Never look at the trombones

I largely agree with Kaimi’s thoughts on how the Church is usually content to let teachings and statements of earlier authorities fade into obsolescence through silence, rather than through any kind of formal pronouncement. But I think that the opposite, that the silent treatment is intended as an informal repudiation, might not be true in all cases. I don’t think that any general authority will provide a clear answer on nineteenth-century polygamy any time soon, but I don’t think their silence will provide any guidance, either.

Personally, I believe that polygamy was instituted and abolished according to divine will, although its beginning and end appear to have had some rough patches. I’m happy polygamy is gone and don’t expect it to come back, but I honor and respect the sacrifices made by my great-great-grandparents. I’d guess most members of the Church share a similar outlook, and I’m also consciously projecting my opinion onto the current general authorities. I strongly doubt any of them would in practice clearly affirm the practice of polygamy up to 1890, however, because clarifying what is mostly a matter of historical curiosity would come at the price of encouraging present-day polygamists who are relatively few in number but highly visible from Salt Lake City and in the national media.

I don’t want to exaggerate the effect of the audience on general authorities’ sermons, but I suspect that they usually try to counter-balance rather than amplify what they see as negative influences. The message already comes through loud and clear from other quarters, for example, that wealth and professional accomplishment are what matters most; the general authorities will spend most of their time pushing back against that idea, not reinforcing it, even if the Church as a whole is fairly supportive of economic advancement and secular honors.

There are a couple of problems with this approach to apostolic silence. I’m not saying, for example, that the Church teaches strict chastity outside of marriage, while the world teaches licentiousness, so therefore the truth must lie somewhere in the middle (“it’s OK if you’re at least 21 and really, really in love”). I also have a vigorous dislike for the notion of deep, secret, or untaught doctrines. I wouldn’t want this approach to polygamy to provide a model for rehabilitating nineteenth-century statements that have been intentionally left behind. I merely suggest that in the case of nineteenth-century Mormon polygamy, current historical circumstance makes me reluctant to conclude what I otherwise might from the long silence of Church leaders.

50 comments for “Never look at the trombones

  1. annegb
    December 6, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    I think it’s a mistake for the brethren to engage on difficult issues because only contention arises. There is no need for them to argue about polygamy, for instance. There is a difference between dialogue and discussion among members and debate with authority. The church isn’t a democracy.

  2. December 6, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    What’s the point of having authority if one isn’t going to use it? Leaders certainly know how to address a topic directly. Why they choose to do so on a minor item like tattoos but not on weightier doctrines like polygamy that cause confusion among the membership is something of a mystery. I suspect the unanimity rule that seems to constrain public pronouncements prevents any definitive statement on most important issues.

  3. Mark B.
    December 6, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    I think you miss the point as to weight, Dave. The issue whether to marry more than one wife at a time is weighty, and I think the teachings of the leaders of the church is clear and unequivocal. And, this issue is addressed directly in any number of forums–the Church Handbook of Instructions, statements from Pres. Hinckley to the press and in conference.

    The issues regarding why plural marriage was instituted and why it was ended are not weighty. They are historical curiosities, the answers to which are not necessary for the salvation of the church today.

  4. Brenda
    December 6, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Mark, I agree with your assessment that “whether to marry more than one wife at a time is weighty.” However, to dismiss the understanding of why polygamy was instituted and why it was ended as “historical curiosities” is to dismiss the importance of our history altogether. When an organization chooses which historical practices and teachings to highlight and expound upon and which to bury, there is a credibility issue.

    In response to my question on another thread asking whether Mormons believe in polygamy, I received several answers, including: “President Hinckley told Larry King that it wasn’t doctrinal.” Why do I have to watch Larry King Live to learn that there is no doctrinal basis for a historic practice that defines our religion? Or, is this truly the case, as suggested by other answers I received? Even the words chosen in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” are sufficiently vague and leave ample opportunity for multiple conclusions.

    Can you sense my frustration? I’m tired of people telling me to ignore the elephant in the room because it is not relevant to my salvation. The elephant is sure leaving a big mess and it is hard to enjoy the peace in the house with such a strong odor.

  5. jose
    December 6, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    “Why?” is often the wrong question to ask simply because it many times cannot be answered. The other day I ran into difficulty explaining to my daughter the physics of why magnets “stick” to ferromagnetic materials; this despite the several classes I’ve had on magnetics and my work with permanent magnet motors. I could only answer a few questions deep until I was cornered and finally said, “Because it is a law of physics.” Current science accepts that answer. Science, as Godel puts it, is firmly planted on a foundation of a cloud.

    The hesitancy of asking the fundamental “why” does not just apply to science. I think the same problem exists in religion (after all, both involve the search for truth). Years ago, I remember having difficulties explaining to a Muslim friend why Jesus’ death was required to fulfill God’s grace. Again I was cornered and finally said, “Because it fulfills eternal laws of justice and mercy.” I just couldn’t get past what seems to be fundamental.

    With regards to the question of polygamy, I don’t think Joseph knew fundamentally why he was commanded to practice plural marriage save it was commanded. At least he never left such a record. And currently, I don’t think Gordon knows any more than Joseph about the subject. If that is true, then the GAs can’t answer it just like I can’t answer my daughters question regarding magnetism.

  6. jose
    December 6, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    Brenda, regarding the smell, call my my children weird, but they (6 and 4 yrs) like the smell of manure because they are reminded of visiting grandma and all the fun times they have had on the farm. Odors are neither good or bad, just what we make them out to be.

