God’s Strange Act: A Legacy

[This post is the last of a series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Taylor and Shazia

In the fall of 2012, Taylor volunteered to campaign for one of the two US presidential candidates. He was primarily motivated by political ideology, but he also hoped that he might meet someone. He’d fought for his country in Iraq and served a mission to Thailand. For a couple of years since his mission, Taylor had been hoping to meet someone he could marry. He’d dated, of course, and he’d introduce whichever woman he was dating to his family, only to eventually have to tell well-wishers that, no, he was no longer dating this woman or that woman.

In the pre-dawn mist, Taylor surveyed the group of fellow campaigners that had gathered at the vans that would take them to a swing district for the weekend of campaigning. Instead of the group of college students he’d expected, the other campaigners were mature individuals or children. Resigned, Taylor set about making friends of those around him.

After dawn, the vans of campaigners stopped for a break. Taylor noticed that amidst the older folks and helpful children, there was a woman. She was bundled in her coat against the fall chill, hair pulled back in a knot, glasses framing an attractive face of undetermined age. Taylor turned back to his new-found friends and continued their discussion, not wanting to make his new friends feel he was willing to ditch them just for an attractive woman. Particularly if the woman turned out to be much older or married or otherwise uninterested in a person like himself. However Taylor’s new friends urged him to meet the lady on the other side of the group.

Her name, Taylor learned, was Shazia. And, no, she wasn’t in her thirties, nor was she married. As the weekend progressed, in the midst of their village of fellow campaigners, Taylor and Shazia began to learn how much they shared in common: music, academics, a love of the outdoors, politics, having a parent from Asia, pioneer heritage, ancestors who were shot at Carthage jail.[ref]John Taylor and Hyrum Smith.[/ref]

In time Taylor introduced Shazia to his family and updated his Facebook status. Eventually an e-mail from Taylor’s grandmother went out, days before Valentine’s Day, with the subject “Taylor’s technically not engaged yet, but the marriage is set…”

Thus began one of the myriad love stories of those who believe in the importance of marriage, of those who believe their unions can last for eternity.

Together, Forever

Our modern culture is filled with movies and cards talking about being together forever. And yet there is only one religion with a doctrine that actually allows for couples and families to be together in eternity.

This is the legacy of Joseph Smith. He taught that we could we enter into eternal covenants with one another. Further, he taught, we could solemnize eternal linkages between our family members reaching through all generations of mortal existence, all countries, all eras.

We who love in this life know how much our spouse means to us, how much we care for our children, how much we care for our parents. As we consider the generations who preceded us and the generations yet to come, Mormons see mankind as a great eternal family, one that transcends all boundaries of time and space.

Isaiah prophesied that in the last day, the Lord God would rise up and save His people, as David had saved Israel from the Philistines in the valley of Gibeon. In that last day, Isaiah said, God would do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.[ref]c.f. Isaiah 28:21.[/ref]

God would give His people line upon line, precept upon precept, giving us consolation, confirming our hope.[ref]c.f. D&C 128:21.[/ref] In that day Elijah would appear and restore the sealing power, that the fathers might be sealed to their children, and the children to their fathers.[ref]c.f., Malachi 4:5-6.[/ref] The hour would come when those in their graves would hear the word of God,[ref]c.f., John 5: 28[/ref] that Word which is life and light, with power to make all who will believe the children of God.[ref]c.f., D&C 138, John 1: 1-14.[/ref]

This, then, was the purpose of the restoration, to save all mankind by binding us together in families, with the saving ordinance of baptism performed by proxy as a prerequisite to eternal union.

No other theology, specifically not the theologies of breakaway Mormon groups, envisions this universal salvation of mankind. Of modern religions, only in the religion Joseph Smith restored will each child of God become free from the circumstances and limitations of their birth. In the theology believers claim Joseph Smith restored, all are provided the means for salvation and then permitted to choose whether to embrace the salvation of Christ or reject it.[ref]This ability for the individual to choose, combined with God’s justice and Christ’s mercy, is expected to result in individuals spending eternity in any of various desired states, from a state where God is not to a state where all effort goes towards forwarding God’s plan of “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of Man.” Thus no one is forced to heaven against their will, nor is anyone consigned to hell due to an accident of birth.[/ref]

Why Polygamy?

If the family of mankind was to be bound together for eternity, it had to be possible to bind together those families where a man had been married to more than one woman during his lifetime.

