It’s been interesting talking to historians Mel Johnson and Greg Prince. In both conversations we discussed alternative forms of marriage. Early Mormons believed polygamy was essential to salvation, but pioneer John Hawley struggled with the doctrine. Would he agree to take on another wife?
Mel: So John says he’s going to get married polygamously. His brother had had three wives, who was down to one by them. I’ll need to tell you the story of Sarah Ann Hadfield in a moment, one of those wives. John pulls a wagon out, crosses little Pinto Creek to the north, and the axle fell off, the rear axle fell off. Robert Hawley, his great-grandson who has now gone to the ages, told me the family lore is that John took that as a sign from God that he was not to take a second wife.
Mel tells what John finally decided polygamy was not for him. In fact, Hawley decided to leave the LDS Church and convert to the RLDS Church. Find out how shocked his congregation was when he announced it to them!
Mel: In early 1870, John has come to the conclusion that he wants to join with the RLDS Church. John Larson, a RLDS missionary, over near Mountain Meadows/Hamblin area, reads in the Herald, the RLDS newspaper out of Illinois, that (1) John Pierce Hawley has written a letter to Joseph Smith, III, saying that “I rejoice in the doctrines of Joseph Smith, Jr, as did my father, and I wish to join with the RLDS Church.” Larson reads that, and he’s a former LDS elder out of New Harmony on the other side of Pine Valley Mountain out near Fort Hamilton on the road to Cedar City. He reads this, and he comes galloping over to Pine Valley and Grass Valley, and John writes, “I was convinced that he was as crazy as people thought he was, but I became convinced also that he had the authority to baptize.” So, he baptized John and his family, George and his family, and then John, as first counselor…
GT: Is this his fourth baptism now?
Mel: There will be a total of seven.
GT: Seven, oh my gosh.
Mel: He stands up in Pine Valley Ward, as the first counselor and preaches his farewell sermon to a very startled audience. Only one historian of Pine Valley will write about John, one of William Snow’s, granddaughters, I believe, says, “And John Hawley, the first counselor apostatized.” That’s the full story. Yet they were among the first settlers, Presiding Elder, held the second anointing and the second endowment, quite a guy. Erastus Snow heard. He comes galloping up from St. George, won’t let John talk because he’s too vile of an apostate. He lectures the two Hawley brothers for three hours. Then he asked George if he has anything. George says no. Then Erastus Snow rides away. John and George bundle everything up, and they travel up to Salt Lake to catch the train to western Iowa.
So while Mormons were once strongly against traditional marriage in favor of polygamy, we have changed to become some of the most vocal defenders of traditional marriage. Greg Prince outlines the Church’s political push against gay marriage. We discussed his new book, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church and the history of LDS Church policy toward gays. We not and get into not only Prop 8 in California, but Prop 22 as well. We also discussed the legal battles in Hawaii that led to federal legislation prohibiting gay marriage. But why did Greg write this book on church & politics?
Greg: Initially, I thought I would write a book about Prop 8 and the Mormon Church’s role in it. Because even though people knew that there had been a role, there had not been anything published that tried to take a comprehensive look at that. When I started with Prop 8, I quickly began to realize that Prop 8 wasn’t told whole story. It reached backwards into Prop 22, which was similar legislation in California eight years earlier and that, in turn, was related to the Hawaii lawsuit that began in the early 1990s, which was really the first time when the courts took up the issue of marriage equality, in any serious fashion, enough so that people thought that that would be the turning point.
What are your thoughts about the Church’s changing stances with regards to traditional marriage?