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The Mormon Temple as a Lasting Relic of Polygamy


Ever wonder what today's Mormon Church would be like if Joseph Smith had never practiced polygamy?

Here's just a few of the lasting legacies due to Joseph Smith "restoring" the doctrine of Polygamy:

1. Creation of Temple Endowment Ceremony
In order to keep Smith's Polygamy a secret, he came up with the temple endowment with its oaths of secrecy. On Wednesday, May 4th, 1842, Joseph Smith initiated nine men into his new inner-circle called the "Holy Order," the "Quorum," the "Holy Order of the Holy Priesthood," or the "Quorum of the Anointed." For the first year, only a very select few men received the endowment and all were sworn to secrecy based on a death oath. By using a secret ceremony and oaths, Smith was able to keep his practice of polygamy a secret for years. History of the Church Volume 5:1 documents these first meetings and the participants. They were all in Smith's inner-circle of polygamy. Heber C. Kimball's journal (1840-45) also describes the introduction of the secret endowment as it relates to polygamy.

2. Closing of Temple Marriages
The practice of closed Temple marriages started with polygamy. Before polygamy in Nauvoo, mormon marriages were performed anywhere. In fact, those performed in the Kirtland Temple were open to non members! Joseph Smith's own diary lists marriages he performed in the temple, which included non-members as participants and as witnesses. See "The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 1835-1836." Today, mormons have the tradition of closed temple marriages as a direct legacy of Smith's attempt to keep polygamy a closely-guarded secret. When he was marrying other men's wives without their knowledge, he had to have the ceremonies closed and secret.

3. Concept of Eternal Marriage
Until Smith started secretly practicing polygamy, Smith taught that marriage was until death only. That's right - the doctrine of "together forever" started when he began proposing to other women. He told them that marrying him would "seal" their whole family to him "forever." But before these proposals, Smith believed and taught that marriage ended at death. In fact, before Nauvoo, his love letters to his first wife Emma reflect his beliefs. In a letter to Emma on May 18th, 1834, Smith signed "...your husband until death." Writing from Carthage Jail on 4 November 1838, Smith told his wife "If I do not meet you again in this life may God grant that we may somehow meet in heaven."

4. The term "Celestial Marriage"
Modern mormons think this means monogamous temple marriage. Actually, this term always referred exclusively to plural marriage until the 1890s. Until that time, faithful members married in the temple to only one spouse did not have a celestial marriage! According to ALL Church presidents until 1890, celestial marriage was achieved only by marriage to multiple wives. See 27 Rules of Celestial Marriage, by Apostle Orson Pratt. Also, William Clayton said: "From Joseph Smith I learned that the doctrine of plural and celestial marriage is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on the earth, and that without obedience to that principle, no man can ever attain to the fullness of exaltation in celestial glory." Historical Record, Vol. 6, pp. 225-227. Read even more historical references here: celestial marriage references

5. The Practice of "Sealings"
Once again, before polygamy, marriage was just that; marriage. But to take on a second wife, especially one that was already married, a new term needed to be used, so it wouldn't sound like adultery. Smith chose to call his plural marriages "sealings." Reference from Emma Hale Smith Biography, page 140: "Simultaneously with the endowment and plural marriage, Joseph formalized a third concept. He explained to Emma (for the first time) that husbands and wives could be married, 'sealed,' forever by proper priesthood authority. Understanding this new doctrine led to the next step, which was the marriage of a living husband to several living wives. This doctrine seemed to alleviate some of the repugnance to plural marriage." This allowed women that already had husbands to say they were married to their first husband, but sealed to Smith. Although women had sex with both Smith and their husbands, they perceived the marriage contract different.

6. Creation and Wearing of Secret Garments
These too, were a result of Smith's polygamous affairs. It started with the secret circle of men that accepted and practiced his plural wife doctrine. It was his way of setting them apart from monogamous men. It was originally the "uniform" required for men to perform spiritual wifery. Reference from Emma Hale Smith Biography, page 140: "After being involved in the construction and design of the garments, the building of the temple, and hearing about their place in the endowment in the Relief Society (by Smith), why had women not been admitted to the Endowment? Joseph taught that a man must obey God to be worthy of the endowment and that a wife must obey a righteous husband to merit the same reward. Until Emma could be obedient to Joseph (see D&C Sec. 132) and give him plural wives, she could not participate in the endowment ceremonies, yet Smith taught her that the endowment was essential for exaltation."

Brigham Young and Joseph F. Smith condemned Smith for taking off his garments before he went to Carthage Jail. Part of their reason was that it was a sign he had regretted his practice of polygamy. "Smith removed his own endowment "robe" or garment before he went to Carthage Jail and told those with him to do likewise. His nephew Joseph F. Smith later explained, "When Willard Richards was solicited [by Smith] to do the same, he declined, and it seems little less than marvelous that he was preserved without so much as a bullet piercing his garments."" (The Mormon Hierarchy : Origins of Power, page 146) Michael Quinn references Heber J. Grant journal sheets, 7 June 1907, LDS Archives.

7. Design of Modern Temples
Why was the Nauvoo temple so different than the Kirtland temple? Both came from the same unchanging God, right? The Kirtland Temple was actually an expensive church, not an endowment house like the Nauvoo temple. Modern temples with their closed doors, secret ceremonies and odd clothing started in the polygamy-inspired Navuoo temple. In fact, the whole concept of a "Celestial Room" was created to reinforce the doctrine that Smith would be with all of his wives in "heaven" as one big family. The touching experience today when mormon families reunite after the veil in the temple, started out as an experience Smith could use to show how polygamy worked in heaven.

Polygamy (one man married to two or more living wives) may not be practiced today in the church, but its influence on church doctrine and practices still haunts the lives of millions of active members. The temple endowment, garments and oaths of secrecy all have their origins in Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy.




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