Official LDS Essay on Plural Marriage in the LDS Church, Annotated
The following essay is the official LDS released essay entitled "Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." It was released by the church to help dispel myths about common public beliefs about polygamy in the Utah period, especially after Joseph Smith's death. In the below essay, all text in black is the unedited essay from the church essay, with my comments in blue. The essay below can be found on the LDS website here.
One point I want to make ahead of the essay is to note that while the church often remarks that prophets are 'imperfect men' when they were engaging in activities that are now deemed to be sinful,their own writings tell us to "Follow the Prophet" regardless of whether or not you believe it to be moral or acceptable. Prophet Benson released the fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet in 1981 to make it clear that "The prophet will never lead the Church astray." This is very important moving forward, as the LDS church engaged in practices that are now disavowed and very difficult to comprehend. The entire church rises and falls based on the legitimacy of Joseph Smith's revelations both condemning and then commanding polygamy, and this essay highlights an area where Joseph Smith and the following prophets introduced a practice that appears to be indefensible, with reasons that are very contradictory which will be detailed below.
This essay with notes is not nearly as long as our Kirtland and Nauvoo annotated essay, because it is so thoroughly noted in that essay both how wrong and misused the practice was by Joseph Smith. We encourage any readers here to read the Kirtland/Nauvoo annotated essay before this one, as this essay will mostly add-on to the information presented in that one. Most of the information in the essay is new to many members, and our additional notes are new to almost all members. It is important to truly get a full picture of Joseph Smith and polygamy in order to understand just how different it is from the current church narrative. As prominent LDS historian Richard Bushman noted, "I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that’s what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change."
As with all of our material, please email us at email@example.com if you have any issues with our comments or suggestions to add. And without further adieu...
Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Latter-day Saints believe that the marriage of one man and one woman is the Lord’s standing law of marriage. (This first sentence of the essay is already being dishonest. Men are still allowed to be sealed to more than one woman, and the current prophet of the church is currently sealed to two women for eternity. The first sentence is also a knock on gay marriage, in not allowing the possibility of same sex marriages while defending the practice of polygamy.) In biblical times, the Lord commanded some to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.1 (This footnote refers to D&C 132:34-39, which states that God commanded Abraham to sleep with Hagar, his wife’s handmaiden. But according to the Bible it was Abraham’s wife Sara, not God, who told Abraham to take her handmaiden so that Abraham would be able to father children.( Genesis 16:1-3 (KJV). Nowhere in the Bible are men commanded by God to take plural wives. The Book of Mormon author Jacob strongly condemned polygamy, and specifically David’s and Solomon’s practice, which Jacob characterized as an “abomination” before God. (Jacob 2:24). But Jacob did allow a loophole: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed to me, I will command my people, otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”(Jacob 2:30). The Bible is very clear on some aspects of plural marriage, so we must be very careful about using the Bible as a justification for polygamy because it requires that we pick and choose only the specific verses that suit our needs. For example, Leviticus 18 forbids marrying a mother and her daughter, and marrying sisters which is important because as we will see, Joseph Smith and other early leaders did both of these things. (Campbell & Campbell, 1978, Utah Historical Quarterly, V 46, N. 1 ; Daynes, 2001, More Wives Than One, p 70) By revelation, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to institute the practice of plural marriage among Church members in the early 1840s. For more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints under the direction of the Church President.2 (Joseph Smith did not note this revelation until a decade after he was already practicing polygamy, which began with Fanny Alger and led to the excommunication of Oliver Cowdery as he called it an affair.)
Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes in instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord].”3 (Joseph Smith, of course, has no known kids from polygamy but was married to at least 33 wives and had sex with at least 1/3 of them. D&C 132 also states that polygamy should only be entered into with virgins, yet Joseph Smith married 11 women that were already married to other men, some of whom he sent on missions before marrying their wives while gone. The point here is that even with this one small quote from the Book of Mormon to allow this, Joseph Smith broke every one of the rules of polygamy which makes us question how credible the commandment could have been.)
Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes. (This is, of course, what happens when men take on many wives and have sexual relations with them. However, women in polygamous marriages actually had fewer children than those in traditional marriage. In fact, "The research also revealed that while polygamous men had dozens of children, the practice of having multiple wives (and thus sexual partners) had the opposite effect on women: For every wife added to the fold, the average number of children per wife dropped by one. “The more wives a woman’s husband has, the fewer children she is going to have personally,” study author Michael Wade, a biologist at Indiana University Bloomington, told LiveScience. “That’s interesting, and evolutionary biologists would say then that polygamy is good for males and maybe not so good for females.”" (Pappas, Live Science Contributor | February 28, 2011) It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in many ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,” covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition.4
This paints a really happy and clean picture of polygamy, but of course as the Kirtland/Nauvoo essay and this one show, it is anything but. The footnote here is to an unpublished article, so it is impossible to know exactly what they are trying to say, but saying 'ethnic intermarriages' implies that the church welcomed those who had black or other skin colors into mixed-ethnicity marriage. Brigham Young on interracial marriages: If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. (Journal of Discourses, v. 10, p. 110). The composition of Mormons between 1850-1890 was over 99% white. (Perlich 2002) What they almost certainly mean is that the intermarriages were with those from Europe who arrived without knowing the church was fully into polygamy, and then were married into the house of a male member of the church. This paragraph also rallies Mormons around the idea that it built community because everyone around them thought polygamy was an abomination, which is true that those ideas can solidify loyalty and belief to a cause, but that can be said of the FLDS and their practice of polygamy today.
With regards to diminishing inequality of wealth, according to the source cited by the essay, this effect only applies when per-capita wealth is measured within families, not per-capita of the population at large. Since polygamous families are larger than monogamous ones, the per-capita wealth within a family is more evenly distributed. In Utah as a whole, however, the distribution of wealth was very unequal. (Daynes 2001, p. 133).
On average, church leaders were 2-3 times more wealthy than the average member. (Daynes, p 130--131) and the top ten members were eleven times more wealthy. (p 128) This is in large part why leaders took more wives than the average member - they could both afford to care for the polygamous wives, and also could attract them with their positions in the church.
The author of the study further issues this clarification which goes against the essay that cites him: “To redistribute the wealth in the the territory when Utah was among the poorest areas gave no one opulence; for the most part, it simply mitigated the worst poverty and shared the burden of struggling for a living in a semiarid land.” (p. 135)
The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church
Polygamy had been permitted for millennia in many cultures and religions, but, with few exceptions, it was rejected in Western cultures. In Joseph Smith’s time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States.
The revelation on plural marriage, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, emerged partly from Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament in 1831. Latter-day Saints understood that they were living in the latter days, in what the revelations called the “dispensation of the fulness of times.”5 Ancient principles—such as prophets, priesthood, and temples—would be restored to the earth. Plural marriage, practiced by ancient patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, was one of those ancient principles.6 (I hate copying from what we just said above, but this paragraph once again implies that the Bible commands polygamy which it never does. Joseph Smith "inquired" about polygamy, which makes one wonder why after the Bible constantly calls it an abomination, he would then go and inquire of the Lord why he doesn't get more women but those in the Bible did. Since this paragraph repeats the earlier claim, we will do so here as well: This footnote refers to D&C 132:34-39, which states that God commanded Abraham to sleep with Hagar, his wife’s handmaiden. But according to the Bible it was Abraham’s wife Sara, not God, who told Abraham to take her handmaiden so that Abraham would be able to father children.( Genesis 16:1-3 (KJV). Nowhere in the Bible are men commanded by God to take plural wives. The Book of Mormon author Jacob strongly condemned polygamy, and specifically David’s and Solomon’s practice, which Jacob characterized as an “abomination” before God. (Jacob 2:24). But Jacob did allow a loophole: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed to me, I will command my people, otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”(Jacob 2:30). The Bible is very clear on some aspects of plural marriage, so we must be very careful about using the Bible as a justification for polygamy because it requires that we pick and choose only the specific verses that suit our needs. For example, Leviticus 18 forbids marrying a mother and her daughter, and marrying sisters which is important because as we will see, Joseph Smith and other early leaders did both of these things. (Campbell & Campbell, 1978, Utah Historical Quarterly, V 46, N. 1 ; Daynes, 2001, More Wives Than One, p 70)
The same revelation that taught of plural marriage was embedded within a revelation about eternal marriage—the teaching that marriage could last beyond death. Monogamous and plural marriages performed by priesthood power could seal loved ones to each other for eternity, on condition of righteousness.7 (What is interesting is that sealings did not begin until 1841 while Joseph Smith was already practicing polygamy years earlier, which begs the question of why the revelation was not recorded until 1843 with different doctrines that were clearly implemented at different times. Again, the most obvious conclusion is that Joseph Smith needed to write down revelation to assert credibility to practices that he could not longer keep secret from his members and the public.)
