Review of “The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, by Carol Lynn Pearson
Dear Carol Lynn,
I wanted to write and express my appreciation for your wonderful new book, “The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy.” I read it this past weekend, which for me is fast. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Your book is fascinating and eminently readable.
It is that good.
I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about your book, and here they are in no particular order.
- At the end of almost every chapter, you have a section which contains selected quotes from various respondents to your survey. I initially found these somewhat distracting; like the big chunk of Isaiah at the end of 2 Nephi. I wanted to skip them in order to get back to what you had to say. I realize that these quotations are important, as they come from real people suffering real pain from the Ghost of Polygamy. They are in a sense the raison d’etre for your entire book. You are not making this up! This is a very real problem in the LDS Church. And it is a problem that has remained unspoken from the pulpit but whispered in the hallways for far too long. Your book gives voice to these whispers, and brings this important subject out of obscurity into the light for all to see. The quotes from your survey prove how wide and deep go these scars that never felt a wound. While reading the chapters you wrote, I felt as if I were in a cathedral listening to your sermons, and after the chapter was over, reading through the “Voices” sections was like going outside for a walk in the churchyard among the numerous tombstones marking the resting place of the victims.
2. I wondered before reading the book how directly you would address the manner in which the LDS Church deals with its history of polygamy. I was surprised to hear forceful language from you on this issue. More forceful than I had expected. You encapsulate the Church’s standard response: “Polygamy?” says the church. “We gave that up long ago.” (6) Here is where you came in with the nod to Emily Dickinson: “But on this we do not tell the truth; we do not even tell it slant. We tell it veiled and hope the story will not be examined closely.” Bingo! You hit the nail on the head. And when I read this, I immediately thought of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s response to the same question about Mormons and polygamy where he brushed it aside, saying that was long ago and we don’t do that anymore. Next question! I knew you must know of this quote from President Hinckley, and wondered if you were going to give him a pass by not mentioning his name. I would have understood if you had. But then you came back to the issue at the end of the book on page 198 and you did quote him directly! “Plural marriage is routinely and officially dismissed as a thing of the past. President Gordon B. Hinckley said in essence on ‘Larry King Live’: “Polygamy? That has nothing to do with us. We gave that up long ago.” And then you go on in italics for emphasis: “Well, actually we did not. It’s still active in our scripture, in temple sealings, and in the anticipation of what life will look like in the highest kingdom of heaven.” Another comment right on the money! And I am impressed with your willingness to speak truth to power; and even name the power to whom you are speaking.
3. I think it wonderful that you knew even before writing the book how important it would be; that “this is one of those challenging, thrilling projects that you know will be life-changing.” (1) Like the Book of Mormon predicts its chilly reception at the hands of a Bible believing world, or like Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the left-field fence, you just knew how this book would be a game changer. You could sense that beforehand. And let me confirm that you were 100% correct in your prediction. Madam, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
4. In Chapter 1 where you relate your story, you quote your seminary teacher’s testimony about eternal polygamy, which he concluded, “I know that what I have said is true.” (13). I sensed your response to this testimony with a testimony of your own a few pages later, “But I now know for myself that the idea that maleness is more important than femaleness is a sad relic passed from generation to generation throughout most of history, a relic that not only is false but profoundly harmful to all humans of both genders. And I am 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.” These are strong words, Carol Lynn, and I can only imagine how carefully you chose them. I immediately thought that what you were in essence saying is that you do not believe that section 132 came from God. And indeed, you come out and state just that on page 189, in your belief that “Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants will receive an ‘inspired revision’ with plural marriage removed from the cannon so that women and girls will be spared the wounding to our femaleness that we receive today.” And then I thought of what happened to Kirk and Lindsay Van Allen for posting a similar sentiment on social media in February of 2015, and how Kirk was threatened with church discipline over it. And then I became concerned for what might happen to you as a result of expressing similar sentiments. And then I thought how strange it is to belong to a church where such concerns are not only possible, but completely expected. You have courage and strength to express yourself publicly in so direct a manner. And I just want you to know that I, and many others, have your back. You give us strength and courage to do the same. And ultimately, critical mass will be reached where there are too many voices to simply ignore, and too many Mormons standing up to be cowed into sitting down passively again.
