She shall believe or she shall be destroyed: D&C 121 and 132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. This is Part 4 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5 and Part 6 here.

Doctrine and Covenants 132 introduces the law, covenant or doctrine of plural marriage. It poses a significant challenge to many readers and teachers in the church, especially women, and especially domestic violence survivors. Originally articulated as a private document in 1843, it was the only surviving written record explicitly describing plural marriage after Joseph Smith’s death. [1] Joseph F. Smith reflected in 1878 that, when written, the text “was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form.”

Time and language have only evolved since 1878; read now, the language used to present D&C 132 mirrors the rhetoric and origin of abusive relationships. While the language in D&C 121 relates to the priesthood and abuse across a wide variety of relationships, the language in D&C 132 specifically mirrors the origin and pattern of intimate partner violence against women, or, abuse perpetrated by a man against a woman he has ever dated, been married to, or with whom he shares a child in common.

Narratives of abuse

We are not accustomed to thinking of God (who provides the voice of this section) or Joseph Smith (who dictated the revelation) as perpetrators of abuse. Yet, when read through modern eyes, the language in D&C 132 mirrors strategies for developing and maintaining abusive relationships.[2] I’ve paraphrased and italicized several of these strategies below, followed by descriptions of how they are reflected in a modern reading of the language used in D&C 132.

Intimate partner violence against women typically starts with the perpetrator establishing a power differential and gaining control over the survivor. To accomplish this, he often uses mind games, such as gaslighting, manipulation, bait-and-switch, and other forms of coercion. 

According to D&C 132:61 “if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent…then is he justified.” So consent from a first wife, such as Emma Smith, appears to be necessary before a husband practices plural marriage. Yet, per verses 52-55, “Let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph…But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed…and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold [of] wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.” 

So, while verse 61 appears to require Emma’s consent, verses 52-55 make it clear that Joseph will have plural wives whether Emma says yes or no; her real choice is whether she is one of them. The circular language in D&C 132:65 underscores this reading: “It shall be lawful in me, if [a first wife] receive not this law, for [her husband] to receive all [wives] whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe…and she then becomes the transgressor.” If she does not consent to plural marriage, she’s a transgressor. If she’s a transgressor, he does not need her consent to marry additional women.

Based on modern definitions of “consent” and “coercion,” several elements in this section suggest coercion, rather than consent, motivated many women’s participation in plural marriage. First, choice and true consent mean the person is free to say “yes” or “no.” Coercion implies that the person may have a nominal choice, but not a viable one. Per verse 54, Emma’s alternative to saying “yes” was destruction — not a viable choice, and so she was not free to say “no.” In addition, per verse 65, a first wife saying “no” to plural marriage invalidates the requirement for her consent, thereby permitting her husband to marry additional wives anyway. This means the outcome in a woman’s marriage is fixed independent of her choice and agency — this constitutes coercion. It’s relevant to note that some accounts suggest an angel with a sword threatened Joseph with destruction if he said “no” to plural marriage. This nominal, not viable, choice would constitute coercion as well.

In addition, according to historical records, Joseph Smith likely had entered plural marriages already, without Emma’s consent. This is different from choosing whether or not to consent to Joseph having plural wives in the first place (v. 61), and in a modern reading would be considered gaslighting, or a bait-and-switch — which are also types of coercion. 

The perpetrator preemptively cuts off avenues of support for the survivor; this may include invalidating doctrine, community rules or social norms that would undermine or contradict abusive behavior.

Joseph Smith’s scribe later reported that Hyrum had asked Joseph to dictate the revelation in D&C 132 in order to convince Emma to accept and participate in plural marriage. Based on this report, the “power and influence…maintained by virtue of the holy priesthood” God, Joseph, and Hyrum respectively used to give, dictate, and share with Emma the covenant of righteous priesthood exercise in D&C 121:41-46 should have been accomplished “by persuasion, by longsuffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” (D&C 121:41-46). 

Yet, very few of these values are evident in D&C 132, and several appear to be fundamentally undermined. For example, while D&C 121:37 indicates “Amen to the priesthood” of anyone who uses it to “exercise… dominion or compulsion,” D&C 132:54 suggests that Emma Smith is compelled to “abide this commandment [or] she shall be destroyed” (emphasis added). [3]

Some efforts to reconcile the covenant of righteous priesthood exercise in D&C 121 with the coercive and compulsory language in D&C 132 involve redefining persuasion, longsuffering, gentleness and meekness, etc., to include the language in D&C 132. This weakens D&C 121 as a resource against abuse by modern perpetrators who use strategies and language similar to that in D&C 132. Put another way, it’s difficult to reconcile that modern priesthood holders cannot say “I have the priesthood so you’ve got to do what I say” when the language used in D&C 132 makes it look like Joseph Smith can tell Emma Smith “I’m the prophet so you’ve got to do what I say or face destruction.”

One goal of abuse is to take away the survivor’s agency and make her dependent on the perpetrator of abuse. This involves undermining her senses of personhood, self and autonomy.

The language of D&C 132 frames plural wives without independent agency. In verse 44, any woman who is innocently accused of adultery does not choose her fate.[4] Instead, her priesthood leader (Joseph Smith) is instructed to “take her and give her unto [a man that]…hath been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.”

This language also frames plural wives’ value and exaltation as fundamentally contingent on their husbands. Verse 63 describes women’s exaltation as the state of being “given unto [their husbands] to multiply and replenish the earth…that they may bear the souls of men;” and per verse 64, any woman whose husband “teaches unto her [the law of plural marriage] shall…believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed.”

Throughout the section, the words spoken in God’s voice repeatedly refer to women as men’s possessions, without autonomy or independent value:

  • Verse 61: “that that belongeth to him”
  • Verse 62: “they belong to him” 
  • Verse 51: “whom I have given unto you”
  • Verse 52, 62, 63: “they are given unto him”
  • Verse 37: “Abraham received concubines…and it was accounted unto him for righteousness”
  • Verse 39: “David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me”

Some details in this word choice underscore women’s lack of independent value and dependent status on men in the presentation of this section. Verse 61 uses the pronoun for a thing to refer to virgins given in plural marriage, rather than the pronoun for a person (“that that belongeth” vs “she that belongeth”). Further, the term ”concubine” refers to a lower-status woman legally bound to a powerful man in a unidirectional relationship to satisfy his sex and child-bearing interests.

Once the survivor in an abusive relationship has complied with the perpetrator’s desired choice, she is restored as an independent moral agent – but only to be unjustly held accountable for decisions she made under duress.

We see this as Emma and other women are restored as agents to accept the consequences of refusing to participate in plural marriage (v. 52, 64, 65), as we’ll discuss more in the next section. We also see this in the historical fallout after section 132 was canonized. Any sexual, social, spiritual or physical unhappiness women felt as a result of plural marriage was considered her own responsibility because she had assented to participate.[5]

We also see this in some instances of the way the church has handled sexual assault. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, teachings such as “it is better to die in defending one’s [chastity] than to live having lost it without a struggle;”[6] while presumably well-meaning, shamed survivors for the fact of their survival and held them accountable for crimes perpetrated against their bodies. Among most members, this specific passage was typically held to mean that women were responsible for some degree of breaking the law of chastity if they survived a sexual assault by a non-spouse, and that sexual assault by a spouse was a lesser sin. 

These teachings have been quoted and repeated throughout the decades since. Elizabeth Smart has spoken eloquently about the effects of these teachings on modern survivors of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. Beloved church leaders echoed a view of survivors’ partial culpability in abuse until at least 1992; and ample documentation notes BYU’s use of the Honor Code to punish victims of sexual and other assault until 2016. Moroni 9:9 (a scripture describing rape) was listed in the Young Women’s manual under “Virtue” until 2016, as well.

Recent church statements tend to be more supportive of survivors. However, challenges surrounding survivors’ misplaced culpability persist; these intensify when an assault is committed by a spouse and/or results in pregnancy.

