Mormon Polygamy CONTROVERSY
by Ray Western
POLYGAMY WAS CALLED PLURAL MARRIAGE by early day MORMONS in the 19th century. Modern-day fundamentalists (current day practitioners of Mormon polygamy) call the practice of polygamy, The Principle. Fundamentalists are outside of the Mormon Church or more correctly named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today, members of the Church found practicing Mormon polygamy are excommunicated and no longer welcomed into the Church. The Church says that monogamy is now the standard and accepted practice and doctrine in the Church. However, men are still allowed to marry or have sealed to them in a Mormon Temple, a new wife providing that the first wife or previous wives have passed on and are deceased. So the doctrine of Plural marriage has not been totally abandoned.
Polygamy was first suspected as being practiced around 1831 0r 1832 when Joseph Smith the founder and Prophet of the Church took on several polygamous wives. The Practice was not acknowledged until 1852 several years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley led by Brigham Young. The Practice was continued until 1890 when Church President Wilfred Woodruff issued a Manifesto officially terminating the Practice.
The Latter-day Saints practice of Mormon polygamy has been very controversial within the LDS Church itself and America. America was both fascinated by the practice and horrified at the same time. For over 60 years the Mormons and the United States were at odds over the issue. The Church defended the practice of Mormon polygamy as a matter of religious freedom, while the federal government aggressively sought to eradicate it, consistent with public opinion about the Mormon polygamy controversy. The Church gave up the Practice for several reasons. The Church President claimed to have received a vision or revelation showing what would happen to the Church if the Practice of Mormon polygamy was not stopped. The Government was going to confiscate church properties and the Holy Temples if the practice was not stopped. Also, there was intense persecution from some sectors including many different religious groups. In addition, Utah was not going to be allowed to become a State in the Union if the practice of Mormon polygamy was not abandoned.
In 1887, the Edmunds-Tucker Act allowed for the disincorporation of the Church and the seizure of church property. In July of the same year the US Attorney General filed suit to seize all church assets. Following the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act the Church found it hard to operate as a viable institution and the leadership was left to operate underground. Wilford Woodruff the Church President was determined to obtain divine confirmation to persue a course that might end the practice of polygamy.
In issuing the Manifesto he said the choice was between continuing the practice of plural marriage, and thereby losing the sacred temples,”stopping all the ordinances therein,” or ceasing plural marriage in order to continue performing the essential ordinances for the living and the dead. Woodruff hastened to add that he had acted as the Lord directed:
I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I do, and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me.
The following morning he reported to some of the general authorities he had struggled throughout the night with the Lord regarding the path to be taken and the result was the Manifesto, which was later presented to the Latter-day Saints at General Conference and was unaminously approved by the church membership. Not everyone in the Church complied with the new directive as some marriages were performed by some leaders in the Church after the 1890 Manifesto. In 1904 under the leadership of President Joseph F Smith a Second Manifesto was issued, with the emphatic declaration that prohibited plural marriage and proclaimed that offenders would be subject to church discipline and excommunication. This did not dissolve marriages that had already taken place as men were not expected to dissolve established marriages and break up families. Many Mormons, including prominent church leaders, maintained existing plural marriages into the 1940s and 1950s. Over time, many of those who rejected the directive of the Church formed small close knit groups and continued to practice “the Principle”. Several small fndamentalist groups, seeking to continue the practice split from the Church, including the two larger groups, the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS Church).
In spite of the objections brought about by Mormonism, the religion has flourished since its beginning. In 190 years it has grown to a membership exceeding 15 million and has spread over the earth. Today its main success comes from the conversion of Latin Americans. It has over 50 million missionaries that go out at their own or their parent’s expense for two to two and a half years. Many of them learn a foreign language at a language training mission and are able to converse within 6 months or sooner. It is probably the fastest growing Christian religion in America.
Probably the biggest missionary tool is the Book of Mormon. Most converts testify that they received a testimony of the work while reading the Book of Mormon. The book is a second witness for Christ and along with the Bible, its mission is to bring the children of God to Christ. One cannot read the book and not be influenced by its words. As some have said this book is either from Satan or God. One only has to read it to decide for his or her self the source of the book. In a world where people are rejecting Christ and his message, this book is an advocate for Christ. It pertains to be a record of a people led by God from Jerusalem to the American continent about 600 years BC. They had Prophets who were inspired by God and who prophesied about the coming birth of Christ. Christ even visited these people after his crucifixion and resurrection and taught them his gospel. So the book is Christ-centered and written for people living in this day and age.
Mormon polygamy has been a controversy for almost 200 years, and religions of the world will continue to practice polygamy in spite of Christian objections. Prophets in the old testament practiced polygamy and it appears they did this with Gods approval. The Book of Jacob in the Book of Mormon condemed polygamy as adultery, but left open the proviso that “For if I will, saith the lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise, they shall harken unto these things.
The Mormons say that polygamy spurred the growth of the Church. It also provided homes for widows and children whose fathers and husbands died while pushing hand carts across the plains in the dead of winter. During this crossing many of the men were giving their food and clothing to their wives and children. The Mormon pioneers left many of their men and children burried under the snow or left on the frozen ground on the trail in Nebraska and Wyoming. They also say that many of the leaders of the Church came from polygamous families. One pioneer lady survivor was heard to say that she would never watch a pioneer day parade on the 24th of July, because she hated the sight of handcarts. She had lost her husband and several children while crossing the plains. Others have said it was a great spiritual experience.
Today, the Church continues to excommunicate members found practicing polygamy or Plural Marriage and to distance itself from the fundamentalist groups. The Church maintains there is no relationship between the Church and the Fundamentalists or Fndamentalist Groups.