I suppose all the viewers have realized by now that the Briney family is not returning for the second season of Seeking Sister Wife, and I just wanted to say a few words about that. Of course, as a polygamist myself, I will have a somewhat different view on things than most others.
Different people will want different things from a show about polygamy. Some will want simple entertainment; the novelty of seeing a glimpse into the lives of real-life polygamous families is in itself a compelling reason to watch. Others might find it educational. They might be interested in how a polygamous family works, how do they manage their time, raise their children, what are their living arrangements like, sleeping schedules, etc. Others will look forward to seeing drama and bickering. The misery of others can be cruel sport. There will even be some who watch with hopes of seeing plural families fail in a public way. This will add further justification to their negative views and stereotypes relating to polygamy, and fuel their support of (and efforts to reinforce) political, social, and legal barriers to those families. As for myself and the rest of the polygamy community, I think we all hope that shows like this will be good publicity, good PR, and will generally show the positive, functional, and healthy side of this kind of family. We hope that they will help to change the largely negative public perception of plural families. Yes, every family, indeed every individual, has problems and struggles, but last season of Seeking Sister Wife was, frankly speaking, a disappointing train wreck.
This is not all the fault of the Brineys, of course, but I know they have a similar feeling about their own showing last season. Here are some quotes about it from their family blog, The Briney Family.
I see bitter bickering and failure to abide by basic Christian principles that leaves me feeling inexpressibly sad and extremely regretful that we, as a family, set such a bad example of our lifestyle on national tv. Worst. Disappointment. Of. My. Life. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
I’m truly heartbroken we’ve set such a bad example of our lifestyle that we fed that culture to whatever degree we did. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
As a family (including April), we were all devastated at how poorly our family represented our Mormon fundamentalist friends and peers. We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. – Drew (April’s Apology regarding Season 1)
April herself has told my wives and me in person that she has regret about the way things turned out on the show. Before anyone thinks I am picking on the Briney family, I want to say also that the family represented on TV was not a representation of their usual family life! The Brineys are also in agreement with this point.
These types of viewers notice that we’re “real” because we allowed ourselves to show our bad side on camera so people can see what the lifestyle is “really like.” I swallow hard when I hear that one. Our first season doesn’t show what our lifestyle is “really like.” It shows us experiencing our worst train wreck as a family! – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. Instead, unforeseen challenges led us to be a poor example of our lifestyle, our culture, and our peers. – Drew (April’s Apology Regarding Season 1)
I personally believe that their sudden television exposure, with its accompanying change of living arrangements (all moving in together in the same house), was a HUGE stressor to their family that they would not have been exposed to otherwise. It is not uncommon for families to end up broken after large, traumatic life changes (one spouse gets a serious disease – even if they are later cured, a child dies, a child is born, career changes, becoming empty nesters, etc). It happens, and it is tragic.
What happened with the Briney family was a tragedy as well. I love them all and still and count them as friends. April has been to my house several times since then and Drew and the rest of his family are welcome to visit as well.
Having said all that, I want to thank TLC! I know that many people have expressed dismay that the Brineys did not come back, but not me. Personally, I am glad of it, and I think TLC made the right decision. I know that even the Brineys (Drew, Auralee, and Angela) wanted the story of their family breaking up to air, but things are probably better this way. I think it would have been bad for everyone (all the members of the Briney family and the larger plural community as well), to have to live their personal family drama thrice. Once as it happened; once again when it was edited, distilled to its most potent form, and aired on national TV; and again when dissected and criticized ad nauseam by all the insensitive onlookers on social media. How can that be good for anyone? What person or relationship could thrive under those circumstances? It would wither anyone.
I hope, now that the pressure and stress of being in the public eye is largely gone, that the Briney family can rest, recuperate, reflect, and put all the pain and drama behind them. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be back for a future season after taking a break for a while.
Forgetting is actually an important part of our mental function and mental health. Forgetting helps us to live our lives in relative peace and be able to focus on the present. Having old offenses repeatedly dug up and examined (which is what would have happened had the juicy story aired) will not help us to live abundantly in the now. Forgetting offenses is an important part of forgiveness. The scriptures testify repeatedly that God will not only forgive our sins, but also forget them. They will be blotted out. He will mention them to us no more!
God bless the Briney family.
See here for some ideas if you are interested in helping the Briney Family.
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)
In the first episode of the second season of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to some new people. The lovely McGee family (Bernie and Paige). They seem like a very tightly-knit and loving family, and the interaction between their two boys brings an involuntary smile to my face. They are very likable people, and I’m looking forward to watching how things work out for them.
However, we do get several glimpses into their past attempts to add a wife to their family, and it seems that Paige’s jealousy is going to be a serious and recurring issue. And naturally so! There is nothing wrong with jealousy! After all, Jealousy is God’s middle name. Okay, okay, I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but it is one of his names at least:
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
See! There you go, jealousy must not be such a bad thing after all!
