"Polygamy"

V.H. Cassler

SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring 2010)

 

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Note: Though SquareTwo does not emphasize a discussion of LDS doctrine, recent events concerning the FLDS in the US and Canada, as well as questions raised about the Church's stand on marriage during the Proposition 8 campaign despite its early history of non-traditional marriage, makes a discussion of polygamy timely. We have received several requests for the reprinting of this particular chapter from a co-authored book which has only been published in hard copy form to date. This chapter is excerpted from the volume, Women in Eternity, Women of Zion, and is reprinted with the permission of Cedar Fort, Inc.   

            During the period of time when the restored Church was commanded by the Lord to practice polygamy, some practiced it without any discernible hardship, and still others with great pain.  Contemporary Church members may look back upon that period with acceptance, indifference, or discomfort.  We do not see the diversity of feelings itself as harmful.  Rather, since the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is at the heart of the work of eternal life and of godhood, confusion about the nature and form of lawful marriage ordained by God is harmful.  Women (and men) may think that gender equality is compromised by the doctrine of polygamy. [1] So we ask, what is the principle and purpose of marriage in God’s work?  What is the law (or rule or unrestricted form) of marriage?  What is the lawful exception to the law of marriage?  What is the nature and the status of the lawful exception? [2] The overarching question we pose in this chapter, therefore, is whether God has revealed his mind about these matters.  We believe that he has, specifically in Jacob 2 and in Doctrine and Covenants 132. 

            Many, including, reportedly, Emma Smith, have had difficulty reconciling these two scriptures.  We choose to operate from a different assumption.  These scriptures, found in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, come to us without taint of translation and interpretation over millennia, in contrast to the Bible.  Therefore, mistranslation cannot have occurred, and we assume misinterpretation should be at a minimum. [3]  In that case, we must either conclude that God revealed to Jacob something contradictory to that which he revealed to Joseph Smith, or we must assume that these two scriptures do not contradict one another.  We choose to assume the latter: We believe that these two scriptures are not only not in contradiction but in fact reinforce, affirm, and parallel one another.

            To see how this is so, let us first ask about the principle and purpose of marriage in God’s work.

Marriage as an Eternal Principle

            God commands his children to marry (D&C 49:15-16).  God married our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Moses 3:25).  Scripture asserts that persons must be married to inherit the fullness of the Father in the celestial kingdom and that those who are not worthy of the celestial kingdom live as unmarried persons (D&C 132:4-6, 17-21).  Furthermore, not only are persons to be married, but they are to be married in the new and everlasting covenant.  The Lord states that this type of marriage is “by my word, which is my law” (D&C 132:19).  In LDS culture we colloquially refer to marriage in the new and everlasting covenant as “temple marriage.” From all of this we understand that marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, or temple marriage, is an eternal principle of the highest importance.  This is so because of the purpose of such marriage.

            The purpose of marriage in mortality and the purpose of marriage in the hereafter is to further the work of God’s love.  This work has a two-fold nature: the purpose of marriage in mortality is to 1) raise up righteous seed to God, which accomplishment 2) merits for the marriage partners the right to a “continuation of the seeds forever and ever” as godly marriage partners in the hereafter (D&C 132:19).  Let us explore these purposes more fully, noting how both purposes interrelate.   God’s work consists of raising up his seed unto righteousness--of endeavoring to produce a righteous eternal increase “unto” himself (Jacob 2:30).  We, his children, are his servants in this task.  Even though we experience each other in this life as fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, we must recognize that we are all brothers and sisters as his seed.  We serve his purpose by being parents to his children and by striving to point them in the direction of righteousness.  In doing so, we parents, who are also his children, are established in righteousness to God.  Though in mortality we may bear children with our bodies, and tend their bodies and spirits, the reality is that they are not our eternal increase--they are the Lord’s eternal increase.  As President Gordon B. Hinckley has recently stated, “Never forget that these little ones are the sons and daughters of God and that yours is a custodial relationship to them, that he was a parent before you were parents and that he has not relinquished his parental rights or interest in these little ones.” [4]

            Through the work of marriage in mortality, we are preparing for the time when we will have our own eternal increase and our own children--when we ourselves are gods.  Marriage under the new and everlasting covenant was “instituted for the fullness of my [God’s] glory” (D&C 132:6), to further in mortality God’s own work of raising up his seed unto righteousness, but it is also a preparation for our own existence in the future as gods with eternal increase of our own (D&C 132:19-20).  In a sense, the marriages into which we enter here on earth, even within the temple of the Lord, are probationary marriages.  As earthly parents, we are acting in loco parentis to our children, whose true parents are divine.  Only if we acquit ourselves well in the roles of spouse and parent in this probationary state are we entitled to perpetuate those roles in an eternal marriage state in the hereafter.  In mortality, then, the purpose of marriage is to raise up a righteous seed unto God, but in fulfilling this first purpose the second purpose of marriage pertaining to the hereafter and eternal increase is also brought about.  Thus the spiritual rationale which underpins the eternal principle of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant is God’s overarching work of love for his children “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) “that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

            Given this eternal principle of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, what is the law (or rule or unrestricted form) of marriage?  Is there a lawful exception?  What is the nature and status of that lawful exception?  Let us first turn to Jacob’s sermon on these topics.

Jacob’s Sermon on Marriage

            What is the form of Jacob’s discussion of marriage?  First, Jacob notes a social problem of great severity.  The men of the time are taking many wives and concubines and “seek to excuse themselves in committing (these) whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son” (Jacob 2:23).  The situation is that these great men of the scripture were doing one thing, but God is now saying that those who follow David and Solomon’s example are committing “iniquity” (Jacob 2:23).  How are we to understand this apparent contradiction?  This is the question that prompts Jacob’s short but profound sermon on the law of marriage.

            In answer to that question the Lord notes that these men “understand not the scriptures” and err when they “seek to excuse themselves” in emulating David and Solomon (Jacob 2:23).  The Lord continues, “David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me” (vs. 24).   Immediately following this frank judgment, the Lord states, “Wherefore . . . I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.  Wherefore, I the Lord will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old” (Jacob 2:25-26).   The use of the word “wherefore” in these two scriptures reveals that part of the purpose in separating the Nephites from the civilization of their origin and bringing them across the ocean to the promised land was to “raise up a righteous” people who would not succumb to the moral errors of David and Solomon.

            And how would the children of Lehi act if this purpose had been fulfilled?  In the very next verse we are given the answer to that question.  In verse 27 Jacob expounds the law of marriage--the rule or unrestricted form of marriage, if you will: “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none” (Jacob 2:27).   The general law (or rule or unrestricted form) of the eternal principle of marriage is monogamy.  That monogamy is the law or rule of the principle of marriage is found several places throughout the scriptures.  To take but one example, the Lord says in Doctrine and Covenants 49:16 “Wherefore, it is lawful that he [man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”  In the beginning, when the earth was empty and sorely needed replenishing, God gave Adam but one wife, Eve, that the pattern of his law of marriage might be set from the dawn of time in the very first human marriage on earth (see also Moses 5:3). [5]  Joseph Smith said, “ I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise.” [6]  Bruce R. McConkie concurs: “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.” [7]  Of course, taking a plurality of wives outside of the new and everlasting covenant, outside of being commanded to do so by the Lord, is always a grievous sin. [8] 

            Jacob teaches us that monogamy is the general law of marriage and polygamy is an exception to the general law, which exception must be commanded by the Lord before it can be practiced.  Furthermore, Jacob reveals the reason the Lord will command the exception of polygamy to be practiced: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people [to practice polygamy]; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things [to take but one wife and have no concubines]” (Jacob 2:30, 27).  Recalling that the two-fold purpose of marriage is to 1) raise up a righteous seed unto God here in mortality and 2) prepare the marriage partners for eternal increase in the hereafter, the Lord specifically links the lawful but exceptional commandment of polygamy to the first of these purposes.   This explicit linkage to an underlying spiritual purpose of marriage is to be expected.   If God proclaims both a law of marriage and a lawful exception in marriage, then the rationale for both the law and the law’s exception must be a spiritual rationale, for as the Lord says, “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal . . . . For my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual” (D&C 29:34-35). 

            With this understanding of the purpose of marriage and the law and the lawful exception of marriage in mind, Jacob’s sermon is profound, despite its brevity.  Rooted in divine love for his children, God commands men and women to marry (D&C 49:15).  In general, he commands them to marry monogamously (Jacob 2:27; 3:5; D&C 49:16).  Sometimes, he will command them to marry polygamously (Jacob 2:30).  Both the giving of the general law and the commandment to depart from the general law are motivated by God’s love for us. But one thing is also clear from Jacob’s sermon: God is not indifferent concerning how his children marry.  He actively and severely restricts the practice of polygamy, while leaving monogamy unrestricted.  One can be “destroyed” for practicing polygamy without God’s sanction, becoming “angels to the devil” and “bring[ing] your children unto destruction, and their sins heaped upon your heads at the last day,” but no such punishment attends the practice of monogamy (Jacob 2:33; 3:5-6, 10-12).

            Unfortunately, Jacob does not provide us sufficient information about the exception to discuss its nature and its status in the eyes of God.  We are not given reasons for the remarkable difference in degree of restriction between monogamy and polygamy made by the Lord in Jacob’s sermon.  Our next question, for whose answer we must turn to Doctrine and Covenants 132, is simple: Why is God not indifferent between the practices of monogamy and polygamy, severely restricting as he does the second while leaving the first virtually unrestricted?

Doctrine and Covenants 132

            Doctrine and Covenants 132 is one of the deepest and most thought-provoking scriptures in our canon.  It concerns the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and its place at the heart of the plan of salvation and exaltation.  Without its restoration, the fullness of eternal life would be unobtainable.  Thankfully, as noted in Doctrine and Covenants 132:40, the Lord gave Joseph Smith an “appointment” to “restore all things,” and therefore Joseph Smith restored the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  This much is indisputable.  What is often in dispute in our culture is what exactly this means.

            Given the over 150 years that have passed since the receipt of the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 132, we are in a better position to settle that dispute.  Joseph Smith restored marriage for “time and all eternity” (D&C 132:18), which we now colloquially call “temple marriage.” In restoring the principle of temple marriage, Joseph Smith restored both the general law of marriage and the lawful exception as elucidated by Jacob centuries before.  Put more precisely, Joseph Smith restored the general law of monogamous temple marriage and he restored the lawful exception of polygamous temple marriage.  At the time of the revelation (most scholars say prior to the date given for Doctrine and Covenants 132), God commanded Joseph Smith to command the Church membership to practice polygamy.  By so doing, God activated the lawful exception to the general law of marriage.  Thus, polygamous marriages entered into in the temple after that commandment was given by the Lord were “without condemnation on earth and in heaven” (D&C 132:48).  Putting Jacob’s teachings together with Joseph’s teachings, the commandment to practice polygamy was given by God at that time for the purpose of raising “up seed unto me [God]” (Jacob 2:30).

