Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for 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.
Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.
In approximately 1075 the young Queen of Scotland begged the witangemot to change marriage laws. She feared being forced to marry her step-son in the event that her husband died.
The Queen cited papal precedent. Twenty years earlier, the pope had declared an impediment of affinity. As husband and wife were one flesh, blood relations of one spouse were announced to be blood relations to the partner. Thus the Queen’s hypothetical marriage to her step-son would be as though she were to marry her own son.
The witangemot was torn. The Bible was clear on the duty of a man’s family to provide for his widow. Throughout the western world at that time, marriage was understood as primarily the legal mechanism for caring for the children produced by sexuality. When a man died, kin were to step forward to care for the dead man’s wives and children. If the man had not engendered children, then kin were responsible to produce children with a wife to carry on the man’s legacy. 1
Queen Margaret changed the law, eliminating a key motive for regicide. As for King Malcolm McDuncan III, he invited the would-be assassin to go hunting. When the men were alone, the King told the assassin the plot was known and offered forgiveness if the man were to spare the King’s life. Between the Queen and King, the plot was thwarted.
While monogamy had long been an ideal and norm, Queen Margaret’s plea eventually made monogamy the legal standard. She caused the separation of marriage from the legal responsibility a man’s family previously had for wives and children. It was a sufficiently abrupt change that Queen Margaret was canonized a Catholic Saint for the deed (along with four other miracles). 2
Lawns were another mechanism royals adopted to protect themselves. When trees and shrubs were eliminated from the vicinity of a stronghold, there would be no place for attackers to hide. Lesser Lords and commoners had to use the grounds around their dwellings to produce food. Kings and Queens, on the other hand, could tax people for the food they needed.
And so we arrive in modern America, shaped by the fashions of European royals who died many hundreds of years ago.
Why does this matter? Because modern folks are irrationally loyal to the habits of ancient Kings and Queens.
This biblical history is explicit in the stories of Tamar and Ruth. The law is given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Property passed to the man who assumed the role of caring for a man’s widow (c.f., Ruth in the Bible. Also the story of the Queen of the Lamanites in the Book of Alma). In Queen Margaret’s lifetime this is seen in the case of Lady MacBeth, whose first husband was murdered by MacBeth. ↩
Margaret’s role in changing the law is documented in the biography her royal daughter commissioned Margaret’s confessor to write after Margaret’s death, a biography cited when she was canonized. ↩
Earlier this month I traveled to Utah for a family funeral. While there, I came across Sister Saints by Professor Colleen McDannell. Professor McDannell is noted as one of today’s leading interpreters of American religion. She has lived in Utah for several decades as a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utah and has observed her neighbors with the unique eye only an outsider can truly have.
Unfortunately for me, Professor McDannell was not in the United States during my visit, so I was only able to read her book, which tells a story of how women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have impacted their Church and the world.
The book is well worth reading.
Professor McDannell begins by talking of Emmeline Woodward [Wells], who had joined the Church during Joseph Smith’s lifetime as a teenage bride. By 1884 Emmeline was one of the leading women of the Church, participating in the Relief Society headed by an aging Eliza R. Snow.
I will liken the unwise steward to a new employee at the hotel at which my colleague stayed this weekend. I will liken the earth’s resources to the contents of my colleagues purse.
At some point, my colleague went to get her phone. It was missing, as were two other items of worth. When my colleague looked online to locate her phone, she saw that it was traveling around the city where she had stayed. My colleague called the hotel and talked to her friend in management. Within moments, the friend had reviewed the hotel’s surveillance tapes for the estimated time of loss and identified who had taken the items.
The thief was a new employee, one who apparently was unaware that their actions were knowable, one who didn’t realize that the location of an active phone can be detected by the owner.
In like manner, our actions are known to God. When we effectively take that which is needed by our fellows or our future kin, God is aware.
There are times when we think we are modern and enlightened, and that therefore old superstitions need not be heeded.
The first day of April is often associated with foolery. For example, the leaders for my daughter’s zone texted the missionaries telling them their preparation day would end at noon rather than six. Since my daughter is Sister Training Leader, she was a bit panicked about how to arrange activities for her little flock of sisters. Then someone asked, “Is this an April Fool’s joke?”
DC experienced a little bit of a divine April Fool’s day joke. Today was peak bloom for the cherry blossoms that inspire the weeks-long DC Cherry Blossom Festival. The blooms were amazing, but despite a gloriously warm Saturday, today’s temperatures never reached 50 degrees.
My husband shared a funny story from the past. On an April 1st many years ago a fellow named Hartman Rector got a phone call. The individual on the other end of the line said, “Hi, I’m an assistant to President David O. McKay, and we’d like to have you come to Salt Lake City for General Conference. Is that OK?”
Hartman said, “Sure.” and hung up, figuring it was an April Fool’s joke. But then he thought, “What if it isn’t a joke?” Sure enough, President McKay really did want Hartman Rector to come to Salt Lake, and Brother Rector was called to be a General Authority.
So I thought it would be fun to let folks talk about experiences they’ve had on the first day of April.
[P.S., I’m really glad General Conference won’t fall on April 1 this year. No reduxes of Elder Rector’s “Yeah, right” bemusement.]