August 22, 2008

Take the Ensign Survey

Larry Richman over at the LDS Media Talk blog reminded me about the survey regarding the Ensign magazine. This is a great opportunity to sound off about your feelings on the publication; what you like and what you'd like to see more of.

For example, I praised the recent Richard Turley article on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and said I would be very pleased if more scholarly articles of that kind were included. In the past the Ensign has occasionally carried wonderful articles on historical or scholarly approaches to the gospel. In the early 80s an article by Stan Kimball on the hoax of the Kinderhook plates  was included. In 1985 Milton Backman's article on different First Vision accounts was an interesting addition. In 2007 John Welch's fascinating article on lost symbolism in the parable of the good Samaritan crossed over from a BYU Studies article. Similarly, the predessessor to the Ensign, the Improvement Era, had articles by scholars like Hugh Nibley and others on subjects like the Joseph Smith Papyrus.

I believe the Ensign would be a great place to publish some interesting findings from the Joseph Smith Papers project, or even Royal Skousen's work on the Book of Mormon manuscript. More articles with a historical, theological, or apologetic approach would be welcome.

My last recommendation was to make it clear that the First Presidency message each month is new, rather than a talk given elsewhere and reprinted.

So you've heard a few of my suggestions, now you can go make some of your own in the survey.

Take the survey HERE.

August 20, 2008

Plural Marriage as Discussed in the Church Today

Plural marriage is an inescapable aspect of LDS history.1 It has been approached in polemic literature by both religious and secular critics; religionists usually decrying the practice as an immoral and depraved teaching resulting from a false prophet, the more secular crowd emphasizing the seeming dishonesty and lustful motives behind the practice. Especially given the recent news exposure to the FLDS practice of polygamy with the Warren Jeffs trial and the invasion of the YFZ Ranch in Texas, the LDS Church has used its publicity arm to affirm it no longer practices plural marriage.2

About four months ago the LDS Public Affairs channel on YouTube posted three videos declaring the Church no longer practices polygamy and is not associated with the FLDS church or other polygamy groups. On June 26 the LDS newsroom published a package of information and videos for media to use to clarify the Church's role and polygamy today. Included were videos of "Texas Mormons," to differentiate them from the polygamists seen on television with floor and wrist-length dresses and dusty ranch streets. On July 10 another statement declared the name "Mormon" shouldn't be applied to the FLDS. Most recently a new website was launched,, with quick answers to questions on polygamy. The approach seems to be more with disassociating the Church from current polygamy rather than clarifying polygamy's role in the LDS past. Thus, Joseph Smith is not expressly mentioned as having practiced plural marriage, though it is implied. For example, one press release says:

As an illustration of the lack of proportion in this situation, in a 9 July article by the AP, one scholar who objected to the Church’s efforts to define itself said that Joseph Smith, were he alive today, would be excommunicated by the Church because he practiced polygamy. Hypothetical conjectures of this sort never work in serious discussions.
Another approaches it, but does not explicitly state "Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage."
The practice began during the lifetime of Joseph Smith...In 1831, [Smith] made a prayerful inquiry about the ancient Old Testament practice of plural marriage. This resulted in the divine instruction to reinstitute the practice as a religious principle.

The common pieces of each statement, video or press release includes mention that the LDS Church discontinued the practice in 1890, that it differed in many ways from current groups, that current Mormons are excommunicated if trying to practice, and that there are over 12 million Mormons around the world not practicing polygamy compared to the small splinter groups who are.

Frankly, I believe the new website and press releases fail in one major aspect: they fail to fully address plural marriage in LDS history. In a recent USA Today article, Kathleen Flake, an associate professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, said "The biggest challenge facing the LDS church is not distinguishing their present from the fundamentalist present, but getting people to understand the difference between their past and the current practice of the fundamentalist groups. This initiative, I believe, is their first attempt to do that."

In order to truly differentiate the past from present, the past must be better clarified. One, uniform, complete historical study and publication on plural marriage in the Church would greatly benefit all, not only alleviating confusion among non-Mormons, but also helping Latter-day Saints better understand the past practice of plural marriage in their religious heritage.3 This brings me to the immediate purpose of today's post; examining plural marriage as discussed in official or quasi-official Church publications. LDS can be encouraged by recent efforts at academic works on LDS history, including the recent Mountain Meadows Massacre book and the ongoing Joseph Smith Papers Project.

