Is there a way out?

I want to end my discussion of polygamy on a constructive note. I’ve elaborated on my belief that polygamy is a problem because Joseph Smith engaged in sexually inappropriate activity and leveraged his position as a religious leader for personal benefit. (Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll also tackle it from a theological, LDS belief-based standpoint rather than the social angle.) My conclusion was that the LDS Church is in a massive bind when it comes to polygamy, and that its current approach to the issue is dishonest. A question I’d like to look at now is whether or not there is a way out.

There are three options for the LDS Church in dealing with polygamy:

  1. Publicly disavow it and make the necessary changes to LDS scripture, teachings, and rituals to remove polygamy as a doctrine
  2. Publicly accept it as a doctrine and cease attempts to whitewash the issue
  3. Attempt to deflect attention from it, conceal it whenever possible, and make no attempt to deal with the issue

Option 3 is what they’ve been going with since the 1920’s, and this means the issue rears its ugly head every few years and causes a PR headache. It’s also the most dishonest approach and causes damage to the Church’s reputation and the well-being of its members. To demonstrate an example of how the LDS Church does this, I’m going to use a very simple and high-profile example. The LDS Church recently launched a makeover of, which now includes member-submitted testimonials and introductory information about the religion. This is a fair source for me to analyse because:

  • It’s public-facing and intended to be a point of first contact for people interested in Mormonism
  • It reflects the most up-to-date policy on how to present information about Mormonism
  • This official source represents what the LDS Church wants its members, investigators, and the general public to believe

Let’s have a look at the page that introduces Joseph Smith to outsiders. It’s a simplified version of Sunday School stories we’ve all heard plenty of times. The first few sections provide good background, and although the section “A Prophet of God” can be quibbled over due to cherry picking from the multiple accounts of the First Vision, it sticks more or less with the 1838 account, which has been considered the official version for quite some time.

The section “A Leader of Christ’s Church” glosses over the basics of church structure but slips in the one-sided, vague reference to “persecution” that early Mormons suffered. We could quibble some more here over the fact that much of the “persecution” was deliberately provoked by Mormons who barged in on neighbourhoods, disrupting the locals’ way of life, and were nasty to people who asked them to quit it. However, there were incidents where innocent Mormons who had not engaged in provocations were harmed, so I can let that pass as a statement with a pro-LDS slant rather than a total lie.

Until now, I can’t really take to task for failure to include nuanced discussion of Danites, the Salt Sermon, and whether there were angels, one personage or two personages present at the First Vision. It’s an introductory document, and I can hardly blame them for condensing information and putting their best foot forward. But now we arrive at “A Devoted Husband and Father”. Here is the entirety of the text of that section, with my comments in boldface. I’ve marked lies (meaning factual errors and misrepresentations of fact) with numbers in superscript.

“The heavy burden of leading the Church did not distract Joseph from his responsibility to his wife and children1, it increased his love for them2.”

It’s fair to say that Smith did love his family, but without a statement from Smith supporting this, implying that the mantle of leadership increased that love makes this misleading and falsely sentimental.

“One of the later Prophets of the Church told the members, ‘No success can compensate for failure in the home.’ The statement came more than a century after Joseph Smith died, but Joseph had exemplified the idea all his life.3

All his life? He didn’t fail Emma when he was tried for vagrancy for a treasure hunting scam and had a “revelation” telling her to quit grumbling about his dodgy activities? When he and Emma had to live with the Whitmers, Newel K. Whitney and Isaac Morely because he couldn’t make enough money to pay the rent? When he took plural wives without the other wives’ consent? When his sexual relationship with Marinda Johnson riled up a mob that broke into his house to tar and feather him and left the door open, causing his adopted child to die of exposure?

The bar must be fairly low if engaging in socially unacceptable actions that causes a chain of events resulting in the death of a baby isn’t failure in the home. I would accept a statement that said Smith did the best he could, or that he never stopped loving his family amidst the chaos of his life, but to say he is the perfect example for family life is a lie. This is hero-worshipping propaganda.

“Even though Joseph was constantly persecuted4 and imprisoned on false charges,”5

Liberty Jail is the best example of the “false imprisonment” claims Mormons make. When Smith was arrested, it was after a series of escalations involving many Mormon provocations of native Missourians that came to be called The Mormon War. Mormons had caused a massive amount of trouble in Missouri, and vigilante action on both sides left the state government utterly fed up with the presence of violent religious extremists. As the official leader of the Mormons and their militia, Joseph Smith was responsible for the violence and provocations of his people. He could have been executed as a military combatant, but another general intervened and decided he should be tried as a civilian. He was held for four months without charges in Liberty Jail, which is improper legal procedure, but given Smith’s involvement with Sidney Rigdon and the Danites, not necessarily unjust. Considering the brutal winter’s effect on travel and the fact that Missouri was only semi-civilised at that time, it’s not shocking that he wasn’t brought to court right away. Had Smith been tried for his role in the 1838-39 conflicts, he would probably have been convicted of many charges such as destruction of property, conspiracy to commit murder, inciting others to commit murder and destroy property, disturbing the peace, and so on.