            However, in 1890 God rescinded the commandment sanctioning the lawful exception to the general law of marriage.  Polygamous marriages would no longer be recognized by the Lord, and indeed would be grounds for excommunication from the Church.  This rescinding did not “unrestore” the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, or temple marriage.  Temple marriage is a mainstay of our religion and will never cease to be our ideal.  The new and everlasting covenant of marriage is still among us, but the commandment to live the lawful exception to the general law of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant is no longer among us.  Thus the “restoration of all things” does not demand that polygamy be actively practiced among the Saints; it merely demands that the possibility of God commanding polygamy (which possibility demands the restoration of temple marriage and sealing keys) exists.  And so it does to this day.  As long as there are temples and sealing keys among our people, God can, whenever he chooses to do so, command his people to practice polygamy.  But the presence of temples and sealing keys does not conversely demand or necessitate that God actually issue the command to practice polygamy.  Our contemporary situation is perfectly described in this manner and explains how Bruce R. McConkie could conclude that polygamy cannot be a requirement for exaltation and why the Church does not preach that it is. [9]

            So we conclude that in restoring all things, Joseph Smith restored temple marriage, complete with its general law (monogamous temple marriage) and the possibility of God-commanded lawful exception (polygamous temple marriage).  Thus we see that God’s lack of indifference concerning the manner of marriage among his children which we noted in Jacob 2 persists in Doctrine and Covenants 132.  Even with the restoration of temple marriage, God is still not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy.  If he were indifferent, his words to us might be, “As long as you marry in the temple, I am indifferent as to whether you marry monogamously or polygamously.” But such a conclusion cannot be reached, for he persists in actively and severely restricting polygamy despite the presence of temples in our midst.  Absent a commandment from the Lord to practice polygamy given through his mouthpiece the prophet, a member of the Church would be excommunicated for attempting to practice it.  The illegality of polygamy in the United States is not really the issue here, for such an excommunication would take place even if the Church member were living in a land where polygamy was a legal practice according to the law of the land.  Even if polygamy were to be legalized in the United States itself, the Church would still excommunicate members in that country who attempted to practice it, unless the Lord issued the required commandment through the prophet to practice it.  There is no greater spiritual punishment the Church can mete out against an offender than excommunication.  God persists in making a strong discrimination between monogamy and polygamy, even in the context of the restoration of all things.

            We come now to a very important question: Why is God not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy?  Though Jacob 2 does not provide any insight on this matter, Doctrine and Covenants 132 sheds great light on this topic, and we go so far as to say that in this scripture the Lord freely reveals his mind to his children concerning the reasons for his lack of indifference.

Isaac and Hagar

            One of the marvelous elements of the Lord’s discourse in Doctrine and Covenants 132 is the insight this section provides into how he reasons.  The argument the Lord puts forward is meant to be understood by his people.  It is reasonable to begin with the assumption that God meant what he said in this scripture and that God wants us to understand what he meant.  In Doctrine and Covenants 132, the Lord attempts to reason with Joseph Smith in order to help him understand the principles involved in marriage.  In Doctrine and Covenants 50:10-13, the Lord describes how he will reason:

And now come, . . . by the Spirit, unto the elders of [my] church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand; Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face.  Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord reason with you that you may understand.  Wherefore, I the Lord, ask you this question.

The Lord will reason with us and present arguments that we may understand, and, as we will see, on the issue of polygamy (as with the issue under discussion in Doctrine and Covenants 50), the Lord will begin his chain of reasoning with a question, which he will then proceed to answer.  The Lord states at the beginning of the revelation:

You [Joseph Smith] have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David, and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines--Behold and lo, I am the Lord they God, and will answer thee as touching this matter (D&C 132:1-2).

            What is the form of the argument concerning the law of marriage in this scripture?  The form is virtually identical to Jacob 2, which demonstrates the consistency and unchanging nature of the Lord’s reasoning on this matter.  Doctrine and Covenants 132 parallels Jacob 2 and serves as a detailed exposition and affirmation of it.  Let us see how this is so.  The same historical question serves as the catalyst for section 132 as it did for Jacob 2: What are we to make of the practice of David, Solomon, and other great patriarchs of old having many wives and concubines (D&C 132:1)?  This time the inquirer is Joseph Smith--he who had previously translated the Book of Mormon, including Jacob 2.

            This inquiry is again met by a setting forth of the general principles of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, followed by a more specific explanation of the lawful exception of polygamy.  Hyrum M. Smith’s commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants states, “The Revelation is divided into two parts.  The first, comprising vs. 3-33, deals mainly with the principle of celestial marriage, or marriage for time and all eternity; the second, comprising the remaining verses, deals with plural marriage.” [10]  As to the first part of the revelation, concerning the principle of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, the Lord explains that all bonds and covenants “not by me or my word” (vs. 13) are of no effect after death, including the bond and covenant of marriage.  He then goes on to explain that there is a marriage “by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant” (vs. 19) and that this marriage covenant remains in effect after death.  Furthermore, parties to this special marriage covenant inherit the fullness of his glory (i.e., which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever; (vs. 19). That is to say, those who enter this covenant are able to have their own eternal increase in the hereafter.  Having eternal increase renders them “gods, because they have no end” (vs. 20), and they shall have “all power” (vs. 20).  Thus, only marriage within the new and everlasting covenant fulfills the two-fold spiritual purposes of marriage: to raise up a righteous seed unto him in mortality and to prepare his children to be eternal godly marriage partners and have eternal increase.  All those who choose not to enter this special marriage covenant remain “separately and singly” (vs. 17) after death and cannot have eternal increase.  Because they cannot have eternal increase, they cannot be gods but “are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants” (vs. 16).  Now that this revelation has been given, all those who choose to marry outside the new and everlasting covenant though they were able to marry within that covenant are “damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory” (D&C 132:3). 

            In the setting forth of this general principle of eternal marriage (i.e., temple marriage) there is no mention of polygamy; indeed, the whole issue of David and Solomon is not even raised in the verses where the Lord discusses in general what eternal marriage is, why he commands eternal marriage, and why those who reject it are damned.  Additionally, this marriage covenant is described in the terms “if a man marry a wife” (vs. 19), using a singular article.  Logically, of course, this phrasing does not preclude a man marrying more than one wife, but neither does it imply the same.  We cannot say, then, on the basis of verses 3 through 33 where the general principles are expounded, how the Lord views the two possible forms of temple marriage: monogamy and polygamy.  We can only say that he is stating a clear preference for marriage in the new and everlasting covenant as versus marriage outside of the new and everlasting covenant. [11]  However, the verses after verse 33 reinforce that monogamy is the general law, or rule; that polygamy is a departure from the rule; and that the Lord is definitely not indifferent between the two.

            It is not until the second half of the revelation, starting with verse 34, as Smith and Sjodahl note, that polygamy is addressed.  Before the Lord begins his discussion of polygamy, he introduces the case of Abraham.  The Lord begins by explaining that because of Abraham’s righteousness in receiving “all things” by “revelation and commandment,” Abraham “hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne (D&C 132:29).  As a result, Abraham’s seed will “continue” and will be “as innumerable as the stars” (D&C 132:30).  A key element of Abraham’s righteousness was to enter into the “law,” which provides for “the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself” (D&C 132:31).  The law referred to here is the law, or general principle, that the Lord has been expounding up to that point: marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, or temple marriage.  And again the Lord warns, as he did in verses 3, 17, and 21, “Enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.  But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham” (D&C 132:32-33).  Entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (temple marraige) is a requisite of exaltation for all, including Abraham and Joseph Smith.

            Finally, starting with verse 34, the Lord turns to the topic of polygamy.  He begins the discussion with a statement of fact: “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife.” In the verses that follow, the Lord will answer the question he then poses: “And why did she do it?” (D&C 132:34). 

            The Lord has apparently chosen to explain his reasoning and reveal his mind on polygamy in terms of a specific analogy between two situations that occurred to one historical man: Abraham.  The Lord’s subsequent explanation centers around an analogy the Lord himself posits between his commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and his commandment to Abraham to marry Hagar polygamously.  In verse 36 the Lord explains: “Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless it was written: Thou shalt not kill.  Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness” (D&C 132:36).  Given the importance of his children having a correct understanding of their Father’s mind on this topic, we cannot believe the analogy was chosen without great care.  God wishes us to see how and why he views the two situations as analogous.  By choosing the story of Isaac to be the analog of the story of polygamy the Lord reveals his mind to us and constraining forever and irrevocably any discussion we, his children, might choose to have on the subject of polygamy.  We must understand correctly why the Lord elects to use this particular analogy or we are likely to seriously err in our understanding of the role and place of polygamy in God’s plan for his children.

            The first and most telling point to note about the analogy is that the story of Isaac is a story of sacrifice.  The Lord is telling us that the term “Abrahamic sacrifice” refers not only to the story of Isaac but applies to the story of Hagar, as well.  Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, in their authoritative Doctrine and Covenants commentary, concur:

“ Section 132 contains (1) an introductory statement (1-2); (2) a reminder to the Prophet that knowledge demands obedience (3-6); (3) a definition of the celestial law (7-14); and (4) how the law applies to marriage covenants (15-20); (5) a demand for obedience (21-7); (6) the Law of the Priesthood (28-33); (7) the doctrine of plural marriage (34-40); (8) a declaration that plurality of wives is not adultery (41-9); (9) that it is a sacrifice (50-7); (10) that it is a law of the Priesthood (58-66).” [12]

            Before the Lord even delves into the analogy, his very positing of an analogy between the Isaac situation and the Hagar situation is revealing.  Of all the possible analogies of sacrifice God has commanded in history (sacrifice of animals, sacrifice of possessions, sacrifice of home and country, sacrifice of one’s own life, and so forth), God chooses the most wrenching sacrifice he has ever commanded to serve as the analogy wherewith to instruct us concerning polygamy: the sacrifice of one’s own innocent child by one’s own hand.  This choice of analogy by the Lord is meant to reveal to us that in the Lord’s eyes the Hagar situation is no light matter or run-of-the-mill sacrifice but rather is like unto the heaviest and most heart-wrenching of all sacrifices he has ever required of man.

