Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Riddle Me This

* Hat tip to Myriad Mormon Musings for bringing this question to mind some time ago. I don't think she meant to, but the comments section led to it.

If polygamy is abominable to God except for when he deems it absolutely necessary ("For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people" Jacob 2:30) or when he wants to prove us ("For I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice" D&C 132:51)

Why does the church practice/believe in celestial polygamy?

What would be the purpose?

Surely the standard answers we give here would not apply in heaven - or am I missing something? I've gone over this and I can't see it.


Loyd said...

Eugene England argues that most of our folk beliefs about polygamy arose from attempts to understand and justify the practice, much along the same lines as many folk beliefs about blacks and the priesthood.

I tend to agree with England on this.

Yudanashi said...

K, so I don't know if this is just what I have bee told or if this really is doctrine, but the following is my interpretation of Polygamy.

Polygamy (and Polyandry for that matter) is an eternal doctrine. It is not a necessary one, but it is an eternal doctrine. It is a doctrine that, much like the law of consecration, has been removed from practice on the earth presently. It was, as I believe, A calling, it was reserved for those who would not abuse the privilege (I know, it sounds like an excuse).

If this weren't an eternal doctrine and instead just a "we will sort this out later" bit, I doubt that 25% of the 12 would be engaged in eternal polygamy.

T.J. Shelby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T.J. Shelby said...

Yudanashi, here is what Brigham Young said about it: "The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.”(Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, page 269)

Seems to me he thought it was necessary.

I tend to agree with Loyd (as per England). Of the many varied explanations I've heard, the only one that hasn't been shot down with evidence and intellectual reasoning is that "God said to do it."

And even that one is softening up with the body shots of logic...

Seth R. said...

Personally, I think it IS an eternal principle and will be practiced in the hereafter. Not only that, I think it will include both polygyny AND polyandry.

What about the person who loses their spouse early in the marriage and then remarries?

Are we suggesting that God is going to force him or her to "pick one?"

If you believe marriage is eternal, I don't see how you can logically deny polygamy - in BOTH its forms.

Lisa said...

Loyd: But I thought you and your fiancee were prayerfully headed toward a polygamous marriage (oh sorry! celestial marriage ;)

Yudanashi: My only response is what TJ said, and the reconciliation of the two is what really tends to make my head want to explode. Back then it seems very much (too much) like it was considered a saving doctrine - at best for those who were asked to engage in it and at worst for every member.

Couples/women/men who refused to engage in the practice were excommunicated as I understand it.

Seth: What of a person who loses their spouse and remarries?

There is NO doctrine anywhere in Scripture or otherwise to ever suggest a woman could take on multiple husbands (reread D&C 132 if you're curious) but a man can take on many wives?

That's the issue for me. If it went both ways I MIGHT be okay with it, but I doubt many (at least in our culture and similar cultures) would be okay with either. I wouldn't. I don't want anyone else.

And uhm, yeah. Pick one, that sounds good. My husband and I went through a phase where I told him if anything happened to me I would "trust him to do what the Lord said," but deep inside what I really, really wanted was for him to either (a) not remarry or (b) remarry for time only.

Because I couldn't imagine sharing him and being happy. It just wouldn't happen.

I can see how polygyny/polyandry (again, a decidedly unscriptural idea) would be the only way to reconcile this, but the fact is the scriptures state in one area that the idea is abominable to God except for when he calls for it to raise up a righteous generation or to test us.

I haven't seen any other issue. If it's about regulating the selfishness in us, well - I still can't reconcile it scripturally or spiritually. It just doesn't sit well with me at all.

Especially if one is threatened/punished with excommunication should they decide "this makes me sick and miserable and goes against everything i've ever known and learned."

It just doesn' just doesn't.

And I also ask that you consider your wife's feelings in the matter. My hunch is that women in the church tend to not think about it or joke about it (I've heard "head wife" quips) because we can't handle the thought. Because it's frightening to think about. It's a straw-that-breaks-the-camel's-back thought.

Seth R. said...


I always have to explain this.


Polyandry - One wife, multiple husbands.

Polygyny - One husband, multiple wives.

Polygamy - encompasses BOTH polyandry and polygyny.

Polyamory - Multiple intimate partners (basically "free love")

I am a Mormon who basically believes in BOTH polyandry and polyamory in the hereafter. I think accepting that one woman can have more than one sealing is where the LDS Church is inevitably heading. And I think that is how things will shake out in heaven.

I have no desire to practice either in mortality. But I see no problem with it in the hereafter. I would have no problem with my wife remarrying after I die and being SEALED to another guy. I have discussed this with her, and she is of the same opinion. She does not mind the idea of me being sealed to another woman either.