Despite the huge amount of controversy and suffering endured over polygamy, I submit that Joseph’s introduction of polygamy as part of the New and Everlasting Covenant was merely a procedural footnote to the great work of sealing mankind together.

In great stories, the hero’s quest is to right the great wrong that looms over the people. Christ died that all might be saved, that all might be resurrected. “Else why are they baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all,” Paul told the Corinthians. From this exasperated comment, we get a picture of a primitive Christian church that was performing ordinances on behalf of the departed, extending salvation to more than just those few who are privileged to hear it and embrace it in this life.

Yet this salvation is not just for the children of first wives. Insistence on monogamy as the only valid form of marriage had to be broken, else the great work of binding families together, with the pre-requisite of baptism, would fail. Women who married widowers would have been cut off. The plural wives of 70% of mankind’s cultures would have forever been cut off. And with these women, vast numbers of children would also be cut off.

A culture willing to kill over polygamy would almost certainly not have willingly birthed an understanding that a man could be eternally sealed to more than one woman. And so restoration of that one small aspect of the work required the sacrifice of “the best blood of the nineteenth century,” as John Taylor would write of Joseph’s death.

Why the Secrecy?

Of late there have been those disturbed that the Church appeared to hide the past regarding polygamy. Something, surely, was rotten about this, if it had to be so thoroughly buried.

Three factors come into play. First is that polygamy isn’t what you want dominating an initial conversation about salvation and the precious gift of Christ’s atonement. And if not discussed then, when? Currently polygamy is discussed, but typically not until one is studying the history of the Church, and most people never get to a stage where they are seriously studying the history of the Church. Thus most people get stuck at a level where they are uncomfortable at the thought of polygamy yet don’t have the background to understand why God might have restored this “principle.”

Second, there are those who learn of polygamy and desire to practice it, believing (incorrectly) that if it was good enough for Joseph, it is good enough for them. Surely this fear should be receding over a hundred years after the excommunication of John W. Taylor, but today’s general authorities were born when this was a very real threat, and some have adult memories of Apostle Richard Lyman’s excommunication in 1943, for having intimate relations with a woman Richard had originally merely planned to have sealed to him as a plural wife after his death.

Third, the actual history of Nauvoo polygamy has been clouded by obfuscation, originally intended to protect the repentant souls who had been seduced by John C. Bennett and his Strikers. How could the Church tell those things that had been stricken from the record, details that had only ever been known to a select few who who took the secrets to their graves over a century ago?

Today, with the internet, the mangled and secretive story has power to wound, where it could previously simply be hidden. And so today it is necessary to assemble the story, as best as we possibly can, so that the most accurate truth can be laid before all, believers and detractors alike.

Knowledge Brings Peace

When preparing to write this series, I thought there would be many who would challenge my views, bringing forward facts that would fundamentally alter the reconstruction I had made. I actually welcomed that, because I do want to base my reconstruction on the best data available.

What I hoped for but wasn’t sure of were the numbers of those commenting and e-mailing me directly, telling me that this reconstruction made sense of a history they’d relegated to a back shelf. These were often those who had made a decision to be faithful based on the witness of the Spirit, even though Joseph’s polygamy had remained a mystery.

Some have supposed me dogmatic in my views. Yet had I encountered solid data during this journey that altered my original premise, I would have changed.

In fact, you have seen this. I originally didn’t know the extent of John Bennett’s seduction of Joseph’s people. I didn’t originally think the Strikers had been directly involved in Joseph’s killing. I didn’t originally consider my ancestor, Austin Cowles, to be a major conspirator contributing to Joseph’s death. I didn’t originally acknowledge how fundamentally responsible my ancestor, John W. Taylor, had been for today’s Mormon fundamentalists. I had not originally imagined how many of the women involved in early Nauvoo polygamy might have been seduced by the Strikers. I didn’t know that Eliza R. Snow had modified her 1842 poem about marriage or that she had written describing her intimate relationship with “that Foul hearted spirit, the traitor, The vile, faithless, rottenhearted wretch…,” presumably John C. Bennett.

