There is a theory that if a person traveled back in time and confronted her earlier self, the universe would explode.
This appears to be what has happened with the new anti-gay marriage letter put out by the LDS Church and set for widespread distribution this Sunday in all congregations in the U.S. and Canada.
The modern LDS Church is against any marriage not composed of “a man and a woman.”
But the earlier LDS Church was most decidedly in favor of marriages not composed of “a man and a woman.” (Read: Polygamy.)
When the modern LDS Church confronts its earlier self . . . Ka-Boom!
The Church’s new letter against gay marriage is a prime example.
Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.
In its zeal to show how opposed it is to gay marriage, the LDS Church has written a letter that ends up throwing Church history under the bus, flatly contradicts LDS scripture, and brands its first six presidents as “immoral” violators of the law of chastity.
From the letter:
“Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well‐being of society.”
We will leave aside the fact there is no record of God ever instituting marriage between a man and a woman. Instead, we ask the more pertinent question: If “marriage between a man and a woman” is “central to [God’s] plan for His children,” what are we to make of polygamy? The reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that polygamy was not “central to God’s plan.” This is at odds with D&C 132:4, which states that “no one can reject this covenant (of plural marriage) and be permitted to enter into [God’s] glory.”
Sounds pretty central to me.
Similarly, if “marriage between a man and a woman” is central “for the well-being of society,” does this mean that the plural marriage practiced by the LDS Church for over 60-years was in some sense detrimental to society?
This was surely the position of most 19th century American non-Mormons, but to hear the LDS Church itself say so is unexpected.
“A family built on marriage of a man and a woman is the best setting for God’s plan of happiness to thrive.”
So plural marriage is not the “best setting for God’s plan of happiness to thrive”? Duly noted. But how might the early saints who sacrificed mightily to obey the Principle feel about their own Church throwing them under the bus like this?
Houston, We Have a Problem!
“Sexual relations outside of such a marriage are contrary to the laws of God pertaining to morality.”
Congratulations! You just labeled the first six presidents of the LDS Church as “immoral.”
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith all had “sexual relations outside of such a marriage” (of a man and a woman) and therefore acted “contrary to the laws of God pertaining to morality.”
What is possessing the LDS Church to write such things? And under the imprimatur of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, no less. Can none of them see the implications of what they are saying? And they are directing this be read verbatim throughout the LDS Church in the US and Canada?
“His (God’s) law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
So now the first six presidents of the LDS Church were violators of the law of chastity, as well? And not just once, but over and over again!
And not only the first six presidents, but all the other Mormon men who practiced plural marriage, not to mention their wives! And we should not fail to mention their wives in this discussion. Blessed, honored pioneers, indeed.
While early Mormons no doubt believed taking plural wives was commanded of God, and was essential to their exaltation, in no sense could such marriages be considered “legal and lawful.” In fact, they were in direct violation of the laws of the land. Whether in the U.S. or in Mexico.
And again, we find a contradicting passage in the scripture. D&C 132:62 says there is no sin in plural marriage:
“And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.”
No violation of the Law of Chastity there.
The LDS Church Reverses Course
“Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established.”
But isn’t this precisely what happened in 1890 with the Manifesto? Or at least in 1904 with the Second Manifesto? Didn’t the LDS Church change the moral law of plural marriage that God established in response to changes in the civil law? It would certainly appear so to an outside observer.
From the background material for the lesson:
“For much of human history, civil laws have generally been compatible with God’s laws. Unfortunately, there have been notable exceptions to that pattern.”
The most notable exception, as far as Mormons are concerned, is when the civil laws of the United States were incompatible with God’s law of polygamy. This exception, however, is not discussed in the material. And for good reason.
How would including this exception play out? Possibly as follows:
In the 1800’s, Mormons practiced God’s law of plural marriage until the civil laws made it impossible do so. The LDS Church fought the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that civil laws prohibiting plural marriage violated the saints’ constitutional rights. But the LDS Church lost that battle.
In our day, many wish to practice non-traditional marriage to people of the same gender. Civil laws have been passed in some states making it impossible for them to do so. The LDS Church fought the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that civil laws prohibiting same-sex marriage do not violate anybody’s constitutional rights. The LDS Church lost that battle, too.