5. One of your “other voices” wrote: “When I finally made the very difficult decision, with the blessing of my adult children, to cancel the sealing to my late first husband so I could be sealed to my second husband, whom I also dearly love—I had to pay a very, very high price.” (25) Another “voice” mentions the authorization that must be obtained from the First Presidency to cancel a temple sealing. I have personal experience with this. My second wife had to cancel her sealing to her deceased first husband to be sealed to me. She made the application; it went to the First Presidency; and we were shocked to find out that her deceased husband’s parents had to give permission for the cancellation to go through. What an awful position to put those parents in! Here they had a son married in the temple and with two beautiful children born in the covenant. Their son dies tragically. Their daughter-in-law, the mother of their grandchildren, now wants to be sealed in the temple to me. And it is the parents of the deceased husband who have to make the call. What does agreeing to cancel the temple sealing mean for their deceased son? Is he now without the highest temple ordinances necessary to exaltation? What does this do to their grandchildren? Are they now severed in some eternal way from their grandparents? Why on earth do we have a system where the parents of a deceased son are forced to give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a subsequent sealing? This is just cruel. In our situation, both parents of the deceased first husband were incredibly gracious. They did not ostracize their daughter-in-law from the family, as happened to the “voice” in your book. But I cannot imagine the distress they must have gone through, in spite of how graciously they presented. If anything, the fact they were so gracious only served to make their sacrifice all the more heart breaking.
This happened two decades ago. The granddaughter in this story was very young at the time of these events. Today I told her for the first time about what happened. She is now twenty-eight years old. What she saw in the story was different from what I saw. I saw the impact on her grandparents. She saw the impact on her mother. What she said was, “This shows how in Mormonism women can’t make decisions for themselves!”
6. I learned many things from your book I had not really considered before. One of these is the church policy that children born in a subsequent non-temple marriage are considered the children in eternity of a prior husband sealed to the same mother. Many of your “voices” mentioned this issue and how hurtful it was to them–that a husband sealed to a wife in the temple, where the husband subsequently dies and the wife remarries without getting the prior sealing cancelled, somehow has custody or fatherhood of any children born to the wife in subsequent marriages.I had heard of this only once before and it was actually earlier this year when I was speaking on the phone with my 28-year old daughter who lives in Utah. For some reason, the conversation had gotten around to why it was she became disaffected from the LDS Church. I was surprised by her answer. She became disaffected largely owing to this exact same policy! Here is how it worked with her. She is the daughter of my first marriage. Her mother got remarried after our divorce and had several daughters by her second husband. These are my daughter’s step-sisters, but she considers them her sisters for all intents and purposes, having grown up with them in Utah. Sometime at church, when my daughter was a young woman, she encountered the craziest idea she had ever heard. That her step-sisters, whom I have never even met, somehow did not really belong to their biological father, but belonged to me by virtue of the temple sealing I had with their mother. My daughter, not believing this could be true, talked to several other people about it, only to have it confirmed that this was, in fact, the policy of the church. This was one of the main things that led her out of the church. Who could believe in a church with a teaching that was so contrary to human nature and experience? That could be so cruel, cold and calculating? That could use the rituals of the church, which are supposed to exist for the bringing together of the family, to tear families apart? Case closed. At least as far as my daughter was concerned. Chalk one more victim up to the Ghost of Polygamy.
7. In chapter 3, you systematically dismantle fourteen reasons commonly given for why plural marriage was practiced, and find them wanting. If the reason for practicing polygamy is so straightforward, one wonders why there are so many reasons that have been given for it over the years. The fact there are fourteen such reasons suggests that none of the reasons standing alone is entirely adequate. These reasons have been around for a long time, and represent the best efforts of the LDS Church to defend the practice. But when you capably show, as you do, that none of these reasons hold water, you force the reader to grapple with the ultimate issue of how to view a prophet who introduces such a harmful practice, and how to view a God who spoke through him. Once you have dismantled all the artificial answers for polygamy, you have excavated down to bedrock; the real “why” questions. Why did Joseph Smith introduce it? And why did God authorize it? Or if God did not authorize it, why did God permit it?
8. You make several statements in your book seeking for a way to deal with the fact that polygamy was instituted by Joseph Smith, and yet find a way to continue to accept Joseph as a prophet of God, though one capable of error, even egregious error. “I believe that seeing Joseph’s polygamy as an error is the kindest way to evaluate it. And the surest way to correct it.” (70) You say of Joseph, “I love him with a heart that he broke a long time ago.” (46) And yet you sometimes wondered whether it was exclusively Joseph’s error, or whether God was really behind it after all. “But ‘women’s issues,’ with the whole mess of polygamy dead center—that was Joseph’s fault. Unless it was God’s fault. I still sometimes entertained that terrible thought.” (34) I did notice the use of the past tense in that sentence. Entertained. You perhaps at one time entertained that thought, but you do no longer? “I was forever finished with the insane attempt to love a God who hurts me.” (69) This is a very delicate area, and one that yields no clear-cut answers. But a number of thoughts came to my mind that I had hoped to hear your views on, as you have obviously considered the issue deeply. You label your attempt to love a God who hurts you “insane.” And yet you also profess your love for Joseph Smith in spite of the fact he broke your heart. (35, 46) If your attempt to love a God who hurts you “insane,” do you feel the same about your love for Joseph? Is it that you are still able to love Joseph Smith in spite of his hurtful errors because he is a fallible human being, while you believe a loving Father in Heaven, theoretically incapable of error, would never introduce such a practice so harmful to his daughters? As I say, these are questions with no easy answers, but sometimes just having the space to ask such questions is freeing in its own way.