To be clear, I believe, that none of our fundamental natural desires or impulses are, of themselves, bad things. The sin always comes from the perversion of our desires. The desires themselves are God-given and innate. Wrongs comes from the excesses and the misapplications. We want things at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or in the wrong amounts, and don’t always consider how our efforts to achieve our desires appear to God or to our fellow beings.
For those who know the reference, our desires are like a red lizard sitting on our shoulder and whispering in our ears; arguing for us to give selfish and vile expression to our natural inclinations (for those who don’t know the reference, it is The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis). They are a serious hindrance if unbridled and allowed to run free. Appetites and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set. Food is good; we are even commanded to work for it (Gen 3:19, 2Thess 3:10), but too much of it and we are gluttons. Wine is something to look forward to (Isa 25:6), but drunkenness is a thing to be avoided. Human sexuality is a blessed and pleasurable thing, but is also the greatest snare and temptation of many people’s lives. Money has definite value, and using it facilitates our exchanges for goods and services, but making it the object of our affection is the root of many evils. You get the idea.
On the other hand, if bridled, trained, controlled, and allowed to give their proper vent, our natural inclinations can become our blessing, our strength, and our happiness. This transformation may not be an easy one, but will be well worth the trade for anyone concerned enough to make it!
Back to jealousy. It can be good. It has a purpose. The key is to find out what it is for and when it should be felt. If we can figure out our own selves, and our own emotions (even if it is an incremental process), we will simplify our lives and the lives of everyone around us.
First we must understand what jealousy is. Of course we all know what jealousy feels like, but I think it will be useful to discriminate between it and a very similar emotion, envy. In many cases these two words may be very close in their usage. They can both indicate a longing to posses something. However, the word jealous carries the particular sense of “vigilant (or zealous) in guarding a possession”. Jealousy also carries the connotation of a suspicious fear of losing something. In other words, properly applied, jealousy ought to be used to describe feelings of protectiveness for things that are our own; for things that already belong to us (our own advantages, attachments, relationships, and possessions). Thus, God is jealous for his people, for we are his!
We cross a line into envy when we begin to have similar emotions, but for things that are not ours. Another word for envy is covetousness. It is feeling possessive of things that we do not posses; it is feeling entitled to things to which we do not have a right. This of course, needs to be suppressed, and not allowed to take root.
Here then is the purpose of jealousy: it is one natural mechanism to preserve the romantic bond between spouses. It functions to encourage fidelity between parents (or potential parents). The jealous anger of one partner being both a deterrent to the infidelity of the other, and also a self-motivator for the person experiencing it to fight for the restoration of the bond. This (a strong bond between spouses) of course leads to a multitude of benefits for their children (or potential children), and their subsequent reproductive success.
Predictably, men and women feel jealousy in different ways, and for different (but significant!) reasons. To quote clinical psychologist, Dr. Vinita Mehta:
“Romantic jealously is widely understood to be different for men and women because each gender has a different level of investment in reproduction. For a man to provide for genetically distant children decreases his reproductive success—and because men are uncertain whether they really are the father of said children, they are most susceptible to [experiencing jealousy over] sexual infidelity. By contrast, women can rest assured that they are the mother of their own children; however, they are more dependent on men for resources, making them more sensitive to [experiencing jealousy over] emotional infidelity, since it could threaten the supply of resources for herself and her child.”
Generally speaking, women are concerned (on a basic, visceral level) that their partner’s affection for another woman will lead to a weaker emotional connection, and therefore less desire to care for them, or even that the emotional connection will be altogether severed, causing the man to abandon them for the other woman.
This all goes back to the scriptural, God-given roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage. This is the Biblical marriage covenant in a nutshell. To quantify this difference, a large study, published in 2014 (this is not the only study confirming these results), reported that men were significantly more likely than women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54% vs. 35%), and significantly less likely than women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46% vs. 65%).
There are many things that could be said about the result of this study, but I want to mention two. First, this does not mean that women don’t feel jealousy over sexual infidelity, or that men don’t feel jealousy over emotional infidelity; rather, it means that their primary causes of jealousy are generally different, and this has significant effects on the way that men and women think and act. The other thing to mention about this finding is that it has nothing to do with age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, relationship length, cultural differences, etc. Like it or not, this difference is an innate, biological difference.
So, how does knowing any of this help the Paige McGees of the world? I think there are at least two useful lessons that can be gleaned from the above.
1) Jealousy is natural, and can even be good, but care must be taken that it does not spill over into envy or covetousness. In order to keep jealousy within a righteous bound, we need to be certain of what is ours to be jealous over. In marriage, wives have a right to financial support for themselves and their children. They have full claim on their husband for that purpose. However, they do not have exclusive rights to him sexually. This is important to know because it can keep you from worrying over things that are not yours to worry about. To put it another way, you shouldn’t feel jealous over things that aren’t yours.
