Mormon Polygamy Overview

 
 
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Mormon Polygamy - Frequently Asked Questions


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Do mainstream Mormons practice polygamy today, as seen on shows like TLC Sister Wives or HBO Big Love?

No, they do not. The mainstream Mormon Church officially ended the practice of polygamy in 1890.

 

Why did Mormons first institute polygamy?

polygamy Church founder, Joseph Smith, said he received a revelation from God, which is still canonized Mormon scripture as Doctrine and Covenants Section 132. In the revelation, the Lord commands him to take virgins "an hundredfold in this world" for the purpose to "multiply and replenish the Earth" so "they may bear the souls of men." This was the only revealed reason Joseph Smith ever gave for the Mormon practice of polygamy. (D&C 132: 55, 62-63)

Joseph Smith also testified an angel with a sword came to him many times and commanded him to practice polygamy or else he would lose his life.

The second church leader, The Prophet Brigham Young, stated that the reason polygamy was instituted by the Lord was so that "noble spirits which are waiting for tabernacles (bodies) might be brought forth." (J of D 4:56)

 

When did Mormon polygamy start?

According to historical records, Mormon founder Joseph Smith first taught plural marriage as early as 1831. However, he did not start practicing it until around 1835. See: Joseph Smith's Polygamy Timeline Chart.

The practice remained very secret until the official church announcement on polygamy in 1852. Top Mormon Church leaders Brigham Young and Orson Pratt introduced the doctrine at a special church-wide conference in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

flds-polygamyDid early Mormons marry and have sex with teen brides, like the FLDS and RLDS today?

Yes. According to church history, Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith married eight underage girls, including one 14 year-old, two 16 year-olds and his own foster daughters. These marriages were not normal for the 1840s, especially to a man in his thirties that was already married. See: Teen polygamy in Early Mormonism.

 

How many Mormons were involved in polygamy?

Church historian Larry Logue's study indicated that in the 19th century, about 33% of Mormon households were polygamist. This included nearly all local and top church leaders and prominent Mormons in their communities.

 

big-love-polygamyHow many sister wives did the Mormon Church allow men to have?

In 1894, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff said that Brigham Young declared to him that since Solomon was chastised for having 1000 wives and concubines, it was felt that Latter-day Saints should not exceed 999. (Journal of Abraham H. Cannon, Vol. 18 April 5, 1894, pp 66-7)

How successful were Mormon polygamist marriages?

There were over 2000 divorces granted prior to the 1890 Manifesto. Brigham Young himself granted 1,645. Of the 72 general authorities who were polygamists, 39 had broken marriages, including 54 divorces, 26 separations and 1 annulment. (Utah Historical Quarterly, Winter 1978, p4)

How did Mormon sister wives feel about polygamy?

sister wivesAccording to their writings, Mormon women felt obligated by their religion to let their husbands take on more wives. These women wrote about their struggles with practicing polygamy and especially the jealousies and emotional neglect they felt. For example, Zina Young, a plural wife of Mormon Church President Brigham Young, explained in the New York World that the sister wives "expect too much attention from the husband, and because they do not get it, or see a little attention bestowed upon one of the other wives, they become sullen and morose, and permit their ill-temper to finally find vent." (See: What Mormon Women Really Felt About Polygamy)



How many wives did Mormon Church leaders have?

Church founder Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives. One was 14. Five others were 17 or under. He married five pairs of sisters. Two of which were his own adopted daughters. After his death, another 335 women were sealed to him, many of whom he did not know. (Religion and Sexuality, p 156)

mormon-polygamySecond LDS Church leader Brigham Young had 55 wives. Ten of them divorced him. At his death, Brigham Young's oldest child was 52 and his youngest was 7.

Third LDS Church leader John Taylor had 15 wives. Three wives divorced him. (A Book of Mormons, 1982, pg 354)

Fourth LDS Church leader Wilford Woodruff had at least 10 plural wives. According to his record, he was also sealed to 336 dead single women.

Fifth LDS Church leader Joseph F. Smith married at 20 and then married five others later. His first wife divorced him on the grounds of "adulterous intercourse" with his "concubines."

Did polygamist marriages produce more children than monogamous marriages?

No, plural marriages produced fewer children than monogamous marriages. "Plural marriage, including monogamous remarriage, actually slightly suppressed the total number of children born." (The Mormon People: Their Character and Traditions 1980)

Did Mormons ever share their wives with other men?