The revelation on marriage stated general principles; it did not explain how to implement plural marriage in all its particulars. In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith married additional wives and authorized other Latter-day Saints to practice plural marriage. The practice was introduced carefully and incrementally, and participants vowed to keep their participation confidential, anticipating a time when husbands and wives could acknowledge one another publicly. (Again we're going to borrow from our Kirtland and Nauvoo essay here as well, because the implication that God was not clear in His instructions regarding polygamy is deceptive as best: While the essay wants to set the table that the polygamy revelation was unclear, it does so against the revelations they use to justify it. There is a very specific polygamy revelation that states, “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” ( D&C 132:8). That same section begins the revelation about polygamy by saying: “Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you,” which is then followed by a very clear and specific set of instructions.
And why would God not give instructions for such an important, difficult and controversial commandment, considering that the D&C is full of very specific instructions about much more insignificant things like mission callings, the buying and selling of property, exact amounts that specific people should invest in the Nauvoo House, etc. But this statement appears to be dishonest because God actually did give exact instructions to Joseph. The problem is that Joseph didn’t follow them. The actual words in D&C 132 are very clear on how polygamy was to be practiced. First, D&C 132 states that Joseph was to marry only virgins (verses 61-62), but this essay later admits that many of Joseph’s wives were simultaneously married to other men and definitely not virgins. It also specifies that he should obtain the consent of his first wife (verse 61), but quickly introduces the loophole (verse 65) that if the first wife does not accept polygamy, Joseph could take virgin brides without her consent. It is very important to note that Joseph had many wives long before he even revealed the idea of polygamy to Emma, so he ignored the very clear process of this part of the revelation as well. D&C 132 also explicitly declares that if she stands in the way, Emma will be “destroyed.” And if that’s not enough, according to church apologists, in addition to these very specific instructions, God revealed to Joseph the very words for the plural marriage ceremony. (Brian Hales, Bio of Sarah Ann Whitney, www.josephsmithspolygamy.com, citing an unpublished revelation.) Which leaves the question of why the essay would declare that God did not give the particulars on polygamy when, in fact, the instructions were very clear but not followed.)
Plural Marriage and Families in 19th-Century Utah
Between 1852 and 1890, Latter-day Saints openly practiced plural marriage. Most plural families lived in Utah. Women and men who lived within plural marriage attested to challenges and difficulties but also to the love and joy they found within their families. They believed it was a commandment of God at that time and that obedience would bring great blessings to them and their posterity. Church leaders taught that participants in plural marriages should seek to develop a generous spirit of unselfishness and the pure love of Christ for everyone involved. (Many women noted hardship and difficulties with polygamy, and LDS member Todd Compton's book In Sacred Lonliness is a geat resource to see just hot difficult it was to see their husbands take on additional wives or to be entered into a polygamous marriage only because of the promise of exaltation by Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. While many of them did talk publicly about the blessings of polygamy, it is worth noting that, again, they were told their exaltation depended on living as a faithful wife in a polygamous marriage. This is the same way that women in LDS breakoff sects talk today, but we do not celebrate those feelings as being from God.)
Although some leaders had large polygamous families, two-thirds of polygamist men had only two wives at a time. Church leaders recognized that plural marriages could be particularly difficult for women. Divorce was therefore available to women who were unhappy in their marriages; remarriage was also readily available. Women sometimes married at young ages in the first decade of Utah settlement, which was typical of women living in frontier areas at the time. At its peak in 1857, perhaps one half of all Utah Latter-day Saints experienced plural marriage as a husband, wife, or child. The percentage of those involved in plural marriage steadily declined over the next three decades.
