I recently rediscovered the church's essay about the end of polygamy I don't remember what specific issue I was digging into, but Official Declaration 1 was involved in my curiosity, and that led me back to this shining example of apologetic logical chaos. It was a lot more troublesome than I remembered. And, of course, I'm going to discuss why I thought so. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, I will begin at the beginning, go on until I come to the end, and then stop.
For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman.
Phrasing the issue as "the marriage of one man to more than one woman" makes it sound like we're not going to be talking about polyandry. There's no mention of the marriage of one woman to more than one man. I wonder why that is.
My guess? Because that would point to some of the slimier aspects of an already slimy practice. Modern Mormons are often able to make peace with polygamy since it was such a long time ago, but this is usually possible because the more unpalatable details are shrouded. The church was relatively honest in the other polygamy essay by mentioning that Joseph wed Helen Mar Kimball "several months before her 15th birthday." But if more members knew that some of these wives were young women living in the Smith household, or that Joseph married women who already had husbands, or that he married women after sending their husbands or fathers on missions, they may find it more difficult to leave polygamy on the shelf.
However, it's definitely not a good sign that this essay kicks things off with such a significant lie of omission in the very first sentence. Continuing:
Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event. Revelation came “line upon line, precept upon precept.”
Remember this comment for later. This essay is going to do a pretty good job of showing that the decisions made by church leaders in regards to polygamy align pretty closely with what you'd expect from humans with no divine foreknowledge. It wasn't line upon line. It was concession upon concession.
For half a century, beginning in the early 1840s, Church members viewed plural marriage as a commandment from God, an imperative that helped “raise up” a righteous posterity unto the Lord.
That is some interesting wording. Notice that it doesn't say the church taught that this was its stance on polygamy or that this was the doctrinal truth of polygamy during that time period—it's just how church members viewed it. They're throwing the members under the bus and trying to keep the prophets above culpability. Which is kind of shitty. I mean, why do you think the church members viewed plural marriage this way? Was it some kind of spontaneously generated mass delusion or was it because their leaders told them that's how plural marriage works?
Also, if polygamy was an imperative to raise up a righteous posterity, why would Joseph Smith need to marry women who already had righteous husbands? Why is it so hard to determine if Joseph Smith had any children by his wives? And what's so inferior about monogamous marriages that prevent them from adequately raising up a righteous posterity? This explanation sounds fine when you don't think about it, but if you're willing to analyze some of the underlying details, it has serious logical flaws and serious unanswered questions.
Many Latter-day Saints embarked on a course of civil disobedience during the 1880s by continuing to live in plural marriage and to enter into new plural marriages. The federal government responded by enacting ever more punishing legislation.
Does civil disobedience qualify as "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law"? I understand the argument that God's commandments take precedence over secular law, but if that's going to be the approach, we shouldn't get to whine about persecution and we shouldn't pretend like the twelfth article of faith is actually a meaningful aspect of our faith. Believing in being subject to the law when you have no conflict with the law is fair-weather civic responsibility. It's like saying you strongly support a woman's right to choose but only when she chooses not to have an abortion. Imagine trying to fit in with the pro-choice crowd with that attitude.
I'm also not crazy about the nobility of the phrase "civil disobedience." I hope we're not pretending early Mormon polygamists are as heroic as Ghandi or Dr. King.
This government opposition strengthened the Saints’ resolve to resist what they deemed to be unjust laws. Polygamous men went into hiding, sometimes for years at a time, moving from house to house and staying with friends and relatives. Others assumed aliases and moved to out-of-the-way places in southern Utah, Arizona, Canada, and Mexico.
...This antipolygamy campaign created great disruption in Mormon communities. The departure of husbands left wives and children to tend farms and businesses, causing incomes to drop and economic recession to set in.
Why are we blaming economic recession on leaving the work to the women? Apparently the women of Deseret during the late nineteenth century weren't made of the same stock as the women of America during World War II.
It's also kind of weird that the men left their families. Sure, they were fleeing prosecution, but wouldn't it make more sense to move their entire family to these out-of-the-way places? I'm sure that would be a huge undertaking, but wouldn't it beat an indefinite separation? Or they could merely stop cohabiting with more than one wife, which is exactly what this essay will later say men did after the first manifesto: "other husbands stopped cohabiting with all but one of their wives but continued to provide financial and emotional support to all dependents."
