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    LDS Corner 1

    Mormon Ideas About
    Polygamy Compared

    Because the modern Mormon Church or 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' no longer practices polygamy and has created its own rationales for abandoning plural marriage a century ago that differ from the FLDS, I shall be viewing this subject through the lenses of the first Mormons who actually prtacticed it and their successors, the Fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS). For those of you who are Christian/Messianic Polygamists reading these articles, you may be surprised by how very different the two premises are in spite of outwardly looking similar. The modern Mormons, contrary what many orthodox Christians have been taught, are monogamists and not polygamists.

    Fundmentalist Mormon, Ogden Kraut, gives the Latter-day Saint raison d'être for practiving polygamy as follows:

      "In our dispensation that same law of plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith. Why? Because he and others were righteous and were bound by the law of the Priesthood, which is the guiding force in how the law of plural marriage should be lived. This principle is not for the entire world, but is an eternal Priesthood law, obedience to which distinguishes the Saints from the rest of the world" (The Polygamy of David and Solomon: From Triumph to Tragedy, December 1986, p.12).

    The living of plural marriage is therefore inseparably connected to the whole Mormon Priesthood system. To qualify to live polygamy, according to original and FLDS Mormonism, is to hold the Priesthood delivered to them by angels. Without this Priesthood, no-one may practice plural marriage. With this Priesthood, they are obliged to. (Note: This obligation was removed by the institutional Mormon Church after the Manifesto was issued).

    Kraut continues:

      "Plural marriage was never intended to be a principle that all men could live. Furthermore, it never will -- simply because most men are incapable of properly fulfilling the obligations of even a monogamous marriage. It certainly stands to reason that if men like David and Solomon, who gained the respect of God and man, were capable of failure in their marriages, then we know that all men can fail. Indeed, we may conclude by saying that only a 'few' shall ever qualify for exaltation" (Ibid., p.14).

    I am, I confess, forced to agree with Ogden Kraut on every point except the 'Priesthood obligation' one. He is right when he claims that most men are incapable of living it. He is right when he implies that only those who are capable of living it are those who are able to successful wield ecclesiatical authority as righteous leaders. And indeed it is here that I principally differ with other Patriarchal Christians/Messianics who seem to think that plural marriage is a 'free for all' that anyone may practice. And yet I disagree with Kraut and other FLDS who maintain only Fundamentalist Mormons have the 'right' to live it.

    Where Fundamentalist Mormons and Christian/Messianic Polygamists differ is over the issue of authority. But herein there lies a dilemma. How are men to know whether they are called into polygamy and where is the authority to be found that will provide the necessary checks and balances to ensure that only the right men end up living polygamy?

    The practice of polygamy was widespread in the early Utah Mormon Church as it is amongst FLDS. There were both happy polygamist families as well as (far too many) desperately miserable ones. Many early Mormon women committed suicide and many fled because they were so miserable. Like the 'polygamy-by-force' movement which has corrupted the contemporary Christian Polygamy Movement, modern Patriarchal Christians/Messianics are making the very same mistakes as the early Mormons did. They are trying to force women into the principle by 'threatening' them with the equivalent of a lesser eternal reward if they do not (the Mormon 'stick') - only the modern 'Christian' method is to claim for the man the divine right to 'force' another wife into his family when the first wife is not ready or willing (the Christian 'stick').

    It is not, of course, that simple. The first generation Mormon polygamists faced the same kinds of problems as the first generation Christian/Messianic polygamists - they had a whole monogamy-only mindset to deal with. The majority of FLDS families do not face this problem because the children of polygamous marriages intermarry polygamously, so for them this lifestyle is more natural. There are, of course, tragedies and abuses in many FLDS communities and we hear of these as they come to media attention.