Yes, church founder Joseph Smith taught this practice to other church leaders and he married the wives of several of his followers. In some cases, the husbands did not know that Joseph Smith had married their wives polygamously. Second church leader Brigham Young also married the wives of other men, but the practice eventually went way after Mormons settled in Utah. (See: Sharing your spouse with the prophet)

 

I've heard that there were more women than men in the Mormon Church at that time, as the reason for polygamy. Is that true?

No, that is not correct. The U.S. census from 1850 to 1940 and all available records of the Utah church show that men outnumbered women in the church and in Utah. (Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, 1977, p360 and Utah Census and Polygamy) Church leaders never taught that polygamy was because there was a surplus of women or widows.

Was polygamy legal when Joseph Smith started it, or was it ever legal?

No, polygamy was illegal everywhere the Mormon Church practiced it, including Illinois, Mexico, Canada, and Utah. (See: Mormon Polygamy was never legal)

jesus polygamistI heard a Mormon say that Jesus was a polygamist. Did the Mormon Church ever teach that?

Yes, the Mormon Church has taught that Jesus was married and a polygamist. Church President Joseph F. Smith taught that at the marriage in Cana at Galilee, Jesus was the Bridegroom and Mary and Martha the brides. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, July 22, 1883)

The Prophet Brigham Young taught "The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple, with His train; I do not know who they were, unless His wives and children."
- The Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 13, p.309

Was polygamy ever a requirement in the Mormon Church?

In an 1884 Mormon Church general conference, church president John Taylor asked for all monogamists serving in ward bishoprics or stake presidencies either make preparations to marry a plural wife or to offer their resignations to the church office. (Abraham H. Cannon Journal, April 6, 1884, Vol. I pp 177-8)

Monogamous marriage has also been condemned by the Mormon Church as an evil system set up by the devil. For decades the church criticized monogamy and declared polygamy as "the only marriage system in heaven." (See: Mormon Marriage Teachings)

What happened when the United States Congress passed laws against polygamy?

Polygamists in the Mormon Church went into hiding. Church leader John Taylor spent the last two years of his life hiding on the Underground. (John Taylor Papers, Vol II, p. 337)

mormon polygamists

 

Were Mormon polygamists caught and arrested?

Yes. Over 1300 men and a few women were put in prisons in Arizona, Michigan, South Dakota, Idaho, and Utah. Of that number, 1035 were imprisoned in Utah. (Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 1 Winter 1979, p. 24)

When did the Mormon Church issue the Manifesto -- claiming the end of Mormon polygamy?

Church leader Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto in 1890. Many members were caught by surprise. Only three apostles approved the Manifesto in manuscript and half the church's top quorum were barely supportive when they met just before the church conference to discuss the newly published document. (Dialogue, Spring 1985, pp 46-7)

Did the Mormons follow the Manifesto ending polygamy?

No, many did not. In fact, church President Joseph F. Smith's wives bore him 13 children after the Manifesto, even though he publicly testified he was not "cohabiting" with them. (Dialogue, Spring 1985, p.83)

At least 3,300 children were born to Mormon men who married polygamously with official LDS Church authority from 1890 through 1904. (Dialogue, Spring 1985, pp. 3-104)

What do you mean "with LDS Church authority?" Did the church sanction polygamy after their Manifesto against it?

Yes, church leaders continued the practice. Many top church leaders, including apostles were known to have taken additional wives after the 1890 Manifesto. (Utah Historical Quarterly, Winter 1980, pp. 9, 19)

There is also strong evidence that Church President Wilford Woodruff, 8 years after issuing the Manifesto outlawing polygamy, married a Madame Mountford in Sept. 1897. (Wilford Woodruff Journals, 1896-97)

Is polygamy officially discussed in the Mormon Church now?

Not any more. All church manuals and documents no longer refer to polygamy. Even almanacs that give a biography of church leaders only list the first wife and no plural wives. Because of this, most Mormons today don't even know church founder Joseph Smith was a polygamist with at least 33 wives.

Members who are caught today practicing polygamy are typically ex-communicated.

Do Mormons believe polygamy will be practiced in heaven?

Many do, because the doctrine is still part of official Mormon scripture (See Doctrine and Covenants Section 132). However, there will not be enough females in heaven for polygamy. Mormons believe that all children who die before the age of 8 are "automatic" heirs to the highest heaven. An analysis indicates that of the 70 billion people or so that have been born on earth, the gender ratio has been about 104 males to 100 females. An estimated 47% of males and 44% of females have died before age eight. That means 1.7 billion more males than females have so far made it to the highest heaven in Mormon theology.

So, Mormons have completely abandoned polygamy on Earth?

Church Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated: "Obviously the holy practice (of polygamy) will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium." (Mormon Doctrine, 1966 edition)

 

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