Do Mormons Practice Polygamy?

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Plural marriage, popularly known as polygamy, is the practice of a man marrying more than one wife. Plural marriage was taught and practiced in the Church for a relatively brief period. Joseph Smith received the revelation about plural marriage as early as 1831 in answer to his inquiry concerning the appropriateness of revered prophets and patriarchs who had more than one wife. Joseph was reluctant to introduce the practice and did so only after divine warning. He first taught the principle privately in the 1840s. The Church began teaching it publicly in 1852. Plural marriage brought public hostility against the Church and eventually federal antipolygamy legislation that stripped Latter-day Saints of their rights as citizens, disincorporated the Church, and permitted the seizure of Church property. Plural marriage challenged those within the Church also. Early participants first wrestled with the prospect and then embraced the principle only after receiving personal spiritual confirmation that they should do so. Studies suggest that a maximum of 20 to 25 percent of Latter-day Saint adults were members of polygamous households during this era. Again by revelation, Church President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto in October 1890 announcing an official end to the Church practice of plural marriage. Since 1904, it has been uniform Church policy to excommunicate any member either practicing or openly advocating the practice of polygamy.

Jeff Lindsay:

Ending in 1890, there was a nearly 50-year period in which polygamy was sanctioned and encouraged by the Church. It is now strictly forbidden. The practice commenced in the same way it ended: under direction from a prophet of God. I don't know why the Lord commanded it, just as I don't know why there was polygamy among some of the greatest prophets of God in the Bible (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others). It is at odds with my cultural views and I'm grateful that it is no longer in force.

Adultery involves having sex with someone who is not your wife. Brigham Young and other past LDS polygamists were properly married to their wives - just the opposite of having extramarital relations. If having more than one wife is inherently sinful, then we also have to condemn the Bible which teaches that the old polygamist Abraham was a great and righteous prophet. Christ even spoke about God as being the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" - giving tribute to flagrant polygamists. Polygamy is unacceptable unless the Lord authorizes, but it is not inherently sinful.

In 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement about the Church's position on plural marriage:

"This Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. . . . If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church."

At various times, the Lord has commanded His people to practice plural marriage. For example, He gave this command to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon (Doctrine and Covenants 132:1).

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation that the leaders of the Church should cease teaching the practice of plural marriage.

According to the Lord's law of marriage, it is lawful that a man have only one wife at a time, unless by revelation the Lord commands plurality of wives in the new and everlasting covenant. (D. & C. 49:15-17.) Speaking of "the doctrine of plurality of wives," the Prophet said: "I hold the keys of this power in the last days; for there is never but one on earth at a time on whom the power and its keys are conferred; and I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise." (Teachings, p. 324.)

The Lord, by the mouth of his Prophet Jacob, gave similar direction to the Nephites: "For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." (Jacob 2:27-30.)

From such fragmentary scriptural records as are now available, we learn that the Lord did command some of his ancient saints to practice plural marriage. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- among others (D. & C. 132) -- conformed to this ennobling and exalting principle; the whole history of ancient Israel was one in which plurality of wives was a divinely accepted and approved order of matrimony. Those who entered this order at the Lord's command, and who kept the laws and conditions appertaining to it, have gained for themselves eternal exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world.

In the early days of this dispensation, as part of the promised restitution of all things, the Lord revealed the principle of plural marriage to the Prophet. Later the Prophet and leading brethren were commanded to enter into the practice, which they did in all virtue and purity of heart despite the consequent animosity and prejudices of worldly people. After Brigham Young led the saints to the Salt Lake Valley, plural marriage was openly taught and practiced until the year 1890. At that time conditions were such that the Lord by revelation withdrew the command to continue the practice, and President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto directing that it cease. (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 213-218.) Obviously the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium. (Isa. 4.)

Plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation. Nephi and his people were denied the power to have more than one wife and yet they could gain every blessing in eternity that the Lord ever offered to any people. In our day, the Lord summarized by revelation the whole doctrine of exaltation and predicated it upon the marriage of one man to one woman. (D. & C. 132:1-28.) Thereafter he added the principles relative to plurality of wives with the express stipulation that any such marriages would be valid only if authorized by the President of the Church. (D. & C. 132:7, 29-66.)

All who pretend or assume to engage in plural marriage in this day, when the one holding the keys has withdrawn the power by which they are performed, are guilty of gross wickedness.

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