Opportunity Lost

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A Review of Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Women and Men. Pivot Point Books, 2016, 226 pages with endnotes. $19.95.

Abstract: The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy boldly declares “that plural marriage never was — is not now — and never will be ordained of God” (21) and that the Mormon religion is guilty of “extraordinary spiritual abuse” (22) due to the practice. Seven distinct problems associated with plural marriage are identified, four of which have merit: polygamy history is often messy; earthly polygamy is unfair to women; widows and widowers are treated differently regarding future sealings; and the cancellation of sealings has not always paralleled the desires of the participants. Three additional issues form the bulk of the discussion and are based upon assumptions about eternity: polygamy is required in the celestial kingdom; child-to-parent sealings may be unfair in eternity; and eternal polygamy will be everlastingly unfair to women. This review addresses these observations, noting that the idea that all exalted beings are polygamists is false, revelation has not defined the exact nature of earthly parent–child relationships in the afterlife, and the dynamics of eternal plural marriage have not been revealed. The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy seeks to reinforce fears of the unknown while ignoring the abundant messages that God promises eternal joy and happiness to those who live worthily.

Looking at the history of plural marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it seems that it was inevitable that someone like Carol Lynn Pearson would write a book similar to The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Women and Men (hereafter GEP). Joseph Smith introduced plural marriage in Nauvoo in [Page 92]1841 and taught it as a commandment. After his 1844 death, Brigham Young continued the practice, announcing it to the world in 1852. For the next 38 years it was generally taught as an expected practice for worthy members.

In 1890, a manifesto was issued ending the commandment, although some plural unions continued to be solemnized until 1904 when Joseph F. Smith stopped prospectively authorizing new polygamous marriages. Believing plural marriage should be continued, dissenters from the Church coalesced into an organized movement in the late 1920s and actively promoted their teachings among the Latter-day Saints. LDS authorities denounced them as apostates and sought to distance the Church from the practice from that point forward.

The graph below shows how often Church authorities referred to polygamy or plural marriage in General Conferences:

As shown, the subject was common prior to the 1890s, but dropped dramatically in the next several decades. After the 1950s, references to the practice were rare.

It appears that the absence of discussions of plural marriage during the past half-century has created a vacuum of orthodox teachings concerning the subject among Latter-day Saints in the twenty-first century. Two significant consequences have resulted. First, a wide variety of notions have been promulgated, many of which are inaccurate. Second, alternate voices have offered information to fill the void created by the lack of official Church statements on the topic. The author of GEP [Page 93]acknowledges she is not an official representative of the Church, and as such, she qualifies as an alternate voice with an emotional message for Latter-day Saints and other audiences. In this review I will discuss LDS doctrines and teachings, also as an alternate voice, and am solely responsible for the views expressed herein.

The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy

The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy comprises twelve chapters and nine “other voices” sections, that each contain nine to fourteen moving testimonials and narrations of personal pain and suffering.

Early in the text, GEP informs its readers how the data supporting the arguments in the book was obtained. The author explains: “In March of 2014, I reached out to Mormons and former Mormons via social media, asking them to take a survey about their opinions and feelings regarding the LDS concept of eternal polygamy” (8). The online database of names who received invitations to take the survey is undisclosed, but over 8000 responses were eventually gathered.

GEP identifies the level of Church activity of the respondents: 91% classified themselves as “current members,” with 51% of them “very active,” and 93% of them holding a temple recommend (8–9). Multiplying those numbers reveals that roughly 43% of those answering the questions identified as Latter-day Saints who were actively attempting to keep sacred covenants.

Apparently, the survey also included a section where respondents could share written accounts of their feelings, suffering, and concerns. Regarding these, “85 percent of the stories expressed sadness, confusion, [and] pain” (10) concerning the policies and practices of plural marriage. An impressive 126 of these individual narratives are interspersed throughout the book to add emphasis to specific points, sometimes interjecting an emotional component to the topic being discussed.

Besides repeatedly quoting the opinions of these respondents, other sources are tapped to explain the primary facets of the book’s message. GEP contains imaginary conversations and descriptions composed by the author (36–39, 79, 116, 149) along with eloquent fictional accounts (119, 122). There are multi-paragraph quotes from Pride and Prejudice (155), a blog post (141), the author’s poetry (135), her personal diary (172, 173), and even a quote from the 1882 Anti-Polygamy Standard (113). The final chapter is primarily comprised of a “fantasy” composed by the author (204).

[Page 94]The bibliography identifies additional sources, listing 109 references, eleven of which are General Authorities speaking about plural marriage. Statements from other early polygamists are also included, but over half of the references are either from non-Mormon sources or do not discuss polygamy.

Doctrine and Covenants section 132, the revelation on celestial and plural marriage, is mentioned several times in GEP (xvi, 83, 85, 189, 192 94, and 224). Parts of specific verses are quoted verbatim including vv. 52 and 58 (82), v. 61 (68, 190), and vv. 61–62 (169). No verses are quoted in their entirety and none earlier than verse 52 are referenced. These disregarded verses deal with the ordinance of eternal marriage and the blessings promised to worthy individuals who keep their covenants.

GEP is a skillfully crafted vehicle to convey a particular message by weaving specific stories, arguments, and observations together to convince its audience. Judging from online responses and other opinions I have heard, it may be achieving its apparent goal.

The Message

GEP unapologetically describes polygamy as “Joseph’s extravagant reinvention of marriage” (44). “I am,” the author explains, “personally persuaded that The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy exists today from error, that plural marriage never was — is not now — and never will be ordained of God” (21; see also 70). She also accuses the Mormon religion of “extraordinary spiritual abuse” (22) due to its teachings and past practice of plural marriage.

To support and justify this reaction, seven objections are repeatedly mentioned and explored throughout the text.1 Of these, two state obvious problems with the earthly practice of plural marriage between the 1840s and 1890 and two more are associated with policies that persist:

  1. The history of the establishment of polygamy by Joseph Smith is messy.
  2. [Page 95]Earthly polygamy is unfair to women.
  3. Widows who have been sealed to their deceased husbands are treated differently than widowers who were sealed to their deceased wives.
  4. Cancellations of sealings have not always paralleled individual desires or legal marital decrees.

If these were the only complaints found in GEP, it is likely that most readers could have agreed with the overall message. However, three additional concerns seem to dominate the discussion:

  1. Polygamy is required in the celestial kingdom.
  2. Child-to-parent sealings may be unfair in eternity.
  3. Eternal polygamy is unfair to women.

The common theme intrinsic to these last three complaints is eternity, which is referred to in the catchy title, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. When dealing with eternity, our beliefs must be based upon revelation or they will merely be speculation. In seeking truth, the opinions and conjectures of well-meaning individuals are generally less useful than clear statements from inspired women and men who are seers and revelators.

This review will examine these seven topics and provide historical and doctrinal context for the practice of plural marriage in the Church. I will also examine and critique the methodology employed by GEP.

The History of the Establishment of Polygamy by Joseph Smith is Messy

There is no getting around the fact that the introduction of plural marriage in the early days of the Church was messy. Joseph Smith faced multiple challenges, including opposition from his wife, leaders, followers, and the legal community after reporting an angelic command to establish the practice.

Hence Joseph sought secrecy, which has greatly hampered attempts to understand the details of those early relationships. Common concerns involve the young ages of a few of Joseph Smith’s wives (151), the number of his wives (81), and his not immediately informing Emma (55). GEP also mentions, “Eleven of his [Joseph Smith’s] plural wives were women who were already married to other men” and correctly observes, “It is likely these marriages were not consummated” (55).

[Page 96]While observers today may detect the messiness of that period and conclude Joseph was in error (as GEP does), a weakness of the GEP text is that there is little attempt to see the practice as the Nauvoo polygamists viewed it. Presentism, the act of viewing historical events with present day biases, is rife throughout GEP.

A second problem is found in the historical inaccuracies that reflect casual research (see especially 44, 55, 61, 81, 83, and 93). GEP declares: “Numerous young women (and some older women) were approached by Joseph and promised the highest exaltation in heaven — along with their entire family — if they accepted him as their husband and were ‘sealed’ to him for eternity” (55). This is simply false.2 Also GEP describes the Relief Society as “a service organization that Emma [Smith], as president, soon began to use in her fight against polygamy” in 1842 (81). There is no credible evidence to support that Emma or even a small percentage of the Relief Society members in Nauvoo in 1842 were aware of Joseph Smith’s eternal plural marriage teachings.3

It is useful to note that none of Joseph Smith’s plural wives recorded any complaints against him including the seven who left the Church. Neither did the other eighty men and women who had entered plural unions prior to the martyrdom. When modern writers who know Joseph the least claim to understand things about him that those who knew him best apparently could not see, there is a serious problem.

Nauvoo polygamy was messy, but it is not clear whether the messiness arose from error or simply because life is often messy. I believe the pressures facing the Prophet as he introduced plural marriage guaranteed that the process would be messy.

Earthly Polygamy is Unfair to Women

Earthly polygamy is unfair to women and GEP repeatedly drives home that point. Plural marriage on earth expands a man’s emotional and sexual opportunities as a husband as it simultaneously fragments a woman’s emotional and sexual opportunities as a wife. Simply put, it is sexist and unfair.4 I am sometimes asked to speak on plural marriage, [Page 97]and while I’m comfortable defending Joseph Smith as a worthy prophet, I never try to defend the earthly practice of polygamy.

