Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end" (D&C 132:20)

My wife and I are watching Big Love on DvD. It was her idea, an idea that surprised me. She is a Gentile in Utah and one who has always been a bit wary of my religious background. Undoubtedly, she was intrigued, as were many people, by the controversial episode, which aired last week, in which Barbara receives her temple endowment. In all honesty I was not too interested in watching the show, but I have been surprised. Of course, were it not for polygamy, I would not be here. Maybe having to think about that is what caused my initial hesitation. The last time I even thought about contemporary polygamy was several years ago when I read God's Brothel. It is still the book I recommend for anybody who wants to know about contemporary polygamy, which is not as rare here in Utah as many would like to think. I do have a problem with portraying polygamy in the idealistic manner in which the show depicts it, as just one more way of living, a way that can be fulfilling and normal. Sadly, the Juniper Creek community is much more the norm than the Hendrickson's of the suburbs. Nonetheless, here along the Wasatch Front, there are many polygamists in our midst, both in the urb and the suburbs.

Back in 2005 a fellow from Salt Lake City, Scott Carrier, did a short guest radio documentary for This American Life, entitled Invisible Girl, about Elizabeth Smart. His piece was about how many people actually saw her around town during her "disappearance," but ignored her. His premise being that for those of us from around here, we know there is a reality among us, we see it, but we ignore it, tune it out.

I do not want to reignite a past controversy, but it is important to note that the LDS Church still accepts polygamy as a theological and eternal principle. For example, for a faithful LDS man, if his wife, to whom he is sealed for time and all eternity in the temple, dies, he can marry another woman for time and all eternity in the temple. This means that he can expect both women to be his wives should he attain exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Back in the early days of his presidency, LDS president, Gordon B. Hinckley, gave a number of interviews. In these interviews, with likes of Richard Ostling and other serious religion journalists, he was asked some very forthright questions, like whether the LDS Church allowed the practice of polygamy in parts of the world where it was legal to practice it. In at least one interview, President Hinckley indicated that they did not. Apparently, this turned out to not be exactly true. In fact, in one interview, Hinckley said of polygamy: "I condemn it as a practice. It is not doctrinal. It is not legal."

This question was premised on the fact that the reason the LDS eschewed polygamy, at least here in the U.S., as per the Manifesto, issued on 6 October 1890 by then-LDS president Wilford Woodruff, was only because it was contrary to the twelfth (of thirteen) LDS Articles of Faith, which states, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Another factor was statehood for Utah and the continued threat of government seizure of church assets. In no wise does the Manifesto reject the doctrine of plural marriage, which the LDS believe to be revealed by God and part of the plan of salvation. The LDS doctrine of plural marriage is most clearly set forth in Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants, one of the four books, along with the Bible (KJV only for English speakers), The Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price, they revere as scripture. All citations in this paragraph are from, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Being only six episodes into the first season of Big Love, it seems like the Hendrickson family's religion consists of nothing more than the practice of plural marriage and praying before meals. I am certain that it will be more fully developed as the show progresses (no spoilers!). It also seems that the creators of the show are not so subtly trying to make a case for permitting plural marriage, as long it is freely chosen and entered into by consenting adults, who can also choose to leave. If this were ever to happen, the question becomes would the LDS Church permit it to be practiced among the faithful here as it does in countries where plural marriage is allowed? Currently, in the U.S. and other countries in which it is illegal, LDS members are excommunicated for practicing plural marriage. It is fair to say that this is a question that would divide LDS people. So, in the end, it would depend on what direction would be given by any future president of the LDS Church, were it to become legally permitted. Given all this, I cannot but point out the irony I see in the LDS going to such lengths to support and advocate for initiatives, like Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to define marriage as being solely between one man and one woman. Several years ago we overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment here in Utah doing the same thing. Given all of the heat they are taking for their Proposition 8 advocacy, it seems to be a way of publicly repudiating plural marriage and seeking to enter more into the religio-social mainstream, which seems to me was the overarching objective of President Hinckley's tenure. In my opinion, Ostling's book, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, which he co-wrote with his wife, Joan, remains the best contemporary look at Mormonism.