Relationship characteristics of abuse

Once the perpetrator of abuse has established a dynamic of power and control over the survivor, there are often three relationship characteristics that help him maintain power and control over her:

1. Enforcing different behavioral standards for himself vs the survivor

2. Implementing consequences and negative fallout that are only binding on the survivor

3. Securing positive fallout that is binding only on himself.

1. Enforcing different behavioral standards for himself vs the survivor:

Men: D&C 132 includes no behavioral standards for men within plural marriage: no prohibitions against harming their wives, no guidelines on participating in plural marriage in a way that benefits their wives, no admonishment to recognize (or that God recognizes) their wives as having independent value. 

The text includes no behavioral standards for men based on their fidelity within plural marriage or their treatment of their wives. Men are specifically exempted from accusations of adultery within plural marriage in D&C 132:62, “If he have ten 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.”

Women: Behavioral standards for women practicing plural marriage are described in D&C 132:41, 44, 52, 54, and 63-64:

  • 41: “If a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man…she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.”
  • 44: “If she hath not committed adultery…then shall you have power…to take her and give her unto him that hath… been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.”
  • 52: “Let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph…But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed.”
  • 54: “I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord thy God, for I will destroy her if she abide not in my law.”
  • 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 multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment…for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.”
  • 64: “If any man have a wife…and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe…or she shall be destroyed.”

Both verses 44 and 63-64 describe how women should accept and practice plural marriage to facilitate the blessings, power and exaltation of their husbands. In addition, women face strict guidelines with steep consequences based on their fidelity within plural marriage (v. 41, 63), their willingness to practice plural marriage (v. 52) and their treatment of their husband (v. 54, 64)

2. Implementing consequences and negative fallout that are binding only on the survivor:

Men: The primary negative consequence described in D&C 132 is destruction. This section discusses God destroying men once, in verse 26: “If a man marry a wife…and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise…and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant…they shall be destroyed in the flesh…unto the day of redemption.” 

The two other references to male destruction are encouragements to Joseph Smith that Satan and wicked men want to destroy him, but God does not, in verse 57: “Let not my servant Joseph put his property out of his hands, lest an enemy come and destroy him; for Satan seeketh to destroy; for I am the Lord thy God, and…I am with him…even unto his exaltation and glory.”

Women: Section 132 discusses God destroying women eight times; either for adultery (v. 26, 41, 52, 63) or for failing to practice plural marriage (v. 54[2], 64[2]):

  • 26: “If a man marry a wife…and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise…and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant…they shall be destroyed in the flesh…unto the day of redemption.”
  • 41: “If a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man… she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.”
  • 52: “…those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed.”
  • 54: “I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.”
  • 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…”
  • 64: “If any man have a wife…and he teaches unto her [the law of plural marriage], then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her.”

3. Securing positive fallout that is binding only on himself:

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

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


As read through modern eyes, the language used in D&C 132 describes a woman’s access to exaltation, and exaltation itself, as the process of entering a unidirectional relationship with her husband in which she gives but does not receive; in which her agency, individuality and salvation are contingent on him; to which her only alternative is destruction. This might help explain why this section is triggering for so many abuse survivors, and why it leaves many, many LDS women — whether or not they have suffered abuse — struggling with fears of divine irrelevance or objectification. More on that next week.


[1] Unless otherwise linked, facts, quotes and details about the practice of plural marriage come from: Brittany Chapman Nash, Let’s Talk About Polygamy; 2021. Deseret Book: United States.

[2] See also: Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men; 2002. Penguin Books: United States. 408 pages. Excellent, accessible introduction and my go-to recommendation on this topic.

[3] This wouldn’t be the first time it appeared coercion followed failed efforts at persuasion. A commenter last week highlighted that the “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” section in D&C 121 was likely directed at the once-faithful priesthood holders and leaders who signed the affidavits that sent Joseph Smith and his companions to Liberty Jail. (The main difference, of course, is that — as far as I’m aware — no record suggests these affidavits were directed by God.)

[4] D&C 132:44 really stands out compared to the parable of the woman taken in adultery in John 8:1-11.

[5]  In academic research, the term “assent” is used to refer to agreement by participants (usually minors and vulnerable adults) who have some agency but face formal, codified limitations on their ability to use it; their response is only valid with the sign-off of an institution or guardian. I use it intentionally here, because the “consent” solicited from women re: plural marriage faced these formal limitations.

[6] Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness; 1969. Bookcraft: United States; p196


If you suspect you or someone you know may be experiencing abuse, the following resources are available to call or chat 24/7. Abuse is never the survivor’s fault:


  1. This is heavy, and hard, and so helpful to have something concrete to point to when people ask me why I hate this section.

  2. This is probably another tangent but I was thinking they said about 108 billion people have ever lived on earth. Spirit children are born the same way as they are here on Earth. There is no way one woman could bear all those children 108 billion. I personally think that polygamy exists because more women will qualify for the celestial Kingdom than men will and thus the need to be sealed to more than one woman. But as far as abuse goes this is the Lord God speaking and there’s not really anything any human can do about it.

  3. Really? The same way, JJ?? Can you share a source on that? In 5 sentences you have managed to make the Celestial Kingdom sound like hell for women and a power- and sex-obsessed man’s dream. If that is even remotely true, I would pass on that “exalted” state and settle for a “lower” kingdom.

  4. JJ- can you point me to the canonized scripture that says all spirits are born in the same way they are on earth? I think that is just an assumption some people make. I’m not really a fan of it and have been glad believing it is not an obligation.

  5. I once tried to extract from Section 132 a useful or valuable nugget to carry forward. It might be possible, but the project was too confusing and too freighted with history and intended meaning. I gave up, concluding that we must scrap the whole thing.

    But also, like Carolyn says, the OP is worth book-marking.

  6. Even accepting JJ’s premise that spiritual birds and bees work just like physical ones (which I don’t agree with) the logic of that reasoning still doesn’t make sense. If 108 billion spirit children isn’t feasible, then it sure doesn’t seem like 10 women giving birth to 10.8 billion each is much better. So unless you’re thinking there’s going to be one man for every one million women in the celestial Kingdom, this idea doesn’t make any sense mathematically in addition to it’s obvious theological and moral flaws. (Of course, with a literal eternity of time, all sorts of constraints would cease to be constraints, but that’s when all of this speculation becomes completely silly.)

  7. Jared Livesey says:

    According to the Nauvoo City Council minutes, the contents of modern text of D&C 132 does not match the revelation that was delivered; both Joseph and Hyrum Smith said that the revelation delivered had no application to the present day. Perhaps instead of assuming D&C 132 is God speaking, it might be appropriate to first ask whether D&C 132 is God speaking.

  8. I’ve come to think that if all you have to back up polygamy is “an angel with a flaming sword”, you’re on pretty shaky ground.

  9. Jared. From my reading, only Hyrum argued that. Jospeh seemed to be obfuscating by pointing out that he had taught the revelation differently in public bs private. I believe he used this argument a number of times to perhaps dodge giving a straight answer. And my understanding is that Hyrum also did not understand the full extent of polygamy practice. The explanations are also given in the context of being under attack from Law and his supporters. I think it’s pretty hard to argue Joseph didn’t think the revelation applied to his day.

  10. Jared Livesey says:


    The subject I am speaking of is the provenance of the text of what is today published as D&C 132.

    Hyrum’s alleged ignorance of the alleged “full extent of polygamy practice” is not at issue; Hyrum’s sole relevance to this conversation is his knowledge of the contents of the revelation which is alleged to be what is today published as D&C 132. Hyrum stated affirmatively that the revelation whose reading he was a witness to had no application to modern days. This puts whatever he was a witness to at variance with what is today published as D&C 132.

    In context, Joseph is saying that when he touched on the subject of polygamy preaching from the stand, he was referring to the order of things before Christ, and that that order of things had no application in the present day, which contradicts the contents of what is today published as D&C 132.

    This might be open to interpretation:

    Mayor said he had never preched the revelatin in private as he had in public— had not taught in to the highet anointed in the church which may confirmd.

    I take it to mean, minimally, that Joseph is saying he had not taught anything in private concerning the revelation – so any claims that he said something different in private to the highest anointed in the Church than he had publicly on the subject is a lie.

