If we convert someone who has a tattoo we do not refuse to baptize them. If a person born in the church leaves and returns again covered with tattoos, we don’t refuse them fellowship. Nor do we expect anyone to undergo the painful process of having them burned away using a laser.
When the church finally abandoned the practice of taking plural wives, one of the concessions the church wanted the government to make was to allow all existing plural marriages to become legal. No new ones could be contracted, but the existing ones needed to be tolerated under the law.
Heber J. Grant was the last church president with plural wives. He was church president until his death in May 1945. The church was led by a polygamist well into World War II.
Even though we abandoned the practice publicly in 1890 and privately in 1904, we were led by polygamists at the head until respectively, 55 and 41 years later.
The argument used to persuade the government was that it was absolutely cruel to deprive children born into these plural wife families of both parents. Breaking up families was unkind, unnecessary and would cause more harm than good.
Today there are many people who are in plural marriages who ought to be the target of efforts to reconvert them to the Gospel. We stay away from them because they have relationships we condemn. They are, in a sense, tattooed and we are unwilling to accept them back unless they will undergo the painful ordeal of disengaging from their unapproved relationship. We ask more of them than we were willing to allow the government to ask of us when we abandoned the practice.
If a polygamist family is willing to return, we should welcome them. We should allow them full fellowship, and admit them back to practice faith with us. They should know we condemn the practice and we will preach against it. We will encourage and teach their children to discontinue the practice, but we should accept them back into fellowship.
With Warren Jeffs’ latest decree limiting all fathering of children to his fifteen chosen inner circle, I suspect there will be a great number willing to abandon his leadership and who would reconsider fellowship with the church. The conditions we have set for reentry are so cruel, so damaging to these families, that we are essentially saying they can never return.
I would like to see polygamy ended. I would like to see those who practice it reconverted. I do not think we can reasonably expect to break apart their families. We should not break up families as a condition of return.
I’ve written about Section 132 in my last book. This week I’m going to return to that topic and spend a few days discussing plural marriage. I hope it will be a friendly invitation to those who practice it to reconsider whether they can get closer to God by returning to faith among the Latter-day Saints. I, for one, would be willing to fellowship with them. Though I condemn the practice and believe it should never have continued, I am not unrealistic about any existing obligations.