    The kind of pressure which is constantly upon FLDS men and women to marry polygamously is no better illutstrated than in the kinds of things Brigham Young, the second Mormon Prophet, taught:

      "Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith [D&C 132], and the Lord's servants have always practiced it. 'And is that religion popular in heaven? It is the only popular religion there, for this is the religion of Abraham, and unless we do the works of Abraham, we are not Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise'" (Journal of Discourses, 9:322).

      "It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, and if you desire to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists in at least your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives" (JD 11:268-9)

    Here are some remarks made by other Mormon Prophets on the same subject:

      "The reason why the Church and Kingdom of God cannot advance without the Patriarchal order of marriage, is that it belongs to this dispensation, just as baptism for the dead does, or any law or ordinance that belongs to a dispensation. Without it the Church cannot progress. The leading men of Israel who are presiding over Stakes will have to obey the law of Abraham, or they will have to resign" (Life of Wilford Woodruff, p.542).

    A Mormon 'Stake' is the equivalent to an orthodox Christian 'Bishopric'.

    Now the implications here are quite obvious. To be in a position of high leadership you have to be married polygamously whether you want to or not. But more than that, in Mormonism plural marriage was a doctrine of salvation:

      "Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity or non-essential to the salvation of mankind ... I wish here to enter my solemn protest against this idea for I know it is false ... Whoever has imagined that he could obtain the fullness of the blessing pertaining to this celestial law, by complying with only a portion of its conditions, has deceived himself" (Joseph F. Smith, JD 11:269).

    The modern Mormon Church would, of course, deny these statements, and the hundreds of others made by early LDS leaders, saying that a man may obtain the highest rewards in a state of monogamy. That is, of course, up to LDS and FLDS at argue amongst themselves, for we know of no such law in the Bible. As the years passed by, Mormon leaders progressively distanced themselves from the doctrine and practice of polygamy in order to be 'politically correct'. John E. Widtsoe, a Mormon General Authority, reflected this when he said: "We do not understand why the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage" (Improvement Era, March 1943). The FLDS 'understand', of course, because they are merely following the teachings of the early LDS prophets.

    Whatever the modern Mormon Church is, it is certainly not the one that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young established, and its defence of its current anti-polygamist position is weak to say the least. By maintaining their anti-polygamism, they actually undermine their founding fathers:

      "The principle of plurality of wives will never be done away with" (Heber C. Kimball, JD 3:125).

      "We cannot withdraw or renounce it [polygamy]. God has revealed it, and he has promised to maintain it, and to bless those who obey it ..." (Millennial Star, October 6, 1885, 47:707).

    The quarrel between LDS and FLDS factions does not particularly concern me, of course, but I do mention these things only to point out that the FLDS are the true inheritors of the Joseph Smith marriage tradition (irrespective of whether you agree with it or not). And they - the FLDS - have continued to maintain the practice even though the institutional church has abandoned it and effectively disowened its founders. It is because of this that I have considerably more respect for the FLDS than the LDS who are at least consistent with their historical beliefs. And this is why I turn to the FLDS for reliable information about Mormon polygamy and not the modern Mormon Church.

    Speaking of the modern LDS's attitude to polygamy, Richard L. Hone writes:

      "When it comes to the subject of plural marriage, the majority of Mormons know little more than Joseph Smith introduced it to the Church of the Firstborn during the Nauvoo period and that his first wife, Emma, was not pleased about the idea. She was so displeased that she knocked her pregnant sister-wife down a flight of stairs, causing her to miscarry. When asked why it doesn't exist anymore, the answer is usually vague in specifics, but crystal clear in intent. Some answers I have heard over the years are:

        1. God saw fit to remove polygamy from the people for their own protection.

        2. It was a test that the early Mormons passed; so we don't have to practice it anymore.

        3. It was only put here to help the widows out and build up a great population of Mormons. Now that the Church's population is in the millions, it is no longer needed.

      "These are all interesting answers, but none of them are correct." (The History and Theology of Mormon Polygamy, Provo, Utah, November 1984, Vol.1, p.xi)

    As to why the Mormon Church introduced polygamy, there are two possibly answers.