    As I said, the first question really ought to be whether what we have as D&C 132 is from God. I believe the Nauvoo City Council minutes provide ample grounds to regard that as an open question, and anything founded upon the current text of D&C 132 is for that reason open to question.

  11. I have not read this particular section in some time, as I don’t gain much spiritually from its study. But I had never noticed the disparity in the many and varied ways women will be destroyed vs men. How horrifying to see it on paper. Thank you for doing the work to share this with us.

    JJ: “I personally think that polygamy exists because more women will qualify for the celestial Kingdom than men will and thus the need to be sealed to more than one woman.” That’s just like, your opinion, bro. Not only is this called benevolent patriarchy, it doesn’t jive with the scriptures detailing all the extra destruction of women vs men, as pointed out in this post, which would leave more men than women to do the procreating. Boiling it down like this, one would think our only purpose to God is to make him a great grandpa, and nothing more. I sincerely hope for all of us, we mean more to God than that.

  12. Brava. It’s powerful to read this analysis.

    Once upon a time nearly twenty years ago I was a student at BYU who took issue with this section in my D&C course class discussion. The older, male professor was good about it, “Those are all legitimate points and concerns.” He pretty much left is there.

    But several of the men in the class—I’ll never forget it. None of them said anything during the class discussion, but after class no less than three of them cornered me alone, and variously called me to repentance, testified of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling (which I had affirmed in my comments during class), and despaired of my understanding of the restored gospel. But they also, thinking back on it, looked so scared, so confused—shaken. And no wonder. You can’t unsee what’s here.

    Thank you for helping us see it more clearly: bookmark-worthy, for sure.

  13. Your analysis seems very fair to me. I personally hate section 132. I have heard too many divorced men I know brag about having several ex-wives sealed to them and how they will have them all in eternity.
    Since their ex-wives did not want them in immortality, this seems unlikely. But oh, how it infected the culture of the singles wards.
    I personally lived in a ward where the bishop took church disciplinary action against a sister who the women considered to have been date raped. After the year 2000. In California.
    And yes, my ex-husband tried to use polygamy to excuse his adultery. I did not tell the bishop because the bishop treated his wife so badly I assumed he was behind it all.
    If we cannot seriously revamp our doctrine and scriptures regarding marriage and the power differences between men and women, I don’t think we can survive. They are warped by a hundred prophetic statements that twist marriage and sex into traps that no one will wish to participate in.

  14. Cahkaylahlee says:

    “We are not accustomed to thinking of God (who provides the voice of this section) or Joseph Smith (who dictated the revelation) as perpetrators of abuse.” Yes. I also think about the power differential between God and Mary in the Luke 1 account. There’s no way that Mary could give true consent. What if Mary had said “No thanks. I don’t want that to happen”? My mind goes to hellfire and damnation. God has that power, even if he wouldn’t have used it on her. Such consequences aren’t in the text at all, that’s just me reading between the lines for one interpretation of the passage. It’s certainly possible to interpret the text as a positive mystical experience for Mary. Still, it can be hard for me to believe God the Father is good, let alone loving, when this was The Plan.

    D&C 132 though, it’s hard to see the lopsided consequences for men and women enumerated in the text so clearly. I wish we had more scriptures about creation, and less about promises of destruction.

  15. Maybe, just maybe, that section in the D&C is not from God but rather fiction from Joseph Smith. Just because it was written by Joseph Smith does not mean it is from God. Just because Joseph Smith claimed it was from God does not mean it was from God. I do not put my trust in Joseph Smith. We each must sincerely ask ourselves why we would believe it? What evidence is there that it is true? Joseph Smith does not get an automatic pass from me simply because he claimed to be a prophet. I plead with all believing LDS to not allow their desire for JS to be a prophet to override their own reason and morality. Please do not justify the evil of D&C section 132 by your need to believe Joseph Smith. Ask yourselves which would God prefer of you, devotion to JS and his prophetic claims, or devotion to morality and the proper treatment of women? I personally reject all scripture which contradicts my moral values of love, acceptance, tolerance, equality, well-being, compassion, and respect for all humanity. Of course that means that I reject most scripture. My test is not based on the claimed authority of the author, but rather on the content of the text.

  16. Thanks for your powerful analysis. I’ll never forget how dehumanized I felt when I learned about this in seminary years ago. I feel like this verse is a perfect example of what it means to ‘take the Lord’s name in vain’. Leadership likes to act like this is all in the past and doesn’t impact us today, but your piece and the testimonies of the commenters here show how it continues to cause hurt and abuse today, and will continue to do so.

  17. “Destroyed”??? Really? She wasn’t. She outlived Joseph AND Brigham Young so we know she wasn’t destroyed physically. Her spirit? No, it will live forever, just like we all will. This is just a frustrated man trying to strong arm his wife into accepting polygamy.

    Oh, and let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that polygamy will be lived in the Celestial Kingdom. I hate to break it to you, but if you are just a horny man hoping to have sex with as many women as possible, you ain’t gonna make it anyway.

  18. Another thought. (Just can’t help it.) Women won’t be able to give birth 108 billion times, but men will be able to impregnate women 108 billion times? Really?

  19. Most of the time I just try to ignore D&C 132, kind of the way the Church does when it comes up in Sunday School.(Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.) But I have to admit, my feelings about President Nelson weren’t great from the very start of his tenure, due to his very first press conference. Not only did he treat some respected female reporters patronizingly he also quoted from D&C 132. I remember thinking, “Oy, this is the section that informs how you see women?”

  20. Interesting post, but you’ve misrepresented v.64 and 65. Verse 64 clearly says it applies only to the man “who holds the keys of this power” (and his first wife). So verses 64 and 65 only refer to Joseph Smith and Emma (and, presumably, subsequent key-holding prophets?) You’ve changed the wording through paraphrasing, ellipses and brackets to make it appear as if these verses applied to *all* first wives and husbands.

  21. Thank you for this. The rotten seed of canonized misogyny continues to bear rotten fruit and it won’t be resolved until we rip it up and repent. Pretending section 132 is just about eternal marriage and ignoring the weird and violent stuff isn’t good enough.

    Alas, that’ll never – ever – ever – happen. Ever.

    And I know the JJ’s of the world mean well and I mean no harm by this but I’d love to do a poll of the active male membership and if that’s how most of the men in the pews feel about women then I am not interested in sharing those pews with them because I am more than an eternal baby factory thank you very much. So really, if that’s how the average Mormon man feels maybe I am better off knowing that so I don’t waste any more time on the Church. Seriously.

  22. Thanks everyone.

    Jon B, take another look. Verse 64 opens by universalizing this covenant from Joseph and Emma out to a much broader context — that’s what makes it so interesting. “64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if *any man* [my emphasis] have a wife, who holds the keys of this power…”

    This isn’t Joseph Smith. This is “*any man*…who holds the keys of this power.” The text doesn’t delineate what those keys are or which men hold them, but in practice (especially under Brigham Young) it came to mean any man who was sealed in the new and everlasting covenant by the authority of a man who held the delegated keys of the sealing power.

  23. Here is an informal analysis I did a few years ago on section 132 that may demonstrate just how negative and dark of a section it really is (keeping in mind that section 132 is roughly only 2.4% of entire D&C in terms of pages):

    • the word “adultery” occurs 10 times (50% of total D&C occurrences) and a #1 ranking for most in a D&C section
    • the words “murder” or “murdered” occur 4 times (33.3% of total) and a #1 ranking
    • the words “damn” or “damned” occur 3 times (27.3% of total) and a #1 ranking
    • the words “destroy” or “destroyed” occur 11 times (22% of total) and a #2 ranking
    • the words “trespass” or “trespassed” occur 3 times (17.6% of total) and a #2 ranking
    • the words “sin” or “sinned” occur 7 times (14.3% of total) and a #3 ranking

    No wonder it was among those sections that Elder Talmage edited out for the church’s 1930 abbreviated edition titled “Latter-day Revelations”.

    Just saying.

  24. Verse seven seems to tell us who, exactly, is the key-holder: “(and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred),” and verse 47 (“For I have conferred upon you [Joseph] the keys and power of the priesthood”. Also verse 39.

