A blogger faces excommunication for his OP stating that he does not believe D&C 132 and the early church practice of polygamy to have been inspired.  In his blog post, he affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman, the church’s current teaching.  If I were tasked with defending this individual, here’s what I would say.

Official Declaration 1

We repudiated not only the practice of polygamy but Pres. Woodruff also stated that we are not teaching it. [1]

I, therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage

Why then is it an issue for someone so far removed from its practice to disbelieve its origin was divinely inspired?  Other discontinued practices, specifically the priesthood ban, that were considered doctrinal at the time have since been declared not doctrinal in origin.

President Hinckley’s Stance

We believe that living prophets trump dead ones by reinterpreting things through the process of ongoing revelation.  Pres. Hinckley’s open dismissal of polygamy in the widely publicized CNN Larry King interview is much more recent than any pro-polygamy statements, most of which are over a hundred years old.  Clearly, someone living today would be more beholden to current leaders’ views than to those of long dead leaders.

President Hinckley stated in his Larry King interview that polygamy was wrong.  While he didn’t outright condemn the early practice of it, he marginalized its doctrinal importance by stating “it is not doctrinal” and saying it was limited to about 2-5% of Mormons when it was practiced (implying it was never practiced nor intended to be practiced on the level the FLDS have done).  He also implies that it was “permitted” to be practiced rather than “commanded” to be practiced, which is inconsistent with statements made by then church president Brigham Young and perhaps by D&C 132 (in that Emma wasn’t “permitted” but told she would be destroyed if she refused):

Larry King: Now the big story raging in Utah — before we get back to morals and morals, is — the big story, if you don’t know it, is polygamy in Utah; there’s been major charges. The governor, Mike Leavitt, says that there are legal reasons why the state of Utah has not prosecuted alleged polygamists. Leavitt said plural marriage may be protected by the First Amendment. He is the great-great-grandson — is the governor — of a polygamist. First tell me about the church and polygamy. When it started it allowed it?

Gordon B. Hinckley: When our people came west they permitted it on a restricted scale.

Larry King: You could have a certain amount of…

Gordon B. Hinckley: The figures I have are from — between two percent and five percent of our people were involved in it. It was a very limited practice; carefully safeguarded. In 1890, that practice was discontinued. The president of the church, the man who occupied the position which I occupy today, went before the people, said he had, oh, prayed about it, worked on it, and had received from the Lord a revelation that it was time to stop, to discontinue it then. That’s 118 years ago. It’s behind us.

Larry King: But when the word is mentioned, when you hear the word, you think Mormon, right?

Gordon B. Hinckley: You do it mistakenly. They have no connection with us whatever. They don’t belong to the church. There are actually no Mormon fundamentalists.

Larry King: Are you surprised that there’s, apparently, a lot of polygamy in Utah?

Gordon B. Hinckley: I have seen the thing grow somewhat. I don’t know how much it is. I don’t know how pervasive it is.

Larry King: Should there be arrests?

Gordon B. Hinckley: It’s matter of civil procedure. The church can’t do anything. We have no authority in this matter, none whatever.

Larry King: Would you like to see the state to clamp down on it?

Gordon B. Hinckley: I think I leave that entirely in the hands of the civil officers. It’s a civil offense. It’s in violation of the law. We have nothing to do with it. We’re totally distanced from it. And if the state chooses to move on it, that’s a responsibility of civil officers.

Larry King: President Hinckley, when the press pays attention to it, it does affect you, certainly, in a public relations sense?

Gordon B. Hinckley: It does, because people mistakenly assume that this church has something to do with it. It has nothing whatever to do with it. It has had nothing to do with it for a very long time. It’s outside the realm of our responsibility. These people are not members. Any man or woman who becomes involved in it is excommunicated from the church.

Larry King: Prosecutors in Utah are quoted as saying — they told “The Salt Lake Tribune” — that it’s difficult to prosecute polygamists because of a lack of evidence; that ex-wives and daughters rarely complain about it. Do you see that as a problem?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Well, it’s secretive. There’s a certain element of secretiveness about it. I suppose they have some difficulty — they say they do, in gathering evidence.

Larry King: Should the church be more forceful in speaking out? I mean, you’re forceful here tonight, but maybe — they’ve been saying that it’s rather than just a state matter, encouraging the state to prosecute.

Gordon B. Hinckley: I don’t know. We’ll consider it.

Larry King: I’m giving you an idea.

Gordon B. Hinckley: Yes.

Larry King: Would you look better if you were…

Gordon B. Hinckley: I don’t know that we would or not. As far as I’m concerned, I have nothing to do with it. It belongs to the civil officers of the state.

Larry King: You condemn it.

Gordon B. Hinckley: I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.