In short, the LDS Church has taken the exact opposite side of the non-traditional marriage issue twice before the Supreme Court . . . and lost both times.
While the Church is surely correct that the Supreme Court does not get to dictate Mormon doctrine, this should be a lesson to those who believe the LDS Church of the 19th century is the same as the LDS Church of the 21st.
The only thing consistent about the LDS Church’s position is its win-loss record before the Supreme Court on the issue.
The additional materials distributed with the letter to local leaders are to help “in responding to questions that may arise.” Nowhere in the letter itself or the additional materials is there any reference to plural marriage.
From my point of view, plural marriage is the key question that should arise when discussing the letter.
It is the LDS Church’s past position and teachings on plural marriage that indicate it is speaking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to whether non-traditional marriages are protected by the Constitution.
The discussions about the new LDS letter in church this Sunday may prove to be interesting.
At least, if the subject of plural marriage is broached.
And if the Spirit should so move, the question might also be raised as to why the LDS Church is expending resources and mobilizing thousands to make clear to its members that the Supreme Court doesn’t dictate Mormon doctrine on gay marriage, while maintaining radio silence on the racist murders of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church, together with the burning of six black churches in the South.
The priorities of the LDS Church are on full display for the world to see.
And for members of the LDS Church to see, as well.
“But the earlier LDS Church was most decidedly in favor of marriages not composed of ‘a man and a woman.’ (Read: Polygamy.)”
I disagree with this. Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman. In the early church there were some men who entered in to more than one such contract. It was not the case that one husband and two wives were all married together. For example, a plural marriage situation where a husband had two wives, there were actually two marriages. There is a marriage between a man and one woman and a marriage between a man and another woman. But each marriage is still between a man and a woman. I think this is why the emphasis is on the term ‘plural marriage’ rather than the term ‘polygamy’, as there could be polygamous relationships that aren’t plural marriages.
That is exactly what my wife said, Jake!
Great minds think alike, I guess. ;^)
But if that is the “hidden” meaning behind the word choice in the letter, it is using language to deceive. In other words, it is intentionally giving a different message than the one intended.
And I have to add that such an interpretation is contradicted by other statements in the letter that make it clear “marriage between a man and a woman” is to be understood as “monogamy.”
Here is one example from the letter:
“That is why communities and nations generally have encouraged and protected marriage between a man and a woman, and the family that results from their union, as privileged institutions.”
You can’t say that about polygamy.
Not with a straight face, at least.
One also has to wonder why this letter is being read only in the US and Canada, and why Canada?. In the case of Canada, they legalized SSM a decade ago. The Church was totally silent on the issue at the time. And around the world a number of countries have instituted SSM – some over a decade ago – and the Church has been silent there as well. I find the contradictions totally bizarre.
Good question, Neal!
I suppose it would make some sense for the letter to go out to congregations in the U.S. inasmuch as that is the country over which the U.S. Supreme Court has jurisdiction.
Including Canada does make it strange, though, I agree.
Does the Mormon Corridor extend up through Idaho into Canada?
I am just hoping the saints in Mexico don’t feel left out.
Or those in the rest of the world, for that matter.
These choices by the Church tend to reinforce the perception that it is not really a global church.
It may have congregations in many countries throughout the world, but it tends to act not only America-centrically, but Utah-centrically.
We are supposed to pretend that polygamy never happened.
(Even though some of my pioneer ancestors practiced it).
This reminds me of an incident in my ward priesthood meeting not long ago, where the idea that the LDS Church never changes came up.
Everybody agreed with this concept.
I held my tongue, wondering if anybody would raise a dissenting voice.
Just before the subject was being changed by the teacher, I had to speak up and ask innocently if I were the only member in the class who had ever heard of polygamy?
As soon as I asked this, many began to chuckle and nod their heads in agreement.
Of course the Church changes. And it has changed dramatically.
I have a feeling more dramatic changes are in store in the not so distant future.
I was a little perturbed that the letter was to be read in Canada too, since it felt a little like we were being included as the “51st state”. The Mormon Corridor, however, does extend into Canada into the southern part of the province of Alberta.
Maybe that explains it.