    So it seems a little odd for the other mentions of “keys” to be pretty specifically referring to Joseph Smith, and to say that only one person on earth ever holds the keys at one time, but then suddenly in verse 64 the man “who holds the keys of this power” could refer to a bunch of different people.

    If that makes sense to you, it is what it is. I was just pointing out that there is a caveat in verse 64 that you had omitted, and the context of other verses seems to indicate a more narrow reading than the one you presented (without noting that the broader application was your reading).

  25. Jon B, no one loves a narrow reading of D&C 132 more than me — the narrower, the better, imo. And Joseph Smith likely did not intend for the text of this revelation to be binding on the whole church, even *if* he intended plural marriage to be. The text of this revelation was probably dictated just for Emma.

    However, when reading scriptures I think it’s important to note how they’ve played out in practice. And, in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this text *did* become binding on the whole church; the expansive implications of “any man” have held greater practical influence than a narrower reading of verse 7. Otherwise, only the president of the church (as the only person authorized to hold and exercise all the keys of the dispensation) would have felt they were under a commandment to have plural wives at any given time. And even at the time this revelation was recorded, that was not the case.

  26. Verse 61 establishes that the first wive *must* give her consent for additional wives (“and the first give her consent”). Obviously, that makes the situation with Emma very complicated, so verses 64 and 65 give very special, unique permission to one person (the single person who is a key holder, as described in verse 7), who just happens to be Joseph Smith (also explicitly stated in verse 7), to take additional wives without the first wife’s consent. But that carve-out only applies to the one person “who holds the keys of this power…”

    Your paraphrase of verse 64 is extremely misleading. It’s fine to say “here’s what it says, but here’s how it was later interpreted…” or “here’s what it says, but I think it actually means something else.” But readers of the article who don’t actually go and read the verses will think verse 64 says something that it explicitly does not.

    Just ask yourself what you would do if an apologist did the same thing. Paraphrasing a scripture to say something different, based on the belief that a subsequent reinterpretation (which you haven’t established) justifies it.

  27. I really appreciate this post. I don’t think I’ve read Section 132 since I read D&C through as a teenager. I hate it. The analysis here is thorough and the direct parallels to domestic abuse illuminating.

    I don’t know why some commenters are straining at technicalities. Even if you take out one or two verses as only being abusive towards *one* woman, the rest of the text still sucks.

  28. Geoff - Aus says:

    I don’t think God had anything to do with section 132. As someone above pointed out above Emma was not destroyed, and Joseph was.

  29. @marian, agree. Missing the forest for the trees (in this case, more like a pinecone) to get hung up on some technicalities when the overall section is, well, what it is. Which is: indefensible if one believes in the equality and humanity of women and in a loving God.

  30. Aussie Mormon says:

    Marian: “I don’t know why some commenters are straining at technicalities.”

    Jon B keeps on about it, because those technicalities can completely change the message.

    Take a theoretical law:
    “any man who has permission to operate a vehicle may drive”,
    Assume “has permission to operate a vehicle” has been previously defined as “holding a drivers license”

    Does the law mean “any man may drive” or does it mean “any man who holds a drivers licence may drive”?

    Jon B says that there is a significant difference between the two.

  31. I haven’t read section 132 in depth in ages, and never quite so thorough an analysis as this. The text is carefully counted, weighed, and presented far beyond the Sunday school read-through, plain enough for those of us formerly unable to see (and feel) these meanings, more clearly than ever. The lens of modern scholarship about coercion and abuse is bleak and true.

    Reading the several comments trying to tease out the way this could express the revealed will of God, or holiness, or anything of good report, brings back familiar feelings and memories of me trying to gaslight myself into seeing this as something different than what it actually is. I was really creative at it, making breathtaking leaps of faith and logic. Pleased with myself.

    After the work I’ve done to recover myself somewhat and gain some healthy growth, I see that familiar exercise and feel slightly ill. Forgive me if I reject the premise of this section and any spin on it; it brings the psychological equivalent of needing to lie down until the nausea goes away. It’s a no-brainer to avoid listening to the siren song.

  32. @Aussie Mormon, respectfully I agree with the author – if the intent of those verses were narrow, the implementation was not. And even with that debatable interpretation the “narrow intent” was not benign like your example. Joseph used those verses as a cudgel for his wife, and it was wrong.

  33. To me, it really doesn’t matter if God was abusive toward Emma or toward all women. Still makes God a jerk and I just don’t believe in a jerk for God. Emma did not deserve to be threatened that way for objecting to the way Joseph seduced their maid. The relationship with Fanny was apparently long before there is any evidence of a revelation about polygamy. If it looked like plain old adultery to Oliver Cowdry, then it probably looked like plain old adultery to Emma. So, God is going to destroy her for being hurt by that? Sorry, I don’t think so. And marrying your foster daughters is immoral in anybody’s book, so, sorry, but Joseph was a real creep by sleeping with his foster daughters. That is legally incest today, and probably was then too. So, if section 132 came from Joseph, it just proves that he was a false or fallen prophet. So, to me insisting that this applied to only Joseph and Emma makes God a jerk, just as much as applying it to all women does.

  34. When we read the scriptures through a modern lens it can certainly seem like God is a monster in many instances. But instead of differing immediately to our modern wisdom when we don’t understand the Lord’s modus opernadi we might do better to respond as Nephi did–by remembering that God loves his children–and then allow that premise to inform our understanding of God’s interaction with his children.

  35. –deferring–

  36. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

    True laws given by God produce good fruit. God’s love for Their children produces good fruit. Polygamy and any contorted justification for it, like section 132, does not produce good fruit. Relationships structured around abusive dynamics are never good fruit despite the benevolence or charity of those involved. Women are to be joint heirs with Christ and receive all that The Father has. Polygamy makes that impossible. Full stop. Unequal blessings, powers, responsibilities makes being an equal partaker in godhood and goddesshood impossible.

    No loving and just human father would command his daughter be in a polygamous relationship. No loving and just father would see his daughter as an eternal womb and a celestial trophy for any of his sons. No loving and just Heavenly Father would either.

    Polygamy is an evil man-made law. You cannot call good evil and evil good, and that is exactly what 132 does. It claims the subjugation of women in unequal marriage relationships is holy. It negates women’s divine nature as children of God and their exalted potential. All are alike unto God. God is not the author of patriarchy. Man’s making of God in his own image produces evil fruit, like polygamy.

  37. Progressive Mormons / religious folks often get accused of “moral relativism” but when it comes to things like women’s rights / human rights / equality, it’s the orthodox ones like Jack who start sounding a lot like moral relativists.

    It’s not and never has been OK to invoke the name of God to bully and threaten a woman into submission. Yes, God sounds like a monster in section 132 and the easiest way to reconcile that actually isn’t to take off our “modern lenses” and conduct some mental contortions justifying how God could have spoken that way. Instead, it’s to entertain the possibility and indeed the likelihood that those. Were. Not. God’s. Words.

    The fact that Joseph Smith said they were God’s words doesn’t make them so. The fact they have born rotten fruit – and didn’t come to pass, as has been noted – is much better evidence of their non-divine origin that Joseph’s totally self-serving characterization.

    I would say this is a silly debate and ignore it but for the fact I think section 132 is still so offensive and harmful to the women of the church who are my sisters.

  38. Jack — absolutely; I think that’s a very applicable scripture, and a really productive way to approach this text. My reasons may be slightly different from yours, though.

    When, in 1 Nephi 11:17, Nephi told the Holy Spirit, “I know that [God] loveth his children, nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things,” he was pondering doctrine that didn’t make sense to him. To give the Holy Spirit this answer, Nephi had to deeply engage the question with faith and humility. He felt God’s love; he understood his history; he knew where it didn’t seem to square.

    If he had just said this line and walked away, we would be short several chapters of the Book of Mormon. But he didn’t. He stayed with the question, he stayed with the discomfort, he stayed humble and curious and engaged long enough for the Holy Spirit to show him how God’s love informed — and transformed — the past, present and future of his people in ways that Nephi had never considered.

