Introduction to the Author
A warm welcome, friends, colleagues, associates, and passersby! I’m Jared, or if you will, Teleo (tell-LAY-oh), a native of the Salt Lake Valley in north-central Utah. While born into an LDS family, I didn’t care much about it until by age 17 I began to experience a sensation I can only call “soul hunger.” My search for solutions led me to investigate my family’s beliefs, and over a three year period I came to know and love God my Heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, who is my Savior, and their teachings—which literally include the entire universe (and likely beyond). Any answer to life’s questions, comfort for pained souls, a savory feast for souls similarly hungering, can be found in the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Polygamy – Now and Then
Perhaps the most controversial topic I’ve investigated in LDS doctrine is polygamy. Due to a lengthy Western history of monogamous tradition on the political side, and classical Christian teaching about sexual purity and faithfulness on the religious side, surprise and indeed concern may well be expected and even validated concerning a plurality of spouses. Without a theological context, and integrating the practice with other Christian principles, the practice may easily be misunderstood and abused.
However, thanks to the first, and most important LDS doctrine—that people can go to God in prayer, and expect divine teaching (James 1:6, Matthew 7:7, Moroni 10:3-5, D&C 9:7-9)—many so-called mysteries of divinity have been clarified, including the doctrine of polygamy.
Joseph Smith’s earliest religious experiences show that he was a seeker of truth and enlightenment. However, long before Joseph prayed about polygamy, he began with far more basic concepts that built, line upon line, precept upon precept, into more advanced topics. Beginning with an overview of a few of these foundation stones will allow for context as well as clarity in this essay.
Like many sensitive and self-aware people through the ages, Joseph wanted to know his standing before God. Turning to the religious societies that surrounded him for guidance, (a logical enough step), Joseph found that they didn’t always agree on the methods of salvation. As a result, he was left confused, dissatisfied, and turned to one thing that they usually shared in common: belief that the Holy Bible contained God’s teachings.
While reading a portion of that book that explained how one gained wisdom (James 1:5), Joseph felt that this counsel was sound, and its promise true. Once he determined to follow it, he exercised his faith in God, and prayed with a sincere heart and pure intent. The answer he received was far more than he’d ever anticipated. He experienced what the Latter-day Saints (LDS) now call the “First Vision,” in which God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son appeared to Joseph and provided him with a few basic instructions to prepare for important things yet to come.
Following this first epiphany, and now certain of the reality of God, the distinction between the Father and the Son, and this clarification of their “oneness” and disposition toward humanity, Joseph continued to pray about core parts of the gospel, and further answers came. A few examples, or “foundational building blocks,” as I will call them, include: clarifications on the doctrine of repentance, including our responsibility and God’s promises in this process (see D&C Section 19); questions about priesthood governance (see D&C Sections 84, 88, and 107); and conditions of the afterlife, eternal justice, and rewards for faithful obedience (John 5:29, Revelation 22:12, 1 Corinthians 15:41,42, and particularly D&C Section 76).
Detailed revelations about God’s preferred methods of leadership over His kingdom ultimately led to the breadth of the cosmos, and then focused back here, on Earth, to the family circle. The culminating aspiration of a priesthood holder, it was discovered, is not the fulfillment of self by living the gospel teachings. Rather, this was a preparation, a purification, designed to help humanity understand God by working with Him to bring about the improvement of His children. Only by living gospel principles ourselves could we be enabled to perpetuate the work of God and His followers. No position, title, or assignment, therefore, is more vital and far-reaching as father and mother.
Joseph learned that when parents have prepared themselves as faithful followers of Christ, their marriage is strengthened by promises between each other, as well as with God. Marriages enriched by hearts and hands that are practiced in faith and loyalty, honor and benevolence, hospitality and service, virtue and chastity, brotherly kindness and charity, unquestionably will be more godlike and worthy of God’s favor, than those that do not. Due to the aforementioned revelations about the afterlife (esp., D&C 76), the importance of eternal marriage as a help for eternal order in God’s kingdom began to be realized.
With these preparatory steps, or foundation stones, in mind—repentance and gospel living, priesthood preparation and administration, and working toward eternal goals that continue into the afterlife—the wisdom and order of polygamy in eternity can start to be understood.
A Christian legacy of concern about marriage relationships continuing into the afterlife, largely stemming from Matthew 22:30, led the curious Joseph Smith to pray for understanding. The official doctrine about eternal marriage and polygamy, found in D&C 132, was the answer he received. Where Jesus was more restrictive in His teachings to an unreceptive New Testament audience, He could give a much more detailed explanation to a willing and receptive audience among the Latter-day Saints.
It is important to consider both parts of Section 132 in order to appreciate the function and potential of eternal marriage and polygamy. Verses 1-33 focus on basic eternal marriage (monogamous or polygamous), with verse 16 being perhaps the most important to remember: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide in my law ye cannot attain to this glory.” In short, because marriage is complex (as any married couple will witness to, in or out of our faith), if we have not effectively learned and practiced the aforementioned gospel basics, our foundation will be unfit for continued building as eternal parents. And just as surely, if we faithfully discover, experiment, solidify, and plan, our family can effectively and securely build forever, generation after generation.
In this fashion, we realize that it is not our foundation upon which we build, but the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). It is God’s Church; we are only pillars, supporters for future generations to build upon. If we through our unfaithfulness to God’s instructions fail to build securely on God’s framework, our children will have so much more difficulty securing their lives upon His teachings. And again, if we through our faithfulness learn wisdom, learn obedience, learn how to love, correct, and guide as God does, our children may not only build with confidence, but even expand upon our anchors, worlds upon worlds. This works with monogamous or polygamous eternal marriages.
Because God wants to lift, raise, and improve all of His children, and such dependable disciples have proven the consistent minority, concerns about the millions of children who have been raised with no eternal truths or guiding principles approved by God, the solution of polygamy to raise up more children in the homes of faithful followers easily arises (see Jacob 2:30). Due to the nature of our physical creation, women have been given the ability to produce offspring, and men provide some blueprints. As a result, polygamy—one man with plural wives—will be able to rapidly expand a family, and conform to priesthood governance, as opposed to polyandry—one woman with plural husbands—which serves no such purpose, and requires a dna test to determine the father, confusing the order intended by marriage relationships.
Obviously, in this light, polygamy is easier in theory than in practice. Indeed, history has shown that even when God commanded polygamous marriages, complications and frustrations often followed. In our fallen world, where we are in a learning and testing phase of eternal life, given a measure of freedom, instructions by God, and temptations by Lucifer so that we can learn from the difference between good and evil, we’ve seen abuses of procreation, a horrendous spectrum of emotional abuses, and challenges even in “happy” marriages. It’s easy to see how polygamy can be twisted into lechery. That’s why God taught Joseph the foundation principles first. Without them, marriage, let alone polygamy, can easily fall into chaos.
Perhaps polygamous relationships would be more useful in the afterlife, where God’s work of creating planets and solar systems abounds, and where peopling these planets would benefit from such marriages built upon godly foundations? In any case, it’s easy to see why polygamous marriages have been the exception throughout history, rather than the rule!