Does the U.S. Supreme Court have jurisdiction in Canada if it is along the Mormon Corridor, though?
No, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling has no jurisdiction in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada passed the Civil Marriage Act, allowing SSM, in 2005. Given the high Mormon populous in Southern Alberta, there are a lot of familial connections to Idaho and Utah, in particular, and many members from that area have attended, or are currently attending, BYU. So, arguably, I suppose it may be germane to those Canadian Mormons with close attachments to the U.S. For the rest of us Canadians, though, the letter seems irrelevant and bordering on patronizing.
I am sure you realize I was kidding with the Supreme Court jurisdiction in Canada comment.
I am used to explaining things with the assumption of ignorance (e.g., the U.S. social media commenters saying they were going to move to Canada after the Supreme Court ruling). I apologize. I forgot my audience here and, looking back, I should have totally realized you were kidding; my bad.
I’d really hate for the church to embrace SSM via a contemporary affirmation of the practice of polygamy by early church leaders. It was abominable, and yes, the church leaders acted immorally by participating and teaching others to do so. The effects have been extremely long-reaching, with fundamentalist sects still abusing young women under cover of religious authority and tradition.
So let’s call for support for SSM for the correct, rational, moral reasons: To protect their families. To contribute to society as stable, self-supporting households. To promote marriage as an ideal. To chip away at the harmful and inaccurate myths that gay people are perverted and broken, and save youth from the suffering and loss of life that results.
Not simply to avoid a charge of hypocrisy (which is all too easily dismissed anyway). I will not condemn those who choose polyamory or polygamy freely and with open eyes, but when powerful men use religion to dictate how it works, abuse is inevitable, and it should never be justified.
I agree with what you say, Keith.
I just want to say the thrust of the piece was not to detract from what you say, but simply to point out the internal inconsistency of the LDS Church (of all churches!) advancing this argument.
I would disagree with this argument regardless of who made it.
But it seems a bit harder to stomach coming from a church that not only used to practice polygamy, but still has the revelation authorizing it enshrined in its canon.
The covenant mentioned in D&C 132:4 is not plural marriage; it is Celestial marriage. The “law” is mentioned about 30 times in this section, and it is nowhere defined as polygamy. Verse 7 describes the law (concerned with the sealing power) – and mentions plural marriage not at all. Righteous sealed monogamous marriages place husbands and wives in an exalted state as surely as the sun shines. Plural marriage is a subset of Celestial marriage; it fits within it but is not the whole of it. Section 132 is providing the context. For His righteous purposes the Lord has seen fit to command plural marriage at certain times in history, but not in other times; in fact, not in most others. Why? I’m not sure, although I accept Jacob 2:30 as a factor.
My faith is that one day we will get answers and they will be satisfying answers. We will not be able to charge the prophets with adultery. We will find that not for one day in the Restored Church’s existence was it in an apostate condition, notwithstanding the weakness of its members or leaders. The Priesthood power remains with the Church; the ordinance work done in temples has a real impact on lives in the Spirit world. The Holy Ghost attends the labors of missionaries. I say we convince people everywhere to join the Church, not stay away from it or hold it in contempt.
I always appreciate your comments, Tim.
But I have to disagree with you on this.
I believe “celestial marriage” was always understood to mean “plural marriage” until the 1920’s when Reuben J. Clark changed the definition of “celestial marriage” to mean the temple sealing of one man and one woman (and only one woman!).
The switch in definitions stuck and is still used today.
And don’t forget the entire reason for Joseph Smith producing the revelation in the first place.
It was to so Hyrum could take the written version to Emma in order to convince her to do something.
Now, what was that something the revelation was supposed to convince her to do . . . ?
Only in US and Canada because the church allows unmarried hetero couples to be baptized in other countries. http://www.nearingkolob.com/cohabiting-opposite-sex-couples-can-now-baptized/
I can’t help but think there is more to the story vis-à-vis the Philippines.
I’ve heard the more to the story is that they accept common law marriages as valid (cohabitation for several years, in the Phillipines, apparently).
The Defending Joseph folks(who believe that polygamy was only pinned on him after his death to justify the practice by Brigham and his contemporaries) would have you subtract him from your 6, but you forgot to include Heber J. Grant, who was actually the last President of the church to practice polygamy (though not after the Manifesto, or at least the 2nd manifesto) which would still leave at least 6 of the first 7 presidents as practitioners.