  7. Craig V.
    December 6, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Jose, when your daughter asks you a question you can’t answer, how do you respond? Do you give her vague and ambiguous answers that hide from her your lack of knowledge? Do you commend her for thinking so deeply about a matter or do you try to shame her into silence? Do you ask her to trust that you know the answer or do you simply tell her that you don’t know?

  8. Julie M. Smith
    December 6, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    “I’m tired of people telling me to ignore the elephant in the room because it is not relevant to my salvation. The elephant is sure leaving a big mess and it is hard to enjoy the peace in the house with such a strong odor.”

    I have a white ceramic elephant in my main room. When I had to teach D & C 132 in GD, I brought it in, plopped it on the table, and said that we weren’t going to talk about the elephant in the room.

    Brenda, I wish I had better answers for you but I don’t. I did, however, think this was interesting:

    “Question: Is polygamy gone forever from the Church?

    We only know what the Lord has revealed through His prophets, that plural marriage has been stopped in the Church. Anything else is speculative and unwarranted.”,15331,3885-1-23477,00.html

    Again, of course, you shouldn’t have to read the LA Times to know your religion.

  9. December 6, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    I’m waiting for the obligatory, “Um, polygamy is still practiced in that some leaders of the church have remarried after the death of their first wife, and have been sealed to the second wife. This is hard to construe as silence.”

    Still waiting…

  10. Matt Evans
    December 7, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Jonathan and several commenters suggest that church leaders know whether polygamy is “the principle,” so to speak, or an historical aberration. I see know reason for that assumption. Most likely, the future of polygamy has not been revealed to them, either, and they are forced to reason this out in their own minds. They are silent because they don’t have anything new to say, and little need to press God for a definitive answer.

    Frankly, I’ve never understood the argument for polygamy being an historical aberration. Do some people (Jonathan?) believe the polygamous temple sealings done prior to 1890 were made retrospectively invalid by OD1? Is there a doctrinal basis for thinking polygamy isn’t eternal, or is everyone just hoping God shares their modern sensibilities?

  11. DKL
    December 7, 2006 at 1:43 am

    Matt, I see no reason to make them invalid because of OD1. I don’t see any reason why the terms of such marriages cannot be honored (participants willing) as eternal marriages. That said, if the sealings that occur in the temple nowadays fulfill the requirements of the “New and Everlasting Covenant” (as the verbiage of the sealing ceremony itself seems to indicate, unless there are multiple “New and Everlasting Covenants”), then I see no reason why anyone nowadays would be required to practice polygamy to obtain higher glory.

  12. Jonathan Green
    December 7, 2006 at 4:04 am

    Matt, let me untangle the issues, so we can see if we actually disagree anywhere. I don’t think we do.

    Polygamy, 1840ish-1890: I don’t think it was a historical aberration (in the sense of “a wild and crazy idea that Joseph Smith had one day”). Its beginning and end are based on canonized scripture.

    Polygamy, 2070 A.D., when the oppressive yoke of the US government is thrown off and we can live our religion in purity again: This is the future polygamy I don’t expect to see, and I don’t think church leaders do, either (although I have little evidence for that belief). I’ve never met a Mormon who thinks of polygamous apostates as some analogy to Orthodox Jews, as especially pious people who are living our religion to the fullest in a way we can’t. No, to us they’re just nuts. Doctrinally, we know that polygamy is an abomination except when the Lord wants to raise a people up to himself. Well, we’re here, and we also believe that this is the last time that the Lord will need to establish his Church. So our teachings don’t point to a restoration of polygamy as they do, say, to a fuller expression of the law of consecration. (Is there where you disagree?)

    Polygamy, post-Resurrection: I see no reason that we have to expect all eternal marriages to involve only two people. Will Jacob finally get to ditch Leah for Rachel? I don’t think so.

  13. December 7, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Brenda, if I understand your question about whether we believe in polygamy, you’re not asking whether we currently practice polygamy; rather, you’re asking whether polygamy is included in our theology and doctrine regardless of the fact that it is not currently practiced. (Bound in with that are probably sub-questions like whether polygamy is a part of life in the hereafter, and whether God commanded and/or sanctioned polygamy as taught by Joseph Smith.) Right? If I haven’t restated the question quite right, please clarify.

    If “yes” or “no” were a full and generally accepted answer, somebody would have given it, with citations. Since there is no complete and simple answer that covers all the complexities, this seems like one of those occasions where we could take very small steps to determine what is known.

    We (at least I, and I believe the church generally) know that God commanded or sanctioned some men in some times and places to practice plural marriage – e.g., Abraham.

    We know that the Lord condemned some men – e.g., David and Solomon – for taking wives and concubines that the Lord had not given to them. The condemnation was not for polygamy itself, but for unauthorized, even criminal, taking of wives, as when David took Uriah’s wife Bathsheba.

    We know that [Book of Mormon prophet] Jacob condemned his listeners for their practice of polygamy – not because polygamy itself was condemned, but because it was authorized only when the Lord commanded it, in limited times and circumstances.

    We know that 19th century Mormon polygamy was not a willy-nilly grabbing of girls as our antagonists have portrayed it, but that there were definite rules – primarily, that the one man who held the keys of sealings (and plural marriages were always sealings, never multiple instances of civil marriage) authorized (or not) each individual plural marriage. That’s not to say that rules weren’t violated – I’m open to that possibility, recognizing human nature – but we can’t judge a people or a practice by the violations.

    We know that 19th century leaders repeatedly taught that plural marriage was essential to salvation. This is an “I think” rather than an “I know,” but I think they didn’t understand the “why” of polygamy much better than we do, and that they tried to fill in the “why” the way we all do. (Think of the attempts to rationalize the priesthood ban, for instance.) We do know that no prophet in our lifetime has taught that plural marriage is essential to salvation.