My wife and I have a very close relationship and we both know we are irrevocably made for each other. We are secure in the relationship and do not feel threatened by these issues. Neither do either of us desire to haunt the future relationships of the other should one of us die prematurely.

Maybe, you are uncomfortable with the whole idea, and that's fine for you.

I would simply ask that you not impose YOUR values on MY heaven.

Seth R. said...

Shoot, that should have read "I believe in both polyandry and polygyny in the hereafter", not "polyamory."

I'm not THAT liberal.

Lisa said...

I knew you were speaking of both, Seth. Multiple husbands and wives.

Oh wait. You're getting upset because you're using the technical definition of polygamy. Okay, fine. But as far as I understand it, and as far as scripture states, the term oft used for what the Church engaged in is polygyny. People just use "polygamy" because they don't know any better (and I imagine because it's easier to spell/pronounce :).

I believe the official phrase used anyway was "celestial marriage" or "plural marriage" with the scriptural understanding that it meant one man, many wives. Am I wrong?

I would appreciate a more equal deal when it comes to multiple spouses (it would sure as hell make me feel like more of a person), but in the end it's still yucky to me and I would hate to be forced into such a situation either post-mortem or in this life, threatened with excommunication.

I do believe it's rather rare to have a couple so agreeable to such potential situations and I DO THINK IT'S AWESOME that you two have spoken about it and have come to an agreement/are comfortable with it.

But why would you not want to practice it here? Because it's illegal (what if it were legalized) or...? I'm truly curious.

Anyway, listen: nobody is making you read this. I don't mind differing opinions, but since this is kinda my blog I'm going to be stating my opinions on here. Not asking if they're okay, but stating them. We can debate if we can be respectful. I don't mind that at all. I like this as a place for discussion. I like to consider myself fairly open-minded; I certainly have decided to never say never.

But I seem to have missed the part where I imposed my values on your heaven. I've done that about as much as you've imposed your values on mine.

Seth R. said...

I wouldn't want to practice it here for purely practical reasons.

Society is not really set up currently to accept or support it. It's not legal. Financially, it would be quite a trick to pull off. I also think that mortal insecurities, jealousies, and such need to be accommodated. There's a high likelihood that one of my spouses would feel neglected, not to mention the problem of being a proper dad for all the kids. Similar issues for my wife.

There are just too many limitations in the equation when you are talking about human beings living in a human society. Best stick to one spouse at a time until society is willing to make the changes necessary to allow other arrangements.

I don't think those limitations are going to necessarily apply in heaven. So I'm totally cool with it there.

I think it we can reach the point where we both agree that our particular marital preferences in heaven will not be forced on the other, we can probably shake hands and call truce.

Certainly, for my part, I don't think multiple marriages will be forced on anyone who doesn't want them.

Lisa said...

I don't think multiple marriages will be forced on anyone who doesn't want them.

I would certainly hope so :) It is my belief as well, I just take issue with it being an understood thing. That's all. But I would hope that God wouldn't force it upon the unwilling.

A truce sounds good, thank you.

(and btw, yours is the first I've ever heard of who believed either the Church would come to accept/adopt a doctrine of one woman, many husbands or that it was doctrine at all. I love hearing about new stuff like this - sincerely. it's neat.)

Seth R. said...

As a practical matter, I think it's already happening.

Women are already posthumously sealed to more than one spouse in the temple. They just have to be dead first. I think it extends from the practical problems involved in second-guessing whether someone's ancestor from 1700s Germany ought to be sealed to that guy, or that guy. So they just seal her to both, and good enough.

They do not allow this for women who are still living. Only for men. An inequity that I expect/hope will be eventually rectified.

Lisa said...

Hm. I was always taught that the woman would have to choose between the spouses, that we cannot choose for them so we seal them to however many they married here on Earth.

Kinda like posthumous baptisms: don't force the issue, they choose.

I suppose you'll come back with "They can choose to keep all/be with all" and perhaps that may be so. I just don't know that the Church currently teaches this, has ever taught it, or even hints that way.

But that's my own experience.

Lisa said...

oh, and for the unchosen many -because I know you took issue with the fairness of such ideas: God will take care of them just as He will the many who go through this life unmarried :)

What I've been taught.

T.J. Shelby said...

Sound like Hippie Heaven to me...Polygamy is just Polyamory with a stamp of Priesthood approval.

Good thing $40 million+ was spent to protect the sanctity of marriage...

T.J. Shelby said...

Oh and Lisa, since I know one of your lectures at Sunstone dealt with LDS treatment of Blacks, you might enjoy my April 2 post.

Lisa said...

TJ: Don't get me started.