During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, not all Latter-day Saints were expected to live the principle, though all were expected to accept it as a revelation from God. (Brigham Young once said: It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in 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... 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. (Journal of Discourses 11:268-269)
Apologists argue that Brigham Young is not saying that you have to enter into polygamy to become Gods, but just to have faith in it as a commandment. I would argue that the quote is pretty clear that you have to at least have faith in it to enter the Celestial Kingdom, but to enter the higher level of the Celestial Kingdom and become Gods, you have to enter into polygamy.)
Indeed, this system of marriage could not have been universal due to the ratio of men to women. Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or a monogamous union, or whether to marry at all. Some men entered plural marriage because they were asked to do so by Church leaders, while others initiated the process themselves; all were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage.
This last paragraph is misleading as evidenced by the Kirtland/Nauvoo essay - many women were asked to enter into polygamy with the promise of exaltation for both the women and her entire family. It is difficult to imagine a situation with more pressure on a young woman, and also worth noting that the higher leaders would take a lot of young women, leaving less younger women for the younger men to marry.
After polygamy was introduced, it was preached as a commandment from God that was essential to our salvation. Yes, women were free to marry as the saw fit, but the church made polygamy a cornerstone of receiving exaltation - that pressure put many women in a situation where they gave up their idea of a loving marriage in order to receive exaltation in the afterlife. To that point, Mormon researcher Kathryn Daynes noted that “without that doctrinal foundation, few, if any, would have entered into plural marriages” (Daynes 2001, p. 116).
The pressure put on women was immense as told by 14-year old Helen Mar Kimball after Joseph Smith took her as a polygamous wife: “‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.'" This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart-when Joseph asked her if she was willing...She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come...; but it was all hidden from me.”
"I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.” (Helen Mar Whitney journal: Helen Mar autobiography: “Woman's Exponent,” 1880)
Helen also wrote about how Joseph Smith used this same promise to marry 17-year old Sarah Ann Whitney: “No earthly inducement could ne held forth to the women who entered this order. It was to be a life-sacrifice for the sake of an everlasting glory and exaltation” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 1997 pp. 349, 499).
There was a lot of pressure put on women to enter into polygamous marriages, and this continued after Joseph Smith. It was abused by leaders who married women by the dozens, taking away the opportunity for a marriage filled with love in order to fulfill a revelation by Joseph Smith that is riddled with inconsistencies and issues.
To prove a point at just how badly the "new and everlasting covenant" was being abused: Zina Huntington was being sought after by Joseph to become one of his polygamous wives, but rebuffed his advaned and chose instead to marry Henry Jacobs, a faithful LDS member. Months after the wedding, Joseph Smith continued to pursue her: “[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’” Joseph Smith then declared that “the Lord had made it known to him she was to be his celestial wife.” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness) Joseph Smith took Zina as a polygamous wife with apologists claiming the marriage was for "eternity" only, which is their code-word for no sex. However, after Joseph Smith died, she was remarried to Brigham Young while Henry was away on a mission in England. Zina later had a child fathered by Brigham, which is impossible since she was sealed to Joseph and married to Henry. So what exactly was Brigham doing if not abusing his power as a prophet of the church?
Henry wrote to Zina upon hearing that she had both married and had a child with Brigham, saying: ""I am unhappy," Henry lamented, "there is no peace for poor me, my pleasure is you, my comfort has vanished.... O Zina, can I ever, will I ever get you again, answer the question please."
The reality is that Henry never would get Zina again, for she was sealed for eternity to another man. What kind of God would allow a loving relationship to be destroyed by a prophet who takes the woman for himself, robbing both the husband and wife of a chance to be together forever? If D&C 132 is a true revelation of God, why did Joseph Smith and Brigham Young violate it without punishment? The obvious answer is that D&C 132 is not from God, and that Joseph Smith created a system that allowed women to be treated like property, and it was further abused upon his death.
A final note to show just how the horrifically the idea of polygamy was abused by church leaders is a quote from Brigham Young: "The second way in which a wife can be separated from her husband while he continues to be faithful to his God and his priesthood I have not revealed except to a few persons in this church, and a few have received it from Joseph the Prophet as well as myself. If a woman can find a man holding the keys of the priesthood with higher power and authority than her husband, and he is disposed to take her, he can do so, otherwise she has got to remain where she is." (Conference Reports, October 8, 1861 (reported by George D. Watt))
Anti-Polygamy Legislation and the End of Plural Marriage
Beginning in 1862, the U.S. government passed laws against the practice of plural marriage. After the U.S. Supreme Court found the anti-polygamy laws to be constitutional in 1879, federal officials began prosecuting polygamous husbands and wives during the 1880s. Believing these laws to be unjust, Latter-day Saints engaged in civil disobedience by continuing to practice plural marriage and by attempting to avoid arrest by moving to the homes of friends or family or by hiding under assumed names. When convicted, they paid fines and submitted to jail time.
