hearted faithful and the brazen seducers. And once they are all gathered, and we’ve loved everyone across time and space, sending in our departed innocents and grandmothers and grandfathers and lovers and friends to plead God’s case, then God will judge, with Christ standing by to plead mercy.

    The beauty of the plan of salvation is that no one is, ultimately, forced to heaven. So if the idea of God and heaven and family and eternal joy leaves one cold, God will not force anyone to embrace it. He will arrange a place somewhere, as close to His seat as they will bear, and allow these to enjoy rest and happiness that we mortals likely can’t imagine.

    By the way, a shout out to Aaron for being so kind as to include the link to the digest of my Faithful Joseph posts. It is intended to get the jist across “without all the bothersome reading,” for any who are honestly troubled by polygamy rather that set in their opinions and unwilling to consider an alternative to the over-sexed bogeyman of popular understanding.

  96. @ Jen K., who wrote:

    “As I’ve pondered the billions of souls that have been, are, and will be fellow inhabitants on this planet, the idea that God would require a legalistic ritual – a jumping through of hoops… I am finding that idea astonishingly vainglorious.”

    Lately I’ve felt that very strongly. Thank you for saying it beautifully and memorably.

  97. I don’t want to reduce Joseph to a mere sexual creature, because he was much more and grander than that, but let’s not cast his sexuality aside too casually. To my view, amid all the confusion and competing theories trying to root in doctrine and make sense of the mess of his polygamy, no theory better explains Joseph’s polygamy than the fact that he was a man, sexually attracted to women, and believed he could successfully maintain concurrent sexual relationships with more than one of them. How he got there, what he said to those with whom he sought coitus, how he justified it to Emma, and the often damaging repercussions are merely the scaffolding that went up to achieve that end. I realize that is not the devotional view, and maybe it’s reductionist, but in this case Occam’s razor was the only way for me to make sense of a God that I would still want to worship.

  98. Eve of Destruction says:

    Steve, no neither of those was what I was getting at. My point was that people in a privileged position (in your case, man) who do know the facts of a problem affecting an oppressed group (in this case, women) often persist in saying gosh I just don’t know, I can’t explain it, I am mystified. That is a widespread pattern beyond just this one issue.

    You know the historical facts of polygamy as well as anyone in this thread, and you have an LDS testimony as strong as anyone’s in this thread, and you’re putting on this “aw shucks, ordinary guy, I don’t know what I would do” act. I thought a FAQ would contain answers, not avoidances of questions. How specifically do you condemn polygamy without condemning Joseph Smith for teaching and practicing it? I am open to the idea that it’s possible, that’s why I bothered to click on your FAQ. But I want to see you do it without backtracking into this pattern (that definitely does press my buttons, since it happens in so many contexts) of I just don’t know, we just don’t know, I mean I know God loveth his children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning…?

  99. Hi J. Crown,

    Belief in a Joseph who was merely motivated by sexual desire is certainly the “go to” explanation for those who don’t bother understanding Mormon eschatology. It doesn’t explain the history. But as long as one is sufficiently reductionist to ignore the history, that shouldn’t be a problem.

    I’m going to sign off on this discussion, because I will be away from the computer all day, and I am certain that by the time I return there will be a full panoply of comments about how Joseph was a red-blooded and virile man in a position to extort sex from his believers, and how much people fully willing to embrace today’s culture of polyamory and uncommitted sex will still decide that heaven can’t be heaven if a single man there has more than one wife.

    On 30 November the ARC of Reluctant Polygamist will be available, which explains history that the reductionist view ignores. In the meantime there is also my Faithful Joseph series, but some of what I wrote there is speculative or incorrect.

  100. Some of us saying we are “at peace” with polygamy or that it “doesn’t bother” us iwove a little bit like my claiming to be at peace with India’s caste system.

    Does it cause me direct pain?
    Does it cause me to see myself as inferior to somebody else?
    Does it compel me to understand myself as lesser in the eyes of God?

    If, like me, the answers to these questions is “no” (for both the caste system and polygamy), then perhaps instead of announcing my indifference to a system that does me no harm, I would be better served by listening to and trying to understand those with a very different experience than mine.