9. I think you are brave for putting your feelings out there on the table. This issue is full not only of pain, but of tension and dissonance. The tensions you express give others permission to hold similar ideas in tension, with no easy answers. The question that keeps coming to my mind is, “Why?” If it is an error, why did Joseph go there? And if Joseph simply had to go there, why did Joseph feel compelled to make polygamy the centerpiece of his plan of salvation? Why does Joseph, who brought us the sole scriptural condemnation of polygamy in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 2), also give us Section 132 commanding polygamy? And where was God in all this? Could not the same God who had Jacob denounce polygamy have the man who produced the Book of Mormon do the same? If angels with drawn swords enforced the practice of polygamy, could not angels with drawn swords prohibit it? Or do angels with drawn swords have only one purpose?
In conclusion, I congratulate you on a book that considers polygamy from every angle. For a book of only a couple hundred pages, this is a remarkable achievement. Most importantly, you were correct in your initial assessment—this is an important book! It brings the Ghost that has haunted Mormonism for over a century out into the light. As with many such specters, the simple act of bringing it out of the shadows is a powerful antidote to its ability to molest or make afraid.
And yet, there is more work to be done, and you do not leave this important work unaddressed. You set forth in Chapter 11 your thoughts on what must be done to work “Toward a Partnership Future.” You write not simply to critique, but to show a better way. And in the final chapter you give a stirring homage to Joseph Smith, relating his final hours with the best of history and poetry combined. And here is where you make me understand why it is that you love Joseph, in spite of his errors. And—dare I say it—you make me love him, too.
Thank you for this book, Carol Lynn.
Thank you for your poetry.
Thank you for your honesty.
Thank you for your courage.
I also found this book beautiful, profound, troubling, and needed. Thanks for your review. Quick note on formatting, could you please adjust the three inserted pictures that obscure parts of your text here?
Thanks for your comments. I double-checked the issue with formatting. When I looked, the pictures didn’t obscure any text. I don’t know if somebody else saw your comment and took care of the problem before I did.
But anyway, it should be all there for your to read now!
Thanks for the review, and thanks to Carol Lynn Pearson for her wonderful book. I wish my mother was still alive to read and discuss it. Mom was a true Mother in Zion, and she was deeply troubled by polygamy. I expect that now Mom is in the Mansions of our Heavenly Parents, knowing Their divine Love.
You are so welcome, Deacon Blues!
I am sorry your mother is no longer around to read this book. I agree she would likely have enjoyed it immensely!
My hope is that many Mothers in Zion like your mother who are still on this side of the veil will yet find comfort and enlightenment in Carol Lynn’s book.
Thank you for the review, Corbin Volluz. I have to admit that without this review, I would not pick up this particular book. Polygamy is distasteful to me. Also—I’ve always felt it was more of a women’s heartbreak; perhaps a man’s “windfall,” or his deep “disdain.”
As far as I’m concerned, Polygamy subjugates women, and if there is this much pain involved, (seemingly one-sided and gender specific) then how can it be lauded, and dished out as from a merciful God?
Because of this review, and because of how much I think of this reviewer, I will pick up this book–not to find quarrel, but to be enlightened to Carol Lynn’s cause, and her thoughts on this timely discussion of “Eternal Polygamy.”
Because–polygamy will be the next fight in the US; maybe a Supreme Court decision reversing the current law of this land.
We should be conversant in this heartbreak of women.
I too thank Carol Lynn Pearson for her research and her courage. She, is remarkable.
I thank Corbin Volluz for a thoughtful and well-crafted review. He too, is remarkable.
I thank RF for this very helpful idea, to have this review written and posted for us, within this culture.
If for nothing else, I am glad you will pick up Carol Lynn’s new book as a result of this review. It is one of the most important books I have ever read on Mormonism, and I guarantee it will be worth your time.
I also love Joseph Smith, and he also, has broken my heart. For me, polygamy was Joseph Smith’s error when he instituted it “from God” forever changing the course of Mormon culture. Like the ghost of Marley, the church is eternally fettered with rattling chains and groans of misery; haunted and bedeviled by the stories and the history.
Research shows us, polygamy harms women. It takes and takes. Men are benefited and socially elevated by bevies of brides. In this, they can legitimize their wanderings and lusts. This construct subjugates women and makes men more appetite-driven, then spiritually-driven. This is not progress. This is not character building! This is NOT bringing out the best in each divine son or daughter of God.