One of the anti-polygamy laws permitted the U.S. government to seize Church property. Federal officers soon threatened to take Latter-day Saint temples. The work of salvation for both the living and the dead was now in jeopardy. In September 1890, Church President Wilford Woodruff felt inspired to issue the Manifesto. “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages,” President Woodruff explained, “I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”8
(It is interesting that the essay takes great care to use the word "inspired" instead of claiming this was a revelation from God. The impression of course is that D&C 132 is a true revelation but the ending of the practice was more of an inspiration to issue the declaration. This is the same process as the ending of the ban of blacks on the priesthood/temple ordinances. Neither of these practices end with true revelation, but with "inspiration" from church leaders. This is, of course, very contradictory to how Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelation constantly, which begs the question why revelation went from nonstop to a drip after his death.)
The full implications of the document were not apparent at first. The Lord’s way is to speak “line upon line; here a little, there a little.”9 Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was gradual and incremental, a process filled with difficulties and uncertainties.
The Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States, and new plural marriages within that jurisdiction largely came to an end. But a small number of plural marriages continued to be performed in Mexico and Canada, under the sanction of some Church leaders. As a rule, these marriages were not promoted by Church leaders and were difficult to get approved. Either one or both of the spouses who entered into these unions typically had to agree to remain in Canada or Mexico. On an exceptional basis, a smaller number of plural marriages were performed within the United States between the years 1890 and 1904.
The Church’s role in these marriages became a subject of intense public debate after Reed Smoot, an Apostle, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1903. At the April 1904 general conference, Church President Joseph F. Smith issued a forceful statement, known as the Second Manifesto, making new plural marriages punishable by excommunication.10 Since President Smith’s day, Church Presidents have repeatedly emphasized that the Church and its members are no longer authorized to enter into plural marriage and have underscored the sincerity of their words by urging local leaders to bring noncompliant members before Church disciplinary councils.
This essay ignores how polygamy continued after Woodruff's manifesto was issued even in the United States, which is why the carefully worded phrase "largely came to an end" is included. As a matter of fact, Woodruff himself was almost certainly married to Madame Mountford in 1897 as all circumstantial evidence points to (no public records of a marriage exist for obvious reasons, but journal entries point to a longstanding relationship). This is what led to the 1904 second manifesto, because Apostles were still approving polygamous marriages because they did not believe the manifesto was the word of God, which also contradicts the argument that only the president of the church could authorize polygamous marriages.
The essay also ignores that the Mormon church purchased land to create colonies in Mexico in order to continue polygamy outside of the United States. The church purchased 100,000 acres of land in Mexico in 1885 so that polygamy could continue to be safe for saints who wanted to travel from Utah and Arizona. The Latter-Day Saints were under threats because of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, so most left and few returned later when tensions died down. If the end of polygamy was truly God's word, why were these colonies used after the manifesto since they were purchased by the church? D&C contends it's a new and everlasting covenant, and the actions of the church until this day give no indication that polygamy was ended for any other reason than the pressure of the US government.
Plural marriage was among the most challenging aspects of the Restoration. For many who practiced it, plural marriage was a trial of faith. It violated both cultural and legal norms, leading to persecution and revilement. Despite these hardships, plural marriage benefited the Church in innumerable ways. Through the lineage of these 19th-century Saints have come many Latter-day Saints who have been faithful to their gospel covenants as righteous mothers and fathers; loyal disciples of Jesus Christ; devoted Church members, leaders, and missionaries; and good citizens and prominent public officials. Modern Latter-day Saints honor and respect these faithful pioneers who gave so much for their faith, families, and community.
Not only did polygamy violate 'both cultural and legal norms' it violated the norms of God's words. Nowhere in the Bible does does command polygamy, and in almost all cases considers it an abomination. Not only that, but Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both violated D&C 101 ("Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again") which was canonized until 1876, but they also violated D&C 132 repeatedly.