Let’s not forget that Smith was in Missouri in the first place because of his illegal activities with the Kirtland Safety Society. Fleeing money troubles or looking for a bailout wasn’t unusual for Smith; when he moved from Palmyra to Harmony, he was only able to avoid arrest for debt default because Martin Harris had bailed him out. When he was murdered in Carthage Jail, he was awaiting trial on 100% legitimate charges of destroying a printing press. Joseph Smith was often in legal trouble, but it was almost always a situation of his own making due to mismanaging assets given to him by others or by encouraging Mormons to be a nuisance in a new neighbourhood. There were occasions where action taken against him was illegal, such as when he was tarred and feathered and when he was shot to death. But these actions didn’t take place in a vacuum, and they were conducted by people who felt their property, way of life, or family honour was at stake and did not feel the law was doing enough to protect them. It takes considerable provocation to actually be chased down by an angry mob, and Smith provided plenty of provocation.

So this sentence is only halfway completed, but it’s already a blatant lie and will mislead newcomers to Mormonism into thinking that Joseph Smith was never guilty of the crimes for which he was legitimately arrested.

“his first thoughts were always for his family.”6

This is a bit of a generalisation, as his letters from Liberty Jail focused on many things beyond his family. I would move on and say that I had bigger fish to fry, but it seems by “family” is only referring to Emma Smith and her offspring. What about the rest of his family? Do the plural wives not matter? Are they less important than Emma, or worse, are they inconvenient people who need to be deleted from the record? Do their lives, sacrifices, and contributions mean less than Emma’s? Even if Smith’s first thoughts were always for his family, his actions were generally for himself.

“He wrote to his wife, Emma, while he was imprisoned in Missouri, ‘Tell the children that I am alive and trust that I shall come and see them before long. Comfort their hearts all you can, and try to be comforted yourself all you can’ (‘’I Was with My Family’: Joseph Smith As Husband, Father, Son, and Brother’ Brent L. Top, Liahona, December 1992).”

I don’t doubt that Smith probably felt wretched whilst in jail and probably missed his family dearly. But the effect this had on the rest of his family is omitted. Joseph Smith also wrote some rather tender things to his plural wives. Presenting Emma as his only wife is lie by omission #2 about polygamy.

“Facing unjust punishment,7 he only thought of his family’s well-being.”8

This is just a repetition of the previous misleading statement about Joseph Smith’s criminal record.

“Joseph lived the doctrine he preached9 — that strengthening our families should be the focus of our lives because they are the only things we can take with us when we die.”

Smith wasn’t living the doctrine he preached, because he preached monogamy and practised polygamy. I don’t think Smith was really strengthening his family when he used deception to marry his one legal wife and then failed her so thoroughly. He threatened her with death in D&C 132, and completely failed to provide a stable home environment or steady income during their entire marriage. He was not strengthening his family when he failed to inform Emma about taking additional wives, and he was not strengthening his family when he had her publicly lie on his behalf in the wake of the John C. Bennett scandal. When Smith died, he left his wife a pregnant impoverished widow. By the standards of his own day, he was not a particularly competent husband and father, even without taking polygamy into consideration.

The only positive spin we can put on this claim is that although he did frequently abuse his privileges, it does seem that Smith may have genuinely believed that he was the key to getting into heaven, and that by sealing as many people as possible to him he was guaranteeing their salvation. The whitewashing in this statement steals the focus from the revolutionary doctrine of families that last forever.

“When his life was in jeopardy, Joseph relied10 on his faith in Christ not only to sustain himself, but his wife and children as well.”

And his wife . . . and his wife . . . and his wife . . . and his wife . . . and his — oh, sod it. This is lie by omission #3, as well as a misrepresentation of the reasons his life was in danger. It must be incredibly important to the LDS leadership that people believe their lies about polygamy, because they’ve repeated them several times in a very small and important document. Smith appropriated people’s wives, their daughters, their money, and their trust, and frequently mismanaged them. Angry mobs in frontier cultures have killed for far less.

Goodness, that’s ten lies in 219 words. The next section, “A Martyr of the Restored Gospel” is equally problematic, but since I’m focusing on public, official LDS lies about polygamy I won’t use the same level of scrutiny. The worst part is this:

He did not die in public with the sympathy of the world, he was shot by a mob while he was locked in a jail on false charges.

This is splitting hairs, but he did die in public, propping himself up against the well outside the jail. It is correct to say that the world at large had no sympathy for him, and he was shot by a mob that probably believed he would escape the legal process — again — and took matters illegally into their own hands. But he was not in Carthage on false charges. Smith ordered the destruction of a printing press, which is a violation of the First Amendment. Telling prospective Mormons that Smith was innocent of any crime on the day he died means that when they repeat that lie, they will look like fools to their friends and families who know better. Lying to prospective members about this issue only strengthens the arguments of counter-cultists who say that the LDS Church brainwashes its members into believing whatever they say. There is one gem in the muck:

He was not a perfect person, not a deity.