What’s one “immoral” prophet, more or less, among friends?
great article as usual. Thanks!
Thank YOU, JJ!
I really appreciate it!
It was a mistake for the church to engage in this issue in the first place. However, the church was so set on out evangelicaling the evangelicals in their creation of an LGBT devil that now they have to send out this silly letter to “reassure” the faithful. They need to give up on criticizing this small group and find something else to claim as the “other.”
I agree that this may be, in part, a manifestation of the LDS Church PR Department’s goal of convincing the world that the Mormons are just another Christian religion.
“And I’m a Mormon.”
Getting in bed with fundamentalist Christians on this issue while casting homosexuals out from the Mormon midst may have been a deal with the devil, indeed.
I have really enjoyed the posts here. Thanks for another great one!
Thank you so much for the kind words, PBJ!
(For some reason, I am getting a craving for a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich . . . )
You have a great writing style — I always enjoy your posts! Even the way you respond to comments is just so spot-on. The pictures in this one made your wit really come alive!
Thank you so much, Anne!
What can I say?
I mean, other than the obvious fact you have amazingly good taste?
I’m sure that this whole “a man and a woman” is carefully worded as to not exclude the possibility of “a man and a woman, a man and a woman, and a man and a woman” to mean the same man and 3 women, meaning plural marriages were to each woman, rather than to all the harem as a collective marriage.
In any case the irony is hilariously blatant.
I think there was a time when the Church used to say, “a man and woman,” which did seem to leave open the possibility of such an interpretation.
That may have been too obvious, however, and so they decided to add the extra “a” in front of “woman,” as well. But very likely thinking they had left themselves enough wiggle room to get out of it if somebody called them on it.
Some times, though, when you try to leave yourself too little wiggle room, you end up sounding desperate.
Instead of saying it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is, the Church may find itself in the position of saying it depends on what the meaning of the word “a” is.
And I think we all know how well that goes over.
Thanks for your comments!
Did the church make the same effort to fight Gay marriage in England and France and Norway? This has shown to me the need for the new Apostles to be more diverse. A black, lesbian woman from Brazil is my choice! That would shake up the Big-15 a bit!
If the church did make the same effort, I am completely unaware of it.
Maybe there was a letter released to be read in all the congregations throughout England, France and Norway.
But I kinda doubt it . . .
The article gets it wrong, the first 7, not 6 LDS Prophets were polygamists. Heber J. Grant wasn’t a polygamist when he became the President of the Church in 1918 but he had been up until 1908 when his wife Emily died. In fact as member of the Quorum of the Twelve he lived openly with his plural wives.
Even though the First Manifesto happened in 1890 it took until 1945 until the LDS church had a prophet that hadn’t been a practicing polygamist.
I think your facts are correct, D, but the point I was trying to make was to count the Church presidents who had practiced polygamy while they were presidents.
Good point, though!
I will admit ignorance of this pre-1920 situation. What are you saying about the numerous monogomous marriages (including those of my grandparents and great-grandparents) sealed in the temple before 1920? Were these couples told that, sadly, they were not being sealed into Celestial marriages because only polygamous marriges so qualified? Was the man instructed to return some day with another wife or face the demotion of his first marriage to sub-Celestial level? What did these couples understand about their children being “born in the covenant?” What, in short, did these pre-1920 monogomous couples think was the nature of their temple marriage if not Celestial?
It is certainly the case, as you point out, that Section 132 was given (by memory per Joseph Smith) in order to win Emma over to plural marriage. There can be no doubt about this. The revelation does so by situating plural marriage within the bounds of Celestial marriage that the Lord has set. It is thus not an inquitous impostor, nor a sexual perk for men; it is an allowed form of marriage commanded at times by God for His own purposes. I believe this to be a reasonable reading of D&C 132.
I can’t tell you what monogamously temple-married Mormons were instructed, or what they believed.
All I am saying is that in the latter-half of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century, numerous LDS Church leaders taught that the degree of exaltation a man received in the hereafter was commensurate with the number of plural wives he married in this life.