If the US government did not make it impossible for polygamy to continue, it would be the law of the Mormon church to this day. For those women reading this that are in the LDS church, you would be sharing your husband right now in a marriage not based on love, but on a promise of exaltation. Your daughters would be sought after by leaders by the time they turned 14, and would end up just another wife in a system where women are treated like property.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that polygamy is from God, and in the Kirtland/Nauvoo annotated essay we laid out the case in much more detail. Joseph Smith did not dictate the revelation for a decade after he was already known to be in a relationship beyond Emma, and the revelation itself is telling when they note that Joseph Smith inquired why some in the Bible have more than one woman. Why would someone seek out an answer to that unless they were already wanting to introduce polygamy? Why did God give a revelation that this church believes that marriage is just one man and one wife, only to completely reverse course shortly after? Why would God make Joseph Smith look so bad with contradictions in His words?
Why would God send an angel with a drawn sword for Joseph Smith to enter into more polygamous marriages to have sex with other women, when Joseph Smith himself is the one who desired to ask God about it? None of it makes sense unless you look for the most obvious conclusion - Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon and continued to create scripture as he created a church. This is clearly explained in our Book of Abraham annotated essay, the Book of Mormon translation essay, and even in the First Vision essay. It is also apparent in the changing story on the restoration of the priesthood, the many anachornisms of the Book of Mormon that just all happen to be things Joseph Smith was familiar with in his lifetime, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible that a BYU study discovered was heavily lifted from Adam Clarke's biblical commentaries.
As we have ended other essays with, we know it is long, and we know it is very difficult to read these things that were previously unknown to almost all LDS members. I hope that you will continue to research this issue and that you will be willing to research from both LDS and non-LDS sources to get the full picture, and read Doctrine and Covenants section 132 in its entirety knowing what is in the two polygamy essays and notations we have made. It is impossible to believe that God would allow for this kind of behavior that puts intimidation and stress on young women who have to choose between the promise of exaltation upon marrying these church leaders or damnation for refusing to enter into a loveless, polygamous marriage.
The question you have to ask yourself is - if polygamy was introduced again, what kind of life would you have? Would you believe Joseph Smith so much that you could endure a marriage to a husband that had sex with other women? That had kids with other women? That brought in new women to have sex with? These questions seem harsh, but that is the reality of D&C 132 for any women and any daughters they might have. As we have shown in these annotated essays, there is no reason to believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and every reason to believe that he was making up revelations to help his own cause when necessary whether it be polygamy, Hirum Page's seer stone, commanding Martin Harris to fund the Book of Mormon, avoiding travel by water and asking the church to pay for a trip by land (D&C 61), or when the 116 pages were 'lost' God just happened to have a second set of plates to cover that exact timeframe.
Again, these are difficult issues to tackle, but taken together they paint a very clear picture that is impossible to ignore. But it is better to find the truth than to ignore it, as difficult as it might be at first. There are many resources to help those going through a faith crisis, so please email us if you would like any help. While the church tells us that we will be miserable without it (and "where will you go?"), that is the kind of thing a person in abusive relationship would say. The idea that you can't ever be happy without it is insulting, especially given the issues pointed out through these essays. The reality is that people who do learn the truth and move on are just as (if not more) happy and healthy afterwards. I can tell you all reading this that I have been better off since leaving - I feel more confident about myself, I can choose to do the right thing because I want to and not because I am told to, and, contrary to church teachings, I do not live in sin or laziness. There is life after the church, and while it is a sad transition away from something you were raised to believe is the only way, realizing the truth and then being able to enjoy those around you and the world around you is more than worth it.
Please email us with any suggestions, corrections, or if you have any sources that can provide more information that can help enhance this essay. Thank you again!
LDS Resources from the Essay
Doctrine and Covenants 132:7. The Church President periodically set apart others to perform plural marriages.
Official Declaration 1; “Official Declaration,” Deseret Evening News, Sept. 25, 1890.
“Official Statement by President Joseph F. Smith,” Deseret Evening News, Apr. 6, 1904, 1.
The Church acknowledges the contribution of scholars to the historical content presented in this article; their work is used with permission.
Originally published October 2014.