            Four Types of Sacrifice.  Indeed, though sacrifice is one of the first principles of the gospel, there are various forms of sacrifice of which the Abrahamic sacrifice is the highest and heaviest.  Let us see why this is so.  A first type of sacrifice represents our choice to sacrifice to obtain a desired goal.  So, for example, we might speak of “sacrificing” to send a child on a mission.  The sacrifice is by our choice, and the goal is one we desire to see realized.  A second type of sacrifice might better be understood as accepting persecution as a reaction by the unrighteous to our decision to follow God.   We might be ostracized or even oppressed because of our beliefs and behavior by those who believe and behave otherwise.  In some cases the unrighteous might even seek to take our lives because of our beliefs.  Our choice to pursue a desired goal leads to choices by the unrighteous, which we cannot control, to inflict suffering upon us.  A third type of sacrifice appears from our mortal perspective not to involve our agency, though perhaps from an eternal perspective agency did indeed play a role at a prior point.  These are sacrifices of adversity, for example, where an innocent child is born with an imperfect body or accidents or illness take the health or life of persons.  These sacrifices come to us without conscious mortal choice on our part, and the element of a desired goal in such a context is often obscure, as it was obscure to Job.

            But the heaviest sacrifice a person can ever be called upon to make--the Abrahamic sacrifice--is slightly different from these other three types.  In the Abrahamic sacrifice, we are asked by God to make a conscious choice in a situation in which what he requires of us cannot be regarded as a desired goal from all that we know about God’s laws.  We can all understand how obedience to God’s laws, for example to the Ten Commandments, brings a happier, richer, and more peaceful life.  But what if God were to command us to break his law?  Reason alone would tell us we would lose the happiness and peace that come from obedience to the law.  But the test of the Abrahamic sacrifice is not a test of reason.  It is a test of faith--indeed, it is the ultimate test of faith.

            Remember for a moment what an Abrahamic sacrifice represents.  An Abrahamic sacrifice involves at least three elements found in the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac: 1) God makes plain to Abraham a law (“thou shalt not kill” [D&C 132:36]); 2) God then requires Abraham, an innocent and righteous man, to depart from that law (“sacrifice Isaac”), and the choice to depart therefrom would seem to erase the joy that naturally follows from the law; and 3) God provides a means of escape from the departure from the law (the angel sent to stay his hand and the ram in the thicket; Genesis 22:11-13), which allows renewed joy from being able to live under the law once more.

            The Abrahamic Sacrifice Concerning Hagar.  With that understanding in mind, let us turn to where we left off in Doctrine and Covenants 132. Remember that in verse 34 we finally begin a discussion of polygamy; we discover that God commanded that Abraham have children (in this case, one child) with Hagar, who was not his wife at the time of the commandment and who was handmaiden to his wife, Sarah.  Abraham took Hagar to wife, thus entering into a God-commanded polygamous union.  Fortunately, rather than leaving us with just this fact, the Lord helps us to greater understanding through the discussion that follows.  The Lord asks “why” this was done (vs. 34), and then proceeds to answer: “Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people.  This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises” (vs. 34). Does this mean that in God’s eyes polygamy is the general law and that he is indifferent between monogamy and polygamy after all?  We will see that this is not what the Lord is saying.

            The Lord’s exposition does not end with verse 34.  To make sense of verse 34 we must view it in conjunction with the remainder of the section, especially the verses that specifically mention Abraham (verses 35-37, 50-51).  Immediately after verse 34 the Lord asks, “Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation?” (vs. 35).  If we accept the position that the Lord is indifferent between monogamy and polygamy, this question is a non sequitur, and indeed, the very question itself makes no sense.  How can someone practicing a form of marriage about which God is indifferent be perceived to be “under condemnation”?  God cannot be referring to some type of cultural condemnation by Abraham’s peers.  Remember, we are not talking about Joseph Smith’s time, when polygamy was culturally unacceptable; we are discussing Abraham, in whose time polygamy was commonplace and well accepted.  No one in Abraham’s cultural setting would be condemning him for practicing polygamy, so why does the Lord ask, rhetorically, if Abraham was under condemnation?  The Lord’s question raises a puzzle for us, and to understand it we must look to the scriptures that immediately follow.

            Verse 36 is the key to the puzzle.  In this verse, as noted, the Lord posits the direct analogy between his commandment to Abraham to marry Hagar and his commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Remember that in verse 36 the Lord explains: “Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill.  Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.”

            Let us be clear on what is happening in this verse.  The general law that God commands all to obey is “Thou shalt not kill.”  Then, to one innocent and righteous man at one time, he gives a commandment to kill his own son (not a stranger, not a criminal, not an enemy soldier; there is no justification possible for killing one’s innocent young son).  God has commanded something exceptional of this man--something that goes against all that he knows of God’s law and for which he can find no possible justification.  God is asking Abraham to depart from the law that he himself gave Abraham.   He requires of Abraham a sacrifice not demanded by justice and the law.  In this sense, God asks Abraham to perform a Christlike sacrifice in similitude of the sacrifice of God and his own perfectly innocent Son in the Atonement.  Because Christ was perfectly innocent the law could not demand that he suffer and die for his actions.  But Christ chose to suffer and die to fulfill the demands of justice for others.  Abraham and Christ both consciously chose to sacrifice the happiness they were due under the law to bring about a greater good for others. 

            We know from the account in Genesis that Abraham’s choice was felt by him as a sacrifice of happiness; Abraham was not happy to hear the commandment to sacrifice Isaac.  Indeed, we believe he felt great sorrow and perhaps even confusion. [13]  Yet Abraham was determined to obey God, even if great sorrow and grief befell him as a result. Because Abraham obeyed an exceptional commandment of God and departed from the law, it was counted unto him for righteousness.  But that obedience did not turn the departure from the law into the law.  God has never since commanded any person to sacrifice their child.  In fact, God provided Abraham an escape from killing his son, despite the original exceptional commandment to kill Isaac that God himself gave.  In returning to the law (“thou shalt not kill”) after having to depart from it (“sacrifice Isaac”), Abraham felt renewed joy and relief in regaining Isaac.  Though he undoubtedly felt paradoxical joy in submitting to God’s will in all things, Abraham’s joy was not full until the test was over and the escape made.

            Why is the Lord making the sacrifice of Isaac a direct analogy to his commanding Abraham to take Hagar to wife?  We conclude that in this situation, as in the situation concerning Isaac, God commands a departure from the law--something that is, as a general rule, a thing to be condemned by the Lord.  That is why the Lord asks, “Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation?” According to the general law, or rule, of monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage set forth by God himself (and not the cultural norms of the time; see Jacob 2:27), and given that God is not indifferent between the two forms of marriage, Abraham is under condemnation--otherwise the Lord’s question makes no sense.  But the Lord answers his own question in this fashion: “Nay [he was not under condemnation]; for I, the Lord, commanded it” (vs. 35), thus creating the supersessionary but still exceptional “law” of verse 34.  There would be no puzzle and nothing to ask or answer if God was indifferent between monogamy and polygamy.  But if God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy, then a puzzle does arise--a puzzle that is answered by the Lord with reference to an obvious case of a commandment by God to depart from the general law and follow a lawful exception.  This is the strongest possible scriptural evidence that Doctrine and Covenants 132 is in complete harmony with Jacob 2, and that, therefore, the general law or rule of marriage is monogamy and the lawful exception is polygamy and God maintains as strong a discrimination between the two forms of marriage in this dispensation as he did in Jacob’s time.

            We can now say why it is that God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy: in the Lord’s eyes, monogamy is not a sacrifice, whereas polygamy is. [14]  And we are not talking about just any sacrifice: the Lord tells us that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice, but monogamy is no sacrifice at all.  No matter what the human inventory of emotions toward polygamy--joy, sorrow, or joy and sorrow mixed--the most mature and most knowledgeable viewpoint is that of the Lord, who appears to be stating that he views it as an Abrahamic sacrifice.  The Lord himself reveals his mind on this matter through his analogy between Isaac and Hagar.  All other things being equal, God is not indifferent towards the type of sacrifice Abraham was required to make because it involves Christlike suffering.  However, as with Abraham’s sacrifice, which points to the priceless sacrifice of the innocent Son of God in the Atonement, sometimes Christlike suffering is the greater good and the most loving course of action because it brings good to others who would not otherwise obtain it.  Thus, in a sense, despite the suffering involved in a Christlike sacrifice, there is a joy which comes from knowing that sacrifice is, in God’s eyes, the right and loving thing to command.  Furthermore, there is a joy which comes from suffering in God’s cause, because it immeasurably deepens our hope and trust and faith in his goodness and equity.  But notice that the presence of joy in a sacrificial act does not remove that act from the category of “sacrifice” to the category of “non-sacrifice” in the Lord’s perspective.  We will explore this topic further in a moment.

            The Abrahamic sacrifice would mean very little if we did not passionately discriminate between our desire for the happiness God’s law gives us and our antipathy towards abandoning that happiness even if God commands it.  If Abraham were indifferent to whether Isaac lived or died, God’s commandment to sacrifice Isaac could not have constituted a test of Abraham’s faith.  Likewise, if God were indifferent as to whether Isaac lived or died, there would have been no angel and no ram in the thicket.  But an Abrahamic sacrifice is no cold and passionless event; quite the contrary, it is the greatest passion that the human heart can feel.  This is an innocent person consciously choosing to release what he knows to be true happiness under God’s loving laws because he loves God more dearly than his own true happiness.  This is a sacrifice not justified under the law of God because both Abraham and Isaac were innocent, and though this sacrifice brings a paradoxical joy that comes in choosing faith in God above all, the joy is not complete until the escape is made.  Once his test was passed, Abraham’s reward, among other things, was to not have to sacrifice Isaac.  Indeed, in a sense Abraham’s reward for offering to sacrifice Isaac was to regain Isaac forever.  Though the test was probably given to Abraham because he was so very righteous (Abraham 3:23), his reward for passing the test could not have been perpetuation of the sacrifice.  We belabor this point for a good reason, as we shall soon see.