First, I am not aware of one contemporary official LDS publication academically dedicated to plural marriage. At least three quasi-official publications have been available through Deseret Book, however. These tend to discuss plural marriage with much more detail than any official publication. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton and Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery are two such examples, though they are no longer carried by Deseret Book. The third, Richard Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, is not a dedicated study of plural marriage, but a biography of Joseph Smith which explicitly deals with his instituting and practicing plural marriage.

Another recent book discussing plural marriage is The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle by Kathleen Flake. It explores the "Mormon compromise" wherein the Church disavowed polygamy in the early 20th century. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles lauded the book as the "best thing ever written" on the subject of the transition between the pre and post polygamy Church:
"I have to say I’ve been a lifetime student and writer of Mormon legal history, at least. I learned many, many things in her book that I didn’t know. She captured it very, very well, and was able to stress also what remained unimpaired by the compromise Other books have been published, but not in a way that would grab the awareness of the average Mormon."4 
To my knowledge, the book is not sold at Deseret Book or on their website. One current mainstream LDS example of a work devoted strictly to polygamy is Setting the Record Straight: Mormons and Polygamy by Jessie L. Embry. It is a brief look into plural marriage including historical data on the practice, and that Joseph Smith initiated it. I do not know if the book covers polyandry.5 Last, Gerald Lund's extremely popular fictionalized history on the history of the Church The Work and the Glory discusses Joseph Smith and plural marriage. As the cover synopsis of volume 6 says:
...whisperings reach the ears of some of the Steeds about curious teachings and practices going on in Nauvoo — specifically it is rumored that God may have restored the ancient practice of plural marriage. How will they respond when they find out that at least some of the rumors are true? The issue becomes a trial of faith that shakes the Steed family to its very roots.

As pertaining to official LDS publications that state Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage, I have compiled a brief list of several sources. The LDS Church has not "removed all information about plural marriage from all its manuals," yet some members remain unaware that Joseph had more than one wife. Perhaps the earliest published mention of plural marriage was in the Book of Mormon:
Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts...For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (Jacob 2:27-30).
This clearly did not "rule out" plural marriage; rather, it taught that it could happen only and if God commanded. The current Book of Mormon Sunday School manual discusses polygamy in the Additional Teaching Ideas" section for the lesson on Jacob 1-4.
1. Jacob condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage...The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 324). Explain that the Lord gave such direction (see D&C 132), but He later withdrew His sanction of plural marriage when conditions changed (see Official Declaration 1). Emphasize that the law of the Lord regarding marriage today is the same as it was in Jacob’s day.6
Mike Parker from FAIR described the origins of plural marriage in a FAIR blog post, noting the next example of published statements regarding polygamy:
There were rumors circulating as early as 1835 that the Mormons were advocating polygamy, which prompted Oliver to write up an Article on Marriage and submit it for a sustaining vote by the general assembly of the church in Kirtland on 17 August 1835. Joseph was preaching in Michigan at the time. The article became Section 101 of the 1835 (first) edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. It affirms in verse 4: “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”
At least since 1852 the Church has publicly stated and printed that Joseph Smith instituted and practiced plural marriage. The article on marriage by Cowdery remained in the D&C until the 1876 edition when it was replaced by Section 132. This section states that other wives had been "given" to Joseph Smith:
And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God (see D&C 132:52).7
Furthermore, the current D&C heading directs readers to the fifth volume of the History of the Church where plural marriage is clearly discussed (see HC 5: 501–507). B.H. Roberts also explicitly discussed plural marriage and Joseph Smith in his Comprehensive History of the Church, which was originally published between 1909 and 1915 in the periodical Americana as The History of The Mormon Church, published in 6 volumes in 1930. It remains an important LDS historical work.

