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Plural Marriage Review
Please know I feel the weight of the responsibility of teaching about plural marriage.
Zina Huntington Young, General Relief Society President, said “Today the hearts of all were tried, but looked to God and submitted”…..When do you think Sister Young made that statement? One may think, it was the day Sister Young learned about the commandment to practice plural marriage…. No, she wrote this in her journal on October 6, 1890 – the day President Wilford Woodruff declared the Manifesto. It was as difficult to end plural marriage as it was it begin it.
“The cipher to reinvigorate a religion can only be discerned by those that consecrate themselves to a code of spiritual courage, no matter the consequences. For them as devoted disciples it is always “the kingdom of God or nothing.” ( Stuart C. Reid, “Fixing Declines of Denominations in the U.S., Deseret News)
- Joseph Smith said, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.” (Lectures on Faith, p. 58.)
Definition of FAMILY ( Resource: Notes from the James and Judith McConkie’s – class on “Gospel Topic Essays”
Function of the family:
- Bring life into the world
- Nurture children and members of the family
- Provide economic security
- Help aged parents
-Old Testament times
-Household in Jesus’s Day
-18th and 19th Century America – Joseph Smith’s era
-Nuclear Family- 1900’s – 20th Century
-Today –modern family
In an Ethnographic Atlas:
- Of 1,231 societies noted, 588 had frequent polygamy, 435 had occasional polygamy, 186 were monogamous and 4 had polyandry. (having more than 1 husband) (Halverson)
Why then in a monogamous nation would a group of people begin to practice plural marriage?
The answer is: “Their prophet Joseph smith was commanded by the Lord to restore the practice of plural marriage to the earth.
Jacob 2: 27,30
Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard unless the Lord commands otherwise with the purpose to “raise up seed unto the Lord.”
Although the date of this revelation is July 12, 1843, it is likely that Joseph Smith was receiving revelation on the principles recorded in this section over time, beginning as early as 1831. (
v.34 “ Because this was the law” ;
- 36: “was accounted unto him for righteousness.”
I can’t help but compare Sarah to Emma. (my own thinking)
- Both women were married to prophets.
- They both stood by their husbands as they watched them be refined and molded into powerful men of God.
- Sarah, at age 90, still could not have children – yet, her husband had been promised posterity.
- Emma lost many children to death– one after the other – do you think she question why?
- Both husbands were asked to do the “impossible”… Abraham to sacrifice his long awaited son, Isaac and Joseph to introduce plural marriage. Both wives stood by.
- Isn’t it interesting that Hagar was Sarah’s servant and Fanny Alger, Joseph’s first plural wife was Joseph and Emma’s household help?
- Both prophets did v. 37 “none other things than that which they were commanded”.
- Both women are examples to us today when we are asked to do the “impossible.”
Adultery is defined in verse 41 and verse 54:
- The word “destroyed”
I want to explain that word “destroy” – it sounds extremely stark.
- David Ridges (The Doctrine and Covenants Made Easier) “destroyed spiritually”….
- Dictionary, “to render ineffective or useless”
- Manual, “those who violate their sacred covenants will be separated from God and from His people”
- Verse 40: “restore all things”
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in her book “A House Full of Females” said, “… plural marriage empowered women… it added to the complexity and the adversity they experienced… it reinforced an already well developed community of women to share work, to share children, to share religious faith, to share care in childbirth and in illness, it… strengthened bonds…”
Sister Ulrich, went on to say, ”My study of this period doesn’t turn me toward questions about the nature of God so much as it turns me toward deeply meaningful questions about how human beings manage to live together in the world and make reasonable lives out of inscrutable suffering. Those are such contemporary and profound questions.”
Was it a religious or sexual principle?
- Brigham Young: “God never introduced (Plural) marriage with a view to please man in his carnal desires, nor to punish females for anything which they had done; but He introduced it for the express purpose of raising up to His name a royal Priesthood, a peculiar people.” Journal of Discourses 3:264
Eliza R. Snow was sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith. She recorded the following experience in which the Prophet taught the principle of plural marriage to her brother Lorenzo Snow.
Listen – see if you can feel the Prophets anguish.
“The Prophet Joseph unbosomed his heart to Lorenzo and described the trying mental ordeal he experienced in overcoming the repugnance of his feelings….relative to the introduction of plural marriage. He knew the voice of God – he knew the commandment of the Almighty to him was to go forward – to set the example, and establish Celestial plural marriage. He knew that he had not only his own prejudices … to combat, but those of the whole Christian world stared him in the face; but God, who is above all, had given the commandment, and He must be obeyed. Yet the Prophet hesitated and deferred from time to time, until an angel of God stood by him with a drawn sword, and told him that unless he moved forward and established plural marriage, his Priesthood would be taken from him and he should be destroyed! (Bio of Lorenzo Snow, 1884 69-70)
Richard Bushman said, “Joseph ordinarily followed the commandments punctiliously, as if disobedience put him at risk. In the case of plural marriage, he held off for 1 or 3 years before marrying Fanny Alger, and then after this one unsuccessful attempt, waited another 5 years.
The delay showed an uncharacteristic reluctance, hard for one who feared God.” (page 437)
Joseph had to lead the way, he could not ask others to do something he was not willing to do.
The gospel topics quotes: “Many women were sealed to Joseph Smith.”
- Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling said, ( page 437) – “Historians debate … but the total figure of Joseph Smith’s wives is most likely between 28 – 33. After the Prophet’s death, many women were sealed to him who had no mortal relationship with him. Whatever the exact number, the marriages are numerous enough to indicate an impersonal bond. Joseph did not marry women to form a warm, human companionship, but to create a network of related wives, children, kinsmen that would endure into the eternities. “
- George Q. Cannon said,
- “The Presidency of the Church have to walk just as you walk. They have to take steps just as you take steps. They have to depend upon the revelations of God as they come to them. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as the Lord does.
