Good morning, America, how are you? When I don’t have a particular topic or event or book to post about, I need to go trolling for a post. So my “LDS Church” search in Google News brought up this short book review at Religion News Service by long-time Bloggernacler Emily Jensen: “Can the LDS talk honestly about polygamy? A new book could help.” The book is a 134-page work titled “Let’s Talk About Polygamy,” by LDS historian Brittany Chapman Nash, who worked at the Church History Department for ten years. It is published by Deseret Book, and sure enough it shows up for sale with a descriptive blurb at the DB site.
Between the review and the blurb, you can get a pretty good idea of what the book covers. The blurb says the book offers “a candid and engaging history of polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the voices of those who practiced it.” So expect more than a few journal entries from 19th-century LDS women who were in such marriages. Jensen’s review states, “The book relates the history of the practice in the early church and its messy untethering process at the dawn of the 20th century.” So the reader gets a pretty good summary of the history of polygamy within the Church, and since the author is a historian I’m guessing that is a fairly accurate and objective history.
But I haven’t read the book so I can’t really add anything to the linked review and blurb. If any reader has purchased and read the book, here is your chance to shine in the comments. Instead, I’ll just throw out the more general query: Has anyone actually had or seen a discussion about polygamy at church? As Jensen noted in her review, “far too many members still believe that polygamy is an unspeakable word or maintain that Smith never practiced it.” That’s because for a few decades polygamy basically *was* an unspeakable word at church. And because Correlation did such a good job excising polygamy from the LDS curriculum, many who came of age under Correlation were simply not aware that Joseph and many of his close associates in Nauvoo practiced polygamy. For Joseph, not just an extra wife or two, like dozens and dozens.
Such a discussion at Church might have happened in adult Sunday School, possibly when covering D&C 132. But the manuals tend to carefully guide the D&C 132 lesson toward a discussion of eternal marriage and eternal families while largely or entirely avoiding the polygamy elephant in the room. Or your discussion might have happened in priesthood or Relief Society meetings — and I’m guessing you would get wildly different discussions in those two different settings. Myself, I honestly don’t recall any particular discussion of polygamy in Sunday classes over the years. It really was something that just wasn’t talked about.
Perhaps this book from Deseret Book will be a way for anyone tasked with that topic in a lesson to approach the subject in a way that works for most class members. Reading the book seems like a good investment of 268 minutes of your life (estimated at two minutes per page times 134 pages). If you bring your copy of the book to church on Sunday the book itself might even trigger that long-awaited discussion.
My own feeling is that the average member either knows nothing about polygamy or is familiar only with misinformation put out by the Church or as reflected in Mormon folklore that circulates through families and stories. I’ll bet not one in a hundred LDS who are aware Joseph practiced polygamy understand that Joseph never once publicly acknowledged the practice. Joseph’s polygamy was secret polygamy. It wasn’t until the announcement at General Conference out in Utah, in 1852, that it became public polygamy. Until 1890, when it became secret polygamy again, until around 1910, when the Church finally started disciplining those LDS who continued to publicly practice it, then it became prohibited polygamy. I’m sure (fingers crossed) the new book covers all this.
So your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to comment on one or all of the following:
- Have you by any chance purchased and read a copy of the book? Please share your observations.
- Do you recall any discussion of polygamy (sticklers call it plural marriage) in church? What class was it in?
- Any discussion in a youth class? What do we tell the kids these days?
- Have the Gospel Topics Essays that cover polygamy (three long ones and a short summary essay) been used in any of those discussions at church?