In many ways, I remain culturally LDS. After all, we cannot change the reality of our lives, especially those things into which we were born. In my case, I have no desire to do any such thing. When our dear friend and long-time next-door-neighbor, Bessie, passed away a little more than a month ago, we attended her funeral at the ward just down the street from where we used to live. It was all so familiar to me. I knew all the hymns by heart and sang them. The funeral, like that of my uncle, who died back in January, was beautiful for its sincerity and simplicity. While God has moved me in a different direction, which movement began once I came to the difficult conclusion in the my early twenties that I could not believe what I had to believe to remain a member of the LDS faith, I have to state that beyond any inability on my part to believe what my reason necessitated I reject, the LDS religion did not meet the need that I am, that is, it did not correspond to my heart. Nonetheless, on that day I found myself giving thanks to God for my upbringing and the many wonderful people who helped shape and form me. Somehow, it is all part of His plan for me.

Below are two links to other relevant posts on matters LDS:
Romney's primary problem is not being LDS

Are the LDS Christians? The red herring that won't go away

I am trying to wade cautiously and respectfully, but honestly, into these waters. I will state up-front that I am not coming at this as an outsider. So, I welcome comments as long as they are constructive and civil.


  1. The Ironic CatholicMarch 26, 2009 at 7:58 PM

    Nothing of worth to say other than this is a very interesting post. And I don't watch TV, but I would find Big Love interesting if they tackled some of the (obvious?) difficulties of trying to live a polygamous lifestyle as a norm.

  2. We don't watch much tv either that is why we're watching it on DvD. In a way, it is the same argument used to justify gay marriage, namely that it is so weird and wrong because society does not accept it.

    I'll tell you the story of my great-great grandmother, who was forcibly married to a my great-great grandfather and who disliked it tremendously. ONe of the reasons that the State of Utah is tolerant of it is because many of our leaders, like our governor, former governor, and attorney general do not oppose it on principle.

  3. Polygamous roots here too. The current UT gov. and I are distant relations, going back to the same polygamous people. Which, isn't saying too much. I have a lot of "cousins" because of these relationships.

    Anyway! We DVR and watch Big Love at our house, ummm, religiously.

    It gets into more depth, of their beliefs, and their struggles to live polygamy.

    I agree it is an apologetic for living whatever kind of relationship you like, among consenting adults. One of the writers (there are several) is Dustin Lance Black. He was raised LDS and left for a homosexual lifestyle. He wrote the screen play for "Milk", a film about gay activist Harvey Milk. Who, became CA first openly gay elected official.

  4. "He wrote the screen play for 'Milk'"

    Makes sense. I was surprised that Michael Bronski, reviewing the movie in Cinaste, lambasted Milk as a poor film. In both instances, the same agenda certainly seems to be in play.

  5. In your blog you state that LDS allows plural marriage aka polygamy in those nations where it is legal and you mention something about Gordon B. Hinckley saying this was so. I belive you are incorrect on this as former LDS President Hinckley clearly stated that "More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage."

    This is from speech given in October 1988. Gordon B. Hinckley on Polygamy & Other Social Issues

    The speech shows tha LDS are in basic agreement on issues of gay marriage with Catholics, but that LDS are more liberal on abortion issue that Catholic Church.

  6. First of all, thank you for your thoughtful and constructive comment. In that same constructive spirit, I must point out that your reply simply begs the question. After all, what is at stake here is whether it is in fact the case that those who practice polygamy in countries where it can be done legally and openly are forbidden from joining the LDS Church. I think it is true that once somebody has joined, even in the countries that allow polygamy, if not a polygamist beforehand, they are not free to begin practicing it once a member.

    When President Hinckley, in an interview on Larry King Live condemned polygamy and pointed to its illegality in the U.S., citing the 12th A of F, he also stated that it is not even doctrinal. If it is not doctrinal, then how does one get around Doctrine & Covenants Section 132? It has been shown definitively by D. Michael Quinn and other historians that polygamy was practiced among the LDS after the 1890 Manifesto, this was the primary reason for the establishment of the LDS colony in Juarez, Mexico, but the practice even persisted for a time right here in Utah in the Church after 1890. So, the Manifesto did not end polygamy in the LDS Church.

    While you are correct that we are politically in agreement about so-called gay marriage and about abortion, we differ considerably as to the bases on which we arrive at these political commitments, which, precisely as political commitments, are not the most important things. A man married to more than one woman is, sacramentally-speaking, as well as from the perspective of natural law, not married at all, probably not even to his first wife because he does not understand several important things about the very nature of marriage. In the same way, two people of the same sex, regardless of the depth of their commitment to each other, cannot be married. The fact of their not being able to enter into marriage does nothing to diminish whatever good that may be present in their relationship.

