Isn’t polygamy really just adultery?

[Author’s note: this post is primarily addressed to LDS and members of organized fundamentalist break off groups. If you’re neither, you are of course welcome to read on – but you may miss some of the cultural references; then again, you may find it interesting to catch a glimpse into how millions of Mormons think.]

I was raised very active, faithful LDS. As such, I was emphatically taught the following: “Polygamy is a Sin, unless God commands it, and God will only ever deliver such a command through the Prophet. Polygamists who don’t get permission from the Prophet (or his authorized representatives) are guilty of Adultery and the only worse sins are Murder and Denying the Holy Ghost.” (paraphrasing)

I have found this perspective to be the rule throughout the LDS church and among almost all organized fundamentalist groups. What is amazing is that LDS and fundamentalist groups alike are united in thinking that only One Man can rightfully sanction plural marriage, and that anyone who marries plurally without that One Man’s permission is an adulterer – the only difference is WHO they believe the One Man is. I sometimes refer to this way of thinking as the “one man theory.”

If an LDS person gains a testimony of certain doctrines that were taught in the early days of the church and begins investigating fundamentalism, yet still retains their conditioned belief in the “one man theory,” their efforts will quickly devolve into a frustrating and futile version of the game “button, button, who’s got the button?” Indeed, such a person can truly relate to Joseph Smith’s feelings when he said, “In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS-History 1:10)

Rather than dig in to the origins and reasons for this pervasive belief in the “one man theory” (which could fill books and is beyond the scope of this post), let’s try a different approach recommended by John Taylor:

“I believe it is good to investigate and prove all principles that come before me. Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil, no matter what guise it may come in. I think if we, as ‘Mormons,’ hold principles that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and by good sound reason and philosophy, the quicker we part with them the better, no matter who believes in them or who does not. In every principle presented to us, our first inquiry should be, ‘Is it true?’ ‘Does it emanate from God?’ If He is its Author it can be sustained just as much as any other truth in natural philosophy; if false it should be opposed and exposed just as much as any other error. Hence upon all such matters we wish to go back to first principles.” (John Taylor JD 13:15.)

With this approach in mind, let’s revisit some common and familiar terms and re-examine whether their modern, traditional interpretation within Mormonism actually matches their biblical and historical meaning – or not. In “proving” (in other words testing) these things, we will be able to better discern what is true and what isn’t, so that we can confidently embrace true, eternal principles and reject the flawed traditions we’ve inherited in our religious culture.

Adultery

My friend Joshua (one of the main authors on this blog) has already defined the biblical perspective of the term Adultery fairly thoroughly here. One noteworthy point is that for adultery to have occurred, a married woman must have had illicit intercourse with someone other than her husband; in which case, both parties (the unfaithful wife and the man) have committed a capital offense (meaning punishable by death) under biblical law. There is a corollary to this law that I hadn’t considered until just a few years ago, which I’ll spell out for clarity: therefore if an unmarried female has intercourse with a married man, biblically speaking this act is not adultery. In fact, if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, the biblical “penalty” is somewhat surprising: he must marry her!

This biblical perspective – of what does and doesn’t qualify as “adultery” – perfectly accords with D&C 132:61-63: “…if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified. But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed….” These verses are also helpful in clarifying the distinction between adultery and polygamy.

Marriage

Marriage is one of those terms that most people don’t think needs to be defined or qualified, because it is such a familiar and ubiquitous concept. However, living in the modern USA, we have certain traditions that have become taken for granted as being required for a marriage to be legitimate – specifically, “marriage licenses.” Have you ever considered the questions: “are marriage licenses required for a marriage to be legitimate? Are marriage licenses an eternal principle?” A brief look into the history and development of marriage may be surprising if you’ve never studied it before.

In the LDS church (since 1890), the standard for whether or not a marriage is regarded as legitimate is whether a couple possesses a government issued marriage license or not (at least within the USA). Biblically, historically, and even legally, this is a strange and arbitrary definition. Even today in 2019, 10 States in the USA (namely Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah – see here) don’t require a couple to obtain a marriage license to be considered legally and lawfully married; in these states, all that is legally required for a couple is to publicly say they are married to each other and to cohabit with each other. The legal term for such a marriage is a “common law marriage” (see here). Being born-and-raised LDS myself, when I first learned about this fact I found it shocking! But… if you think about it, it makes sense. Marriage and the family pre-date all government; Adam and Eve didn’t get permission from the government aka a marriage license (what a laughable idea!).