Pew Forum Results

According to a Pew Forum Survey, 86% of Mormons polled said that polygamy is morally wrong. Here is an article about that result that was published in the church’s own paper, the Deseret News. If the church would like to excommunicate 86% of the membership for not believing polygamy is moral, I suppose that’s their right.  But something tells me that’s not the hill we want to die on.

The Book of Mormon Condemns It

Although no contemporary church members have been told to pray for a testimony of polygamy, all have been told to study and pray about the Book of Mormon which is decidedly anti-polygamy:

Jacob 1:15 And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.

Jacob 2:24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

Jacob 2:27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.

Mosiah 11:2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but … he had many wives and concubines.

Ether 10:5 Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines.

We have also not been specifically told to pray for a testimony of the D&C (where section 132 resides).

He Is Not Commanded to Live It

According to early practitioners of polygamy in the church, those who were “invited” to practice the principle were entitled to personal revelation on the matter.  Some received it; some did not.  The blogger who is under fire has not been asked to participate in polygamy.  Why would he or any other contemporary member of the church be entitled to revelation on a principle they are not in fact asked to practice but are forbidden from practicing?

Although the recently published essay on lds.org upholds the divine sanction of polygamy as practiced by early church members, it also leaves plenty of room for doubt and question in statements such as these:

Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment. Significant social and cultural changes often include misunderstandings and difficulties.

Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential.

Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue.

Given this ambiguity, how are church members unfamiliar with this practice and not beholden to follow it supposed to readily accept something so foreign and reprehensible when many church members at its introduction were likewise unable to accept it?  How does one have the requisite love of monogamy that our current teachings require and also a contradictory testimony of a principle that doesn’t apply in our generation?  That’s confusing and unnecessary. [2]

What’s your opinion?

[poll id=”483″]

  • What would you say in this blogger’s defense aside from what has been said here?
  • Do you think the disciplinary court is justified?  If so, why?  Do 86% of church members need to repent or get out?
  • Should the church strike D&C 132 [3]?


[1] For those who believe that these statements by church leaders were just to present a public face that distanced us from the practice of polygamy, why then would it be objectionable for a blogger (also operating in a public forum) to likewise uphold the public notion that the church disavows polygamy?  Didn’t these leaders set the “party line”?

[2] I could further point out that the Law of Sarah, the church’s original defense that was bolstered by Brian Hales in the church’s recent essay makes literally no sense for anyone who has actually read the Old Testament.  Sarah proposed Abraham produce a child with her servant Hagar. It was Sarah’s idea because she owned the servant.  When the servant got uppity, she kicked her to the curb, and thousands of years of bloodshed ensued.  How that can be twisted to mean that a woman who refuses to let her husband take a second wife doesn’t really get a vote is pretty convoluted logic, and yet that’s what the Law of Sarah says.

Orson Pratt said:

“When a man who has a wife, teaches her the law of God, and she refuses to give her consent for him to marry another according to that law, then, it becomes necessary, for her to state before the President the reasons why she withholds her consent; if her reasons are sufficient and justifiable and the husband is found in the fault, or in transgression, then, he is not permitted to take any step in regard to obtaining another. But if the wife can show no good reason why she refuses to comply with the law which was given unto Sarah of old, then it is lawful for her husband, if permitted by revelation through the prophet, to be married to others without her consent, and he will be justified, and she will be condemned, because she did not give them unto him, as Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, and as Rachel and Leah gave Bilhah and Zilpah to their husband, Jacob.” (The Seer, Vol.1, No.3, p.41)

President Joseph F. Smith (at the Reed Smoot hearing) said:

President Smith: The condition is that if she does not consent the Lord will destroy her, but I do not know how he will do it.
Question: Is it not true that … if she refuses her consent her husband is exempt from the law which requires her consent.
President Smith: Yes; he is exempt from the law which requires her consent. She is commanded to consent, but if she does not, then he is exempt from the requirement.
Question: Then he is at liberty to proceed without her consent, under the law. In other words, her consent amounts to nothing?
President Smith: It amounts to nothing but her consent.

The Old Testament doesn’t require the wife’s consent because it was her idea; this was a part of slavery or having a servant.  The women owned those women and gave them to their husbands to increase their own status as wives through offspring.  The husbands didn’t request them, so there was no question of the wife’s consent or lack thereof.  It was her disposing of her own property (slave) for her own gain and bears no resemblance to the polygamy practiced in the early days of the LDS church.  Most contemporary Mormons would know nothing about the Law of Sarah if it were not for the recent polygamy essays in which this argument was resurrected.

[3] I highly recommend the excellent 14 part series that was published on By Common Consent by WVS on the history of D&C 132 to those who are interested.