Thank you, for this review. I think there IS however, an EASY answer. Like the prophet Mohammed, Joseph Smith let power and authority go to his head. To move masses with words must be heady stuff. The eternal lesson is that, THAT, always corrupts men. Absolutely.
Throughout history, male religious leaders have had (and still have) an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. These religious leaders have overwhelmingly chosen to subjugate women through their religious interpretations. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world, and polygamy is one of them. Joseph Smith was able to say he was commanded of God, by an Angel. How convenient. So, it moves from spiritual liberation and salvation, to control. After all, Orson Pratt argued that polygamy “helped to fulfill Adam and Eve’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth; and to raise the children in religious homes.” Emphasis on religious. The Mormon religious homes. And the clincher of threatened damnation if polygamy wasn’t accepted and practiced. Orson Pratt stated emphatically: polygamy was a revelation received by Joseph Smith, and members of the church could not receive their highest exaltation in the post-earth life, unless they obeyed the commandment of plural marriage.
A woman is not perceived as valuable or worthwhile, if she does not fit the collective representation of “normal.” Polygamous “normal” is to marry whom she is GIVEN TO; be he 50, and she, 15. Polygamous “normal” is for HER to remain uneducated with no career options. It is to abide and live according to her husband’s commands.
Control: thus to keep your flock in the faith, marry off your teenaged daughters and get them busy with the next generation! Keep the boys close with rhetoric of priesthood, and POWER and dominion over their wives (as many as they want) and just look at the posterity that is THEIRS!! It caters to the ego. It’s no longer about worship of an Almighty. It’s the worship of male ego.
It’s that simple. It’s that perverse. The one thing it’s not, is it’s not from the God of love. When we cause harm, God is not there. When children and women become commodities, God is not there. When children and women become commodities, evil rules the day.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Thank you for your poignant and heart-felt comments, harobed.
Polygamy always has been and continues to be a difficult subject, mainly because of the overwhelmingly negative impact it has on women; and yes, to a smaller degree, as Carol Lynn points out, even on the men.
If we are able to step back a few paces and take a big-picture look at things, I sometimes think Joseph Smith was very much into restoring a completely new societal and religious system. That much seems obvious.
But what is sometimes not so obvious is it seems he felt the need to tear down all the traditional societal and religious constructions of his time in order to clear a space to build his Zion.
The Bible is the complete Word of God? Trashed.
The Bible is without error? Gone.
God no longer calls prophets? Destroyed.
Our understanding of God is dictated by creeds? An abomination.
Capitalism is the best economic system? Done away with.
Blacks can’t be members of a “white” church? Blasted.
Monogamous marriage is the foundation of society? Obliterated.
When seen in this way, I think Joseph Smith was razing existing structures to make way for what he wanted to build.
For me, though, it is only when we get to the last element of putting monogamous marriage to the side that it raises issues. (Of course, others will have issues with what he did long before we get to the last one on the list.)
And rightly so, because none of the others negatively impact one segment of membership based exclusively on their gender; and continues to negatively impact it today, over a century since the cessation of polygamy.
But I do see some value in viewing Joseph Smith’s actions in this light. His introduction of polygamy seems to square with other actions he took to destroy existing societal and religious constructs.
I am not saying this is the answer, but perhaps it is a part of the answer; and may help explain at least some sliver of why it was Joseph took so extreme a step.
Corbin, you are alive!
I have missed your posts.
You might want to check out the Radio Free Mormon podcast at Mormon Discussion.
I really enjoyed reading your review, Corbin; thank you for taking the time to write it out. I bought the book a few month’s ago but haven’t gotten around to reading and this review got me excited again. A soon as I’m finished with Jon Ogden’s “When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save Relationships and Seek a Quality Life” I’ll pick up Carol Lynn’s book (I think Jon’s book is excellent, by the way, and highly recommend it). I’ve also really been enjoying your guest podcasts and hope that you’ll keep doing them.
Thanks so much for the kind words, Shane! I am not sure I have heard of Jon Ogden’s book, but since you recommend it, I will see if I can find a copy.
Although I would feel more comfortable reading it were the title, “When Mormons Question.” ;^)
Thanks so much, Corbin—and the other people who left comments here–for your good words about my new book. So grateful I get to walk the world–and especially this strange road in our Mormon world–with such sensitive and thoughtful people. Many blessings, CLP
This will be a long post, but here goes.
Nature abhors a vacuum and so to, apparently, does human nature. For issues for which we have limited information – the Creation, the Fall, the Spirit World – well-meaning individuals will “fill in the blanks” with explanations trying to help us make sense of the matter. These explanations are speculative and vary in soundness and sensitivity. Many times they unfortunately work their way into established doctrine. This is certainly true for plural marriage and Carol Lynn Pearson attempts to shoot down a plethora of explanations advanced to explain polygamy. Some certainly are fat targets that need burial. Overall, she is more successful at this with some of the explanations than with others. She is also not careful when using, or allowing her respondents to use, non-Mormon or anti-Mormon sources, whose pronouncements are too often cited as simple, unambiguous fact.