  7. Yes read your comments on subject of plural marriage aka polygamy. Went to LDS church website and they are in agreement with your statement about some plural marriages continueing after manifesto. From LDS website: "The Bible indicates that Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had multiple wives (see Genesis 16:1–3; 29:23–30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1–2). Joseph Smith asked God why He had permitted this practice and was told that God had commanded it for specific purposes. One reason given by the Lord for plural marriage is mentioned in the Book of Mormon: “If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall [have only one wife]” (Jacob 2:30; see also v. 27).

    After God revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Smith in 1831 and commanded him to live it, the Prophet, over a period of years, cautiously taught the doctrine to some close associates. Eventually, he and a small number of Church leaders entered into plural marriages in the early years of the Church. Those who practiced plural marriage at that time, both male and female, experienced a significant trial of their faith. The practice was so foreign to them that they needed and received personal inspiration from God to help them obey the commandment.

    When the Saints moved west under the direction of Brigham Young, more Latter-day Saints entered into plural marriages.

    Influenced by rumors and exaggerated reports, the United States Congress, beginning in 1862, enacted a series of laws against polygamy that became increasingly harsh. By the 1880s many Latter-day Saint men were imprisoned or went into hiding.

    In 1889 in the face of increasing hardships and the threat of government confiscation of Church property, including temples, Wilford Woodruff, President of the Church at the time, prayed for guidance. He was inspired to issue a document that officially ended the sanction of plural marriage by the Church. The document, called the Manifesto, was accepted by Church members in a general conference held in October 1890 and is published in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 1 (see also “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto” following Official Declaration 1).

    Just as the practice of plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints began gradually, the ending of the practice after the Manifesto was also gradual. Some plural marriages were performed after the Manifesto, particularly in Mexico and Canada. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith called for a vote from the Church membership that all post-Manifesto plural marriages be prohibited worldwide.

    More recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley has reiterated that plural marriage is “against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows [the practice of a man having more than one wife], the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 72).

    Groups who teach polygamy today are not part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."


    As too D&C 132, it like many parts of scripture in Bible we no longer follow such as references to slavery, we no longer allow slavery even though scriptures allow for it. Revelation changes things just as the Apostle Peter received revelation about clean & unclean things, the parts of the Bible about unclean foods remains, just not follwed. See Acts 10 vrs 10 to 16.

  8. As Christians, the reason we do not follow a lot of what is taught in the Jewish Scriptures, or, what is commonly referred to as the Old Testament, is that we read these texts through the lens of the New Testament. For example, look at Acts 15 for an account of the relationship of Gentile converts to Christianity to the Law of Moses. Despite this ruling, Judaizers persisted in the Church for some time, including Peter, who could not seem to make up his mind about this issue, even after his experience in Joppa with Cornelius. It is not a case of God changing His mind, the Law was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

    The version of polygamy you present is highly selective and not exactly in accord with the documented facts. There is a lot of good literature, some of which is written by Latter-day Saints, like Richard Bushman, that paints a more accurate picture of both Joseph Smith, Jr.'s polygamist activities, including taking the wives of other men and secretly "marrying" teenage girls, and polygamy as it was subsequently practiced in the LDS Church, even after the Manifesto. The practice of polygamy ended because to continue it was to threaten the very existence of LDS Church.

    Peter's revelation that he could dine with the Roman Cornelius and his family is not akin to revelation changing, it is an indication of the fulfillment of the prophecy first given to Abraham in Genesis 22 that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Of course, this was Jesus Christ, who allows all to share in the one covenant God establishes between Himself and humanity. This thread about the covenant extending beyond Israel to encompass the whole world is a thread that runs consistently throughout the Jewish Scriptures, in prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and in an especially strong and even humorous manner in The Book of Jonah. As to the relationship of Jesus Christ to the Law, I refer anyone to Romans, roughly chapters 5-9.

    Besides, if what you say is true, why can a man be sealed to more than one woman for time and eternity, even if he is only free to do so after the death of his previous wife? In other words, there is nothing in LDS belief or practice that would lead one to conclude anything other than that the LDS accept plural marriage as a theological and eternal principle.

    God does not change or change His mind. God is not capricious. This was the subject of Pope Benedict's Regensburg address with regard to certain strands of Islamic thought.


God's love for us is tireless

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