2) Understand that the source of your jealousy may largely (even unconsciously) come from a fear of being abandoned (emotional infidelity). This is certainly a rational fear, as we all know; this scenario has played out many times before. Many monogamous relationships have been broken by an unfaithful man tragically abandoning his wife and children for another woman. However, if you can realize that, in the case of polygamy, your husband is not at all interested in trading you for another woman, but rather wants to keep you both (or however many wives there may be), then that ought to restore your confidence that you are not being abandoned! At least it ought to increase the confidence in your mind – there may still be a battle with emotions, but what’s new about that? If he is a godly man then he still wants you to be his wife as much as ever, his emotions towards you are as strong as ever, and he still wants to keep his commitment to you and your children as much as ever.
So, to Paige, and to all the other plural (and potentially plural) wives out there I say: Have confidence in your husband and in your relationship, keep working on maintaining and improving your own relationship with your husband, and don’t worry too much about things that are not your business to worry about.
In my post about the social/legal side of marriage I said that I would write a future post about the spiritual aspects of marriage. In particular, I am going to give some thoughts on the Mormon concept of “sealing”. I realize this might not be interesting to all readers, but it is an essential concept for understanding the full import of Mormon polygamy.
The words that follow are adaptations of the words I prepared for a marriage rededication ceremony for some friends of mine. Just to give a little of the back story, I will repeat the beginning of my previous post:
A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage. They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony. It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other. It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing. You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances. This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence. When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience. Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.
My friends were not polygamists (never have been and never want to be), but many of the things I said will have obvious application to marriage in general. Here we go.
To express it briefly, sealing is all about a continuation of the family relationships that are formed in mortality. The hope is that those relationships which have been sealed will have the power to extend beyond this life, and into eternity, or in other words, that the covenants involved in family life will continue indefinitely.
The belief is that there is something essential about human familial interaction that can be preserved and endure forever – if it is worth preserving (that is, if it is Heavenly). While it is true that we may not know the exact details of Heavenly life, we believe that earthly life can be made to mirror Heaven in some respects, that earth can be made a little piece of Heaven, that the Kingdom of God can be within us, and among us, and that we can be personally (and as a family and even as a community) fashioned and made fit for Heaven as clay in a potter’s hand.
If you had to guess which one heaven was more like, a Church or a Family, which would you say? I would say that Heaven is more like a Family than a Church. In fact I would say that it was like one family in particular: The family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact Jesus calls Heaven, “Abraham’s bosom“. Those who enter are said to, “sit down” with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And all the faithful who are Christ’s will be part of that family. Whether natural branches or adopted in, they will be the seed of Abraham.
The structure of this family looks like this; there are 3 patriarchs at the head (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), below them are the 12 tribes (the sons of Jacob), next are the 70 descendants of Israel that entered into Egypt (which is symbolic of the world), finally there is the mixed multitude of their descendants and others who have joined them in their journey to the Promised Land. This structure is very similar to the hierarchical structure of the Church with it’s Presidency (3), Apostles (12), 70s, and members.
But here is the question: is Abraham’s family supposed to be reminding us that the Church is the real thing to be a part of, or is the Church supposed to be reminding us that Abraham’s Family is the real thing to be a part of? Well, I’ll give you a hint; Jesus never refers to Heaven as Russell’s bosom.
For Elder Parley P. Pratt, a knowledge of this doctrine of an eternal, heavenly family deepened his love for his own family:
“It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes, in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness. . Till then I had learned to esteem kindred affections and sympathies as appertaining solely to this transitory state, as something from which my heart must be entirely weaned, in order to be fitted for its heavenly state. . It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. . It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore.… . I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean.… In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also.” – Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 297–298
For those who love and cherish their families, and spouses, it would not fully be Heaven without them. Mark Twain expressed it very well in, Eve’s Diary. The final words of that story are Adam’s description of his beloved Eve:
“Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.”
Mormons get too wrapped up in authority. They argue with everyone about it. They even argue among themselves about it. For many of them it seems that authority, for all the reverence they give it, is their religion, and this sometimes leads them to say foolish things. Things like, “Plural marriage without the proper authority is sin.” or, “Unauthorized polygamy is adultery.” or, “Polygamy will damn those who practice it, unless their unions have been authorized by the One Man who holds all the authority (keys)”.
I’ll say a little more about authority in the next installment of this post, but for now I’d just like to point out that in section 132 the Lord mentions three separate cases where a man and woman can make a covenant with each other (these cases are in verses 15, 18, 19). In every case mentioned, the covenant is between the man and the woman, or between the man, the woman, and God. There are no mentions made of government officials, state approval, judges, magistrates, or licenses, nor priests, bishops, elders or other clergy. Furthermore, in every case, no matter how it is done, the Lord calls it “Marriage”, and marriage is always honorable.
