This was one of the most memorable General Conference weekends I can remember in quite some time. High Priests Groups were dissolved into Elders’ Quorums, leaders were released worldwide, two apostles were called from outside the traditional mold, and home teaching and visiting teaching was changed! Wow. President Nelson didn’t waste any time waiting around to make some pretty significant changes.
When I interviewed Dr. Bill Smith in February, we discussed some possible future revelations, which we called Official Declarations 3 and 4. Would Official Declaration 3 deal with Gays?
GT: You mentioned a couple of things that were very interesting to me, especially in light of the Family Proclamation. D&C 132 is kind of the foundation for forever families. But you mentioned singles and you also mentioned gays. How do those relate to section 132?
Bill: Well I think that section 132 is by evidence, at least by internal evidence, it’s very much in the vein of thinking of sex as being in terms of heterosexual sex, of course not necessarily one-man and one-woman sex, but one-man, multiple-women. So, I think that’s the point of the revelation. It doesn’t really speak to the possibility of gay marriage. It doesn’t open that possibility at all. Whether that can be addressed in some other way, I don’t know, but the revelation, that’s not on anybody’s mind.
GT: Right. So, do you see that as being a possibility of a future revelation?
Bill: Anything is possible. I don’t know. Whether people would feel that there is dissonance with section 132 and any further revelation that expanded some kind of approval of gay relationships, gay marriage, I don’t know. That’s for another generation, I am guessing. But yes, that might be something that would be addressed. I don’t know.
Of course we do this in relation to Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants, which is one of Mormonism’s most important revelations: The New & Everlasting Covenant of marriage. Is there room in this revelation to accommodate gay marriage? In our next episode, Dr. Bill Smith will answer that question, and discuss how it might impact future revelations dealing with not only gays, but women as well.
Bill: Well there’s something of equal probability I think is that we have an official declaration that says that women can be ordained.
GT: Would that be more likely?
Bill: Boy I don’t really know. I think yes, it probably fits better with the current paradigm than say gay marriage would be, recognizing gay marriage.
GT: Do you see 132 being compatible with say female ordination?
Bill: Yeah, the polygamy parts seem to partake of the typical sort of patriarchal kinds of views of the 19th century, the 18th century and back. In terms of incompatibilities, that’s where that would lie. In terms of ordination practices, those kinds of things, I don’t see an incompatibility there, structure. I mean it would be easy to enfold women into priesthood structures if that was to take place. I don’t see a problem there. I don’t think it would be possible to stop that because you had the same kinds of issues with blacks and the priesthood when the ‘78 change was announced. They were very clear that this meant that there weren’t any restrictions on their participation in any way.
Is this Official Declaration 4?
We also talked about a historical understanding of the sealing ordinance. Sealing was considered much more permanent than it is today, and we even make comparisons to the idea of Salvation for Protestants. Some Protestants, such as Born-Again Christians, believe that one can be saved in heaven—assured salvation. Did early Mormons believe in something similar? Was polygamy a ticket to heaven, not just for the man, but for his wives and children as well?
Bill: The idea is that the elite Mormon men, those with—maybe I should use the word assured salvation, like Joseph Smith, it was a great thing to be a child of somebody like that theoretically. It was a great thing to be their child because as Joseph says, “On the other side of the veil, I will claim what I seal.” In other words, anybody he is sealed to is guaranteed to go into heaven with him. Because he is guaranteed in the revelation in fact that he’ll be going to heaven. So, this is important. It’s an important story for important people.
That sounds doubly bad I guess in the present day. It sounds sexist. It sounds elitist, but in fact that’s the way it worked out. A lot of people engaged in polygamy, a lot of women engaged in polygamy, not as many men of course, but it was really a story in terms of descendants, a story of elite Mormon men, because they are the ones that had 30 wives, or 15 wives, or 25 wives, or more. Most of those men had children with most of those wives.
Dr. Smith talks about how the theology of assured salvation has changed over the years. We will also talk about one of the major justifications of polygamy: raising seed. If that was so important, why didn’t Joseph have children with wives other than Emma?
Bill: I can’t really answer that except to say that the record on the ground seems to suggest that at least with some women, other than his wife, he was having sex. But I think it is impossible to argue beyond reminiscent accounts and that sort of thing, whether or not that was really going on. I think it’s probably a sure thing that it did happen, but with who and how often? That’s really hard to say.
Check out our conversation! Some questions:
- Were you aware polygamist sealings guaranteed exaltation for not only the husband and wives, but children as well? Do modern polygamists think this too?
- What are your predictions for the next revelation? Will it be women, gays, or something else?