The current CES manual for D&C clearly states Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. For example, it quotes Wilford Woodruff as follows:
"I bear record before God, angels and men that Joseph Smith received that revelation, and I bear record that Emma Smith gave her husband in marriage to several women while he was living, some of whom are to-day living in this city, and some may be present in this congregation, and who, if called upon, would confirm my words" (In Journal of Discourses, 23:131).8
The current CES manual Church History In the Fulness of Times also states that JS practiced plural marriage, naming at least one of the wives, and noting the difficulty in tracking them all due to the records available:
Moreover, Joseph Smith and the Church were to accept the principle of plural marriage as part of the restoration of all things (see v. 45). Accustomed to conventional marriage patterns, the Prophet was at first understandably reluctant to engage in this new practice. Due to a lack of historical documentation, we do not know what his early attempts were to comply with the commandment in Ohio. His first recorded plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman; it was performed by Bishop Joseph B. Noble on 5 April 1841.12 During the next three years Joseph took additional plural wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands.9
In the official Sunday School D&C manual used in virtually every ward and branch in the Church, we read:
In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice.10
On, the "search" feature yields the "Gospel Topics" section as the first result for the term "polygamy." It also explains that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage:
After God revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Smith in 1831 and commanded him to live it, the Prophet, over a period of years, cautiously taught the doctrine to some close associates. Eventually, he and a small number of Church leaders entered into plural marriages in the early years of the Church (see, Gospel Topics, "Polygamy").
Thus far we have seen a rather nondescript mentioning of plural marriage, but it is included in many official Church publications. The current Priesthood/Relief Society manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith includes a statement in the introduction hinting at one reason for the limited plural marriage material: the manual is designed for contemporary Latter-day Saints. Official curriculum states as its primary mission the teaching of principles that are relevant to the lives of its modern membership. The Joseph Smith manual explains:
This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day....This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime...The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.11
This is a different approach than was used in the earlier Brigham Young volume of the series, which excised the word "wives" for "wife" in a chapter in which Brigham is discussing wives in general, not his own plural wives. Standard procedure was followed, editors employed brackets to identify the change. Nevertheless, other than mentioning his first wife who passed away and his second wife, the book does not discuss plural marriages. This caused some outcry and publicity about the Church trying to hide something about the past. The next book in the series, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, contained a disclaimer:
This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Joseph F. Smith. However, in order to put the teachings in a historical framework, the following list is provided to summarize some of the milestones in his life that have most immediate relationship to his teachings. This summary omits some important events in his personal life, including his marriages (plural marriage was being practiced in the Church at that time) and the births and deaths of his children, to whom he was devoted.12
The John Taylor edition of Teachings of the Presidents of the Church talks briefly about struggles over the legality of plural marriage. The timeline offers the following:
1882- United States Congress passes the Edmunds bill, making plural marriage a felony and prohibiting polygamists from voting, holding public office, or performing jury duty.

1885- Receives word during a visit to California that federal officials have ordered his arrest for practicing polygamy.13
The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual on Wilford Woodruff contains the most information on plural marriage of the series. Woodruff issued the "manifesto" declaring an end to the practice, which is treated in his historical timeline.14 The historical overview chapter, “The Life and Ministry of Wilford Woodruff,” contains this description under the heading "Issuing the Manifesto":

Strengthened by the Lord’s guiding hand, President Woodruff led the Latter-day Saints through one of the most turbulent times in this dispensation. In the late 1880s the Church continued to practice plural marriage in obedience to the Lord’s command to the Prophet Joseph Smith. However, the United States government had recently passed laws against the practice, with severe penalties for the violation of those laws, including confiscation of Church property and denial of Church members’ basic civil rights, such as the right to vote. These developments also opened legal channels for the prosecution of Latter-day Saints who were practicing plural marriage. The Church made legal appeals, but to no avail.
These circumstances weighed heavily on President Woodruff. He sought the will of the Lord on the matter and eventually received a revelation that Latter-day Saints should cease the practice of entering into plural marriage. Obeying the Lord’s command, he issued what came to be known as the Manifesto—an inspired statement that remains the basis of the Church’s stance on the subject of plural marriage. In this public declaration, dated September 24, 1890, he stated his intention to submit to the laws of the land. He also testified that the Church had ceased teaching the practice of plural marriage. On October 6, 1890, in a session of general conference, the Latter-day Saints sustained their prophet’s declaration, unanimously supporting a statement that he was “fully authorized by virtue of his position to issue the Manifesto.”15

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism published in the early 90s has a full entry on plural marriage in addition to other references in various biographical entries. The plural marriage entry says, among other things,
Joseph Smith told Brigham Young that he was determined to press ahead though it would cost him his life, for 'it is the work of God, and He has revealed this principle, and it is not my business to control or dictate it' (Brigham Young Discourse, Oct. 8, 1866, Church Archives).16
Finally, BYU Studies has been publishing articles about plural marriage for decades, as have other non-official LDS publications such as Dialogue and Sunstone, the Journal of Mormon History, Utah Historical Quarterly, etc. The bibliographic essay by Bradley noted above notes many good articles from these publications. Further research is needed to see the extent of the articles dealing with plural marriage.

From these examples it would seem to be surprising that someone who regularly attended Church or Institute or who has read the Doctrine and Covenants, would be unfamiliar with Joseph Smith practicing plural marriage. Still, there are examples of Church books which state that plural marriage was instituted in the Church though not explicitly mentioning, but only implying, that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage, and plural marriage does not play a large role in current LDS teachings. Currently the Church is seeking to distance itself from the practice in contemporary thought.