  101. Leona, that is wise.

  102. *is a little bit like

    Curse my clumsy, indifferent fingers.

  103. How do I condemn the practice of polygamy without condemning Joseph Smith and rejecting him as a prophet? Eve, that’s the question. I can’t deny my testimony of the man and his role in the restoration of the Gospel. If you thought that I would have an answer to that question, you’re mistaken. My ordinary guy thing is not an act. I recognize my privilege at play. But I am not in a position to reject my testimony. So, let’s work together here. Help me articulate a space where someone can be flatly against polygamy without denying their personal testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith. If you’re unable to accept that such a space exists, that’s something too and at least we’ll better understand each other.

  104. “How do I condemn the practice of polygamy without condemning Joseph Smith and rejecting him as a prophet?”
    I find it quite easy to accept, honor, and praise Joseph as a prophet without agreeing that he was right in all things. In fact, my working hypothesis is that he was “prophetic” about half the time. Therefore, for the quoted question to make sense I read an interlined assumption that Joseph Smith was a prophet *with regard to polygamy*. That’s a strong version of prophet, but without it, what’s the problem?

  105. Ardis, those are very good maybes. Thank you for the additional perspective.

  106. Christian, I don’t think it’s easy at all.

  107. LOL Meg, eternal bastards = new name for my kids.

    “Intoxicated with the madness, I’m in love with my sadness..”

    Preach it William P. Corgan Jr.

  108. I could be wrong but I think what Eve might be getting at is: What ultimately is the point of questioning, discussing or rejecting anything if, no matter what, you end up in the same place with ultimately the same position, every single time.
    I understand the importance of living an examined life, so I commend BCC for that. But maybe living an examined life means sometimes having to “go there” which doesn’t mean you’ll stay “there” but just that you’re willing to entertain the idea of “there” being a possibility.

  109. Marie, that is a good perspective. Thanks.

  110. Kristine A says:

    I prefer the Hales’ apologetics to Meg Stout’s.

    I think Joseph’s polygamy came from a combination of all the things: a product of the times (context of religious groups experimenting w different sexual/familial communities), curiosity (re translation), view of the hereafter, I think he was quite possibly deceived but very sincere, and I believe his sexual drive helped him convince himself this was something he was supposed to do.

    I have a testimony that God used Joseph the Prophet as a man to accomplish that which needed to be done in the Restoration. I also believe that Joseph was a hot mess. As are we all. And God can use us as instruments in His hands quite similarly.

  111. ^ yes.

  112. I haven’t read all the comments so someone else may have pointed this out…

    We don’t really have any idea what temple sealings will look like after this life. As a kid I always imagined that it meant my family will be in some type of protective bubble, anyone sealed to us will be inside and the unrighteous/unsealed will be outside. As I have gotten older I stopped believing that, especially when my parents divorced and we re sealed to their new spouses. Their original sealing was cancelled effectively leaving me unsealed to anyone. Would I be punished for my parents decisions? Of course not (though maybe in light of recent handbook changes). I don’t think its right that a man can be sealed to more than one woman, but I also don’t know what that actually looks like in the afterlife… does the first wife get to choose to stay in the relationship? Does the man have to choose between the two wives? Are they stuck in an eternal polygamous relationship? Polygamy and sealings are all so unknown which makes it difficult to reconcile. The best I can come up with is that God will work it out in the end.

  113. For all those who believe that Joseph was “sincere but deceived” (as stated above) WRT polygamy and that his imperfections show that we can be instruments in Gods hands etc. I have a sincere question. I want to believe that framing of Joseph Smith. But that begs the question – where is the line? Marrying ‘almost 15 yr olds.’ Using coercion, in what amounts to spiritual abuse from my POV, to get women, and young women, to marry you. How much rotten stuff can you do and still be a prophet? Because while I hate leadership worship I do think that those in positions of authority have more responsibility. The Kirtland Bank failure is one thing, how JS practiced polygamy is another thing. How do you reconcile it – lying to his wife, using his position as a spiritual leader to coerce people into what felt repugnant to them (at least some of them) – with his calling as a prophet? At some point can’t we expect that our religious leaders will have at least as much integrity as we expect from ourselves?

