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Does D&C 132 support Polyandry?

This past week, we’ve discussed polyandry–the idea that a woman can have multiple husbands.  (Polygyny is the concept where a husband can have multiple wives.  Polygamy encompasses both polygyny and polyandry.)  The reason this came up was due to a presentation I attended at the Mormon History Association meetings.  Many people have charged that Josephine’s mother Sylvia had 2 simultaneous husbands: Joseph Smith and Windsor Lyon.  Brian Hales has argued that following Windsor’s excommunication, Joseph Smith was sealed to Sylvia Lyons, and they gave birth to Joseophine Lyon.  However it was discovered that Josephine shared her father Windsor Lyon’s DNA, not Joseph Smith. For critics of Hales position, it seems to indicate that Sylvia was having sex with both Windsor and Joseph at the same time, and didn’t really know who the real father of Sylvia was.  Hales argues a few other possibilities:  (1) She didn’t know she was pregnant with Windsor’s child when sealed to Joseph, (2) The sealing between Joseph and Sylvia was a non sexual eternity only sealing, or (3) Sylvia was in transgression for having sex with Windsor when sealed to Joseph.

I made a passing reference that D&C 132 may indicate polyandry is permitted when I said

With regards to other ways to resolve this, there is a scripture in D&C that seems to imply that it was ok for Emma to be sealed to another man (presumably William Marks, if memory serves) but that because she didn’t act on it, the commandment was rescinded.

Now Hales doesn’t like that interpretation, but I believe one can make the case that D&C 132 provides limited polyandry support.

Nate asked if there was anything from Brian Hales regarding these verses, and then shared his thoughts on the issue.  I’ve only read volume 3 of Hales book Joseph Smith’s Polygamy – Volume 3: Theology, and Hales didn’t address the verses below in the context of polygamy, although he has seemed to argue that Joseph Smith always argued that polygyny (one husband, many wives) was theologically possible, not polyandry (one wife, many husbands).  If one wants to argue differently, they are doing so without a historical understanding of how D&C 132 has always been interpreted.  But it reminded me of a post I wrote back in 2009 concerning polyandry support in D&C 132.  It was part of Richard Van Wagonner’s biography titled Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess.  In chapter 21, Van Wagoner states that at times the issue of polygamy…

left Joseph and Emma’s marriage hanging by a thread.  Emma spent the last three years of her husband’s life jealously battling his errant yearnings, more than once threatening to return to her family in New York.  On one occasion, according to Smith’s private secretary, she threatened that if he continued to “indulge himself she would too.”  [William Clayton Diary] Although Emma apparently countenanced two of her husband’s 1843 sealings–to Emily and Eliza Partridge–she recanted within a day and demanded that Joseph give them up or “blood should flow.”  Her change of heart came after she found Joseph and Eliza Partridge secluded in an upstairs bedroom at the Smith home.  The realization that the sealing represented more than a “spiritual marriage” or “adoptive ordinance” devastated her. [From page 293]

Some of the footnotes are very interesting on this subject.  Footnote 26 on page 305 quotes an 1844 expose of Mormonism.  I don’t know if this can be corroborated, but I found it interesting.

“Emma’s threat to “be revenged and indulge herself” may have been merely a warning to the prophet to give up his spiritual wives.  But Joseph H. Jackson, a non-Mormon opportunist who gained the confidence of the prophet in Nauvoo, recorded in an 1844 expose of Mormonism:  “Emma wanted [William] Law for a spiritual husband,” and because Joseph “had so many spiritual wives, she thought it but fair that she would at least have one man spiritually sealed up to her and that she wanted Law, because he was such a ‘sweet little man.'”

Although there is nothing to suggest that Law and Emma were more to each other than friends, Law later confirmed that Joseph “offered to furnish his wife Emma with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in his house and to be well treated, etc.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 3 July 1887.)

Faithful Dissident talks about a deathbed confession of Emma, where Emma again denies polygamy.  Footnote 30, page 304 “In 1846, two years after Joseph’s death, Emma Smith, in a conversation with Joseph W. Coolidge, remarked that “Joseph had abandoned plurality of wives before his death.”  Coolidge indicated from personal experience that he knew otherwise.  After a heated exchange Emma retorted with exasperation, “Then he was worthy of the death he died.”  (Joseph F. Smith diary, 28 Aug 1870.)

A few verses in the D&C seem to reference this story.  As Nate reminds us

Verse 51 and 54 in Section 132 present what looks like another illusion to polyandry:

51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.

54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

We don’t know for sure if these verses refer to a potential polyandrous relationship for Emma. WVS, in his exhaustive analysis for BCC notes several possibilities:

“Joseph may have offered her a divorce with financial guarantees…Another possibility was the choice of another partner—a kind of polyamory—even “revenge sex” if you will (and see vs. 54). It has even been suggested that this passage refers to suicide as an out. I think that unlikely. “

Hales has always argued that any relationships considered polyandrous by some scholars could be explained other ways.  As I was reviewing that post, I came across another one that I think could be argued as polyandrous during the time that Brigham Young was prophet.  The quote below comes from another of my posts from 2009 concerning Kathryn Daynes book More Wives than One.  She described the concept of she she calls a “Convenience Marriage” (one of 7 types of polygamist marriages.)

  1. Convenience Marriage – from page 82, these marriages “conferred rights of sexual access but gave the man no rights to the children and limited responsibility to the woman.”  Daynes says on page 81, “This form of marriage was not an isolated instance, although it was undoubtedly a rare one.”  She describes the story of Mary Ann and Edmund Richardson who joined the church in Salt Lake City in 1853-4.  Page 80 describes the story:

    With the importance the Saints place on having children, however, Mary Ann Richardson worried about her husband’s inability to father more children because of his “having become an eunuch”.75 She was also concerned about her exaltation, especially when several had told her she was wrong to stay with her husband and should be sealed to another.