And yet, a marriage union has both civil and religious recognition and ramifications. This is because marriage is fundamental both to our society here as well as in Heaven. In D&C 130:2 we read,
“And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”
Indeed, there is something potentially eternal about our relationships. Hopefully, we will treat them that way.
I have witnessed many, and sometimes heated, debates about the status of polygamy in God’s eyes. The variations in position cover the following range of beliefs:
It is an abhorrent adulterous abomination to God, and always has been.
It is an adulterous abomination, but only presently, and has been allowed or commanded in the past (this is the view currently held by the LDS Church).
It is technically allowed (or tolerated) by God, but is not considered ideal (this view is held by some Christians, Martin Luther for example).
It is not only allowed, but also considered equally favored by God in comparison with monogamy (this view is held by some in the Hebrew Roots movement).
It is always a positive commandment of the Lord (altho it has been withheld from the wicked), it is favored above monogamy, and living it brings the highest possible blessings (this view is held by the various fundamentalist Mormons).
Of course, there are many variations and gradations of these positions, I am sure, and I apologize if I have missed anyone’s particularly favorite view point. There is at least one additional position not listed, which I will unfold in this post. But first, let’s look at some often misunderstood (and criticized) verses of Mormon scripture:
D&C 132:34-35 “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law…Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”
Why is this particular passage so often misunderstood and criticized? On its surface it is really quite simple; anyone reading the account in Genesis about Hagar will see in a moment that Abram takes Hagar to be his wife at Sarai’s urging, while God seems to be silent in the moment.
Genesis 16:1-3 “Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.”
The Bible says it was Sarai’s idea; section 132 says it was to fulfill God’s command. Section 132 says it was to fulfill “the law”; the Bible makes no mention of any law being followed. Therefore, section 132 contradicts the Bible, therefore section 132 is false. QED. If only the world were so simple.
Of course there are many other objections to section 132, and I will get to some of them in future posts, but for now I will stick to this objection. Actually, this objection often goes further to say that God never commanded polygamy; not in Abraham’s case and not in any other case either.
The truth about polygamy in the Bible is neither as bleak as the detractors hope for, nor as rosy as the Fundamentalists would like.
While it is true that polygamy was never commanded in a general sense in the Bible, there are several instances where it is most certainly commanded in a limited sense. First we have the levirate marriage situation:
Deuteronomy 25:5-6 “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.”
This command is general in that the marital status of the next brother is not a factor at all. In other words, this command may result in polygamy if the next of kin is already married; he will still be required to add his deceased brother’s wife to his family, and to provide an heir for his brother’s house by having children with her. Certainly, this would not result in polygamy in every instance (for example, if the next of kin were single, widowed, or divorced), but it would amount to commanded polygamy otherwise.
Next we have the case of premarital sex between a man and an eligible woman.
Exodus 22:6 “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.”
As in the previous case, there is no mention made whatsoever of the marital status of the man (only of the woman). Like the previous example, this command would not always result in a polygamous union, but in cases where the man were already married it certainly could. Both of these laws are made to protect the woman, and to prevent her from being abused, either by tragic circumstances or by unscrupulous men.
So there we have two cases where polygamy may be commanded in certain situations. However, neither of these applies to Abraham and Hagar (altho you might argue that the second case applies). How then can section 132 claim that Abraham took Hagar as wife in order to fulfill the law and command of Yehovah? One solution is to simply believe that the command was given but was unrecorded. This is certainly a possibility, but I don’t think it is necessary to believe this in order to harmonize the verses.
A third case where polygamy might be commanded was in the case of infertility, and this certainly was the case for Abraham and Sarah. Among the first commandments given to man by God was the command to multiply and replenish the earth. As strange as this may sound at first, this commandment was for the men only. Some of the ancient rabbis taught that the command to have children wasn’t necessary for women, since they were seemingly hardwired to want that anyway. Of course the men need the women in order to fulfill this command; nevertheless, it was the men’s responsibility to fulfill, and this has always been the Jewish understanding of the matter. How can this be so?
Genesis 9:1, 7-9 “And God blessed Noahand his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;”
Here God is speaking to Noah and his sons only (and to all the future sons of Noah). Here is another example in Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel:
Genesis 35:10-11 “And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob:…And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;”
Here’s another interesting one:
Psalm 127:3-5 “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them…”
Polygamy can allow a man to have a larger family than he could with a single wife. Of course, there are some women that are capable of handling a large family on their own. I am in no way discrediting this; indeed I admire this, but not all women have the same threshold for children (whether biological or psychological), and this will vary widely from woman to woman. Some would be happy to have a dozen or more while others would rather have none, or want some but are unable. I personally came from a family of 7 children (I am the eldest), and while I certainly would not want to send myself or any of my siblings back, it ended up being too many for my mother (if you asked her, she would not have wanted to send any of us back either). She suffered multiple mental breakdowns and institutionalizations during the latter part of her life. As a result, she had relatively little to do with the raising of my youngest siblings. My father was happy with 7, and my mother was too (if you asked her), she just might have been happier with 4 or 5.