For some of her arguments she cites evidence (birth rates, for example) but for others she simply offers an opinion that God just doesn’t “work that way” (p. 64). There is a significant absence in one of her arguments. Citing the list of OT dignitaries given in DC 132 – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon – she dismisses God-ordained polygamy in terse, one-sentence rebuttals for each person (p. 57-58). This is both inadequate to the task and also circular logic – her argument depends on DC 132 being a false revelation, which fact has not yet been proved. But more telling is her overlooking one of the patriarchs, Jacob, about whom she says nothing. Not a word. Why not? Likely because Pearson knows she has a problem here.
The House of Israel is the family and family structure that is saved in the Celestial Kingdom. It comprises all those from the time of Abraham on who fully follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Persons born outside the earthly family are adopted in by accepting the first principals and ordinances of the Gospel. (3 Nephi 21:6, 1 Nephi 14:2). The wicked and rebellious are not adopted in or, if already there, are booted out (2 Nephi 30:2, 3 Nephi 21:11,20). This is the family to whom Jesus was sent (Mt 15:24; 3 Nephi 15:20 – 16:3). It’s the family the Restoration is reconstituting (Articles of Faith 10).
The House of Israel is the product of the patriarch Jacob and four women, two of whom were sisters and all of whom were alive at the same time. There is no condemnation of this by God; not in the Old Testament, not in the New Testament, not in any testament. Jesus has nowhere faulted this arrangement. Neither should we. The House of Israel is held up as a divine focus for salvation efforts; it is vital that we be a part of this family. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are held up as the gold standard of righteousness.
Pearson makes mention of one of Joseph’s plural wives, Lucy Walker, who said she received a “remarkable spiritual affirmation” to proceed (p. 151). There is no follow-up discussion. In fact, many of these women received and testified of spiritual affirmations, some of them dramatic. Helen Mar Kimball (the 14-year old so often cited in literature on polygamy), later in her life, said, “. . . of that pure and unalloyed bliss [to come] I solemnly testify that I have had a foretaste.” Do their voices not count for something?
As for the doctrinal basis of plural marriage, it is clear: When God commands plural marriage it is acceptable, when God does not command it, it is not. Mortals cannot take it upon themselves to institute it for any reason, least of all to expand sexual horizons. This is the clear meaning of Jacob 2:30: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall harken unto these things.” It’s the way Joseph Smith understood it. It’s the way the Church understands it, as Pearson acknowledges. Beyond that, of what “must’ happen in eternity, there is no official doctrine at all.
Given the OT precedents and the Book of Mormon injunction, is it possible that Joseph Smith could have been commanded by God to institute plural marriage for a season at the beginning of the Restoration? Yes. I think we have to acknowledge it and deal with it rather than attempt to explain it away because we don’t like it. The evidence is for plural marriage coming from God, not from Joseph Smith. It runs contrary to expectations and we do not understand much of God’s reasons for it. It certainly was a tough trial, especially for women. It’s not an obvious marketing strategy. But the evidence is that Joseph was reluctant to submit (who wouldn’t be?) and dragged his heels but eventually did submit to the will of God.
The idea that Jesus waited 6,000 years to turn over the keys to the Restoration, designed to prepare the world for his Second Coming, to a sexual and marriage maverick, to a serial adulterer, is nonsense. The idea that Jesus waited 6,000 years to restore a church that would run off the rails within a dozen years, didn’t see it coming and/or did nothing to forestall it isn’t going to wash. The notion that plural marriage is a result of some “flaw” in Joseph’s character won’t hold water either. Marrying multiple women – and obliging others to do the same – is neither a “flaw” nor a “mistake” in the ordinary sense of the words. Do you think you could get away with this “flaw”? It’s not the kind of flaw that God overlooks – and then continues to overlook for the next 50 years. There is no evidence that Joseph repented for his part in plural marriage. So he just gets a pass from God for gross sin? The straightforward explanation is better: For God’s own reasons, it was “expedient in me” (a phrase used repeatedly by God in the Doctrine and Covenants) to command this for a while. This fits the evidence better than the alternative of having to create awkward and unconvincing explanations of a Jekyll and Hyde version of Joseph Smith, who was, on one hand, God’s inspired, foreordained prophet of the Restoration while, on the other hand, a womanizer and serial adulterer.
