I love time travel movies, and especially those that use the Butterfly Effect. It is so named because of the theory that a butterfly in one part of the world could flap its wings and affect the weather in another part of the world. In the movies, the time traveler goes back in time, changes something small, then comes back to the present to find the world drastically changes. Ray Bradbury, the famed Science Fiction writer was the first to explore this in his short story “A Sound of Thunder” in which a person travels back to the age of dinosaurs, kills a moth, and then returns to his present to find the world changed because of that one moth killed 66 million years ago! The Back To The Future movies also explored the butterfly effect, as did the movie of the same name “The Butterfly Effect” (be warned, this is a dark movie, things don’t go as planned)
So lets have some fun today, and travel back in time to some period in church history. We’ll interact with somebody, say a church decision maker (Prophet?) give them a bit of wisdom endowed by 20/20 hindsight, and then postulate how the Church and world would be different once we returned to the present.
I’ll go first. I’m going to travel to 1830, and find Joseph Smith walking alone on a dirt road. This is before he took his 1st plural wife. I tell him I’m a messenger from God, which he will reject at first due to my dress, but I’ll fill him in on aspects of his younger life that will convince him I’m the real deal.
I will then explain to him that he must remain loyal to Emma, and never practice plural marriage. I’ll tell him that polygame practiced in the past was an abomination unto the Lord, and that if he every strays from Emma, I will return with a flaming sword and cut him asunder. I then leave him somewhat shaken, walk up the road and press the return button on my time travel belt.
I’m now back to 2021, and lets assume my little conversation with Joseph dissuaded him from ever introducing polygamy to the Mormon Church. What would the Church look like today?
Without polygamy, Joseph would never have been killed at Liberty Jail, because he never burned down the printing press that never published an expose on his spiritual wifery. He lived to a ripe old age of 68, after which the leadership of the church was passed down in a well understood succession to his oldest son. Brigham Young never became the leader, and the Saints never went to Utah, which is now named Wasatch.
Because of Joseph’s polarizing leadership, the church never grew to what it did under Brigham Young. Today it has 3 million members headquartered in Jackson County Missouri, with only a handful of splinter groups. There are no “fundamentalist” Mormon groups. The church does not grow much overseas, with only a small smattering of members around the world.
Without polygamy, the Temple Endowment and Sealing are much different, as Brigham Young played a big part of forming the current endowment, and he was never in a position to do this. “Celestial Marriage” is not used, only “eternal marriage”. A man can only be sealed to one woman ever. The Sealing is in a separate part of the temple that is like a chapel, and is open to family and friends regardless of their membership status.
The current President of the Church is a direct descendant of Joseph Smith. The Cowdrey and Whitmer families are prominent in church leadership, while the Kimball and Hinkley names are nowhere to be found.
The capitol of Wasatch is Lake City where Ogden is today. What is now Utah valley is mostly farm land. There was no Brigham Young to order people to migrate to Idaho, Wyoming and Southern Wasatch. All the cities is South East Idaho, all of Wasatch and even into Nevada have different names, with some towns not even there today. Wasatch’s population is about half what Utah’s is.
OK, what did I miss? What else would be different about the church today without polygamy in our past?
Also, who would you visit in your time travel machine, and what would be the butterfly effect on the modern church?