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My Perspective on Polygamy

I have long avoided talking about polygamy on my blog.  It is a source of tremendous discomfort for me, but it keeps coming up, so I want to give my impressions about this early practice in Mormonism, as well as my beliefs and reconciliations.

While all Mormons are well-aware of polygamy, my first real encounter with uncomfortable facts about polygamy came when I heard John Dehlin’s interview of Todd Compton on Mormon Stories (episodes 12-14).  Compton wrote a book called “In Sacred Loneliness“, and goes into detail about all of Joseph Smith’s practices.  Then I read Richard Bushman’s book, “Rough Stone Rolling“, and was quite astonished to learn that Joseph married women who were currently married to other General Authorities, while they were still alive.

A third book, “Nauvoo Polygamy” by George Smith, caused me further discomfort with the practice, so much so that I never finished the book (but plan to go back to it later.)  My book club has picked 2 more books:  “The Mormon Question:” by Sarah Barringer Gordon (a non-mormon), and “More Wives Than One” Kathryn M. Daynes.  Additionally, I had been having a conversation with an RLDS blogger who claims Joseph Smith never taught or practiced polygamy.  (Since he is so rude, I refuse to publicize his site.)

I’m currently reading “Nauvoo: a place of Peace“, by Glen M. Leonard, which has a chapter on polygamy.  I read the first 125 or so pages, and found it focused on a lot of economic data, which I found rather dry.  So, I’m skipping ahead to some more interesting chapters.

Anyway, while I plan to devote some posts to Leonard’s chapter, which is written from a very sympathetic Mormon view, I have to say that from what I know so far about polygamy, I just do not believe it to be an inspired doctrine, just as I do not believe the priesthood ban was an inspired doctrine, as seen from my earlier post on that topic.  Now that may cause some people to ask if I believe Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?  No.

I’m sure that seems like a big contradiction, but I have a more complex view of prophets.  I think they can make errors, even in revelation. I don’t believe a prophet is infallible.  I believe that when we look at Biblical prophets, we find errors in revelation, bad conduct, and pagan influences as well.  For example, I don’t believe God commanded genocide with Joshua, I question Abraham’s conduct with Hagar (and circumcision), and Jonah was a bigot towards the people of Nineveh (which deserves a future post.)  In short, I believe God uses fallible men to give revelations to.

So, while I respect Joshua “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”, Abraham, “the father of monotheism”, Jonah “swallowed by a great fish”, I can respect Joseph Smith as well.  Just as the former three were prophets, so is Joseph.  I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but my testimony of polygamy is completely different.  I can accept that Joseph spoke many inspired things, translated the Book of Mormon, and performed many miracles.  I can also accept that I don’t believe polygamy was inspired by God, just as the Curse of Cain was used by so many people to justify slavery.

So, as I post on polygamy in the future, I just want to make my perspective clear.  Comments?

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109 comments on “My Perspective on Polygamy

  1. “Laws and covenants don’t change, but commandments do, as I stated previously.”

    Ok, I think some definitions are in order. Tara, what are your specific distinctions between laws, covenants, and commandments?

  2. […] one of my requests!  Tara and I have been discussing several topics, such as the Priesthood Ban, Polygamy, and Abraham, and the story of Balaam always seems to come up.  She takes the position that Balaam […]

  3. Thank you. Finally someone who believes the “gospel” but doesn’t have to contort that belief to make every “revelation” true.

  4. Ha ha, make every revelation true? Likes that’s some great burden? Funny stuff.

    The interesting thing about this site and all of these posts is the assumption that everything will make sense and be perfectly reasonable and comfortable. While I find the discussions interesting and the additional information very informative, there is still the need to take things on faith. I am convinced certain things can only be taken on faith on purpose, set up just that way for a reason. There are things, I believe, that we answer “I don’t know” and that does something for us, empowers us in a way we don’t now comprehend. And while that seems completely crazy to someone who needs everything laid out, who would be a more faithful servant?

    If indeed God’s ways are not man’s ways, then there will be things we don’t understand and sometimes that’s the answer. I don’t think, though, that we should write that principle off or not believe it, even if it doesn’t make perfect sense. Polygamy doesn’t always make sense. I will give you that. Joseph, therefore, received an incorrect revelation? Well, that’s a little too far. And we don’t have all the information, after all.

    For example: polygamy, I believe, was instrumental in separating the church from what was happening (an increase in popularity and growing respect, an “alignment” if you will with the ways of the world) and nothing could have separated us better, if indeed that needed to happen, than the polygamy issue. Whether or not this was indeed part of the reason, I just don’t know. But I’m okay with that. I think rejecting things we don’t understand will have a snowball effect and eventually result in at least a partial apostasy. I just don’t think we’re in a position to tell God he has a faithful follower granted everything makes perfect sense Otherwise, we’ll be mostly faithful, most of the time . . .

  5. David T,

    Why can’t you be faithful AND reject things that don’t make sense?
    Its not a sin to have an opinion.

  6. MH, I took you at your word and read your perspective on polygamy. I could not disagree with you more. I could not contort or bend logic enough to accept that Joseph Smith was a prophet still in good standing with the Lord and yet that he revelation on polygamy was in error. That calls into question each and every prophet of the Church since, including Wilford Woodruff.

    It would take an even greater effort to contort logic and reason to accept Joshua as a prophet in good standing with the Lord after committing genocide had not the Lord commanded it.

    I am even less comfortable trying to re-image the scriptures after our own way of thinking, even though there are things in the scriptures with which I am uncomfortable.

    Glenn

  7. It looks like Kristine A at W&T is a kindred spirit regarding this topic. See http://www.wheatandtares.org/16132/joseph-smiths-multiple-wives-why-i-care-a-lot/

  8. […] Smith’s Multiple Wives and Why I Care A Lot.  It reminded me of one of my old posts, My Perspective on Polygamy.  I’ve learned a lot about polygamy in the 6 years since I wrote that post, and I’m […]

  9. […] Smith’s Multiple Wives and Why I Care A Lot.  It reminded me of one of my old posts, My Perspective on Polygamy.  I’ve learned a lot about polygamy in the 6 years since I wrote that post, and I’m […]

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