    Ok, I have a real problem here. While I plan to talk in the future on divorce during this time, it seems to me that for a church which currently stresses the dangers of divorce, marriages back then were very disposable. It boggles my mind that people were recommending she be sealed to another person. Continuing on,

    Writing to Brigham Young for advice, she expressed her desire to remain with her husband if that course would not hinder her eternal reward.  In a letter dated March 5, 1857, Young proposed a novel solution, one of the few possible in that age before the advent of modern reproductive medicine: “If I was imperfect and had a good wife I would call on some good bror. to help me that we might have increase, that a man [her husband] of this character will have a place in the Temple, receive his endowments and in eternity will be as tho nothing had happened to him in time.”76 According to Young, her husband’s sterility would not bar him from  the most important temple ordinances, and his eternal reward would not be adversely affected.  As for having additional children, Mary Ann could be married in a civil ceremony to another man who would father her children.  By being sealed for eternity to Edmund, Mary Ann as well as all her children, would belong to him.

    The couple eventually accepted the plan, but only reluctantly. Edmund and Mary Ann were sealed for eternity on April 20, 1857, but only after the “each had seen a vision” did they accept President Young’s unusual suggestion. After they accepted the plan, he gave them a paper listing three polygamous men he considered worthy to participate. They chose Frederick Cox. He, too, at first refused to participate in the plan but also became convinced that “the plan was divinely inspired.” One of the sons of this union later wrote of his birth: “It took three visions and a religion to reconcile others to my coming.”77 On January 9, 1858, Brigham Young celebrated the marriage of Mary Ann Darrow Richardson and Frederick Cox in a religious ceremony that did not seal the couple. From this union, two sons were born: Charles on October 13, 1858, and Sullivan on January 26, 1861.

    Family legend indicates that Brigham Young granted the Richardsons a temporary separation or a civil divorce and that Edmund lived some distance from Manti during his wife’s second marriage. He may have spent some time away, but one year after the first son was born, he returned and took his wife to be sealed again for eternity in the Endowment House. Moreover, as indicated on the 1860 Manti census, he was again reunited with his wife about eight months before the second son was born.79

    Not long thereafter the Richardsons moved to another town. For about twenty years Cox did not see his sons. When he did, he shook their hands heartily, looked at them and listened to them unceasingly during their visit, but never mentioned the relationship between them.80

    The second marriage did not bestow the rights and responsibilities that marriage usually confers. Mary Ann retained the Richardson name, lived in the Richardson home, and received her support from Edmund. Cox received no rights in the children: they were not called by his name, nor did they inherit from him. Because the Cox-Richardson children were cautioned to say nothing about the circumstances of their birth to protect the good name of their mother, it is highly unlikely any public acknowledgment was made of Mary Ann’s second marriage.81 In short, other than the right of sexual access, the marriage ceremony conferred no rights or responsibilities.

    This form of marriage was not an isolated instance, although it was undoubtedly a rare one. When Richardson’s descendants sought answers about the marriage, the executive assistant of the Genealogical Society about the marriage assured them that there were other such marriages and that these were known as “convenience marriages.”82

Daynes next paragraph goes into the question of whether this was a polyandrous marriage.  Pages 81-82 answer this question:

As {non-LDS scholar} Lawrence Foster argues, calling such a marriage polyandrous is misleading because polyandry is incompatible with the patriarchal nature of nineteenth-century Mormon marriages.  While Mary Ann’s two marriages overlapped, the form of marriage to each man was different and did not entail the same rights and responsibilities.  Marriages for time were perceived as temporary because life on this earth was viewed as ephemeral in the expanse of eternity.  Sealings for eternity were thus more important and took precedence over marriages for time, although they did not necessarily invalidate them.83

So, it seems to me that Brigham Young would have been very liberal in modern reproductive techniques like artificial insemination, cloning, stem cell research, surrogate motherhood, and many of the current technologies we have available today. Even after I read this story of the Richardsons, I shake my head in amazement at some of the Saints early practices.

At his Sunstone presentation in 2009, I asked Brian Hales about this incident.  Once again Hales argued this is not polyandry.  Seemingly he does not believe that D&C 132 supports polyandrous marriages.  Concerning the Richardson polyandrous marriage, Hales sticks by his stance that “Brigham Young proposed a temporary civil divorce. The wife (Mary Richardson) was civilly married to a man by the name of Frederick Cox. He fathered two children in a sort of levirate marriage (mentioned in the New Testament). Then they divorced, Mary re-married (and was sealed) to her original husband. It’s definitely an odd story.”  Essentially it’s not polyandry, but rather consecutive marriages interrupted by divorces.  With regards to Mary Richardson or Sylvia Lyons, I am nearly certain that there is zero paperwork evidence showing a legal divorce.  Now Hales argues that in Joseph (and Brigham’s) eyes spiritual divorces were more binding than legal divorces.  Yet during the pioneer period, Utah was advertised as the easiest place to get a legal divorce, and many non-LDS sought divorces in Utah because it was so easy.  If it was so easy to get a divorce, it shouldn’t be that hard to find divorce papers for the Richardsons or the Lyons (although to be fair, the Lyons lived in Nauvoo, not Utah at the time of the polyandrous sealing.)

So, understanding that polyandry is more of a modern reading than a historical reading of D&C 132, here’s a few questions for you.

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