“Ok,” you might be thinking, “so if a state-issued marriage license isn’t a God-ordained requirement for a legitimate marriage, surely at least a religious ceremony is required!” Question: what came first, the marriage of Adam and Eve, or the founding of the first church? What about cultures that don’t have organized religion involved with marriage – does that make them all guilty of adultery?

For example: among Native Americans prior to European colonization, government was a very fluid and uncentralized concept. When a man and woman decided to be married, they didn’t ask the chief for permission. Most tribes had religious ceremonies that surrounded the marriage to make it publicly known that the woman and man were starting a family; but if a couple “eloped” (ran off into the woods) and came back announcing that they were now married, it was accepted just as lawfully binding by the tribe as if accompanied by the most elaborate religious ceremony/celebration. Would these marriages be somehow less legitimate in God’s eyes because they lacked a government issued paper document or ecclesiastical endorsement?

Scripturally speaking, I believe it’s self evident that what constitutes a legitimate marriage in God’s sight is along the same lines as a “common law” marriage – that a woman not be married/espoused to another (living) man, that she and her husband consider themselves married to each other and are faithful to one another, and that they have conjugal relations with each other. Nothing more, nothing less.

Marriage vs. Sealing

Perhaps some reading these words are thinking I’m missing the point semantically by equating the rules governing monogamous marriage with those governing plural marriage (thinking that a plural situation makes all the difference). My response to that is: upon what basis do you think that? Either marriage is marriage – or it isn’t. If a monogamous marriage is a legit marriage and acceptable in God’s sight when the qualifications outlined above are met, then why not a plural marriage?

Granted, the scriptures make it clear that “if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.” (D&C 132:15)

In other words – if a marriage is to last beyond THIS world into eternity, it must meet additional requirements. This applies to monogamous marriages the same as polygamous marriages; but just like if a monogamous marriage isn’t “sealed” for eternity doesn’t make the marriage relationship adulterous, if a polygamous marriage isn’t “sealed” for eternity it also doesn’t make that marriage relationship adulterous!

If a monogamous couple:
1) is faithful to each other;
2) builds a celestial quality marriage relationship;
3) desires and is worthy to receive the sealing ordinance by proper authority;
4) yet hasn’t had the opportunity to receive that ordinance by proper authority in this life;
Would the God you worship deprive them of that blessing and damn them to singlehood apart from each other for eternity?
Or would God provide them with an opportunity (either in this life or the next) to comply with the ordinances if they are worthy in every other way?

And now the crux of the matter.

If a polygamous man and his wives:
1) are faithful to each other;
2) build a celestial quality marriage relationship among one another;
3) desire and are worthy to receive the sealing ordinance by proper authority;
4) yet haven’t had the opportunity to receive that ordinance by proper authority in this life;
Would the God you worship deprive them of that blessing and damn them to singlehood apart from each other for eternity?
Or would God provide them with an opportunity (either in this life or the next) to comply with the ordinances if they are worthy in every other way?

Can such a plural marriage relationship (despite not being “sealed by proper authority” or being entered into with a “priesthood ordinance”) be called adultery by any scriptural or rational definition of the term?

I believe the answer is self evidently No.

And to anyone who would say otherwise, I would remind you:
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16)
“And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:18-19)
“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10)

In other words, the biblical penalty for adultery is death; ergo the biblical penalty for *falsely accusing people of adultery* is also death – for the accusers. Accusing people of adultery is very serious indeed; the stakes are higher than you have probably ever considered before. Even though our modern governments do not enforce the biblical laws concerning the crimes of adultery and false accusation, God sees all, and Christ Himself warned that “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” (Matthew 7:2) Not my words. We cannot say we haven’t been warned. Wise people will be very reluctant to judge the relationship choices of sincere consenting adults.

Jacob 2

This chapter from the Book of Mormon is surprisingly only one of two places in all of the standard works (at least in English) where the word “chastity” is used. The word does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament, and only occurs 3 times in the New Testament (in the KJV). From our modern, Western worldview, the word “chastity” is tied almost exclusively to a sexual connotation of virginity/celibacy; however, from a Hebrew worldview the perspective has much more context and nuance. This subject is also far beyond the scope of this not-so-brief blog post, yet is incredibly important and hopefully will receive the 1000 page book it deserves someday soon.

For the sake of today’s conversation, I will just point out a few significant qualifiers from Jacob 2 that are often overlooked by Mormons who misapply Jacob’s prohibition against polygamy to be universal.

In verse 27, we find that the restriction from practicing polygamy was actually limited in its application to the people present at this meeting where Jacob addresses them: “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.” To apply this scripture beyond the intended scope is textually unsupported.