    Similar to Nephi, we “know that God loveth his children, nevertheless we do not know the meaning of” the language of D&C 132, or how it squares with God’s love. Like Nephi, we can keep engaging the question with faith and humility; we can be open to God answering us in ways we had never considered. 1 Nephi 11:17 is not a conclusion, it’s a catalyst for revelation. Let’s not end our personal chapters here. Nephi didn’t.

  39. Mary, I’m certainly glad that we don’t practice polygamy nowadays. And I’m certainly not one to believe that it will be the de facto marital arrangement in the eternities. Even so I think to say that polygamy makes being a joint heir with Christ impossible misses the mark. It’s like saying that because billions of us will be seated with the Savior in his throne that someone is likely to get in the way of another receiving her full inheritance. It doesn’t work that way, IMO. Where there is unity there is an uninterrupted flow of all things from God to all of his children who abide in the covenant. All of God’s faithful children will receive all that he has.

    Elisa, Re: Moral Relativism: Doing the works of Abraham can certainly involve serious challenges to our sense of morality–as when he was told to offer up Isaac. I don’t think I could pass that test. Even so, the Lord will challenge the saints from time to time with respect to their loyalty–by asking them to set aside their sense of morality–even their religious sensibilities!–which is the most difficult of all trials, IMO. And the funny thing is–there seems to be an especially packaged trial for everyone. I think of the many anti-vaxxers in the church who are having a devil of a time following the counsel of the prophets on the pandemic. And yet, my guess is that many (if not most) of them–both men and women–are are not seriously challenged by section 132.

  40. That’s a wonderful comment, Laura.

    The only thing I’d add is–though Nephi’s response may not have been a conclusion it may need to be a temporary “rest stop” for those of us–like myself–who don’t learn as fast as Nephi did.

  41. I’ll explain more of my perspective, Jack. In polygamous marriages and in monogamous patriarchal marriages, men are inheritors and women are objects to be inherited by men. It is only men in these arrangements that are joint heirs with Christ and have the potential for godhood through God’s blessings.

    This is evidenced by vestiges of polygamy in the temple, where even the current ceremony undergirds this unequal relationship.

    Men preside eternally. Women do not. Men rule and reign. Women only rule and reign with their husbands. Men are kings and priests unto God. Women are queens and priestesses to the new and everlasting covenant.

    While the above may sound similar enough, the potential of men and women is treated vastly differently because the assumptions about men and women’s natures are fundamentally different. I’ll use an analogy to illustrate this.

    In a polygamous or patriarchal monogamous marriages, the man is the center or like the sun. His gravity pulls into orbit and orchestrates the movement of the other stars. Man does not need the other stars to be a person of divine power. His authority is the greatest. His right to rule is a given. But women are like the other stars or planets in orbit. To have a kingdom or a solar system, they are necessary for man, and their potential revolves around him. But women never preside over men. Their authority and rulership is only in connection or because
    of man. Women aren’t heirs of God, so they are not queens or priestesses to God. They are only queens and priestesses in their marriages to men. And like a solar system, there can be many planets that orbit one sun. Perhaps, a man only needs one wife, but to build a truly awe inspiring celestial kingdom or solar system, the more stars or wives he has, the better.

    So men and women cannot be equal inheritors or partakers of God’s blessings if only men are treated as children of God with infinite divine potential. Women are treated as aspects of men’s potential. They only have divine potential in their relationship to man.

    Of course I believe the above is absolute evil garbage. But this thinking, this way of viewing men and women, makes the gospel of Jesus Christ a lie for women. Because no matter how worthy they are, women can’t ever truly become like God. They can’t inherit His power or do what He does. Yet the church and 132 presents only one version or definition of godhood that supposedly both men and women can attain. Godesshood is not supposed to be lesser version of Godhood. Divinity is both male and female. Men and women should inherit the same blessings, rights, and responsibilities.

  42. Thanks for the response, Mary. In keeping the cosmic imagery–there are systems within systems, IMO. On a macro level (so to speak) Christ takes a bride to himself. We might think of her as the Church or as Israel. But however we imagine her it must be understood that she is comprised of men and women–and that it is because it is only through our collective union with the Savior that we become divine. And so when we look at the “micro” systems involved what we have are people who have become holy because of their connection with the Savior and not because of anything having to do with their own merit. In other words, both the man and the woman are nothing of themselves without the transmission of divine influence from deity.

    That said, when we consider the exalted state of a man and a woman in the next life who are sealed as husband and wife in the covenant–what kind of picture do we get in our heads vis-a-vis their relationship? My sense is that if they are filled with the love of God that their hearts will be knit in perfect unity–they will be one. Therefore, the power that flows to them from the Savior is fully realized by the woman as well as the man because they are one.

    That and that said, whatever the overall structure of the Kingdom may take — and I don’t know if anyone really knows what that looks like — I think we can be assured that it is founded first and foremost upon what the Lord judges to be best for his children–because of his love for them. And so whatever hierarchy may exist in eternity–it will be one wherein all are served in an optimal fashion. My own sense is–when that which is sacred is manifested in the world it loses some of its dimension. And so what we get (sometimes) is a rigid patriarchy instead of a loving protection of sorts. I believe the eternal relationship between a man and a woman will be one of protecting that which is most sacred and holy–which places the man in the service of his bride. Or in the words of the Savior: the least of all.

  43. Jack: by ending your comment “his bride” you’re defining a woman (1) by her relationship to a man, (2) as a possession of a man, and (3) as needing protection by a man. No thank you.

    There’s no such thing as a good hierarchy. Church has poisoned us to believe there is and you do the kind of gymnastics you keep doing in your comments to make it make sense but it doesn’t because it doesn’t. And despite what the temple tries to tell us, a husband isn’t his wife’s savior. Only Jesus is.

  44. If I say “my daughter” or “my son” does that mean I own them?

    I spoke of oneness in the marriage partnership. That’s the key, IMO.

    There are useful hierarchies. Parents and children, for example.

  45. I think there are many who share your understanding, Jack. However, I don’t believe a righteous hierarchy can exist between peers, equals in an intimate relationship, like that of husband and wife. Because perfect love and unity exist in the next life, such a hierarchy would be pointless. The parent child hierarchy (where the parent created, cared for, and exalted the child) is not at all comparable to a hierarchy between men and women.

    While any divinity or glory for men and women is bestowed or derived from God, the assumption still exists that because God is male, that men (who share God’s divine maleness) have more potential to become like God than women. Our theology completely devalues and ignores Heavenly Mother when She should be treated the same way as Heavenly Father. Because early church leaders continued on the misguided exclusively male Godhead tradition (with the exception of some of Joseph Smith’s teachings about Hesvenly Mother), we are left with a patriarchal view of marriage and of the eternities, which made the horrible section 132 possible. To be frank, it is the height of male hubris to define women’s position in the afterlife as that of a hidden sacred celestial jewel for his kingly crown. And for men to assume that a male God would view women they way they did, as lesser beings. I’m not saying that is how you view women.

    I don’t understand your point about protection. Goddesses don’t need to be protected. What could they possibly need protection from in heaven? The false belief in a male hierarchy, which includes the sickening portrayal of polygamy in 132, is completely antithetical to God being no respecter of persons and to His blessings being available to all children. Think of it this way, would it not be disturbing if men’s and women’s blessings for their baptismal covenants were different? Imagine a separate sacramental prayer offered for women than for men, where the women’s blessings were linked to a hypothetical husband and the men’s were linked to God.

  46. @jack, why would you compare a marriage between equals to a parent/child relationship, and when doing so why would you put the woman in the child position of that relationship? That’s kind of my whole point.

    I don’t think we’re going to get to an agreement here. I think you are making your points in good faith and appreciate your kind engagement. I wish I belonged to a Church that didn’t so deeply engrain in us these ideas of a benevolent patriarchy but I also know that patriarchy has been around a lot longer than the Church hassium I can’t totally blame Church. A great example of a philosophy of man mingled with scripture (then again, that’s also why it frustrates me that we are so hell-bent on defending it as God’s will when the economic and historical roots are so clearly ungodly and predate Christianity by thousands of years).