The history I have reconstructed tells of horrific evil. And yet it rings true. Recently I received a letter from someone related to Mary Clift, whose child has long been presumed to be one of the first children born into polygamy, a child I have asserted was fathered by a Striker, one Gustavus Hills.[ref]This assertion is based on Mary’s own affidavit before the Nauvoo High Council in 1842.[/ref]


I wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Theodore Turley/Mary Clift marriage…  In researching [Mary’s] life to present a biography, I was more than  a little confused by the August 1842 Gustavus Hills testimony she gave in relation to the family’s insistence on the January 1842 marriage date.  In asking [another family member] about it, he suggested (as a theory, since we don’t know for sure) that it was a false testimony in an effort to hide the practice of plural marriage.  I’ve recently discovered your theory that you published earlier this year to the contrary.  This is much more satisfying to me in picturing both Mary and Theodore…

As my correspondent concluded, we may never truly know what happened. But first we must acknowledge that all other theories regarding Nauvoo and polygamy are similarly uncertain. Ultimately we should select those reconstructions that best fit the totality of the data. I believe the totality of the data shows Joseph to have been almost certainly faithful to Emma and perhaps too willing to forgive those who would ultimately kill him.

Joseph’s Legacy

If Joseph Smith was inspired by God, then what we have today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represents the result. What we have is a religion that envisions all mankind as brothers and sisters, a theology with a mechanism to save all mankind through all time as well as all space. We have a religion fundamentally based on the primacy of the love between spouses and the love between parents and children.

It is a religion that even has power to offer salvation to even those who have fallen away: to John Bennett and William Law, to Francis Higbee and Lorin C. Wooley. When the final judgement commences, the hope is that all the ordinances of salvation will have been performed for all mankind, that all individuals will then stand before the judgement bar with an ability to embrace that baptism that has been performed on their behalf and choose Christ and God.

In that envisioned future judgement, no man or woman will be left behind except by their own, individual choice. No child will have been declared an eternal bastard unworthy of Christ’s salvation. All will be provided the ordinances of salvation as part of the human family, it all its complexities.

This, then, is the legacy of Joseph, and the reason it was worth giving his life to restore the knowledge that marriages in eternity could, at times, diverge from the monogamous ideal.


I am grateful to Bruce Nielson for inviting me to blog here at Millennial Star. Without this opportunity, I would not have been forced to find the next level of documentation you have seen here. I am also grateful to Brian C. Hales, who graciously shared the Nauvoo High Council Minutes and the testimonies of the women who reported having been seduced by the Strikers. Brian’s magnificent 1500 page work on Joseph’s polygamy contains a vast amount of information regarding Nauvoo events, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I am also grateful for those researchers who have gone before me, and who have shared their writings. Of particular note are Todd H. Compton, Gary Bergera, Richard L. Bushman, Linda Newell, Val Avery, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. While I may not always agree with their interpretations, I am grateful for their scholarship and probity.

Finally, I am grateful to my family, for their support and example. In particular, I am grateful to my husband, Bryan Stout, for his unwavering love for me and all mankind, and for his suggestions throughout the years, pointing me to works such as Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness and Hales’ Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. If I know that men can be good and great, it is because I know Bryan Stout.

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About Meg Stout

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 that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

35 thoughts on “God’s Strange Act: A Legacy

  1. Great series, Meg. Thanks for writing it. I’ve learned more from your posts than I had ever imagined.

    Have you thought about turning your posts into a book on the subject?

    Thanks, again.

  2. Hi Medford,

    Thank you for your comment – I will say that I, too, learned more than I imagined I would.

    I do have plans to put this material into book format. I have an agent from an earlier book I’ve written (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Aquaponic Gardening…) and she has indicated she might be interested in a book about this subject. However I haven’t formally submitted my proposal to her.

  3. Thanks Meg for an excellent series. As I’ve said before, it’s the first time our history with regards to polygamy has been presented in a coherent way from a faithful perspective, and as such I hope it is considered groundbreaking, even if some assumptions have had to be made to get there.

    Would love for it to be prepared for a book….

  4. Please forgive my cluelessness. Taylor is your son? If so, congratulations to him and his bride and to you and your husband.

  5. I have also enjoyed the series though I came upon it rather late. the thing that I always come away with is the idea that even with all the historical information we have, there is still a great deal we simply do not know. And even secondary sources seem to reflect a certain bias based on their own perceptions.

    When studying history, many seem to fail to understand this.

  6. No, Taylor is not my son. Though my daughter is peeved that I didn’t highlight her romance at the head of this post. But I prefer to avoid posting full names of relatives in this venue.

    In my daughter’s story, she told the man she eventually married that, were she to marry before going on a mission, he was the man she would choose.

    For his part, my son-in-law, David, had wondered if he was too damaged and old to marry (at the seemingly ancient age of 28, having been ditched by two fiancees).

