I did not know much about polygamy until after joining the Mormon church. Although I do remember watching a feature on a young woman on a talk show (it might have been Oprah) who had left a polygamous community in the southwest, where she was forced to marry her cousin. This was back when I was a teenager.
When I began investigating the church (not yet attending), I somehow found myself wondering if this was a church that practices polygamy. My question was quickly answered when I attended and noticed that there were men with one wife.
And kids. A lot of them.
I even said, "Mormons do not practice plural marriage" to my youngest brother when he asked me if I was going to marry a man with many wives after he found out that I joined the church.
I would learn about it a few years later while attending YSA (Young Single Adult) Institute, where the focus would be on the Doctrine and Covenants. Not much was covered on it, though. The teacher just covered the D&C, talked about his family history (which involved polygamy), what was in his descendant's journals and how things are now.
I talked to my friend about it, and she said that she can understand why polygamy had taken place at that time - because there were a lot of widowed women and (married) men married them to make sure they were taken care of, because it was during a time when women couldn't take care of themselves as they can now.
I'll admit, I bought what she said. I would use those words to defend the church whenever someone would say that Mormons were polygamous. Then I just dismissed that part of Mormon history.
Until April 2008.
I came home from work one evening and turned on the news to find out about the raid of the YFZ Ranch. It was there I discovered that the men had a plurality of wives, with prairie dresses down to their wrists and ankles, long hair worn in high styles and braids. And I discovered that they were the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS). My initial thought was that THIS is one of the main reasons why people assume Mormons still practice polygamy - they have US confused with THEM!
I would hear a lot about it during Relief Society, and how we had to work hard to set a great example so the world will know that we are nothing like the FLDS.
Of course, over the next few years, I would tell many people that the FLDS was the group that practiced polygamy, not the LDS (whenever they mentioned polygamy). Whether it would be family, friends or random people I would meet.
And yet, I would wonder why the FLDS would have the LDS name as a part of theirs. I did not know anything about the split that had taken place when polygamy (supposedly) ended. This was something that was never brought up in church or institute. It was then my curiosity about polygamy grew. Especially so after doing some grocery shopping at a Food Lion, and seeing a guy named Kody Brown on the cover of People Magazine with the headline, "I Hope I don't go to Jail for Loving Four Women."
What caught my attention was that he was dressed casually, and he wore his hair long. Even though he was a Fundamentalist Mormon, I knew from his appearance he was not a part of the FLDS.
The questions kept coming.
It got to the point where I asked my roommate why polygamy was practiced in the first place. Her answer? "Because Joseph Smith was reading the Bible and asked Heavenly Father why the prophets of biblical times had more than one wife. And Heavenly Father said, 'Because I told them to. And now you can do it, too.'"
I thanked her anyway. I tried to buy it, but couldn't. What made things even more complicated was when I overheard a conversation between my roommate and her father and he said, "My grandfather had three wives." My first thought was, "That is weird." But then I tried to convince myself otherwise my telling myself, "To think that is to go against Heavenly Father. After all He did command it." But I could not convince myself to buy my own words, nor the words of my roommate, or my friend years ago.
I know that things were very different for women than they are today, but I felt that to say that the married men of the church married the widows and single women to make sure they were taken care of kind of sounds as if women were being given a passive role in life. If we check our history, we learn about how women took over house and home while their husbands were off to war (by themselves, with no need to be a plural wife), as well as how women disguised themselves as men to go into the battlefield.
With those thoughts, I decided to do some research, because my gut was telling me that there was more to plural marriage than what the church was telling me, and what was in the Doctrine and Covenants.
I would read up on some of the polygamous sects that had broken away from "The Council of Friends," which had broken away from the LDS church.
I would watch documentaries on the fundamentalist groups (most available were about the FLDS), I would watch shows such as "Polygamy, What Love is This?" in an attempt to gain a better understanding.
But it would be a certain documentary that would cause things to click for me. That documentary would be (with its apt title), "Lifting the Veil of Polygamy."
This documentary would cover things about polygamy that the church had not. One example is the belief that polygamy will be practiced in the next life, even though the church does not believe in practicing the principle in this life. Of course, it is pretty obvious when you have widowed men being sealed to single women. They'll most likely be in the next life with those two (or three in some cases) wives. But the church does not mention this, not that much.
Then you learn that the "revelation" on the "new and everlasting covenant" is received AFTER Joseph Smith takes on multiple wives, a way to justify his lifestyle perhaps.