In verse 30, Jacob includes a caveat to this direction to live monogamously: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to live polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” Can you think of a single other commandment God has ever given where He included a caveat or exception with it? The fact that He did so in this case is concrete proof that monogamy is not an eternal truth or natural state – it was a commandment specific to this limited group of Nephites and was requisite for them to obey until it was rescinded (until God commanded otherwise).

Also worth mentioning in regard to verse 30; for those who equate polygamy with adultery unless specifically commanded by God, let’s try a word replacement and see what happens: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to commit adultery); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” Sometimes God can give commandments that defy the limited wisdom and perspective of man; but can you point to a single instance in all of scripture where God commanded a single person to violate a moral absolute? Adultery is a moral absolute; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not command anyone to violate a moral absolute; therefore, Jacob 2 actually proves that monogamy is not a moral absolute.

And finally: repeatedly throughout the Book of Mormon, the authors note that the Nephites obeyed the law of Moses; what almost all modern Mormons forget, is the fact that the law of Moses requires polygamy under certain circumstances. Jacob 2’s restriction of this specific group of Nephites to monogamy presents a singular anomaly, an exception to the rule (polygamy), which was the natural state for all other people who lived the law of Moses. Further discussion on this topic is necessary, but will have to wait for another time.

Polygamy Today

“Those who limit the designs of God as concerted by the Grand Council of Heaven cannot obtain the Knowledge of God, and I do not know but I may say they will drink in the Damnation of their souls. All those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty will come short of the Glory of God. To become a joint heir of the Heirship of the Son a man must put away all his traditions.” (Joseph Smith, 27 August 1843 “Three Grand Orders” speech)

Most Mormons today reject the idea that living polygamy is acceptable in 2019; however, the reasons used by various factions to reject it are quite variegated. Old-school or conservative faithful LDS church members believe polygamy is an “eternal principle” in theory, but since “the Prophet says we shouldn’t right now therefore anyone who does live it (without the Prophet’s permission) is committing adultery – follow the Prophet.” On the other end of the spectrum: New wave, liberal LDS church members believe that polygamy was a terrible mistake made by the early church leaders/members, and “thank Goodness God has used the Living Prophets to correct such an Egregious Sin.”

I suppose it may also be worth mentioning that there’s a new movement within the LDS church called “the Remnant” that thinks that polygamy is an evil sin and Joseph and Hyrum never lived/taught it. Unfortunately, those who believe this reveal their ignorance or denial of historical fact, as well as an astonishing ability to selectively choose which scriptures they accept and which ones they reject. Further comment on this tangent could also fill a book, and is beyond the scope of this post.

And lastly, there are fundamentalists, who by definition absolutely believe in and practice plural marriage. Yet they condemn anyone who practices it outside of their authority as sinners. I ask you which is worse: sin, or hypocrisy?

What’s amazing is that if we discover we have been in the wrong, we can repent and be forgiven as long as we 1) make reparations if we’ve wronged others and 2) turn away from our wrong behavior and do better moving forward. I hope this post has provided information and a new perspective that will help us become better neighbors to plural families that we may not agree with regarding religious belief and affiliation, as well as help us become better prepared to account to God for how we judge others.

Help the Briney Family

Want to help the Briney Family?  Being cut from the show was an unexpected financial hit for them all.

Buy a book from Drew.  He is a prolific author and has several titles including both fiction and non-fiction.  You can see his selection here.  You’re almost sure to find something there that interests you; if not, then his books would make great gifts for friends, family, and neighbors.  Someone you know is bound to be interested in either dragons or Mormon fundamentalism (or both), right?  He’s coming out with more books all the time.

Or, if you or someone you know has a new child, or is expecting one, then consider Angela’s new store, Lenny & Me.  They have some very high quality items.  My personal favorites are the books.  They are amazing!  They are indestructible! Ok, scissors or matches could probably do the trick, but they are impervious to chewing or tearing pages (something my current toddler is extremely proficient at).  They put old fashioned board books to shame!

And, if you are in Utah, you should consider coming to April’s “Paint Night”.  You can read about it on Facebook or Instagram.  She only has a few slots, but who knows, if there is enough interest, she might schedule another one of these soon.  She is an amazing artist (we have one of her pieces) and teacher as well.  The opportunity is yours to have a personal lesson from April.  And if you can’t make it to the paint night for whatever reason, but are interested in April’s artwork, then check out her Instagram page.  She sells her art, and if she doesn’t have what you are looking for you can commission her to create the art you want (new baby portrait, wedding day, Grandparents 60th wedding anniversary, whatever).