It is easy to find emotional stories of suffering and even despair among plural wives sharing a husband. Whether in Nauvoo or later in Utah, hundreds of narratives demonstrate the challenges associated with plural marriage. It appears that virtually none of the women in Nauvoo wanted to participate, but they went along with the practice due to their faith in God and a belief that He had commanded the practice at that time and place.

The usefulness of focusing upon these trials is not apparent. LDS scripture teaches that we are here to be “proven” (Exodus 16:4, D&C 121:12, Abraham 3:25). “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Polygamy was a challenge for the Saints of the 1840s to 1890 period and may have been a tribulation intended to lead them toward exaltation.

GEP rejects this interpretation: “God gave it [polygamy] as a test of faith. I do not believe a God of love works this way” (64). The idea that a loving God would not command difficult things contradicts multiple scriptural accounts of how deity deals with mortals on earth.5

To quote Laura Harris Hales: “Early Latter-day Saints believed plural marriage was commanded by God and struggled to practice it. Today, Latter-day Saints do not practice it, but some struggle to believe it was actually from God.” GEP makes a judgment that practitioners did not voice.

Widows Who Have Been Sealed To Their Deceased Husbands Are Treated Differently Than Widowers Who Were Sealed To Their Deceased Wives

Church policy beginning with Joseph Smith is that a living man can be sealed to multiple women, but a living woman can only be sealed to one man. Even when polygamy is not practiced, this policy affects widows who may be shunned by men who are looking to be sealed to their desired wife.

GEP repeatedly highlights this disparity by quoting accounts of suffering and apparent injustice. It includes an anecdotal story about [Page 98]counsel, reportedly from a Church leader, given to a man to not marry a sealed widow because he would be single forever and would compromise his own exaltation (102). Another narrative describes a woman who was worried that cancelling her previous sealing would “strip her deceased husband of his eternal exaltation” (99). The author adds: “According to current policy, if that wife [a widow] is sealed to someone else, the man faces an eternity without wife and without children (even those born with his own DNA), unqualified for the highest blessings of the celestial kingdom” (96).

These accounts are unfortunate because they contain inaccuracies. Under certain circumstances, the Church may allow a woman to cancel a previous sealing to a deceased husband. But to assume that he is eternally compromised demonstrates faulty reasoning. All worthy men and women will receive all their needed ordinances, either in person or by proxy, prior to the final judgment. Worthiness is the key.

While not voicing official Church doctrine, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The Lord has said through his servants that during the millennium those who have passed beyond and have attained the resurrection will reveal in person to those who are still in mortality all the information which is required to complete the work of these who have passed from this life. Then the dead will have the privilege of making known the things they desire and are entitled to receive. In this way no soul will be neglected and the work of the Lord will be perfected.”6

GEP explains that the Church will allow a deceased woman to be sealed vicariously to all the men she lived with as a wife during mortality (after the men have also died). For any of those proxy sealings to be valid, the deceased woman must qualify and accept it in the spirit world. Accordingly, she would be positioned to accept the sealing she desired and the other vicarious ordinances would be unrecognized. This policy may not bring complete comfort to men seeking an eternal mate, but it does allow for a woman to be eternally with the man of her choice, even if he is not the first man she was sealed to on earth.

Some alternate voices today seek to equalize Church practices by demanding that a living woman be allowed to be sealed to as many men as she would like, paralleling the policy for men. The revelation, now section 132, does not allow this (see verses 41, 61–63). New revelation could always be received, but unless that occurs, opinion and consensus of even a large number of members or onlookers will be insufficient to effectuate authorized changes.[Page 99]

Cancellations of Sealings Have not Always Paralleled Individual Desires or Legal Marital Decrees

Several stories of men and women who have procured legal divorces but have been unable to secure a cancellation of a sealing are recounted in GEP (see especially 26, 29, 75, 87, 99, and 159). Many Church leaders have taught that the temple wedding ceremony brings additional blessings to each worthy participant independent of the union solemnized. It may be that Church leaders in the past have been reluctant to cancel those additional blessings until the individuals were positioned to remake the covenants that would bring them back into their lives. Recent policy changes allow women to more easily cancel sealings after a legal divorce, so hopefully this concern has been eliminated.

The remaining three concerns deal with eternity and are based upon assumptions about requirements of exaltation, the nature of mortal families in the afterlife, and the dynamics of plural marriage in that realm. Brigham Young cautioned: “Unless a man is full of the visions of eternity he has no business to meddle with matters that pertain to eternity. I wish you to pay particular attention to this, and practice the principle throughout your lives.”7 This counsel should apply to anyone purporting to write about eternity.

Polygamy is Required in the Celestial Kingdom

GEP reflects the idea that polygamy is required for exaltation or to live in the celestial kingdom: “Polygamy … [is] waiting on the other side to greet us in heaven and causing large injury here on earth” (7). “Many women suffer excruciating pain under the long-taught assumption that if they and their husband are sufficiently righteous they will be expected to live polygamy in the celestial kingdom” (8).

The problem is that no presiding Church leader has ever declared that plural marriage is required for exaltation for all people irrespective of when and where they lived on earth. The belief that every man will be required to practice polygamy in the future or that every woman will have to share her husband in eternity is not only doctrinally unsupported but also mathematically perplexing. It is not — and never has been — a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[Page 100]Apostle Joseph F. Smith explained in 1878 that plural marriage was “a law of the Gospel pertaining to the celestial kingdom, applicable to all gospel dispensations, when commanded and not otherwise, and neither acceptable to God or binding on man unless given by commandment.”8 God told the Nephites that unless He would “command” his people, they should have “one wife” (Jacob 2:30, 27). The righteous Book of Mormon peoples were monogamous.

The practice of plural marriage was commanded between the 1840s and 1890 and obedience was then expected, but not apparently because polygamy has any inherent exalting ability or because it is the only form of marriage in the celestial kingdom. It was commanded during those decades of the nineteenth century because it was God’s will. At no other time in the earth’s past millennia has such a directive been given to God’s followers. Modern prophets have never given a reason for the polygamy mandate.

In LDS theology, requiring all exalted men to be polygamists would necessitate at least twice as many women as men in the celestial kingdom. GEP rejects the idea that women have a greater propensity to embrace spiritual things contending that it is “pretty insulting to men” (58). Yet, Brigham Young taught: “The fact is, let the pure principles of the kingdom of God be taught to men and women, and far more of the latter than the former will receive and obey them.”9 But will the ratio be at least two women to each man? Believing that all exalted men are practicing polygamists generates logistical problems that are not easily resolved.

The idea that plural marriage is required for exaltation is popular today with modern polygamists like the FLDS and the Allreds (AUB). The primary problem is that God reveals and revokes His commandments through His living prophets who hold the keys to seal eternal marriages, monogamous and polygamous. God will not acknowledge marriage ceremonies that are not performed by that authority (D&C 132: 8, 10, 18). The commandment was removed in 1890 through Wilford Woodruff, who then held the sealing authority. Despite creative claims by dozens of men over the past century, sealing authority does not exist outside [Page 101]of the Church and personal revelation alone cannot produce sealing authority or authorize a sealing ceremony that is acceptable to God.10 Today, worthy men and women can only be sealed monogamously and attempts to live plurality will bring eternal condemnation.

Child-to-Parent Sealings may be Unfair in Eternity

GEP repeatedly expresses concern involving child-to-parent sealings and how those could result in eternal injustice: “Children who are born into a marriage between a sealed widow and a new husband, though these children are raised by their biological father, are understood to be destined to live eternally in the spiritual kingdom of a man they have never known” (96; see also 8). This declaration speaks of doctrines that “are understood”; however, the source of this apparent authoritative understanding is not provided. Neither are we told what the “spiritual kingdom” represents or exactly how the described arrangement is an eternal problem.

The author of GEP is not the only person to manifest confusion regarding the dynamics of eternal families. It is true that we sing: “Families can be together forever, in Heavenly Father’s plan” (Hymns, 300). What is less known is that the “togetherness” of the husband and wife in eternity is different from the “togetherness” of children and their mortal parents in that realm.

A husband and wife who are sealed by proper authority and live worthily become an eternal couple who can be like our Heavenly Parents, together in eternity. As a resurrected exalted couple, they are promised a “continuation of the seeds” (D&C 132:19), or spirit offspring in the eternities. Those spirit offspring can progress to become exalted couples who can thereafter have spirit offspring. The process creates endless generations of exalted parents and children who can “be together forever” as part of “Heavenly Father’s plan.”

Today, Primary children may sing “Families can be together forever” with full expectation that if the children experience a nuclear family arrangement in their homes, it could somehow exist in heaven with mortal parents ruling over their offspring. The eternal reality, however, is that the children are more aptly singing about premortal family [Page 102]associations that they have forgotten — each living there as “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.”11

Questions exist regarding the relationships of mortal parents and their sealed children in the next life. The confusion apparently traces back to the early days of the Church. Joseph Smith encouraged parents and children to be sealed to one another but did not provide many details concerning the eternal ramifications of those sealings.12 Brigham Young further explained, “The ordinance of sealing must be performed here … woman to man, and children to parents, etc., until the chain of generation is made perfect in the sealing ordinances back to father Adam.”13 Without question, being part of the chain back to Adam is important. Paul explained: “They without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40; see also D&C 128:15).