            This combination of suffering and joy applies equally well to the Hagar situation.  Abraham was not happy at the prospect of killing Isaac, and though sacrificing the joy that flowed naturally from obeying the law prohibiting murder, Abraham obeyed and it was counted unto him for righteousness and deepened the joy that he found in his loving relationship with the Lord.  Since the Lord tells us the Hagar situation is analogous, then none of the parties--Abraham, Hagar, Sarah (or for that matter, Ishmael and Isaac)--should have been exempt from suffering in this situation, though the paradoxical joy that accompanies sacrifice would have been present as well.  In the Lord’s eyes, all five persons were sacrificing.  And what were they sacrificing?  The natural joy that comes from the law of marriage--monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  Genesis makes plain that that was in fact the case: no one was happy, and Hagar and Ishmael were forced to leave (Genesis 16, 21). Indeed, God sanctioned their dismissal from the camp, while at the same time miraculously saving Hagar and Ishmael from death in the desert.  God didn’t seem to expect or require that they all be happy--he only expected that they trust and obey him, in which obedience they would find the paradoxical joy mentioned above and further his works here on earth.             

            Furthermore, since Abraham offering to sacrifice Isaac was counted unto him for righteousness, the offering on the parts of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to depart from the law of marriage was also counted unto them for righteousness. [15]  No doubt Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar eventually felt the peace and joy that comes from obeying God’s commandments, all of which--even those commanding Christlike sacrifice--are rooted in God’s perfect love for all his children.  Nevertheless, being happy about such a commanded departure from the law does not seem to factor into the counting of one’s obedience to the same commandment unto one for righteousness.  After all, a sacrifice remains a sacrifice despite the paradoxical joy experienced.

            We know this principle from many situations in the holy scriptures.  “Murmuring” against the Lord or rebellion against his will is not acceptable (1 Nephi 2:12; 1 Nephi 7:6-8), but crying out to the Lord in innocent anguish--anguish felt as a result of obeying God’s commands--is completely acceptable.  In “murmuring,” one feels the pain of obedience in sacrifice and responds by resenting and even hating God for it.  Such a reaction drives a wedge between oneself and God, and even the paradoxical joy that comes from obeying God is lost.  Instead of paradoxical joy, the “murmurers” feel only bitterness of spirit.  On the other hand, the righteous may cry out in innocent anguish when they feel pain in obedience in sacrifice, but this pain causes them to throw themselves on the mercy and goodness of God.  It brings them closer to God and allows them to feel the paradoxical joy of sacrifice, though they still also feel the sacrifice keenly.  

            We know that Christ himself cried out in pain and anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane; he cried out in pain and anguish on the cross at Calvary.  He initially felt to shrink from drinking the bitter cup (Mark 14:36; D&C 19:18), and even asked Heavenly Father why he had forsaken him (Matthew 27:46).  Christ was making a sacrifice not justified under the law, because Christ consented to be killed even though he was completely innocent before God and man.  His death was a departure from divine law and justice in his own case, but this departure allowed him to fulfill the demands of justice that would otherwise fall on man. His departure from the law in his own case brought about great good for countless others, since all of God’s sons and daughters would otherwise fall to sin by their agency.  If Christ himself was not thought less of by God for expressing suffering caused by a departure from divine law, then why would God require mere mortals to be stoic when suffering pain caused by righteous obedience to a commandment to depart from the law?  The answer is that he does not.  When Abraham also was asked to make a sacrifice not justified under the law, his heart mourned and we do not think less of him for it--and neither did God.  Indeed, we know God loved Abraham with great intensity.  In truth, if God wept with Christ in Gethsemane and on Calvary, if he wept with Abraham on the road to Mount Moriah, did he not also weep when Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and other righteous polygamous wives and husbands wept? [16]  The Lord’s own analogy leads us to believe that he did.  Christ, Abraham, and many righteous polygamous wives and husbands felt both suffering and paradoxical joy in their chosen sacrifices.

            As noted before, Abraham’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of the polygamous wives and husbands are noble precisely because they point to or typify the sacrifice of Christ.  Of Christ was required a sacrifice that could not be justified in his own case because he was pure and innocent.  However, this willing sacrifice of the innocent one was performed so that the many might live and obtain life eternal.  Abraham’s sacrifice was also willing but Christlike, and given so that the many (all of Abraham’s worthy descendants) would be heirs to the great blessings of eternal life and exaltation given to Abraham.  Likewise, the sacrifice of the righteous polygamous wives and husbands in the early days of the Church was willing but Christlike, so that all of their worthy descendants might be raised in righteousness and become heirs of eternal life.  These sacrifices are all of a piece, and they all point to the great sacrifice of the Atonement. [17]

            The final aspect of the Lord’s analogy between the Isaac situation and the Hagar situation must not be overlooked.  Since, in a sense, the Lord is inviting us to reason about two Abrahamic sacrifices, we cannot fail to recognize the theme of eventual relief that pervades both.  When Abraham raises his hand to slay his son Isaac,

The angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said: Here am I.  And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.  And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son (Genesis 22:11-13).

            The first Abrahamic sacrifice is brought to an end by the Lord, who relieves Abraham from the exceptional commandment which has caused him suffering.  The paradoxical joy is replaced by the fuller natural joy.  By offering to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham regains Isaac forever.  This is a very important element of any Abrahamic sacrifice: it is always eventually brought to an end by God.   The lifting of the exceptional commandment comes as a tangible relief to the sacrificer, despite the fact that the sacrificer has not only felt suffering but also paradoxical joy in the sacrifice.             

            Why does the Lord bring this relief?  We can only reiterate that it is because God is not indifferent between a state of sacrifice and a state of relief, and that all other things being equal, he actively prefers eventual relief to perpetual sacrifice for his innocent children.  Lest we mistake this natural Fatherly preference, Christ asks rhetorically, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11).  The great sacrifice to which Abraham’s sacrifices point, the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ, was also brought to an end by God.  His sacrifice ended, we sing of Christ,

Once rejected by his own/Now their King he shall be known/Once forsaken, left alone/Now exalted to a throne/Once he groaned in blood and tears/Now in glory he appears/ Once he suffered grief and pain/Now he comes on earth to reign/Once upon the cross he bowed/Now his chariot is the cloud/Once all things he meekly bore/But he now will bear no more (Hymn no. 196, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

This sacrificial assignment came to Christ because of his perfect righteousness, but we must understand that though Christ’s sacrifice merited his reward, Christ’s sacrifice did not constitute his reward. 

            If the Lord has chosen the Isaac-Hagar analogy with care, then we would expect to see an end to the exceptional commandment in this case as well, which end would bring relief.  Obedience to God’s exceptional commandment to practice polygamy merited a reward for Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, but it did not constitute their reward.  Implicit in God’s sanctioning of Sarah’s demand that Hagar and Ishmael be banished is God’s recognition of the sacrifice and suffering from the point of view of the two mothers involved and his desire to provide relief to them.  Interestingly, God does not condemn either woman for feeling the way she does; he seems to accept the negative emotional situation as a natural consequence of the departure from the law he has commanded and agrees to a change in the situation to relieve the tension and sorrow.  The appearance of God’s angel to Hagar in two situations and God’s miraculous rescue of Hagar and Ishmael are very important components of this relief (Genesis 16; 21).  As we shall see, we believe the separation of Hagar and Ishmael was not the only relief God was to extend. [18]

            Before turning to that theme in a later section, we must pause to note the strength of this theme of eventual relief in connection with polygamy in Doctrine and Covenants 132.  God extends this analogy of sacrifice and sorrow and eventual relief in relation to polygamy to Joseph Smith’s own personal situation in polygamy in verse 50.  Speaking to Joseph Smith, the Lord says, “I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you.  Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac.”

            Now, Joseph Smith made many sacrifices in his lifetime.  But these other sacrifices by Joseph--deprivation of property, of liberty, and so forth--are not in the same class as an Abrahamic sacrifice because God did not command of Joseph a departure from the law in these cases.  In our opinion, the only sacrifices required of Joseph that meet the characteristics present in the case of Abraham sacrificing Isaac were Joseph’s sacrifices in connection with polygamy.  Furthermore, all of the surrounding verses are speaking of polygamy, and the only other mention of Isaac in the revelation is in the context of polygamy.  The escape is not in reference to escape from enemies or poverty or other travails, because the last phrase about Isaac reiterates that it is an escape from a command the Lord gives that is being discussed.  The whole of which verse 50 is a part begins with verse 36, because these are the only two verses in which Isaac is mentioned.  In addition, remember that Doctrine and Covenants 132 is not a new revelation initiating the practice of plural marriage for the first time in this dispensation--that initial revelation has already been given, for Joseph had been practicing polygamy for some years already when the revelation of Doctrine and Covenants 132 was given in 1843. 

            It seems reasonable to conclude, then, that God is speaking of polygamy in verse 50.  The Lord is expressing sympathy for the hardships and sorrow imposed on Joseph by this exceptional commandment to depart from the law of marriage. [19]  He is promising to count Joseph’s obedience for righteousness, as Abraham’s sacrifice was counted.  And, very significantly, he is promising that at some future point Joseph will have an escape from this exceptional commandment to depart from the law of marriage and that the sacrifice and suffering that attended his obedience would come to an end.  This exceptional commandment was no doubt given to Joseph because of his great righteousness.  But again, we must not fail to understand that Joseph’s practice of the exceptional commandment of polygamy merited him a reward, but it could not conceivably constitute the reward under the conceptual framework that the Lord’s argument lays out for us.  Christ chose to sacrifice his life, but he regained it and felt the relief and natural joy that came from living once more; Abraham chose to sacrifice Isaac, but he regained his son and felt the relief and natural joy of embracing Isaac once again. If the Lord chose this Isaac-Hagar analogy with care, and we have every reason to believe he did, then verse 50 is telling us that one day there would be a ram in the thicket for Joseph Smith concerning polygamy, and he would feel the relief and natural joy that attends such an escape.

Implications for Sundry LDS Cultural Assumptions about Polygamy

            If this interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants 132 is correct, then some interesting things begin to happen to our casual acceptance of certain “folkways” accepted uncritically in LDS culture.  A whole new vision begins to appear when we understand from God’s own reasoning that monogamy is the rule, polygamy is the exception, and he is not indifferent between the two because the second is an Abrahamic sacrifice in his eyes and the first is not.  Serious doubt is now cast on a variety of pervasive assumptions concerning polygamy in our culture.

            The first interesting thing that happens to our folkways is that doubt is now cast on the uncritical assumption that polygamous marriage is ubiquitous in the celestial kingdom, and that even if we are not commanded to practice polygamy here, we may be required to practice polygamy there.  As God’s commandments are not temporal but spiritual in nature (D&C 29:34-35), God will continue to view polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice even in the context of the hereafter.  A general law of God continues, but a departure from the law, involving as it does Christlike sacrifice about which God is not indifferent,  by its very nature is temporally bounded because of God’s love for his children and his desire to see such Christlike sacrifices come to an eventual end, even if they have wrought great good in their time and place.   It is unclear how God could be constrained for all eternity to command a departure from the law of marriage, which departure he himself would desire to bring to an end.  To disallow individuals a choice in this important matter, given that God himself is not indifferent about the subject, would imply that heaven is not the best of all possible worlds from God’s own perspective and does not represent perfection. 