    Firstly, the answer of Joseph Smith's detractors that he instituted it to fulfil his own lusts. That is not something that we can establish with any certainty though there were plenty of early Latter-day Saints who thought so. The Fanny Alger affair sparked the whole controversy off with Mormon apologists claiming she was his first plural wife and others that it was just that - an 'affair'.

    Secondly, because Smith was taught by the powers that led him that it was a requirement of salvation and/or exaltation. One thing is abundantly clear is that the intention behind it was always FORCE and never the attraction of love. Even Smith claimed an angel with a drawn sword threatened him if he did not live it. In the polygamy revelation penned by Joseph Smith, his wife Emma Smith is threatened with destruction if she does not accept it and plural wives for her husband:

      "And again, verily, verily, I say unto you [Emma Smith], if any man have a wife, holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining unto these things [polygamy], then shall she believe and administer unto him or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide by my law" (D&C 132:64).

    The 'stick', as we can clearly see here, is again the Mormon Priesthood. In the modern Christian/Messianic polygamous movement, this is exactly equivalent to a man confronting his first wife with the truth of polygamy in the Bible and then threatening her with destruction if she does not accept his taking in a second wife, the grounds for destruction being his patriarchal authority as head and her obligation to obey him. This we in the 'love not force' movement of Christian/Messianic Polygamy utterly reject.

    The Bible nowhere ever commands people to marry against their will. Marriage is by mutual consent and is affair of mind, heart and spirit. Not so according to Brigham Young:

      "Sisters, do you wish to make yourselves happy? Then what is your duty? It is for you to bear children, in the Name of the Lord ... bring forth in the name of Israel's God, that you may have the honor of being mothers of great and good men ... are you tormenting yourselves by thinking that your husbands do not love you? I would not care whether they loved a particle or not; but I would cry out, like one of old, in the joy of my heart, 'I have got a man from the Lord!' -- I have borne an image of God!" (JD 9:37).

    The moment you remove love from marriage you have slavery. The moment you force someone to marry against the desire of their heart, you have deep unhappiness. The moment you marry a man who cares little for the things that interest women, what kind of a husband do you have?:

      "There are probably few men in the world who care about the private society of women less than I do" (Brigham Young, JD 5:99).

    As Bible-believing Christians/Messianics, Patriarchal Polygamists ought to be following the injunctions of Christ and His apostles, who taught:

      "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Messianic Community (Church), and gave Himself for it...He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man yet ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Master the messianic community (church)" (Ephesians 5:25,28-29, KJV).

    This is the only reason why Christian/Messianic polygamists enter the plural marriage lifestyle. It has nothing to do with heavenly rewards (though who knows whether there will be or not?), nothing to do with 'priesthood' or 'priesthood laws', but only to do with LOVE - the love that Christ shows for His Body (Church) - that sacrificial agapé love which renounces self and lives for others. Christ does not save us for the sole purpose that we can evangelise unbelievers anymore than than He wants us to marry only to raise up priesthood sons as Brigham Young taught!

    In spite of the fact that I strongly disagree with the Mormon reasons for polygamy, and the way that it is virtually imposed, I do agree with Ogden Kraut that (a) it isn't for everyone, and (b) it should only be encouraged amongst those in responsible leadership positions who can manage it righteously. I stress the word encourage, though.

    I also disagree that the only people who should be allowed to practice polygamy are certain Mormons who claim to hold 'keys' permitting it. You can no more restrict polygamy than you can restrict marriage, for polygamy is merely marriage at a certain stage of development. To either deny marriage (by having to ask someone's permission like Joseph Smith) is to fulfil Paul's prophecy concerning the latter daysw:

      "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry ... " (1 Timothy 4:1-4, NKJV).