The campaign also strained families. New plural wives had to live apart from their husbands, their confidential marriages known only to a few. Pregnant women often chose to go into hiding, at times in remote locales, rather than risk being subpoenaed to testify in court against their husbands. Children lived in fear that their families would be broken up or that they would be forced to testify against their parents. Some children went into hiding and lived under assumed names.
That sucks and all, but I don't like the way this is presented in the spirit of victimhood. The parents did something that they knew was against the law. Regardless of whether that law is justified, these polygamists knew the risks they were taking. They're not quite as passively victimized as they're made out to be.
None of this should diminish the legitimate struggles church members must have had, however. Even if you thought the right course of action was to live polygamy and to abide by the law of the land, moving your huge family down to Mexico surely would not have been a simple or painless operation. But considering how much the early saints are glorified for suffering in the name of their religion as they were driven from place to place (or for suffering incarceration, as in the quote immediately below), it's surprising that more people weren't willing to pack up and move to where they could legally practice their beliefs.
Incarceration for “conscience’ sake” proved edifying for many. George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, emerged from his five months in the Utah penitentiary rejuvenated. “My cell has seemed a heavenly place, and I feel that angels have been there,” he wrote.
A self-important sense of martyrdom doesn't make you right.
Encountering strong resistance to your beliefs can often reinforce them in your mind. This happens to Mormons, ex-Mormons, Democrats, Republicans, Anti-vaxxers, Flat Earthers, and people who think Greedo shot first. These early Mormon polygamists' willingness to endure punishment for the glory of their convictions may be indicative of the intensity of those convictions, but it is not indicative of truth—which means this paragraph doesn't really accomplish anything other than stoking Mormonism's seemingly endless appetite for virtuous martyrdom and noble persecution.
Church leaders prayerfully sought guidance from the Lord and struggled to understand what they should do. Both President John Taylor and President Wilford Woodruff felt the Lord directing them to stay the course and not renounce plural marriage.
This inspiration came when paths for legal redress were still open.
If the inspiration to stay the course came while paths to legal redress were still open, what indicates to us that it was actually inspiration? Still trying while there's hope and then giving up once hope is gone is what a human without the benefit of divine prophecy would do. It would have been impressive if the leaders had received inspiration to stay the course and were later able to achieve legal redress, thus validating the intervening struggle. But inspiration that mirrors mortal decision-making doesn't seem useful. And it sure doesn't make it sound like God was being very helpful.
God inspired me to brush my teeth this morning. That's what I was going to do anyway, sure, but I swear I received revelation on the subject.
"The Lord showed me by vision and revelation," he later said, "exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice," referring to plural marriage. "All the temples [would] go out of our hands." God "has told me exactly what to do, and what the result would be if we did not do it."
Did God tell you or did you just read the Tucker Edmonds Act and see which way the wind was blowing? Again, this is a decision-making dynamic that is attributed to God but demonstrates no superhuman foresight or foreknowledge and sounds like exactly what a normal human-made decision would have been under the circumstances.
Despite countless difficulties, many Latter-day Saints were convinced that the antipolygamy campaign was useful in accomplishing God’s purposes. They testified that God was humbling and purifying His covenant people as He had done in ages past.
Ah, so that's the explanation for why the prophets were inspired to stay the course. Because God was humbling his people through persecution. I guess it's tough to refute that, other than to say that God truly works in mysterious ways because it seems like the only way to tell the difference between punishment and humblement is the membership status of the victims.
The essay lays things out pretty clearly and in pretty mundane, everyday, humany detail, so it sounds like God was phoning it in and merely confirming common sense. It's also interesting that God commanded the prophet to abrogate a practice that Brigham Young previously indicated was essential for exaltation. And when God finally did instruct his servants to cave, it was simply because a man-made government was attaching legal penalties to the policy in question--not for a doctrinal reason or for any kind of revelatory paradigm shift.
The Manifesto was carefully worded to address the immediate conflict with the U.S. government. “We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice,” President Woodruff said. “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise."