I suggest that we put plural marriage “on the shelf” until further information is forthcoming. Specifically, we need to know two things, neither of which we now know: (1) What is the Celestial Kingdom like? How is it organized? How will Heavenly Father answer any and all questions about polygamy? (2) All the plural wives and first wives from the time of Joseph Smith through the cessation of the practice are long dead. They are in the Spirit World. What are they now saying? What is Emma Smith saying? This would go as well for the first, deceased wives of still-living men (Elder Oaks, for instance) who are sealed to a second wife. Perhaps they are shaking angry fists at Joseph Smith and/or God over their difficult mortal experience. On the other hand – maybe they aren’t. Let’s wait for answers to (1) and (2) before we make final pronouncements on what can and can’t be.
Finally, can we at least expect that God has gotten heaven “right”? The Celestial Kingdom is where the fullness of joy is to be found. No one there is married to anyone they don’t want to be married to or sealed in any kind of family arrangement they don’t want to be part of. No woman there is “less than” or oppressed or in a situation they regret. No one there is “stuck” with anything. Our Heavenly Mother is not at loggerheads with our Heavenly Father over anything. She is not oppressed. The Terrestrial Kingdom is not an improvement on the Celestial in any way.
My faith is that the questions I have, and I have plenty of them, will one day be answered and that those answers will be satisfying answers. However marriage and sealings operate there, we will see that God has done just right. We all will see the Big Picture or, if you will, the complete tapestry which now appears from our current perspective as only as a tangle of knots and threads. Until then, I choose to remain true to those spiritual witnesses I have received and to the covenants I have made with God. Jesus Christ has not abandoned his Church. It is not in a state of apostasy. Joseph Smith was never a fallen prophet. When Moroni said Joseph’s name would be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds and tongues, he wasn’t kidding.
Tim Bones, there are many cultural practices/beliefs in Mormonism that are not doctrinal, that are not in line with the teachings of Christ. When I examine polygamy, it does not pass the test of being in line with Christ’s teachings.
1. JS lied to his wife, church members, non-members and law enforcement for a decade. The church website calls them carefully worded denials, but a misrepresentation of fact is a lie and JS was guilty. Not of a one time lie but for a decade of duplicity.
2. JS approached women/girls in secrecy and swore them to secrecy, if a principle is truth and light and of Christ it does not need to be hidden. The early practice of polygamy operated as a “secret combination”.
3. Most females were revolted by the idea of polygamy and lying to Emma. To convince them to participate in a relationship with him, JS promised salvation to them and all of their family members. There are so many problems with that but let’s start with coercion and manipulation. What about the loss of agency?
4. JS saying that an “angel with a flaming sword” made him practice polygamy under the threat of being destroyed. God doesn’t work that way. We were given our agency. We are here to use our agency. To remove Joseph’s agency and force him against his will to do something he didn’t want to do, makes a liar of God. He cast Satan out for presenting that plan. God is unchanging and I doubt he changed his mind and decided that Satan was right after all.
5. Joseph married women who were married to other men. Most people will admit that JS probably got that part wrong, so isn’t it possible that he got it all wrong?
6. Section 132 states that polygamy was to raise up seed but polygamous marriages produce LESS children than monogamous marriages.
7. Joseph did not practice polygamy as it was practiced in the OT. Joseph married sisters. Joseph married a mother and daughter. Those things were forbidden in the OT.
8. There is no commandment from the Lord to practice polygamy in the OT. It was a cultural practice but it wasn’t commanded by God.
9. Section 132 is confusing. God makes his truth plain and easy to understand. God isn’t a lawyer creating loopholes for his “prophets”. His truth is unchanging and applies to all.
10. The original doctrine and covenants had section 101 that FORBADE polygamy. In 1876 it was removed and section 132 put in. So for 40 years all polygamists were in defiance of their own scripture.
11. Polygamy was NEVER legal in the United States or Mexico. JS was breaking the law, which was why he was arrested and put in jail. He was breaking the law of the land.
12. No one had authority to perform those marriages. God’s house is a house of order.
13. Joseph’s first polygamous marriage was in 1833 to Fanny Alger, the housemaid. There was no sealing power, no temple so how could it in any way be considered a valid marriage. Oliver Cowdery called it a “nasty affair”. His relationship to Fanny was a surprise to everyone. He was carrying on in secrecy.
14. The fruits of polygamy are high rate of divorce, poverty, Mistrust, anxiety, fear, and a loss of a father presiding in the home. Very few men had the finances to support a first family, let alone multiple families. Many times Women were left in poverty to fend for themselves.
There are so many reasons why polygamy is not consistent with the teachings of Christ. We are the church of Jesus Christ.of LDS. Shouldn’t our doctrine be true to what Christ taught? Christ was the one perfect person on the earth. He set the example. He taught us how we should treat others. He never approved of lying, cheating, deceit in any form and using manipulation and coercion to achieve his purposes. Agency is central to the Creatir’s plan. If that is removed then we have nothing. I’m astounded by people putting JS over Jesus Christ.