  114. My ancestor’s brother, Benjamin F. Johnson, recounts in his autobiography about Joseph Smith, after marrying Benjamin’s sister Almira, coming to Benjamin’s home after the wedding, and taking Almira into a bedroom there, where Joseph and Almira consumated the marriage. So yes, I also prefer the Hales’ apologetics to Meg Stout’s.

  115. Martin says: “I certainly believe I will associate with people I knew here on earth in the eternities but to whom I’m not sealed.”

    Actually, you will be sealed to all of them. All those in the CK will be sealed to one another because they are the family of God. I’m sealed to my parents who are sealed to theirs, and their siblings. When those siblings marry and are sealed to their spouses I am now sealed to those families as well. I am sealed to the families and lineage of my siblings spouses. When my children were sealed to their spouses, I became sealed to those families too. Sealing is global in the fullest measure. It reaches up and down family lines, as well as sideways. Dear Pres. Hinckley spoke of a linked family chain wherein he didn’t want to cause a break in the chain nor be a weak link. But I think the better analogy is a great net or web because we truly are sealed in many directions. Elder Maxwell taught that mortality includes our time after death until we are resurrected. That being the case, billions have and will come to the truth and be sealed before their body is restored to them. Indeed, it is our Heavenly Parents and Savoir’s work and glory to bring to pass eternal life to us all. I think in the end, most will find their way home to Them, and the sealing ordinance binds them all into the Family of God.

  116. Talon, yeah, I wanted to thank Meg for that lovely zinger for my kids, “Eternal Bastards”.

    FWIW, I was told that when a sealing is canceled, the tie between the two people is ended, but the ties to the children are not effected- i.e: children are denied no blessings predicate on the sins of their parents. But then we smack up against the developments of the last 3 weeks- and clearly we don’t believe that anymore, either. So what then? This policy screws up more than just the kids of gay parents.

    One of the things I hang onto is the “sprit of promise”. If there is none, then there is no blessing. I believe God is not a jerk, and my husband is legally and lawfully wed to me (which is actually part of how we get to be sealed) and he will not be forced to be with his ex-wife. He believes this too. Perhaps she will have blessings opened to her because of *her* covenant with the *Lord* that she couldn’t have gotten any other way, even though my husband will not be tied to her, but that also opens a huge gordian knot.

    What is the point of having an open canon and ongoing revelation if we don’t use either of them? At least then I would know, for better or for worse, if this is the place for my soul.

  117. Some have asked why we even need a sealing ordinance. Is it vain glory, as considered by a commenter above? It sure could appear to be the case. However, when born as spirits pre-mortally we were united with our HPs as a unified family—a family that knew perfect Love and loved perfectly. Because of the fall, that bonding was severed and we were “separated” from Them and each other. Mortality thus required a way to re-connect us to our Parents. The ordinance is an outward ritual that signifies the glorious inner covenant between us and God that can mend the severing. I signify through ordinance that I will do the things the covenant asks of me, re-learning True Love all the rest of my days of mortality, as will God do likewise, in order that mortality/separation cannot forever sever me from my True Home and True Family. In this way, it is not even remotely vainglorious but is surviving and overcoming the fall. It is the covenant-keeping that is the key, not so much the ordinance itself. And over much time from now till the last soul resurrected, those covenants will be made and kept by billions in our eternal Family. How glorious!

  118. “How much rotten stuff can you do and still be a prophet?”

    Based on the Old Testament, I would say a lot.

    Most prophetic figures in the American tradition has serious moral flaws (at least from a Christian purity perspective).

    Henry David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, W.E.B. Dubois, William Jennings Bryan, Martin Luther King, and Cornel West (yeah, a stretch) all had serious personal flaws. I still think they were prophetic.

    Most of the 19th communal movement leaders had similar issues to that of Joseph, though their movements tended not to continues to the extent that the Latter-day Saint movement did.

    Can a prophet be a-hole?

    I don’t know of too many prophets that weren’t also a-holes?

    I think 20th and 21st century LDS prophets should be referred to as Church Presidents rather than as prophets. They to not necessarily play a prophetic role (though I think Pres. Kimball did).