The quote here from Woodruff is a bit misleading. These two thoughts are in separate paragraphs in the Manifesto with a lengthy sentence between them. But more importantly, even though the Manifesto does directly address US law, it does not mention any territory or government when it declares that polygamy is neither taught nor permitted.
The Manifesto may have been carefully worded, but not carefully enough to provide coverage for modern apologists. Since this essay admits the church was approving marriages outside the United States (and in Utah as well) into the early years of the 20th century, that means that Woodruff was being dishonest and the church leadership was behaving contrary to the Manifesto's assertions.
And yes, I know that the usual refutation for an accusation like this is that it's silly to believe that prophets are perfect, since it's widely taught that God must choose imperfect men to lead his church. But there's a difference between imperfect and actively immoral. And when a pattern emerges challenging the moral credibility of prophet after prophet, it begins to look like either God is a poor judge of character, God doesn't actually care who he puts in charge, or that maybe God has nothing to do with which asshole is in power.
The Manifesto was formally presented to the Church at the semiannual general conference held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in October 1890. On Monday, October 6, Orson F. Whitney, a Salt Lake City bishop, stood at the pulpit and read the Articles of Faith, which included the line that Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” These articles were sustained by uplifted hand. Whitney then read the Manifesto, and Lorenzo Snow, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, moved that the document be accepted as “authoritative and binding.”
The voting at General Conference sure has changed in the last 100 years, huh? I don't remember voting on the Proclamation on the Family. But Dallin H. Oaks has decided that it represents authoritative and binding doctrine:
In contrast, Latter-day Saints affirm that the family proclamation defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.
Converted Latter-day Saints believe that the family proclamation, issued nearly a quarter century ago and now translated into scores of languages, is the Lord’s reemphasis of the gospel truths we need to sustain us through current challenges to the family.
I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life. It has been the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future. Consider it as such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.
But we've heard enough from Oaks. Let's get back to the celebrated ghostwriters of this gospel topics essay:
The Manifesto was formally presented to the Church at the semiannual general conference held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in October 1890. On Monday, October 6, Orson F. Whitney, a Salt Lake City bishop, stood at the pulpit and read the Articles of Faith, which included the line that Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” These articles were sustained by uplifted hand.
voted as the fourth standard work by the church in 1880.
Again, this is hardly my strongest criticism, but I don't see why the reading and sustaining of the Articles of Faith is a necessary detail to include here, since this paragraph is about the vote to adopt the Manifesto as binding. Bringing up a different document—without mentioning that it had been binding for ten years by this point—and then talking about how the assembly raised their hands to affirm it is a weird way to go about narrating the Manifesto's introduction to the church membership. I imagine that Whitney was essentially reminding the congregation of their belief in submitting to secular law before reading a Manifesto that could have been unpopular with a certain segment of the population. But that's not how it's presented here.
Certainly, the above quote is not a lie. And certainly, I can't demonstrate that it was written with the intent to deceive. But I do think the construction is peculiar enough to support a theory that this was worded in such a way as to realistically generate members' honest misunderstandings of the conflict between the twelfth Article of Faith and plural marriage.
The assembly was then asked to vote on this motion. The Deseret News reported that the vote was “unanimous”; most voted in favor, though some abstained from voting.
"Unanimous" does not mean some people abstained. The Latin roots that make up that word mean "one" and "mind." If some people are not of a mind to visibly approve of a measure, I don't see how everyone is of one mind. Some of them are merely condoning rather than affirming. Perhaps that's splitting hairs, but at the very least I think that wording counts as abiding by the letter of the definition instead of the spirit of the definition. It satisfies the denotation but not the connotation. The essay uses the word "unanimous" to put the best possible not-technically-dishonest spin on the 19th century Saints' reception of the Manifesto.
Having lived, taught, and suffered for plural marriage for so long, it was difficult to imagine a world without it.
If you substitute the phrase "the church" in for "plural marriage" here, it nails why so many people stay in the church. Interesting that the institution of the church can muster up empathy for members who struggled with the end of polygamy more easily than it can muster up empathy for members who have moved away from correlated orthodox Mormonism.
The Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States. It said nothing about the laws of other nations.
