It is abundantly clear to anybody who has studied the topic, that the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from Joseph Smith, the first President of the Church, to Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church, taught that plural marriage was essential to exaltation. It is also clear that this teaching was not just a statement that one person made at one obscure time. This was taught repeatedly in conferences, meetings, publications, and personal journals by several different people over a number of years. Below are a few examples.
The same God that has thus far dictated me and directed me and strengthened me in this work, gave me this revelation and commandment on Celestial and plural marriage and the same God commanded me to obey it. He said to me that unless I accepted it and introduced it, and practiced it, I, together with my people, would be damned and cut off from this time hence forth… It is an eternal principle and was given by way of commandment and not by way of instruction. – Contributor, v. 5, p. 259
The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. – Journal of Discourses, v. 11, pg. 269
We could not obtain a fullness of celestial glory without this sealing ordinance or the institution called the patriarchal order of marriage, which is one of the most glorious principles of our religion. – Journal of Discourses, v. 13, pg. 167
The principles of Plural Marriage were revealed for the benefit and exaltation of the children of men. – Journal of Discourses, v. 18, pg. 375
Plural marriage was so important that even when it was not accepted as a law of the church, the leaders of the church still secretly practiced it and allowed others to do the same. In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith’s personal secretary, William Clayton, was told by Joseph that “if they raise trouble about it and bring you before me, I will give you an awful scourging and probably cut you off from the church and then I will baptize you again and set you ahead as good as ever.” After the Manifesto of 1890, Wilford Woodruff and several of the apostles either married additional wives or performed said marriages. In the early 1900’s, two of these apostles were “willing to be humiliated” and kicked out of the Quorum of the Twelve not because they were being “charged with disobedience and transgression, but [because] we’ve all got in a box with the government and something must be done to meet this fight.” Years later, in the excommunication trial of one of these apostles, John W. Taylor, was asked who had been giving him the authority to perform these plural marriages. Essentially, his answer was that he didn’t do anything of the kind without the permission of the President of the Church, but he was not going to confirm or deny whether the President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, had given him permission. He said it was best to just leave it at that and that if he had said all he knew “there would be the [damnedest] time in this state you have ever had.” According to historian, D. Michael Quinn, Joseph F. Smith even authorized plural marriages after the second manifesto.
The point is that there is a whole history and many more teachings to this doctrine that most people have no clue about. Most members of the church think that Doctrine and Covenants 132 and the Manifesto are the only two statements from the Lord or His servants that have been given on the subject. This is not correct. There are numerous talks, statements, and several other revelations received by both John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff that give important insights into plural marriage. Take for instance, the revelation received by John Taylor on September 27, 1886. Part of the revelation states:
I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not, and as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory, they must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof.
As can be seen, the Lord emphatically says that those who enter His glory must obey the law of plural marriage. This is adding another witness to what Doctrine and Covenants 132 and the prophets had clearly already stated. However, not only did the prophets teach that exaltation required obedience to that principle, they also taught that the Lord would never revoke such a law.
There has been some talk about President Taylor issuing a revelation abolishing that system of marriage. When a revelation of that kind is given, it will be when the Lord has no use for the Latter-day Saints, and this will never transpire. – John W. Taylor
The Lord never will give a revelation to abandon plural marriage. – Wilford Woodruff
The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away. – Heber C. Kimball
We will never give up that Holy Law. – Brigham Young
The severest persecutions have never been followed by revelations changing a divine law, obedience to which brought imprisonment or martyrdom. Though I go to prison, God will not change His law of Celestial Marriage. – Lorenzo Snow
Not only did they teach that the Lord would never revoke the law of plural marriage, they also prophesied that the practice would continue.
We are not going to stop the practice of plural marriage until the Coming of the Son of Man. – Wilford Woodruff
The time would never come when children of polygamous parents would cease to be born in the Church. – Marriner W. Merrill
No year should pass before the coming of Jesus Christ, in which children would not be born under the holy covenant of the Patriarchal Order of Marriage. – John Taylor
In fact, they also taught that if plural marriage was given up, it would be because of the wickedness of the saints.
If we do not honor this great principle, God will surely take it from us. – Daniel H. Wells
Suppose that this Church should give up this holy order of marriage, then would the devil, and all who are in league with him against the cause of God, rejoice that they had prevailed upon the Saints to refuse to obey one of the revelations and commandments of God to them. – Brigham Young
So, what about the Manifesto then? Wasn’t that a revelation from God revoking plural marriage? If the Lord’s prophets really speak the truth, then it would appear that the 1886 revelation to John Taylor, the first manifesto, and the second manifesto relieved the church, in whole, from the responsibility of teaching and practicing plural marriage. What is the reason for this? The prophets taught that the reason the church was relieved of its commandment to practice plural marriage was due to the wickedness of the saints and their rejection of it.
