March 22, 2013

Mixed Messages

The reader may be aware that the Church recently announced completing a new edition of LDS scripture. The new edition corrects some typographical errors, adjusts information in footnotes and chapter headings, etc. For this post, I will comment on the new edition's introductory paragraphs for the Official Declarations at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The introduction reads, in its entirety:
The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
First, is that LDS scripture states that monogamy is God's standard for marriage. I have a difficult time understanding the language of it being a standard, "unless He declares otherwise". All the research I have done about polygamy in the Church has shown that plural marriage is the standard, and that God only tolerates monogamy when His people are unable to live polygamy. 

Although I agree that the text of both the Bible and The Book of Mormon make clear the superiority of monogamy (1 Corinthians 7:2; Deuteronomy 17:17; Ether 10:5; Jacob 1:15, 2:24, 26-27, 3:5; Mark 10:11; Mosiah 11:2; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6; also see D&C 49:16), LDS leaders and members have made clear their belief that God holds polygamy in higher esteem than monogamy. For example,
  • Brigham Young taught, "Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128) 
  • John Taylor (1853) preached, "...the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people." (p. 227) 
  • The Doctrine and Covenants contradict the idea of monogamy being a higher law than polygamy. D&C 132:3-4, 6 state, when introducing the principle of polygamy, “Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same. For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory… And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fullness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fullness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.”
These statements suggest to me that polygamy is the LDS God's standard of marriage, unless God allows otherwise. Now the Church has released the contradictory introduction to the Official Declaration, suggesting that polygamy was a break from the norm.
Are they implying that the decades-long practice of the "new and everlasting covenant" by early members was simply a temporary break from the higher law of monogamy? If that is true, the Ruler of the Universe must have had a very compelling reason for it. I, therefore, ask again, what was the purpose of polygamy?

Secondly, it is incorrect that "the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s". Joseph Smith had already married at least 3 women (including Emma Hale) by that time (Compton, 2001).

Third, the introduction suggests that LDS were legally practicing polygamy since its inception - as if they were simply appealing the practice thereof until the Supreme Court finally upheld laws against its practice. The claim is simply false:
  • The Illinois Anti-bigamy law outlawed polygamy. It was passed in 1833 (Revised Laws of Illinois) while the LDS were there. Most did not leave until 1846. Joseph Smith, Jr. took his first plural wife between 1833 and 1835. 
  • The introduction correctly cites the first federal legislation to outlaw polygamy, passed in 1862 (Embry, 2007). 
  • The introduction also correctly states that the Church finally issued the Official Declaration against polygamy in 1890, long after it had been made illegal, but the statement was not accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding; Polygamous marriages still took place until at least 1904 (Embry, 2007). 
  • In brief, everywhere the LDS practiced polygamy, it was illegal. This is the longest campaign of civil disobedience in American history (Bagley, 2007).
I am certain that church leaders went to great lengths to carefully word these introductions in order to appear historically plausible, while not too out-of-line with what the Church has taught for decades. It appears to me, however, that this is simply another attempt to hide the uncomfortable and disturbing details of the Church's past.

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