    We know that no prophet in our lifetime has authorized a plural marriage. (That one I suppose is a statement of faith, not something I could prove objectively, but, like Jonathan, I reject the idea of “deep, secret, and untaught doctrines” – and practices.)

    We know that while there has been no clear-cut repudiation of the doctrine of plural marriage, there has been a clear-cut cessation of the practice, restated and reinforced with every excommunication of a modern polygamist.

    We know that sealings of multiple spouses are routine occurrences in temples today, as long as no more than one man and one woman are living in mortality. We don’t know what that means for the life hereafter. We just do not know.

    This has stretched the bounds of Jonathan’s hospitality beyond reason, so I’ll end. Perhaps, Brenda, you could go on identifying the points of what we do and do not know in connection to polygamy, and arrive at a personally satisfactory answer to your question.

  14. Matt Evans
    December 7, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    DKL and Ardis,

    You’re arguing that polygamy was at one time believed to be necessary for exaltation, but for whom was it necessary? For the church, for those who were called to practice it, or for everyone? You seem to suggest it was necessary for everyone, but I don’t believe the 19th century members not in polygamous marriages believed their temple sealings weren’t exalting. (Incidentally, a belief in the universal necessity of polygamous sealings requires one to believe either that women will outnumber men more than 2 to 1, or that some men are ineligible for exaltation.)


    Yes, if you mean only that we’re unlikely to see polygamy again in mortality, then we agree. (Though your misquoting the passage in Jacob appears designed to restrict the purpose of polygamy. Jacob said God commands polygamy not to “raise a people,” as you wrote, but to raise seed unto me. It’s easier to imagine occasions when God would want more people than when he would want to raise a people.)

  15. Ardis Parshall
    December 7, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Matt Evans, I report only that some leaders taught that polygamy was necessary to salvation. I also stated my belief that such teachings were not necessarily correct, but were rationales of men trying to understand why they had been asked to practice plural marriage. Don’t ask me to explain somebody else’s faulty reasoning, and especially DON’T misrepresent me as “suggest[ing] it was necessary for everyone.”

  16. bbell
    December 7, 2006 at 3:22 pm


    Your number 13 is a great summary.

    Its interesting to note that there was usually 1-3 members of the Q12 who were not polygamists. Did they think they would be exalted? Probably so.

    Also I would like to know to satisfy my curiosity who amongst the Q12 was the last one (and what year) who thru death of the spouse or the Q12 member himself was the last to practice polygamy. JFS1 was in 1918 or so. BH Roberts was in the 1920’s etc

  17. Matt W.
    December 7, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Not to Quibble, but BH Roberts was a president of 70, not a Q12. It would be interesting to see who was the last surviving polygamist GA, at any rate, or even the last polygamist President of the Church. I know Grant had multiple wives, but am unclear if at once, since he dealt with death a lot.

  18. bbell
    December 7, 2006 at 3:52 pm


    Matt I know what BH Roberts status was. He came to mind because he was a Poly who died later. Grant is a relative of mine. His last poly wife died in 1908.

  19. Matt Evans
    December 7, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks Ardis, I wasn’t trying to put others’ words in your mouth. Which leaders taught that only those in plural marriages could be exalted?

  20. Ardis Parshall
    December 7, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Matt Evans, I’m not going to research a complete catalog of such teachings (see any fundamentalist website for more than you could possibly want), but as a sample, there is Brigham Young, 19 August 1866 (JD 11:268-269): “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.”

    If Brenda, or anyone like her, wishes to continue that part of the conversation, I may be able to participate. However, I don’t like being pushed into this situation where I either have to sound like a fundie by providing a laughably incomplete response to a hugely complex issue, or else spend more time than I care to in researching and writing about a question that interests me very little. This is my last contribution to this part of the discussion, Matt.

  21. Matt Evans
    December 7, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    Ardis, I was asking you as an historian, not an advocate, to provide examples of the teaching you mentioned. Your knowing and citing statements of early church leaders doesn’t make you a fundamentalist. This statement raises further questions but I’ll save them for another time.

  22. Greg Call
    December 7, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    Matt Evans:

    D&C 132:4: For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

    Our current interpretation of the “new and everlasting covenant” aside, in this context it was well understood by a generation of Saints to refer to plural marriage.

  23. Matt Evans
    December 7, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Greg, I’ve always understood that men were selectively called by their priesthood leaders to practice polygamy, and that’s why only a fraction of active 19th century Mormon men actually did practice polygamy.

    I don’t see how D&C 132 could have ever been read to require polygamy for exaltation. The promises in verses 15-20 speak of the sealing power between a man and a woman, so unless a man couldn’t be sealed to his first wife until he took a second wife, it seems like all of the blessings would vest on his first sealed marriage. The second half of the section speaks of Abraham and others being commanded to practice polygamy, and that’s how I’ve always read v4, which you cited above: those who reject the covenant after they’re commanded are in trouble.

    Of course this section could have been taught differently at the time, I just don’t see how it could have ever supported the “polygamy’s necessary for everyone” argument.

  24. Greg Call
    December 7, 2006 at 8:13 pm

    Matt, not to get too far afield, but I think that some may have been selectively called as you described, but many weren’t. Of course, it wasn’t “rolled out” systematically like a program would be now. People heard the teachings of Joseph and Brigham and John Taylor on the subject (like that quoted by Ardis above), and followed them, or not (judging by reading my own family histories, at least). I understand how to read section 132 to separate the sealing power from plural marriage; but I think one could, and many did, have a different interpretation. As for percentages, I believe the Encyclopedia of Mormonism estimates that 20-25 percent of Mormon adults were members of polygamous households.