LDS Church leaders were expected to have more than one wife, and the exaltation of a man with only one wife, though sealed in the temple, paled in comparison to the exaltation of a man with numerous wives.
I, for one, am thankful for living prophets and believe that what they teach us is from God. I will stand by them and defend them despite the ridicule I and they may experience as a result of misunderstanding, even from well-meaning church members. It is our privilege to listen to their counsel in our day, and it only hurts us to try to disregard and discredit it. The prophet has always led me and my family to happiness and peace.
I take it that no one in your family is homosexual.
Have you resigned your membership yet?
Scott: Burned anybody at the stake yet?
Is there some reason you think I should?
Corbin Volluz, while Heber J. Grant married multiple wives before the 1890 manifesto, by the time he was church president, only one of his wives was alive. Unfortunately for his celestial status, however, this was one of his wives that he married illegally and unlawfully, which according to the definition by today’s prophets means that he was living in violation of the law of chastity, a sin second in gravity only to murder. From what I’ve been taught about the Holy Ghost, he would not have been worthy of its influence.
Maybe the number of Church Presidents implicitly condemned by the letter should be seven instead of six, then.
Good thing, then, that today’s conditions didn’t apply to Heber J. Grant.
Let’s consult the scriptures, in this case Jacob 2:
“For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none. . . 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.”
Most of history has operated under the “otherwise” provision, and so the marriage of one man and one woman holds sway. At particular times, however – such was the case at the beginning of the Restoration – and for His own righteous purposes, the Lord “commands” (note the word) His servants to take more than one wife. And because their allegiance is to the true and living God and not to the PC norms of their day, they obey.
It was certainly the case that the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing polygamy left those with plural wives in a difficult circumstance. The question is what circumstance it left them in with God. Can we imagine a voice from heaven saying to the brethren something along these lines: “Sorry guys, you’ve been set up. Now that SCOTUS says the marriages other than to your first wife are illegal, that means you are not legally and lawfully married to any of the other women, and that means you’re adulterers, and that means no Holy Ghost and no standing before God. Tough break!”
Do we really believe that these brethren fell out of favor with God because of SCOTUS? Why, then, should the Church, once again operating under the “otherwise” clause, be seen, even implicitly, as throwing them under the bus retroactively? These brethren had sacrificed everything for 50 years, from Ohio to Utah, in order to build up a church from nothing. How would we have fared in their stead? It was no easy day.
I agree with much of what you say, Tim.
But I think it misses the point of my blog.
The point of my blog is the LDS Church appears to be duplicitous in using language to condemn gay marriage when the exact same language would also condemn plural marriage.
As if the LDS Church had never practiced plural marriage.
I know the LDS Church would like to forget it ever practiced plural marriage.
And would like even more for everybody else to forget it ever practiced plural marriage.
But it’s not so easy.
Facts are stubborn things.
Corbin, have you resigned your membership in the LDS church yet? Easy question
Why should he? Easy question.
Every other Christain church allows for varying degrees of commitment, belief, and dissent. You are part of the problem in Mormonism, Scott. The Mormonism that wants to kick everyone to the curb who does not walk in lockstep with all the teachings of men; “men” being the LDS leadership, aka The Corrolation Committee.
I find it a shame and a pity that Mormons are so afraid of their OWN history and teachings; that exploring anything outside the correlated materials–is the shame and sin unforgivable. Love seems to go by the wayside very, very quickly when one is outside the correlated Mormon box. The Mormon God is a boxed-in God.
HE is relegated to a box with hugely trenched sides to throw people into who are different, and who sin or believe differently, than you (they) do.
How many years has it been since this church has heard “THUS SAYETH THE LORD!”????
Shame on YOU for wanting someone who is asking legitimate questions, and attempting to make sense out of the lack of Christlike love in today’s rhetoric—-to leave….well, that says a lot about the current state of most members, I fear. No wonder God ain’t talk’in to this church.
Powerfully put, Mermaidmood!
Come on Corbin, easy question….I know you monitor your posts and are usually very quick to pounce…..have you resigned your membership in the LDS church? yes or no?
One insightful response that addresses some large doctrinal gaps I this post. https://itsthepermanentthings.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/518/