What has been less clear is what happens to specific sealed child to parent relationships in the chain after we die. Some early members and leaders evidently believed that earthly familial relationships in the chain would govern our relationships in heaven. Two ideas soon popped up that cannot be traced to Joseph Smith. A few early Saints assumed that the more offspring they had, either biologically or through adoption ordinances, the greater would be their eternal glory. Another problem involved thinking that being sealed to Joseph Smith or another leader would give them an eternal advantage over being sealed to their biological parents.

In 1846, Apostle George A. Smith seems to have clarified the issue by saying it does not “matter so much where we are sealed provided we form a part of link [of] the Priesthood” chain.14 Ten years later, Jedediah M. Grant, counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency, preached: “What does it matter where you are, if you do your duty? Being in one man’s family or the other man’s family is not going to save you, but doing your duty before your God is what will save you.”15

[Page 103]After the resurrection where physical age differences do not seem to exist, we’ll rejoin our heavenly family and Heavenly Parents. Brigham Young explained:

When the resurrection takes place and we are glorified and perfected we shall find we are all brothers and sisters of one parentage. Why we now govern our children is because we are fallen, and the Lord Almighty put that affection on us so that they might cling to the earth and we to our children…Every man and woman will find they are brothers and sisters, connected as much as father and son is.”16

As resurrected beings, memories of the ages and eons of premortality will be joined by the remembrances of the decades we spent on earth. Mortal experiences will never be forgotten and gratitude will always be felt to those spirits who served us in mortality. Precisely how the relationships in the chain will continue to affect us in eternity, if they affect us at all, has not been revealed.

To summarize, we know our positions as children in God’s heavenly family are eternal and we know we must be sealed as part of the genealogical chain back to Adam. It also appears that our precise position in that chain is less important, and perhaps unimportant, in the eternities where exalted beings resume their position as sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents and progress to fulfill their “divine nature and destiny.”

The worries expressed in GEP about children born in the covenant to a father they did not know simply create fears that are unjustified. It is true that if a divorced woman who was sealed to her former husband remarries, the children of her later marriage are born in the covenant of the first marriage. Being born in the covenant entitles children to an eternal parentage, depending on their faithfulness. The idea that specific child-to-parent sealings on earth combine to create eternal “spiritual kingdoms” in heaven is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[Page 104]

Eternal Polygamy is Unfair to Women

It is clear that early polygamists believed that polygamy in some form would exist in the celestial kingdom. Joseph’s revelations declare that sealings performed by proper authority, whether monogamous or polygamous, would persist after death (D&C 132:19).

In reaction to these teachings, it seems that the foundational message of GEP is that eternal polygamy is unfair to women. “Polygamy in the next life seems like a punishment, not eternal glory” (9). GEP also protests about “a God who has prepared an eternity that will break the hearts of women and render them forever subordinate” (202).

GEP assures its readers “that in heaven there will be many happy surprises” (201). Apparently a “surprise” that we will never confront is that wives in eternal plurality might feel the same as wives in eternal monogamy. We admit that on earth, polygamy is unfair and unjust. GEP repeatedly proclaims that to be true: polygamy is unfair and will always be unfair, worlds without end.

What We Think We Know

If we embrace the standard works as authoritative, what do we know about the next life and the eternal state of exalted beings? Paul described that realm: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; see also Isaiah. 64:4, D&C 133:45). It seems that without divine revelation, mortals who claim to understand specific dynamics of the next life may be in error.

The exalted are promised to “receive all that the Father hath” (D&C 84:38) even to be “equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” with Him (D&C 76:95), to “have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father” (D&C 81:6), “to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelations. 3:21), and to “inherit all things” (Revelations. 21:7).

Besides inheriting all things, the passage of time as we now know it will be no longer (Revelations. 10:6; D&C 84:100); “Time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). On earth, polygamy fragments the husband’s time and resources. Plural wives may have felt diminished, in part, due to the comparatively limited resources available to her. In eternity, endless time and resources could greatly alter these deficits.

Our Heavenly Father is aware of all His creations, even a sparrow “shall not fall on the ground without your Father” knowing it (Matthew 10:29). [Page 105]God told Enoch: “Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also” (Moses 7:36). So if a friend accepts Christ, is baptized, and creates a new covenant relationship with deity, one that did not exist previously, that relationship does not take away from my own relationship with God. We may not fully understand how this happens, but godhood apparently brings the capacity to share intimate relationships with an infinite number of beings.

In addition, the resurrection could greatly alter physical relations between a husband and wife. Paul and Joseph Smith taught that resurrected bodies do not contain blood (1 Corinthians. 15:50).17 On earth, sexual relations, gestation, and birth are highly dependent upon blood. With the elimination of blood from resurrected tabernacles, the process of procreation could be very different from what we have on earth.

Similarly, erotic feelings in mortal bodies are closely tied to a hormone, testosterone, and males have greater concentrations than females — creating a disparity in the feelings of attractions felt by men and women, both type and quantity. We simply do not know if hormones exist or function in a resurrected body. The forces that keep exalted couples attracted to each other could be greatly different from the forces mortal spouses experience.

These observations do not help us understand how eternal polygamy might feel to participants, but they do show that comparing polygamy in the afterlife to earthly polygamy may not be a valid comparison.

Xenophobia and Victimhood

The truth is that we do not know the dynamics of eternal marriage, and we know even less about the dynamics of eternal plural marriage. Any fears associated with eternal polygamy are based upon assumptions that we cannot test for validity. To fear eternal polygamy is fearing future circumstances that we cannot accurately describe or even know to exist.

So the fears (and ghosts) of eternal polygamy are fears of the unknown, or xenophobia. In some ways these fears are manifestations of doubt that God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).

GEP also advances another idea — that women will be forever victimized by eternal polygamy. The correlation is almost automatic. If we accept that eternal polygamy is unfair, then we can usually accept [Page 106]that the unfairness is misogynistic and therefore victimizes females. Overall, the logic involves circular reasoning because it is not based upon verifiable truths but rather assumptions that build upon each other. Also, this line of reasoning undermines the GEP thesis. If God never does or never did condone polygamy, then polygamy will be a non-issue in the eternities.

Opportunity Lost

Instead of fear and victimization, what alternate message might have been the focus of GEP? GEP’s discussion of eternal polygamy could have reached higher, stretched wider, and delved deeper as it sought to depict and understand everlasting ramifications. The discussion would not have ignored the frustrations earthly polygamy has wrought. Neither is there a reason to don rose-colored glasses when reviewing the behavior of polygamous Church leaders in the past.

In the economy of heaven, earthly struggles and suffering are sometimes a price to be paid rather than a victim’s justification to demand change. Religious history teaches that the presence of trials and suffering does not mean God is ignoring His children nor that the associated teachings of His representatives are in error.

Instead of focusing upon what we don’t know and speculating on offenses that may or may not be real, GEP might have pointed out that God’s plan is a “great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8, 16) and not a plan of eternal coercion or endless submission and suffering. Specific fears about relationships in the next life could be contextualized within promises that exalted beings “shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).

Brigham Young emphasized the importance of agency in choosing our eternal mates: “If a woman is sealed to me and she wants to be divorced, she has a right to and I am under no obligation. Is not that agency all round? We have the privilege of being sealed or released.”18 According to modern revelation, we can presume that during the millennium communication between the spirit world and temples on earth will be [Page 107]greatly facilitated, allowing both releasings and proxy sealings so every worthy being is happy with their eternal marital situation (including, I believe, participating or not participating in plural marriage).

GEP could have explained the rewards of exaltation, even eternal glory: “which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:19–20). It will include: “salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!” (D&C 128:23).

Is it possible that a wife, even a plural wife, could feel abused if she attains this celestial glory? The thought makes reason stare. President Henry B. Eyring explained:

A prophet of God once offered me counsel that gives me peace. I was worried that the choices of others might make it impossible for our family to be together forever. He said, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.”

To all of those whose personal experience or whose marriage and children — or absence thereof — cast a shadow over their hopes, I offer my witness: Heavenly Father knows and loves you as His spirit child. While you were with Him and His Beloved Son before this life, They placed in your heart the hope you have of eternal life. With the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ working and with the Holy Spirit guiding, you can feel now and will feel in the world to come the family love your Father and His Beloved Son want so much for you to receive.19

A More Troubling Message

Besides the fearmongering found in GEP, there is an additional, more troubling message. GEP explains: “I know there are visionaries. I know there are seers. I believe that Joseph Smith was one of them … Joseph was not unique” (32). He is then classified as just another visionary and [Page 108]then compared to Ellen White, William Blake, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Dame Julian (32).

This evaluation of the Prophet contrasts with John Taylor’s description: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3). Joseph restored priesthood authority to baptize (D&C 13:1), which is required for exaltation (D&C 76:51). Baptisms performed without this authority are “dead works” (D&C 22:2). The revelation on celestial marriage describes sealing power and quotes God saying: “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” (D&C 132:7).

Similarly, the final chapter of GEP portrays the Church established by Joseph Smith as just another religious tradition with some goodness, similar to other churches. In a self-composed fantasy, the author of GEP describes “a parade of religions, all come together to celebrate, to show their very best stuff … As we come in alphabetically, we’re led by the Amish, and the rear is brought up by the Zoroastrians. We Latter-day Saints are right between the Jews and the Mennonites” (204–05).