  25. anon
    December 7, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    So with all the nativities surrounding us now, it occurs to me that polygamy/polyandry are actually a fundamental part of the Christmas story and thus could be construed as essential to the Christian faith (Mary was impregnated by God the Father, who is married to another woman/women; Mary is now sealed to Joseph, I assume?). Thoughts?

  26. Randolph Finder
    December 7, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    Heber.J.Grant was married in 1877, 1884 & 1884(following day) and his wives died in 1893, 1952 and 1908. (He died in 1945, so he was not married to two living women after 1908. He makes a nice transition figure in that respect. He had been a polygamist, but wasn’t one as prophet.

    As for others in the 20th century.
    The two of the three Apostles replaced at the April 1906 General Conference (Merrill (death Feb 1906) and John W. Taylor(Resignation April 1905)) wre both Polygamous at the time they left the mortal Apostleship.

    Abraham O. Woodruff took a second wife in 1900 and died in 1904.

    Rudger Judd Clawson is also definitely a candidate, married three times, served as PQ12 for most of HJG time as prophet and died in 1943. No idea when is wives died…

    May be a couple more.

  27. December 8, 2006 at 12:58 am

    So you’re saying that all the seminary teachers I had from 1978-1982–all of whom taught us that polygamy was required in the celestial kingdom–are NOT considered authoritative sources? Has anyone told CES about that?

  28. Brenda
    December 8, 2006 at 1:16 am

    Thank you all for sharing what you know or at least a few of your thoughts about the subject. Ardis, thank you especially for your lengthy response and clarifications of your response. You understood my question correctly.

    In the absence of a clear statement of belief from our leadership or teachings about the meaning of this historic experience, it is interesting to see how many different directions reasoning takes us as we each try to make sense of this practice that defies “modern sensibilities”.

    A handful of responses are represented:
    * We don’t practice it now. We don’t need to know why it was practiced then. We shouldn’t be asking why.
    * If it was a doctrine then, it must still be a doctrine in heaven, although not practiced on earth. God could possibly introduce it again in the future. Plural marriages will be honored in heaven.
    * God mandated it then, but we don’t know why. We don’t believe in it now. Or, do we?

    There’s one direction of reasoning that I’m sure some are thinking but don’t dare vocalize. I’m going to try. At least I’ll put it out there to get further input. Please don’t berate me for putting into words what many might be thinking and some (on other threads) have hinted at. Please just respond to the logic and reasoning and don’t implicate my faith. This will help me in developing my ideas around this topic.

    The Doctrine and Covenants is unambiguous about how to exercise authority and the negative potential of power:

    “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”

    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

    Interestingly, D&C 132 starts out with the following:

    “Thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines.”

    This tells me that Joseph Smith was at least praying about plural marriage. Was he asking for it? If so, how many times? We know what happened when Joseph couldn’t accept the first answers he received from God when he wanted to share the first 100-something pages of the BOM. He eventually received the answer he wanted and we lost a lot of scriptures!

    Here’s the hypocrisy of 132: Men are allowed to enter into a polygamous relationship ONLY if the first wife agrees. If she doesn’t agree, he is not allowed, no consequences to the first wife! However, in verses 51-55, Emma is compelled by force to concede to the plan:

    “And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.”

    Does anybody else see the hypocrisy? Where else in the scriptures is an individual targeted with threats to be destroyed? What was the individual doing to provoke this? Probably unspeakable things. It is hard for me to believe that God threatened to destroy Emma unless she allowed Joseph Smith to marry multiple wives. There is no precedent. This revelation communicated through Joseph Smith also defies the pattern and guidance on how the priesthood works.

    Intriguingly, look at the method that President Wilford Woodruff was commanded by God to use in order to communicate OD2 to the membership. It happened in the form of a question:

    “The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question . . . .”

    “The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church . . .” etc.

    “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for . . . any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. . . .” etc.

    Finally, Woodruff finishes with:
    “This is the question I lay before the Latter-day Saints. You have to judge for yourselves. I want you to answer it for yourselves. I shall not answer it; but I say to you that that is exactly the condition we as a people would have been in had we not taken the course we have.”

    Here’s the line of thinking:
    * Was Joseph Smith exercising unrighteous dominion?
    * Why would God mandate a practice that would place the restored Gospel at risk? The arguments for why the practice was mandated are shortsighted compared to the long term risks. The historic practice of polygamy continues to be a stumbling block for members and investigators.
    * In answer to Joseph Smith’s prayers, was he given a choice and chose polygamy? We’ll never know, but God doesn’t prevent prophets from making mistakes. There seems to be precedent for allowing prophets to go in a direction that they feel strongly about, even if the outcome is not good. Woodruff’s revelation is not unambiguous about the consequences of continuing the practice.

    Why is this line of thinking less logical or plausible compared to the many others?

  29. December 8, 2006 at 7:48 am

    Aw, shucks, Brenda. You had me going there. I only wish it had been in connection with one of my own posts instead of trespassing on a colleague’s space.

    Some friendly advice for the next time you go trolling: You need an incremental step between your initial “I don’t understand” bait and your “Joseph Smith was a false prophet” followup. It’s just too big a leap to go from the “I’m so confused and don’t know where to look” stage to a polished essay filled with quotations and well thought out transitions and the disingenuous “I’m sure everybody is thinking this so let me be the brave one to put it into words.”