- All that we can do is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust in Him.”
The Gospel Topic Essay “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” :
“During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealing for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealing for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity only sealings, indicated relationships in the next life alone. “
“Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.
“Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20-40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, (BY’s sister) was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball…(daughter of Heber and Vilate Kimball ) who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age…was legal in that era, and the relationship did not involve sexual relations.. Helen became an articulate defender of plural marriage.
“Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married. Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone.
“There are several possible explanations for this practice.
- These sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the church… Today such eternal bonds are achieved through the temple marriages of individuals who are also sealed to their own birth families, in this way linking families together.”
- In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.32”
(You see, many of these husbands realized they could not provide the eternal exaltation their wives desired or were worthy of so they accepted the principle for their wives.)
Gospel Topic Essay continues, “These sealings to married women may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma.
- He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships.33 This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice.34 After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.
Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages. Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.35”
Not all had such experiences. Some Latter-day Saints rejected the principle of plural marriage and left the Church, while others declined to enter the practice but remained faithful.52 Nevertheless, for many women and men, initial revulsion and anguish was followed by struggle, resolution, and ultimately, light and peace. Sacred experiences enabled the Saints to move forward in faith.53
How was plural marriage a trial of their faith?
Brigham Young speaks of how he felt when first taught about the principle of plural marriage:
“I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse, it’s situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin knowing the toil and labor that my body would have to undergo.” Journal of discourses, 3:266
President John Taylor “… nothing but a knowledge of God, and the revelations of God, and the truth of them, could have induced me to embrace such a principle as this.” Journal of discourses 24:232-33
(Joseph Smith) said that the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.” Helen Mar Whitney, Women’s Exponent 10 1881
Lucy Walker recalled her inner turmoil when Joseph Smith invited her to become his wife. “Every feeling of my soul revolted against it…. After several restless nights on her knees in prayer, she found relief as her room filled with t holy influence akin to brilliant sunshine. She said, my soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew and supreme happiness took possession of my whole being.’”
We do not understand all of God’s purposes behind Plural Marriage… perhaps it isn’t meant for us to ”understand” it completely now.
- 1 Nephi 17:4:14 “After you have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I the Lord am God and that, I, the Lord did deliver you from destruction and that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.”
But we do know Plural Marriage:
- Produced seed and increased the numbers and strength of the membership of the Church
- Refiners fire
- Unity in the culture of the saints – women were helping and strengthening each other
- Provided security, shelter and a future for the widowed and the single
- We see the rewards of their sacrifice today I the strength of the Church
Heber and Vilate Kimballs Story
“When the Prophet Joseph received the revelation concerning Celestial Marriage, he was very cautious as to whom he told. Before he told Heber C. Kimball, he decided to test him. The test was no less than a requirement that Heber surrender his beloved wife Vilate to Joseph in marriage. This revelation nearly paralyzed Heber. He could scarcely beliefe his ears, yet he knew the integrity of Joseph too well to doubt him, and recognized the divinity of his word.
For three days Heber fasted and prayed, then with a broken heart, he led his dear wife to Joseph’s house and presented her to the Prophet. Joseph wept at this proof of Heber’s devotion and joined the hands of the devoted pair and “by virtue of the sealing power and authority of the Holy Priesthood made Heber and Vilate husband and wife for all eternity” This was the test for Heber. Vilate’s test was to come.
Heber, through the Prophet Joseph, was commanded to take a young widow and two small children as his wife without telling Vilate. This deception grieved Heber sorely. He was commanded three times before he yielded. Vilate noticed a change in his manner and appearance and inquired as to the cause. Heber tried to evade her questions. His looks became haggard and his body ill with the mental strain. Finally, Vilate retired to her room and bowed down before the Lord, pouring out her heart to Him. As she knelt, it all became clear to her. Before her was illustrated the order of Celestial Marriage in all its glory and beauty, together with the exaltation and honor it would bring to her if she would accept it and stand in her place at her husband’s side. She also saw the woman he was to take as a wife.
With a beaming countenance, she returned to her husband saying, “Heber, what you have kept from me the Lord has shown me.” She told what she had seen and said she was satisfied, and knew it was from God. She faithfully kept her covenant, and though her trials were many and often difficult to bear, she knew that Heber was also being tried, and her integrity was unflinching to the end. She stood by as Heber took many wives, who always found in Vilate a faithful friend. “
The Manifesto was declared in 1890 by President Wilford Woodruff. Since 1862 the U.S. had been creating laws that prohibited Plural marriage. Finally, when the laws indicated that any church property over the value and $50,000 would be confiscated, if a religion practiced Plural Marriage – the Manifesto was given. (That would have meant they would have lost the property of the temple and with it all ordinances and covenants)
Quote from the Official Declaration from President Wilford Woodruff: “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. ….all ordinances would be stopped, Confusion would reign… and men would be made prisoners…. Then he said, ”I lay this question before the Latter Day Saints.”….
And it was as difficult to end the practice as it was to begin it.
Complications. Because many men/fathers were incarcerated, families were not being financially cared for.
When the Manafesto was declared Pres. Woodruff said, “I did not, could not and would not promise that you would desert your wives and children….This you cannot do in honor.” (Abraham Cannon diary 189)
Each one of us is entitled to that personal revelation about the questions we carry…….. we must seek with to know with “real intent”
Mormon says in the Words of Mormon 1:7 “and now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.”