            Furthermore, we must keep in mind the two-fold spiritual purpose of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant: to raise up a righteous seed unto God in mortality, and to prepare the marriage partners for their work as gods with their own eternal increase.  Remember from Jacob 2 that the rationale the Lord himself gives for polygamy is related only to the first purpose, not to the second: “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 [the law of monogamy]” (Jacob 2:30).  From what we have learned from Doctrine and Covenants 132, we now know why the Lord relates polygamy only to the first purpose and not to the second: because polygamy is seen by the Lord as an Abrahamic sacrifice that merits eventual relief and thus does not continue in the hereafter.  After this life, those who become gods will be engaged in their own work of eternal increase, whereas in this life we are engaged in the work of God’s eternal increase.  Since the exception of polygamy is related to God’s servants assisting him in his work “to raise up seed unto me,” as part of a preparatory stage to godhood, what applicability can the departure from the law have to those who become gods after this life is over?  Thus, though the principle of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant serves the dual spiritual purpose of marriage, and the law of monogamy serves the dual purpose as well, the lawful exception of polygamy is not in general commanded by God because its form serves only one of the two purposes of eternal marriage.

            Some in LDS culture assume that polygamy is not merely a doctrinal necessity but a circumstantial necessity in the hereafter.  Generally this assumption takes one of two forms.  In the first form of the assumption, some assert that there will be more women who inherit the celestial fullness than men, and since everyone in the highest level of the celestial kingdom is married, polygamy then must follow as a natural consequence of the sex ratio there. This “folkways” is unsound both doctrinally and demographically.  There is simply no basis for assuming a celestial sex ratio highly skewed in favor of women.

            First, how could God be no respecter of persons and create a system where one spirit, because of gender, has a much better chance of reaching the celestial kingdom than the other gender?  If God is the author of all fairness and if gender equality is a foundational principle of the gospel, he could not have authored such a system.  Even if this system were somehow fair, for such an outcome to ensue would mean that the male gender was disproportionately assigned to or an attribute of weaker spirits.  There is no doctrinal or scriptural basis for such a belief. 

            For those who feel polygamy is ubiquitous in the celestial kingdom, this belief demands that, at a minimum, twice as many women make it to the celestial kingdom as men.  But human demographics argues against such a conclusion.  Approximately 106 male babies are born on earth for every 100 female babies born. [20]  More males have existed on earth than females.  Yet by age five, the sex ratio is about 1:1, for male babies are more susceptible to genetic disorders.  Therefore, a large number of males die before the age of accountability and are automatically saved in the celestial kingdom.  Also, male deaths through such mechanisms as the wholesale killing of male children by an enemy power (e.g., in Moses’ time and in Jesus’ time), or males laying down their lives in righteous defense of family and homeland also increases the pool of males eligible for the celestial kingdom.  Using established demographic procedures, several  BYU sociologists declare in perhaps only a partially tongue-in-cheek essay that they can demonstrate there will be more males in the celestial kingdom than females! [21]

            All the foregoing serves to make the point that it is by no means clear that females will outnumber males in the celestial kingdom.  There is absolutely no scriptural or empirical basis upon which to assert the sex ratio of the celestial kingdom.  If we cannot confidently assume that there will be more exalted women than exalted men, then one cannot conclude that polygamy must then follow.

            The second form of the assumption that polygamy is a circumstantial necessity in the celestial kingdom is the notion that one Heavenly Mother is incapable of producing and nurturing the vast numbers of spirit children that Heavenly Father appears to have fathered.  After Christ comes, “time is no longer” (D&C 84:100; D&C 88:110).  With God, past, present, and future are continually before his eyes (D&C 130:7).  What this means, no one knows in this life.  But clearly it means that the same temporal constraints do not exist for Gods.  What, then, does it mean to say that something “would take too long” for a God?  Additionally, it does not appear that God is in some great hurry to do his work.  It may have taken billions of years to produce the universe and, eventually, our solar system.  Why does he need to rush the production of spirit children?  Furthermore, we do not know anything about how spirit children are organized or how long it takes to organize them.

            But how could one Heavenly Mother take care of so many children?  This question takes on its true character if we change it to ask: How could one Heavenly Father take care of so many children?  We believe Heavenly Father is capable of loving each one of us completely.  If a single he has such abilities, why do we doubt that a single She has the same? [22]  In addition, Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother do not exist as a typically modern nuclear family unit--they have an entire and very large eternal family organization to help them.  Think of all that Christ, Their Son, accomplished in creating numberless worlds at a time when he did not yet possess a body and had not yet entered into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  We must suppose that our divine parents have plenty of help in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

            We see other things in a new light, as well.  In mortality, when God does command polygamy, he understands it is an exceptional sacrifice by the innocent of the joy that would be theirs if they could obey the law instead, despite the paradoxical joy given to the innocent sacrificer.  This departure from the law can cause pain and sorrow, but it brings about a greater good that makes faithful endurance and obedience a source of paradoxical joy.  Nevertheless, if his righteous daughters and sons weep because of polygamy--even in times when he commands it--he is not upset at them, but he weeps when they weep because, like Abraham, they are willing to sacrifice and suffer for a time that God’s work of love might be accomplished.  And, like Christ, they willingly make a sacrifice that the law itself cannot demand of them because that sacrifice provides the blessings of eternal life for the many. 

            Since God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy for it appears he views polygamy as a sacrifice in similitude of the sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son, then his love dictates that at the earliest possible moment when the exceptional commandment to depart from the law can be lifted, he will do so.   If no greater good can come from a Christlike sacrifice, it becomes meaningless and gratuitous suffering.  Our understanding of God’s love for his children would appear to preclude continuing to command sacrifice that has no meaning.  Indeed, the sacrifices of the Mosaic law had meaning up until the victory of Christ, and God scrupulously required them until that point (3 Nephi 1:24-25).  But after Christ’s victory, the sacrifices of the Mosaic law became meaningless, and thus God no longer required them to be performed.  This not only applied to the sacrifice of innocent animals, but also to a sacrifice on the part of innocent humans, such as circumcision (Moroni 8:8).  Indeed, continuing Mosaic sacrifice was tantamount to a rejection of Christ or at least a profound misunderstanding of the Atonement, about which God was surely not indifferent. [23]

            Thus God, though initially commanding Abrahamic sacrifices, also strongly desires to eventually provide a ram in the thicket.  He is not indifferent to whether the ram is there or not.  He wants that ram to be there, and he will guarantee its presence.  Though an Abrahamic sacrifice may merit one a reward, it can never constitute such a reward.  To think otherwise is incompatible with the idea of a loving God, who sees a distinction between pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow. Indeed, Lehi teaches that if such distinctions cannot be made, then “there is no God” (2 Nephi 2:13).  There will always be a ram in the thicket for those who are obedient to a commandment to depart from the law; somehow God will “make an escape” (D&C 132:50) for these innocent and obedient and righteous souls whom he must love even more intensely because of their willingness to make such a Christlike sacrifice. Sometimes this escape cannot be within the space of one’s mortal lifetime.  Christ’s own escape came after his death.  But no matter whether the escape be in this life or after this life, somehow righteous souls such as Abraham and Joseph Smith will have their “ram in the thicket.”

The Ram in the Thicket

            What will the ram be?  Here we inevitably move beyond what the scriptures and modern revelation have told us.  Though we can feel fairly assured that our description of the situation in mortality is accurate, we do not know enough to feel so assured about our thoughts on the hereafter.  Nevertheless, we venture into that territory for one good reason: no woman who has ever felt pain about polygamy is satisfied until her concerns about the hereafter are at least addressed.  No woman who has felt pain about polygamy can honestly strive for a place in the celestial kingdom unless she feels that that kingdom is a place in which she would actually want to live.  Women are greatly affected in mortality by their perceptions of the mysteries of eternity.  And so, acknowledging that our thoughts on the hereafter are merely our own, but having pondered long and hard on what we do know, we will present such thoughts as we have for the sake of the women we know who are in great pain over the issue of polygamy in the hereafter.

            What will the ram be?  Perhaps those who honorably entered and kept their marriage covenants in a time of God-commanded polygamy will have the opportunity to “escape” that exceptional commandment to depart from the law in the next life, if they so desire.  For God not to allow that escape would be tantamount to condemning certain persons, because of the time period in which they entered mortality, never to partake of the natural joy brought by the law of marriage ordained by God.  Remember that whatever an individual’s reaction to polygamy in this life--joy, sorrow, or the two intermixed--the most mature and fully understanding perspective must be that of the Lord, who, it appears, views polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice.  If escape were not allowed at some future point, this sacrifice, and its accompanying suffering, would then be an eternal decree for persons who were born in periods when God commanded a departure from the law.  Heaven, in a sense, would be a place of eternal sacrifice and eternal suffering for these individuals.  We feel strongly that God could not ask this of any person, especially given God’s view that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice about which he is not indifferent.  Even Christ’s sacrifice and his suffering in his sacrifice came to an end.  No, God in his infinite mercy must provide an escape from all Abrahamic sacrifices he commands his children to make because of the greater good that comes to others from them.  In the eternities those who sacrificed and suffered like Abraham will have the opportunity to live under the law, not under the departure from the law, without this affecting their exaltation. [24]  We do not say that no one will live polygamously in heaven.  We do claim that, given the Lord’s analogy as discussed above, it is plain that no one can be commanded to do so, and that the choice to opt out of polygamy cannot and will not affect an individual’s exaltation.