    God will not be mocked. I don’t much enjoy it either.

  30. Brenda
    December 8, 2006 at 11:35 am

    I’m not suggesting that Joseph Smith was a false prophet. That logic denies the premise that the restored Gospel is based on: the first vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon, etc. It’s a big leap from an instance of unrighteous dominion to a false prophet. For lack of any definitive guidance, I’m just trying to make sense of the data that is presented. Honestly, I didn’t put these ideas together until I read 132 in greater detail, prompted from responses on this thread. There are some logical issues with 132 and the Official Declaration is compelling.

    Ardis, or anybody? Can you respond to the argument? Or is shame all you can come up with? Why isn’t the argument plausible? Please work with me. I don’t want to be shut out. I’m asking questions, not stating beliefs.

  31. Brenda
    December 8, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    After years of thought and prayer and a wrestles night (and morning) thinking about this, I finally received an answer! For the first time in my life, I finally feel peace about this topic, and I don’t say that lightly. I want to emphasize that I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and my answer strengthens my faith in this belief. I also received an answer to another tough question, which is amazing!

    Thank you all for your patience and even tolerance of me. I really do appreciate your participation in answering my questions. I couldn’t have received my answer without feeling free to pose the questions I did. Your thoughtful responses also guided me back to a more thorough review of the scriptures. One pattern that stands out: if you don’t ask the question, you probably won’t get an answer.

    Again, thank you all!

  32. Brenda
    December 9, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    On further study and thought, I’ve learned more about Joseph Smith that lends context to section 132. There are at least two patterns for how Joseph Smith operated. There are many examples that demonstrate that he was very deliberate and efficient in bringing to pass God’s work. There are also examples of work that Joseph Smith clearly struggled with.

    For example, the majority of the Book of Mormon was translated within a period of weeks and the translation process was very efficient. On the other hand, Joseph Smith spent years working through his translation of the Bible. I learned that he would mark up chapters within the Bible with heavy revisions. On later return to the same passages he might make alternate revisions. In at least one case he removed all his revisions altogether and noted that the passage was fine as is. He never reached a point of conclusion with this translation process. We only now have the translation notes after the RLDS church first published this work.

    Again, when Joseph Smith learned about the priesthood powers, he received and followed through with specific instructions to restore these powers to the earth. The process was orderly, straightforward, and deliberate.

    In contrast, Joseph Smith struggled with the doctrine of plural marriage. Section 132 was recorded in 1843; however, there is evidence that he received the revelation about a decade earlier. Within this time period, biographers report that Joseph Smith was conflicted. At some point in the mid-1830s he secretly married another woman. It is reported that when Emma learned about this wife she was angry and threw her out. Perhaps Joseph Smith should have been more forthcoming with Emma? The woman moved to a different state and remarried.

    There is evidence of at least one more plural marriage before the revelation was recorded in 1843. Joseph Smith eventually married at least 30 women, including ten women who were already married to other men. He didn’t appear to spend much time with these women or to take care of them temporally. They don’t appear to have been incorporated into the family of Emma and Joseph.

    The doctrine of polygamy was not publicly announced until 1852, after Joseph Smith’s death. Marriages were recorded in his journal in code and largely remained confidential. At times, Emma strongly opposed the practice of plural marriage, resulting in significant discord for the couple. In fact, Richard Lyman Bushman notes in his book, Rough Stone Rolling, that Hyram Smith proposed to Joseph: “writing the revelation would win over Emma” (pg 496). Joseph Smith subsequently recorded the revelation. It doesn’t appear that Emma was won over.

    The point here is that our expectations of prophets are extremely high. We don’t allow room for them to muddle through something or learn as they go. We expect that everything they do is God’s will, as he willed it. Even suggesting that a prophet might have made a mistake or overstepped their bounds is egregious.

    Here is the answer I received from this thread: Yes, Mormons believe in polygamy. Although we don’t currently practice it, we believe that it was commanded by God through Joseph Smith. Plural marriages resulting from this commandment will be honored in heaven. The idea that plural marriage might not have been doctrinal, as prescribed in section 132, is rejected.

    Any feedback on these thoughts is welcome. Additional resources that you might recommend for further study are also welcome.

  33. Mike
    December 13, 2006 at 8:44 am

    I join this discussion late. Sorry I don’t read this very often.

    Quite some time ago I published a long rant on this blog about what I think about polygamy and got slapped down. But as I talk to different people, I find a wide range of opinions about this subject. I am perhaps close to the extreme of the spectrum, but not alone. Far from it.

    Briefly I believe:
    1. Joseph Smith was a Prophet
    2. Joseph Smith was not perfect and made mistakes
    3. Polygamy one of them and was not of God.
    4. Current influences are more important than historical events

    What are we going to do about the current problem of 50,000 practicing polygamists who call themselves Mormon and are going to perpetually be asssociated with us? What if the government makes polygamist marriages legal again?

    Why is this group growing so fast? I have read that they grow so fast more by recruiting than internal reproduction from large families. Where are they most sucessful recruiting? Is it not among our more zealous mainstream Mormons? For these reasons, I believe that the current position so clearly articluated above is unstable and not a long term solution. “Stay the course” on polygamy has not worked for the last 60 years since the Short Creek raids went on national TV.

    The most damning aspect of polygamy is not a few irregularities in Nauvoo. It is not a quirky Utah Pioneer culture that got stamped out by the federal government. It is the damage that is going on right under our noses today.

    Continue to ignore polygamy and it will get worse.