If only the anonymous copywriting drone at the Church Office Building had kept that in mind when writing the rest of this rubbish. The Church is not obligated to put its dirty laundry on display, but if it claims to be God’s One True ChurchTM, then it had better not use lies to draw people in.

So there we have it; strategy number three seems to be a massive failure in terms of its ability to be honest with prospective and current members, as well as the ammunition it provides to opponents of Mormonism. However, it’s mostly effective. Many members learn to Doublethink past the issue, or remain ignorant because of the strong unspoken taboos that exist around non faith-promoting speech. But what of the other two paths available?

There are two ways to come clean on polygamy: embrace it or reject it.

A total rejection of polygamy would require the following actions, all performed in public and all officially announced by the President of the Church. They’d have to strip section 132 from the Doctrine and Covenants, acknowledge that Joseph Smith was mistaken to ever introduce the practise in the first place, and acknowledge that while the Church still believed he restored the Gospel, he abused his privilege and for that God allowed him to be removed from his office. They’d need a rewrite of all language in the temple marriage ceremony and the Proclamation on the Family that alludes to men or God having multiple spouses and establish a policy that permits people to be sealed to only one spouse at a time. This would ripple out to negate other doctrines, such as the idea that women give birth to spirit babies in the afterlife. Sealing couples and families together would become a metaphorical rather than physical reality. Families would be together in the sense of all being in heaven at one never-ending barbeque, but the doctrine of men would going on to become creator-gods of their own worlds without end would probably be sidelined or discarded altogether, as the traditional doctrinal explanation for how those worlds are populated would disappear. Mormon heaven would start to look like Christian heaven, except 99% of the world’s population would be in the Telestial Kingdom and not in Hell.

Without the doctrine of polygamy and the way it affects Mormons’ understanding of the characteristics of God, man’s destiny to become a god, Mormonism would be a plain vanilla variety of Protestantism with their work of Bible fanfiction and horribly ugly knickers to add flavour.

The other option is for Mormons to embrace polygamy and their role as peculiar people. This may not necessarily mean a return to the doctrine, as it is still illegal in most countries where Mormons are found. A return to honesty could mean richer histories and discussions, as the lives of polygamous families would no longer be a taboo subject. Plural wives in the family tree would not be a cause for confusion or shame but would be accepted as just another part of the family. Modern Mormons who chose to could probably live the principle, as society is at a point where state-mandated heterosexual monogamy is no longer enforced. It would destroy decades of PR work done by the Church to convince the world that Mormons are mainstream and probably cause a lot of people to leave but it would mean acceptance of a doctrine that has always been part of Mormonism.

Positive upsides could include a reconciliation with the FLDS which might make that community less closed and vulnerable to their abusive leaders, a cease-fire on the gay community due to now being part of the alternative marriage crowd, and embracing Mormonism’s history with no apologies. (Except for the big apology about being so neurotic over it for the last century.)

Either approach would cause massive upheaval in the Church, so it won’t be addressed any time soon. Accepting or rejecting polygamy would cause social and doctrinal earthquakes, but if Mormons really want to “do what is right, let the consequence follow,” they’ll stop lying about it.

55 thoughts on “Is there a way out?

  1. Re: the destruction of the printing press:

    A violation of the First Amendment perhaps now, but certainly not then. Grab a good book on the evolution of the freedom of the press in the United States sometime, and you’ll see that Joseph’s actions were certainly not unacceptable for his day.

    The destruction of the type was a violation of civil law, but it was not a criminal violation. It was something that would have been appropriately handled as a civil case with a monetary compensation at issue – not imprisonment. And in fact, Joseph offered to pay for the monetary loss himself.

    It would be like if I was renting you my house and unfairly evicted you and your family.

    Yes, you could sue me at small claims court over that and have a “Judge Judy” moment or something. But you couldn’t call the cops and have me arrested for it. Likewise in this instance, Joseph was not guilty of any criminal activity (polygamy was not among the charges).

    In Carthage, he was awaiting trial before a NON-MORMON judge. If the mob felt that Joseph would “get off” it was probably because they knew he was there on trumped-up charges, and that their legal case sucked rocks.

    At any rate, you don’t kill someone for destroying a printing press. That’s just stupid. And yes, calling dying in the yard “public” really is splitting at hairs. I suppose if a group of thugs drag me into my neighbor’s back yard and knife me to death, that’s “in public” too.

    As for the Mormons moving in and being unfriendly to their neighbors and clannish, and all that stuff – you could accuse the Jews in Russia of the same stuff when the Russians decided to burn their villages to the ground and drive them out. On what planet is having standoffish neighbors a good reason for stealing all their livestock, raping their women, burning their houses, and then driving them from the state at the barrel of a gun?

    I’ll agree that the history of early Mormon persecution is probably over-simplified. But it certainly isn’t overstated.