  47. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Mary.

    “Because perfect love and unity exist in the next life, such a hierarchy would be pointless.”

    Yeah–that’s kinda what I was getting at when I spoke of oneness. When the two are one then, functionally speaking, there is no hierarchy. And so, IMO, whatever it is that “looks” like an hierarchy must be in place for other reasons. Or, perhaps, might fall away like so much scaffolding.

    “The parent child hierarchy (where the parent created, cared for, and exalted the child) is not at all comparable to a hierarchy between men and women.”

    I agree. I was suggesting to Elisa–who said there’s no such thing as a good hierarchy–that there are useful hierarchies–not that marriage would be one of those.

    “Our theology completely devalues and ignores Heavenly Mother when She should be treated the same way as Heavenly Father.”

    I’m of the unpopular opinion that as we continue to cross the broad threshold of the Millennium that more will be revealed regarding the Divine Feminine and women functioning as priestesses.

    “Goddesses don’t need to be protected. What could they possibly need protection from in heaven?”

    The whole of creation is a protection from chaos to those who inhabit it. Noah’s Ark serves as a metaphor for the cosmos wherein those within it were protected from the waters of chaos which came upon them from above and beneath. And so, as we move further into sacred space–and therefore through more layers of protection–what do we find at the center? That which is most sacred and holy above all. It isn’t that the woman per se is in need of any more protection than the man. But because she is at the fulcrum of eternity when she brings forth life she will necessarily find herself in the holiest of spaces. And so the order involved is less about hierarchy and more about navigating sacred space–so to speak.

    “Imagine a separate sacramental prayer offered for women than for men, where the women’s blessings were linked to a hypothetical husband and the men’s were linked to God.”

    There are a least four fundamental relationships that must exist for life to continue:

    Who we are to ourselves.
    Who we are to our progenitors.
    Who were are to our spouse.
    Who we are to our posterity.

    A man and a woman–regardless of the difference in their genders–are going to have a similar relationship with their parents–in that they are both children. So it is when we covenant with the Savior to take upon us his name. We become his children–and so there is no differentiation (per gender) in the covenant. But in the marriage covenant–that involves a different relationship–one that is built (at least in part) on the fundamental differences between the two genders. And so the covenantal transactions are going to reflect that relationship.

  48. Elisa,

    My apologies for not expressing myself very well. I was responding to your claim that there are no good hierarchies. And so I when I used the example of parents and children I meant it as an example of a useful hierarchy in the most general sense.

    Re: Benevolent Patriarchy: The funny thing is–if all the men were like the Savior then the patriarchy would be so benevolent that we’d hardly notice it.

    Thanks for your response.

  49. When your beginning premise is that a text is divinely given, irrespective of the content of the text, you start on a footing to prove, defend, and rationalize the text, appointing any contorted meaning no matter how strained or twisted your logic or rationale or interpretation may be.

    Thus we see in the comments here of the faithful LDS. They would likely defend any text, no matter how perverse, twisted, offensive, strange, disgusting, inhumane, violent, or irrational. This is how religion produces the most devout racist, sexist, misogynistic, and genocidal adherents, all in the name of ‘God’.

  50. Thank you very much for writing this and the entire series of related posts. Although I felt physically ill after reading it, I’ve continued to ponder it for days and I’m so appreciative of this analysis.

    Additionally, thanks to Mary, Elisa, and Jack. Your dialogue has furthered my understanding; specifically, Mary, your explanation of the difference of temple covenants summarizes what I’ve felt but haven’t found words to say.

  51. Jack,

    How can there be true onensss when fidelity is only required of one partner (the woman)?

  52. @jack, yes, we wouldn’t notice them in the same way there are many cancers we don’t notice until they’ve spread throughout our bodies so thoroughly that they kill us.

    There are no good patriarchies. Some – like the ones that don’t let girls go to school, or that cut baby girls’ genitals out or kill them at birth – are more obviously malevolent. But they spring from the same bad seed. Defending the benevolent one makes room for them all. I know that’s not your intent, but I believe it does.

  53. Anon for this says:

    I wanted to make a comment about the use of “unity” at a tool of control. One spouse can try to control the other under the guise of “unity.” If one partner is not doing exactly what the other one wants, then the other partner can try to guilt the other, saying they are are only trying to fulfill the scriptural command for husband and wife to be “one.” “Unity” can mean, do whatever I say, or else you are not following the commandments.

  54. Elisa, I agree.

  55. tmcox2,

    Section 132 can certainly seem challenging in the way you describe. That said, I think it’s important to remember that the Lord clearly categorizes the doctrines that he’s teaching Joseph in that section as the “works of Abraham.” This (to me) implies that what Joseph learns in that revelation will go against his (and others’) sense of morality. IMO, it’s the Lord’s way of giving Joseph fair warning, so to speak.

    Pete: “How can there be true onensss when fidelity is only required of one partner (the woman)?”

    I think this is a good question–and I’m not sure that I have a good answer–except to say that oneness probably doesn’t depend wholly on sameness.


    I have five wonderful daughters–and I would give my life to protect them from such abuses. Even so, I don’t think the answer to society’s ills is to completely dismantle patriarchy. IMO, the best world is where matriarchy and patriarchy work hand in hand–and I think that day is coming.

    Anon for this,

    Re: The use of unity as a tool of control: There’s certainly a temptation there–as there is with any virtue. Nevertheless, we are commanded to be one. In fact, the commandment to be one is so strict that the Lord says if we are *not* one we are not his. Zion will be built upon the principle of unity–it will be established by a people who are of one heart and one mind. And so even though there may be a temptation to usurp power and position it is incumbent upon us to figure out how to be unified–and we’ve got a ways to go, IMO.

    Thanks to all for your thoughtful responses.

  56. Thanks for this post!

    When I was in highschool English we watched a documentary about a parent who was trying to get a novel, “An American Literary Masterpiece,” banned from her daughter’s school because it contained racial slurs and a lot of them. None of us in that class represented the minority of this mother or daughter in the documentary. Yet, we were to conclude that because the book used the racial slurs in keeping with practices of that bygone era, there was no problem, and this mother was overreacting. Gaslighting much???

    When I have taken issue with section 132, at best I’ve been told, “This is historical. It reflects a bygone era. We don’t practice polygamy right now.” But I’ve also been told “Is the church true or not? Quit overreacting. Where is your testimony?”

    What do we do when there is a historical document that people say is important but perpetuates marginalization, pain, and abuse? Gaslighting the people who speak up is not the answer. Ignoring it also seems to leave the most vulnerable among us to to more abuse.

  57. Let’s engage with Abrahamic tests for a minute, and let’s take seriously Joseph Smith’s and others’ assertion that polygamy was/is one. The classic Abrahamic test — sacrificing Isaac — was a dramatic, visceral, but ultimately mortal symbol of God’s relationship with Abraham AND Isaac: the sacrifice of God’s Son to save them both. To underscore the point, God released them both from the test via a ram in the thicket (symbolizing God’s Son) to prevent Isaac’s destruction.

    So, based on what we know about Abrahamic tests, polygamy would have to symbolize something fundamental and transcendent about men AND women’s relationship with God. Also, men wouldn’t ultimately sacrifice women on this Abrahamic altar any more than Abraham ultimately sacrificed Isaac. After all, Isaac had a lot to contribute to God’s plan, and so do women. If we really engage with polygamy as an Abrahamic test, it seems to me that for 150 years we’ve been at the part where Abraham is standing at the altar, Isaac is bound, and the knife is raised.

    I’ve never understood how, at this moment, so many people can say “oh, yep, this is an Abrahamic test” and get closure from the assertion. While many women, like Isaac, summon the faith to remain on the altar, it seems that polygamy can’t really fulfill its role as an Abrahamic test until the ram symbolizing God’s Son appears in the thicket and a revelation unpacks polygamy as a symbolic mortal approximation of something fundamental about both men and women’s relationship with God.

  58. “When we read the scriptures through a modern lens it can certainly seem like God is a monster in many instances.”