  34. Mike
    December 13, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Much belated response to #16 above:

    Your question, ” who amongst the Q12 was the last one…. to practice polygamy” is a very interesting question. It brings up the forbidden? topic of post-manifesto polygamy. I am surprized that someone else in this high-octane group has not responded better to this question.

    The way I understand it, the 1890 Manifesto was not sincerely accepted by all in 1890 and it took many years to get all of the church leaders on board with it. In the words of George Q. Cannon, “the manifesto is a trick to beat the devil at his own game.” The initial hope was that if the church made polygamy officially illegal, the government would give Utah statehood. (True). Then the state controlled courts would no longer prosecute polygamists and the practice could safely come back out from underground. Which is exactly what is happening now, only about 100 years too late. A “Second Manifesto” was given by Joseph F. Smith in 1904 and two Apostles were dropped from the Quorum, John Taylor Jr. and Mattias Cowley, for complex reasons. Future plural marriages were supposed to result in excommunication and marriages between 1890 and 1904 were supposed to prevent a man from serving in any higher callings, officially. Except for some exceptions.

    Heber J. Grant was enigmatic and pivotal in the process whereby the church really began to put some teeth into the Manifesto and parethetically the Word of Wisdom and other things that make us distinctive today. I am closely related to but not a direct descendant of President Grant. According to family lore he had one legal wife, three wives he married before the 1890 Manifesto and 6 wives he married AFTER the Manifesto. In the late 1920s when he was the Prophet and the church got serious about enforcing polygamy he had to quietly put away his surviving secret younger wives. By the time of his death he was a monogamist, publicly and officially. I used to think this was a big family secret, but I have since read it somewhere, in Van Waggoner’s book or some other such source.

    The women silently bore this humiliation. However, some of these “Grant” children, contemporaries to my father, were less than excited to be the Prophets kids secretly but bastards publicly. President Grant was a highly- successful business man and there was a considerable amount of money involved in his estate and guess who got none of it. When the children of these put-away wives turned in their 4 generation family group sheets a few years later, they were rejected by the church as being inaccurate. An insult hard to bear. Eventually some of them visited President David O McKay and he acknowledged the accuracy of their geneology. But for the greater good of the church, keeping a good image to help the missionary work, etc. he requested that they not insist on making a public fuss over it, as a personal favor to him. President McKay was so kind and convincing that he kept most of these distant relatives of mine from leaving the church.

    But Heber J. Grant was not the last Apostle to practice polygamy. You have all forgotten the story of Richard R. Lyman. He took a polygamist wife in about 1925 as an Apostle and was sealed to her by President Grant himself secretly in the Logan temple. Elder Lyman attended school in Logan and was well known by some of my more distant family members who knew this. I ran across one of his descendants, a girl about my age while in college at USU who independently confirmed this story.

    It is a matter of public record that during WWII Elder Lyman was arrested while in bed with this second wife. He was dragged out of his house and off to jail wearing only his old wooly Pioneer style garments with his hair sticking in every direction. He and his second wife were both about 70 years old. A photograph of him looking worse than Warren Jeffs was in the morning papers for everyone to see. Officially, the story was that “the church” didn’t know and they excommunicated him immediately for adultery. He was the most recent Apostle to be excommunicated.

    But that is not the full story. First they didn’t cut off either one of the two wives because they supposedly didn’t know either! Yet these two families had Sunday dinner together once a month and later when the children married they had reunions together every summer. His two marriages were an open secret in Salt Lake. The real reason is much more sinister.

    During the later part of President Grant’s time as Prophet, two sort of mini-political parties developed within the Q12; although they probably agreed on 95% of the issues and were not that far apart. They were named after President Grant’s two strong and capable counselors. One was more conservative and known as the Clark men after J. Reuben Clark. The other was more progressive and known as the McKay men after David O. McKay. While David O. was young and very friendly and disarming and pleasant, the few progressives did not threaten the many conservatives, who generally had control. But with the deaths of some of the conservative Apostles it became increasing obvious that the time would come when David O. McKay would become the Prophet. By the time of the sacking of Richard Lyman, only the elderly George Richards stood between David O. McKay and the Mantle of the Prophet and he would die in about 1950 just before George Albert Smith, McKay’s immediate successor.

    George Albert Smith did not exercise much control over the rest of the leaders to put it mildly and his health was poor. He had a variety of physical problems and he was afflicted by severe depression. Elder Lyman was a reliable progressive ally of David O. McKay. Two younger conservative apostles, Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee followed Elder Lyman around for a couple of weeks and collected the data needed to make a good case against him in a court of law. Then they cooperated with then Police Chief J. Bracken Lee, a sometimes friend and sometime enemy of the Mormons, in orchestrating Lyman’s arrest and the public stunt associated with it. The ultra-right wing J. Bracken Lee eventually became Utah’s governor and he was extremely corrupt with mob ties and he was a few generations of apostasy removed from John D. Lee who was executed for the Mountain Meadows Massacre; therefore a distant cousin of straight-arrow school principle Harold B. Lee, the consumate Clark man.

    The arrest and excommunication of Elder Lyman sent a clear signal to the progressives at the highest levels of leadership that they had all better pull in their horns or they might meet a similar fate. Most of the 3rd generation of Lyman’s family quietly left the church and that included dozens of people. David O. McKay was thoroughly disgusted with the stunt and had every reason to do some serious house cleaning in 1951 when he became the Prophet. But he had such a forgiving nature and did not want another public stunt. Nothing much was done to punish anyone involved that I know of, except he brought fellow progressive Steven Richards into the First Presidency and demoted Clark to 2nd Counselor and largely excluded him form the major decisions, although Clark’s health was also beginning to fail.

