Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Polygamy: Count Me as One Who Believes

An unrelated topic at T&S spun into an argument about polygamy. Quite a bit of vitriol was spit out at the concept of polygamy and those women who defend it. Although comments were closed shortly thereafter, and despite the probability of being attacked therefore, I still feel a need to testify to the divine origin of polygamy. Polygamy is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and confusing topics in the Gospel. It is also, unfortunately, one that many people get hung up on. The first disclaimer: This post contains my own feelings and opinions and understanding, and is not the doctrine of the Church. As such, I could be completely off-base. For Church doctrine, please visit: lds.org.

As another disclaimer, I will say that I am not a polygamist, nor do I have any expectation of becoming one in this life. I do not agree with the current practice of polygamy, and believe that if I were to live that law right now, I would sin. I am not affiliated with any religion or group that practices polygamy, nor do I even know or discourse with those who are. I believe in the eternal law of polygamy, not in the manner in which it is currently practiced.

Also as a preface, I will say that there were many problems with the practice of polygamy in the past history of the Church. Lines were not cleanly drawn, and the practice of polygamy then was probably not perfectly done. Like many of the doctrines of the Church (baptism for the dead being an obvious example), polygamy had its moments of misunderstanding and imperfect practice. The Lord in His infinite wisdom does not seem to concern himself with the foibles and honest mistakes of those who follow him in this matter as He does not in others, and I do not see fit to do other than follow His lead.

Certain aspects of my testimony are sacred, and I will not share them here, in a public forum. Discussion of such things is better suited to a face-to-face conversation, where the Spirit can attend and testify. Like so many other spiritual things, polygamy cannot be understood out of the context of the Spirit. I don't make a big deal about my testimony regarding polygamy, because it really doesn't apply to our current lives on this earth. But I do want to take the chance now to stand up and say that polygamy is neither evil nor degrading. Rather, it is uplifting and spiritual despite the difficulties inherent in living it.

Unlike many in and out of the Church, I never felt that the doctrine of polygamy was hidden from me. Although I did not learn about it until later in my childhood, I can't really point to a specific time I did learn of it. I still have yet to know everything about polygamy, though I know a good deal more than some. Like with anything else in the Church, upon learning of this principle, I did as I was taught to do: while researching the question, I asked God continually whether or not it was a true and eternal principle.

My answer did not come all at once, in a blinding flash of Spiritual enlightenment. Rather, it came gradually as I gradually learned the pieces of the doctrine. Reading the historical context brought understanding. Examining individual circumstances brought empathy for those who were presented this choice. I often asked myself how I would choose, were I presented with the same choice.

Eventually, I came to realize both before and after my actual marriage that I was prepared to live this principle, should I be asked to do so. Interestingly, it was always with the feeling of how I would accept my husband's theoretical subsequent wives. My conviction grew under no illusions of the difficulty of actually following it. Would it hurt if the Lord asked me to give up the exclusivity of my marriage with my husband? Undoubtedly. Would I be willing to do it? Without question.

Along with my conviction and my reading of history also grew the understanding that, although this is an eternal principle, it is not necessarily a universal one. Not every man would necessarily be asked or required to marry more than one wife. Not every woman would be asked to sacrifice the exclusivity of her relationship with her husband. But I knew that should I be one, I could do so with peace in my heart. It was—and is—an empowering realization.

It wasn't until later that I began to understand some small part of the beauty and the power of this principle. As I have come to face the possibility that I will not be in an eternal relationship while on this earth, I have come to see what a mercy it is to know that my exaltation will not be dependent on anything but my own, personal worthiness. There is plenty of opportunity to form such a bond in eternity, should I not be so blessed while here.

Exaltation is impossible for anyone alone. Not only is it necessary for Christ to redeem us, it is necessary that we be welded to another. We are not whole, alone. This does not mean our agency will ever be removed. We will never be forced to marry someone we do not choose to marry. Like any other law of heaven, we will only need follow those laws we choose to follow, and we will be blessed according to those laws we follow. We will also not be forced to allow our husband to marry another against our will. It will be discerned by God according to His laws and covenants, and His counsel and judgments will be true, right and comfortable for each of his children.

Despite the many voices raised against polygamy, I know it is a true and living principle, although I may not entirely understand it. It is a principle of mercy, compassion and Godly love. I recognize that not all will understand polygamy as I do, but this I have come to know: that it is of God, and as such, it is glorious and beautiful.


  1. ...polygamy is neither evil nor degrading. Rather, it is uplifting and spiritual despite the difficulties inherent in living it.

    I agree, Silver Rain, that it can be. I agreed with many things in this post. I don't think very many of us ARE prepared to live this principle, should we be asked to do so. Thanks for these thoughts. I had to laugh, though, at all the disclaimers you made before you really got into it!! lol.

  2. I laughed at that, too, but what can I say? One must be careful to be as clear as possible when discussing these things, particularly right now.