In contrast, Joseph taught in 1831 that the Church he organized was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30). It was to come forth “out of the wilderness — clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (D&C 5:14), “to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it” (D&C 45:9). Its gospel was “to roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).

The incongruities create a paradox. If Joseph was just another visionary, and the Church he formed just another church, then his authority would be just another authority, incapable of creating a genuine eternal marriage of any kind. But if Joseph could truly produce eternal polygamy, with all its ghosts, then he must have been more than just another visionary and his authority more than just another authority.

A remarkable disconnect between the teachings of Joseph Smith and the teachings found in the GEP is easily detected, one that goes much deeper than a disagreement about polygamy. The read-between-the-lines message throughout the text seems to say Joseph and the Church are good but no better than other religions and their leaders and that [Page 109]the requirements for salvation could be equally filled by any upright religious tradition. GEP is very squishy concerning the possibility that exaltation and eternal marriage might arise from ordinances and covenant-keeping authorized by the Church’s priesthood. But the author is firm that eternal polygamy is definitely bad and, as a practice in any realm, intolerable.

Conclusion

The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Women and Men is an unfortunate publication because of its many weaknesses outlined above. Concern for an author, who is willing to make such claims, is also probably warranted.

If there is anything spiritually useful here, it might be that GEP could help to open the door to a discussion about things that have likely haunted some LDS women since the 1840s, when plural marriage was first introduced. Through that discussion, comforting clarity where clarity is possible might be shared. Where details remain unknown, we can seek faith to simply trust God and His promises to us.20

1. The following is a listing of the approximate number of specific references to these seven topics: the history of the establishment of polygamy by Joseph Smith is messy (10); earthly polygamy is unfair to women (30); widows who have been sealed to their deceased husbands are treated differently than widowers who were sealed to their deceased wives (18); cancellations of sealings have not always paralleled individual desires or legal marital decrees (19); polygamy is required in the celestial kingdom (14); child-to-parent sealings may be unfair in eternity (21); and eternal polygamy is unfair to women (72).

2. See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 3:194–203.

3. See Brian C. Hales, “He Had No Other Wife but Me”: Emma Hale Smith and Mormon Polygamy,” Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association, Spring, 2017, forthcoming.

4. In the case of a new plural wife who would have remained unmarried if monogamy was exclusively practices, her “emotional and sexual opportunities as a wife” are increased from zero to some fraction depending on how many other wives the man has. However, the other wives’ opportunities are diminished as a result of the new plural matrimony.

5. See Alma 1:25, Mosiah 24:15, Alma 14:26, Abraham 1:7, Genesis 6:13–14, 1 Nephi 17:8, Acts 7:59, and 2 Corinthians 11:25.

6. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, 3:65.

7. Brigham Young, discourse given February 19, 1854, in Richard S. Van Wagoner, ed., The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Smith–Pettit Foundation, 2009), 2:763.

8. Journal of Discourses, 20:26; emphasis added.

9. Journal of Discourses, 18:249. Janet Bennion observed: “Past studies of gender dynamics in religion have consistently shown that females tend to be more religious than males.” Janet Bennion, Desert Patriarchy: Mormon and Mennonite Communites in the Chihuahua Valley (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004), 174.

10. See Brian C. Hales, Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto, Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006, 6–10, 465–74.

11. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation.

12. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 331 (Wilford Woodruff Diary, 10 March 1844).

13. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 12:165 (February 16, 1868); see also Brigham Young, “Discourse,” Millennial Star 31, no. 13 (March 27, 1869): 203.

14. Charles Kelly, ed., The Journals of John D. Lee 1846–47 and 1859 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 94.

15. Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses, 4:128 (October 26, 1856).

16. Brigham Young, discourse given September 24, 1850, in Van Wagoner, ed., Complete Discourses, 1:404.

17. Ehat and Cook, Words, 255 (Joseph Smith Diary, 9 October 1843).

18. Brigham Young, discourse given March 12, 1848, in Van Wagoner, ed., Complete Discourses, 1:276. President Joseph F. Smith agreed in 1915: “If a man and woman should be joined together who are incompatible to each other it would be a mercy to them to be separated that they might have a chance to find other spirits that will be congenial to them. We may bind on earth and it will be bound in Heaven, and loose on earth and it will be loosed in Heaven.” (James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:330–31.)

19. Henry B. Eyring, “The Hope of Eternal Family Love,” Ensign, August 2016, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/08/the-hope-of-eternal-family-love?

20. See D&C 109:75–76.

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About Brian C. Hales

Brian C. Hales, is the author of six books dealing with polygamy, most recently the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013). His Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto received the “Best Book of 2007 Award” from the John Whitmer Historical Association. He has presented at numerous meetings and symposia and published articles in The Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Historical Studies, and Dialogue as well as contributing chapters to The Persistence of Polygamy series. Brian works as an anesthesiologist at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah, and has served as the President of the Utah Medical Association.

36 thoughts on “Opportunity Lost

  1. “GEP is a skillfully crafted vehicle to convey a particular message by weaving specific stories, arguments, and observations together to convince its audience.”

    I don’t agree. I see her as taking lived experiences, lived teachings and reporting them. The audience doesn’t need convincing. The audience is living with these problems already. Does she extrapolate? Yes. But does she invent a problem that isn’t already eating at a ton of LDS women? No way.

    You may be right and that the way the church teaches eternal families in its lesson manuals, videos, talks, etc., is doctrinally incorrect and we should stop worrying about the eternal nuclear family (someone please tell that to my stake president!) and instead focus our attention on the family of Adam. But until the church changes its teachings (Does anyone actually believe that the endless use of the term ‘eternal family’ is addressing some group other than nuclear?), we are stuck with what we’ve got.

    I’d love to hear a GA state just as you did that “What has been less clear is what happens to specific sealed child to parent relationships in the chain after we die.” Oddly, I don’t think I will though. Not when ‘you’ll get to raise them in the eternities’ is still the go-to refrain when parent’s lose a child. Maybe that makes the problem cultural, but cultural is based around what comes out of SLC. Misbeleifs like this don’t happen accidentally.

    I don’t agree with everything CLP wrote and your rebuttal has some excellent points. But at least she’s taking the bandage off of something a good lot of LDS women have been talking about quietly my entire life. At least she’s addressing how little control women have of the situation, where at least men get to make a choice when it comes to polygamy. Emma, as our mortal example of how these things work, sure didn’t.

  2. Hi,

    I appreciate the comments and you bring up some good points.

    I agree with your comment: “does she [Carol Lynn Pearson] invent a problem that isn’t already eating at a ton of LDS women? No way.” Confusion on the points raise in her book has been with us for over a hundred years. As I say in the conclusion, the most useful thing the book may do is to generate more clarity from our leaders on these important questions.

    My wish is that Carol Lynn Pearson, who has such a wide following, would have stayed closer to Joseph Smith’s revelations and would have expressed some faith that eternal marriage and exaltation (God’s plan of happiness) are real.

    You wrote: “Not when ‘you’ll get to raise them [deceased children] in the eternities’ is still the go-to refrain when parent’s lose a child.” My understanding is that that opportunity would come during the millennium, not after the resurrection.

    You’ve mentioned the “nuclear family” several times and I suspect you are living in such a family arrangement now. Part of the value of understanding the expanded “families are forever” dynamic (so that it includes our eternal family) is that it gives place for so many who do not now live in a nuclear family and might never have such an opportunity. Children of divorce, single parent families, gay and lesbian Church members, can take comfort in this forever family concept.

    Emma Hale Smith is one of my heroes. She could not handle earthly polygamy so far as we have any record. Yet, I think we have to be careful about assuming we know what she was feeling. When on June 24, 1844, Joseph left for Carthage and death, he requested that Emma accompany him. Because of the needs of their children, she was unable to comply, but she requested a blessing from him. Harried for time, he told her to “write out the best blessing [she] could think of and he would sign the same on his return.” The blessing included Emma’s wish: “I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side . . . I desire to see that I may rejoice with them in the blessings which God has in store for all who are willing to be obedient to his requirements.”

    Thanks,

    Brian

    • “You wrote: “Not when ‘you’ll get to raise them [deceased children] in the eternities’ is still the go-to refrain when parent’s lose a child.” My understanding is that that opportunity would come during the millennium, not after the resurrection.”

      –Not related to polygamy, but what is the original source on that whole ‘raise your dead children in the millennium’? It seems like a bit of a folk doctrine to me. Believing it kinda requires believing that, for some reason, those baby spirits are frozen in carbonite, unable to progress, until they are resurrected.

      I’m speculating, but it seems just as likely that our dead children will be raising us, as our guides in the spirit world when we die.

  3. To say that polygamy was never a commandment is problematic. The doctrines of eternal marriage and exaltation(godhood) appear on the same revelation that commands polygamy. Eternal marriage and polygamy are interwoven, like a braid; they are not synonyms for each other but they are connected.

    So when Pearson says God did not command polygamy, not even for the early Saints, she runs the risk of denying eternal marriage, exaltation, the King Follet theology and Heavenly Mother. Like Jenga, all of these doctrines rest on each other.

    The other implication is that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and all the way up to people like Henry Christian Eyring, Henry B. Eyring’s grandfather, were adulterers. What does that imply about priesthood power, authority and the worthiness required to receive revelation?

    In attempting to eliminate the mere possibility of polygamy, in the after life, she is creating bigger theological problems than the one eschatological problem she aims to fix.