    David O. McKay, in a final success in this story kept Elder Lyman from going over to the Fundamentalists and giving them much needed credibility. He was re-baptized during President McKay’s tenure as Prophet. Restoring him to his former position in the Q12 would have caused the story to unravel too much and probably not have brought very many of his descendents back into the church at that point. Interestingly, the two Apostles called to keep the progressive McKay men in check and fill the vacancies of Lyman and another I have forgotten were: Spencer Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson. So four of the Prophets that I remember well were involved in this event.

    Richard R. Lyman is my vote for the answer to the question posed above. Because post-Manifesto polygamy was secret, it is possible that other late plural marriages of Apostles existed. Elder Lyman clearly was married to two women at the same time and the plural marriage was contracted while he was an Apostle. The question is whether you believe his plural marriage was “authorized’ or not. He certainly believed it was, since President Grant performed the ceremony himself, but that event is not documented. And the same question applies to Warren Jeffs and all the other “Fundies” ranting around, of which marriages most of us consider to be completely “unauthorized.”

    Who believes the far-reaching tentacles of polygamy have little effect on more modern events in this church?

  35. December 13, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Mike, your account of Elder Lyman’s excommunication and restoration is sadly flawed, enough so that there is no reason (for me at least) to give any consideration to other bizarre parts of your version of history. Interesting, isn’t it, that the less documentation there is to support a theory, and the farther removed one is from the event (distant relatives, unnamed descendants), the more readily some are to believe the oddest things.

    As a quick test of the accuracy of a lesser portion of your theory, check (or any other database you trust) for the ancestry of John Doyle Lee, John Bracken Lee, and Harold Bingham Lee, and show me, if you can, evidence that any one of them was a cousin or descendant of any other of them. Those details are matters of public record. When you can’t get those right, why should anyone trust your “secret” history?.

    *shakes head and gets back to work*

  36. bbell
    December 13, 2006 at 5:31 pm


    We are related by marriage thru President Grant. Please email me at bobmelissabell @

  37. Matt W.
    December 13, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Brenda: I don’t disagree with you.

  38. manaen
    December 13, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    27 Alison, RE: So you’re saying that all the seminary teachers I had from 1978-1982–all of whom taught us that polygamy was required in the celestial kingdom–are NOT considered authoritative sources? Has anyone told CES about that?

    I suppose those teachers were sharing personal understandings. CES likely is aware of Melvin J Ballard’s comments (see first paragraph of p. 10 here).

    Those who are denied endless increase cannot be what God is, because that in connection with other things, makes him God. The eternity of the marriage covenant ought to be understood by Latter-day Saints clearly to be the sealing of at least one woman to one man for time and for all eternity. Then do not get confused on that point and imagine that it necessarily means more than one woman. It may be, certainly, but it does mean at least that one man and one woman are sealed together by the power of the holy priesthood and by the sealing approval of the Holy Ghost for time and for all eternity, and then that they keep their covenants, before they will be candidates
    for the highest degree of celestial glory, and unto them only of all these groups of our Father’s children is the promise made of endless or eternal increase.

    in speech on “The Three Degrees of Glory,” given 22 Sept, 1922 in the Ogden Tabernacle. I bought a copy from Deseret Book in the 1970’s.

  39. Brenda
    December 14, 2006 at 2:09 pm


    I appreciate your attention to this dialog. Given that you are a professional researcher well versed in our history and (obviously) having a great testimony of the restored Gospel, what guidance would you lend to somebody who is looking at the historical data and considering interpretations that differ from the orthodox?

    I acknowledge that the questions I communicated in post #28 are too strongly presented (lesson learned). On the other hand, when the only responses to inquiry are shame and accusation, this further adds to the frustration. Your responses indicate that you are frustrated as well. Please don’t assume that because a person is asking about or even proposing an uncomfortable conclusion that they do not also have a testimony of Christ and of our living prophets.

    Based on your many other contributions to T&S, I know that you are capable of lending more support around understanding our history than your last two responses to this thread indicate. I guess I’m challenging you to go where you’ve probably never had to go before. If somebody you love were inquiring, how would you help them?

    Please feel free to take time to think about this question. Don’t feel obligated to respond right away.

    If anybody else has experience in this area, your input is also highly valued. To be clear, I’m not asking for advice on how to get a testimony, or how to keep a testimony, or how to ignore uncomfortable parts of our history. I am asking for guidance on navigating the historical data and developing ideas around what one finds.

  40. Matt W.
    December 14, 2006 at 3:19 pm


    Personally, my own solution has always been to ask questions, do more research, and give my spiritual experiences and religious experience the benefit of the doubt. This does not work for everyone, but for me, it has worked very well, especially in the areas of Church History.

  41. Ardis Parshall
    December 14, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    Brenda (and Mike): My responses are not due to frustration, nor from being challenged to go somewhere I’ve never gone before. To the contrary, when you’ve been around the internet very long (I’ve had the same email address for more than 12 years), you get taken there too many times — “there” being (a) trolling and (b) conspiracy theories.

    Trolls and conspiracists — together with all iconoclasts who propose novel alternatives to the well established and documented standard narratives — have the burden of demonstrating first why the standard narrative is wrong, and then validating their alternate theories. Legitimate revisionists recognize and accept this burden. Don’t expect anyone to do your work for you.

    You can’t reason with trolls; you can only expose them. You can’t reason with conspiracists; you can only note a few obvious flaws to serve as warnings to readers who might not recognize the alternatives for what they are.