In Jacob chapter 2 in the Book of Mormon, we all readily accept that the Lord revoked the command to live plural marriage. But what was the reason for this? By reading the full chapter, we can see why. The Prophet Jacob taught that they were “beginning to labor in sin” (v. 5) “that many of [them] have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores” (v. 12) that they were “lifted up in the pride of [their] hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of [their] apparel, and persecute [their] brethren because [they] suppose that [they] are better” (v. 13). He also said that they began to “wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms” (v. 23). For these reasons “there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife” (v. 27). Modern prophets have taught that none but the righteous are authorized or even commanded to live the law of plural marriage. It makes sense that the people during Jacob’s day would have this command revoked. In our day, the same thing happened.
Joseph F. Smith said that “many thousands of [the members] never received it or believed it.” John Taylor stated that “some men try to twist round the principle in any way and every way they can. They want to sneak out of it in some way.” He even received an anonymous letter asking him to “take it to the Lord” to see if the Lord would renounce the practice. George Q. Cannon said that “appeal after appeal was made… from members of the Church, to do something to ward off what they termed appalling results that would follow persistence in [maintaining] the practice of plural marriage.” John T. Caine, Franklin D. Richards, and Charles W. Penrose said that they “had always informed people that the leaders of the church considered plural marriage mandatory but that those that had not entered into it plainly showed by their acts that they did not agree with this position.” Even those outside of church leadership saw this rejecting the prophets mentality. When testifying in front of the United States Senate during the Reed Smoot hearings, prosecuting attorney, Hiram E. Booth, said that “98 percent of the Mormon people are against polygamy… the sentiment of the younger members of the church has been against polygamy.” So once the Manifesto was finally given, Joseph F. Smith said it was because “the saints rejected [plural marriage],” Reed Smoot said that the Manifesto “came from pressure within the church,” and John H. Smith said it was because the “people are unworthy.”
As can be seen from above, the Lord and His servants clearly taught that we would not, in fact, that we could not, give up the commandment to live plural marriage. Brigham Young said that if we did “this Church cannot advance as God wishes.” Heber C. Kimball said that “the whole of them would be damned.” George Q. Cannon taught that “our Church would cease to be the Church of God.” John Taylor said, “God would reject the Saints as a body” and that “the keys [would] be turned against us.”
How can this be reconciled with the church stopping plural marriages? The only answer is that while the church, in general, was relieved of the duty to live plural marriage, as can be seen by the actions of the leaders of the church, the responsibility of the individual to live the doctrine as a principle of the gospel was still in force, as was the case in Joseph Smith’s time.
Today, we even acknowledge this idea that the church doesn’t need to be commanded to do something while the individual still is commanded to. Everybody who has received their endowment has made a covenant to live the law of consecration. Does the church, as a whole, currently live the law of consecration? No. Yet, we have still covenanted to do so. Why is this? Because as the Lord told John Taylor:
All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.
So where does this leave us today in regards to plural marriage? As has been taught by Apostle Bruce R. McConkie and others,
Plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation. – Mormon Doctrine, p. 523.
Obviously, there is a stark contradiction here. Either plural marriage is essential for exaltation or it is not. Truth cannot change. Were the early leaders wrong about it? Are the current leaders wrong about it? Are they both wrong about it? Or are they both right about it?
Maybe our answer is that the current prophets have received further light and knowledge about it? If that is the case, then God clearly went back on His word in His revelation to John Taylor. Additionally, Joseph Smith taught that one of the ways we can detect if something is false is by it contradicting a former revelation. This would also beg the question, what else are we being taught today that is a result of our limited understanding? In 2, 30, or 100 years from now, what other “truths” could be disregarded? Is The Family: A Proclamation to the World subject to change? How do we know if we even need to be married to gain exaltation? Could it turn out that baptism isn’t really essential? In all of these instances, are we only going off of the limited understanding of our current prophets? Where is the line drawn in this argument? Where is the logic?
If that is not the answer, then maybe the early prophets were wrong about it? Well, if they were wrong about something so huge and important, 1) were they really prophets? 2) if they weren’t prophets, how did the current prophets get the priesthood keys? 3) if they were prophets and were just wrong, were they wrong about anything else and how do we know if the current prophets are wrong about stuff they teach today?
The Lord’s servants have taught that the prophets cannot lead the people astray. However, the Lord has also given His people the law of common consent, a law by which the people of the church can govern themselves and choose what commandments they, as a church, have a duty to obey. The law of common consent, however, does not relieve the individual from his duty to obey commandments from God.