    Lastly, these types of fears, about an afterlife almost none of us has seen, get in the way of grace. Rather than focus on what God has commanded us to do now, rather than focus on the romantic love we can enjoy now, with a spouse we do have, fearing or dreaming of “eternal polygamy” blinds us to God’s love, as it is manifested in what He has put right in front of us.

    Ps.
    This was typed quickly in bed, with my thumbs. Forgive the typos or any logical incoherence.

  4. Brian:
    I am delighted that you have taken the opportunity to comment on Carol Lynn Pearson’s book. I have been asked several times to answer some questions which arose from some of the incorrect comments she has made. I believe your comments and explanations are excellent and appropriate. I am aware that for a number of years it was the design of the church reading committee to omit from all Church affiliated publications any reference to either polygamy or plural marriage. Their almost complete success has resulted in a church membership with a paucity of knowledge about, and an incomplete understanding of, plural marriage, both here and in the hereafter. Although I do not agree with all parts of your comments, I recognize them as accurate if not necessarily complete. Your most significant explanation is that no one in the Celestial Kingdom of God will ever be forced to enter plural marriage against their will – agency remains. There will be people in the Celestial Kingdom with only one spouse and there will also be individuals there who are not married at all. It is my personal opinion that those who inherit the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom will gravitate toward plural marriage of their own choice (both men and women) as time extends toward infinity. Anyway, thanks for your comments.

    • See, this is the deep, deep fear women have–that those in the highest level of the CK will gravitate toward plural marriage. Brigham Young taught that this was the case, and that those who didn’t accept it would become ministering angels and servants to those who do.

      How is this a plan of happiness for us women?

      Please forgive the length of my response but I don’t know how to express the reality so many of us share any more briefly while still conveying the least portion of our heartache….

      As a woefully inadequate type and shadow, say I am called to serve as a cub leader in my ward–a calling I would find quite an unhappy one. However, there is great pressure to 1) serve the Lord as called 2) honor my covenants to obey whatever I’m asked to do 3) grit my teeth and go forward in an unhappy situation 4) be viewed as selfish and spiritually immature or lacking 5) use my agency to say no but then suffer negative consequences such as not being valued as truly dedicated and chosen, and then being called to nothing, or to something else I wouldn’t enjoy, such as nursery leader.

      No one wants to share their sweetheart if the two are deeply in love. No one. Even God has proclaimed that he is a jealous God. It would eat us alive in heart, mind, and spirit to be left behind for a while–alone–while husband is fully with someone(s) else. He never suffers the sorrow….the loneliness….the heartache……the betrayal of fidelity……the pain—the soul-deep, gut-wrenching, all-consuming pain. Why can so many men not understand this horror? And why do they suppose it will somehow be heaven if they do this to their wife?

      Is Sister Nelson going to feel truly and fully loved when she’s alone while Pres. Nelson is with Wendy? While she may be with friends and other loved ones during such times, those special feelings and needs shared only with him and none other will be lacking. She will feel lonely in a crowd. She will long for him. Or is Wendy going to feel terrific when he’s with Dantzel? On the other hand, he will always have ALL his needs met ALL the time because he won’t ever have to do without them. He will never feel lonely. He will never feel alone. He will never suffer that unique ache that runs to the depth of the soul.

      Not so for the wives. At last half the time (even though time isn’t measured there) each wife goes without her needs being met that only the husband can fulfill. Is this a great plan of happiness for wives? What if there are four, six, or more wives? What then?–she goes without that fulfillment and continued nurturing and bonding in the marriage for even longer, lonelier periods of time. What is a marital relationship worth if one spouse has every need continually met for eternity, but his wives never fully do for all eternity?

      But wait, she can say no thank and then be a servant to her husband and the wives who did say yes! Does that sound like a really terrific way to spend eternity??

      The options for women are painful. Full stop. They break our joy, our hope, our hearts if it is true what the early restoration prophets taught that only those who enter plural marriage will obtain the highest level of the Kingdom. If you can’t “see” or “hear” this excruciatingly painfully dread-filled reality, I would ask that you pray for the Lord to help you understand the cries of his fair daughters whose hearts have been broken.

      My husband says he dearly loves me, but if the Lord asks him to enter into polygamy, he will do so joyfully to please God. (??–or himself?) And if it destroys me? He says I should joyfully support him. Why, of course! Support him in his never-left-alone-nor-do-without-intimacy-in-all-its-forms-worlds-without-end. –If I love him I will be happy for him and not think of my needs. –I will be happy for my sister wives to have his children. –I will learn to accept and love the patriarchal order of marriage because it’s, you know, patriarchal……but it’s in no way unfair or hurtful or inequitable to me. He says it’s a divine plan and if I don’t like it, well….that’s because I’m too selfish and spiritually immature.

      And so I weep, and mourn, and dread, and weep, and mourn, and dread…..

      …..all my days.

  5. I think there is an aspect to this interchange that is being overlooked, even though Bro. Hales has intelligently put the subject of plural marriage within the bounds and scope the Lord intends it to be. What is being overlooked is the mental conditioning and mass mind persuasion that such works as GEP is designed to create within and without the Church.

    The author of GEP can careless about the affects polygamy has on individuals (women in particular), the real agenda is to dissuade Christians from breeding. When we speak of political power and influence, numbers matter. What greater threat is there to the establishment’s influence and control over this nation and other aspects of the world, than Christians forming polygamous marriages, wherein one patriarch can have has many as 50 children in his life span. This is the reason the U.S. government moved against the Church in the late 19th century and why false Christians like the author of GEP have come into the Church to try to nullify the Word of God.

    Polygamy can build the Kingdom of God on the earth in greater numbers quicker than the annual baptisms that are accounted from proclaiming the gospel can. This is what must be stopped by the likes of the author of GEP. This is just another tactic in the war against the family which is now to the point of their inverting the patriarchal order of Christ. This is the conditioning that I’m speaking about. Using the historical concept of polygamy to get the modern Latter-day Saint woman to rebel against her womanhood and motherhood and the now existing monogamous patriarchal order of the Restored Priesthood of God by not just questioning polygamy, but the whole doctrinal basis of marriage within the Church.

  6. How many faithful sisters would be spinning in their graves at even the very thought of such a book? What about them? I fear we’ve allowed our modern victimization mentality to color an Abrahamic generation of Saints as buffoons.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Eugene England’s article was pretty much a lone voice in the wilderness in 1987. Polygamy wasn’t a topic to be discussed then. I appreciate his willingness to address it.

      In JOSEPH SMITH’S POLYGAMY vol. 3 I quote that article several times, sometimes to offer an alternate view. In some ways it is unfortunate that there wasn’t additional discussion of his ideas at that time.

      When I wrote my review of GEP, I knew that I was declaring specific positions on issues that are not just controversial, but have contradictory evidences in the historical record. And some of my interpretations go against the published ideas of smart people like England and others.

      While I’m very comfortable with the views I have expressed, I readily acknowledge they do go against some traditional thinking (see comments above).

      All my best,

      Brian

  7. Im not sure how anyone, including CLP can comment on the afterlife when tney havent spent even 1-second there! From what I’ve studied from the NDE literature, such emotions as envy, jealousy and selfishness do not exist there. But then again, heaven is a big place and tnere might even be a place for cynics like CLP where she can dwell in her mansion with her deceased gay husband. If there is a Mormon heaven, where a man is married to multiple wives, then no one is forcing CLP to go there.
    Personally, I see real problems with monogamy and whether Joseph Smith was commanded, or not, I commend for having the guts to try it. Seems more natural to me than monogamy.

  8. “The practice of plural marriage was commanded between the 1840s and 1890 and obedience was then expected, but not apparently because polygamy has any inherent exalting ability or because it is the only form of marriage in the celestial kingdom. It was commanded during those decades of the nineteenth century because it was God’s will. At no other time in the earth’s past millennia has such a directive been given to God’s followers. Modern prophets have never given a reason for the polygamy mandate.”

    If we understand Jacob 2 correctly, the reason for polygamy is to “raise seed unto [the Lord].”

    “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.”

    Between just eight prominent polygamists – Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Heber Kimball, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, and Daniel Wells – 320 seed were raised. Many of them went on to become important Church leaders.

    That’s quite a jump start for the Restoration movement.

    • Thanks for the observations.

      Jacob 2 relates a reason that God could have stated if He had ever wanted to command polygamy among the Lehites (which never happened so far as we know).

      To my knowledge Joseph Smith did not mention Jacob 2 as the reason the angel, who appeared three times between July 1834 and February 1842, commanded him to practice polygamy. D&C 132:63 mentions “multiply and replenish,” as a justification for why the practice should be permitted, but not commanded.

      Other reasons given in D&C 132 why polygamy should have been permitted are as part of a restoration of all things (vv. 40, 45) and as a trial for the Saints (v. 51).

      Michael Quinn wrote: “Mormon leaders gave many rationales for practicing polygamy (including its role in producing a larger number of righteous children), but always subordinated those explanations to the affirmation that revelations of God required the Latter-day Saints to live this ‘Holy Principle.’”