Despite all that, the obvious objection to this view of the commandment is to point to the case of Adam and Eve:
Genesis 1:27-28 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
The Jewish understanding of these verses looks at the entire injunction, rather than isolating the multiplying and replenishing part only. God also says to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it, and over everything on it. These are largely male activities; which gives us a clue as to who was being addressed. Of course Eve was to be Adam’s help in fulfilling all these things, but the ultimate responsibility was on Adam’s shoulders. Here is a verse that illustrates the Hebrew view of the dominion that was enjoined upon man:
Psalm 8:4-6 “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:”
Here then is a third situation in which polygamy was commanded in the Bible. If a man had an infertile wife (and the large majority of infertility problems stem from the female), then he ought to seek another wife in addition to his first in order to keep the law and responsibility placed upon him to multiply and replenish the earth. The commonly understood length of time is 10 years of infertility (this is the rabbinical tradition), but might be any reasonable length of time. After this time the couple ought to be looking for another wife if they are serious about keeping the injunction to multiply. This is not to say that another wife could not be added before this time, or for another reason, but that after this time has elapsed the responsibility becomes more serious.
For many modern Jews, the option of polygamy has been made unavailable to them by the decree of Rabbi Gershom in the year 1000 A.D. (or thereabout). This rabbinical decree made polygamy unlawful in the Diaspora (and also made it illegal to snoop by opening other people’s mail). There is some controversy about this ban and when it may have expired etc.; however, the general practice among Jews is to continue this ban out of tradition. Unfortunately, this means that a modern Jewish man in this situation may have to think about divorce in order to fulfill his duty to procreate, and among Jews this is seen as a justifiable reason to seek a divorce. Not that divorce is required by the rabbis, only that it is justified. Still, I think it is a very sad state of things for those in this unfortunate situation. it would be much better if they would just embrace the law that was already given them, rather than encumbering it with traditions of the elders.
Abraham was promised by Yehovah that his seed would be both numerous, and also a blessing to the whole world.
Genesis 22:17-18 “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;”
This is the law and commandment which God had given to Abraham, and to all other men as well. Even if God did not single out Hagar by name as Abraham’s next wife, it would still be perfectly correct to say that Abraham and Sarah were keeping the law and God’s command by adding Hagar to their family.
Let me put it another way. If the verses in section 132 were talking about marriage in general (and not about polygamy specifically), and had said something like this instead:
“God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave herself to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law…Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”
No one would probably complain (because monogamy isn’t controversial), even tho the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this anywhere – God did not directly command Abraham to marry Sarah by name. Hopefully it would be easy to see that Abram married Sarai because it is God’s law to marry and reproduce (it is not good for man to be alone and all that jazz). Who knows, this may have also been Sarah’s idea. Regardless, it is the command of God for men to find a willing and eligible woman, get married to her, and attempt to reproduce. In other words, a similar argument can be made in support of Abraham’s monogamy as in support of his polygamy. In both cases he was seeking to fulfill God’s law and command. In so doing Abraham was blessed, and the promises were fulfilled.
D&C 132:30,34 “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins…and as touching Abraham and his seed…both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them…God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.”
This then illustrates an additional view on plural marriage which was not among those listed at the beginning of this post: It is a form of marriage which is always honored by God if it is lived in a righteous manner (the same can be said of monogamy), and is sometimes commanded, but not necessarily for everyone in every situation. I do believe there is freedom in these things; most people are not required to live polygamy, but anyone may if they choose. However, there are times when it positively must be lived, and, like every other law of God, it is a law which ought to be kept when God’s word requires it of us.
In a previous post, I promised to elaborate some more on Adultery. It is among the dirtiest of words in the English language. It conjures up thoughts of the most serious kind of betrayal. There is perhaps no more serious a crime than the treachery of betrayed trust. Indeed, Dante places it at the very bottom of the pit – the 9th and very lowest circle of Hell. In Genesis 20:9 adultery is referred to as, “[the] great sin“. It is important then that we know what constitutes this great sin.
This is especially true perhaps in the case of polygamists, who are accused of committing this heinous sin by virtue of their marriages. For example, the last paragraph under the entry “Plural Marriage” in the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, said, “Any who pretend or assume to engage in plural marriage in this day [when the President of the LDS Church has forbidden it], are guilty of gross wickedness. They are living in adultery, have already sold their souls to Satan, and (whether their acts are based in ignorance or lust or both) they will be damned in eternity.” These are strong accusations to make.
First of all, let us establish that God has very clearly commanded,
Exodus 20:14 “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
It is the 7th commandment, and violation of this prohibition brought the most serious of consequences. As for punishment, there is no difference between the sexes, it was to be punished by DEATH for both parties (Leviticus 20:10). Certainly then we would want to know what constitutes this grave sin, so that we may utterly eschew it.