            Whatever escape the Lord has provided for these faithful souls, it will be consistent with the law of sealing and sealing transferability.  For those not familiar with the doctrine of sealing transferability, it is the means by which God’s eternal family is to be organized after all the unworthy “links” in the great family chain have been dropped.  When a link thus falls out, not only is a “child” dropping out, but a husband or a wife is dropping out as well.  This circumstance does not leave the worthy spouse dangling--it merely leaves a place for another more worthy person to fill.  We can see this transferability operation with reference to all sealings, not simply the marriage sealing.  For example, if children are born under the covenant to parents who wind up unworthy of them, the children will not undergo a new sealing ordinance after this life.  The fact that they worthily entered into the covenant and stayed worthy of being persons born under the covenant appears to be sufficient: their sealing will simply be “transferred” to worthy parents in the next life.  Church manuals of instruction teach us,

When a man and a woman are married in the temple for time and all eternity and then separate, the children will go with the parent who is justified and who has kept the covenants.  If neither of them has kept his covenants, the children may be taken away from both of them and given to somebody else and that would be by virtue of being born under the covenant.  A child is not to be sealed the second time when born under the covenant, but by virtue of that birthright can be transferred. [25]

            Thus it appears that choosing to enter sacred covenants of sealing and remaining worthy of those covenants is all that matters from the standpoint of the individual’s exaltation as a member of God’s eternal family--the actual people to whom one is sealed might or might not change in the re-forging of the great family link of all God’s exalted children.  Even if you are sealed to an unworthy person, it is as if that person is a stand-in for one who is worthy--whom you may not even meet in this life.  This explains why the Church does not cancel the sealing of a wife in a divorce situation unless another marriage sealing is to take place; because what matters is that the wife chose and presumably remains worthy to be sealed to a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder--even though she will most likely end up having that sealing transferred to someone else.  Her first husband remains, as it were, a “stand-in” until a transfer can take place. [26] 

            Such stand-in, or “proxy,” marriages were common in the early Church, because in the first several decades of the restored Church, one could not be sealed to loved ones who had not been baptized into the Church before they died.  Surviving family members were sealed to General Authorities to assure their exaltation.  Widows whose husbands had died before hearing the Gospel were sealed to a general authority as the authority’s wife in order to assure their exaltation, and then typically had their husbands sealed to the same General Authority as a child so as “to keep him in the family”! [27] This resulted in many women becoming plural wives because of the mistaken understanding that they could not be sealed to their dead husbands and could not gain their exaltation unless sealed to someone as a wife.  For example, women who had never even met Joseph Smith while he was alive were sealed to him after his death; also, one woman had her aged mother sealed to her (the daughter’s) husband shortly before the mother died so that the mother could receive her exaltation.  Wilford Woodruff had over 400 of his dead female ancestors sealed to him as wives.  These practices seem to indicate that the parties involved understood that the man in question was more of a stand-in or proxy so that the woman could receive the marriage ordinance and thus her exaltation, than an understanding that these women were married in some meaningful sense to these particular men for all eternity.  For example, what can it mean to have a dead woman sealed to you, whom you have never met in this life, whose will on the matter you cannot possibly know, and who is in fact one of your great-great grandmothers?  Or to have your own mother-in-law sealed to you as a wife?  Or, in the case of a woman, to be sealed to a dead man whom you have never met, and whose will on the matter you cannot possibly know? These marriages make sense best as proxy marriages.  Indeed, when President Wilford Woodruff announced in 1894 that women could be sealed to their dead husbands (and children to their dead parents) even if the deceased had not been baptized before their deaths, many thousands of sealing transfers took place to rightfully reorganize family lines. [28]

            This understanding of sealing transferability in the final welding together of all those who are worthy to become members of God’s eternal family may help us envision an honorable “escape” for those faithful men and women who were commanded to depart from the law of marriage and the natural joy that derives from living that law.  If God is truly “no respecter of persons,” then the time period in which one entered mortality should not determine one’s opportunity for ending an Abrahamic sacrifice.

Ambiguous Verses and the “Reward” Interpretation

            Three verses in Doctrine and Covenants 132 have caused some to misinterpret the Lord’s clear and strong message concerning his lack of indifference between monogamy and polygamy and his view that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice which merits an escape and not a perpetuation.  Though there are many variants of this alternative interpretation, generally speaking, this viewpoint, which is not reconcilable with the Lord’s explanation of his views on polygamy, suggests that polygamy is seen as restricted because it is the reward, or privilege, of especially righteous individuals.  It is restricted because less righteous individuals should not have such a privilege.  Indeed, in this interpretation the more righteous a man, the more wives he will be given in the hereafter.  The three verses in question are verses 39, 44, and 55 of Doctrine and Covenants 132.

            In verse 39 the Lord explains that because of David’s sin, “he shall not inherit them [his wives and concubines] out of the world, for I gave them unto another.” In verse 44 the Lord says that if a woman is wronged by her husband, the prophet should “take her and give her unto him that hath not committed adultery but hath been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.” In verse 55 the Lord promises Joseph “an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.” Verse 55 echoes the Lord’s statements to his disciples:

There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). 

            Some view these three verses as supporting an interpretation of celestial polygamy as a reward for righteousness.  Verse 39 is interpreted as meaning that all of David’s wives and concubines will be given to one exalted man.  Verse 44 is interpreted as meaning that faithful men will be rulers over many wives.  Verse 55 is interpreted to mean that righteous men will have many wives as a reward for service to the Lord.

            The overarching reason for rejecting this interpretation is the Lord’s own lengthy analogy between Isaac and Hagar.  God is not restricting polygamy because it is a special reward or privilege reserved for the especially righteous; God is restricting polygamy because it is an Abrahamic sacrifice and he does not wish to prolong such sacrifice any longer than is necessary.  One can not accept the “reward” interpretation without simultaneously rejecting the “sacrifice” interpretation the Lord himself gives.  As we have seen, the test of Abrahamic sacrifice may indeed come to persons because of their special righteousness, and obedience in that sacrifice can merit one a reward, but the reward itself cannot be perpetual Abrahamic sacrifice.  This would mean that Abraham’s reward for obedience to the commandment to sacrifice Isaac is to be commanded to go back to Moriah or that Christ’s reward for the Atonement is to be nailed once more to the cross.  This interpretation reduces the Lord’s strong reasoning in Doctrine and Covenants 132 to incoherence, and thus it cannot be preferred to an interpretation that preserves coherence in the Lord’s statements, as the “sacrifice” interpretation does.

            Furthermore, the verses are ambiguous enough that no hard and fast interpretation of a “reward” of polygamy can be inferred.  We do not know how David’s wives and concubines will be reassigned in their sealings.  They will clearly only be given to another with their consent, but if they choose to depart from the exceptional commandment of polygamy, which is their right under the Lord’s designation of an “escape” from all Abrahamic sacrifices (D&C 132:50), then the manner of distribution might be one to one other righteous man, another to still another righteous man, and so forth.  We must allow the Lord’s own analogy to constrain our interpretation of verse 39. [29]

            Pertaining to verse 44, from a broader scriptural context the Lord cannot be saying that a faithful man will be a ruler over many wives.  First, God does not say “wives” in this verse.  Second, we know that in other scriptures talking about “ruling over many,” the Lord is referring to the exalted man and woman, side by side as equals, ruling together over many things: worlds and kingdoms and numberless posterity (see our discussion in Chapters Two and Three).  All of the righteous, both men and women, are of the Church of the Firstborn (D&C 93:22) and thus inherit the fullness of the father (D&C 76:94), and stand as joint heirs and equals with Christ (D&C 76:95, 88:107).  Joined in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, they are gods, having all power (D&C 132:20; 76:58), and they rule over many things together as a result (D&C 52:13; 76:54-5, 59; 78:15).  Interpreting verse 44 as indicating that a faithful man will rule, together with his wife, over many things is more in harmony with the broader context of revealed scripture and is more in harmony with the Lord’s view of polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice, not a reward.

            Verse 55 is interesting but sufficiently ambiguous that it cannot be used to support the “reward” interpretation either.  A careful reading of verse 55 and Mark 10:30 indicates the Lord is talking of a familial reward in reference to “this world” and “now in this time.” Since this familial reward did not come to the disciples or to Joseph Smith in their mortal lives, perhaps the Lord could be referring to a righteous person “now in this time” meriting a place in the celestial kingdom, where all who are worthy of that kingdom will be welded together in the great family chain of heaven.  Be that as it may, how are we to understand the word “wives” in verse 55?  Since the verse is ambiguous, let us try to understand one of the other terms in the string of family relations the righteous man will obtain.  How is it that a man may have a hundred “mothers”?  Will these many women all be able to claim the physical experience of having given birth to Joseph Smith, which is how we usually define the relationship of mother to child?  No, that seems unreasonable.  Some larger sense of the relation implied in the word “mother” must be at work here.  The Lord himself suggests that this is so.  When told that his mother and brethren awaited him, Christ asked “Who is my mother?  And who are my brethren?  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!  For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50). 

            We suggest that the tremendous vision of the final welded human family, where everyone is connected to everyone else through the generations, is being alluded to here by the Lord in these verses from Doctrine and Covenants 132, Mark, and Matthew.  In this interpretation Joseph Smith may have thousands of mothers and thousands of all other relations.  But these linkages may not be as direct and immediate as the linkage between Joseph Smith and his own mother, Lucy Mack Smith, in that chain.  Likewise, the linkage between Joseph Smith and the “wives” of verse 55 may also be in the context of the great human chain and may not be referencing a direct and immediate relationship.  In sum, verse 55 is still too ambiguous to permit a “reward” interpretation concerning polygamy, given the unambiguous nature of the Lord’s own elaboration of the “sacrifice” interpretation.  The reward spoken of here--that of eternal place in the righteous extended human family--is for both men and women (Mark 10:30) and as such may not be making a comment on polygamous marriage at all.

            Last, nonscriptural statements by early Saints indicate that they believed polygamy to be the mode of married life in the celestial kingdom and that quantity of wives in the hereafter is a sign of a man’s degree of righteousness, which statements seem to support the “reward” interpretation. [30] However, we must remember that these statements were made in that period of time where some confusion existed about the sealing order of heaven.  It was thought that one could not be sealed to dead relatives who had passed away without being baptized.  Widows felt they had to be sealed to a general authority to assure their exaltation; remember that men thought they had to be sealed to General Authorities as their children, and that all must eventually be sealed directly or indirectly to the head of the dispensation (Joseph Smith) and that is where their sealing duties ended.  Thus, many early General Authorities had many wives and many children because of the confluence of these ideas about sealing and the God-given commandment to practice polygamy.   In a sense, then, the actual practice of polygamy in the early Church was profoundly affected by some confusion over the sealing order.  It is conceivable that this situation affected the understandings of these early Saints on the topic of husband-wife sealing in marriage, as well. [31]  We note that this confusion was cleared up by the same prophet in whose tenure God rescinded the exceptional commandment to practice polygamy: Wilford Woodruff.  Indeed, we believe it is no coincidence that this was the case.  In rescinding polygamy in 1890 in the context of the constrained views of the time about sealing, Wilford Woodruff, acting as the Lord’s mouthpiece, was seemingly placing exaltation out of the reach of many persons whose immediate family had not received the Gospel before death.  The sorrow of this situation could only have been rectified by removing the confusion over sealing.  Thus, resolving the confusion over sealing in 1894 was a necessary appendage to the rescindment of the commandment to practice polygamy in 1890.

