Anniversary of LDS polygamy doctrine draws near

Anniversary of LDS polygamy doctrine draws near

On July 12th, 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation which would become an important part of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Section 132 deals with plural marriage.

And as we near this 165th anniversary, one thing is clear: it remains a defining moment in LDS Church history.

Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants reads in part:


“I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant: and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”

ABC 4 News asked Utah journalist and historian Verdoia, “When I say the date July 12th, 1843 to you, what do you think of?”

Ken Verdoia responded, “The curtain goes up on one of the great American dramas.”

Ken Verdoia speaks so eloquently about polygamy, he was featured prominently in the PBS series, “The Mormons.”


And this revelation, Verdoia says, changed not only thousands of lives but also the future history of the LDS Church.

Verdoia: “It leads to mob action against the church, being driven off from their settlements and their temples, a westward exodus, the murder of their founding prophet…these all stem from the July 12th, 1843 revelation.”

And even though the 1890 Manifesto would end the LDS Church’s practice of polygamy, Church leaders, from time to time, still denounce it.

– Source: Chris Vanocur, Anniversary of LDS polygamy doctrine draws near, ABC 4 News, Utah, USA, July 11, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Mormonism’s history is full of significant changes to its scriptures and doctrines. These changes are documented in the online book The Changing World of Mormonism, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner.

Chapter 9 of that book — second-hand copies of which can still be purchased — is devoted to the issue of plural marriage in Mormonism.


Basically, when the teachings about polygamy appeared, Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth.”

When the LDS Church after five decades rejected the practice of plural marriage, Mormons who held on to the fundamental teachings separated themselves into groups and movements of what later would be called “Mormon Fundamentalists.”

“The Most Holy And Important Doctrine Ever Revealed”

The LDS Church happens to be exceedingly prickly about its short, uncommonly rich history – and no aspect of that history makes the church more defensive than “plural marriage.”

The LDS leadership has worked hard to persuade both the modern church membership and the American public that polygamy was a quaint, long-abandoned idiosyncrasy practiced by a mere handful of nineteenth-century Mormons.

The religious literature handed out by the earnest young missionaries in Temple Square makes no mention of the fact that Joseph Smith – still the religion’s focal personage – married at least thirty-three women, and probably as many as forty-eight. Nor does it mention that the youngest of these wives was just fourteen years old when Joseph explained to her that God had commanded that she marry him or face eternal damnation.

Polygamy was, in fact, one of the most sacred credos of Joseph’s church – a tenet important enough to be canonized for the ages as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Convenants, on of Mormonism’s primary scriptural texts.

The revered prophet described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”

– Source: Jon Krakauer, Under The Banner of Heaven, Doubleday (July 15, 2003), pages 5, 6.

Polygamy Rejected – Sort Of

In 1856, recognizing the strength of the anti-polygamy vote, Republican candidate John C. Fre’mont ran for president on a platform that pledged to “prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism – Polygamy and Slavery.” Fre’mont lost the election, but a year later the man who did win, President James Buchanan, sent the U.S. Army to invade Utah, dismantle Brigham Young’s theocracy, and eradicate polygamy.

The so-called Utah War, however, neither removed Brigham from power nor ended the doctrine of plural marriage, to the annoyance and bafflement of a whole series of American presidents. An escalating sequence of judicial and legislative challenges to polygamy ensued, culminating in the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which disincorporated the LDS Church and forfeited to the federal government all church property worth more than $50,000. With their feet held to the fire, the Saints ultimately had no choice but to renounce polygamy.

But even as the LDS leaders publicly claimed, in 1890, to have relinquished the practice, they quietly dispatched bands of Mormons to establish polygamous colonies in Mexico and Canada, and some of the highest-ranking LDS authorities secretly continued to take multiple wives and perform plural marriages well into the twentieth-century.

Although LDS leaders were initially loathe to abandon plural marriage, eventually they adopted a more pragmatic approach to American politics, emphatically rejected the practice, and actually began urging government agencies to prosecute polygamists. It was this single change in ecclesiastical policy, more than anything else, that transformed the LDS Church into its astonishingly successful present-day iteration. Having jettisoned polygamy, Mormons gradually ceased to be regarded as a crackpot sect. The LDS Church acquired the trappings of a conventional faith so successfull that it is now widely considered to be the quintessential American religion.

Having jettisoned polygamy, Mormons gradually ceased to be regarded as a crackpot sect. The LDS Church acquired the trappings of a conventional faith so successfull that it is now widely considered to be the quintessential American religion.

– Source: Jon Krakauer, Under The Banner of Heaven, Doubleday (July 15, 2003), pages 6, 7.

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This post was last updated: Aug. 27, 2013