The Mormon Church and Polygamy:
Setting the record straight after
the Mormon Church tilts it their way
It is not our intent to attack Mormonism. It IS our intent to arm people against cults. And when it comes to its history with and beliefs about polygamy, the Mormon Church acts like a cult.
Take, for instance, this official Mormon Church web page. It purports to set the record straight as to the Mormon Church and polygamy. In reality, it is rife with half-truths, obfuscations and out-and-out misrepresentations.
Here is the text from that page, verbatim, punctuated with our annotations in green, which reveal what the Mormon Church would prefer you not learn until later.
If “is a polygamist” means “has one wife at a time in this life,” then Mormons aren’t polygamists.
If “is a polygamist” means “believes that polygamy was commanded by God,” then every Mormon is a polygamist. (See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132.)
If “is a polygamist” means “expects to have plural wives in heaven,” then Mormon widowers who remarry are polygamists. Mormon doctrine allows for a man to remarry as often as he is widowed and to have all of his wives with him in the hereafter.
If “is a polygamist” means worshipping a God who may be a polygamist, then all Mormons may be polygamists. Mormon doctrine implies that God and Jesus are polygamists.
• “Mormon” is the most common and widely accepted name for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City. “Mormons” have nothing whatsoever to do with the Texas sect known as “FLDS,” or with any other polygamous group.
They are not affiliated. Both claim to spring from the original Mormon Church, accept Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as prophets, accept the Book of Mormon as scripture, and hold that polygamy was commanded by God. That hardly qualifies as “nothing whatsoever.”
• The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t allow anyone practicing polygamy to be a member.
True, except as noted. (See above, “There are 13 million Mormons ...”)
• Polygamy was part of our past, for about 50 years in the 19th century. But it is not part of our present. Polygamy was officially discontinued in 1890 — 118 years ago.
The implied distancing from the church’s polygamist past misleads. The Mormon Church defends polygamy as God-mandated, and concedes that it would comply if God mandated it again.
The alleged 1890 discontinuation is factually incorrect. In and near Utah, the Mormon Church discontinued polygamy only officially and publicly; in reality, it quietly allowed polygamy to continue and attrit over the next few decades. At the same time, the Mormon Church officially sent members to Mexico, where polygamy wasn’t yet illegal, to continue the practice there.
• When practiced by Mormons in the 19th century, polygamy was quite unlike the depictions of polygamous groups now seen on TV. For instance, a woman had freedom of choice as to whom she would marry. She made her own decisions about life, education and personal pursuits and did not isolate herself from the world.
We need to break this one into smaller pieces. Here goes:
>>> When practiced by Mormons in the 19th century, polygamy was quite unlike the depictions of polygamous groups now seen on TV. ...
Many Mormon polygamist cults are meticulous about living polygamy as practiced by the original Mormon Church.
>>> ... For instance, a woman had freedom of choice as to whom she would marry. She made her own decisions about life, education and personal pursuits ...
Hardly. The Mormon Church was founded in 1830. Women of that day, including Mormon women, had little freedom in today’s sense of the word. This is borne out in numerous Mormon journals with anecdotes of marriageable women being traded, given, and taken in polygamy.
Smith wielded authority not just as a man but as a prophet. When his “first wife” balked at polygamy, Smith produced a “revelation” from God telling her to comply or “be destroyed.” Smith bullied at least three reluctant women into plural marriage by telling them an invisible angel was standing by, sword drawn, ready to hack him to pieces before their eyes unless they consented to marrying him. (See Mormon-friendly biography of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling, by acclaimed Mormon scholar Richard Bushman.)
Mormon prophet Brigham Young left women little choice when he said, “Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 266)
Official Mormon Church policy has always tended to limit women’s freedom of choice. From its inception in Smith’s time until the phrase was deleted in the 1990s, the Mormon temple ceremony put women under covenant to “obey the law of your husband.” The present-day Mormon Church is on the record with this oft-repeated statement: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families ... Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
The Mormon Church teaches obedience over individualism. Three examples:
— “To get salvation we must not only do some things, but everything which God has commanded.” (Mormon founder and prophet Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:223)
— “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” (Elaine Cannon, general president of the Mormon Church’s Young Women Organization, November Ensign 1978 p.108)
— “I know a 17-year-old who ... took off the second set of earrings, and simply said to her parents, ‘If [Mormon prophet] President Hinckley says we should only wear one set of earrings, that’s good enough for me.’ Wearing two pair of earrings may or may not have eternal consequences for this young woman, but her willingness to obey the prophet will.” (Apostle M. Russell Ballard, “His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 65)
>>> ... and did not isolate herself from the world.
Mormonism is isolationist in nature and practice. The early church established settlements and expected converts to move to them. Today’s Mormon Church isolates members by counseling them not to associate with “apostate groups” and with people who do not share their “standards.”
• Today's Mormons live in every state of the U.S. and in 162 countries. Mormon men and women can be found in all professional fields — doctors, teachers, police officers, scientists and soldiers. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has sung at presidential inaugurations and at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
All true, but none of these things bears on the Mormon Church’s doctrine and practice of polygamy.
• The FLDS group adopted the name “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” in the early 1990s (watch video). It is an isolated group numbering a few thousand members. There should be no confusion between Mormons and polygamists.
The first two statements are true, but the third statement does not follow from them. The foregoing also overlooks the fact that the FLDS are only one of many Mormon-based polygamist cults. There is confusion between Mormons and polygamists, and for good reason.