A final thought about how demeaning polygamy is to women. It doesn’t take 5 or 20 women to equal one man. We are equal. The structure of polygamy completely disregards a woman. You might believe that women are things to be given and taken and cast aside whenever a man chooses but Christ never taught that. Christ respected women. He cares about the happiness of females. We weren’t created as things to serve men.
Polygamy is not a teaching of Christ.
This! So many Amens to this!
Ceci: Yes, these are the two poles for plural marriage: Joseph Smith as being way, way out of line and Joseph Smith as doing his best to fulfill a tough command. Everyone will have to decide for themselves. I say, if you have to suspend judgment by putting this on the shelf and awaiting further light and knowledge, do so rather than chuck the Prophet. Let’s see what everyone is saying on the Other Side. I believe the scales tip Joseph’s way, you and Carol Lynn Pearson find the balance weighing against Joseph. I get it.
I will simply reiterate that: (1) The patriarch Jacob married sisters without condemnation by God; a later son, Joseph, by the second of the two sister wives, wound up with the birthright, a birthright passed on to Ephraim that resonates to this day. God condemns many “cultural practices” and had plenty of opportunity to condemn Jacob – and Joseph Smith. He did not do so. (2) Many of the plural wives testified of a spiritual confirmation (sometimes a remarkable one) to proceed. One option is that these women talked themselves into this mental state or were overtaken by Joseph’s charisma (the same sorts of explanations often offered for any spiritual experience, by the way) but their testimonies are that the confirmation came from God. (3) As for the angel with the sword, where more is given more is required. We are all commanded (not merely “encouraged”) to repent and follow every word that proceeds from God for us. Alma the Younger was flattened by an angel, whose message was the same as the one given to Joseph Smith: Repent or be cast off – your choice. One could make an argument that the angel with the sword should appear more often.
Tim, I’ve always erred on the side of believing everything that was said by church leaders but you just made the point, the realization that I came to myself after much prayer and study: that I should follow the teachings of a loving and perfect God and not a mortal man. I will always place the words of Christ above any mortal person. Joseph had a hard job. His personality was probably perfect for what he needed to do but he was imperfect and made MANY prophesies that never came true. If I have to place my trust somewhere it will be with a perfect God not a mortal man.
I came to this conclusion before reading Carol Lynn Pearson’s book. I read the church website, which devasted me, so to gain more understanding I scrolled down and read the books listed as references for the polygamy essays on the church website. I have been praying about polygamy for my entire life. I have asked for an understanding of the principles and more knowledge. (I have always been a faithful temple recommend holder) I’m not the only one, there are thousands that have been seeking answers to understanding polygamy. That truth and knowledge is now coming forth. Prayers are being answered. The church leadership has been forced to come clean with troubling details of church history. The facts do not line up with the teachings of Christ.
You should read some of those books. Women were told that to be faithful they had to not utter any complaints about polygamy publicly. Read their journals, read transcripts from the Temple Lot Case; there was so much unhappiness associated with polygamy. Have you read the Journal of Discourses? The teachings about polygamy and women are so vile. It was a system to keep women in a subservient position to men. BY taught you shouldn’t love your wives. He taught that monogamy was responsible for all the evils of the world, such as; adultery and prostitution. You would have to read all the nonsense yourself because there’s so much. (It’s all church materials….nothing anti-Mormon).
The whole premise you use for polygamy being of God is that Joseph was commanded or he would be destroyed. God gave us agency. Satan was cast out because his plan was all about commanding people to obey God. So you are saying that God was wrong? Satan was correct? We should be commanded in all things? We should have our agency removed? Not to mention how Joseph coerced and manipulated women to enter marriage with him. Women already married to other men! What is your justification for Joseph taking other men’s wives? Was that a commandment from God? I read a talk by Pres. Utchdorf recently and he clearly states that God will NEVER compel or force ANYONE to do his will. To do so would destroy the entire purpose of this earth life, this testing period.
I did a search of General Conference talks on the principle of honesty and it is clear that NEVER has deception of any kind been a principle of the Gospel. If the Gospel is true and unchanging then God would command anyone to lie, deceive, break the law and cheat on their spouse. If truth is that slippery then how can we rely on anything? For the gospel to be true, then the basic principles have to unchangeable as God has said. Truth has to be something that we can rely on at all times. If we can’t rely on Gospel truths then what is the point? Any church leader can claim that because he’s higher in authority that God told him to break commandments, it happens all the time. The measure of individuals figuring out truth for theirselves is all based on God’s laws being unchanging and true. God has promised us all agency. God has said that his gospel is a gospel of light and truth. If those things are not true then there is no God.
