There was a question about Section 132 received after this post. The previous post on D&C 132 did not address the underlying subject of the section. I only discussed the text divisions and timing of the document’s creation. The question I received asks about the substance of the revelation, and in particular, the status of women in plural marriage.
I have a few observations which color my views of this subject. This will take a few posts, but below is my first set of observations:
When plural marriage was first introduced publicly in the 1850s, the brethren were rather candid about the history of monogamy. They explained that the societal and governmental institution of monogamy was intended to exploit women. By depriving women of husbands, it resulted in an excess number of women who could be prostituted. Men could then have one wife, for whom they bore the burden of support and shared parenting responsibilities, while other women could be used without any burden of support or shared parenting duties. The brethren also explained that one of the reasons Rome was originally opposed to Christianity was because it was a cult that threatened to spread the practice of plural marriage throughout the Empire. Their comments are in the Journal of Discourses and you can read these explanations there if you are interested.
So as the practice of plural marriage was introduced publicly, it was accompanied by an attack on monogamy; claiming that women were exploited and disadvantaged by the practice of monogamy. This inverts the argument against plural marriage. The claims against it were based in large measure upon the notion that it exploited women and made them subservient. So the argument turns on its ear the “exploits women” card.
When introduced, the practice of plural marriage ran counter to nearly two thousand years of cultural practice. It was decidedly counter to the Elizabethan mores of the age. It was shocking to the Latter-day Saints who learned of the practice. Not only was it foreign in concept, but the Saints had absolutely no basis for implementing it successfully. They had no history, no example, no trial-and-error wisdom. There were no previous examples that they could select behaviors from that would help solve obvious issues arising from the practice. So they began the whole trial-and-error sorting out.
Unfortunately. the practice was introduced in 1853 (publicly) and died in 1890 (publicly). It began secretly in 1831 and died secretly in 1904. Whether you take the public bracket of time or the secret bracket, that isn’t enough time for the process to have resulted in handed-down wisdom gained by living that kind of lifestyle.
Those who are outside the Latter-day Saint community (fundamentalists, etc.), and have continued to practice of plural marriage do not really provide a basis for inter-generational wisdom. They live a “bunker-like mentality” – always under siege and never allowed the social and cultural opportunity to practice this form of marriage freely and openly. The results of these efforts are tainted by the hostility, rejection and prosecution by the population at large towards those who try to live this kind of marital relationship.
How the view of women changes under this practice is something that we are not in a position to evaluate accurately. We have a cultural bias, an historic bias and religious bias that colors our view. We do not have a reasonable framework from which to make a neutral evaluation of the subject. The only contemporary societies that have plural marriage in any significant numbers are so socially ill, so backward and violent that a liberal, democratic and open society cannot take any wisdom from them to judge this matter. We are left to look backward into biblical times for clues about the practice. Unfortunately, even there we do not get much guidance or many examples of happy outcomes. Hagar, a princess from Egypt, was at odds with Sarah and ultimately so incompatible that one had to leave. Jacob’s wives were competitive and jealous. The account we have seems to make Jacob responsible for exploiting these ill-feelings. David’s relationships were unsteady. Solomon was ultimately led into idolatry by his foreign, political marriages. The biblical record does not seem to give any hope of a happy outcome (or at least not much hope). So when trying to evaluate it, there is little happy news or basis for celebrating it as a triumph of matrimony.
Then there is the underlying exploitation of young women. These women are married and pregnant so early in life that they are essentially obligated to remain in the marriage. I think that is a reflection of the unhappiness that is anticipated by such unions. The younger bride syndrome seems to be a tacit admission that unless you put the women into this kind of difficult bind (choosing between their children or fleeing), then women won’t remain in the marriage. This is an interesting admission seen in both the Muslim communities and in the Fundamentalist communities. It betrays a similar state of unease about women’s desire to remain in such relationships.
All in all the practice does not seem to offer (in this life) much advantage to either husband or wife. Nor does it seem to produce happiness here. You can read the book In Sacred Loneliness as an account of our own history with the difficulties of the practice.
Now that doesn’t address the “doctrinal” question asked. I’ll post again on that issue. However, when you consider the revelation, this is the first point that should be on the table. It is a terrible sacrifice. No society appears to have had much success in implementing it. The “practical” verses the “ideal” is something that tells us important information.
Humanity has not been able to create a widespread social experiment using this form of marriage, notwithstanding its basis in doctrine. At least not one that has been well documented, with wisdom to guide the way. There are of course societies where the economic order consists of a widespread slave class supporting a socially dominant, wealthy class. In these societies, escape from hunger and enslavement requires a plural marriage arrangement. In these circumstances, plural marriage is greeted as a form of liberation. I do not consider those worthy examples. We don’t want or expect to build Zion on the backs of a slave class.