  3. I cringe to even post this comment, because I have had so many shocked at my attitude in the past - I agree with you.

  4. I LOVE the concept of communal sealing that seems to lie at the heart of what Joseph envisioned. I'm not sure even he "got it" at first, and I don't think polygamy as it came to be practiced was the ideal, but I can't imagine our theology being remotely as powerful as I see it being without the basic, fundamental, dogma-shattering concept of eternal marriage and sealing epitomized by polygamy and its variations in Joseph's day.

    (59 word sentence. I really need to work on that.)

    Short version: Amen, SR.

  5. SR, I was looking through my journal from last year, and I found the following thought:

    "It seems to me, in reading the materials of the time, that Joseph was almost obsessed with the idea of the universal sealing of his people into a distinct community and people of God. The dynastic sealings and adoptions are particularly fascinating in this regard. Also, it's hard to imagine anything else that would have gotten the early saints driven into their own Promised Land and allowed them to solidify into their own "ethnic group" for so long.

    The following is an over-simplification, but it appears to me that the more heavenly visionary Joseph (the seer) was fixated on the eternal teaching of a universally sealed family of God (the community of Christ), while the more earthly visionary Brigham (the organizer) was fixated on building a new House of Israel (the kingdom of God) through obvious blood connections. Polygamy fits well into both of those visions, and by the end of the 19th Century I think it had solidified both visions in a very real way.

    Assuming from the start that polygamy in and of itself is a terrible thing makes it hard to justify in any way; removing that assumption makes it much easier - even if it still is easy to criticize certain aspects or results. I choose not to make that assumption. So, I simply don't classify it as a mistake. I don't think the implementation was handled very well in many ways, and I certainly don't think Joseph understood it perfectly until the last few years of his life (if then), but I don't see it as a mistake.

    I also realize I am working from the soapbox of hindsight, so I try to keep 1 Corinthians 13 in mind and take as charitable a view as possible."

  6. SilverRain,
    I'm not sure how got to the point that a faithful modern member of the Church has to practically apologize for professing a belief in what seems to me one of the very most core beliefs of Joseph Smith. I suppose that there are reasons that the Church avoids and even distances itself from its polygamous past, but I wish is wasn't that way. We have nothing to be ashamed of and I believe you cannot seriously approach an understanding of Joseph Smith or the early Saints without grappling with the plural marriage.

  7. Thanks so much for so clearly expressing my views. I don't usually enter discussions on the subject, because I haven't known how to combat all the negative comments in an articulate way. Now I can just say I agree 100% with SilverRain's take on polygamy and link back to this post!

  8. Silver Rain, Thanks for your great post. You remind us all that while we don't understand everything, we should never be ashamed of those things which we know to be of God.

  9. You know, I don't have a problem with polygamy either. Partially because my dad has been married twice. His first wife when she was very young. This law of allowing more than one wife--at least in the eternities allows for my father to be bound to two women he loves deeply. Somehow that seems less cruel than making him choose.

  10. SR, I seemed to miss why you consider polygamy to be a beautiful principle. Personally, I suppose I can accept polygamy if it is the Lord's will, but I'm also male, and it would certainly be even more difficult for me if I were female. You seem to see polygamy as being good, if not actually desirable? Why?

    It seems to me that if one has a very close relationship with one's spouse, polygamy would be immensely difficult. Many marriages aren't as intimate, and I'd guess they'd have less trouble with it.

  11. Martin—For several reasons.

    1) I truly believe that we cannot be saved alone. Marriage is essential to exaltation. Polygamy provides plenty of opportunity for that essential ordinance.

    2) Polygamy utilizes the divine quality of love and compassion. A person who is willing to allow the one they love to build a similar relationship with another person so that other person may enjoy the blessing they enjoy has truly mastered selflessness.

    3) and most importantly, because I have been taught by the Spirit that it is a beautiful concept.

    Doubtless, those with less of a close relationship with their spouses would have an easier time of it, but I don't really think it's about "easier" or about having a more superficial relationship. I think it is about wanting the blessings of exaltation for all who are worthy, and being willing to put your money where your mouth is.

  12. I know that God loveth His children. Nevertheless, I do not know all things.

    This has allowed me to have a place on my shelf for things I do not yet understand.

  13. One thing that you did not mention was that Joseph was sealed to a few women who were sealed to other men. I for one, in my opinion only, think that this practice of women being sealed to a man of a "higher order" (as Brigham Young discreetly taught) might exist in the highest kingdoms of the Celestial Kingdom. That is because I don't think God would give Joseph a commandment that wasn't part of a Celestial law that already exists in God's law. So I don't think that someone having multiple eternal companions is exclusively for men. I think that maybe this polyandrous type of law might exist in the CK also. Pure speculation on my part, I know.

    Thanks for your thoughts.



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