      Thanks again,

      Brian

      • IMO, the reason Jacob 2 is in our scriptures is to explain that God commands plural marriage when he deems it necessary. Considering what was to come in the Restoration, it is significant that the Book of Mormon prophets thought to include this in the precious space on the plates. I doubt Joseph Smith cleverly snuck this in to justify future actions. He may not have remembered it was there.
        While obeying this command was not easy, it certainly hastened the growth of the Church in the early years of the Restoration. The results of the sacrifice those made who participated were precisely fit what the Lord revealed in Jacob 2.
        This could help relieve the heartburn of those who are put off by the practice if they think about it in this context.
        Thanks for the review and for taking the time to respond to my comments.

  9. Great article. You said: “Besides inheriting all things, the passage of time as we now know it will be no longer (Revelations. 10:6; D&C 84:100); “Time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8).”

    I’m not sure what you meant exactly but wanted to make sure you were aware of this great article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism by Kent Robson entitled “Time and Eternity.” http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Time_and_Eternity

    As well as Bruce R. McConkie’s different meanings for “time” in the scriptures, as found in “Mormon Doctrine.” Was an eye opener for me. Thanks again for a great article. You nailed it.

    • Excellent points. I had hoped to convey that a primary problem for earthly polygamy is that it fragments the husband’s resources including the amount of time he can spend with each wife. But in the next life, the time limitation may not exist and certainly will be modified by factors we cannot now imagine.

      Thanks,

      Brian

      • Dear Bro. Hales,

        Where do you get this idea from? What scriptures indicate that the sociality we experience here will be different from that experienced there, especially when Joseph taught clearly that they are the same? Even if there is no time measured there, it’s an irrevocable law that when one being is intimately with another, all others are left out. The husband is never alone, left out, lonely, or unfulfilled. Never. But the wives are. Only he can fulfill those special feelings, needs and bonds. Even God can’t fulfill what a husband is covenanted to fulfill. So there’s no doubt that wives must go without these things a lot–often–mostly. That’s terribly hurtful. That’s terribly painful. It’s not a situation most healthy women would deem heavenly. I can’t understand how a righteous man would even be able to contemplate doing that to someone he claims he loves.

        You mentioned not having blood in our resurrected bodies and that it might change things considerably, like testosterone. Perhaps…but perhaps not. Our endocrine systems will be resurrected, for not a hair will be lost. Perhaps not having blood will enable us to have far, far, far more deeply romantic love. If so, imagine the terrible anguish for wives then! Or perhaps it will cause us to be more like animals who feel no romantic love at all. But how could this be when the feelings of falling in love are the greatest moments of our lives?–we all miss them when they fade away. What kind of eternity would it be without them forevermore? Perhaps (I surely do hope) in eternity we have them forever, infinitely magnified! Imagine then having to long for your husband but he is taking turns with the others while you wait and ache and long for him. And all too soon you are alone again. And again. But he’s never alone or bereft. How is this fair and righteous? How can this possibly be viewed as God being no respector of persons?

        Some say we sister wives will magically not feel lonely or bereft. We won’t long for him. If so, then Joseph greatly erred about our sociality there being as it is here, for do we not miss our beloved when they are gone from us? Does it not cause pangs of longing and anxiety to be together again as soon as possible?

        No matter how we objectively look at it, plural marriage is a blessing for men and a terrible plight for women, at least for women who feel deeply romantic love for their husband. I’ve known some women who love their husband dearly, but claim they aren’t really IN love with him. They don’t overly care if there is polygamy so long as the sister wives are fun and not very pretty. To me, that’s pretty sad. But, I don’t know, I guess you don’t miss what you never had.

        I just think you benevolently make as many assumptions about this as Carol Lynn Pearson has. And I think you missed the messages by an eternal mile. You’re truly a plural marriage scholar, and for all your learning you think you are wise. And in many ways you are. It’s very disappointing that you haven’t discerned that so is she.

        • Hi selfishandspirituallyimmatureandweak,

          I expect your online name is inaccurate. You seem more spiritual strong, but with concerns and questions.

          You have reprimanded me handily for making “many assumptions.” Your comments echo so many found in GEP. There is no doubt that there is much fear and pain from perceptions of what eternal polygamy might be like. I have family members who share such fears, despite our discussions.

          Joseph Smith taught “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there [in the Celestial Kingdom], only it will be coupled with eternal glory” (D&C 130:2). He does not say the same FAMILIALITY, but SOCIALITY. The 1832 Webster’s defines social as “Pertaining to society; relating to men living in society. or to the public as an aggregate body.” Joseph did not say family would persist as we have it here, but that we would continue to have the ability to interact socially with eternal glory.

          You wrote of “an irrevocable law” that included polygamous wives in heaven would be “left out, lonely” living in a situation that is “terribly hurtful,” and “terribly painful.” I don’t know of any revelation or prophetic utterance that supports this. It seems assumptions about eternity have been embraced and treated as documented fact.

          Since we are talking about things we cannot know for certain, each of us must choose what we are to believe and what assumptions we are going to accept and reject.

          I see things differently. I believe God’s ways are “higher” than our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and involve “things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man” (D&C 76:10). His plan is a “plan of happiness” which is “eternal” (Alma 42:16).

          This is the primary reason I cannot embrace your views. For me, an eternal plan of happiness is incompatible with a belief in an eternal plan of coercion, an eternally hurtful plan, an eternally painful plan.

          I think we can trust Joseph Smith’s revelations and His God and wait for the wonderful details to those who believe and continue faithful.

          God Bless,

          Brian

          • Thank you for responding, I appreciate your thoughts. You have a very positive and hopeful outlook toward polygamy and sociality in the hereafter. Honestly, most men do in my experience.

            You mentioned the difference between familiality and sociality, the latter being what Joseph expressed in section 130. Yet we seal marriages and families, and the church teaches that marriage and family ARE the sociality of the Celestial kingdom, particularly the highest level therein. You also pointed out the coupling of this familial sociality with eternal glory. As you said, our eyes have not seen nor have our hearts been given what God has prepared for them that love Him. We can only speculate and hope in faith that it will be beautiful and happy and free from pain.

            Yet you fail to address the simple fact that multiple wives means spending time without one’s beloved husband. Much time. There is a loneliness inherent in that fact. The husband is always with someone he loves. The wives are not.

            I suppose you have faith that coupled eternal glory will mean that the wives will not suffer being away from him a great deal. I have not any such faith because there is no scripture to base such an idea upon. But there is a great deal written about giving up what we want for greater good, and about sacrificing ourselves for the Lord’s work and glory. Only it is the women who apparently make the eternal sacrifices of their fulfillment and oneness.

            The men do not. Again, they are never alone or lonely. And again, children and projects and sister-wifehood can never fill the needs and desires that only the husband can fulfill. IF such type of wondrous romantic love is to be taken away, how great shall be our loss for it is so very divine and glorious. But to magnify it countless fold and not be together equally would be incompressibly…sad.

            And heaven isn’t sad. Therefore, I deeply believe and hope and trust that no one will have to share such love with extra spouses. I have faith that every person will be free to be with one companion who will perfectly suit one another — a couple coupled with eternal glory, love and light.

            Thank you again for your wealth of knowledge and discussion regarding this very difficult thorn of the soul.

  10. Thank you for a careful review. One point I need to remind myself again and again is to avoid presentism in all of its manifestations. I have ancestors who practiced polygamy. I have other ancestors who did not. I do them disservice if I do not endeavor to understand their actions within the context of their lives as they lived them and instead focus only on a 21st century mindset. The practice was so hard for them. Yet they collectively (man and woman) strived to live it or with it and I am humbled by that.

  11. Brian,
    I appreciate the careful thought you have put into this review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s, “The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy”.(GEP) Having read the book, I concur completely with your conclusion that GEP, “is an unfortunate publication because of its many weaknesses.” It has become a popular method of dissent in this day and age to undermine prophetic commentary while at the same time stating that one honors their prophetic station. My father called it speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth.

    However, concerning this observation that you mention above, “The belief that every man will be required to practice polygamy in the future or that every woman will have to share her husband in eternity is not only doctrinally unsupported but also mathematically perplexing”, I wonder if we might be willing to consider upon doctrinal possibilities to lead us to a clearer understanding of the potentials of plural marriage as a requisite.

    Not only requisite but self-existent and of such significance that in its absence all creation fails, mankind is irretrievably lost, and an eternity of worlds and galaxies and in short all organized creations are lost to Satan’s grasp. A strong claim, true, but one that if examined and at least considered for its doctrinal possibility begins to provide an end to what thus far is mostly two sides of a debate sustained by personal conjectures balanced against social commentary.

    For brevities sake let’s create a doctrinally sustainable scenario. A man and a women complete this estate and, eternally unified, are raised to the highest kingdom of celestial glory. Eager to continue to advance they begin the process of providing for the seeds of creation by initiating the process that the Father indicates, as we understand, at least somewhat, involves organizing spirit children and creating worlds and galaxies and such to provide for the eventual habitation and placement of this beyond billions of spirit children in their own eternal process of growth. As a celestial husband and a celestial wife they complete their preparations and provide for a fall and then a population of mortal tabernacles is initiated to house these beloved spirit children. Promises are made to these children to comfort their hearts and ensure they understand that their celestial parents will do all required to enable their opportunities to return and reside with them.

    Now we have no clue as to how long it requires to build a population of spirit children sufficient to populate one world let alone millions. However, as beings of perfect love, this celestial man and this celestial woman cherish and care profoundly for these they have created.