For example, see the topic as discussed in the book Our Heritage:
The Prophet prayed for understanding and learned that at certain times, for specific purposes, following divinely given laws, plural marriage was approved and directed by God. Joseph Smith also learned that with divine approval, some Latter-day Saints would soon be chosen by priesthood authority to marry more than one wife. A number of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage in Nauvoo, but a public announcement of this doctrine and practice was not made until the August 1852 general conference in Salt Lake City.17
The small book True to the Faith does not mention polygamy, but rather presents a simple account of LDS teachings and how they apply to members today.18 Likewise with the Gospel Principles manual.19 The new missionary manual Preach My Gospel only mentions plural marriage once, in the section titled "Use the Book of Mormon to Respond to Objections":
Many people will not believe everything you teach. President Ezra Taft Benson taught how the Book of Mormon can be the central resource in handling objections to the Church: "...All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation..."20
Also, in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Guide it briefly says:
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the Church.21
"The Family: A Proclamation to the World" is silent on the issue of plural marriage. It states that "families [are to] to be united eternally," that "God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife," and that "the family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan."22 Ambiguity remains when it comes to current LDS sealing policies which effect this "eternal marriage." A man may be sealed to more than one women (given that the first wife is deceased, or I believe, civilly divorced from the man) but a woman cannot be sealed to more than one man. Technically, then, if one tales into account post-mortality marriage, polygamy still occurs in the Church in that regard. Whether these marriages will be honored (or remain unamended throughout eternity) the Church has no current official position.   

General conference talks (especially recently) only mention plural marriage in passing, almost invariably in the tone of forbidding or denying the current practice. Three such examples come from President Spencer W. Kimball, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

President Kimball's 1974 address stated:
We warn you against the so-called polygamy cults which would lead you astray. Remember the Lord brought an end to this program many decades ago through a prophet who proclaimed the revelation to the world.23
President Gordon B. Hinckley discussed polygamy in his 1998 General Conference address after appearing on CNN's Larry King Live. His talk included some questions King asked, and his answers. In regards to "What is the Church’s position on polygamy?" he said:
I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter.24
Finally, and most recently, Elder M. Russell Ballard mentioned plural marriage in conference without addressing many historical details:
...simple statements are helpful to someone who is uninformed but curious about the importance we place on the basic unit of the Church and of society. We have a deep commitment to marriage (defined as a union between one man and one woman). Polygamy, a limited practice in the early pioneer days of the Church, was discontinued in 1890, some 117 years ago.25
I feel it is reasonable that plural marriage would not play a large part in contemporary LDS dialog in official meetings and publications further than explaining that it was once practiced in the Church. For one reason, it is pretty far from our current familial norms. Likewise, the Church does not systematically investigate or teach about Old Testament prophets who practiced polygamy. It is mentioned, but it is not a prime focus of any church manual or lesson I have seen; it seems that being relatively discreet on polygamy is not confined to Joseph Smith's participation. The Church is a world-wide organization with converts from many countries. The Church has the position that teaching the first principles and ordinances of the gospel takes precedence over more peripheral matters of historical inquiry such as plural marriage while some critics may counter that polygamy in the past is directly relevant to the truth claims of the Church.

Either way, I would like more explicit and specific Church-released materials dealing with plural marriage. I believe a comprehensive, academic, rigorous, and thorough study on its implementation, practice, and cessation, would do much to clear the air on the Church's standpoint regarding plural marriage. It would give average members, media personnel, Sunday school, seminary, and institute teachers a reference point. I believe we are currently seeing a trend in Church scholarship that seems more willing than the recent past to confront this difficult issue which still flies in the face of our moral sensibilities. Perhaps work on the Joseph Smith Papers project can help get a book in the works.

Finally, I feel that the issue for many disaffected Latter-day Saints has more to do with feeling betrayed or lied to by the Church than with being upset about the actual historical fact that Joseph Smith had more than one wife. As this post demonstrates, the Church has included information on plural marriage in many contemporary official Church publications, but perhaps more can be done. From the sources cited above it becomes clear that at least three main issues could be better examined or explained in official Church publications: Post-Manifesto plural marriage, polyandry, and the prevarication regarding the practice by Joseph Smith and other early LDS leaders.26

This post rose as a response to the following comment from my post on Richard Bushman's seminar introduction last week:
I continue to be amazed when the church's historians and apologist make statements such as, "A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives." Why would they know? The church has removed the information from all of its materials.
I argue that the Church has not "removed all information" regarding plural marriage and Joseph Smith from its manuals, but that it has clearly not played a prominent role in official LDS literature. It has been discussed much more in 'unofficial' writing. The concern of the commentator does not arise from thin air. Many active members of the Church do not have a full grasp of polygamy, the extent to which it was practiced, how it began, the sacrifices involved, and the reasons participants gave for living "the principle."