  119. I have trouble believing that polygamy was a directive from God, but how do you reconcile the quote by Joseph saying that an angel came to him with a drawn sword commanding him to practice it. Is there credible proof that he actually said that?

  120. Some have said Joseph instituted polygamy as part of restoring all things. He was working on the inspired translation of the OT and asked God about the Patriarchs living this order of marriage. Yet when Jesus came to earth, He did away with the old covenant, with its ways and laws, and brought forth the New Covenant wherein He gave us higher ways and laws. The 10 commandments were expanded into the fullness of the Beatitudes and further gospel teachings He gave during His mortal ministry. Polygamy was not included in the New Covenant. Teachings on higher marital laws were instituted. To me it seems obvious that since plural marriage causes such heartache and strife it was done away. I am a descendant of polygamy. I’m sure if it had not been instituted I would have still been born at the right time to the right people. I’d give anything if anyone who ever lived it hadn’t felt they were required to do so to gain eternal life. My heart breaks for their mortal sorrows. But I have faith that all is made whole and joyful someday, that sorrows are healed without scars, that wounds are kissed by God and made well. I hope my dear foremothers will each be blessed with her very own Love-of-Her-Life, never to be alone or lost in heartache again.

  121. Eve of Destruction says:

    Steve, I am willing to accept the possibility that there is or could be such a space, but you and others will have to articulate it. That is not a work God has called me to.

    Amanda said it well. I think the better hypothetical for a man who recognizes his privilege is less like would I remarry if commanded, but more like: if Joseph married my 14-year-old daughter (without my knowledge or permission, since obviously I wouldn’t allow it to happen) how would I explain *to her* why what he did to her is not okay, and yet he doesn’t need to admit it was wrong or ask forgiveness, he can just go on being a prophet without demonstrating contrition or repentance, and I still expect her, as my daughter, to sit with our family in a pew while everyone sings “Praise to the Man.”

    As for not denying testimony, I don’t believe the fruits of the spirit are full sentences in English stating correct belief propositions. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, etc. Those fruits appear throughout the world, in good situations and bad. When the spirit speaks peace to my heart, I generally don’t interpret it to mean that the Lord wants me to remain camped indefinitely in the valley of the shadow of death because to budge from that spot would mean denying that the spirit spoke to me there.

  122. Most hypotheticals are absurd. In philosophy, a few have succeeded, but they are well know because of how rare they are.

    Eve, did Steve demand anywhere that you share or agree with his testimony?


  123. Eve, good luck to you on your path.

  124. D. Fletcher says:

    Polygamy in Western culture was outlawed parallel to the rise of Democracy. “One man, one vote” became akin to “One man, one wife.” (sorry for the inherent sexism, but that’s how it was at the time.) All are guaranteed a potential partner.

  125. Leona (7:40am) nailed it, with her brilliant comparison of polygamy to India’s caste system, which is my problem with the collective comfort level we seem to have with our defacto present and future doctrinal polygyny. If you’re privileged to be a Brahman, what’s not to like? Also, the fact that I have to craft a phrase like “defacto present and future doctrinal polygyny” testifies to the mental/emotional/spiritual gymnastics required to discuss the topic, which are driven by our unwillingness (for whatever reasons) to face the unpleasant realities of the origins of polygamy amongst ourselves in our group spaces.

    I really like the way KristineA (9:19am) expresses it, I believe that there are probably a number of influential factors, both known and unknown, and it was a flaming mess. I usually get to my point of frustration where I leave off from trying to sort out an understanding of what happened in Nauvoo and the intermountain west, and go straight to what God’s purposes might have been, a place where there’s room for some truly magnificent speculation.

    But speculation doesn’t get the work done, and I have three Eternal Bastards who I love dearly, and we are all stranded in this fallen world with all manner of chaotic connections, sealed and otherwise, with all kinds of people in formidable messy flux, and I’m fresh out of sunday school tips, except for the two that came from the New Testament: Love the Lord, and love your neighbor as yourself. Sometimes I think that’s all I know for sure, and I have to leave all my hope and trust in God’s hands that we aren’t all going to live in an enormous baby-making harem for eternity.

    Of course, when I say ‘we’, I am speaking only of the feminine half of mortality.