    Then the time arrives, where this eternal celestial couple prepares to send their premier offspring into the world to provide for the return of this numberless population of organized children and worlds and their creatures by providing an atonement via the sacrifice of this beloved Son.

    Interestingly, there are conditions mandated in order that this beloved son can perform this self-less but absolutely imperative act. His Father, an eternal celestial being, looks to his eternal celestial wife and they both realize (long before now) that integral to an atonement is the ability to advance a perfectly mortal condition for their Son to be the promised Savior – he must be able to die a seemingly mortal death. At the same time this Son must be able to exercise the capacity of an eternal being and be able to live eternally. The celestial wife clearly understands that for her numberless offspring, whom she has nurtured for eternities before this moment to succeed, her eternal husband, who will provide the seeds of eternal existence, must take another wife. This wife will provide the seeds of mortality that are requisite that an atonement can be provided. And now we understand that without plural marriage all creation must inevitably fail and all would be lost and even all must perish in its absence.

    Now in this brief recital, I have forgone all of that quotes and verses that sustain this direction. Some may balk that Mary is eternally sealed to our Father in Heaven. Brigham Young, Orson Pratt and Joseph Fielding Smith and others could see no other way. I do not seek to provide all of the answers to the possible questions, though there are supporting resources of worth.

    Carol Lynn Pearson in looking at her existence introspectively and within the constraints of a social experience that is tragic and disheartening in my opinion. She seeks to ameliorate the eternal uncertainty, that we all must consider, with a socially propitious paradigm that attempts to bring peace to her troubled soul . However, it does so at an expense that only furthers a debate that fails to consider the eternal possibilities of not practicing plural marriage, and fails to consider that beings of mortal limitations are not the best judges of what beings with an eternal perspective will feel and rejoice in. Additionally, to reach her conclusions she does harm to the prophetic status of God’s chosen and chooses a politically correct rendition as a superior conclusion.

    While what I suggest here is not clearly within the doctrinal cannon of the LDS church from a point of a single direct reference, its constructs are clearly represented within that cannon to be recognized and considered as a beautiful possibility that points to something horizonally far broader and reaching than a view obscured by a self-filled perspective. It provides an exhilarating eternal hope to offset a darkened, fearful mortal perspective. Again, for some not a doctrinal realty, this at least provides for a point of thoughtful consideration that at least advances the debate in a direction of reasonable consideration that for some will bring peace to their souls upon conditions of doctrinal possibilities that we all can recognize. As well it speaks to potentials that tend more to sustain Joseph Smith and other prophets and leaves their prophetic station soundly intact and the gospel message of an eternal possibility that is clearly beyond our comprehension but has potential to elevate our greatest concerns to points of great comfort and peace.

    I conclude with an observation by Elder Boyd K. Packer:

    This truth [ultimately the Atonement of Christ] is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them. (Packer, Boyd K., The Mediator, Ensign, May 1977, p. 56)

    It wasn’t until I began to see the ideology of plural marriage in the context of the Atonement of Jesus Christ that I began to see its most profound and complete application and at that point it ceased to be troublesome.

    Again for all intents and purposes your review was well done and a fair treatment of Carol Lynn Pearson’s message. I thank you for it.

    • I really enjoyed your comment, especially because I had the same ideas and reasoning when I was younger. But now I see things more like this:

      Heavenly Father didn’t need to take another wife to bear the Savior of mankind. The Holy Ghost came to Mary here on earth and could have very easily deposited the seed necessary, even as mere mortal doctors do so now to help women become pregnant. I would imagine the Holy Ghost has methods far greater than we do! Mary was sealed to Joseph, not Heavenly Father directly so that her Joseph’s other children would be theirs for eternity. This also sealed them into the Family of God, thus sealing them all to Heavenly Father and Mother.

      As to going and creating worlds and galaxies, we will help do so while living with our Heavenly Parents–that’s exaltation…living with them again someday. They remain our Heavenly Father and Mother, who begat us–so whomever we beget are further descendants of Theirs. They will forever be the Heavenly Parents of all children anyone ever has. Just like here on earth I am my parents’ child and they are their parents’ children, and so on back to Adam and Eve. We are all Adam’s and Eve’s children in mortality. (But Adam and Eve didn’t have to bring us all forth by themselves.) No matter how many descendent come from me, they remain children of our first parents, even more than they are mine. In eternity, no matter how many world’s we help create or Spirit children we have, it all belongs to our Heavenly Parents–we are just descendants furthering Their work and glory, even as it became our work and glory in our first estate, continues here in this estate, and on through eternity. There is no need for plural spouses to further the work along, as we’ve seen from human history. The children of polygamists could and would have been born to monogamous couples in the church, thus preventing the loss of many men who were excluded from marriage and fatherhood by said polygamists. Most of us have contributed to the family of mankind–we helped Adam and Eve bring their mortal family to earth, which is our Heavenly Parents’ family first….last….and always—including those spirit children yet to come forth by those who reach exaltation someday.

      This is how I’ve come to see things now after study and prayer, and maybe I’m on the right track, lol. Just maybe…

    • Hi Brock,

      I normally would not respond to comments like this because, as you pointed out, there is a lot of speculation involved. However, you are not alone in the basic theory you have presented.

      If I understand you correctly, you advance the idea that God is literally the father of Christ’s body and therefore must be polygamously married to Mary. Extending this idea further, all exalted men must do the same in future eternities and therefore will be polygamists.

      I know various Church leaders have taught that God the Father condescended to be the Father of Christ’s body according to reproductive physiology and must have been married to Mary. I think there is room for additional views on this.

      We remember that from a religious standpoint, sexual reproduction on earth does NOT CREATE LIFE. It organizes lifeless elements—atoms and molecules—to form an embryo/fetus that can receive a spirit from the spirit world.

      We don’t know when the spirit enters the fetus, but once it is there, the spirit is surrounded by a physical tabernacle for the rest of its mortal existence. It is likened to a hand being placed in a glove. God creates the spirit (the hand) through a “continuation of the seeds,” and human reproductive physiology creates the tabernacle (the glove).

      Perhaps you can see why I question the need for God the Father to condescend to contribute to the process of fashioning Jesus’ embryonic tabernacle (the lifeless “glove”), when He was already the Father of Christ’s spirit (the living “hand”).

      During his earthly ministry, Christ was able to miraculously manipulate human tissue to heal paralytics and other ailments. He could turn water to wine. How different are those processes from rearranging DNA and other tissues to assemble Christ’s fetal body in Mary’s womb? No need for a dramatic appearance of the Father in person.

      This seems more consistent with the scriptural description of Mary’s pregnancy: “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20). Nephi described the process: “And it came to pass that I beheld that she [Mary] was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. (1 Ne. 11:19-20.)

      According to sexual reproduction, something other than intercourse caused Mary to be pregnant with the Savior if she was still a VIRGIN after bearing Christ. Marriage and polygamy are NOT required.

      Currently I reject the idea that Mary was the wife of God the Father. Since there are so many things we do not know, my position could easily change. But I also believe that as an argument to support polygamy, it is problematic.

      Thanks,

      Brian

      • Well, the thing is, Christ alone could do the Atonement because He was semi-divine: mortal from Mary, divine from His Father. In other words, His DNA was formed from Mary and God the Father.

        While I have no doubt that God’s DNA was used via implantation or other than through sexual reproduction (yes, Mary was a virgin); it is nevertheless doctrine that God was Jesus’ actual father. That is what gave Jesus the power to raise from the dead, from God His Father, and the power to die from Mary, His mother.

        What that means for marriage and fatherhood and adultery and so forth, I have absolutely no idea. We see some of it today: is a sperm donor someone’s father? Do you commit adultery if you become a sperm donor? These are issues of a more “advanced” age and level of technology.

        The Virgin birth is not as miraculous to us, because we have the tech to make it happen.

        I don’t know what Mary’s and God’s relationship is, other than she is His spirit daughter and a very highly favored one. But God’s literal, physical Son being born out of wedlock seems wrong too. So, honestly, this is a place where we need more revelation. And likely are not going to get it, since why would we need to know?

  12. Brian,

    Great article. I appreciated your thoughts on what relationships will be like in heaven. The older I get the more I think of things like that, especially as my parents and children age with me. What will it be like when we are all thirty-somethings again?

    I really like the gospel topic essay “Becoming Like God” and how it informs this subject, especially relevant is the section ‘How do latter-day Saints envision exaltation?’ https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god?lang=eng

    There are a lot of differing opinions about what it will be like in the eternities. My idea of heaven is inheriting this earth, in a sanctified and immortal state, part of Christ’s kingdom, with Him and all my friends and family, forever. The same sociality that exists among us here and all that. Although my wife and I do like to travel… worlds without end. I assume some travels will be family vacations and reunions, which will be a lot easier without a bunch of kids getting in the way. Wait, what are we doing for eternity again?

  13. Good article. If eternal life requires being married and sealed, then it follows that of necessity, someone must be married to more than one spouse for all deserving people to have a chance. That of course does not require that all who make it are polygamous.

    I remember a close friend in college wrestling over this issue. How, she said, could she ever share a husband with someone? It beggared belief! But she had some very close friends too. And she said: “What if the only way she could make it to the celestial kingdom was if she had to be married? Would I be so selfish as to deny her her chance? I love her very much, too!

    Another thing: our current culture is a bit of an outlier. We marry for love (we think), but I suspect the vast number of families throughout time did not. It’s also why I suspect the doctrine of eternal families was not revealed much before now; since most marriages were arraigned marriages. Do they even want to be a forever family?