See a recent USA Today article, "Mormons launch campaign to put distance between themselves and polygamists," By Eric Gorski, Associated Press, posted 6/26/2008.

Even LDS who are aware of the practice of plural marriage by Joseph Smith still tend to perpetuate errors about the reasons for the practice, including the implication that there were more women than men, or that Mormon widows needed help in crossing the plains. These reasons are largely flawed.

"Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary," Newsroom, July 20, 2007. Possibly some of the other works that wouldn't grab the attention of the average Mormon, and are not found in most LDS bookstores, include Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage and Doing The Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, each by B. Carmon Hardy, Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard S. Van Wagoner, and Kathryn Daynes's, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System 1840-1910. George D. Smith of Signature Books published Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" in 2008, which was unfavorably reviewed in a well-documented piece by Greg Smith. See "George D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy," FARMS Review, 20:2, pp. 37-123. Finally, Martha Sonntag Bradley has written a very useful bibliographic essay, "Out of the Closet and Into the Fire: The New Mormon Historians Take on Polygamy," available in Excavating Mormon Pasts: The New Historiography of the Last Half Century, from Kofford Books.

Polyandry involved the sealing of Joseph Smith to women who were already married to living men. It was explored in Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling as well as Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma and Compton's In Sacred Loneliness. Polyandry is also discussed on the FAIR website, which is not officially affiliated with the LDS Church. See Sam Kaitch, "A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith," and Allen Wyatt's "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2006 FAIR Conference). The Journal of Discourses also contains declarations of Joseph Smith's plural marriage, and even proposals to other married women. It is accessible online and on GospelLink. Other general books discussing plural marriage include James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (1976), and Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (1979).

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teachers Manual (1999), "Lesson 12: Seek Ye for the Kingdom of God," p. 51-55.

See Mike Parker, "On the origins of polygamy (or, What did Joseph know, and when did he know it?)," FAIR blog, July 8, 2008, and Robert J. Woodford, "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants," Ensign, December 1984.

The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (Religion 324-325), 1981, has references to plural marriage on pp. 327, 333-34, 361-363.

See Church History In the Fulness of Times (Religion 341-343), 1989, pp. 256, 424-425, 440-441.

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 31: “Sealed … for Time and for All Eternity," p.176.

See Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2007), "Introduction," xiii.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1998), “Historical Summary,” viii. A similar but more ambiguous statement was included in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant:
This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Heber J. Grant. The following chronology provides a brief historical framework for these teachings. It omits significant events in secular history, such as wars and worldwide economic crises. It also omits many important events in President Grant’s personal life, such as his marriages and the births and deaths of his children," Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2002), "Historical Summary," viii).
See Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2004), "Historical Summary," vii. The next chapter, "The Life and Ministry of John Taylor," provides a little more information on these incidents, though Taylor's wives and number of marriages are not listed.

The time line lists the passing of the Edmunds Act making plural marriage a felony. Two more dates are noted: 24 September 1890, "Having received a revelation from the Lord, issues a declaration stating that the Latter-day Saints should cease the practice of entering into plural marriage"; 6 October 1890, "Members of the Church attending general conference unanimously sustain the revelation President Woodruff received regarding plural marriage," “Historical Summary,Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2004), x.

The Life and Ministry of Wilford Woodruff,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, xv. Post-manifesto plural marriages and the excommunication of apostles who dissented from that decision is not discussed, see footnote 26.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Plural Marriage," p. 1093.

Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Chapter Eight: A Period of Trials and Testing,” p. 93.

True To the Faith contains a section on marriage, but does not discuss polygamy. It does refer to section 132 of the D&C, however, which does discuss polygamy. See p. 97-101. [.pdf]

Gospel Principles, see especially "Section Eight: Family Salvation."

Preach My Gospel, p. 108. [.pdf] In directing people to the Book of Mormon regarding the issue of plural marriage, one might

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Guide, p. 150. The rest of the material deals with marriage as practiced today in the Church.

"The Family: A Proclamation to the World" was read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held September 23, 1995.

Spencer W. Kimball, “God Will Not Be Mocked,” Ensign, Nov 1974, 4.

Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking about Us?,” Ensign, Nov 1998, 70. This quote has been heavily used in recent press releases.