  126. Yeah.

  127. Steve says: “I don’t think it’s easy at all.”
    Yes, of course. In effect, that’s the whole point of the OP.

    But to make my point explicit . . . some material number of (other) Mormons conclude that polygamy was simply wrong. I don’t know numbers, so let me shift to first person–this is me, maybe 35 years ago. Prior to or shortly following that conclusion about polygamy, we/I reconsider what it means to be a prophet and how to understand Joseph Smith. For all the seer stone and Book of Abraham-type questions, in my experience polygamy is the most common prompt for serious questions about the role and status and rightness of Joseph Smith. It’s at least one reason for polygamy being a sensitive topic. For some this reconsideration amounts to a farewell to Joseph. But for others the transition to an incremental and flawed image of ‘prophet’ is manageable. And then life goes on, with polygamy wrong and Joseph a (somewhat differently understood) prophet.

    For what it’s worth, I think it is possible to make sense of sealing everybody to everybody else, without invoking polygamy even once. Some of the comments above suggest or hint at possibilities.

    Also worth noting–this process is, in my experience, independent of one’s family history including one’s ‘dependence’ on polygamy for being. I am a descendant of a 7th (or was it 17th?) wife. And the last polygamous relationship in my line ended in the 1950s with the death of my great grandmother’s sister wife. Many good and sincere people participated in Mormon polygamy. The idea that they were wrongly instructed takes nothing away from their honest effort to do what they understood to be right.

  128. To the many who struggle with Joseph as a prophet due to the history related to polygamy, I completely understand. I lived that distaste regarding Joseph and Mormonism for decades. The only reason I didn’t leave the Church as a teenager is because God ordered me to stay. At the time I wasn’t convinced that “order” necessarily meant the LDS Church was true, just that He wanted me to stay in it for His purposes.

    I agree with Christian that “polygamy is the most common prompt for serious questions about the role and status and rightness of Joseph Smith.” And a good part of the seriousness of those questions arises from the fact that Joseph and Brigham created a people obsessed with sexual fidelity.

    Think of me as like the Danny DeVito character in the film, My Cousin Vinnie. There are many testimonies put forward to convict Joseph of hyper-sexual depravity. Yet I find these testimonies are often easily dismantled (e.g., the frigging of Mary Heron). Few stand up to serious scrutiny. The ones that do stand up are insufficient to prove what is alleged (e.g., sweet Benjamin F. Johnson’s assertions regarding what Joseph and his sister were actually doing behind closed doors, given that he wasn’t an eye witness).

    Meanwhile, there are culprits who were foul seducers, by whom Eliza Snow wrote innocence had been:

    Thrown side by side and face to face with that
    Foul hearted spirit, blacker than the soul
    Of midnight’s darkest shade, the traitor,
    The vile wretch that feeds his sordid selfishness
    Upon the peace and blood of innocence–
    The faithless, rottenhearted wretch, whose tongue
    Speaks words of trust and fond fidelity,
    While treach’ry, like a viper, coils behind
    The smile that dances in his evil eye.

    There is a reason there is “smoke.” There was a metaphorical fire. But the one abusing the homes and hearts of Nauvoo was not Joseph.

  129. For me, though I’m only 2nd gen Mormon with no polygamous forebears, I accept the possibility of both polygyny and polyandry. I’ve had too many ancestors (direct and cousins), men and women, who have had more than one marriage. I have one woman who survived four of her five husbands. I’m in no position to judge which of her husbands she’d prefer, if she’d prefer any or all. I believe God will honor whatever all parties can agree upon.

    I don’t believe anyone will be required to have more than one spouse, or even a single one for that matter, if they cannot accept it.

  130. I don’t think the powers that be quite get it. How we talk about polygamy now has a huge influence on the millennial generation. I think most modern girls don’t care about what Joseph did; they care about what modern leaders SAY about what Joseph did. When the facts we know are laid out and our leaders say, “God wanted this,” a lot of girls head for the door.

  131. Anon, I think you nailed it with this. Ouch.

  132. Isn’t it odd that current members of the church can (and do) praise their polygamist ancestors rather than being required to disavow them?

