Current state of polygamy in the Latter Day Saint movement
A Mormon polygamist family in 1888.
According to the consensus of historians, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, Joseph Smith, privately taught and practiced polygamy. After Smith's death in 1844, the church he established splintered into several competing groups. Disagreements over Smith's doctrine of "plural marriage" was one of the primary reasons the church divided.
The members of the largest group that resulted, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), continued to teach and practice polygamy throughout the 19th century. In the late-19th century and early-20th century, the practice was formally abandoned as the LDS Church came under intense criticism by the United States federal government. The LDS Church no longer sanctions polygamy and its members do not practice it, although there are still elements of the doctrine in its theology.
The second-largest Latter Day Saint church, the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or RLDS Church), has a history of opposing the LDS Church's practice of polygamy. Other smaller Latter Day Saint churches were also formed as a means of opposing the LDS Church's polygamy. The formal shift in doctrine by the LDS Church later in the early-20th century gave rise to the Mormon fundamentalism movement, which has since fragmented into a number of separate churches, the most well-known being the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). The FLDS Church and other Mormon fundamentalists believe the practice of polygamy should continue and that it was wrongfully abandoned by the LDS Church.
- 1 Current state of polygamy in the LDS Church
- 2 Relationship of current practices to plural marriage
- 3 Current state of polygamy in the Community of Christ
- 4 Current state of polygamy in the Strangite church
- 5 Mormon fundamentalist denominations that practice polygamy
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
Current state of polygamy in the LDS Church
The LDS Church considers polygamy to have been a divinely inspired commandment that is supported by scripture; today, the church permits it to be discussed in a Sunday School lesson for adults that is presented once every four years. However, the commandment to the church to practice plural marriage is considered to have rescinded by God. Church apostle Joseph F. Smith has explained, "The doctrine is not repealed, the truth is not annulled, the law is right and just now as ever, but the observance of it is stopped".
The LDS Church has not officially tolerated plural marriages since the 1890 Manifesto was declared. However, all of the First Presidency and almost all of the apostles at that time continued to maintain multiple families into the 20th century: they did not feel that they could dissolve existing unions and families. Scholarship beginning in the 1980s has led to estimates that the average incidence of polygamy during the 40 years in which it was a practice of the church was between 15 and 30 percent, depending on the years and location, including virtually all church leadership at the time. Polygamy was gradually discontinued after the 1904 Second Manifesto as no new plural marriages were allowed and as the older polygamists died off. Since the Second Manifesto, the policy of the LDS Church has been to excommunicate members who enter into, solemnize, or openly teach the doctrine of plural marriages.
Relationship of current practices to plural marriage
Sealed marriages ended through death
As of 1998, by proxy "A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life."
Theological issues are likely to exist when any church endorses the notion that marriage relationships continue into an afterlife, yet endorses people having more than one spouse during life. In this light, a doctrine of multiple marriage relationships in the afterlife does not necessarily imply an endorsement of plural marriage during life.
Current state of polygamy in the Community of Christ
The Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church) has rejected the practice of polygamy since its inception and continues to affirm monogamy "as the basic principle of Christian marriage". Many in this church believe that Joseph Smith never taught or practiced polygamy and that the doctrine began with the teachings of Brigham Young in the LDS Church. The Community of Christ does not recognize Smith's 1831 revelation or the 1843 revelation on polygamy as canonical, and some members regard them as inauthentic.
Although some past leaders of the RLDS Church—most notably Joseph Smith III and others who were descendants of Joseph Smith—have strenuously denied that Smith taught or practiced polygamy, the Community of Christ today states that it "does not legislate or mandate positions on issues of history". The church acknowledges that research into the early Latter Day Saint movement "seem[s] to increasingly point to Joseph Smith Jr. as a significant source for plural marriage teaching and practice", but the church argues that it must be recognized that Smith was not infallible in his teachings.
Current state of polygamy in the Strangite church
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) have historically taught and, in limited numbers, have practiced plural marriage. James Strang was married to several women during his leadership of the church. However, the 1843 revelation on polygamy by Joseph Smith is rejected by the church as an inauthentic revelation. The Book of the Law of the Lord, a part of the Strangite canon, sanctions polygamy, but the church reports that "there are no known cases of polygamy currently in the church".
Mormon fundamentalist denominations that practice polygamy
Over time, many of those who rejected the LDS Church's relinquishment of plural marriage formed small, close-knit communities in areas of the Rocky Mountains. These groups continue to practice what they refer to as "the principle", despite its illegality, and consider the practice to be a requirement for entry into the highest heaven, which they call the "first degree of the celestial kingdom". These people are commonly called Mormon fundamentalists and may either practice as individuals, as families, or as part of organized denominations.
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The FLDS Church teaches that a man having multiple wives is ordained of God and is a requirement for a man to receive the highest form of salvation. It is generally believed in the church that a man should have a minimum of three wives to fulfill this requirement. Connected with this doctrine is the concept that wives are required to be subordinate to their husbands.
The FLDS Church currently practices the law of placing, whereby a young woman of marriageable age is assigned a husband by revelation from God to the leader of the church, who is regarded as a prophet. The prophet elects to take and give wives to and from men according to their worthiness.
Apostolic United Brethren
The members of the AUB also practice plural marriage; the AUB justifies doing so based on what they call the "1886 Meeting". While not all members take part in plural marriage, it is considered a crucial step in the quest for obtaining the highest glory of heaven. Unlike some other Mormon fundamentalist groups, the leaders of the AUB do not arrange plural marriages, nor do they authorize plural marriages for people under 18 or for those who are closely related.
- See Doctrine and Covenants section 132 and Jacob 2:30.
- "Lesson 31: 'Sealed … for Time and for All Eternity'", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 1999) pp. 176–82.
- Letter from Joseph F. Smith to the Honorable A. Saxey, Provo, Utah, 9 January 1897.
- (Hardy 2005, p. 215).
- Bachman, Danel W., Esplin, Ronald K. (1992) "Plural Marriage", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 3:1095. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.
- LDS Church, Church Handbook of Instructions, (LDS Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998). "A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life."
- "Community of Christ: Frequently Asked Questions".
- Times and Seasons 5:423 and 474.
- Millennial Star 4 (January 1844): 144.
- Coman, Julian (2003-10-19). "Three wives will guarantee you a place in paradise. The Taliban? No: welcome to the rebel Mormons". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Bonnie Ricks. "Review: The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern Day Polygamy". The Institute for Religious Research (irr.org).
- The Primer, Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities: Fundamentalist Mormon Communities (PDF), Utah Attorney General’s Office and Arizona Attorney General's Office, June 2006, retrieved June 29, 2010
- Bennion, Janet (1998), Women of principle: female networking in contemporary Mormon polygyny, Oxford University Press, p. 22, ISBN 0-19-512070-1
- Hardy, B. Carmon (2005). "That 'Same Old Question of Polygamy and Polygamous Living:' Some Recent Findings Regarding Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Mormon Polygamy". Utah Historical Quarterly 73 (3): 212–224..