    If God doesn’t change, which we claim he doesn’t, then why does the lens we view God through matter at all? Spoiler alert: It doesn’t. If it does matter, then that means someone, either purposely or inadvertently, misled us. In this case, that would be Joseph Smith.

    Lest we forget, it’s not like everyone was down with polygamy. Emma certainly wasn’t; Oliver Cowdery left over this dirty little affair. Many other people walked away and JS had them publicly defamed in the newspaper as a result. So the lens at the time was also that this was wrong.

    Also, whatever happened to agency? Isn’t that an eternal principle? The Saints today certainly think so given how many of them refuse to take one for the community and get a damn COVID shot. So why was agency removed for polygamy? Emma doesn’t like it? Tough. Other women don’t want to practice it? Fine, but a pox on the eternal progression of their entire family.

    Enough Jack. Enough. Stop trying to defend the undefendable.

  59. Jack – You are still under the belief that Section 132 is from God. That is the disconnect between you and so many others of us. I have no reason whatsoever to believe it is of God, and therefore no need to justify the unjustifiable.

  60. Eternal increase. Elisa, this is what it means to be exalted.
    If you don’t want to have anything to do with the celestial Kingdom you don’t have to have anything to do with it. But remember anybody that is not exalted will be in one of the other kingdoms separate and single forever and ever and ever.
    I know a lot of doctrines may be hard to bear but truth is truth and no human has any power to change it or to challenge it
    Does that sound like heaven to you?

  61. @JJ, my heaven is actually the one from the last season of The Good Place. It’s like, way better for me than the impoverished disempowered grieving sexually voracious white man’s heaven that Joseph Smith invented for himself and his comrades.

    Have fun in yours populating all your worlds* with all your wives! I’m for sure not interested in it and I’m also for sure not going to wind up sad and single if I don’t join you there but thank you for the warning (that I will not heed because it is based on some theology that is totally made up that no one actually has a clue about and is no more verifiable than the sitcom version of heaven mentioned above).

    *correction, you don’t get any worlds. The Church just took that away from you last year I think.

  62. Laura,

    Re: Abrahamic Tests: I agree with much of what you say. Even so, Section 132 frames the story of the sacrifice of Isaac specifically as a trial having to do with weighing one’s loyalty to God against one’s moral, ethical, or even religious sensibilities–which, in Abraham’s case, were informed by the Lord’s commandments! Verse 36 reads:

    “Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.”

    IMO, the Lord utilizes a very narrow application of the story to convey the idea that when he issues a command it is always right irrespective of the prevailing morality–even when those attitudes are grown from his commandments.

  63. JJ, if we play your game, and use your estimate of “108 billion people [that] have ever lived on earth” and your expectation of eternal celestial viviparous birth, we should also consider the expectation within the Church that individuals who die before the age of eight will inherent the uppermost Celestial Glory.
    Based on a very simple estimate of infant mortality, to quote from an excellent previous post here at BCC: “There are going to be a minimum of about between 2 to 4 billion more males than females in the Celestial Kingdom based on infant mortality differences between the sexes.”

    Again, that’s 2 to 4 BILLION MORE MALES than females in the Celestial Kingdom.

    That sounds more like celestial polyandry to me. What are we going to do with all those billions of extra dudes? Perhaps I missed you volunteering at Mormons Building Bridges or Encircle House. :)

  64. Elisa,
    Interesting take. What does it mean to become like God to you? Are you suggesting in the highest degree God is exalting his children to be like him so they can do something totally different for eternity?

    Regarding your slight that worlds have been taken away (very sensitive of you),
    “Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.
    … Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.
    Latter-day Saints tend to imagine exaltation through the lens of the sacred in mortal experience. They see the seeds of godhood in the joy of bearing and nurturing children and the intense love they feel for those children…”

    That doesn’t say what you think it says.

  65. Sute,

    I would add that when the early saints spoke of “planets” they had a different picture in mind than we do today. These were a people who spent three months traveling across the plains and the Rockies to get to Salt Lake Valley. It was a very, very large world to them. Today we make that same trip in 3 hrs on a Boeing 777. And so our view of our little basketball size planet is quite different from there’s–which was large enough to comprise a division of the sacred cosmos.

  66. –theirs–


  67. @sute, we’ve gone far afield from the post, which was about polygamy. I was responding to JJ’s claims that my choices are to be (1) an eternal birth-giver in a polygamous marriage or (2) lonely and single forever. Otherwise, I’m totally uninterested in debating the LDS view of eternity except in the context of how it was being used to justify polygamy in the context of this post.

    For the record, I *was* taught we’d get our own planet, I *don’t* care that the Church has whitewashed that with your quote above, and yes, I *do* understand the distinction between what I was taught and what the Church has now said to backtrack what I was taught. (Try this one: “Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.” Spencer Kimball.). There are plenty of other blog posts on this topic, so I recommend not hijacking this particular post here.

    Lastly, I think my lighthearted comment was a LOT less insensitive that JJ threatening me with either eternal polygamy or eternal loneliness, so I guess we are coming at this from pretty different perspectives. Honestly, I feel sad for women who believe people like JJ. Can you imagine telling a woman those were her options? Now *that’s* mean.

  68. Kudos for Elisa for brining in The Good Place; fine holiday fun!

    And I’m also with Elisa that I was taught in the Midvale Utah East stake growing up that I would get my own planet(s) one day. You can’t make this stuff up.

    So if we move the goalposts, as so many assume above, to it now being all about procreation, fine. So what does this mean exactly? That God is going to castrate everyone in the other kingdoms? And for those headed to the top kingdom, you are ok being complicit in this practice? I mean, I guess if you buy into D&C Section 132, it’s not a far stretch to get there. I’m looking at you JJ.

    For the record, based on Mormon standards, I won’t qualify for the top kingdom of the Celestial Kingdom, and I also have no interest in it at all. But the God I view cares more about being a great grandpa, so I have a feeling he’ll give me a side hustle somewhere in the cosmos more fun anyway. Change my mind.

  69. @Chadwick, I promised I wasn’t going down the “weird teachings about the eternities” path, but actually, prophets DID teach that people were getting castrated in the other kingdoms!!! Have you heard of Joseph Fielding Smith’s TK Smoothies? It’s good stuff. And part of why no one should be taking detailed descriptions of the afterlife too seriously. We just don’t know. Seriously.

    So any description of the afterlife that harms people today – like polygamy – is one I’m not keen on defending and in fact should be rooted out, and I have a hard time understanding why people go to such lengths resisting the pruning. Such as some of the discussion above in defense of the rotten seed of polygamy.

  70. I’ve never been able to understand the reasoning behind polygamy as exalted beings so we can have more offspring. Mathematically, it makes NO sense. When you are talking about *eternity* there is no difference between the amount of children born to one wife and the amount of children born to ten wives. BECAUSE INFINITY.

    So the moment any man pulls out that chestnut to explain why we need it….pffft.

  71. Wow, you learn something new every day. I must have been sick the day they covered this in Seminary.

    Apologies for the threadjack, and again, thank you to Laura for this thoughtful post and important research.

  72. Thanks for the comments, all.

    Re: Abrahamic tests, Jack, I’ll note that our comments are in no way mutually exclusive :)

  73. Agreed.

  74. Margot,

    I agree that infinity renders some of the arguments moot. But what if, for the sake of argument, we are bound by the limits of the family of Adam and Eve–vis-a-vis our familial relationships–and within that closed system there are more women than men who wish to participate in bringing forth life?

  75. @jack, these arguments might be interesting thought exercises for some people but for many – especially women – they aren’t. I’d recommend we reconsider treating women’s bodies like eternal reproduction facilities for the sake of hypotheticals.

  76. Of course, you’re right that we’re dealing with hypotheticals–at least with respect to how things will actually play out. On the other hand, it is a known quantity that the gospel is a plan of Life. And in my uneducated opinion our participation in the bearing and nurturing of life will yield the highest satisfaction and joy possible.

    Re: Reproduction Facilities: Not being a woman I cannot know the joys and sorrows that come with childbearing. Even so, I do believe that God knows–and that he and his Divine Feminine counterpart have established an eternal house of order. We need not fear that some virtues will be overzealously placed ahead of others. There will be an abundance of time, space, and material–which will enable us to do all things with a glad heart.