    • Seth, you finally said something I agree with 100%. Not that agreement with me is, necessarily, interesting or valid–except, of course, to me 😉 But, I think you’re right to look at Joseph Smith as an historical figure, separately from his relationship to individuals’ faith relationships with him today.

  2. I actually had no idea that’s why he was tarred and feathered. I’m amazed all over again at how incredibly white-washed and lie-filled the official Mormon version of church history is. I wonder if my parents even know he had more than one wife.

    “…but if Mormons really want to ‘do what is right, let the consequence follow,’ they’ll stop lying about it.”

    Fat chance. Polygamy isn’t the only skeleton in the closet (though it’s one of the most destructive). I think one of the many reasons the hierarchy is so loath to address polygamy is because if they admitted to any of the white-washing and lies, they’d have to admit to it all, and that, I think, would destroy the church.

    Honestly, I think the church is already massively screwed. The internet has seen to that. As more and more people find out about real church history and see how massively it differs from the church’s party line, more and more are going to realise how massively they’ve been lied to. The church has already stopped growing in many parts of the world, including the US.

    The ironic thing is that the church’s obsession with a perfect, radiant image is the thing that’s going to screw them in the end. If they hadn’t compounded their lying for decades upon decades in order to seem more appealing to converts, they’d now not have to deal with the fact that the truth about polygamy, homophobia, sexism, racism, Joseph’s lies and philanderings, and any of a dozen other issues are now public knowledge (or can easily become such). While active members are still somewhat protected against the truth by the church’s labelling of anything non-church-approved as anti-Mormon propaganda, the ability of the church to hide the truth from its members is already crumbling fast. Reality is a bitch, and I think the church hierarchy is just now beginning to realise this.

    • Craig, if it were true that full disclosure would destroy the Church, the bloggernacle wouldn’t even exist.

      Somehow, scores of people out there have encountered the same “full disclosure” you have, and yet still remained believers in both the LDS Church, and the Restored Gospel.

      It’s rather self-serving to simply assume that if everyone had the same information you had, they would all automatically reach the same conclusions you have.

      • The amount of Mormons who are actually exposed to the whole, uncensored truth is very, very small. I’m not saying every Mormon will suddenly disbelieve as soon as they learn about JS’s philandering or the hoax that is the Book of Abraham. Rather slowly but surely, the truth-claims of the church are becoming more and more ridiculous and out of touch with reality. The full impact of free access to information on the bullshit of religion hasn’t been felt yet, but it will.

        • I agree. Internet access + decrease in usefulness of authoritarian religion to first world cultures + better opportunities for women outside the church + LDS mismanagement of its history + views of gender and sexuality that are on the wrong side of history = the youth leave in droves. The anecdote I can offer is that fewer than half of the LDS kids I grew up with are still believing or practising, all related to the above combination of factors.

          A Mia Maid I know forwarded the ad for the new Personal Progress program telling me she laughed her arse off at the manual published in Gender Stereotype Pink that promised to teach her how to be “divinely feminine.” The out-of-touch matrons running YW are well-meaning, but they’re also a joke to girls who simply expect more out of life than baking casseroles, getting fat, and being cheerleaders for the Priesthood. Mormon youth are also far more likely to have no problem with homosexuality, driving another wedge between the youth and the elderly curmudgeons expecting them to jump on the bigot bandwagon.

        • Also, just ran across this fantastic entry from a TBM who slummed it with Formons to watch 8: The Mormon Proposition. The gem in the doughnut:

          “In the nineteenth century, the Mormons fled to Utah so they could be free to pursue their own definition of marriage. Now the Utah-based LDS Church seeks to impose its current definition of marriage on the entire country, if not the world. It is no wonder so many wards and stakes are shrinking. Nobody, not even the faithful, want to be associated with such hubris.”

        • I think the primary reason my faith has survived–I’ve been thinking about this since the topic first came up on this blog–has a lot to do with having advanced degrees. I started studying religion as a discipline, as opposed to from a faith-promoting perspective, as a freshman in college–after having been exposed, in real life, to people of different faiths.

          My watershed moment–and what ultimately led me down the academic path I chose–was meeting Muslims, and hearing them describe a *completely* different religion than I’d learned about in the west. Their faith was neither a watered down, pastoralized love fest, nor a woman-hating, warmongering violence fest. It actually bore no relation whatsoever to the religion my teachers, and English language books, had described–for good or for ill.

          Ultimately, the series of realizations that followed led me to becoming very interested in the history and sociology of religion. I learned (in a way that neither asked of, nor cared about my own faith) about the difference between Jesus as a figure of faith, and an historical figure, etc. It changed how I approached my own religion.

      • Seth, if there was full disclosure and openness of communication in the chapel then the Bloggernaccle would not exist. It’s mostly people bitching about stuff they can’t talk about in their regular church meetings.

