I do not speak for the Mormon Church and these views are my understanding of why the Practice was abandoned. The private practice of Mormon polygamy originated with the Prophet or founder of the Church, Joseph Smith. In the 1830’s Joseph claimed a revelation from God restoring the practice of polygamy.  His wife Emma would not accept the revelation.  One story is that Joseph delayed in accepting the revelation and that an angel appeared to him with a sword withdrawn and told him to get on with the revelation or be removed.  I do not know if this story was true or if it was for the benefit of Emma to get her to accept the revelation.  Since Emma was not receiving the revelation, it is probably for this reason that Joseph did not live with any of his alleged plural wives.  He had some wives that were married to other men, sealed to him as spiritual wives to be with him in Eternity.  It is assumed that these wives had the approval of their earthly husbands.  In other words, the marriage or sealing was to be in effect after this life and not in effect during this mortal life.  It is questionable as to whether Joseph had any relations with these spiritual wives that had husbands.  One of the wives did tell her daughter she was a child of Joseph Smith, but whether she meant she was a spiritual child [sealed to Joseph and the mother] or a physical child fathered by Joseph, the report is silent (Genetics has since contradicted this assertion). Other than this allegation, it does not appear that he had any children from these spiritual marriages. There are a few alleged wives who claim they had a child with Joseph Smith, but to date, no one has come forward with any proof of the claimed relationship to Joseph Smith. 

Because the Practice was generally abhorred by the early members of the Church, the practice was private and involved only a few of the leaders in the Church. Also with the word getting out to some non-Mormons, persecution began to be leveled against Smith and others.  Many believe that this is one of the reasons that the Prophet was eventually murdered while in the Carthage jail.  Although the Practice became more acceptable among the members as time went on, it was not until after the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1852 when Brigham Young acknowledged publicly the practice of plural marriage or polygamy.  It is alleged that only 20 to 30% of the members practiced Mormon polygamy.

When allegedly God condoned this practice why would he later revoke this practice? There are those who say the Practice served its purpose by providing homes and support for women whose husbands died due to hardships while crossing the frozen plains in the dead of winter.  These men had to push handcarts across the frozen plains and many times gave their food and clothing to their wives and children rather than let them starve or freeze to death. Many say the Practice gave growth to the infant Church and gave it a solid foundation.  Others say that the Practice was stopped so Utah could attain statehood. While these reasons each have some validity, the Church was faced with its imminent destruction due to the persecution from the Government and the enemy about. The Mormon leaders were given little choice, if they did not abandon Mormon polygamy, fearing federal confiscation of its sacred temples and property the Church might not survive.

The Church leaders were concerned with the increasing persecution coming from the Government against the practice of Mormon Polygamy.  As a result in 1890, the President of the Church Wilfred Woodruff claimed he received a vision showing what would happen to the Church if the Practice was not ended.

As a result of the purported revelation, the Manifesto was drawn up and given to the membership of the Church. This stopped the practice of a man marrying more than one woman. There were those who would not accept the Manifesto and they continued with the Practice.  In or around 1904 the Church began excommunicating members who would not accept the Manifesto and continued marrying additional wives.  These excommunicated members started the splinter groups of which the FLDS Church is the largest group with headquarters in Colorado City, on the border of Utah and Arizona.  Warren Jeffs, who is currently in Prison for marrying child brides, is the leader of this group.  The second largest Mormon Polygamy group headed by the Allreds is called the Apostolic United Brethren and its headquarters is located in Bluffdale, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

On its website, the Church states that “the standard doctrine of the Church is monogamy” and that Mormon polygamy was a temporary exception to the rule. In the Book of Mormon Jacob 2, verse 27 the Lord tells the people they are to have only one wife and concubines none, and then in verse 30, the Lord tells them “For if I will raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things,” It does appear that a righteous seed did come from polygamy as many of the church leaders and members came from polygamous families. This passage does suggest that in certain cases and under certain conditions the Lord does approve of polygamy.

In the next blog, I will give more information on the splinter groups and Mormon Polygamy, on there organization and beliefs. 

Ray Western