    My daughter and David began dating and started keeping a “Couple’s Journal,” where they wrote about how much they appreciated and loved one another. David had asked for it back on my daughter’s twentieth birthday, to start his “turn.” He took the book and cut out a circle in several pages, creating a well in which he placed the ring. And then he wrote in the book “Will you marry me?”

    I asked Taylor if I could feature his wedding picture because he and Shazia represent not merely a happy couple, but a uniquely diverse couple. Which I wanted to highlight at the head of a post talking about the salvation of all mankind.

    Also, I was intrigued by the fact that Taylor is a descendant of John W. Taylor and Shazia is a descendant of Joseph F. Smith, the two men who represented the opposing camps in the contest over the fate of polygamy in the early 1900s. But I didn’t end up highlighting that fact in my post, as I thought I might.

  7. Although I did not go back and read all the comments on this series of posts, it seems that the objections to your hypothesis that
    Joseph would have preferred to remain entirely faithful (in the context of traditional nineteenth century American morality) to Emma are as follows:
    1. This version of Joseph’s behavior contradicts the common view that he either manufactured an excuse to be a philanderer or that he was eager to exploit the revelation he received by dallying with many women behind Emma’s back.
    2. One of the great ladies of the early Church, E. R. Snow is seen to be a victim of the Bennett scandal. It appears to me that many would prefer to leave Eliza untouched even at the cost of impugning Joseph.
    3. One or more commentors can’t believe that Joseph would be reluctant to engage in full relations with the women he married polygamously or question the propriety of refusing to consummate a marriage.

    We have scriptural evidence that prophets can be reluctant at times. Jonah is a prime example. Abraham tried to bargain over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses felt he was inadequate to the task of releasing Israelites from Egyptian oppression. Nephi had to be convinced to take the life of Laban. It seems to me that Joseph’s devotion to Emma was the sticking point in his evident reluctance to restore this particular aspect of ‘all things’.
    I find your hypothesis of Joseph’s behavior convincing. I have learned a lot from what you have assembled about the details of the various plots and conspiracies in the Nauvoo period as well as during the divestment of polygamy at the time of the Manifesto.
    In any event, I regard Joseph Smith with some awe, some sympathy and much appreciation for his work.

  8. Thank you for this excellent series. I have toyed in the past with reading other books about polygamy, but I never felt good about them. This account has been both enlightening and edifying throughout.

    I very much hope that this gets turned into a good book with plenty of references and even an appendix or two. The book doesn’t need to be long. It just need to be clear, reasonably thorough, and well referenced. A good launching point for future research perhaps.

    By the way, after reading your previous post about the end of LDS polygamy, I couldn’t help but wonder if at least a part of the reason that the Lord ended polygamy was that it was beginning (in some ways at least) to turn into a secret combination with all sorts of lying, secrets, and extremists. Polygamy was important to forwarding the Lord’s work, but continuing it despite the very severe opposition would have twisted the church around The Principle rather that the Savior.

    Thanks again for this fascinating series.

  9. “For his part, my son-in-law, David, had wondered if he was too damaged and old to marry (at the seemingly ancient age of 28, having been ditched by two fiancees).”

    I was three months shy of 30 when I got married. Yeah, those doubts can gnaw.

  10. Well done, Meg. I wish this series could go on and on, but I imagine you will have other thoughts to share with readers in the coming weeks. Thanks for all of your insights.

  11. I’ve really enjoyed this series and I am sad to see it end. I have read some about Joseph’s polygamy and I have felt that the assumption of “Joseph the Philanderer” just doesn’t add up. As with many things in the scriptures and in the history of the church, I have had the feeling that there is somehow more to the story. I get a bit irritated at members who are so willing to assume the worst about Joseph without considering other possibilities and motivations. I don’t know if your conclusions are all correct, but to me the ideas are interesting. They make as much or more sense than much of the conventional wisdom out there.

  12. Does anyone have any “but what about…” items? There’s a wealth of information that I have answers for, but simply didn’t have time to address in this format.

  13. I will ask for your thoughts on something. You say, “Women who married widowers would have been cut off. ” What about men who marry widows?

  14. Meg,

    If you can’t find a publisher, please consider self pubbing it via Amazon. This is too good to stay on your hard drive. This is a story that needs to be told to as many who are willing to listen.

  15. Deserves a solid publisher. This will be an outstanding book of interest to people in and out of the Church. Thank you for your detailed work!

