January 24, 2023

Polygamy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

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Monogamy is God’s Law, Polygamy is God’s exception it is only practiced at certain times in History.

Beginning of Polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

“In 1831 Joseph Smith was working on inspired translation of the Old Testament and he read about some of the ancient prophets practicing plural marriage(also called polygamy). Under this practice one man is married to more than one living wife. The prophet studied the scriptures, pondered what he learned and eventually took his questions about plural marriage to Heavenly Father in prayer.”(p. 477 D&C Student Manuel)

Genesis 16:1-3 Abraham and Sarah

As you can imagine, Joseph was reluctant to being practicing Polygamy, he shared the information with close family and faithful members. Remember, these were not nasty men trying to get with more women, but these were the most faithful of the Church. When hearing about this for the first time it was hard for every one of them, it was a trial for all involved. This practice was shocking and disgusting to most of the members at the time. Brigham Young said he would rather die than take plural wives.

Joseph knew how challenging and heartbreaking this would be to his own family and everyone else. He was very slow to bring this principle to light and this caused major problems, rumors started and major trouble and persecution for the prophet.

The members were “God Fearing” men and women, they had families, and were respected in society, they all knew this principle would change everything for them.

Joseph stated that he did not begin the practice of polygamy until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey.

So, Joseph started taking “spiritual wives” where they were sealed together but did not live together, eventually he started practicing polygamy as we know it now, and it was very hard on Joseph and Emma’s marriage, again, very understandable.

The story of Emma, Joseph and Polygamy is one of the hardest stories! It seemed as though Joseph would talk to Emma about what is required, she would get upset, hate it, hate him, probably hate God, be angry and want to divorce him and would then come around. Probably through prayer and pondering, asking the Lord what should be done, then she would agree to him taking more wives. Then, he would take another wife and seeing it, and being apart of it would make Emma hate him, be angry and want to divorce him all over again. Her story seems very relatable. There are lots of holes in the documentation of what Emma knew and did not know about polygamy so there are some liberties taken on what actually happened because we do not have her side of the story.

There are accounts where Emma sat in on some sealings of Joseph and his plural wives, so she did know about it, and would come around enough to be a part of the sealing, but then she would change her mind. Which is completely understandable! How hard would this situation be! I feel for both Joseph and Emma.

Why Polygamy was required?

Nobody knows all the reasons polygamy was required for the early Saints. I took a class in college called “Anthropology of Mormonism” and as member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I was nervous about hearing misinformation on my religion, but luckily it ended up being an edifying experience.

The Polygamy Section of this class was fascinating, it explained the topic from a educational standpoint why polygamy played a part in keeping The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints thriving, according to the professor.

There were hundreds of churches starting up at the same time as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is called “the great awakening” in United States History. With many religions starting, all around the same time, why did some make it though and others died off. Of course, as members of the Church we believe that God would not allow “His Church” to fail, but from an anthropological and educational standpoint there are different ideas of why the Church has lasted, and my professor believed it was polygamy that kept the Church from being non-existent.

The professor argued that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would have disappeared like most of all the other churches at the time, if it were not for Polygamy.

He gave a couple reason’s for this:

-It made everyone family, it created large family networks. With sealing multiple people together it made for large families all watching out for one another.

-It helped women and children get to Utah from the East. He argued that without Polygamy many of the single women and fatherless families would not have been able to make the trek to Utah. If they are married, or in larger family units the man would look out for the women and children better.

-Raise up seed. They were able to have more children because of Polygamy.

-Made for a stronger membership, because of the sacrifices that had to be made. Polygamy was a disgusting topic way back in the early days of the Church. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gave up regular membership in society by being members of The Church because of this principle. People thought they were crazy(and, kind of, still do). The men and women of the Church had to have firm testimonies of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or they would not last.

Polygamy did a lot for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Studying it at a college level, by a professor who was neutral on the topic, helped me see it from a different view. The reasoning the teacher brought up made a lot of sense in my mind.

The Struggle Polygamy

From a young age I was taught about Polygamy, and from a young age I have grappled with the topic. The main question that comes to my mind with Polygamy is:

Does God love His Daughters?

How could a God that loves His Daughters allow Polygamy?

The practice of Polygamy seems so degrading to women, as though women are not as valued as men to our Heavenly Father. It’s hard to think of a God that does not love His daughters, and it feels wrong to even imply it. Even repeating the sentence “I know I am a daughter of God and He loves me.” Lifts spirits. I do not know all the reasons for Polygamy, and even knowing them all might not change my opinion on the topic, polygamy is a hard one.

Going back to things I do know: I do know Heavenly Father loves His daughters. He hears our cries and our sacrifices. With what I know about Heavenly Father, it seems that Polygamy was for a greater purpose, and greater implications than I can understand simply.

If you struggle with this same question, if you want to know you are a son or daughter of God-ask. By asking Heavenly Father you are able to go right to the source, ask Him to give you the answer. No matter how many times someone tells you that you are loved, the only way you will know for sure is to ask God, and have Him give you the answer.

Women’s Voices on Polygamy:

Women’s voices matter and they are left out of so many discussions, and again specifically, when it comes to polygamy. Sometimes I wonder if we heard more from the women who practiced Polygamy it might be easier to handle. The sacrifices of the women were real(also the men’s sacrifices were real too), but we don’t hear many quotes from the women.

There is a book called “A House Full of Females.” By Laurel Thatcher Ulrich where she documented the stories of the women who practiced polygamy and what they went through. At the end of the book she says many people say that their family practiced the “true order of marriage” because they practiced polygamy. The author agreed with that statement because of all that had to be endured and learned through the practice Polygamy. They truly practiced the law of sacrifice, they learned how to rely on the Savior, the patience, long suffering, humility, charity and the list goes on.

The people who practiced Polygamy endured the trials for future generations. Their sacrifice was for us!

The Church Addressing Polygamy:

One of my favorite explanations of Polygamy came from Kate Holbroke during a Face to Fact event at the Nauvoo Temple with Elder Cook. Here is a snippet from their talk:


Here’s the whole Face to Face, it is all excellent:


Ending of Polygamy

The United States Government tried to stop the practice of Polygamy for many years. In 1890 hundreds of Latter-Day Saints had served time in prison. Others went into hiding to avoid arrest and imprisonment. In these conditions many families suffered from stress, grief, poverty and hunger.

In 1889 President Wilford Woodruff prayerfully sought the Lords guidance on Polygamy, and received the answer from the Lord that they should stop the practice of Polygamy. By 1890 very few plural marriages were performed and they were done against the council of the Prophet. Because there were still marriages being performed(even though the prophet said to stop) there was greater persecution on the Church.

President Woodruff came out with the manifesto which is known as Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants. This was the official notice to stop Polygamy.

President Joseph F. Smith came out and said “that all [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be . . . Excommunicated.” (Conference report 1904,75)

That is still policy today! It’s all done with. We are lucky to live in a time when these types of sacrifices are not required of us. There are other sacrifices that we need to endure, like questioning why our ancestors had to practice polygamy. It is easy to see the good that came from the practice. In the Face to face event linked below they say 20% of the membership today came from polygamous roots. 20% of 16 million is over 3 million! That’s a lot of people that came from polygamy roots!

I’m grateful for their sacrifices!

Books on Polygamy

”Let’s Talk Polygamy” by Britney Chapman Nash


”A House Full of Females” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

More Blog Posts:

Fun Facts about Joseph Smith

Get to know the Prophet Brigham Young

Awesome Facts about the St. George Temple:

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