        • Regardless of what the church does, people will still want to think for themselves. People aren’t talking about these things, because they’re not being discussed in church; they’re talking about them, because they care about them. Ideally, the church will change its program, in terms of how it handles certain issues…but there’s no one solution that’ll satisfy everyone, nor should there be. Besides, the Bloggernacle will always offer some things church can’t: privacy, safety (in terms of expressing opinions without fear of immediate consequences), intellectual freedom, and the opportunity to meet new friends, or at least comrades in arms.

        • The main problem is as you stated it — people feel they can’t have intellectual freedom or opinions at church. If just that could change a massive number of people would feel happier and safer.

        • I’m not saying the church is blameless, and leadership always leaves room for improvement–but what about the fact that, to some extent, members do it to themselves? Post-church discussions always seem to break down into jokes about someone’s stupid comment, or ignorant remark; people do the “garment feel” to each other all the time; members are judgmental of other members’ outfits, cars, whatever.

          This whole situation is analogous to aspects of the women’s rights debate. Sure, some men are pigs–but (and I wrote about this on my blog, incidentally) when I was listening to the radio the other day, woman after woman kept calling in defending Mel Gibson, and asking what his ex had done to “deserve” getting hit. By and large, a few wankers aside, it’s women who call each other “fat”, who make fun of each other’s imperfections, etc.

        • CJ, I think a better and less inflammatory example could have been chosen.

          But I do agree with the general concept that the membership contributes equally to the atmosphere at a typical LDS ward – just as much (if not moreso) than the Correlation Committee does.

          I think it’s a myth that if Boyd K. Packer died, or if the Church hierarchy just loosened up a bit there would be a free and fair exchange of ideas in LDS wards. They could loosen up, and I doubt things would change much at all at the ward level.

          The fact is, any time you have a community of any kind, that community is going to want its members regulated. If not externally from a police department, or a city government, or the Church Office Building, then they WILL regulate themselves internally. It’s natural human behavior.

          In modern US culture, where community has largely broken down and is often dysfunctional – in favor of a radical and pervasive individualism – any institution that still tries to preserve the concept of human community is going to piss people off. There’s no way around it.

          The issue is that the LDS Church is not as individualistic as many people would like. But for the LDS Church to be as individualistic as most of the critics would like, it would basically have to cease to exist as a community altogether.

  3. To me, the big issue isn’t so much how the church handles polygamy, but how the church handles Joseph Smith. There’s such a huge focus on making Smith perfect–when he clearly wasn’t. And, really, why should he be? The problem with focusing on Smith, himself, is that it a) deflects from the real issues and b) sets up an impossible standard. People are raised to revere this ideal man, and when it turns out that he’s merely human, after all, it’s such a letdown.

    The worst part is, there’s no need for it. Prophet or no, Smith wasn’t perfect–nor does his worth as a prophet hinge on his perfection. If we accept any of the great men of Judeo-Christian tradition as prophets, then we accept, de facto, the notion that prophet != perfect. Only one man was ever perfect, and, as I’m fond of pointing out, none of us are Him. From Abraham to Noah to Moses, and so on, and so on, there’s a pretty clearly established pattern that “called of God” doesn’t mean “just like God”.

    I say, we acknowledge the historical Joseph Smith and celebrate him for who he actually was–the good and the bad. After all, who he was, as an historical individual, is not at all the same as who he is as a figure of faith. This is, of course, the same argument many theologians (John Dominic Crossan springs to mind) use re: Jesus, and it’s a good one. Then again, I’m biased; I received my education in that horrible bed of moral relativism, proto-communism, and lawlessness known as Cambridge, Massachusetts 😉

  4. Regarding rejecting polygamy wouldn’t the church also need to scrub the Genesis of Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah, and all the knock-on effects of getting rid of most of the tribes of Israel?

    • Not likely. The Old Testament happened so long ago. Polygamy was practised as a social institution throughout most of the world as a standard behaviour until very recently in human history. It’s been less than 1,000 years since some human cultures decided polygamy was a no-no, so Biblical polygamy has no effect at all on the doctrinal claims of Mormonism.

  5. “Biblical polygamy has no effect at all on the doctrinal claims of Mormonism.”

    Except for on their doctrinal claims about polygamy…right?

    • The doctrinal claims of polygamy rest almost exclusively on the Doctrine & Covenants. The church wouldn’t have to repudiate anything in the Bible b/c the church already teaches that the Bible is only partly correct.

    • Well, sure, but that’s being a little bit obtuse. As Craig says, Mormons implemented polygamy because it was in the Bible. But nowhere in the Bible itself is polygamy, or marriage for that matter, considered an important part of any Jewish or Christian doctrine. Marriage is treated as a social institution, not a sacrament. It’s not a requirement for salvation, and there certainly isn’t anything about the deification of Jews or Christians or sex in the afterlife. The D&C, not the Bible, is what establishes Mormon polygamy as a doctrine.

  6. Sure the Bible is only partly correct but if something as basic as the existence and divine approval of half of the tribes of Israel is part that is not correct then what good is it?