  16. Men who marry widows are unlikely to be lost to history.

    Think for a moment of Tamar and Ruth. You know the name of the man who “raised up seed” to the dead husband in each case, but can you recall the names of the dead husbands?

    It was unlikely that these second husbands would become lost, and no one objects to the policy of sealing all men to their wives after death. However it is not as obvious that people would have allowed extra wives to be sealed to a man.

    So as we can see, provision has been made to seal husbands of widows into the family of man, albeit posthumously. And in several cases, including for some “widows” of Joseph Smith, I suspect we will see the widow choose a husband for eternity that she wasn’t sealed to in life.

    I think in that realm we will all be great friends, but I think the norm will be couples with one man and one woman. How that gets worked out for those individuals who, in life, had multiple spouses is something I defer to God.

  17. So help me out. If I understand the Mormon view correctly, the concept of husbands and wives being “sealed” to each other and their offspring is of supreme importance. To fully realize that ideal, the “mechanism” Meg speaks of as being its accomplishment is found in the potential “sealing” of a man to more than one woman so that in the event of a first wife’s death and remarriage of the man, offspring of the second union won’t be cut off from the sealing blessings in eternity.

    But how does this mechanism answer in a scenario where the first husband is the one who dies and the wife remarries and produces offspring from a second husband? To whom are those children sealed? Are they not “orphans” in eternity?

    I’m thinking there’s a simple answer, but my more-simple brain just isn’t coming up with it.

  18. Meg,

    I am not worried about Brigham Young marrying Joseph’s wives for whatever reason he may have had. I am thinking about the 25 year old widow who is left without a faithful companion because every faithful man wants to be sealed. We can say that it will all work out in the eternities, and I am sure that it will, but that is little comfort at times.

    And, if this is not a problem, why was polygamy needed to help women get sealed into the greater human family? Joseph could have avoided all kinds of problems by teaching that, dismissing polygamy, and living monogamously. I see no compelling reason for polygamy to be practiced in order to justify the sealing ordinance.

  19. Hi DD,

    Have you done your genealogy out to ten generations? Have you found that all wives of the male head of household in each family are included in that genealogy?

    I think for the majority of genealogies, people will talk about the Smith line or the Jones line, but that only happens when people are tracing the men. If you construct a family tree with the women listed in the primary spot, you fill find that there are no “family” lines. Every generation is a different name.

    I counter that not every faithful man wants to be sealed more than he wants to be with a woman that he loves. This is the great example of Boaz, who was not the covenant father of Ruth’s children. And yet he loved Ruth.

    If you go back in history to 1000 or so, the old levirate laws were in place. In the old days, a man’s consolation prize for marrying a widow was getting the property that went with the widow. Depending on the culture, the widow couldn’t dispose of that property, but it was to be used for her support and the support of her children, both children she had engendered with her first husband as well as the children her subsequent spouse might raise up to the name of the first husband.

    In the case of queens, that “property” was the kingdom. Plenty of men willing to marry a “widow” to get the property that went with her – plenty of men willing to make a woman a widow to get the property that went with her, as we see in the case of Lady MacBeth, Cnut, and Amalekiah. Again, we see that in the case of Boaz, although it’s pretty clear the property (the fields outside Bethlehem, pretty sure that’s the location of Christ’s birth) wasn’t the motivation (I think Boaz’ motivation had something to do with Ruth going in and lying at his feet that one night…).

    Saint Margaret of Scotland had the witangamot change the laws, because she was in a situation where her husband was liable to be murdered for her sake, as her step son appears to have been in love with her, and would have gained the kingdom and her hand if his father somehow ended up dead. Not saying Margaret’s son in law would have murdered his father, but wouldn’t have minded the state of affairs if his father somehow ended up dead. Therefore we live in a world that is not informed by the way history traditionally managed the responsibility for widows.

    Your objection is why Brigham instituted the policy in Nauvoo from 1845-46 that every widow who wished to be sealed to her dead husband was then married for time to the man who was willing to stand as proxy.

    I asked my husband if it would have made a difference if I had been a widow rather than a divorcee. He admitted it might have given him some pause, but then again, he only proposed to me because the spirit bashed him over the head, and I presume the spirit would have bashed him over the head whether I was a widow or a divorcee. And my beloved is nothing if not cognizent of spiritual promptings.