M. Russell Ballard, “Faith, Family, Facts, and Fruits,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 25–27.

For example, the end of plural marriage is usually presented as "officially" occurring in 1890 with Wilford Woodruff's "Manifesto." Technically, this official end is accurate, as the official Church disclaimed the practice, but historical records indicate that, just as the beginning of plural marriage was slow and roughly documented, so was the cessation. See D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904.” Dialogue 18 (1) Spring 1985: 9-105, and Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996). Also, further exploration of polyandrous marriages (being sealed to an already-married woman) would be useful. See Andrea G. Radke, Ph.D. "The Place of Mormon Women: Perceptions, Prozac, Polygamy, Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Peace," 2004 FAIR Conference. Joseph Smith and other early LDS leaders' equivocation on accusations of the practice, which played a role in the establishment of the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, would also be beneficial from an official LDS Church source. Finally, on all these issues, see Gregory L. Smith, M.D., "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," FAIR. Greg Smith is currently working on an expansive work regarding plural marriage. For a sample of what he has found so far, see the chapter on polyandry.

August 18, 2008

"Saints and crockery ware": The Temporal and Spiritual

On the use of historical and temporal examples in the LDS worldview and sermonizing
George A. Smith
April 6, 1856

Mormons are likely to hear about car sales, mountain hikes, or dirty windshields in any given sacrament meeting talk; a temporal instance becomes a spiritual lesson. Terryl Givens' People of Paradox examines LDS culture in terms of the seeming incongruities inherent in the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith. One particular paradox involves Joseph's collapsing together of the temporal and spiritual; what Givens calls the "blending and blurring of sacred and secular categories." Brigham Young as explained the paradox in these words:
When I saw Joseph Smith, he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth and brought it up, and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God; and that is the beauty of his mission.1
Givens concludes Americans were "not ready to disregard the boundaries that kept heaven and earth apart."2 Combining the heavens and earth flew in the face of the conventional dualism of Joseph's day; that heaven and God are "wholly other," the earth and mankind eternally different in fundamental ways.

"Utilitarian"-based talks may focus on how temporal matters can affect souls; practical matters take on eternal significance. George A. Smith's 1856 sermon on fence mending resulted from Heber C. Kimball's request that Smith "preach on matters of policy." Smith discussed avoiding distractions and quarrels by efficiently completing one's work. By keeping our house in order we allow for more reflective time and we are less apt to be drawn from thoughts of higher things by knowing the dishes haven't been cleaned yet or the cows are out causing havoc, etc. This introduces another LDS paradox: Church authority versus individual agency. This occurred even more so when the Church was largely focused in the Great Basin where leaders were often apt to offer temporal counsel in a religious setting. These paradoxes contributed to the tensions felt by early Saints, such as when the temporal matter of the Kirtland Anti-Banking failure combined with the religious leaders involved therewith, or when "gentile" merchants blamed the tyranny of Brigham Young's policies for sagging sales.

In short: part of the Mormon preaching tradition blends the sacred and profane through temporal examples and stories (either hypothetical or based on real experiences), and at times includes counsel over practical matters (in this sermon, fence-mending).

First, George A. believed the difficult tasks plaguing life of early Utah settlers served as a sort of filter; a mechanism to separate the wheat from the chaff. Their very temporal location in the territory of Utah became a part of God's gospel plan:
The condition of our Territory, the nature of our soil [and] climate, appear as if designed expressly by the Almighty for the...upbuilding of the kingdom of heaven in the last days. It matters not what corner of the earth men come from, unless they possess the spirit of the leaven of truth, they will remain but a short time in these mountains before they begin to consider it the wrong place, for the leaven is working. They cannot quite endure the climate and the peculiarities of the country or something of the kind and off they go. On account of our altitude we are most advantageously situated for the drainage of the filth, scum, and corruption, when it accumulates to a certain extent, for it flows off in different directions, thus leaving the people of the kingdom remaining as it were alone.
As time passed, Utah became less exclusionary as industry, railroads, and settlement expansion changed the face of the West. Even then, however, everyday tasks formed a part of the gospel plan to Latter-day Saints. Temporal arrangements are necessary; the gospel is not an all-encompassing transcendent event that leaves the reality of life behind. In certain ways it works to combine the two. This worldview was interestingly described by editor James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald in 1842, who said the Mormons
...are busy all the time establishing factories to make saints and crockery ware, also prophets and white paint.3
Again, one reason G.A. Smith mentioned temporal matters in his religious sermon was for the practicality of "avoiding annoyance." He likely remembered some of the the annoyance caused to neighbors of the Mormons back East where they were literally driven from their homes and property. He didn't wish to see division among the Saints resulting from annoyances:
There are many here, as religious as this congregation looks, who have not got a good fence around their farms, yet they will kneel down in the mornings perhaps, to offer a prayer. By the time they have got one knee fairly to the floor, peradventure somebody thunders away at the door and cries out, "Neighbor, there are twenty head of cattle in your wheat; they have been there all night, and are there now."

