Endless Punishment

Four wivesIn light of the pain many are feeling regarding Kate Kelly’s recent excommunication, I wanted to share an experience my family has endured regarding excommunication.

John W. Taylor was initially disfellowshipped in 1905/6 for marrying two daughters of Job Welling in 1901 (college-educated women, seen standing in the picture, who had been helping John’s two Farmington wives (sitting in the picture)). In 1909 John married again, wedding his secretary, Ellen Sandburg. In 1911 John was called before a disciplinary council.

It did not go well. He apparently yelled at his brethren of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve apostles, telling them it was none of their business, and so forth.

After John’s excommunication, he did not attack the Church. Yet the seriousness of his error, committed as a beloved apostle and son of a former prophet, meant that his reconciliation with the Church could not be a matter of a single year, or even of a decade or so. Not even after his death in 1916 were John’s blessings restored.

Kate is being offered the possibility to come back in as little as a year. I don’t in any way deny the pain she and others are feeling. Yet to wallow in that pain, to justify and complain and condemn, will not ease that pain, any more than scratching an itch promotes healing. Though I am sorrowful that Kate has been excommunicated, I have full faith that she will eventually be able to return to God. And I have that faith because of what I’ve seen happen with John W. Taylor.
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[This was originally posted on September 16, 2009, under the title “Out of the Blue.”]

Mormons care about family.

It’s not just the cuddly kids and parents stuff either (though that is very important). It’s tying families together across time and space, in hopes that someday all mankind will have the choice to be linked together.

That’s what temples are for.

But for my grandmother and her siblings, that was an impossible dream. Their father, Mormon apostle John Whitaker Taylor, was famously excommunicated back in 1911 (for marrying too many women) 1. Thus he was barred from claiming his wives and children (36 of them) in the eternities.

It has caused untolled sorrow in this group of believing, faithful folks. The later wives, the ones who “caused” the schism between John W. Taylor and the church, wore shame like a brand. They never dared attend the temple together, lest the name Taylor alert suspicion. And yet they deeply loved their husband and refused to permit anything to stand between them and the possibility of eternal reunion with their husband.

Five of the wives were barred by US law from inheriting any of their husband’s estate when he died in 1916. Despite the resultant poverty and their large families, each of John’s widows received offers of marriage.

If they had remarried, John’s children might have come to love a living stepfather. The children might have decided they preferred to be linked eternally to some man other than John.

John’s wives never gave their children that possibility. Every one of these six beautiful (and they were beautiful) women went to their graves mourning their decades dead husband, poverty and loneliness notwithstanding.

As recently as 2009 descendants of John Whitaker Taylor and his brides were requesting permission to “seal” the family together, to no avail.

Then, suddenly, almost magically, a change took place. The church-owned database (available at familysearch.org) was quietly updated just 100 years after John Whitaker Taylor disobediently married his last wife.

The record now shows John and his wives eternally and uniquely bound together (assuming, as always, that they so choose and God agrees). Not only that, but the sealing dates for two of the wives has been updated to reflect the day on which they were married in 1901, and their children are now shown as “born in the covenant.”

All thirty-six are gone now, the last one gone to her grave in 2004. But those who comforted John’s children and heard their cries know how much this means.

We who remain are left to contemplate this scripture, given to Joseph Smith in March of 1830, before the Church itself was even founded:

Woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth…

Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment… that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

Behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. 2

For the descendants of John Whitaker Taylor the torment of separation is now over. All is knit back together. The family can be at peace.

Notes:

  1. Technically it wasn’t the number of women, but the fact that he married some of them after the Church had forbidden additional plural marriages.
  2. See D&C 19.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

15 thoughts on “Endless Punishment

  1. Given my recent post regarding the conspiracy to kill Joseph Smith, led by William Law and Austin Cowles, I checked to see what had happened for them.

    Austin’s ordinances were renewed in 1900, which may have been done in conjunction with a family reunion for the girls raised by Austin’s daughter, Elvira Annie Cowles [Smith Holmes].

    Law’s ordinances were renewed in 1987, apparently due to some descendant submitting the names to the temple.

    So it’s not like there is an automatic rule restoring blessings for apostates 100 years after their excommunication. But clearly when family desires the restoration of blessings, this can be done even after the death of the individual who incurred a need for the excommunication.

  2. Reconciliation is the thing to hope for, but it will be years in coming if ever. Every communication made by Kelly over the past two weeks was to declare an unswerving dedication to her chosen course. Perhaps she will realize the absence of what she has lost, and the self-idolatry will soften. Also very possible is that without the protection of the gospel, her separation from the church and its teachings will increase. I am remembering Sonia Johnson a dozen years after her excommunication denouncing motherhood, cutting off her children, and experimenting with homosexuality.

  3. Hi John,

    Kate is not Sonia, so I prefer to avoid attributing Sonia’s acts and thoughts to Kate.

    Kate will have her own walk from where she currently finds herself. It’s possible and even understandable if that walk might sometimes take routes that aren’t directly pointed at the swiftest possible reunion with God. Which of us doesn’t sometimes choose activities that are less than ideal?

    I simply have faith that at some point, Kate will return. There is literally nothing she could do that would lessen my desire to see her come back to full fellowship in the Church.

  4. It helps me to remember that I have no stewardship over who is or is not exalted. I wonder if I will qualify, although the fact that I really, really want to ‘bask in His Presence’ may be my only real qualification. As to the rather messy business caused by the behavior of some to whom I am sealed, I leave that up to those who know hearts and hopes and truth. If we thought in terms of kinship and family instead of valuable but unpopular terms like ‘patriarchal’ (which I personally love and cherish as found associated with words like ‘blessing’, ‘order’, and ‘priesthood’) we might better appreciate the love that is the foundation of Heaven.

  5. “‘I’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to repent,’ Kelly said in an interview. ‘Once the church changes to be a more inclusive place and once women are ordained, that’s a place I’d feel welcome.'”

    The first part of that quote is consistent with everything she has said previously, but the second part is something new. A few days ago she wanted to remain a member of the church, or at least said she did. Now she doesn’t want to be part of it until a woman is ordained to re-baptise her.

  6. Did I mention how John W. Taylor yelled at his disciplinary council?

    To reiterate, I simply have faith that at some point, Kate will return. There is literally nothing she could do that would lessen my desire to see her come back to full fellowship in the Church.

    I didn’t necessarily say I expected her to return soon or even in this life. But my desire to see her return is unabated.

  7. So who performed these sealings/marriages? Did the sealer not get the memo about the Manifesto? Wouldn’t he be equally culpable and subject to excommunication if he knew these were polygamous marriages?

  8. I know my female ancestor and her sister went to their graves without betraying the name of the individual who performed the sealings.

    I think I know who performed the ceremonies. In any case, John W. Taylor was a charismatic apostle known to everyone who had been granted the sealing power. There is no possibility the individual(s) performing the sealings was unaware they were performing post-second manifesto plural marriages for a man who had other wives.

    If I am right about the identity of the individual who performed the ceremonies (I’ve honestly forgotten if I’m right or not here), they were also disciplined.

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