Do you think that I am an old man? I could prove to this congregation that I am young; for I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband than can carry any of the young men.” – Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 5, p. 210
The night I finally accepted that I didn’t believe the LDS church was true, I defended Joseph Smith’s polygamy on someone’s Facebook status. Looking back, it made absolutely no sense, because not 10 minutes after making the comment, I realized that I hadn’t really believed the church was true for at least a month, and I didn’t need to feebly justify something that was so gross to me any longer.
Almost no one in the modern church is ok with polygamy. I’m sorry, but no amount of “Why Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Doesn’t Matter to Me Anymore” blog posts can convince me otherwise. Polygamy sounds awful, and no Mormon, especially Mormon woman, wants to live it. (With some exceptions, I’m sure—people can be weird.)
Polygamy is an issue that I know most Mormons put on their figurative shelves of issues they don’t understand but expect to in the next life. I can’t count the number of faithful Mormons I’ve heard say “Yeah, polygamy is weird to me/I hate the idea of polygamy/I wouldn’t be able to live polygamy”, while hoping that they won’t be asked to live it in the next life. That’s exactly what I did as a 100% devoted member of the church. I put polygamy on my shelf (not realizing how little I even understood about what was taught, what was lied about, and how it was practised) and hoped I wouldn’t have to live it in heaven, or that I’d somehow magically become ok with it if I did have to.
We formerly taught to our people that polygamy or Celestial Marriage as commanded by God through Joseph Smith was right; that it was a necessity to man’s highest exaltation in the life to come.” – Reed Smoot Case, v. 1, p. 18
“I’ve heard it all before” is something I also hear a lot of Mormons say when presented with difficult issues from “anti” or ex-Mormons. The modern church has become very blasé about polygamy—as if it was “just something that happened back then”, rather than a fundamental doctrine and driving force in the early church.
“Abraham did it” is something I also hear a lot of Mormons say in order to justify polygamy—as if the Old Testament is something ANYONE wants to live by. (Genocide, don’t wear certain materials, blah blah.) Just because some other book you also believe is divine (but has a lot of awful stuff in it) has people being polygamous, doesn’t mean it’s ok to ignore your own moral compass and justify it. We finally live in a time where women have rights, and everything about polygamy robs women of those rights—in my mind, even having to be ok with the idea of polygamy ever being “commanded”.
The bottom line is, Mormons—you can’t justify polygamy. Not really. Not in a way that satisfies you emotionally or morally. There’s no way to make Joseph Smith marrying a 14-year-old girl ok. (EVEN if he somehow didn’t sleep with some/all of them—which would mean he had no scriptural justification for having married her—we know for a fact that Brigham and other subsequent prophets slept with young girls. Also look at the evidence for that.) There’s no way to make the idea of a woman having to share her husband with 1 — 100 others seem fair or conducive to happiness.
No, it wasn’t common for 14-year-olds to get married at that time, especially not to considerably older men who used their self-proclaimed prophet-status to coerce. If 14-year-old Helen Marr Kimball said having to marry Joseph made her lie “a portion of the time like one dead” for three months, it obviously wasn’t a good time for her. Nor was it a good time for any of the other women who described the polygamous life as being void of happiness.
Polygamy is a cruel system of misogyny and emotional abuse. It was a way for men to justify their sexual appetites with women other than their wives, in my opinion. It is absolutely indicative of the sexism that has always been present in the church, particularly in the old days when Brigham taught men not to get too attached to their wives.
Some of the nations of Europe who believe in the one wife system have actually forbidden a plurality of wives by their laws; and the consequences are that the whole country among them is overrun with the most abominable practices: adulteries and unlawful connections through all their villages, towns, cities, and country places to a most fearful extent.” – Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 12
Oops. Guess we dropped the ball there, Orson.
Joseph broke both the rules of polygamy as laid out in D&C 132. (Marry only virgins, and get the first wife’s permission.) Emma hated polygamy (duh). Other women hated polygamy. Oliver Cowdery described Joseph’s marriage to 16-year-old Fanny Alger as, “A dirty, nasty, filthy affair…” Everyone who spoke up about Joseph’s disgusting polygamous actions was quickly labeled an apostate by the prophet, and slandered publicly. The Nauvoo Expositor, which was printed to expose Joseph of the polygamy he had been vehemently denying for years, was destroyed at the orders of Joseph, resulting in his death by a mob.
To any Mormon women reading —PLEASE think about your natural love for your husband and your family, and how absolutely awful it would be to be a polygamous wife. I’m totally trying to appeal to your emotions here, because the church teaches that women are naturally compassionate and nurturing, and I totally agree. But early church leaders treated women like lesser beings to be traded and gained as extra wives. It’s wrong, and I think you know it’s wrong. It’s also absolutely intrinsic to the history of the church, the character of Joseph Smith and other prophets, and the current temple sealing system. Think about it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lies about polygamy, because it has to. Though let it be noted that they also admit to things now that they denied for years, in typical “we’ve told you this all along!” cult style. Know that you don’t have to swallow lies, or be ok with things you know are wrong.
For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” – Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, p. 111, verses 23-24
The only way Mormons can be ok with polygamy is total moral relativism. I encourage you to read what was actually said by men and polygamous wives at the time, and not to disregard your own feelings about how wrong polygamy is in the name of making your beliefs fit into a nonsensical box. Polygamy is just one of countless issues with the LDS church, but we all know it’s a huge one.
I am grateful I wasn’t ever LDS at a time when Joseph could have taken me from my husband and declared that God had commanded it. Really, really grateful.