Polygamy in the Restoration
Brief Explanation of the common concern:
Many people are curious about the church's History with the Doctrine of Plural Marriages (Polygamy) Some people are unsure if the church continues to practice this doctrine and others just find the practice strange and want justification for the practice.
Addressing the Doctrine:
One of the things that is essential to addressing the concerns of most people is having a thorough knowledge of the doctrine and the historical setting. If you become familiar with the purpose of the doctrine, how it was revealed, practised and fell out of practice, you can confidently address this doctrine, even if it is not appropriate to share all you know about the subject.
An explanation of the history of Polygamy in the Latter-day church:
On March 7th 1831 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon began work on an inspired translation of the Holy Bible, they sought to correct errors in the text perpetuated by those who had copied the text in error and also to correct grievous errors in the transmission of the text by modern translators. As always, the method of “translation” Joseph Smith used was peculiar to our traditional understanding of the sense of the word translate. Joseph sought revelation from God to “restore” the text to it's form in antiquity. While Joseph and Sidney endeavored to provide an inspired “translation” of the text, an influx of revelation ensued in response to the many new questions they had while carefully attempting to restore the biblical message. During this process, they began to have questions, in particular questions regarding the many passages that refer to Plural Marriage in the Old testament.
This period of translation and the questions it inspired marked the inception of the restoration of the doctrine of Plural Marriage. Joseph F. Smith reflected on the introduction of the doctrine of Plural Marriage and said in substance that Joseph Smith was well aware of the social pressures that this doctrine would exert on the church. According to Joseph F. Smith, this doctrine was not practised until Joseph Smith was commanded by an angel with a drawn sword to comply with the will of the Lord concerning the his church. William W. Phelps recalled an experience in July of 1831 while planning to take the Gospel to the Native Americans where Joseph Smith encouraged him to begin practising this principle with some of the Native Americans he was called to preach among. Joseph Smith himself took as many as 32 wives by the time he was slain in 1844. Many of the early saints took plural wives between 1831-1910. At first, there was resistance with in the church to adopt this practice, plural marriage proved to be a trial of their faithfulness.
There were many benefits generated by living plural marriage as well as many hardships. One of the most fruitful blessings plural marriages produced was a rapid surge in birth rate, this helped the fledgling church grow quickly and sustained the church for many years. Even today, many trace their roots back generations to this fertile period of internal growth. The saints continued to shift their lives from place to place looking to find somewhere they could receive unbridled religious freedom. After the death of Joseph Smith and some confusion along the way, Brigham Young reluctantly assumed his rightful mantle as President of the Church on December 27th 1847. The saints were eventually lead out west under his leadership and the practice of plural marriages continued during the length of his tenure,although this practice thwarted his efforts to legitimize Utah(Than called Deseret) as a state in the United States. In August of 1877 Brigham Young passed away and John Taylor stood as the one approved of the Lord to guide the church. As the mantle of prophet fell on President Taylor, he took a more openly defiant stance with the government on plural marriage and encouraged the saints to practice it and to disregard outside opinions on the doctrine. As Wilford Woodruff succeeded John Taylor he stood behind the principle of plural marriage.
The initial paradigm shift in the practice of plural marriage seemed to be multifaceted, as Utah felt the financial constraint of growth with out the assistance of the government of the United States and the saints also faced Anti-Polygamy legislature, something needed to give. The Edmonds act of 1882 made polygamy a Felony offence, the 1887 Edmonds-Tucker act made the penalties of living Plural Marriage more severe and as a result, the church lost their incorporation temporarily and sought to seize the churches assets . It also barred the church from financially assisting the immigration of Saints from foreign countries who were practising plural marriage. This legislative pressure escalated the severity of the situation as a whole. In 1890 President Woodruff issued the “Manifesto” which is found today at the end of the Doctrine & Covenants and appears as “Official Declaration 1” This document is peculiar in nature given the absence of the signatures of the other 2 members of the First Presidency. (Joseph F. Smith & George Q. Cannon) In substance, a careful examination of the document calls into question who the audience was supposed to be. All the document really says is that there had been no new plural marriages issued for a year. The issuance of the Manifesto put Utah in a position to be accepted as a state and Utah became a state in January of 1896. By 1903 the church crossed new frontiers when Reed Smoot was elected to fill the Senate seat by the Utah legislature. Reed Smoot was not only a Mormon, he was an Apostle. Finally it seemed that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel,however by 1904 it was becoming clearer that light at the end of the tunnel might be attached to a train that was on a collision course. His appointment was contested immediately and this begun a bitter four year battle to determine whether he was eligible to serve. Only a few years earlier B.H. Roberts had been elected in 1898 to the House of Representatives, but denied his seat on the basis of his current practice of plural marriage. Smoot however, was not a polygamist. The Smoot congressional hearings brought the issue of Polygamy to a head. The doctrine and practices of the church were called into intensive scrutiny, Joseph F. Smith was called to testify. Shortly after his testimony in congress, he issued the “Second Manifesto” on April 6th 1904. Prior to this manifesto, there were no penalties attached to practising plural marriage given by the church. This manifesto attached the penalty of Excommunication to any who insisted on taking new wives after this manifesto. A new chapter in the policy of the church developed out of this chain of events and by 1911 the church published the first handbook of instructions which went a long way to clearly defining the policy of the church.