    Any kind of "forbidding" or "restricting" in marriage - whether it be the Vatican forcing Roman Catholic priests to be celibate, or Christians/Messianics attacking polygamy, or Mormons denying polygamy to their members without the current prophet's 'permission' - is "to give heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons".

    As a Christian/Messianic - whether apostle or lay member - I have no right to prevent anyone from marrying who they want to, whether monogamously or polygamously. I can strongly counsel immature or sexually damaged people (like homosexuals) not to marry (monogamously or polygamously) but I cannot threaten or deny them. That is not my business. The choice to marry - monogamously or polygamously - is the individual choice and responsibility of the parties concerned, for which they will be personally accountable.

    Now, it is true, that if people join a religious community of their own free will, and that community has rules and regulations about marriage to which they voluntarily subscribe, then that is their responsibility too. As it happens we will not marry anyone polygamously whom we do not feel is mature enough. If they disagree, they are free to go their own way without the fear that they are leaving the 'one and only true church' and salvation for, unlike the Mormons, we make no legalistic claims for exclusive authority. And that is the major difference. This means that people may leave our Order or Assemblies without having to carry a load of guilt-baggage on their shoulders about losing their souls. And that should be true for any Christian Church or Messianic Assembly.

    I hope, from this short introductory article, it will be plain that the spirits behind Christian/Messianic Polygamy and Mormon Polygamy are very different. That there are some similarities that derive from polygamous life itself is, of course, both true and inevitable, and should be expected, and as such there is much we can learn from each other.

    As a reminder of what this Mormon 'spirit' is, I quote the experience of a polygamous woman. Though I do not agree with her every conclusion, I can empathise with her and understand why she arrived at them, for she was never shown the kind of love that is possible through this lifestyle when lived according to biblical principles:

      "In my unhappy condition, I thought that perhaps I might derive some consolation from the sermons in the Tabernacle ... But instead of obtaining consolation, I heard that which aroused every feeling of my soul to rebellion, ... I heard that woman was an inferior being, designed by the Lord for the special glory and exaltation of man, that she was a creature that should feel herself honoured if he would only make her the mother of his children - a creature who if very obedient and faithful through all the trials and tribulations of life, might some day be rewarded by becoming one of her husband's queens, but should even then shine only by virtue of the reflected light derived from the glory of her spouse and lord. He was to be her 'savior', for he was all in all to her; and it was through him alone and at his will that she could obtain salvation. We were informed that man was the crowning glory of creation, for whom all things - woman included - were brought into being; and that the chief object of woman's existence was to help man to his great destiny.

      "Not a sentence - indeed, not a word - did we ever hear as to the possibility of womanly perfection and exaltation in her own right; ... The great object of marriage, we were told, was the increase of children ... if some woman was found objecting to polygamy, then, ... she was told in the coarse language of Brigham Young himself, that 'Such women had no business to complain; it was quite enough honor for them to be permitted to bear children to God's holy Priesthood.' ... It was painfully clear to my understanding, then as now, that in Mormonism woman was to lose her personal identity. All that Christianity had done to elevate her was to be ruthlessly set aside and trampled under foot, and she was instantly to return to the position which she occupied in the darkest ages of the world's existence" (Tell It All, pp.181-182, Praeger reprint).

    The message of Christian/Messianic Polygamy is the very opposite, for in this lifestyle a woman is elevated to be the exalted Bride of Christ, loved and perfected through His grace and loving kindness.

    Many Fundamentalist Mormons live unattached to FLDS communities where the 'Priesthood' is wielded like a slegde-hammer and can experience - especially if the patriarch is a good man - more of that freedom which is Christian/Messianic Polygamy. Yet there is a 'power' which lurks, the 'Priesthood power' which is the raison d'être for everything that Mormon men and women do, that colours their polygamy and what they are striving for. The bottom line is a spirit of control which quenches true love and must be renounced and relinquished if that love is ever to bloom.

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    First created on 12 August 2001
    Updated on 16 August 2016

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