When people hide things, it’s because they have something to hide. When people lie, it’s because they have something to lie about. God has never commanded his truths to be hidden. Look at Abinadi! He knew he would be killed for telling the truth, and yet, because it WAS the truth he proclaimed it. Joseph lied. That tells me volumes.
I’m not great at expressing my feelings but I read this comment from this guy, I don’t know who he is, but he expresses it so well, if something is true then it will stand.
Comment from a guy named Rich, March 2015
Truth begs scrutiny, invites inquiry, and welcomes examination. It demands analysis, applauds debate, and withstands every test. It is a friend of skeptics, adores controversy, and does not shy from criticism. It is fearless of future discoveries, embracing them with open arms. It laughs at scorn and ridicule, bristles with contempt at sophistry and spin, and has no use for apologetics. Truth endures, timeless and timely, living in the past, the present, and in every possible future.
What, then, do we, as seekers of truth, have to fear from any of the forms that truth takes? Absolutely nothing! Rather than turn away or run from our fears, we should face and confront them instead. We should be well informed, earnestly studying and prayerfully considering the evidence. We have been promised that if we will truly seek, we will find answers; knock, and doors of understanding and wisdom will be opened to us.
Christ provided this bit of wisdom for evaluating truth: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.”
The fruits of polygamy are overwhelmingly bitter. Heartache, sorrow, deception, favoritism, jealousy, abuse, neglect, competition, resentment, loneliness, and a legacy that continues to haunt the Latter-day Saints, in the form of splinter groups that are involved in many unspeakable atrocities and evils, all claiming to have sprung from this twisted tree. A test? Unlike the Abrahamic test, there was no “ram in the thicket” provided for poor Emma. A tribute to the remarkable character of women coerced into this practice, to be sure, who made the best they could of an awful situation.
If polygamy is “of God”, then my moral compass is completely broken, for I cannot see its fruits as anything but rotten. I share the sentiment of the Van Allen’s, that it’s past time for some further light and knowledge from above, to either clarify or repudiate this practice. It is deeply disturbing that, over a century later, “we do not know” is still the most ubiquitous (and prophetic) commentary available from our leaders on a topic that allegedly even God himself deemed necessary to violate the prime directive of agency to threaten the prophet with an angel and a flaming sword for compliancy, but nobody seems to actually know why! Begging the question — has anyone even bothered to ask, in the years since?
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ not Joseph Smith. Shouldn’t we use the teachings of Christ to answer life’s difficult questions?
I think there is a problem with looking at this issue to narrowly. The Adam-God teachings are not just the narrow idea that Adam in Genesis has an important Divine role, it is the idea that Gods are generational beings, and that there is a concept of deification in Mormonism, and out of those foundational concepts come a variety of other practices and beliefs, such as the idea that families are eternal, that we must be sealed and do genealogy (back to Adam), that we have temples, continuing revelation, and a plan of salvation. Even the idea of the pre-existence is merely an outgrowth of these teachings called “Adam-God” teachings. Therefore we cannot look at this like it is a narrow or trivial side note to Mormon doctrine. It is in early Mormonism the foundation of all doctrine, and the reason for almost all doctrines and practices in Mormonism even today. As such it isn’t just a skeleton in the closet, it is the elephant in the room every time any LDS doctrine is taught, and forms the historical basis of those doctrines.
Shoot! Wrong article… Sorry. I misplaced this comment.
As for the Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. I Loved the book! Powerful! I am a seventy in a “fundamentalist” LDS church. I was amazed to realize that the struggle is the same for mainstream LDS women as it is for plural wives. It is surprising to me that the struggle is exactly the same, and the wounds are exactly the same, regardless of whether the plural marriage is being dealt with during life, or after death. The only thing that I disagreed with is that Sister Pearson seems to assume that the only resolution to this struggle is for us to change our doctrine and revise our history. I reject that conclusion. I think the only resolution to the isse that will ever bring peace and doctrinal consistency is to embrace this doctrine, and realize that it can be a paper tiger, which once passed will lead to family bliss.
Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I use to get all gooey about Carol Lynn and her artistic sensibility. In the end, she is nothing more than the typical progressive liberal who believes that this moment in time is more important than eternity. This also includes all the weight of the hypocrisy that political correctness has to espouse.
Stephen and Benjamin, I think I’ve moved on. There are many of us that have moved on. Polygamy is evil. It’s not of God especially as practiced by Joseph Smith I guess if you guys are ok with Joseph marrying other people’s wives, marrying 14 year olds when you are 37, lying to you wife for over a decade, lying to law enforcement, lying to your faithful followers, having secret combinations and procuring women for each other, and many other unrighteous acts, then go ahead. God is better than that and I’m so glad that I know that now and I don’t have to believe that I’m just some thing to be given and taken and used for my uterus. It’s disgusting. Lying and cheating are never ok. I’m sorry Mormonism embraces deceit.