For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, polygamy has been the most bothersome issue since it was instituted. Like most of Heavenly Father’s most important commandments and institutions it is a holy refiner’s fire when practiced righteously and corrupt and debauched when practiced unrighteously.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob counseled his people to have only one wife. This was because they were unrighteous and could not abide the institution of plural marriage without corrupting it:
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 onewife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things. For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands (Jacob 2:27-31, emphasis added).
Notice the bolded sentence — “for if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people….” You can add, to practice plural marriage according to my law. At the time that Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation commanding the Latter-day Saints to practice polygamy to “raise up seed” unto Him, about 85% of the world’s population practiced plural marriage. Virtually all of the early Latter-day Saints, however, were Europeans, and it was the Victorian age, wherein the roles of men and women were carefully defined. Polygamy was for the heathen. As with most of the revelations received by modern prophets, this one began with a question. In reading the Old Testament, Joseph wondered about the righteousness of David and Solomon, who had many wives and concubines. He received this answer from the Lord:
David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 132:38, 39).
So Joseph Smith had his answer. But the Lord kept going:
I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things. Ask what ye will, and it shall be given unto you according to my word (v. 40).
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. Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it (v. 34, 35).
Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same (v. 3).
In other words, if the Lord desires to raise up seed unto Himself, he may command His righteous servants to enter into plural marriage. Otherwise, a man shall have only one wife. The Lord commanded Joseph Smith, as part of the restoration of all things, to teach plural marriage and have the Latter-day Saints keep that commandment. The idea chilled Joseph to the bone. It took him 10 years to fully reveal the principle to the members of the Church, and quite awhile to begin keeping the commandment himself. He tried several times to communicate the law to the members, and they would not receive it. Brigham Young said he envied the dead in their caskets, so appalled was he by the commandment.
Mormons were already enduring ceaseless, bitter persecution. They all knew that if they began practicing polygamy, it would get much worse, and it did. Some members left the Church, and others were severely tried, but the most dedicated families struggled through. Most of the members who practiced polygamy were leaders in the Church; it was never practiced church-wide. Men chose their own wives, and woman had the right to refuse and the right to divorce. Some families were successful and others were not. Some men and women were happy in their homes, and some were not. Joseph Smith’s wife Emma blamed polygamy for his eventual martyrdom. Joseph Smith took over 30 “spiritual wives.” He had no offspring except from Emma. Some of these women were married to other husbands in a worldly sense, but “sealed” to Joseph for the afterlife. It was a great honor.
Polygamy was practiced quietly in Nauvoo. But when the Saints went west and established themselves in Utah, they went public. A torrent of persecution rained down upon their heads, and the U.S. government enacted act after act to punish them and to destroy the Church. These acts were nearly successful. All church assets over $50,000 were seized, and men were arrested and jailed for “cohabitation.” The right to vote was taken away, and women were forced to implicate their husbands. As the situation grew intolerable, Prophet Wilford Woodruff went to the Lord. The Lord revealed to the prophet what would occur if the Saints did not abandon the practice. In vision the prophet saw the very temples being seized and the men of the Church being unable to serve or to care for their families. As a result, and with the support of the majority of the apostles, the practice was abandoned with the First Manifesto.
The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for … any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us, and leave our Prophets and Apostles and fathers free men, and the temples in the hands of the people, so that the dead may be redeemed. A large number has already been delivered from the prison house in the spirit world by this people, and shall the work go on or stop? This is the question I lay before the Latter-day Saints. You have to judge for yourselves. I want you to answer it for yourselves. I shall not answer it; but I say to you that that is exactly the condition we as a people would have been in had we not taken the course we have (Cache Stake Conference, Logan, Utah, Sunday, November 1, 1891. Reported in Deseret Weekly, November 14, 1891).
Thus, the practice of polygamy among the Latter-day Saints officially ended in 1890, after 50 years of practice. There were a few who resisted, and the dealings among families were complicated. In 1904 Prophet and President Joseph F. Smith added the punishment of excommunication to the commandment to end polygamy, and this was finally recognized by the federal government, which eased pressure upon the Saints.
There were some members who became apostate, rather than end the practice. Some had gone to Mexico, and others were in the Rockies. They formed their own churches, continued polygamy, and some of these groups continue the practice today. They call themselves “fundamentalist Mormons,” but they are not. They have no affiliation with the Mormon Church, which is over 14 million strong and fully engaged in society. Most polygamists isolate themselves on compounds and practice a corrupt and sinful version of polygamy.
The sect led by Warren Jeffs is an example. Jeffs was recently sentenced to over 100 years in prison for his sexual escapades with young girls. He isolates his followers on compounds and doesn’t allow internet, or newspapers, so his followers are unaware of his crimes. He may lead his sect from prison. He leads with an iron hand. Women are taught that this is their way to heaven, and wives are assigned by Jeffs. He himself had 78, with 24 being young teenagers.
Late prophet Gordon B. Hinckley stated the following:
“I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter.
“If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law’ (Articles of Faith 1:12). One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time.
“There is no such thing as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist.’ It is a contradiction to use the two words together.”
To learn more about all the aspects of polygamy in Mormon history, go to Mormon-Polygamy.org.
After Jesus Christ and His apostles died, no one had the authority to continue the official church of Jesus Christ. The world entered into a very long period of apostasy, in which there was no prophet to clarify doctrine or reveal God’s will for current situations. The priesthood authority was gone and over time, many doctrines disappeared. As time went on the Christian church splintered into many groups. As we neared the Second Coming, God, who had promised to restore all things, did so.
The First Vision
Joseph Smith’s family settled in Palmyra, New York when he was young. His family had little money but worked hard to build a good life on their farm. He had only three years of formal schooling due to a lack of schools, and some education from his father. He was a serious young man with a strong religious heritage. As a result, he often pondered issues of salvation. Revivals were held in his area and people often discussed or debated religion. Joseph attended many meetings of the various faiths, but did not join any of them. He felt confused about how someone his age could decide which church was God’s church. Read more