The man of no fence is roused up, and instead of praying he is apt to think, "Damn it," and to start off get the cattle out and put them into the stray pen...

Thus you must see that some temporal arrangements are necessary, to enable men to enjoy that quiet which would be desirable in attempting to worship our Heavenly Father.
It was quite practical to keep the cows in so one could attend to religious matters. George A.'s sermon gives interesting insight into the use of temporal stories and history being cast into the LDS worldview of life being a probation. He related the elusive story of Thomas B. Marsh and the "milk strippings" which were said to have ultimately caused Marsh's apostasy. Using a simplistic explanation, Smith admonished the Saints to avoid annoyances in temporal matters for spiritual reasons:
You may think that these small matters amount to but little, but sometimes it happens that out of a small matter grows something exceedingly great. For instance, while the Saints were living in Far West, there were two sisters wishing to make cheese, and, neither of them possessing the requisite number of cows, they agreed to exchange milk. The wife of Thomas B. Marsh...and sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese then they otherwise could. To be sure to have justice done, it was agreed that they should not save the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Small matters to talk about here, to be sure, two women's exchanging milk to make cheese.
Mrs. Harris, it appeared, was faithful to the agreement and carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings. Finally it leaked out that Mrs. Marsh had saved strippings, and it became a matter to be settled by the Teachers. They began to examine the matter, and it was proved that Mrs. Marsh had saved the strippings, and consequently had wronged Mrs. Harris out of that amount.[Two appeals were made, the last to the High Council.]
Marsh being extremely anxious to maintain the character of his wife, as he was the President of the Twelve Apostles, and a great man in Israel, made a desperate defense, but the High Council finally confirmed the Bishop's decision. Marsh, not being satisfied, took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his Counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council.

This little affair, you will observe, kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife even if he had to go to hell for it. Then the President of the Twelve Apostles, the man who should have been the first to do justice and cause reparation to be made for wrong, committed by any member of his family, took that position, and what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the "Mormons" were hostile towards the State of Missouri. That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.

Do you understand what trouble was consequent to the dispute about a pint of strippings? Do you understand that the want of fences around gardens, fields, and yards, in town and country, allowing cattle to get into mischief and into the stray pen, may end in some serious result? That the corroding influence of such circumstances may be brought to bear upon us, in such a way that we may lose the Spirit of the Almighty and become hostile to the people?

And if we should not bring about as mighty results as the pint of strippings, yet we might bring entire destruction to ourselves. If you wish to enjoy your religion and the Spirit of the Almighty, you must make your calculations to avoid annoyances, as much as possible.

History became the basis for exemplifying and teaching a moral principle.4
...I have come to the conclusion that the best policy is to undertake to cultivate a little land, and to fence and cultivate it as it should be, and to only keep as many cattle as we can take care of, and keep from destroying our neighbors crops. In that way I believe we will be able to avoid a good many annoyances, and to adopt a great deal better policy than we now have in those respects.
If anything, George A. quipped, you ought to have a good fence so as not to insult the cows who might be offended enough to challenge you to a duel after seeing your feeble fence.5 By being frugal and industrious one could avoid annoyances and help the community become Zion:
In this way Zion can be made to blossom as a rose, and the beauty of Zion will begin to shine forth like the morning, and if the brethren have not learned by experience that this is the course to pursue, by that time they will learn it. I presume a great many have become satisfied that it would be better to avoid many of these annoyances.
George A. believed many problems in the Church might be avoided by following his practical advice, and he thus combined the religious principle of love for God and fellow man with practical work in  home-spun temporal sermon. In other words, he tied a historical example (the milk strippings) to a contemporary issue (contention over cattle, land and fences), and both instances served to teach eternal principles of love, awareness, work, and the general building up of Zion.