  20. I need to develop my objection more carefully. You basically say that polygamy was needed to break the hold of monogamy so that people could accept consequences of the sealing power. Please let me know if that is not what you are arguing in your “Why Polygamy” section.

    I would respond that polygamy certainly did not solve all difficulties relating to sealing. I am not sure if it solved any. Can a man married to a woman already sealed receive exaltation? I have done enough family history to know that often the plural wives of faithful men were very unhappy about their situation. What will happen to them in the eternities? What if a woman asks to have her sealing to her deceased husband annulled? Can the first husband receive exaltation? Why can a man be sealed to more than one woman, but a woman cannot be sealed to more than one man? We usually respond that all those types of problems will be worked out in the eternities. So what answer did polygamy give us? All the old questions are still there along with some new ones. We still have to rely on our testimonies of the basic principles and ordinances and wait for answers that will come in the due time of the Lord.

  21. Hi DD,

    I think you also need to recall that the way polygamy got implemented was completely messed up, due in large part to the terrible actions of Bennett and his Strikers. Ideally, it could have been as simple as you hoped, teaching that all of a man’s wives (and all of a woman’s husbands) should be sealed into the great human family.

    Except that wasn’t the way God (per Joseph) told Joseph to proceed. I prefer to grant that maybe God had a reason.

    I guess I’m lucky in that I’m descended from men whose wives adored them. I don’t know about James Taylor (John Taylor’s father) and the marriage of Mary Leamon to Hezekiah Peck likely wasn’t even consummated, but Jonathan Harriman Holmes was greatly loved by his three wives, the last two of which were not sealed to him. John Taylor’s wives loved him and one another. John W. Taylor’s wives loved him and even refused to remarry after his death (versus your postulated situation where a widow has no suitors). Job Welling’s three surviving wives were biological sisters, but their children assert that they never heard their mothers raise their voices in argument. Joseph Leland Heywood’s wives were strong, independent women, but their writings about one another and about him are pretty positive, considering the situation (one of his wives was Martha Spence, someone I think everyone accepts as baldly truthful, whose journal was published under the title “Not By Bread Alone.”)

    For your use cases:

    1) Wife requests cancellation of sealing to her departed husband because she wants to be sealed to a subsequent husband. I suppose such a cancellation would be allowed if there were something wrong with the first marriage, e.g., if the first husband were abusive. But I don’t believe it is common (or possibly even permitted) for a woman to cancel her first sealing merely for convenience.

    2) Man marries a widow who was sealed to a prior husband. I agree it would be really useful for someone to address this from the pulpit, but after this life, the current policies would allow for this faithful man to be sealed to his previously sealed wife, allowing him in eternity to enjoy all the blessings of that sealing.

    3) Woman is married/sealed to someone, but they are neglectful or abusive. The sealing involves a covenant between the individual and God as well as between two individuals. So that covenant between the unhappy woman and God is still in force. And there is no reason to think that in eternity she will be forced to remain with a man who makes her unhappy. One option is that repentance and forgiveness can transform a mortal creep into a heavenly desirable. Or if the mortal spouse doesn’t repent and isn’t an option to be an eternal mate, then other arrangements are made. How delightful to have a chance to find the perfect spouse, without any restrictions of time or space! Although I’d prefer it if my spouse and I get to be together, all other things being equal.

    I still don’t think there was ever any risk of men getting lost or cut off from the family of mankind. As we have seen, current policies allow for all men to be sealed into the family of mankind posthumously. But given the way people treat women, there was, I believe, a real risk that “extra” women and the children would not have been sealed to their husband/father had the insistence on monogamy not been broken.

  22. I’ve loved this series. Thank-you for your hard work and research. I’m still not totally sold that temporal polygamy was implemented for the express purpose of teaching celestial law on sealings. Given the examples of my own family, the concept of “raising up seed” seems a much more convincing reason to me why God might have required polygamy of early church members (perhaps I’m a bit biased by the justification in the BoM). Like DD, I have a few female ancestors who openly admitted to hating polygamy, but they did what they felt the Lord required of them. Those who grew up among the practice did not appear to hold it in as much contempt (again, speaking from my own family’s experience). Unhappiness in polygamist arrangements was not uncommon, though, and divorce was relatively easy to obtain for those who desired it.