What is adultery? The answer to this question may seem simple, and indeed it is. And yet, the answer may nevertheless still surprise many people. Of course, as God is the author of this law, we ought to consult the scriptures for an answer. But first, let us look at the present usage of the word.
Unfortunately, the modern notions of what constitutes adultery have strayed in a very significant way from the original meaning of the word. Of this grammatical apostasy, some will say that the Biblical definitions of words, such as ‘adultery‘, are not as relevant in these modern times, with our modern understanding, and our modern morality. To this I would reply, that the Bible is the very reason that ‘adultery‘ is even in our vocabulary. It is the Biblical teachings on the matter that are the source of our conceptual understanding of this topic. The Bible is foundational to our notions about the immorality of adultery in the first place. Furthermore, no matter what the modern understanding of a word may be, we must understand the original, Biblical meanings of words in order to understand the Biblical stories, teachings, and commandments. As in all things, context is crucial. Let us be faithful to the word.
Here is the modern definition of adultery from some well-respected dictionaries:
Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse or partner. – Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse. – Oxford Dictionary
Sex between a married man or woman and someone he or she is not married to. – Cambridge Dictionary
Certainly language evolves, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is expected as our world changes. There are constantly new things and new situations that need to be described. Perhaps these definitions wouldn’t bother me so much if they stated that they were strictly modern definitions and that the original meaning of the word was something else. Without this sort of disclaimer, people will interpret ancient occurrences of the word in the incorrect light of a modern definition. Case in point: dictionary.com used to include the biblical definition of adultery on its “adultery” page, but that section was deleted just recently (sometime between March and May of 2017).
Here are some older definitions of the word:
Violation of the marriage bed; a crime, or a civil injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring. By the laws of Connecticut, the sexual intercourse of any man, with a married woman, is the crime of adultery in both. – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed.) starts with the modern definition, but then adds:
In some [US] states, however, as was also true under the Roman and Jewish law, this crime is committed only when the woman is married to a third person.
I like the wording of these definitions very much. In the Webster’s 1828, it says that Adultery may introduce spurious offspring into a family; thus, adultery requires the woman to be married (i.e. she is part of a family). To adulterate a thing is to corrupt it by adding something foreign to it – to add or mix something with it that would not normally be mixed with it. To do so is to commit adultery. The adulterer is adding his seed to another man’s wife, and potentially his offspring to another man’s family.
Whether or not adultery has been committed depends exclusively on the marital status of the woman. The marital status of the man has nothing to do with it. He may be married or single, divorced or widowed; it is all inconsequential. Let me be very clear and precise: adultery happens when a married (or betrothed) woman voluntarily has sex with a man who is not her husband (or her betrothed). That is the simple, scriptural meaning of the crime of adultery. This does not mean that only women can commit adultery! Both parties are equally guilty, and the punishment is the same for both.
Let’s compare these common definitions with the definitions from a selection of Bible Dictionaries. As you read these you’ll get the impression that one of these things is not like the other…
Conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress. – Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897)
Adultery was understood as sexual intercourse between a man and another man’s wife or betrothed woman. Similarly, any act of coition between a married woman and a man who was not her husband was also regarded as adultery. – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996)
The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. – Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1884)
The unlawful association of men and women. Although generally having reference to illicit activity of married persons, the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried. – LDS Bible Dictionary (1979)
A few things stand out to me as I read these definitions. First, I am very pleased with the descriptions given in the first three dictionaries. And yet, with this correct understanding of scripture, it makes me wonder in disbelief, how there can be such a generally vehement opposition to polygamy from the Christian community at large.
The other thing that stands out to me is the LDS definition. It just makes me shake my head. What are they talking about, “the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried”?? Every single instance of adultery in the scripture where the marital status of either party is mentioned makes reference to the marriage or betrothal of the woman. Every single one. Here are several examples:
Leviticus 20:10 “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.”
Proverbs 2:16-19 “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth [i.e. her husband] and ignored the covenant she made before God.”
Proverbs 5:3,20 “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil…Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?”
Proverbs 6:26-32 “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry…But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.”
Jeremiah 29:23 “Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord.”
Ezekiel 16:32 “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!”
Hosea 3:1 “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.'”
Hosea 4:13-14 “They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills… your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses [feminine noun] shall commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses [feminine noun] when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.”
Romans 7:2-3 “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth… So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”
In light of this fact (that every instance where marital status is explicitly mentioned in connection with adultery the woman is married to another man), we can use this as a key to understand two other cases of scriptural references. The first case is when adultery is not explicitly mentioned, and second case is where marital status is not explicitly mentioned. Here is an example of the first case:
Genesis 20:2-6,9 “…Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife…and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”
No where in these verses is adultery explicitly mentioned, and yet we know this is the sin that both God and Abimelech are speaking of (and the sin which Abimelech was spared from committing) – because of Sarah’s marital status. Abimelech took Sarah with the intention to make her his wife, thinking that she was unmarried. In verse 17 we read that Abimelech was already married, and yet both God and Abimelech knew that what he was planning was with “integrity”.
