This was an amazing week on the LDS websites. The LDS Newsroom published a video in which they showed both temple garments, as well as the temple robes that are worn. The Church emphasized that many religions have religious clothing, and said that it is derogatory to refer to LDS garments as “magic underwear.”
Some people incorrectly refer to temple garments as magical or “magic underwear.” These words are not only inaccurate but also offensive to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments, and Church members ask for the same degree of respect and sensitivity that would be afforded to any other faith by people of goodwill.
Then later in the week, LDS.org published 3 new essays on polygamy.
- Plural Marriage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
- Plural Marriage and Families in Utah
- Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo
I’m sure there were some major surprises for most Church members, most notably in the 3rd essay, such as the acknowledgement that Joseph was sealed to a 14-year old.
The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.
Another surprising acknowledgement was the fact that Joseph practiced polygamy with Fanny Alger before Elijah restored the sealing power to Joseph in 1836. Historians aren’t sure when the Alger sealing took place, but it was probably 1833-34. Alger would have been around 16 years old at this time.
Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents.10 Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger. After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois.
Later in the essay
The sealing of husband and wife for eternity was made possible by the restoration of priesthood keys and ordinances. On April 3, 1836, the Old Testament prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and restored the priesthood keys necessary to perform ordinances for the living and the dead, including sealing families together.13 Marriages performed by priesthood authority could link loved ones to each other for eternity, on condition of righteousness; marriages performed without this authority would end at death.14
The essay doesn’t state how many women Joseph was sealed to; historians generally agree that he was sealed to more than 30. The article specifically mentions the following women sealed to Joseph (in addition to Emma, as well as Helen Mar Kimball mentioned above): Fanny Young, Fanny Alger, Louisa Beaman, Lucy Walker, Zina Huntington Jacobs. But the biggest acknowledgement was that Joseph was sealed to currently married women. (Wikipedia has a list of 27-51 suggested wives of Joseph Smith. [Number of wives is disputed, and of course some hard-core RLDS people still believe Joseph was monogamous. The Community of Christ recently acknowledged that they believe Joseph practiced polygamy.])
Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.29 Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone.30 Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.
There are several possible explanations for this practice. These sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church.31 These ties extended both vertically, from parent to child, and horizontally, from one family to another. Today such eternal bonds are achieved through the temple marriages of individuals who are also sealed to their own birth families, in this way linking families together. Joseph Smith’s sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another. In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.32
These sealings may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships.33 This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice.34 After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.
Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages. Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.35
The women who united with Joseph Smith in plural marriage risked reputation and self-respect in being associated with a principle so foreign to their culture and so easily misunderstood by others. “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life,” said Zina Huntington Jacobs, “for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman.” Nevertheless, she wrote, “I searched the scripture & by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself.”36 After Joseph’s death, most of the women sealed to him moved to Utah with the Saints, remained faithful Church members, and defended both plural marriage and Joseph.37
I saw a comment on Facebook that referred to this era of openness and an LDS version of Glasnost. What do you make of these two startling displays of openness concerning garments and polygamy?