Jacob’s sermon which touches on and condemns taking multiple wives includes this statement quoted from the Lord: “For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women.” (Jacob 2: 28.) In the same breath, and in connection with the topic of multiple wives, the Lord adds: “And whoredoms are an abomination before me.” (Id.)
All those who think they are living a “higher law” by taking multiple wives should be extremely careful about their actions, in light of the Lord’s overall caution about this subject. David fell from his exaltation as a consequence of offending this law, because it led to betraying Uriah, lying to protect against his immoral behavior, and ultimately taking life. (D&C 132: 39.)
How often has violence been the product of polygamous groups? How many murders have happened while wicked and ambitious men struggle for control over followers who take multiple wives?
Joseph Smith, the recipient of the revelation which has led to these various claims by different pretenders also had something to say about chastity and adultery. The very same man through whom the revelation came also instructed the Relief Society with this advice:
“Spoke of the organization of the Female Relief Society; said he was deeply interested, that is might be built up to the Most High in an acceptable manner; that its rules must be observed; that none should be received into it but those who were worthy; proposed a close examination of every candidate; that the society was growing too fast. It should grow up by degrees, should commence with a few individuals, thus have a select society of the virtuous, and those who would walk circumspectly; commended them for their zeal, but said sometimes their zeal was not according to knowledge. One principle object of the institution was to purge out iniquity; said they must be extremely careful in all their examinations, or the consequences would be serious. …[T]he Saints should be a select people, separate from all the evils of the world– choice, virtuous and holy.” (TPJS, p. 201-202, March 30, 1842.) Joseph also said: “If a man commit adultery, he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.”
“Inasmuch as the public mind has been unjustly abused through the fallacy of Dr. Bennett’s letters, we make an extract on the subject of marriage, showing the rule of the church on this important matter. The extract is from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and is the only rule allowed by the Church. “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy; we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” Times & Seasons 3:909, Sept. 1, 1842.
Whatever you may think you know about Joseph’s intentions and practice involving plural wives, his public statements cannot be reconciled with promiscuity or exploitation of women for the gratification or vanity of men.
This may seem a contradiction. As if Joseph were talking out of both sides of his mouth. It is not. The careful manner in which the Lord controlled and permited taking additional wives to “raise up seed unto Himself” was covenantal, sacral, and did not involve indiscriminate breeding of multiple women. Other than his own, Joseph only sealed one plural wife to one man. For Joseph, the multiple wives were governmental, sealed to him to construct the family of God on earth. Tying together lines of what was to be a single family, with himself as the patriarchal father of a new branch of the Family of Israel. It was not, as the quote above demonstrates, a matter of lust and physical gratification.
Joseph’s practices were carefully guarded, hidden from public view, and so discrete that still today there are those who think he never had plural wives. If this were something for public display and advocacy, then Joseph would have done so. He did not. To the contrary, he also delighted in the chastity of women and condemned adultery and fornication.
In contrast to Joseph’s remarks, Brigham Young made a remark at the return of Thomas Marsh to the church in 1857. This is a reflection of President Young’s attitude toward women. I end this series with Brigham Young’s words. They were spoken immediately after Thomas Marsh addressed the Saints, pleading to be welcomed back after his apostasy. Brigham Young introduced him, and while Brother Marsh spoke he (Marsh) mentioned that he was “an old man” now. Folllowing his remarks, Brigham Young added the following:
“He has told you that he is an old man. Do you think that I am an old man? I could prove to this congregation that I am young; for I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband that can any of the young men.” (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, p. 1329, September 6, 1857.)
Brigham Young added that the difference between his age and Brother Marsh’s age was “one year and seven months to the day.” (Id.)
Somewhere between Joseph’s Nauvoo and Brigham Young’s Salt Lake City, the idea of multiple wives transitioned from a carefully guarded, privately practiced, severely limited relationship requiring God’s approval, word and the Holy Spirit of Promise, into a broadly advocated, openly practiced, publicly defended, and church authorized form of marriage which was said to be required for exaltation. In Brigham Young’s form of the church a man could not be saved if he didn’t fetch multiple wives: “Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise you that you will be damned.” (JD, Vol. 3, p. 266.) “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.” (JD, Vol. 11, p. 269.)
It is my view that the question of taking plural wives arises with Joseph Smith, and was through a revelation to him when he inquired about the topic. He treated it as a limited, carefully curtailed, private matter. His implementation of the practice was limited to sealing his own plural wives, and one other man to two wives.
With Brigham Young, however, taking more women became not only public, but it also became a topic used to prove his own verility. A comparison between Joseph’s and Brigham Young’s advocacy is stark, at least to me.
The subject could be discussed endlessly. I would discourage anyone from thinking this is something to advocate or practice. Even if you believe you are a well-read polygamist, you still don’t have enough information. If you think you have enough understanding to know what the topic includes, then instead of acting like Brigham Young and “finding more girls who would choose you for a husband” focus instead on qualifying to preserve one marriage.
Any man whose wife is unhappy, who is exploited and treated like his property, whose behavior fails to mirror Christ’s in the heart of the women who knows him best, has not yet qualified for his marriage to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. That work should not be left undone, and certainly must precede any complication of life by introducing more women into a relationship. Stop this foolishness. Save yourself by approaching this with the caution required to avoid vanity, self-destruction, practicing an abomination, and reducing a relationship to whoredoms. You should never trifle with the souls of others.