Last week in Sunday School we studied Doctrine and Covenants Section 132. Our instructor read verses 1-4, explained “those are the verses about polygamy,” and accepted exactly one comment from the class. “If anyone else wants to talk about it,” he said, “they can discuss it out in the hall.”
So, are we out in the hall now? ‘Cause I’d like to chat.
Polygamy is the elephant in the room in lesson manuals and classrooms of the LDS church. We act like it’s not there but the physical evidence is sitting to my left and my right and filling the entire row behind me.
These literal fruits of polygamy–Brenda, Celia, Mindy, Sam, etc.– are enough to persuade me the practice couldn’t have been all bad. There must have been some exceptionally fine genetic material being spread around by those men-of-many-wives because Utah is full of some of the brightest, most beautiful people I’ve ever seen.
I view plural marriage as a necessary measure to help the early church grow. God wanted Israel to grow and gave Jacob two wives and two concubines. God wanted Mormonism to grow and instituted polygamy for a time. It was certainly successful– through polygamy and missionary work (young fathers leaving their wives and children at home–another desperate measure)– the LDS church reached a critical mass in a short 60 years. Happily, they switched back to the one man, one woman plan in 1890.
Plural marriage may be repealed, but some people haven’t completely let go. Every one of my single friends has dealt with lecherous old men saying, “I can’t believe you’re still single! If they brought back polygamy I’d bring you home in a minute!”
Yuck. Double yuck.
Despite the seeming prevalence of single women in the church, I, for one, don’t worry about polygamy continuing in the hereafter. The mortality rate of baby boys has always exceeded baby girls and millions of young, unmarried soldiers have died in wars throughout history. Those boys will need wives! And the Lord has always used Adam and Eve as the model for marriage, not Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Keturah or Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah. Sometimes I think we should take the entire section 132 and scrawl across the pages, “We’ll work all this out in the Millennium!”
I don’t have polygamist ancestry, and I try not to fret over it’s misuse in the early church. Polygamy simply doesn’t affect my life and my faith today. But when my husband travels he is asked pretty regularly how many wives he has and I did feel a need to defend the church last summer when the FLDS were receiving national attention.
How do you feel about plural marriage? Do you descend from polygamists? Do you joke about it? Do you worry about it? Is it OK to talk about it in Sunday School?
And would you mind sharing your thoughts with Ronda Weaver, a teacher at UVU who is presenting a paper on polygamy in October? You can share your thoughts here or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK, let’s chat; but no scuffling in the hall!