Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Am LDS and Polygamy Makes Me Want To Vomit



How you can believe Joseph Smith was a prophet without understanding polygamy                                                 


The LDS Church renounced polygamy in 1890 (or 1904 depending on how you look at it). You can read all about that stuff HERE. The point is, it's been over for more than 100 years.

But that doesn't make me feel any better about it. The idea of polygamy makes me want to vomit.

If God himself appeared to me an asked me to practice polygamy, I would plead with him for mercy and ask "is there no other way?" 

A lot of LDS women feel this way, or variations of it. The disgust for it can run so deep it can leave a big whole of doubt in our testimonies of the Gospel or of Joseph Smith. 

So lets talk about it.

You can look at any polygamous family tree and see that it was definitely a useful tool in building up a lot of born and bred church members. Or in other words, it was effective in raising up a righteous generation. 

But what about those wives? What about sex? 

When the show Sister Wives came out, I eventually took an interest and watched an episode. And then another, and another, and another. As a member of the LDS Church I was fascinated by the practice of polygamy of this offshoot group that practices polygamy based on the teachings of Joseph Smith. 

Let's be clear, we're not the same church. They say that over and over on the show. They aren't LDS. Current polygamists with ties to Joseph Smith are all offshoot religions that split back in 1890-1904.

At first I watched like it was some sort of horror show. I'm embarrassed about that. It's not exactly a kind thing to do. They are real people after all. After a few episodes I started to see something besides horror. I started to see how my LDS Church ancestors might have benefited from polygamy. And that made me feel pretty weird. I saw how the women have to overcome things like pride and jealousy. Over the episodes, the Sister Wives earned my respect. Maybe polygamy can help you develop Christ-like attributes. They had a wonderful built in support system. There was a lot of love shown in their families. One wife was only able to have one child. Because of her polygamous family, her daughter had siblings and she was able to be a mother to many. I'm sure the Sister Wives aren't perfect, but it gave me a glimpse of how polygamy in the early days of the church might have worked and been a good thing.

Obviously not all polygamous families are this way. I don't have to look further than Warren Jeffs to feel the vomit coming up again. I suspect this is how it was back then too. Maybe for some men it was about the sex. Maybe it was about controlling women. But maybe for others it was a struggle. Maybe it taught some men patience, long-suffering, and other wonderful attributes. 

They say Joseph Smith had up to 30 wives. My first reaction is vomit. But then I slap myself and say, "but Joseph Smith was not Warren Jeffs." I read the Book of Mormon and I feel it. I feel that it is true. Joseph Smith did that. I read the account of the first vision and my soul is stunned. That was Joseph Smith. I go to the temple and I feel the presence of God. Joseph Smith did that. I may have never met Joseph Smith, but I kind of know him. I've seen what has come from him. 

I honestly don't understand Joseph Smith and polygamy, or any of my ancestors or early church members and their polygamous relationships for that matter. It feels so wrong to me, and maybe that is a good thing because that isn't what we are supposed to do anymore. I don't understand it, and maybe I never will. 

When the vomit starts to rise, I have to remember what I do know. I know those good feelings. I trust those good feelings. I have to remember all the times in my own life where I wonder what in the world God is thinking, and then later I see that it has all worked out for the best. I can't explain polygamy to anyone. I can't defend the practice. But I can explain what I do know. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. And I know that God works in mysterious ways. I won't always understand Him or His ways, but I know that He will always be right. 

I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. And polygamy still makes me want to vomit. And that's okay. 

6 comments:

  1. I am really glad that you have been able to lay this issue aside. Unlike you, I am not so firm in my testimony of Joseph Smith, so this issue really seems to bother me. I can say that I too watched Sister Wives, and they sure made it seem like a very reasonable way to live many times. Sometimes I joke and tell my husband we need a sister wife, especially on days when I am maxed with kids and the housework. It would be nice to have another adult around to help. I think what bothers me the most is I think our polygamy was a lot closer to the Warren Jeff's kind than the Sister Wives kind. It bothers me that Joseph kept it a secret from his wife. It bothers me that women were married off to other men while their husbands were off on missions. It bothers me that Joseph married other men's wives. It confuses me that in her last testimony Emma Smith would deny that her husband was ever involved in polygamous marriages. It bothers me that the first edition of what we now call the Doctrine and Covenants had an entire section, section 102, which advocated that marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman and that is it, period. It bothers me that what we know as section 132, which was the entire basis and justification for polygamy was not added to the D&C until the 1870's, and that it replaced section 102, which advocated traditional marriage, and that this ratification happened over 30 years after Joseph's martyr. It is very hard for me to accept that it was God's will to begin with, and God's will to end it when he did, the timing is far too convenient. It is similar to how I feel about blacks and the Priesthood, that timing feels far too convenient as well. Please do not take this comment as any sort of criticism of your post, I love your blog and will be an avid reader. Please keep writing, I just like knowing there are other people out there with questions and hardships, even if they are different from mine. I have a hard time feeling comfortable to share these thoughts with anyone. I have heard it called Spiritual Leprosy before, and it seems an appropriate term since I feel it could ostracize me from the ones I love. I hope one day we can feel safe to discuss these things without having to hide behind anonymity.