    Consider, further, the societies where polygamy was normal and expected, like Jacob the son of Issac. His wives encouraged him to take their handmaids as wives! Clearly, it was expected and the thing to do. Did they regret it? Were they upset? Did they resent Bilhah? Heck, Rachel and Leah were jealous of each other all the time; but would they have wanted Jacob to divorce the other? I highly doubt it.

    So our current society is probably just as dysfunctional, if not more, than the ones we look back on. Lots of women like a polygamous lifestyle, too: more hands to help with the housework and children, for instance.

    I personally think there were several reasons it was restored for a short time in this dispensation: 1) all things were to be restored, if but for a short time (we haven’t had to do animal sacrifice yet, but we are told it’s coming at some point, if only for a short bit); 2) to raise up righteous children to the Lord; 3) to set the Lord’s people apart. Like Circumscision was for the Jews, for a time polygamy was for us. It was a great sifter; those who followed it versus those who could not. It developed faith. My personal view is that homosexual issues will serve the same function for our generation. After all, polygamy was a “relic of the barbarous ages and a primitive time” the argument went. And today, we hear the exact same thing waged against those who celebrate traditional marriage and oppose LGBT rights. But that’s a parenthetical to this question; which is polygamy.

    I don’t know how it will play out, but from all my reading, only by overcoming jealousy and other feelings will anyone qualify for the Celestial kingdom. And I’m not all that sure what being sealed for eternity actually means when it comes to being sealed to someone other than your spouse, like Brian said in the article. What, precisely, will be my relationship with, say, Moses, whom I suppose I will eventually be sealed to in a chain? No idea. And no one else here on earth knows either, I bet.

  14. Hi Brother Hales,
    Thank you for sharing your perspective on GEP! This past summer, I listened to the RadioWest interview with Carol Lynn Pearson and was quite troubled by it. Yet what you’ve written here makes so much sense, and I’m truly grateful for your thoughtful words. I hope Sister Pearson reads your post and thinks deeply about what you’ve shared! 🙂

  15. Very well-reasoned critique. One point I disagree with: “A second problem is found in the historical inaccuracies that reflect casual research (see especially 44, 55, 61, 81, 83, and 93). GEP declares: “Numerous young women (and some older women) were approached by Joseph and promised the highest exaltation in heaven — along with their entire family — if they accepted him as their husband and were ‘sealed’ to him for eternity” (55). This is simply false.2 Also GEP describes the Relief Society as “a service organization that Emma [Smith], as president, soon began to use in her fight against polygamy” in 1842 (81). There is no credible evidence to support that Emma or even a small percentage of the Relief Society members in Nauvoo in 1842 were aware of Joseph Smith’s eternal plural marriage teachings.3” You may also disagree with the book “Mormon Enigma – Emma Hale Smith,” but there are many journal and letter accounts that report just such promises made. I think that if you are relying on personal accounts from people at the time to support your point that the plural wives didn’t complain about Joseph (Emma sure did!) you also have to trust these accounts in that sense. I agree with Richard Bushman’s conclusion that it seems Joseph’s polygamy was not motivated by sexual lust but rather lust for kin. And so such promises were made to prospective wives and their family members if you’re going to believe people’s personal accounts from the time. That the Relief Society at the time was oblivious to the teachings on plural marriage and not involved in speaking against it is also incorrect if you trust the accounts in “Mormon Enigma.” Emma may not have been aware early on, but some of the senior members of the RS were as plural wives, and at times Emma spoke out against it, seemingly unwittingly against her own husband. There was perhaps necessary but unfortunately secrecy about it, and Emma is to be admired for her strength and sincere efforts through all of the difficulties.
    It’s true that we don’t know much about the reasons for the plural marriage commandment from 1840-1890. You make the point that this commandment was unique in history, and so a restoration of all things argument doesn’t seem to make sense. Studies have shown that there were not more total births during the time than otherwise would have been, because the women could have married other men and still have been fertile. The most plausible reason to me is to raise up righteous seed, though this didn’t seem to happen until much later years, as no direct descendants of Joseph’s plural wives have been credibly recorded. A trial of faith could also be another reason.
    You do make some good cautionary points about the author’s assumptions. Many of us make assumptions about eternity that we’re not qualified by experience or authority to make. I gained a lot of perspective from women’s point of view from CLP’s book.

  16. Hi Brad,

    I appreciate the comments—you have touched on several different topics. Let me address each of them briefly.

    First, it appears that you disagree with me regarding the question of whether Joseph made promises to family and friends saying if a woman would become his plural wife, they would receive salvation etc. You refer to MORMON ENIGMA but I would encourage you to find some primary evidence to support your interpretation. You may wish to start by going to my JOSEPH SMITH’S POLYGAMY volume 3 pages 194-205 where I investigate the three primary statements (regarding Lucy Walker, Helen Kimball, and Sarah Whitney) advanced by critics. I argue the interpretations go beyond the evidence and if Joseph had ever made such offers, they would have become more popular than eternal marriage ever was. Perhaps you have other evidence that is more credible?

    I think you advance the position that Emma DID know of Joseph’s plural marrying at the time she presided over Relief Society meetings and even spoke against the practice in those meetings. I would invite you to share some supportive primary documentation. At my JWHA presidential speech last September, I presented new historical data comparing the members of the Relief Society after their tenth meeting (May 27, 1842) to a list of women who are documented to have known about plural marriage at that time. On May 27th, there were 674 Relief Society members. Of them, 8 can be documented as knowing about plural marriage with 12 more that probably knew (and there is no unambiguous evidence showing Emma knew at that time).

    It is true Emma spoke against John C. Bennett’s immoralities and some observers assume that he knew of Joseph’s private teachings or that Bennett’s adulteries were a variation of celestial marriage doctrines. Bennett admitted in an October 1843 letter that he was never taught about eternal plural marriage. So I would invite you to share specific evidence to support your interpretation.

    You wrote: “this commandment [of plural marriage] was unique in history, and so a restoration of all things argument doesn’t seem to make sense.” I appreciate that, but plural marriage as a PRACTICE was restored. The COMMANDMENT to practice it was unique–not a restoration.

    You also wrote: “Studies have shown that there were not more total births during the time.” Could you share the references to those studies? In fact, studies have shown that monogamous women bore more children per wife than did polygamous wives except the first. However, fertility at the societal level was enhanced because of the near universality of marriage among women and the abundant opportunities for remarriage among previously married women of childbearing age. See L. L. Bean and G. P. Mineau, “The Polygyny–Fertility Hypothesis: A Re-evaluation,” Population Studies 40 (1986): 67–81.

    I appreciate that GEP included many stories of actual anguish and suffering experienced by many women. I believe the suffering is not based upon genuine threats, but fears of the unknown. And frankly, members who believe God’s promises (regarding exaltation and His plan of eternal happiness), will not imbibe such fears; I believe our faith can sustain us while we see through a glass darkly.

    Happy New Year,

    Brian Hales

    • Uh, Brian: You say the commandment to practice plural marriage was unique, but I seem to recall that Abraham received a commandment to take a plural wife

      D&C 132:34
      34 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.

      Therefore it would seem that the commandment to practice plural marriage was not unique and hence it makes sense to say that the commandment to Joseph Smith was one of the “restoration of all things spoken of by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.”

      D&C 27:6
      6 And also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days;

      D&C 86:10
      10 Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.

      • Hi Eldon,

        I appreciate the comment. You are one of the most knowledgeable scholars regarding these teachings.

        Actually, I should clarify. I did not say or imply that God had never commanded anyone to practice polygamy. As you pointed out, D&C 132:34 states: “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife.” If we assume God’s commandment and Abraham’s subsequent action were connected, then we can conclude that Abraham was commanded to enter plural marriage.

        As you know, the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon contain NO accounts of God’s followers (as a group or church) being commanded to be polygamists. The only time this has occurred, according to religious history, was the Latter-day Saints between the early 1840s and 1890.

        D&C 132:40, 45, tell us that God is going to restore all things. I believe that the practice of polygamy was restored almost incidentally as part of the eternal marriage doctrine. It is needed because exaltation requires eternal marriage and apparently there will be more worthy women than men. D&C 132:16-17 came in response to Joseph’s specific question about polygamy (v. 1) and is the only connection I can identify between God’s answer of eternal marriage (vv. 2-32) and that initial question. In my opinion, plural marriage is a minor component that will affect a portion of exalted beings who agree to it but has no inherent power to exalt. Modern polygamists put way too much emphasis on the practice and too little on the need for “order” and the need to do missionary work and work for the dead, which are far more important in God’s eternal arithmetic.

        Also, I do not believe Abraham’s plurality (or Jacob’s or Moses’) was an ordinance requiring restoration. As you know, polygamy is not an ordinance. It is not a covenant. It is not a ceremony. Plural marriage is the repetition of the sealing ceremony, but it does not reveal whether the man has other sealed wives or not. (The first wife can participate unofficially by putting the hand of the new wife on the hand of the man, but that is not required for the ordinance to be valid.)

        No leader has told us why polygamy was commanded between the 1840s and 1890. Some have suggested it must have been to “raise up seed,” since that is a reason given in Jacob 2. Perhaps this is true, but no revelation has defined it to be so.

        Any other thoughts?

        Thanks,

        Brian

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