    Polygamy is pretty much a doctrinal requirement of anybody who wants to believe that marriage relationships continue after death, and lives in a world that includes multiple (serial) marriages in life.

    At any rate, my experience at church has been pretty much in line with option 2. I haven’t found it a taboo subject, if perhaps and uncomfortable one. In multiple contexts I’ve been taught, and taught myself that it’s a correct doctrine that we don’t practice right now. Personally I’ve never seen the existence of plural wives in a family tree be cause for shame or confusion. Jocularity perhaps, but shame? Really?

  7. I have to say that my reading of the Bible leads me to conclude that marriage is treated in some instances as a social institution and in others as a sacred one. Your characterization seems overly broad.

  8. I agree 100% that polygamy in itself should be no cause for squeamishness. It’s been practised throughout all of human history today and is alive and well all over the world. It shows lack of respect for our forebears by deleting unwanted surplus wives from the record.

    I’m having a hard time thinking of some Biblical examples where marriage itself is treated as a sacrament, meaning that the act of getting married and the status of being married is considered important for salvation. Adam and Eve, maybe, but they were put together for companionship and procreation.

    Can you list some examples of couples that you think demonstrate marriage as a sacrament? All the couples that come to mind (Abraham/Sarah/Hagar, Jacob/Leah/Rebekah/Bilhah/Zilpah, Moses/Tzipporah, Hamor/Dinah, Boah/Ruth, Xerxes/Esther) are either love stories, standard companions/breeders, or unions of political importance. I am genuinely interested to see if there is any biblical support for the idea of marriage being a religious requirement or requirement for the afterlife. I’ve always been skeptical of the idea as the concept of an afterlife evolved long after most of the events of the Old Testament, and the New Testament is very Greco-Roman in its views of marriage and gender roles. But I’m open to alternate theories.

    • I’m a big fan of the marriage-as-a-sacrament idea.

      That said, I think it’s hard to find clear examples of this in the Bible (with the possible exception of Adam and Eve).

      That said, it should be noted that the story of Ruth is often interpreted as an allegory of the Messiah figure. With Ruth as lost and wayward and vulnerable Israel, and Boaz as her “redeemer.”

      Not saying that makes any sort of definitive point – but thought it was worth mentioning anyway.

  9. This might be way off topic and need its own post, but I was thinking about the GLBT movement. If you are a female bisexual, and want to marry one woman and one man, making it a man and two women (polygamy), is the GLBT movement against this? I mean isn’t a right of the bisexual in the GLBT? I mean if you are bisexual and decide to marry someone of the same sex, then its a gay/lesbian marriage. If you decide to marry someone of the opposite sex then its a heterosexual marriage. The only way to have a bisexual marriage is with two people right?

    • Zack, that’s a rather touchy subject in that circle.

      There are many gays who are incredibly threatened by the idea of anyone with same sex attraction who chooses to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender – for whatever reason. It confuses things too much, and opens the door for questions to be asked about whether they themselves really do have a “choice” in who they decide to be with. Gay men who marry women often find themselves the object of almost outright hatred and hostility from others in the gay community. They’re called “traitors,” “liars,” “sellouts,” and stuff like that. They have their legitimate feelings for their spouse questioned repeatedly, and get told regularly by others in the gay community that they are “sick” and will be divorced in three years or something like that. Then they, of course, get told the same thing by all their heterosexual friends too.

      You can’t win as a gay guy or girl who legitimately loves someone of the opposite sex and wants to be with them.

      I think right now, the issue of “swingers” (people who swing both ways) is one on which there is currently an uneasy truce within the LGBT movement. Mostly by ignoring the issue entirely.

      • The only reason that I brought this up was because it seems the GLBT community could have a connection with the mormon community that they should be able to understand. Because being in a bisexual relationship is similar to polygamy. One thing that scares me a little, is that the mormon church did a lot of things against prop 8. But of their entire potential to make things go there way, this was nothing. 22 million dollars and a few saturdays from some of the CA stakes is nothing. If they wanted to, they could literally raise billions of dollars, have millions of people campaigning, etc. If we ever get to the point where the use all their resources available… god help whoever they are going against.

        • Seth R is right, this is a complicated/touchy issue. Bisexuality is nothing like polygamy. Very apples and oranges. The legal rulings that permit gay marriage may very well one day allow for a valid argument in favour of polygamy, but for now it seems unlikely as the only people pushing for it are groups like the FLDS in Canada. Also, a man with four wives is no more bisexual than a man who dates woman after woman in serial monogamy. You’re confusing polygamy with polyamoury, and while it’s impossible to use a broad brush on that very small and diverse community, many polyamourous people do not believe in the convention of marriage at all.