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    1. I am so glad you shared! That is exactly why I created this place. I think your questions are totally valid and I know where you are coming from. I have no answers, just love.

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    2. Thank you for sharing. I'm sorry that you have felt so isolated in your concerns. Secrecy and shame are Satan's tools in all aspects of life and spirituality.

      I have a leg up than most when it comes to this topic. I grew up in a family that believed in polygamy. My parents were raised in the FLDS church (the same one that Warren Jeffs is the leader of). Although my Dad never had a second wife I have a sister that does, and the majority of my aunts and uncles (all 16 of them!).

      So I grew up with polygamy all around me. I was lucky that my sister would talk about this so openly with me, because once I became a teenager and started to understand what it was in relation to sexuality in particular, it also made me want to vomit. However, especially through seeing my sister's relationship I saw how people could live righteously AND be a polygamist. I saw that it made you turn to God more. My sister was the righteous one, unfortunately her sister wife was conniving, selfish, and outright mean. It traumatized my sister and most of my nieces and nephews.

      Putting that aside, what this all comes down for me is testimony. Although I don't understand all of this, just as the author of this article so articulately states, I just put it on a shelf of "I'm not sure how or why this is, but I'm going to trust God and put my faith in those things I do understand". I know that the Holy Ghost is a God of truth. I know that step by step I can learn all things. Through prayer and study I will someday understand this issue.

      I have faith that you will too. Don't be ashamed for your questions. I've had questions in many aspects of the gospel. Go to Heavenly Father and your bishop with these questions. Answers will be found though prayer, scripture study, guidance from the spirit, and guidance from our prophets. Well I shouldn't say answers. You might not get all of your answers, but I promise you, you can get testimony and faith about this. I'm not sure if any of us will truly get all of our questions answered while here in mortality. I'm ok with that. I have faith in Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I know that They know what is best for me and for the rest of the world.

      Just know I am praying for you. Sending love and respect.

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  2. I was really lucky in college and spent a yr studying early lds women. While I don't know all the facts about Joseph's wives I do vividly recall reading at least a handful of women brag about how they had themselves sealed to Joseph as soon as he died. They wanted a great husband in the next world and their current ones weren't cutting it I guess. Try reading the women's exponent if you want first hand accounts of pioneer women talking to women- similar to this blog in fact.

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  3. This is way late--not really part of your original discussion--but I'd like to add just a couple of thoughts. First, I've read Section 132 many times, and I have never understood where anyone got "Thou shalt practice polygamy" out of it. It isn't there. What it says is that the question shouldn't be whether or not polygamy, but how marriage should be contracted in the first place. Read it again. Second, polygamy has to be a temporary solution to a particular social problem. It can't last. The problem of the "lost boys" from Hilldale and Colorado City is ample evidence of that. It had to end. Third, one of the "benefits," if you will, of polygamy was that it really was a final commitment--once someone took a second wife, there was no going back on commitment to the Church (at least not without considerable pain and hardship). Please excuse me if this has sounded harsh--it is not meant to be unkind. I know that some have terrible problems with this and other issues from the early days of the Church, but I take comfort in the realization that it is Jesus Christ we are to have faith in. Someone told Lorenzo Snow once that he knew of serious faults in Joseph Smith. His response (or words to this effect): Thank goodness! Perhaps God can do good work with me, as well. We can be thankful that Joseph Smith could be used to restore the Gospel. We can leave the judgment of Joseph Smith to the Lord and worry about our own personal righteousness instead. BTW, Thanks so much for your short, extremely well-thought-out essays on this blog!

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