            May we pause to say that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff led the Church with courage, inspiration, and nobility at a time when the Saints were commanded to make great sacrifices, including the Abrahamic sacrifice of polygamy.  They, and all who willingly made the sacrifices required of them by the Lord, are due all our honor.  They placed devotion to God above all else, and placed on the altar their reputations and even their very lives.  In addition, Wilford Woodruff led the Church with inspiration and skill during the period when the Lord rescinded the commandment to practice polygamy, which rescindment must have seemed to many at the time as a great sacrifice, as well. [32]  Our understanding of the commandment to practice polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice should cause us to deeply revere those early Saints of whom that sacrifice was required.

            Returning to the main point of this section, in conclusion, then, though there are three ambiguous verses in Doctrine and Covenants 132, a careful examination of them does not lend credence to the alternative interpretation of polygamy being a special reward of righteous persons in the hereafter.  The commandment to live polygamy may be given to especially righteous persons in mortal life, but it is given as an Abrahamic sacrifice, which sacrifice may merit a reward but does not constitute a reward.  The “sacrifice” interpretation of polygamy is, in our opinion, the only interpretation that renders the Lord’s argument concerning Isaac and Hagar coherent.

Summary

            This new vision of the compatibility of Jacob 2 and Doctrine and Covenants 132 is important for many reasons.  However, the most comforting aspect is that those women and men who feel pain at the thought of polygamy are all right in God’s eyes  God would not think it odd if they did feel pain.  God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy in the new and everlasting covenant because he, too, views polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice which will cause suffering, but also (for the righteous) paradoxical joy and a closer relationship with him.  We envision God weeping when righteous polygamous wives and husbands wept.  Just think of what that means!  For those who weep at the mistaken thought they may be commanded to practice polygamy in Heaven, God does not condemn your feelings.  On the contrary, God will not command you to practice polygamy in the next life, and if he commands you to practice it in this life, you can rest assured of two things: 1) he will make it up to you: you will have a ram in the thicket, even if it be in the next life; and 2) God will lift the exceptional commandment of polygamy just as soon as his loving purposes in commanding it have been fulfilled simply because he feels compassion for those who make an Abrahamic sacrifice in polygamy in similitude of the Atonement.  Though an exceptional commandment may come to one because of special righteousness, and though obedience to an exceptional commandment to practice polygamy may merit one a great reward, the sacrifice itself cannot constitute that reward in light of what the Lord has revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 132 about his mind concerning these matters.  He desires that all his children have the natural joy that comes from the law of marriage, which law is monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy, and God views polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice, which is why he actively and severely restricts its practice even in this dispensation of the restoration of all things by Joseph Smith (D&C 132:40).

            If we as a culture have lost the capacity to see God-commanded polygamy as the Abrahamic sacrifice God tells us it is, if we have lost the capacity to see that God actively desires there be an escape for the righteous who have obeyed this exceptional commandment, then we have lost something profoundly precious.  We have lost the vision of the greatness of God’s love for his children.  To lose that vision brings “the gall of bitterness,” as Mormon remarked about others who similarly placed constraints on God’s love of the innocent, for we “deny” the “mercies” of God (Moroni 8:14, 23).  If cultural misinterpretations cause the women and men of the Church to mourn over polygamy, either because they mistakenly believe that God is indifferent between sacrifice and nonsacrifice and so no escape from this sacrifice will be provided by God or because they are led to feel that they are selfish and not righteous if they feel pain at the thought of polygamy, then these cultural misinterpretations are actively harming our people.  We then have a duty to root out these cultural misinterpretations from our midst, lest they cause great spiritual mischief (Moroni 8:6). [33]

            The balm to be had in Gilead on the issue of polygamy is great, indeed.  One can only hope that the encrusted scales of our cultural folkways will fall from our eyes as we understand that Jacob of the Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith received the very same revelation from the Lord.

 

NOTES:

[1] They may ask, how can woman be the equal of man if the number of women in an eternal marriage--the ordinance at the very heart of the plan of salvation and exaltation--is indeterminate, but the number of men is always one?  They may note that two equals united in eternal marriage partnership squares more easily with gender equality than one man plus more than one woman. [Back to manuscript]

[2] Let us clarify the terms as we use them in this chapter.  The Lord at times refers to marriage in the new and everlasting covenant as his “law” (D&C 132:3-5), sometimes refers to monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant as his “law” (D&C 49:16), and sometimes refers to God-commanded polygamy in the new and everlasting covenant as his “law” (D&C 132:34).  Nevertheless, as we shall see, the Lord discriminates between all three in his discourses on the topic, and we would err in our understanding if we did not make the same discrimination he does.  In order that we not bring confusion upon ourselves in this discussion, we refer to the principle of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant, subsumed under which we find the general law of monogamy and the lawful exception of God-commanded polygamy. [Back to manuscript]

[3] While there were sometimes changes made to the revelations which now form the text of the Doctrine and Covenants, Robert J. Woodford, whose 1974 dissertation was based on a textual analysis of the Doctrine and Covenants, determined that there were no changes made to the text of the revelation now found in section 132.  See Robert J. Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Volume III (Dissertation Presented to the Department of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University, 1974), 1742.  This is corroborated by a sworn statement by William Clayton, who wrote the revelation as the Prophet dictated it to him.  William Clayton said: “Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage, and I wrote it, sentence by sentence as he dictated.  After the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct.” The revelation was copied the next day by Joseph C. Kingsbury, and pronounced a true copy by William Clayton.  It is this copy, without change to the original, which was later incorporated into the Doctrine and Covenants (Sidney B. Sperry, Doctrine and Covenants Compendium [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960], 716-717). [Back to manuscript]

[4] Words from President Gordon B. Hinckley at Salt Lake University Third Stake Conference, 3 November 1996, as cited in Church News, 1 March 1997, 2; emphasis added. [Back to manuscript]

[5] We are indebted to Professor Kathleen Bahr of Brigham Young University for this insight. [Back to manuscript]

[6] Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977), 323. [Back to manuscript]

[7] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 577. [Back to manuscript]

[8] This is why polygamous investigators, even if residing in lands where polygamy is legal, cannot be baptized into the Church in this life.  Even if the United States of America were to legalize polygamy, members of the Church could not practice it unless the Lord issued a commandment through the prophet sanctioning polygamy among his people. [Back to manuscript]

[9] Some take the words of Isaiah as meaning that God will once again sanction polygamy in the last days.  Isaiah predicts a time when “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.  And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.  And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach” (Isaiah 3:25-26; 4:1).  Because of a physical lack of men due to war casualties, women will seek to enter polygamous unions.  Indeed, this is a common consequence of devastating war even today: for example, in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, it is noted that “There is nothing but widows in this village.  There are not too many men.  Women share men among themselves to have children.  The desire for children is so strong many do not care if the man is faithful. . . There are women here who lost children in the war and they just want to replace them.” (“AIDS Brings Another Scourge to War-Devastated Rwanda,” by James C. McKinley, Jr., The New York Times, 28 May 1998). 
            As noted in Isaiah, these post-war polygynous unions appear not to be God-sanctioned, because the women initiate the request (as versus the community receiving a commandment from God’s mouthpiece, the prophet), and the marriage does not involve the God-ordained husbandly support and protection due to the wives in question (D&C 83:2).  Furthermore, these circumstances are presented in a survey of the horrible consequences that are the reward of the iniquitous.  These women will be smitten with “a scab” on the crown of their heads (Isaiah 3:17) and will be afflicted with “stink” and “baldness” and “burning” (Isaiah 3:24).  The depiction in Isaiah 4:1 of seven women taking hold of one man is the final element in Isaiah’s description of the punishment of the wicked.  Nevertheless, in addition to such cases of polygamy not sanctioned by the Lord it is possible that these calamities will affect the community of the Saints as well (or that for some other reason which God in his infinite wisdom determines), and that Bruce R. McConkie may be correct when he predicts a reinstitution of the “holy practice” of God-sanctioned polygamy around the time of the Second Coming (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., rev. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 577).   But we must remain clear that God is under no necessity to do so as part of the restoration of all things. [Back to manuscript]

[10] Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Containing Revelation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978),  821.  This commentary was originally published in 1919. [Back to manuscript]

[11] Note that only monogamy outside of the new and everlasting covenant is recognized by the Lord; polygamy outside of the new and everlasting covenant is grievous sin and is condemned by the Lord in the harshest possible terms. [Back to manuscript]

[12] Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Containing Revelation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978),  821.  This commentary was originally published in 1919. [Back to manuscript]

[13] Elder Harold Hillam suggests that Abraham’s heart wept throughout this ordeal (Devotional given at BYU, June 25, 1996). [Back to manuscript]

[14] Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl concur, explicitly stating that their analysis of Doctrine and Covenants 132 leads them to the conclusion that the scripture indicates plural marriage “is a sacrifice” (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Containing Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978],  821). [Back to manuscript]

[15] Note that Sarah and Hagar were also not changed into some sort of “new being” when God issued the exceptional commandment to depart from the law; they were normal women with normal passions and felt the loss of departing from the law of marriage.  Likewise, the women of the early Church were not “changed” when God commanded polygamy be practiced.  Because they were not changed, they made a righteous and exceptional sacrifice.  Those who claim women will be “changed” in the hereafter to accept polygamy seem not to see the significance of this.  The natural joy that would be brought by adherence to the law of God is lost even when it is God commanding the departure from the law.  Nevertheless, as noted above, there is paradoxical joy in sacrifice and faithful obedience to God’s exceptional commands. [Back to manuscript]

[16] Indeed, it is noteworthy that when Hagar is banished from camp the first time, the angel of the Lord appears to her, comforts her, and tells her that she should name her unborn son Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because “the Lord hath heard thy affliction” (Genesis 16:11). [Back to manuscript]

[17] We are indebted to Ronald Hinckley for this insight. [Back to manuscript]

[18] Elsewhere in the scriptures we find other examples in which God attempts to make the Abrahamic sacrifice of polygamy less of a burden on the woman experiencing heartache.  In Deuteronomy 21:15-17, for instance, the firstborn of a despised wife is to inherit twice that of the firstborn of a beloved wife in a polygamous marriage.  And in Leviticus 18:18, the Lord commands that a man not marry the sister of his wife, as such a situation would “vex” the wife. [Back to manuscript]