        • I always thought Prop 8 was a mistake on the part of the LDS Church. Wrong focus, wrong overall strategy. I outlined my thoughts in the Summer of 2008 prior to the election here:

          Since then, I have had additional gripes. I kind of resent that the LDS Church basically pawned off all responsibility for making the argument against gay marriage on the political organization in California pushing Prop 8 (all those TV ads a lot of people hate). They completely abrogated their own responsibility to make their case for hetero-only marriage. The only guidance Church members got was a reading of the Proclamation on the Family (which – let’s face it – is not exactly all that helpful in picking your politics), a “go spend money on the pro-Prop 8 campaign,” and then… zip, zero, nadda.

          I opposed the campaign. But I felt like the LDS Church really did its own members a disservice and “hung them out to dry” without giving them any backup. If Salt Lake was going to support this campaign, then it darn well should have provided its REASONS why the POLITICAL notion of gay marriage is or is not harmful and wrong. Just restating a theological notion of marriage being between a man and a woman doesn’t cut it.

          The LDS membership sacrificed quite a bit for this misguided political move by the LDS Church, and it kind of angers me that they weren’t given more backup from the Church Office Building.

          Sorry about the threadjack.

      • @Seth Thanks for speaking for our entire community.

        There’s a big difference between someone who is bi/omni/pansexual marrying the opposite sex, and someone who is gay/lesbian. In the latter case, it almost always happens because of intense social and/or religious pressure and stigma against homosexuality. That is something which needs to change. However, I do believe that everyone has the right to decide to live as the wish, and I’ve nothing against gays who decide to heterosexually marry, as long as they go into it completely honestly, and knowing the consequences.

        It is true that some members of the LGBT community are threatened by the idea of gays (or even bisexuals) marrying straights, but it’s hardly a universal feeling. It’s just as useless to make generalisations about our community as it is to say “all straight people are like this”.

        @Zack As for the polygamous part of your question, I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at. I’m not sure how being in a relationship with someone bisexual is like polygamy. Are you talking about open/non-monogamous relationships or polyamoury?

        • The GLBT’s want to have equal marriage as heterosexuals. My point about the bisexuals, is what if a bisexual female wants to marry a male and a female. Then it would be a marriage of one man and two woman. Hence the polygamy. If a bisexual female decided to marry a male, then it would be a heterosexual marriage. If a bisexual female decided to marry a female, then it would be a lesbian marriage. So the only way to have bisexuals included in the GLBT’s is to allow the before mentioned situation. This is similar to mormons because they believe in polygamy. Even though they try to brush it off and ignore it, to this day they still believe in it. For example if I was to get married to a mormon girl in their mormon temple and then she dies and I marry another mormon girl in their mormon temple, from what I understand in mormon theology, I would be married to two women when I die. If molly was to get married to a man in the mormon temple and he died, and she got married to another man in the mormon temple, I believe she would then have a polyandry marriage. I am not sure if mormons believe in that or not, but my whole point in this ramble was that the rights of bisexuals in the GLBT is the same as what mormons once had.

        • Just because someone who is bi can be attracted to someone of either gender, it doesn’t mean they require two partners, one female, one male, any more than I require two partners, both male, or a straight woman requires two partners, also male. Sexuality has nothing to do with number of partners.

          Bisexuals are already included in the LGBT community because they, like gays, lesbians, and transgender persons are sexual minorities.

          While I support the legalisation of polygamy and other forms of polyamoury, legalisation of polygamy has little to nothing to do with gay marriage or bisexuals.

          And no, Mormons don’t believe in polyandry, or rather, the Mormon church doesn’t allow it.

        • Actually, there’s been a gradual process of “soft-polyandry” going on for some time now in LDS temples.

          At first it started with temple sealings for the dead, when you couldn’t figure out which husband to seal a dead woman to. The common sense practical approach was to seal her to both and simply leave those sorts of questions to God. But the woman in question had to be dead before multiple sealings could occur (unlike with men). But I’ve been hearing recently of women with deceased husbands getting additional sealings while alive.

          Uncorroborated at present. But my own guess is that this will naturally progress quietly, and we’ll have a de facto policy of polyandry within the LDS Church within a few decades.

        • Which is awfully odd because polyandry doesn’t really work with any past or present doctrine. Multiple husbands would confuse who the wife and her offspring are sealed to, but then the LDS Church seems to making a slow retreat from the concept of deification anyway. The whole doctrinal point of polygamy was that it helped men populate their worlds with spirits once they became gods. If that’s not being emphasized any more than the point of sex in the afterlife and how many people a person is married to becomes moot.

        • Well, I wouldn’t call it a slow retreat from deification, but rather a retreat from the unsupported speculative adventures a few prominent figures in the LDS history pushed on the rest of us. And a refusal to allow LDS doctrine to be defined by its popular folklore.

          If you look at the original scriptural basis for deification – both in the Bible and in modern scripture – there really isn’t anything about Celestial sex resulting in billions of spirit babies to populate worlds.

          So why be held to that imagery in the first place?

          And when you think about it, how the heck do you “birth” a spirit kid anyway? Since they don’t have physical bodies, why the need for conception, gestation, and vaginal delivery? The whole thing doesn’t really make any sense when you think it through (whether you’re a believing Mormon or not).