Especially given the circumstances of the late 1850s, LDS leaders in the Great Basin preached on being self-sustaining. They would rely on no one but themselves and the mercy of God:
Good domestic policy requires us to be careful in providing such comforts and necessaries as we can produce within ourselves. If we let our sheep perish our clothing will be scanty, or we shall be forced into the stores to support distant producers. If we let our cattle die we shall not only lack beef, but our home made leather will be missing.
In short, the difficulties and wrongs which may grow out of such carelessness are numerous. It should by all means be our policy to produce every article, which we can, within ourselves.
George A. asserted these principles were a part of his faith and would lead to temporal and spiritual prosperity:
These sentiments are strictly within the scope of my religion, and those comforts and conveniences, which we are constantly in need from day to day, are necessary to enable us to perform the duties God requires at our hands. One of those duties is to take a course that will enable us to enjoy the blessings and comforts of life, [to] preserve our health and strength to labor for the upbuilding and spread of the kingdom of God.
This blending resonates in Mormon culture today with emphasis on personal responsibility, work ethic, and the saying that "cleanliness is next to Godliness" referrs to physical as well as spiritual hygiene, all in addition to salvation and the grace of Jesus Christ. While at times it is a matter of practicality, Saints continue to find the gospel in everyday living and easily combine the two in Church sermons, lessons, and comments without a second thought, as Givens noted:
Those inhabiting the theological universe [Joseph Smith] created find themselves in a place where the sacred, the human, and the divine find new meanings and require new orientations.6
George A. concluded:
I have offered these remarks, on the subject of policy, in rather a rambling manner, something like the parson, who was told that he did not speak to his text, "Very well," says he, "scattering shots hit the most birds." May the Lord bless us all, and prepare us to enter His kingdom. Amen (JD 3:280-291).


Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 5:332.

Terryl Givens, "The Paradoxes of Mormon Culture," BYU Studies 46, no. 2 (2007): 191-192. In his interview on Helen Whitney's documentary The Mormons, Givens explained:
One finds in the revelations of Joseph Smith an immense range of subject matter. One can go to the Book of Abraham, where he describes in vision pre-mortal councils where God himself participated, and we were present as unembodied spirits. One can go to section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was called just The Vision, in which he describes the glories of the celestial world and the inheritance of those who go to the celestial or the terrestrial kingdoms. Those are examples of revelations that are about as exalted and transcendent as one could ask for. Then one can also find a number of revelations in which he tells people that they should open a print shop on this property, or they should sell this property here, or that they are called to New York to do this. His revelations range from the sublime to the mundane. And yet I think that there's no contradiction there.
Interview located at (last accessed 12-14-2007).

James Gordon Bennett, New York Herald, August 4, 1842 (as cited in Givens, ibid).

See Daniel C. Peterson and David B. Honey, "Advocacy and Inquiry in the Writing of Latter-day Saint History," BYU Studies 31:2 (1991) 1-41 [.pdf] Smith's account here seems too simplistic but has still been used recently by various General Authorities and in Church manuals. Other unofficial LDS publications and members have examined the story and published explanations. Later this week I'll look into how the story has been used and what the historical record tells us about Marsh's apostasy.

George A. jested:
There has been a constant complaint about selling the land for fencing, quarreling here and there about cattle doing mischief, and they have become thoroughly converted to the doctrine I recommended. Experience had to teach them the lesson, though it was not so much experience with me, for my father taught me that a man could not raise a crop with any certainty unless he first fenced his land, and it was considered one of the most ridiculous things a man could be guilty of, in a new country, to plant a crop and let the cattle destroy it for want of a fence. Some settlements have made tolerably good fences, but as a general thing the poles are stretched too long for their size, the points sag down, and should a cow or an ox happen to pass by such an apology for a fence, and understand that it was designed to keep out animals, they would be insulted, and, were it not against the law to fight a duel, you might expect such a cow or ox to give you a challenge for such gross insult (JD 3:285).
Terryl Givens, "The Paradoxes of Mormon Culture," BYU Studies 46:2 (2007): 192. A subsequent sermon by Brigham Young demonstrates the blending, especially in the early territorial Church when a Zion society was an immediate goal:
Our preaching to you from Sabbath to Sabbath, sending the Gospel to the nations, gathering the people, opening farms, making needed improvements, and building cities, all pertain to salvation.
The Gospel is designed to gather a people that will be of one heart and of one mind. Let every individual in this city feel the same interest for the public good as he does for his own, and you will at once see this community still more prosperous, and still more rapidly increasing in wealth, influence, and power. But where each one seeks to benefit himself or herself alone, and does not cherish a feeling for the prosperity and benefit of the whole, that people will be disorderly, unhappy, and poverty-stricken, and distress, animosity, and strife will reign (JD 3:228).
Orig. posted 12/10/2007. Revised and reposted 8/18/2008