This may be the shittiest, weaselliest line in this entire essay. Yes, it did declare the intent to obey the laws of the United States. Yes, it said nothing about the laws of other nations. Both these statements are true, but they are used in service of a lie. This paragraph goes on to discuss polygamous marriages in Canada and Mexico with the implication that these were performed without contradicting the Manifesto. That is plainly inaccurate. Let's revisit a crucial section of the Manifesto that, importantly, says nothing about the laws of any nation:
We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
Sure, it mentions the Utah Territory. But the part of the sentence that basically says polygamy is over does not provide any geographic restraints. It goes so far as to insist that the church was not permitting any person to enter into polygamy. Regardless of what country or territory the church was allowing plural marriages in after 1890, it was in direct conflict with the Manifesto. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.
If they meant for people to know they planned to continue teaching and practicing polygamy in other locations besides the United States, this was the perfect place to say so—which makes it very significant that they declined to.
The ledger of “marriages and sealings performed outside the temple,” which is not comprehensive, lists 315 marriages performed between October 17, 1890, and September 8, 1903. Of the 315 marriages recorded in the ledger, research indicates that 25 (7.9%) were plural marriages and 290 were monogamous marriages (92.1%). Almost all the monogamous marriages recorded were performed in Arizona or Mexico. Of the 25 plural marriages, 18 took place in Mexico, 3 in Arizona, 2 in Utah, and 1 each in Colorado and on a boat on the Pacific Ocean. Overall, the record shows that plural marriage was a declining practice and that Church leaders were acting in good conscience to abide by the terms of the Manifesto as they understood them.
How? How does the record showing that the church leaders permitted polygamous marriages up to 13 years after they declared it was no longer practiced demonstrate that they were acting in good conscience?
Even based on this essay's insistence that the Manifesto only applied to US territories, this still shows that the church allowed 6 plural marriages in the US after they'd stated their intent not to do so. How is that acting in good conscience? The Manifesto did not say that the church would allow the practice to decline—the Manifesto was a statement that, as of 1890, the church was already not teaching polygamy and planned to submit to the United States' anti-polygamy laws. Clearly, that was not true.
Apostle Heber J. Grant, for example, reported that while visiting Mormon settlements in Mexico in 1900, he received 10 applications in a single day requesting plural marriages. He declined them all. “I confess,” he told a friend, “that it has always gone against my grain to have any violations of documents [i.e. the Manifesto] of this kind.”
Okay, so that means that Heber J. Grant thought that permitting polygamous marriages—even in Mexico—constituted a violation of the Manifesto. Again, based on an apostle's words, how was the church acting in good conscience to abide by the terms of the Manifesto as they understood them if Grant understood them the same way I do?
Church President Lorenzo Snow issued a statement clarifying that new plural marriages had ceased in the Church and that the Manifesto extended to all parts of the world, counsel he repeated in private.
Why did the second Manifesto need to clarify that polygamy was discontinued in all countries if the first one didn't specify any country in which it should still have been taught or allowed?
Even so, a small number of new plural marriages continued to be performed, probably without President Snow’s knowledge or approval. After Joseph F. Smith became Church President in 1901, a small number of new plural marriages were also performed during the early years of his administration.
Notice how there's no citation after the assertion that plural marriages were probably performed without Snow's knowledge. It seems like they're saying, in effect, "we have no evidentiary basis for this either way, but we choose to assume the best, because that's how we roll when it comes to historical scholarship." It's also notable that there's no disclaimer that the illicit marriages performed during Joseph F. Smith's tenure were probably done without his permission or knowledge. Based on the utter lack of credibility and intellectual scruples demonstrated in this essay, I have to wonder if that isn't an under-the-radar admission that Joseph F. Smith knew about or authorized some polygamous unions.
When questioned about new plural marriages performed since 1890, President Smith carefully distinguished between actions sanctioned by the Church and ratified in Church councils and conferences, and the actions undertaken by individual members of the Church. “There never has been a plural marriage by the consent or sanction or knowledge or approval of the church since the manifesto,” he testified.