Check it out and spread the word.

The Sock Hop

So you think you have sock problems?  I promise they are nothing like ours.

You see, I buy socks for the husband, and I wear his socks too – because they’re good socks from Costco. So he wears the socks I get for him, but drops them off in the laundry at Charlotte’s house and they don’t come back to me for I don’t know how long because she also provides socks to him, but they’re not the socks I wear.  So, I find that I rapidly run out of socks because they could be anywhere.  Joshua’s drawer at my house, my laundry, Charlotte’s laundry, Joshua’s drawer at Charlotte’s house or maybe even Charlotte’s drawer, because she might be wearing them too –  and I hope she is because they are good socks from Costco.

Plus I’m getting socks from Charlotte’s house that are not the socks I have purchased. And let’s not forget the multiple washing machines eating them, or the misplacement of clean socks into someone else’s drawer – because I have not announced that I’ve purchased new socks, and the child doing laundry has no idea where they came from or where they go. I believe there is a pair or two in a brother’s drawer.

I brought all of this up with other family members yesterday, and tonight Charlotte presented me with a pile of socks that she only has one of.

Sock Hop.jpg

 

I know that at for least three of them, I have mates in my box of lonely socks. Likely, it’s both of our washers eating them, and we have enough to have more pairs of monogamous socks.

So anyway, there is a glimpse into the lives of polygamist sock drawers.  And speaking of socks, I’m going to get some more of those socks. Crew, blue and gray. They are great!

 

Pioneer Day

Happy Pioneer DayFrom its very beginnings, Mormonism seemed destined to attract ridicule and persecution of every variety, of every intensity, and from every direction —  be it religious, secular, or political.  Even Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, noted about himself:

It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?

Whether you agree with the doctrines and practices of Joseph Smith and Mormonism (and there is much to disagree with no doubt – for many of them are strange, and even offensive), the horrible abuse and religious persecution of the Mormon people at the hands of their oppressors (which included not only private persons, and mobs, but also state and federal governments) was shocking, horrific, and is completely unparalleled in the history of the United States.

Since the very beginnings of Mormonism in the state of New York, they were often treated harshly by their neighbors.  This mistreatment, which involved everything from mistrust and slander to murder and rape, caused the body of the Church to move from one place to another—to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and finally on to the land that would become Utah.  In fact, murder of Mormons was still officially sanctioned by the state of Missouri until June of 1976.

Being abused and driven continually from place to place quickly becomes old, and can be tolerated for only so long.  In all these tribulations the Mormons had petitioned the government (both state and federal) several times to aid them in their plights.  Perhaps most famously President Van Buren is reported to have said, when asked for aid, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. … If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri.”  Oh, the politicians!

KOG flag

The first wagon company entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th of 1847.  Brigham Young stated then that if they would be left in peace for 10 years, they would ask nothing further of the government.  Ten years later to the day, on July 24th of 1857, the saints were celebrating Pioneer Day up Big Cottonwood Canyon at Silver Lake, with the Stars and Stripes flying in the breeze, when word came to the territory of Deseret that the United States was sending an army to crush a supposed Mormon rebellion.

31star

 

Of course the rumors of rebellion and lawlessness in the territory were exaggerated well beyond the point of lies, and were used as false pretense for military action.  Ultimately this proved very costly for the government, and embarrassing for President Buchanan (the Utah War is sometimes referred to as Buchanan’s Blunder).  The real reasons for sending a sizable chunk of the army into the western wilderness was all done for political reasons and had nothing to do with the disloyalty of the Mormon people (for they were not disloyal to the United States – and never have been).  Rather, the reasons had to do with the impending civil war (the massive military force, trudging across the plains at this critical time, left many federal arsenals and military stores unprotected in the South), and the recently adopted Republican Party platform (adopted at the GOP convention of 1856 in Philadelphia) to rid the US of:

“the twin relics of barbarism,

polygamy and slavery“.

After receiving the news about the approaching army Brigham Young told the people to finish their Pioneer Day celebrations, and then they began making plans and preparations.  The plan they decided on was to stall the army, thru bloodless guerrilla warfare, as long as possible from entering the territory (the stories of Lot Smith and Porter Rockwell are fascinating and entertaining, but sadly too long to relate here).  This was to buy them time to clear up the misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and outright lies that were circulating in the East about the Mormon people.  Ultimately, the plan was carried out in a brilliant manner, and was successful in its aims.