[19] It is personally healing to think of Joseph feeling pain over practicing polygamy.   He sacrificed the natural joy that would come from the law of marriage and which was lost in God-commanded departure from the law.  Other General Authorities who practiced polygamy also felt initial reluctance upon hearing the commandment; for example, Brigham Young recounted that he envied the dead when he was first taught about it.  Initial reluctance to depart from the law of marriage that brings natural joy is thus not only a hallmark of the first reaction of righteous women, it is a hallmark of the first reaction of righteous men, as well.  From the perspective outlined in this chapter, we see that this reluctance is not based in some idiosyncratic cultural mores but in the deep law of happiness that pervades all human existence regardless of culture or time period.  Of course, we expect Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others eventually felt the paradoxical joy that accompanies Abrahamic sacrifice.  [Back to manuscript]

[20] Indeed, some estimate that up to 60% more male fetuses are conceived than female fetuses.  However,  most miscarriages and stillbirths involve male fetuses, so the ratio of males to females at birth is lower--though still favoring males--than the conception ratio would indicate.  (See Stephan Klasen, “‘Missing Women’ Reconsidered,” World Development 22, no. 7 [1994]: 1061-1071.) [Back to manuscript]

[21] See Tim Heaton, et al., “In the Heavens Are Parents Single?: Report No. 1,” Dialogue 17, no. 1, (Spring 1984): 84-86. [Back to manuscript]

[22] Some in LDS culture take this assumption even further.  One interpretation of human male sexual anatomy holds that males are designed to be polygamous.  Whatever the merits of that interpretation, we cannot then infer that celestial life is polygamous.  To understand this point, consider the lion.  The lion has been given an anatomy replete with large, sharp teeth and claws.  In the fallen world this anatomical endowment is used to kill prey and tear flesh.  However, we know that in the millennium “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together” (2 Nephi 21:6), and “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain” (2 Nephi 21:9).   Indeed, scripture tells us that “the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (2 Nephi 21:7).  The function and purpose of the lion’s teeth and claws in celestial life thus cannot be derived from their function and purpose in meeting the exigencies of the fallen world.  Therefore we cannot infer from male sexual anatomy that males will practice polygamy in the celestial world because they have a presumed proclivity and anatomical capability for practicing it in the fallen world.  It may be more helpful to interpret the presumed proclivity and anatomical capability for polygamy on the part of males as arising from the exigencies of the fallen world, just as the proclivity and capability for killing prey and tearing flesh with teeth and claws has arisen for the lion from the conditions of the fallen world.  Otherwise, we must either conclude that the lion will be unfulfilled and frustrated living in the celestial world because his anatomy is not being used for that which it was designed, or we must conclude that the manner of life in the celestial world is bounded by the manner of life in the fallen world and that God must permit violence in his holy kingdom for the sake of leonine anatomy.  Neither conclusion is justified.  That this case is parallel to that concerning human male anatomy should be clear.  If God’s law of marriage is monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant, as scripture unequivocally states, then God’s law--not human male sexual proclivities or anatomical capabilities in the fallen world--is the determinant of sexual relations in the celestial world. [Back to manuscript]

[23] Indeed, those who desire to practice polygamy in times when God has not commanded it are in spiritual chaos.  That desire would be analogous to Abraham, after hearing the message of the angel and seeing the ram, proceeding to sacrifice Isaac anyway as a testimony of his faithfulness to God.  We can only surmise that from God’s point of view, such an act would constitute anything but a testimony of faithfulness! [Back to manuscript]

[24] We also do not believe that the exercise of one’s right to opt out of the exceptional commandment to practice polygamy could affect the ability of loved ones to enjoy one another’s presence.  If all within the celestial kingdom are entitled to dwell in the presence of our Father (D&C 76:62, 94), surely they are all entitled to dwell in each other’s presence.   Descendants of those who practiced polygamy with honor, then, need not fear that particular ancestors would be “lost” to them if these ancestors chose to make their escape.  No one is lost and no one is unconnected in the final welding of the great chain of the human family. [Back to manuscript]

[25] Questions Frequently Asked About the Temple and the Endowment (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 10. [Back to manuscript]

[26] Much needless heartache can be prevented if this is understood.  If her husband marries again in the temple after he has divorced her, a woman whose sealing is still intact may feel she is being forced into eternal polygamy against her will.  This is not the case.  As we have noted, her ex-husband is a “proxy” for he who will be her sealed companion if she remains worthy of this blessing.  Similarly, a woman’s children with a subsequent husband being automatically sealed to her former husband (unless a sealing cancellation takes place) is similarly to be understood.  The children are worthy to be born under the covenant and will be so.  Given the principle of sealing transferability, to whom they are sealed is not as important to their exaltation as the children being involved in the sealing in the first place.  Sealing transferability lends equity to sealing situations that cannot be understood as equitable to women in any other way.  However, as Eugene England noted, this understanding still cannot explain why a woman who is dead may be sealed to more than one man, but a woman who is alive cannot.  We have good reason, however, to believe that that constraint will be removed by the Lord in the near future. (Another excellent resource on the issue of LDS polygamy is England's classic essay, "On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage,"originally published in Dialogue in 1987, but now available online from the Eugene England Foundation at http://eugeneengland.org/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/1987_e_001.pdf) [Back to manuscript]

[27] Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974): 306. [Back to manuscript]

[28] Over 13,000 such sealing transfers occurred.  See Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974): 308-312. [Back to manuscript]

[29] Notice how this verse and also verse 44 point to the doctrine of sealing transferability as discussed in the previous section.  Worthy wives of unworthy men (such as David) are transferred by right of their original marriage sealing.  These wives are worthy to occupy a place as a wife in the grand genealogy of God’s eternal family, but their marriage partner may or may not be he to whom they were married in mortality. [Back to manuscript]

[30] The quantity of wives a man takes in mortal life when commanded by God to practice polygamy could be a sign of his degree of righteousness.  We suppose this would depend on the motivation of the individual man in taking these additional wives. [Back to manuscript]

[31] Indeed, Irving contends that a proper interpretation of the statement by Joseph Smith (in the context of a vision given to Brigham Young following Joseph’s death) concerning the “confused” state of the human family had specific reference to these erroneous sealing practices.  If Irving’s interpretation is correct, then it is indeed noteworthy that Joseph Smith, from the vantage point of the hereafter, was able to see the error he did not notice during his mortal probation and that he desired to impart his new and clearer perspective to his successor on earth.  (See Irving, op cit.). [Back to manuscript]

[32] Spiritual manifestations accompanied the rescindment of the commandment to practice polygamy.  Here is but one example that could be cited in this context: “More than once I heard Father say before other members of the family that when he went to that Conference he and some of his friends who had suffered exile and imprisonment had determined to vote against the Manifesto.  ‘But,’ said Father, ‘some power not my own raised my arm, and I voted to sustain President Woodruff in this matter.  As soon as I had done it a sense of peace and contentment came over me.’” (Jensen, Juliaette Batemen, Little Gold Pieces [Salt Lake City: Stanway Printing Company, 1948], 130.   We are indebted to B. Kent Harrison, Juliaetta’s grandson, for bringing this episode to our attention.) [Back to manuscript]

[33] Indeed, in the course of writing this chapter we discovered how great this spiritual mischief can be.  The research assistant helping me with this chapter spoke about the issue of polygamy with another of my research assistants, a wonderful young woman from a family active in the Church.  The young woman in question stated that she has strong reservations about marrying in the temple for fear that if she died, her husband might remarry and she would become a polygamous wife in heaven.  She stated that polygamy sounded like hell, not heaven, to her and she did not want to wind up in such a place.  I had no clue that my research assistant felt this way!  Another young mother spoke to me of how she held her feelings of love for her husband in check, because she “knew” that if they were worthy to go to the celestial kingdom, he would be assigned many wives.  To combat the feeling of anguish and despair this caused her, she tried to love her husband less!  One young man, suffering from a life-shortening genetic disorder, was told by his roommates (all returned missionaries) that because of his physical difficulties here on earth, when he got to the celestial kingdom he would be given “hundreds” of “the most beautiful women imaginable” as his reward.  The young man replied that he would prefer one not-so-beautiful but loving companion here and in the hereafter.  These are but a few of many such cases that space does not permit us to mention.  Indeed, these cases bring to mind a quotation by C.S. Lewis: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him.  The conclusion I dread is not, ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.’”  We cannot allow this spiritual mischief to continue, given that the scriptures revealing the Lord’s mind on the subject provide the needed balm to dispel it completely [Back to manuscript].

 

Full Citation for This Article: Cassler, V. H. (2010) "Polygamy," SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerPolygamy.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

1) Kathryn Bankhead, May 26, 2010

I was inspired, relieved, and thrilled to read the ideas put forth by V.H. Cassler about the Lord's law of marriage. I realize that doctrine is revealed and confirmed through the proper channels of the LDS church prophet, currently Pres. Thomas Monson and live my life according to that principal. But like so many Church members, male and female, I have never understood or liked the doctrine of Celestial Marriage that, on the surface, appears to say that plural marriage, or polygamy, is God ordained and the only kind of eternal marriage. I have calmed my heart by accepting the fact that "my ways are not your ways" and that God would make this doctrine clear and beautiful to me in the next life, for He would not force me to live a principal that was revulsive and heart breaking to me.

The ideas presented by the author put polygamy into the Abrahamic Sacrifice category, ie: a rare commandment, given by the Lord on rare occasions as a test of faithfulness. The test is rewarded with joy when the command is RESCINDED, not carried out. I loved and so appreciated the Lord's apparent understanding and lack of criticism since no one was happy with the command given to Abraham, Sara, and Hagar to endure polygamy. Each person involved was hurt by the situation, and yet God blessed and comforted each of them because they were willing to live under those difficult circumstances in order to raise up seed UNTO THE LORD for HIS purposes. They were ultimately released from this trial, as were the weary saints of this dispensation.

Hurrah at last for Emma and Joseph! Hurrah for the millions of Mormons who have swallowed hard when considering anything to do with polygamy, whether from the scriptures or in today's media. Hurrah for the idea that my former husband, to whom I am contentedly sealed in spite of our divorce, is simply a proxy in the "sealing links" until another takes that spot in his stead when I am sealed to someone with whom I can be "equally yoked" IF I am worthy. I will enjoy and share these ideas as a new pieces of "good news" that haven't been seen in this way anywhere else, to my knowledge.

I'll have to wait for this to be taught as "official" doctrine in some future General Conference. Maybe it will be shouted from the roof tops in great rejoicing and relief by those who think it makes more sense and clarifies the apparent conflicts between various scriptures in which the Lord either condemns or commands multiplicity of wives. It has always seemed inconsistant and difficult to understand or explain. Until then, I'll order the author's book. I suspect I'll like some of the other ideas presented there!