In conclusion, in many instances inspiration for church leaders has been gradual and doctrinal and policy changes often take many years to solidify. The way the Lord reveals his will to his prophet is not always in a clear declaration of policy, many times the Lord provides subtle revelation over a long period of time. One thing is clear, the Lord has permitted only one man at a time on earth to hold the keys to the sealing power of marriages. There has never at any time been an ordinance of Plural Marriage. Just as the practice stands today Celestial marriages can only be performed one at a time with in the bounds of a temple. The Prophet has has the “keys” to solemnize these unions according to his pleasure. When Joseph F. Smith turned the key in 1904, the authorization to seal plural families to living participants ceased.
As the doors seemed to be closed for good to those eager to take new plural wives, new off shoot groups began to form claiming right to the Priesthood and trying to convince others to continue to practice plural marriage in defiance of the now clearly defined church policy. As these apostate groups sought to lead the saints astray, the attitude of the saints and its leaders toward the doctrine of plural marriage began to shift. Possibly in an effort to distance themselves from these splinter groups, many of the saints themselves began to actively oppose plural marriage.
Key Dates of Plural Marriage in the Restoration:
March 7th 1831 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon begin their Inspired translation of the Bible.
July 17th 1831 Joseph Smith receives inspiration regarding the missionary work with the Native Americans and encourages W. W. Phelps to take plural wives.
1832 Joseph Smith is bound by commandment to practice Plural Marriage.
July 12th 1843 Doctrine & Covenants 132 is recorded
December 27th 1847 Brigham Young becomes President of the Church
March 23rd 1882 Edmonds Act makes Polygamy a felony in the state of Utah
1887 Edmonds-Tucker Act unincorporated the LDS Church
October 6th 1890 Wilford Woodruff Issues Manifesto
January 4th 1896 Utah Becomes a state
January 1903 Reed Smoot Elected by Utah Legislature as U.S. Senator
January 16th 1904 Reed Smoot Congressional Hearings Begin
April 6th 1904 Joseph F. Smith Issues a second Manifesto
February 20th 1907 Reed Smoot Congressional Hearings End
Does the Bible condemn Polygamy?
There is no single statement in all of the Bible that condemns Plural Marriage. In fact, there are several instances which the Law of Moses commands the practice. One such case is Levirate marriage, in which case if a man dies with out giving his wife a child, his brother is obligated to take his brothers wife in addition to his own wife and build up his brothers house. The failure to comply would result in loosing footing in Israel. (Deut 25:5-10)
People practicing Polygamy in the Bible:
Lamech had 2 wives (Genesis 4:19), Esau 3 wives (Genesis 26:34), Jacob 2 (Genesis 31:17), Moses (Exodus 21:10,Deuteronomy 21:15),Ashur 2, Gideon many(Judges 8:30), Elkanah 2, David many, Solomon had 700 wives of royal birth, Rehaboam 3, and Abijah 14. Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives. Job had at least 4 wives (Job 42:9),Abraham had many(Genesis 16:1-4,Genesis 25:6)
Statements by early church Fathers on the subject of polygamy:
Tertullian seems to take the stance that Polygamy is at times commanded by God for the purpose of bringing forth children under the covenant.
"As I think, moreover, each pronouncement and arrangement is (the act) of one and the same God; who did then indeed, in the beginning, send forth a sowing of the race by an indulgent laxity granted to the reins of connubial alliances, until the world should be replenished, until the material of the new discipline should attain to forwardness: now, however, at the extreme boundaries of the times, has checked (the command) which He had sent out, and recalled the indulgence which He had granted; not without a reasonable ground for the extension (of that indulgence) in the beginning, and the limitation of it in the end" Tertullian, “Exhortation to Chastity” in 6 Ante-Nicene Fathers. (Compare Jacob 2:30)
Augustine further vindicates the practice going so far as to state that the primary source of contention on this practice is contingent on social structure.
"Again, Jacob the son of Isaac is charged with having committed a great crime because he had four wives. But here there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now, because it is no longer the custom. There are sins against nature, and sins against custom, and sins against the laws. In which, then, of these senses did Jacob sin in having a plurality of wives? As regards nature, he used the women not for sensual gratification, but for the procreation of children. For custom, this was the common practice at that time in those countries. And for the laws, no prohibition existed. The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the [secular] laws forbid it."