Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Struggle with the doctrine of polygamy, and what I learned

With us Mormons being in the limelight so often these days I keep reading interesting articles about our church. I read one yesterday from an ex-Mormon who actually voiced some similar concerns to mine. I felt sorry for her because she had many of the same questions I have had, yet rather than anyone coming to her aid to help her in her doubtings it seemed as though she was told she should not ask questions.
This is not a fair picture of our beliefs. Doubt is not a bad thing, as long as it leads to genuine seeking of truth. If you think about it, the whole restoration of the church started with doubt. Joseph Smith doubted the truthfulness of the churches he attended, therefore asked questions and sought God to see what was true. Anyone who says we are a church that does not encourage thinking for oneself is wrong.
But that is not what I want to write about today. I want to write about polygamy. It seems like it is a subject too often talked about by everyone outside the church and barely touched on with in the church. When I had so many questions I could not find much on it. This post is geared to any other members who may have questions on this subject matter. If anyone does have questions as I did, hopefully this will help.
Growing up I remember leaning about it and being kind of weirded out, but glad we didn’t do it anymore. I was told that the reason it happened was to “raise up seed” in the church and to take care of the many women who were husbandless because of the persecutions the early Mormons faced. These explanations made sense and I didn’t think much about it…
Until I got married. Polygamy took on a whole new meaning once I was married. It all started when I allowed myself to watch part of “Sister wives.” I’m the type of person that when I watch a show or read a book I put myself in it and think “what if that were me?” Well the more I thought about it, the sicker I got.  The idea of sharing my husband was absolutely horrifying to me. HORRIFYING. (It still is horrifying to think that). I started thinking day and night about it. Then I remembered I had heard from guys at BYU that living the law of polygamy would be required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. I tried to do my own study on it but from everything I could see it seemed like that was true. It’s an understatement to say I was very, very disturbed.
I remember the more I thought about it, the angrier with God I got.  I remember asking him “Why do you hate your daughters? Why would you do this do us?” I cried day and night about it. I remember driving to work one day balling my eyes out, basically yelling at God (not something I would recommend) trying to tell Him how horrible I felt and how I could never do that and did he understand how it felt? Of course He doesn’t. He’s a male. I have never been so distraught and angry at God in my life. I hated the idea that in the next life I would share my husband and be happy about it. To me it was no different than the terrorist belief that if you are a male terrorist and you die then you get 72 virgins, but if you are a female terrorist and you die you get to BE one of the virgins and your jealousy will be taken away. How is that motivating?
It’s not motivating. As I thought these things I decided I just didn’t want to make it to the celestial kingdom any more. If I had to share my husband, no thanks I rather settle for a different kingdom. How is that heaven?
It bugged me too because of course this doctrine doesn’t bother men. The idea of more than one wife is appealing to many. It seemed so biased to me. So unfair. So focused on men and what they want and women just have to suffer.
All these thoughts kept tumbling around in my head. I kept having mini break downs I was worrying so much about it. It made me want to distance myself from God, because He seemed so unfair to me, and my husband, because I might have to share him one day.
Finally I went to my dad. I was so afraid he would think I was apostate or something for thinking all these things and getting so mad at God. But of course he didn’t and was glad I was asking questions. He lovingly helped me understand this delicate subject. He said he understood how I felt because he had  had similar questions to mine. He helped me see in a better light this principle I had been seeing through a murky, worldly glass.
The first thing he taught me is that “things are never quiet as they appear to the human senses”. We have finite minds. We cannot understand everything. I think of when Christ tells his disciples in the New Testament about drinking his blood and eating His flesh, and after that many people stopped following him. I’m sure they probably thought “Whoa, okay now this is getting a little weird. I’m outta here.” (Something like that). But they did not understand the deeper meaning. When you just look at the surface, things may seem weird, or biased, or unfair. But there is more to it that requires help from on high to understand, if we are willing.
Also,  what the world sees polygamy as is corrupted. For example, in Sister Wives, the husband falls in love with woman after woman while he is married.  That is adultery. When the prophets took more than one wife, it was not because they fell in love with someone else, or lusted after someone else. The wives were assigned by God. God was in charge.  It was NOT that Joseph Smith went around looking for women to add to is harem as the world would make it seem. He fell in love with Emma, she was his wife. The other women were ones that God told him to take under his wing. He was not having affairs with these women, he did not fall in love with them or lust after them and then marry them.  God is the one in charge of it.
These things helped clear my mind up a bit on the matter but I still had questions. In return he sent me the following principles that helped me be at peace with the doctrine:
Principle One: “the Sandra Principle”
When my sister was a baby she had to have her lungs x-rayed. They had to strap her down to a chair. She cried and cried and looked at my dad like “Why don’t you stop them?” What she didn’t understand is that this procedure was to make sure she was okay, it was for her own health and perhaps even her life. My dad couldn’t explain that to her, she was a baby she wouldn’t understand. But it was for the best. God sometimes has to let these seemingly “bad” things happen because they are actually for a greater purpose that our finite minds cannot understand. Sometimes we just have to accept that understanding will come in time.
Principle two: Plural Marriage is the exception, not the rule
This was probably the most relieving principle for me. PLURAL MARRIAGE IS NOT THE RULE. I will not be required to live plural marriage to enter the Celestial Kingdom.  What a relief!!!!!  In all the standard works and the proclamation on the family the rule is: one man, one woman. That is the basic doctrine. If needed God will command otherwise, as he has, but the basic rule is that there should be one woman and one man as husband and wife. Even in the times the Lord did command it, it was a very small select portion of the people. That was such a relief. Even typing it now makes me feel relieved again. For now I can find peace in knowing that it is highly unlikely that I will be asked to live this principle in the eternities. (Phew.)
Principle Three: Plural Marriage is based on agency
We all have our choices. He cannot force the exact amount of men and women to make it to the celestial kingdom. It is likely that there will be more of one gender than the other, and likely there will be more women than men.  Then how would it be fair for those women who never married but lived perfectly wonderful lives to come to the celestial kingdom alone? God had to make away so that everyone will be able to have a spouse, an eternal companion. So this may require some men to have more than one spouse. Also, if by some chance there are more men than women, I’m sure God will work something out so that each man has a spouse too. Either way, God cannot force the perfect amount of people to make it, so assuming there will be some more than other and wanting to bless all with an eternal companion,  plural marriage must happen in some cases.
Principle Four: Plural marriage is based on true charitable love, not lust
I was so skewed in my thinking because it is hard to think clearly in a world so full of lust. But lust has no place in plural marriage. This part I am going quote my dad exactly because he puts it so beautifully:
“While it is hard for me to conceive in this carnal world, of such charity, I know that in the heavens, it will be only love, tender, pure, holy love, that will motivate the implementation of this principle where required.  This is how I see it as an extension of principle three.  So there we have Sister A, standing before her loving Father, anxiously wondering what provision has been made for her.  Sister B has just been sealed to a man of great love and tenderness, who sees Sister A and whose heart aches for her.  I see her then looking at her husband and as one, who knows PEFECTLY the fears and feelings, hopes and aspirations coursing through Sister A, says to her husband, can we not love her too. Thus Christ-like love of husband, and Christ like love of wife, combine to afford that opportunity to a Sister in need.  Lust plays no part in the decision, in fact, it is only sacrificial love.  The wife sacrificing her selfishness to bless her sister, the husband knowing how hard it will be for his wife to allow another in, and desiring not to hurt her in anyway, yet consenting for love of God and the love for the woman in need.  I honestly believe that such a scenario is what informs the law of first wife consent, which was implemented among those who lived the law on this earth.
It is all about love. About taking the broken sister under your wing. About the wife making that decision and taking it to her husband, rather than a husband looking around for another woman to add to his harem.
Principle Five:  Plural marriage is based on sacrifice not reward.
Any man who wants to live plural marriage will not be commanded to live it and probably will not be worthy for the celestial kingdom. Plural marriage is not God rewarding his sons. The idea I had about our beliefs being compared to the suicide bombers’ belief is false because in their case it is considered a reward. If it is a reward then that demeans women to being objectified as if we were some prize to be won, which is not what God wants and is not what God sees us as.  Those who were asked to do it saw it NOT as something desirable (in fact Brigham Young said he never before desired the grave until then). Those who would look forward to living plural marriage are not men of God, but are filled with lust. It is a sacrifice, not a reward.
Lastly, Heavenly Father knows each of his children perfectly. He knows who can and cannot handle certain sacrifices. He will not ask us to if we cannot. He wants us to be supremely happy and will not ask us to do anything that will cause us to not reach that state of supreme happiness in the long run.
As my sweet husband said when I confided in him my troubled heart, I don’t need to worry about what heaven will be like. It will be wonderful and I will be happy. That is what Heavenly Father wants for us, more than anything.  And I truly believe that now.
Though this was a long hard road for me I am so grateful I had these questions and doubts. If I hadn’t of had these questions I would have never asked, and never learned.  I still don’t understand everything, but I know if I keep asking and searching I will learn.