Then you have quotes from the previous presidents of the church saying why Polygamy HAS to be practiced, one of them being Brigham Young's quote, "If any of you deny the plurality of wives, I promise YOU WILL BE DAMED."
And then, that's when it clicks. Even though the mainline LDS church claims to be the one and only true church, and claims not to be like the FLDS, the only real Mormon church is the FLDS church.
And why is that?
Despite the outside pressure, they did not walk away from the commandments that came from Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith, people they believe to be prophets of God, who they believe had given the former two men these commandments. (It makes sense why many mainstream Mormons would convert to Mormon Fundamentalism, although not to the FLDS since they're an extremely closed community, unlike AUB, Centennial Park, the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, etc.)
And they live all of it, from the Adam-God doctrine, the Curse of Cain Doctrine to plural marriage. Also to the marrying of young teenage girls like a certain "special snowflake" of a prophet had (there are a few exceptions like the AUB and Centennial Park as far as underage marriage goes). There are also some cases of men marrying mother-daughter pairs, and sisters just like Smith had.
Now why does this bother me?
Because, once again, the church tries to hide this. I never knew about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young having multiple wives during my investigation (and again, the missionaries are trained on what to teach). The lessons taught on polygamy during institute are pretty vague. Even their biographies in the Relief Society/Priesthood Meeting manuals doesn't mention it.
Then there are interviews of the previous prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley damning polygamy on Larry King saying that it's not doctrinal (funny, since the commandment is in the Doctrine and Covenants - the Journal of Discourses as well but the church today does not acknowledge that book), and then says that it's illegal when polygamy was illegal when Smith, Young and the men of the church were practicing it.
We also have Hinckley lying, stating that polygamy started in Utah, when polygamy actually started in Kirtland and in Nauvoo. Now, even though the majority of Mormons did not practice polygamy until the "saints" moved to Utah, Joseph Smith and his inner circle were practicing it. So polygamy was indeed practiced before Utah.
And we have Joseph Smith denying that he practiced polygamy by saying, "What a thing, accusing a man of having seven wives when I can only see one."
Yes. Lying started with our founding prophet, but I'll talk more about that in a future post.
And then, we have the essays.
Yes. Again, my last resort. But it was just more truth-bending.
I've read somewhere that an angel with a sword threatened to kill Joseph because he was hesitant to take upon him other wives, but the essay says that God sends additional messengers to "encourage."
I don't understand how death threats equals "encouragement."
The essay mentioned how biblical prophets practiced polygamy because God had commanded it.
Now, I may not be completely familiar with the Bible, but I do remember that none of the prophets of old were commanded to practice polygamy (Genesis 16, where it is stated that polygamy occurred, but was not commanded). One example is the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. And I remember vividly that God did not command for that plural union to take place.
A brief recap for you:
In that Bible story, Jacob meets Rachel, falls in love, and offers to work seven years for her father for her hand. Instead, Jacob is tricked into marrying Leah by her father, and then had to work another seven years for the hand of the woman that he loves.
See? No commandments from God here. Just a trick played by the father of the brides. (Unless the author of that bible excerpt failed to mention that God commanded the father to trick Jacob.) That was another red flag.
Another example of the church lying to save their asses.
Another thing that I noticed was that the essay left out one of the integral claims as to why Polygamy was commanded: To obtain the highest order of heaven. Yet the essay claims that polygamy was started to so many upon many of children can be born into the gospel.
An odd claim, considering the mathematics of things.
A man does not need many wives in order for the Mormon population to grow. The wards that I used to attend is proof of that. My family tree is proof of that (even though they were not Mormon, my great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents, etc. had a LOT of kids).
Plus you have Joseph Smith who married around thirty women, and none of them (besides Emma) had any children that we know of. Although there were claims that around nine children may have been born from Joseph's "spiritual" relationships, the majority of them turned out to be negative when tested. Two are not applicable since those were two cases of children that died in infancy.
Even if each of the children were indeed born to Smith, that is only nine children out of Smith's thirty or so wives (excluding the children that were born to Emma). I do understand that some of Smith's wives were older.
Then you have Brigham Young who married about fifty-five women, and only had about fifty-something children.
Through those two examples, I do not see how polygamy can help with the then growing Mormon population.
Yet still, those bits of information that I had mentioned was enough for me to continue to question what others "truths" the church could be bending...
Suggested Reading (if there is anything else I should add, please let me know):
- The Journal of Discourses