When polygamy was still being practiced by the church, it was taught as a doctrine essential to the religion. With the same fervor that modern Mormons defend the “traditional family,” early Mormons frequently defended the polygamist family as the only family unit acceptable in the Celestial Kingdom.

Brigham Young taught, “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, pg. 269). Elsewhere he said, “Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ It is the only popular religion there…” (Deseret News, August 6, 1862).

Heber C. Kimball said, “You might as well deny “Mormonism,” and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 5, pg.204 – p.205).

Not only did they teach that polygamy was essential, but that monogamy (you know, the traditional family so lauded in The Family: A Proclamation to the World) was wrong.

Brigham Young said, “Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman Empire… Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a hold sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers” (Deseret News, August 6, 1862).

Orson Pratt said, “This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans…” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, pg. 195)

Heber C. Kimball said, “I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors his word. Some of you may not believe this, but I not only believe it but I also know it. For a man of God to be confined to one woman is small business. I do not know what we would do if we had only one wife apiece” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 5, pg. 22).

John Taylor said, “The one wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people” (Millennial Star, Vol. 15, pg. 227).

So according to early leaders, polygamy is the only religion in heaven and monogamy is a curse to society. If you think that’s weird, don’t worry, it gets weirder. The brethren also prophesied that the abandonment of polygamy would cause God to withdraw from the church.

Heber C. Kimball taught, “Many of this people have broken their covenants… by finding fault with the plurality of wives and trying to sink it out of existence. But you cannot do that, for God will cut you off and raise up another people that will carry out His purposes in righteousness, unless you walk up to the line in your duty. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pg. 108).

John Taylor warned, “What would be necessary to bring about the results nearest the hearts of the opponents of Mormonism? Simply to renounce, abrogate, or apostatize from the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage in its fullness. Were the Church to do that as an entirety, God would reject the Saints as a body. The authority of the Priesthood would be withdrawn with its gifts and powers and there would be no more heavenly recognition of the administrations. The heavens would permanently withdraw themselves, and the Lord would raise up another people of greater valor and stability, for his work must, according to his unalterable decrees, go forward; for the time of the second coming of the Savior is near, even at the doors” (Deseret Evening News, 4/23/1885).

Wilford Woodruff wrote, “The law of the Patriarchal order of marriage belongs to this dispensation, and after it was revealed to the Prophet Joseph he was commanded to receive it. If he and the people had rejected it, the Church and Kingdom of God would have advanced no further and God would have taken it from them and given it to another people” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 7/22/1883).

In 1886, amid extreme opposition to polygamy, President John Taylor received a revelation which stated, “I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so Amen” (Unpublished Revelations, 1:88).

So what happened when the church issued the Manifestos in 1890 and 1904? Did the Lord remove the priesthood from the church? Is there no more heavenly recognition of administrations in accordance with the promises of the Lord’s servants? After all, God apparently said, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). So did God lie? Or did the servants lie? If it was the servants, which ones lied—the past ones or the current ones?

When you have two sets of prophets competing with each other, how do you determine which one is right? On the one hand, you have the polygamist prophets who insisted that monogamy was the foundation of immorality. On the other hand, you have the modern brethren who say monogamy is the fundamental unit of society.

If you believe the early brethren were wrong, what does that say about their prophetic stature? If you can’t trust their authority on the “New and Everlasting Covenant” and the future of the church, how can you trust the modern brethren since the modern brethren get their authority from the old prophets?

Of course, there is technically the option that they are both right and that God simply changed his mind. That raises a few problems since God is supposed to be an unchangeable being who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If God can change his mind on core doctrine and requirements for exaltation, what confidence can you have that the core doctrines you embrace now will always be the will of the Lord?

Should you therefore be opposed to any changes in the church like accepting homosexual relationships or ordaining women to the priesthood? It could, theoretically, change right? The change in polygamy came as a direct result of political pressure. Why then should we assume that political pressure can’t force the church’s hand again?

Things to think about…


Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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