  77. Stephen Hardy says:

    Jack: we don’t know… well we don’t know “Jack” about what our life will be like in the next life. We don’t know what we will be doing, except progressing in some ways. Although we understand that we will be in “eternal families” it seems to me that there is only one eternal family. I have my children and my wife, and then my children will have children with their spouses, and before long every human is related to every human. So I don’t see us acting or existing in our small nuclear families in any sort of independent form. My family does not begin nor end with my parents/grandparents and children/grandchildren.

    We also don’t know how spirits are brought into existence. We just don’t know any details.

    So we can make assumptions (like we are in the limits of the progeny of Adam/Eve.) And then we can extrapolate some sort of thought experiment about what it may be like. But none of it makes sense to me in terms of my assumptions. We may believe that Adam/Eve existed 6,000 years ago (again using assumptions about biblical passages) but we find that at the time Adam/Eve existed there were people all over the the world: In Argentina, New Zealand, Japan, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and France. So some assumption has to give. (If you wish to argue that all of humanity are related to one couple 6,000 years ago, and then again to Noah and his family) then I don’t think that you and I can have any sort of fruitful discussion because our assumptions are so vastly different that we can’t compare notes about the demographics of this world or the next.

    Here’s my idea:
    We are promised that those who are near and dear to us will continue to be near and dear to us in the next world, and that our families are somehow sealed together. How that family structure is organized, and how my family relates to yours (because we certainly have common ancestors) is unknown. Will people who are single be part of those relationships? Of course! In what manner? We don’t know. Will they be married? We don’t know. What if they don’t want to be married?
    We don’t know. What if they don’t like their spouse? We don’t know. There is so little that we know! Nature, and apparently heaven, abhors a vacuum. Why insist on a marriage relationship (multiple wives) that is so closely related to abuse and humiliation? Why double down on a practice that has and continues to see women as objects to be owned. Let’s just be happy that we will all be together up there. And let’s not ask others to bear dreadful burdens just so we can feel better about the heaven that we envision based on incomplete information.

  78. Jack,

    Re: benevolent patriarchy….barf, barf, barf.

    You are right to call your opinion uneducated because it is indeed an uneducated one. As Elisa said, this thought exercise about polygamy isn’t fun for women in the church because it effects our lives now. How would you like to be treated as an object that women mull over while pondering your eternal future? Before making any more comments, I suggest becoming educated so that your opinion can be more informed. Great places to start include actually listening to women like Elisa, reading Carol Lynn Pearson’s a walk in pink moccasins, Amy McPhie Allebest’s essay ‘Tell Me Mormon Man, What Would You Do?’, reading Gerda Lerner’s Creation of Patriarchy, and Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and The Blade and Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future.

  79. Jared Livesey says:

    We may believe that Adam/Eve existed 6,000 years ago (again using assumptions about biblical passages) but we find that at the time Adam/Eve existed there were people all over the the world: In Argentina, New Zealand, Japan, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and France. So some assumption has to give. (If you wish to argue that all of humanity are related to one couple 6,000 years ago, and then again to Noah and his family) then I don’t think that you and I can have any sort of fruitful discussion because our assumptions are so vastly different that we can’t compare notes about the demographics of this world or the next.

    1. The scriptures are literally false.
    2. The viewpoints of those who believe the scriptures and of those who do not cannot be truly reconciled.

  80. Jared Livesey says:

    I appreciate it when people make their core beliefs clear as the commenter I summarized above did. I wish there were more such forthrightness in the world.

  81. @tina those are good resources. I would add Carol Lynne Pearson’s “Ghost of Eternal Polygamy.”

    Amy McPhie Allebest’s podcast “Breaking Down Patriarchy” has episodes summarizing the Lerner and Eisner books you mentioned as well for those who don’t have time to read the books but can spare an hour to listen to a well-done summaries. Truly, once people understand history it gets very hard to argue that patriarchy is of divine provenance. Ignorance may be bliss for some but history and knowledge matter.

  82. I agree that reconciliation of the disparate beliefs among commenters here is near impossible. I’ve read these comments without responding because I’ve seen them all before. I admit to being skeptical that the commenters who earnestly seek to validate section 132 are willing to accept the abusive nature — either of the individual verses or the overall premise — so clearly and thoroughly stated in the OP. My cynical rant would not add anything good here, so I’ll spare you that.

    Instead, here’s a thought exercise with which one may experiment to expand their view of this part of our history and doctrine. While it’s true that we know a minuscule amount about the nature of relationships in the life to come, if one applies the simplest, childlike logic that God loves his daughters as the sons are loved, and that the daughters are created to fulfill their natures as the sons are, then the ONLY way this theoretical future practice of polygamy can be fair is for daughters of God to have the same privilege to opt for multiple spouses as do the sons.

    I warn you that going down this rabbit hole will risk ending up in a variety of icky bogs, where I’ve refused to go and play. What I believe is of value in this thought experiment is in the potential dawning light in the minds of theoretical, multiple spiritual god-husbands of one Goddess in the life to come.

    A second caveat, since I refuse to go play in icky swampy rabbit holes. This exercise is only good for putting future lords of creation in the exact same position that faithful women in the church are in, both historically and right now.

  83. I need a woman’s voice for this comment so I’m quoting but without attribution a woman I value and respect:
    “When I was a child I saw the men on the stand and thought “people tell me girls are just as loved as boys and have just as much potential but everyone up there is a man, so I guess they are lying to me.”
    I fear this applies to about half of the comments here.

  84. Christian, thank you. I’ve been waiting for someone to point out that the comments trying to justify section 132 / polygamy are overwhelmingly coming from what appear to be male names. Ponderize that.

    I don’t want to over-rotate on a handful of internet discussions but honestly if this is even remotely representative of the Church (and I thought this was sort of kind of a progressive blog?) then again, seriously, wake up sisters. Our brothers don’t see us as equals. They just don’t. I would really like to know how prevalent these ideas are among the general Mormon population.

  85. UtahLawyerLady says:

    Such an interesting original post, and I appreciated the ongoing debate in the comments. I think my feelings on this section of D&C can best be summed up: “Thanks, I hate it.”

  86. I value section 132 for what it revealed to us… the sealing power, eternal marriage and all that. I really don’t like what it does TO women and relationships today. Shouldn’t good scripture survive the test of time? I know that many don’t like to think of revelation in this way… but can revelation EVOLVE as we grapple with complexities?

    Portions of Section 132 has not survived the test of time. Again, the sealing power is in there… but that is only a few verses. And much of the rest… I mean, does anyone really want to think of their eternal companion with this language? Is it possible to suggest a scriptural rewrite or removal of verses? How about adding warnings to men about abuse and adultery as well? Further light and knowledge, anyone?

  87. Stephen Hardy (et al),

    I agree that we need to be wary about the assumptions that we bring to this subject–or to any subject for that matter.

    That said, though I agree with much of what you say about the after life, you’ve approached my position on this matter with a lot of assumptions of your own. For starters, that’s not at all the way I view Adam and Eve. Even so, I understand the point you’re trying to make–and I agree that we should be careful not to constrict our views of eternity with faulty assumptions.

    And that brings me to what I see as an interesting bit of irony–and I want to say this in the least offensive way I can. Have we–all of us here including myself–thoroughly checked our assumptions vis-a-vis the matter being discussed on this thread? Are we certain that we understand the mind of God well enough to make such bold judgments about the canon–let alone the after life? Are we certain that our modern culture–academia in particular–has got it right with respect to that which is most sacred?

    IMO, as we attempt to move into the holy precincts of sacred knowledge all of us will contribute to the clutter left behind in the outer court as we throw off our false assumptions about the Mystery of Godliness. I look forward to the day when we’ll all sit down in the afterlife and have a nice chat over a cool glass of lemonade–and laugh about everything that we got wrong about eternity when were lowly mortals.

  88. Old Man, that’s some pretty astute foreshadowing of the next two posts! Thanks for the comments, everyone; I’m going to go ahead and close the comments.

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