  42. bbell
    December 14, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    In response to Mike here is the Wikipedia entrance on Apostle Lyman

    Also from Quinn:

    “Richard R. Lyman became an Apostle in 1918; he was excommunicated in 1943. In 1925, Apostle Lyman entered into a mutual covenant of plural marriage with a woman who had been disfellowshipped in 1921 for her earlier plural marriage to a man from whom she had now separated. Ironically, his father, Francis M. Lyman, had investigated this woman’s post-Manifesto marriage.

    Richard R. Lyman became acquainted with her when he arranged for her restoration to full Church membership in 1922. Their marriage was a marriage of love. They saw themselves as soul-mates. He saw himself as unhappily married to his first wife who had no knowledge of this relationship.

    At their marriage in 1925, he was 55 Years old, and she was 53. And his first wife did not know. Apostle Lyman and his plural wife ware in their 70s when they were discovered and excommunicated, 18 years later. They did not finally end their nearly 30 year association until 2 years before Lyman was again baptized into the L.D.S. Church, on October 27, 1954”

  43. Ardis Parshall
    December 14, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    “Mutual covenant of plural marriage” means they shacked up. They had no marriage license, underwent no civil ceremony, sought no ecclesiastical sanction, had no community recognition, met none of the requirements for civil or ecclesiastical, or even common law, marriage. “Marriage of love,” “soul mate,” and “association” are euphemisms for the adultery for which Elder Lyman was excommunicated. The case was as straightforward — and sad — as you’d expect under those circumstances.

  44. manaen
    December 14, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    Would not a “mutual covenant of plural marriage” require that both wives who are to compose the plural marriage make the mutual covenant — or at least that both be aware of it???

  45. Brenda
    December 14, 2006 at 9:30 pm


    Thank you for responding to my question. I think I didn’t communicate clearly.

    By “go where you have probably never had to go before,” this is what I mean. If somebody you love were navigating the historical data and you trusted that they had a sincere heart, what guidance would you lend? I’m guessing that nobody close to you has questioned traditional interpretations so you might not have been challenged to respond in this context.

    Based on your last several responses, here is what I am led to believe and I am not convinced that this is accurate:

    * Somebody who questions traditional interpretations is not to be trusted.
    * If you have a true testimony of the restored Gospel, you will not question traditional interpretations.

    Here is another guess on my part. Perhaps you have ventured to help somebody and you had a very bad experience. I am truly sorry that I offended you so deeply. You are right. I should have posed some incremental questions between the questions that I initially posed on this topic and the questions that I later posed. At a minimum, this would have alerted me that my questions were heading in a direction that was offensive for some on the forum. Another lesson learned.

    Honestly, I have not drawn any conclusions around this topic. When I pray about the questions I ask, I receive positive encouragement to keep learning about our history. This brings peace to me. And it is also why I am asking for guidance from those who are more seasoned in studying our history.

    Thank you Matt W. for your response! That makes sense to me.

  46. Jonathan Green
    December 14, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Brenda, please take a break from this thread. If you’re patient, the topic will come up again in six weeks, maybe in six days. Some other blog is probably posting on it at this very moment. For now, though, your questions and your guesses about what Ardis thinks are not leading to the kind of productive discussion you or anyone else is seeking.

  47. Matt W.
    December 15, 2006 at 12:54 am

    Brenda: Jonathan knows what he is talking about on this one.

    :) out of the mouth of two or three…

  48. December 15, 2006 at 1:34 am

    44: Would not a “mutual covenant of plural marriage” require that both wives who are to compose the plural marriage make the mutual covenant — or at least that both be aware of it???

    manaen, Amy Brown Lyman had no awareness of this affair until it was publicly exposed. You can’t really apply any formal “requirements” to this arrangement, because it was solely between paramour and mistress, without the sanction of any authority or set of rules. This illustrates one of the problems with using Quinn as support for anything but the most neutral names and dates: he colors his interpretations for his personal agenda, the coloration getting deeper and deeper as time passes. What is the purpose of describing an illicit affair this way? To rationalize that consenting adults can do anything they want to if they rilly rilly love each other?

    Going back to Jonathan’s original post, the church in our day (and in Elder Lyman’s) gives/gave no complete exposition on the how’s and who’s and why’s of polygamy — the order then and now is “thou shalt not” and “thou shalt be excommunicated if thou doest.” That leaves us with much curiosity and limited explanation. And that wraps up this thread, so far as I’m concerned.

  49. manaen
    December 15, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    48 Ardis, that’s the point I tried to make: that this couldn’t be called a “mutual covenant of plural marriage” exactly because one of the wives involved (actually, the only one truly a wife) didn’t even know about this so-called mutual covenant. I was hoping to show the internal inconsistency of that euphemism.

  50. T&S Moderator
    December 18, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    Mike notes, as part of a longer comment that didn’t entirely fit the scope of this discussion, “Furthermore, you refer me to a source noted for its enormous errors; the family search website. […] This source you cite for me to refute myself suffers form the same flaws you cite in me….”

    Concerning Lyman, Mike notes, “I find it difficult to believe that an Apostle living in tight-knit Salt Lake in the 1920-1940’s could keep this kind of relationship a secret. Did the two women live together or apart? […] Heber J Grant was extremely shrewd and very little got past him. […] This secret marriage was an open secret that my relatives, rank and file members of no particular standing, most of whom lived in Cache valley, knew about. […] Ask anyone old enough to remember….”

    Standards in genealogy, retro polygamy, and other interesting issues will no doubt be addressed in the exciting discussions coming up right here at T&S in the next few weeks and months. For now, however, this thread is closed. Thank you for all your contributions.

Comments are closed.