Understanding Jacob’s Teachings about Plural Marriage from a Law of Moses Context

Abstract: This paper reviews the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob’s proscription against plural marriage, arguing that the verses in Jacob 24–30 should be interpreted in a Law of Moses context regarding levirate marriage, by which a man was responsible for marrying his dead brother’s wife if that brother died before having an heir. I also review how these verses have been used in arguments for and against plural marriage, and how levirate marriage practices worked in Mosaic tradition. Continue reading

LDS Perspectives Podcast: “Tough Questions about Mormon Polygamy,” with Brian and Laura Hales

Listen on the website, or through the direct audio link.

Few aspects of Joseph Smith’s life have been scrutinized more in recent years than his personal practice of polygamy.

Some readers’ first exposure to Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy comes from reading sensational headlines. Exaggerations and assumptions fill internet discussions, podcasts, and newspaper articles, so it is hard to know where to go for accurate information.

The temptation by some authors to fill in historical gaps often results in distortions that stir up emotions and create tantalizing soundbites that, even if largely fictional, may generate unnecessary fear and confusion.

Polygamy is part of the collective Mormon past that many struggle to understand. Current members have no cultural or religious basis to situate plural marriage. Members in pioneer Nauvoo shared that same struggle. When Benjamin Johnson first heard of it, he recalled: “If a thunderbolt had fallen at my feet I could hardly have been more shocked or amazed.”

Early Mormon polygamy is a historical puzzle that can at best be awkwardly reconstructed from fragmentary recollections. But it is apparent from reminiscences that those who practiced it were convinced it represented a religious practice instituted by God.

Church Historian Matt Grow noted that the more complicated the history, the more nuanced conclusions should be. Mormon polygamy was undoubtedly complicated, warranting provisional conclusions. In this interview, Daniel C. Peterson of the Interpreter Foundation interviews Brian and Laura Hales about the most common questions asked about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

Join us for this candid discussion about what can and cannot be known about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. This episode is a joint production of LDS Perspectives and the Interpreter Foundation. Access a transcript of “Tough Questions about Polygamy” at the LDS Perspectives website.

 

Joseph Smith: Monogamist or Polygamist?

Abstract: In the past decades much of the debate regarding Joseph Smith and plural marriage has focused on his motivation — whether libido or divine inspiration drove the process. Throughout these debates, a small group of observers and participants have maintained that Joseph did not practice polygamy at any time or that his polygamous sealings were nonsexual spiritual marriages. Rather than simply provide supportive evidence for Joseph Smith’s active involvement with plural marriage, this article examines the primary arguments advanced by monogamist proponents to show that important weaknesses exist in each line of reasoning. Continue reading

Scary Ghost Stories in the Light of Day

Review of Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men. Walnut Creek, CA: Pivot Point Books, 2016. 242 pp. $19.95.

I have always been interested in the topic of polygamy and have, over the past few decades, read just about every book and commentary on the topic that I could find. I have spent many hours in the Church History Library, the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library at BYU, and various other repositories poring over all of the source documents I could locate. Thus, I looked forward to reading a recent addition to the literary corpus on the subject contributed by Carol Lynn Pearson. Her book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men, isn’t a scholarly look at polygamy, but instead lays out her case for expunging polygamy completely from our history and disavowing its possibility in any future realm. Continue reading

Opportunity Lost

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. Continue reading