Here is what Brother Brigham had to say about the situation:

It is a pretty bold stand for this people to take, to say that they will not be controlled by the corrupt administrators of our General Government.  We will be controlled by them, if they will be controlled by the Constitution and laws; but they will not.  Many of them do not care any more about the Constitution and laws that they make than they do about the laws of any other nation.  That class [of people] trample the rights of the people under their feet, while there are so many who would like to honor them.  All we ever asked for is our Constitutional rights.  We wish the laws of our Government honored, and we have ever honored them; but they are trampled under foot by administrators.

And furthermore:

I do not lift my voice against the great and glorious Government guaranteed to every citizen by our Constitution, but against those corrupt administrators who trample the Constitution and just laws under their feet.  They care no more about them than they do about the Government of France, but they walk them under their feet with impunity.  And the most of the characters they have sent here as officers cared no more about the laws of our country and of this territory than they did about the laws of China, but walked them under their feet with all the recklessness of despots. – Millennial Star, No. 3, Vol. 20, pg. 33

So remember this Pioneer Day, that this day is about religious liberty as much as it is about settling a strange land and making the desert blossom as a rose.  I leave you with the inspiring words of Connor Boyack, who wrote a beautiful guest opinion for the Daily Herald (the original article can be found here).  His words are reproduced here in their entirety:

July 24 is Utah’s second summer celebration of independence. On this state holiday, we remember the pioneers who on this date in 1847 arrived in the Salt Lake Valley to settle the area.

Fleeing from a mob and exiting the borders of the American states, Brigham Young and his Mormon followers started a new society in the desert, independent from the government that had forsaken them. In a letter to the U.S. president summarizing their intent, Young declared:

“We would esteem a territorial government of our own as one of the richest boons of earth, and while we appreciate the Constitution of the United States as the most precious among the nations, we feel that we had rather retreat to the deserts, islands or mountain caves than consent to be ruled by governors and judges whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocence and virtue, who delight in injustice and oppression.”

There are many reasons for which the early Latter-day Saints were persecuted, religious discrimination and concerns about concentrated political power among them. Of course, polygamy also played a role; it was only a few years later that the Republican Party was founded, focused on the abolition of two “barbarisms”: slavery and polygamy.

The decades that followed saw increasing intervention into this polygamous lifestyle by federal agents enforcing newly enacted laws against what had by then become the territory of Utah. LDS Church leaders went underground to avoid prosecution, and Mormon culture became insular and to some degree anti-government, so much so that the “Mormon Creed” was born and widely used, even featured as art in one LDS temple.

That motto? “Mind your own business. Saints will observe this, others ought to.”

The rest is history, but forgotten history for many in Utah. Raids against and imprisonment of many of our ancestors is so far distant from today’s society that it doesn’t get much attention.

It should — if for no other reason than the fact that many plural families continue to live amongst us, practicing their faith and living as best as they can, branded as they are as felons by their own government. We can more appropriately honor Utah’s polygamist pioneers who stood up for what they believed in, on Pioneer Day and every day, by not perpetuating the same oppressive policies against which they protested.

We’re all aware of the examples of abuse, fraud, and outright perversion in some polygamous circles. This does not, however, justify widely branding a population to which so many of us have a close connection.

In other words, a few bad apples doesn’t mean the whole bunch should be tossed out. There are numerous examples of consenting adults and loving families creating a safe and supportive environment for their children and one another.

Utah’s celebration of Pioneer Day is inherently connected to polygamy; the day is a memorial of unfair persecution based on religious and cultural differences. For a modern society that claims to increasingly support diversity and inclusion, the continued persecution of the posterity of the very people for whom the holiday exists stands as a hypocritical anomaly worth pointing out.

A modern leader in the LDS Church had something to say about this:

“Our pioneer ancestors were driven from place to place by uninformed and intolerant neighbors. They experienced extraordinary hardship and persecution because they thought, acted, and believed differently from others. If our history teaches us nothing else, it should teach us to respect the rights of all people to peacefully coexist with one another.”

The very state government that has institutionalized this holiday, and that was created by those persecuted in part for their support of polygamy, now criminalizes this lifestyle as a felony. Separate laws allow for the prosecution of those actually guilty of a real crime — sexual abuse, fraud, neglect, etc. Going further to punish a consenting adult relationship is inherently unjust.

Yes, let’s celebrate Pioneer Day (or, for some, pie and beer day), but let’s take up the torch of the pioneers we celebrate by putting an end to the oppression from which they fled, and which many of their posterity are subjected to still.

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, a free market think tank in Lehi, and author of 14 books.

Happy Pioneer Day!