          Besides, some of Joseph’s own statements seem to indicate that spirit form is eternal – not just “intelligence.” So there’d be no place for that kind of “birth” anyway. My own personal opinion is that we became spirit children of God the Father via a process of adoption.

          But we aren’t really backing off deification at all. Just the unsupported Godmakers nonsense.

        • I absolutely agree that birthing spirit babies is bizarre and unsupportable. But it was the doctrine publicly preached, acknowledged, and built upon during the entire isolationist period of the LDS Church, and was quietly acknowledged for much longer than that. It’s the doctrinal basis for why polygamy was a requirement for deification, and is just as problematic an artefact as polygamy itself.

          Brigham Young is a problematic character in LDS history. His tenure was very long. So long that to insist the doctrines he established weren’t doctrinal is bordering on saying the LDS Church fell away from the restoration while it was only on its second prophet. I do understand the idea that prophets are still fallible men, and so on. Apologists insist that while doctrinal mistakes are made, what the current prophet says is what matters. The logic of this viewpoint is sound, but those who adhere to it need to be sensitive to the fact that to younger people it often just sounds like a method for bullshitting one’s way past difficult issues.

        • I’m a bit different than other LDS apologists in that I don’t have much interest in defending the modern LDS Church. That’s not really were my strongest convictions and interests lie, so I don’t bother much with it. I’m more interested in the founding under Joseph Smith and what it produced.

          Now, I wouldn’t call pointing out nuances and ambiguities in the history “bullshitting past difficult issues.” I’d just call it good historical inquiry.

        • “I absolutely agree that birthing spirit babies is bizarre and unsupportable.”

          Yes, but no more so than every other Mormon doctrine, or doctrine of any religion for that matter.

          It’s all equally bizarre and unsupportable. That’s religion. That’s why it requires faith (belief w/o evidence, because there is none).

        • I just find it ridiculous when religious people say, “Oh, I don’t believe that doctrine! That would be STUPID!” When all religious doctrines are stupid.

          And I prefer purple. Thanks.

        • I’ve given up on ever convincing you. You move the goalposts too much and have what I consider a very warped view of truth and evidence.

        • Someday you’re going to have to learn Craig that the same sort of unpleasant one-sided, over-simplified, name-calling that draws appreciative laughs in atheist echo-chambers is simply not a substitute for a substantive argument.

          You’re never going to be taken seriously until you can get over this habit of yours.

        • I didn’t call anyone a name. I said religious beliefs are essentially all silly, because they’re made-up. I believe the best way to get rid of religion is to ridicule the very concept of faith and doctrines.

          If you can’t separate out your beliefs from your concept of self, that’s hardly my fault. Until you can get over that habit, I can’t take you seriously.

  10. Not at all. At least it’s a conversation. I know many, many faithful LDS who feel exactly the same as you. Some reacted with “I would have voted for Prop 8 anyway, and I resent the Church telling me what I should do politically. It shows no faith in my judgment.” Others thought it was a waste of time and resources that should have gone toward acts of charity. Most disliked the fact that, as you mentioned, the LDS Church ordered its troops to march but used NOM as a front group and tried to avoid taking responsibility in public.

    The PR fallout has been bad, and I am not certain that Mormons would respond positively to another call to action like this any time soon. It caused too much damage to families and friendships.

  11. Adam and Eve is the most obvious example that sprang to my mind as well. “Is it good for man to be alone?” for example, and a clear Divine interest in joining Adam and Eve. In the stories of the patriarchs and of the Israelites there is continual investment of energy in the question of from among whom the wives will come, but that could be read either way. Leviticus is a good example of the opposite, more prosaic treatment of marriage, pretty much as a property issue. Mark Chapter 10 has Jesus endorsing marriage and adding “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” In Corinthians Chapter 11 it looks to me like Paul is stretching to find doctrinal justifications for traditional head covering practices but he finishes up with, ” 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
    12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” Another apostolic endorsement of marriage but without any particular reference to here or hereafter. 1 Peter chapter 3 tells us that husbands and wives are “heirs together of the grace of life” whatever that means.

    As far as particular couples go, we aren’t given a lot of information in the bible about their exhalation. We’re told that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are sitting in the kingdom of heaven, but not that they had to be with their wives to be there, or exactly what the kingdom of heaven means.

    As for the concept of an afterlife evolving later than the events of the OT, I’m not with you 100%. Certainly we see a lot more about it in the NT, but contemporaries of the some of the events in the OT, like the circa 2500 BCE Egyptians, were greatly concerned about the afterlife. The Sumerians, even earlier, had an afterlife.

  12. I have such mixed feelings about polygamy …

    I like your take on it, especially how option #3 requires them to lie through their teeth all the time in official publications and websites. It obviously puts members in a really bad position of having to take the party line but wanting to be honest (as their articles of faith/temple recommend requirements demand of them). What are they supposed to do?

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