  133. Too many comments here to see if anyone else already mentioned this, but women apparently can be sealed to more than one husband. My aunt married three times (two husbands died shortly after marriage). I checked on FamilySearch, and she is sealed to all three. Just sayin’.

    Also, simple math and population statistics argue against eternal polygamy. Maybe more women are celestial material in this world, but more boys than girls die before age eight. So, according to Mormon theology, those innocent children will be in the celestial kingdom, and there may well be more males than females there. Obviously, we haven’t got a clue about how things will work in the hereafter.

  134. Population statistics doesn’t work. We believe in multiple worlds, so it’s wholly possible there are worlds with the opposite gender imbalances, or no imbalance at all.

    Though if you want to get mathematically pedantic (and slightly depressing) about it, imagine how it’ll feel for those who are Celestial worthy but through the eons don’t get matched up. Do we get down to the last dozen and tell them “tough luck, no one fits with you”?

  135. Ignorant question here: Did Joseph Smith ever invoke King David or King Solomon re: polygamy? His version seems more akin to royal polygamy than to Abrahamic polygamy, and given that he at least hinted at being King as well as prophet, he could well have been thinking of a restoration of the house of David.

    Anyway, the fact that polygamy didn’t work very well doesn’t necessary mean he wasn’t a prophet, or even that polygamy wasn’t divinely inspired–just that it didn’t work out right. That would hardly be the first, or even the worst, screw-up made by a prophet. In fact, I’d be more suspicious of JS if there weren’t records of him screwing up–no one (‘cept Jesus) is perfect.

  136. Lately when I think of the very real problems and challenges associated with polygamy, I immediately think of the hook-up culture I witnessed at a major mid-western university. Not to mention all the elective abortions that go on. And the selfish divorces. This leads me to roll my eyes a bit at those who castigate Joseph or Brigham for their supposedly deviant practices. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps there is a better way that includes none of these ills, but for now I will reserve my judgement of men who did so much good.

  137. “Think of me as like the Danny DeVito character in the film, My Cousin Vinnie.”

    Meg, you’ll have to remind me just what character Danny DeVito played in My Cousin Vinny?

  138. It was an oscar worthy caricature of Joe Pesci.

  139. Ack, yes, Joe Pesci playing Vinnie Gambini.

    To Nepos, D&C 132 clearly indicates that Kings David and Solomon were part of the original question Joseph asked, if one presumes that the initial verses of D&C 132 were in answer to Joseph’s original question:

    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 wives and concubines—

    2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.

  140. Hi Meg,

    Thanks! Interesting to see them all lumped together like that, since the Patriarchs practiced a very different form of polygamy than the Kings. Of course, the form of polygamy that JS tried to implement was different than either…

  141. My Aunt get a temple divorce from her first husband and has been sealed to a widower that is still sealed to his first wife.

    Hence my aunt is the second wife of a polygamist. She knew that full well going in, of course, and followed the spirit that she should marry him. So yeah, don’t be surprised when you find polygamy in the celestial kingdom.

    Lots of things didn’t “work out” due to the hardness of the saints’ hearts. The united order, divorce, polyagmy, etc.

  142. Was out of town, so way late to the thread. Couple of questions: Can anyone cite an official church publication that explains the “why” behind the temple sealing policy that only allows living women to be sealed to one husband at a time? Also, I have stumbled upon a couple of examples of prominent men in the 1900’s who, according to Family Search, were sealed to living women who were previously sealed to other husbands. Next, we consistently get quotes from old apostles during the era of plural marriage that a man might have plural wives in the hereafter, but that women won’t have plural husbands. Of course, the quotes were made at a time when we didn’t even sealed deceased women to all their husbands. Can anyone quote a leader taking the same position in say, the last 75 years or so? I think many have overlooked Frank Pellett’s comments when he talks about polyandry. So we don’t seal a living woman to more than one husband, but we do eventually seal her once she’s deceased to all husbands she’s had in mortality. Presuming all parties “accept” the work done on their behalf, who’s to say there won’t be polyandry in the hereafter? I’ve searched and searched, but I’ve yet to find an official quote about how things will shake out beyond “God and the parties will sort it out.” What I haven’t heard is “God and the parties will sort it out, but no matter what, a woman will only have one husband in the eternities.”

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