In studying the history of the church, it would appear that the Lord’s servants have led the people astray since there is stuff that has been changed. Doctrines about plural marriage that were taught as being eternal truths have changed. Doctrines about the nature of God are not even talked about anymore. Some ordinances have changed. Prophets don’t teach certain things anymore. Other prophets are thrown under the bus because their teachings are not “politically correct” even though they are backed by several other prophets and scripture. It’s a mess.
It’s not a mess without consequences either. Plenty of people who start researching and studying for themselves see the changes and instead of building their faith, it destroys it and they end up leaving the church because they come to the conclusion that it is all just a hoax. What some people consider to be “anti-Mormon lies” turns out to just be the words of the prophets. Maybe that is the answer? Maybe it is all just a hoax? Hardly, there is more evidence to support the restoration of the gospel than there is to disprove it.
So, what then? Have the prophets led the people astray? No, or else God is a liar. We, through the law of common consent, have led ourselves astray. We are the ones who rejected plural marriage, not the prophets. We are the ones who rejected certain teachings about God, not the prophets. We are the ones who, through surveys, have asked for changes in temple ordinances. We are the ones who have rejected the prophets teachings about socialism, government, and the Constitution. We are the ones who have chosen to throw different prophets under the bus because their teachings are not “politically correct.” We have forgotten that the Lord’s “thoughts are not [our] thoughts, neither are [our] ways [His] ways.”
So what do we do? Where do we go from here? Well, first, we can start by actually obeying what the prophets have taught. Study your scriptures. Go to church. Pray. Study the words of the prophets, not just what is said in conference, but ALL of the words of the prophets. What we learn at church and in conference is a very surface level understanding of the gospel. General conference is broadcast to a worldwide audience to people with all sorts of different levels of understanding. People who have never even heard of God can tune in and listen to conference. Because of this, the speakers must make it so everybody can understand what they are teaching and because of this, it is very surface level. As such, we need to study the words of the prophets in the scriptures, in their books, in their publications, their journals, etc.
The gospel does not contradict itself and the Lord’s servants do not contradict each other. The contradictions that we may see is because we, the members, have rejected the higher laws and teachings so the prophets are forced to give us what we can handle and are ready to receive. We learn in the Book of Mormon that we receive more when we obey and when we disobey, stuff is taken away.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little;and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. – 2 Nephi 28:30
In the days of the Prophet Samuel, the Israelites exercised the law of common consent to reject the Lord’s higher law of government and, instead, chose to have a king, even though this was contrary to the will of the Lord. But because the Lord respects our agency, He allowed them to have the king they desired.
Then the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. – 1 Samuel 8:4-9
The Jews in Christ’s day rejected him because He said He was their King and His teachings appeared to contradict the law of Moses when, in fact, His teachings fulfilled the law of Moses and were actually the higher law. Joseph Smith taught that if He were to come today, we would reject Him just like the Jews did.
If Christ should come to the earth and preach such rough things as He preached to the Jews… this generation would reject Him… Many men will say, “I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times.” But the moment you teach them some of the of mysteries of the kingdom of God that are retained in the heavens and are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for them, they will be the first to stone you and put you to death.
Joseph Smith also lamented about how hard it was to get the things and mysteries of God into the minds of the Latter-Day Saints.
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.
Once again, we have forgotten that the Lord’s “thoughts are not [our] thoughts, neither are [our] ways [His] ways.” President Ezra Taft Benson taught that when we don’t act on what the Lord has taught us, we “lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let [us] suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail.”
When we reject what the Lord has given us, He allows “delusions” to be sent to condemn us for our unrighteousness and unwillingness to live the truth.
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12
This has even been taught in our day by a modern prophet, Brigham Young.
I told the people, years and years ago, that the Lord wished them to believe in revelation; and that if they did not believe what he had revealed, he would let the Devil make them believe in revelation.
We must be careful of the “delusions” and false “revelations” God allows to be sent because of our disobedience and our lack of love for the truth. We can’t reject what the prophets have said simply because it was said 100 years ago or because the current prophets don’t teach the same thing or because it is “contrary to [our] traditions.” We must study all of the gospel from all of the prophets because it can all be circumscribed into “one great whole.”
Okay, so what about plural marriage? Are we supposed to live it? Clearly, yes. However, as has always been taught by all of God’s prophets, no plural marriages are authorized in the sight of the Lord without the authority of the one holding the keys. If the key-holder does not give us permission to live this law for one reason or another, we must wait for the time when the church will once again be under commandment to live it, as has been prophesied.
He will yet open doors that the principle of plural marriage can and will be restored. – Wilford Woodruff
The time will come when this nation will ask to have a law of plural marriage established, and it will be practiced again in Israel. – Marriner Merrill
President Snow… bore his testimony to the effect that it will again be practiced by this people. – Heber J. Grant