The citation on this particular quote references the published transcript of the Reed Smoot hearings, available here (the above quote is on page 130). This is the same hearing in which Joseph F. Smith testified that new apostles are chosen by the Quorum of the Twelve and not by revelation (page 92), and proclaimed "I have never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations" (page 99). This is not a faith-promoting document. It makes President Smith look evasive, uncooperative, and sometimes snarky (although I suppose it's tough to blame him, considering he was being dragged before the United States Senate to defend his religion while politicians debated whether his colleague was fit for public office). I suppose it may serve to humanize the prophet, but it also shows that his understanding of his calling is drastically different from how the church regards Russell M. Nelson today.
Also, according to this very essay, the denial in the paragraph I quoted above is false. Remember how we were just discussing that there were at least 25 plural marriages performed after the manifesto (although FAIR Mormon estimates that it's "fewer than two hundred"). These marriages required apostolic approval, but they still happened. Is this essay saying that the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perjured himself before the United States Senate?
In this legal setting, President Smith sought to protect the Church while stating the truth. His testimony conveyed a distinction Church leaders had long understood: the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.
The prophet, apparently, was claiming there was some kind of don't-ask-don't-tell policy in regards to polygamy. Which is clearly refuted, yet again, by this essay, because plural marriages after the Manifesto required apostolic approval. President Smith did not state the truth.
But let's go back to his congressional testimony. Shortly after sections of the 1890 Manifesto had been quoted on pages 105 and 106 of the transcript, we have this exchange:
Mr. Smith: Let me hear your question.
Mr. Tayler: That the suspension of the law commanding polygamy operated everywhere upon the Mormon people, whether within the United States or without?
Mr. Smith: That is our understanding, that it did.
Then, on page 108, when the prophet was being questioned about why polygamy was still canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants despite the Manifesto effectively repealing that law:
Mr. Tayler: And it remains now without expurgation or note or anything to show that it is not now a valid law?
Mr. Smith: In the book?
Mr. Tayler: In the book; exactly.
Mr. Smith: Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler: And in connection with the publication of the revelation itself.
Mr. Smith: But the fact is publicly and universally known by the people.
It sounds to me like the prophet was saying that the withdrawal of polygamy as a divine commandment following the first Manifesto was so widely known and understood among the Mormon membership that there wasn't even a need to put an asterisk in the Doctrine and Covenants to alert readers that the practice had been suspended.
Earlier in his testimony, Joseph F. Smith had clarified the four doctrinal books of Mormonism—including the Pearl of Great Price (added to the standard works more than twenty years prior), which contained the Articles of Faith and thus the creed that "we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
Everybody knew polygamy was no longer commanded. Everybody knew the secular law was to be obeyed. So...how, exactly, then, was Smith conveying a distinction between the church's removal of the divine command and individuals taking it upon themselves to continue the practice as a matter of religious conscience? A Mormon's religious conscience after 1890 should have compelled them not to take additional wives.
In fact, to take it a step further, if we use the apologetic approach to the condemnation of polygamy in Jacob 2—which is that polygamy is only okay when God commands it—then why the hell would any Mormon's religious conscience compel them to marry an extra wife after a prophet's Manifesto putting an end to the commandment had been adopted as binding on God's church by the law of common consent?
Beginning in the 1890s, as Church leaders urged members to remain in their native lands and "build Zion" in those places rather than migrate to Utah as in previous years, it became more important for them to abide the laws mandating monogamy.
So doctrine is dictated by social convenience and local legality, okay. And remember that the Articles of Faith were canonized in 1880, so I don't understand why abiding the laws weren't already a priority.
Let me conclude this grueling slog through the swamp of sophistry, the morass of mendacity, and the bog of bullshit with one final point:
"All that we can do," Cannon said, speaking of the First Presidency, "is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him."
Okay, sure, yeah, let's talk about the wisdom God exhibited when he instituted polygamy. It caused strife and multiple schisms in early church history, it brought the death of the founding prophet before any method of succession could be revealed, it delayed Mormon assimilation into society by giving fodder to anti-Mormons and delaying statehood for Utah, it was used as cause for the United States government to seize church assets, and in the modern era it often paints the beloved prophet in a lascivious and predatory light and continues to be mined for ammunition against the church's credibility, honesty, and truth claims.