  1. I have had the same feelings as you about polygamy. I hated the idea of sharing my husband with someone else, it physically makes me ill. It made me mad to think that if I live a worthy life with my husband then when we make it to the Celestial Kingdom I would then be punished for living righteously. I have gotten very worked up about this in the past about this. I then realized like you have that not everyone will be required to do this. I had never considered what you said above about the wife being the one to want to bring another sister in, that has open my mind and given me more peace about this subject. It also helped that Steve informed me that one wife is enough for him, the idea of another isn't appealing at all....just imagine the hormones :)

  2. Amen!! I have definitely thought about this before. Thank you for sharing the principles you learned though, because I didn't really get into it, partly because of like you said, I didn't want to show doubt. But I have always felt like you said in your conclusion, that God is not going to make me unhappy, and there are SO many things and concepts that we can't possibly understand here. I also found peace in the quote (I don't know who said it but) "we are not humans having a spiritual experience, rather we are spiritual beings having an earthly experience." or something like that. Puts things into perspective--that we ARE so much more than we even know, and that is why Christ knows us better than we know ourselves, because he knew us as spiritual beings. Thanks, Michelle!!!

  3. Polygamy is a hard subject, especially for married women who actually have a husband they might have to share. It boiled my blood for a long time, too. Then one day we were in the temple doing some sealing work for the dead. There was a woman across from us, alone, with tears running down her face. I have no idea what she was crying about, but in that moment, I realized what you realized about this being a principle of love. Not that the Lord in that moment was requiring my husband to take this woman as his (thank goodness), but it showed me that Heavenly Father loves all his children and wants us all to be happy. I realized that if I needed to (though I would still really rather not), I could, out of love, share my husband with another. It would be difficult, but I could do it, and I know that Heavenly Father would make it so I am happy, like you said. It's still a difficult law and I'm still SO glad we don't have to live it right now, and there's a good chance I won't ever have to, but I trust the Lord. He will make my happiness complete.

  4. Wow Nina... what a post. Thanks for sharing. I trust and hope with all my heart that Heavenly Father will be too loving to ask us to do something that would be so terrible for us.