I tried that argument on a friend - you know, sanctity of marriage =/= polygamy.

Anyway, shut down. Why? Polygamy is between a man and a woman.

I had to leave. I almost lost it.

(and i'll definitely check out your post)

Seth R. said...

Unfortunately, the fact that we have the Proclamation flatly stating that gender is eternal, and then we have a Mother in Heaven...

It just looks like a theologically rough set up for gay members of the LDS faith, does it not?

Lisa said...

Oh Seth. This is for a completely different post.

And once I get my thoughts together on it (I've dealt with it before, but it merits so much more), I'll post again.

But again I would think someone who believes wives can have multiple husbands in the afterlife would be more open to such things, considering scripture really is against such an idea.

Anyway. Another post.

Mormon Heretic said...

Lisa, I just did a post on Sidney Rigdon.

Some of the footnotes are very interesting on this subject of polygamy. Footnote 26 on page 305 quotes an 1844 expose of Mormonism. I don’t know if this can be corroborated, but I found it interesting.

“Emma’s threat to “be revenged and indulge herself” may have been merely a warning to the prophet to give up his spiritual wives. But Joseph H. Jackson, a non-Mormon opportunist who gained the confidence of the prophet in Nauvoo, recorded in an 1844 expose of Mormonism: “Emma wanted [William] Law for a spiritual husband,” and because Joseph “had so many spiritual wives, she thought it but fair that she would at least have one man spiritually sealed up to her and that she wanted Law, because he was such a ’sweet little man.’”

Although there is nothing to suggest that Law and Emma were more to each other than friends, Law later confirmed that Joseph “offered to furnish his wife Emma with a substitute for h im, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in his house and to be well treated, etc.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 3 July 1887.)

Perhaps a revelation of polyamory was in the works?

Seth R. said...

Joseph really did die too young.

Think of what fun it would have been if he'd lived another year.

Lisa said...

Perhaps he was leading the church astray, Seth?


Urban Koda said...

Just my opinion, but I firmly believe it to be true...

The idea of polygamy as a doctrine all began with Joseph Smith's initial involvement with a 16 yr old servant girl named Fanny Alger living in their home. While the assumption is that Fanny was his first spiritual wife, there is no record of a formal ceremony, nor of any witnesses to the marriage, other than Joseph and Fanny themselves. Emma was aware that the prophet had been involved with the girl in the past (and not happy about it), but when Fanny became pregnant, Emma threw her out of the house (Note that the prophet allowed this to happen - which I find somewhat abhorrent). Obviously at this point, Emma wasn't aware of the 'doctrine' and in my opinion, Oliver Cowdery nailed it when he described the whole thing as a "dirty, nasty, filthy affair."

I think the simplest explanation is that the prophet screwed up. He let his lust get the better of him, and just like many of us at points in our lives, he made a mistake when faced with a moral decision. Unfortunately rather than admitting he made a mistake and repenting, he tried to cover it up, and justify it by adding it as a new doctrine.

I suspect many of his revelations about the corruption associated with power likely reflect on this, as are the revelations about covering up sin.

The doctrine of polygamy grew wildly out of control, as the prophet sought additional wives, granted the 'blessing' to other men, and entered into polygamous, polyandrous, and some evidence would suggest polyamorous relationships as well. The mantra of "Where there are no accusers, there is no sin", seemed to justify most of it.

The eventual martyrdom of the prophet occurred as he was on trial for violating the rights of freedom of the press. Up until this time Polygamy was not common knowledge amongst the Church members, and when some threatened to print a story in the local newspaper in Nauvoo, the prophet has the printing press destroyed.

Prior to his death, attempts were made by the Joseph to destroy the document currently known as section 138. In my opinion, it was a 'revelation' aimed solely at trying to justify his continued infidelity to Emma. Read it with that in mind, and it's a pretty disturbing. Sadly a copy remained, and was then used by subsequent leaders to justify their own immorality.

So where does this leave us with the doctrines of Celestial Marriage and all of that...

The fact is, we're all spirit children of God, and as such are all connected together. In many ways we are all sealed together in the Priesthood, or power of God.

Living eternally isn't about having a having a temporal sexual relationship with a single person, it's about being part of something bigger.

Perhaps Joseph saw the idea of Celestial Marriages as part of manifesting that eternal bond between us while here on the earth. Unfortunately somewhere along the way, he lost sight of that, and confused it with the basic carnal desires of man.

Brock said...

If we have to provide some sort of spiritual rationalization for polygamy, that would suggest that our faith is hinging on periferal "doctrines" rather than on Christ. I think it is quite possible that we might dismiss polygamy entirely and be none the worse for it in the gospel of Christ.