Here is another example of the first case. What is the difference between these verses in Deuteronomy and this verse in Exodus?
Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman:”
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 “… If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die… so thou shalt put away evil from among you.”
Exodus 22:16 “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”
The difference between the outcome of these verses is the marital status of the woman. The situations in Deuteronomy are clearly adultery, for the woman is either married or betrothed, and the penalty is correspondingly harsh. The situation in Exodus describes a woman who is neither married nor betrothed, and the consequence is correspondingly light. I don’t know if I would even call this a punishment (altho I did in a previous post for humorous effect). It is also of note that the marital status of the man, in all these verses, is entirely inconsequential. He may be single or married; the consequence is the same either way.
As for the second case, here are some examples where there is no explicit mention of marital status.
However, we must interpret these verses in light of the rest of scripture. By using the term adultery there is an implicit mention of the marital status of the woman. The very word adulteryimplies the woman involved is married (or betrothed) and having sex with a man other than her husband (or her betrothed).
One scripture commonly used to make accusations about polygamy being adulterous is:
Matthew 5:27-28 “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Those making this accusation feebly reason that a man must have lusted after subsequent wives, and is therefore guilty of adultery. However, they condemn themselves as well since the marital status of the man is not mentioned by Jesus. They fail to grasp that by their own understanding of Jesus’ words, an unmarried man looking for a wife is just as guilty as a married man looking for an additional wife.
Indeed, I have known several monogamous people (both men and women) who have wondered whether they are guilty of committing adultery since they have “lusted” after their own spouse. Of course, they are not guilty of anything (in this regard), but there are several problems with their interpretation that led them to this faulty conclusion:
First, even if they were “guilty” of “lusting”, it would not be of adultery; it would be of “adultery in their heart”, which (altho it is still a sin) is not the same thing as committing adultery with your body. Hopefully this is self-evident to every reader and can be left without further discussion.
Second, the word lust is not merely sexual in meaning. Certainly lusts can include sexual desires, but in this context, and in most other contexts in the scriptures, a better term might be covet. Coveting is all about wanting something that is not yours. It is about wanting your neighbor’s things. This saying of Jesus is as much about the 10th commandment as it is about the 7th. He is reaffirming the command, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” (Exodus 20:17), and, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife” (Deuteronomy 17:21). Coveting your neighbor’s wife is the adultery in the heart that Jesus is referring to.
But how do we know that the woman he is talking about is a married woman? Because he uses the word adultery, and as we have seen, adultery always involves a married woman. This is the third point of common misunderstanding with these verses.
Many common English Bible translations use the potentially ambiguous term, woman, in Jesus’ saying quoted above, but this word is only ambiguous to our modern understandings. Ancient readers knew that the women Jesus was saying not to lust after were other men’s wives.
Reformation Day was last week, and this year my family studied the life and contributions of William Tyndale. The man was a chosen servant in the hand of God, and his contributions to the world are undervalued by a large margin. He is the man who gave God an English voice, and he did a beautiful job at it. Here are those verses in Matthew from Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament:
If you had some difficulty reading that “English” text, have no fear, here it is with modernized spelling and punctuation:
Ye have heard how it was said to them of old time, thou shalt not commit advoutry [adultery]. But I say unto you, that whosoever eyeth a wife, lusting after her, hath committed advoutry [adultery] with her already in his heart.
Tyndale hit the nail exactly on the head! Whoever eye
Those who make accusations of adultery had better beware of what they do lest they find themselves in violation of the 9th commandment.
Exodus 20:16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
Violating this commandment may be more serious than it seems. The Law requires the false accuser to receive the punishment appropriate to the accused crime.
Deuteronomy 19:18-19 “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.”
In other words, if a person falsely accuses another person of a capital offense, the punishment for the false accuser is also death.
May we all speak with understanding and not with ignorance, and may we be cautious in making accusations of wrongdoing.
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. – Proverbs 10:19
On the 31st day of October, in the year 1517 AD, the Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. The 95 Theses were 95 points of debate, question, and criticism of the Church’s teaching and practice of selling letters of indulgence. In other words, they were selling forgiveness of sins (even sins that had not yet been committed), for money.
Here is a selection of some of Luther’s 95 Theses:
21) Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
27 & 28) They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
32) Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
36 & 37) Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
41-43) Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
45-51) Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
Christians are to be taught that the buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
79) To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
82) “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
86) “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”
94 & 95) Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).
The 95 Theses was not his only criticism of the corruption and apostasy he saw in the Church. For these criticisms he was called to a tribunal before the Diet (Assembly) of Worms with the Emperor, Charles V, presiding. There he was asked to recant his writings.
His response was, “If I recant those books, I will do nothing but add strength to tyranny, and open not only the windows but also the doors to this great ungodliness [speaking of the corruption in the Church].” He went on to say,
I am but a man, and I can err, but let my errors be proven by scripture. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scripture or by clear reason, and not by the words of the Pope or of councils which have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.
These words were his death sentence. The Pope (Leo X) issued a decree for his arrest and punishment. Fortunately, Luther was taken into hiding by Prince Frederick the Wise at Wartburg Castle where he worked to produce a common language text (German) of the Bible so that the common man could have access to the Word of God. The actions of Martin Luther were key to the Christian Reformation, and the nailing of his 95 Theses to the chapel door, which was a catalyst for the Reformation, is celebrated on this day (Reformation Day, October 31st).
Incidentally, Joseph Smith was very fond of Luther’s translation. He often quoted from it in his sermons and said of it, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349)
For Martin Luther, the scriptures were primary to the foundation of his faith. He rejected the “traditions of the elders”, and relied solely on the authority of the Word of God to inform the tenets of his faith.
What does all this have to do with polygamy? The freedom of both thought and action that were spawned by the Reformation allowed previously “heretical” or suppressed ideas in the scriptures to come again to light, to be discussed, debated, and even to be adopted as part of individual faith. Among these topics was the idea of polygamy. Speaking on this topic Martin Luther wrote:
“I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the Word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”
Letter to Chancellor Gregory Bruck, January 13, 1524
(De Wette II, 459, pp. 329, 330)
In fairness, it must be mentioned that Luther was not in favor of the general adoption of polygamy as a Christian form of marriage. Indeed, he advised that it be reserved for extreme situations where the first wife was ill, etc. However, he freely admitted that his objection to the general practice of polygamy by Christians was not based on any prohibition found in the words of scripture, but rather founded on social reasons; that scandal may be avoided, and that offenses be not given. He quoted St. Paul saying, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12)
Even so, his views towards polygamy remained, shall we say, “permissive” throughout his life. Sixteen years after the letter to Chancellor Buck, quoted above, Luther and other Reformation leaders were found giving their consent to the plural marriage of Prince Phillip of Hesse. A fact which has proven an embarrassment to many Protestants since, and is considered to be one of Luther’s “warts”.
Not too surprisingly, Brigham Young had favorable things to say about Martin Luther (and Mormons in general view him, and all the reformers, in a very positive light – and not necessarily for his views on polygamy):
“We have been told a great many times that polygamy is not according to Christianity. The Protestant reformers believed the doctrine of polygamy. Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, one of the principal lords and princes of Germany, wrote to the great reformer Martin Luther and his associate reformers, anxiously imploring them to grant unto him the privilege of marrying a second wife, while his first wife, the princess, was yet living. He urged that the practice was in accordance with the Bible, and not prohibited under the Christian dispensation. Upon the reception of this letter, Luther, who had denounced the Romish church for prohibiting the marriage of priests, and who favored polygamy, met in council with the principal Reformers to consult upon the letter which had been received from the Landgrave. They wrote him a lengthy letter in reply, approving of his taking a second wife, saying,
‘There is no need of being much concerned for what men will say, provided all goes right with conscience. So far do we approve it, and in those circumstances only by us specified, for the gospel hath neither recalled nor forbid what was permitted in the law of Moses with respect to the marriage. Jesus Christ has not changed the external economy, but added justice only, and life everlasting for reward. He teaches the true way of obeying God, and endeavors to repair the corruption of nature.’
This letter was written at Wittemburg, the Wednesday after the feast of St. Nicholas, 1539, and was signed by Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, Martin Bucer, and five other Reformers, and was written in Melancthon’s own handwriting.
The marriage was solemnized on the 4th of March, 1540, by the Rev. Denis Melanther, chaplain to Philip. Philip’s first wife was so anxious ‘that the soul and body of her dearest spouse should run no further risk, and that the glory of God might be increased,’ that she freely consented to the match.
This letter of the great Reformers was not a hasty conclusion on their part that polygamy was sanctioned by the gospel, for in the year 1522, seventeen years before they wrote this letter, Martin Luther himself, in a sermon which he delivered at Wittemburg for the reformation of marriage, clearly pronounced in favor of polygamy.
These transactions are published in the work entitled, ‘History of the variations of the Protestant churches.’
Ladies and gentlemen, I exhort you to think for yourselves, and read your Bibles for yourselves, get the Holy Spirit for yourselves, and pray for yourselves, that your minds may be divested of false traditions and early impressions that are untrue.” June 18, 1865, Journal of Discourses 11:127
We owe a large debt of gratitude to the great man, Martin Luther, and to William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus, and to all the other brave men and women of the Reformation who risked both their lives and their fortunes to live and teach the Truth as they saw it. They sowed some of the first seeds of religious freedom, and tho the crop is slow in growing, we are still reaping the benefits of their labors today.
From 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!
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.
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.
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.
“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.