    The other reason I have a hard time with the main premise, I think, is because our current understanding of temple sealings is vastly different from what Joseph, Brigham, and other early leaders understood. It wasn’t until Wilford Woodruff that we got the concept of sealing families to biological ancestors. Sealing policies have changed dramatically over the years (when my grandparents were doing family history in the 1930s, there were prohibitions on sealing children to parents with multiple monogamous relationships. This created many of the “orphan” situations that you claim the institution of polygamy was established to prevent.). Applying such a modern view of temple sealings and policies to Joseph’s implementation of polygamy seems a little tenuous.

  23. Hi Mary Ann,

    I agree that the sealing policies under Brigham Young got a bit strange, and continued a bit strange. But I don’t think there is anything from Joseph’s lifetime that indicated he didn’t envision the sealings to bring families together in eternity. For example, Lucy Mack Smith’s history of her son goes on and on about Joseph’s forebears.

    Brigham got distracted by John D. Lee’s idea of adopting people to himself. John D. Lee, in turn, saw it as a way to create some sort of feudal construct, where his “sons” would help support him. I really like the section in Brian C. Hales’ book, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, where he talks about the whole adoption business, and how Brigham had a vision of Joseph that, instead of confirming adoption, told Brigham to listen to the spirit, and that the spirit would teach the people all things.

    Granted that early policies didn’t allow what we would now think of as obvious sealings between children and parents to occur. But I believe in a God who knows all things, including the future. None of the messed up policies of the past have power to undo the sealings and salvation that can now be effected for those earlier individuals. When a farmer prunes his or her fruit trees, an observer who doesn’t understand the growing cycles won’t understand the impact that pruning is intended to have on the productivity of the plant months in the future.

    As for unhappiness in plural marriage, I would turn the thing around. Precisely because it was trivially easy to get a divorce, a woman’s statement that she was unhappy in her plural marriage is not completely convincing to me if she remained in that plural marriage. How many of us, if our private writings were made public, would seem to be desperately unhappy in our lives?

    I don’t mind the “seed” idea, since I obviously wouldn’t be here as I am if it weren’t for the practice of polygamy. I just don’t think it is either a sufficient justification or the only reason. I don’t think God sent an angel with a sword to Joseph just so I could come forth into the particular family construct that became available to me because of polygamy.

  24. Hi Meg,

    I agree that the practice of polygamy was messed up by the environment in which it was introduced. I also agree that there was a reason for it. I am not sure, though, that any of the reasons given are convincing.

    So, I have concluded that I don’t need to know the reason. Polygamy will not be accepted in the Church in my lifetime, even if Utah’s illegal cohabitation laws are declared unconstitutional. I do not need a testimony of it. I read up on the topic, and I do find the old reasons that were given interesting, but then they fail to explain most of what went on. In many ways, a testimony of polygamy can be a hindrance in the spiritual environment we have today.

    I have only just started to go back through all your posts on the topic. Do you discuss the development of the adoption doctrine in one of them? I would be interested to know why you state that John D. Lee influenced Brigham Young on the topic, rather than the other way around.

  25. As I read my previous comment, I am still not confident that my reasoning is clear. I think all the reasons I have read for polygamy have problems. It makes more sense to me to say we do not know the reason rather than give a reason that does not stand up to scrutiny.

  26. I think God had many tactical and strategic reasons for asking Joseph to instate polygamy for a period of time.

    The reason I particularly like certain reasons is that they are consistent with ending polygamy in 1890.

    A reason I like the purpose of making it clear beyond any doubt that all a man’s wives were to be sealed to him in eternity (individuals such as Hyrum Smith) is that this was clearly one of Joseph’s concerns when he introduced the doctrine, and it has the benefit of being something we now take for granted. No one can do an analysis that shows that this purpose wasn’t fulfilled (as they have done, for example, on the purported “purpose” of raising up seed, speaking of numerical outcomes).

    I’m not sure you’ve actually read this series, or if you are just jumping in here without benefit of the prior discussions. I would also recommend volume three of Brian C. Hales Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, which addresses the common purported reasons for polygamy, though he doesn’t discuss this matter of clarifying sealings as that wasn’t on the table (see, taken for granted) when he wrote his book.

    As for adoptions, I don’t recall how much I go into it, but again I refer you to Brian C. Hales. I’m pretty sure I did discuss how those leaders who had been adopted to other leaders broke off those adoptive sealings and had themselves sealed to their parents around the time the Utah temples were dedicated.

  27. The interpretation of the New and Everlasting Covenant changing from an emphasis on following an Abrahamic pattern of marriage to sealing families to parents as part of the celestial pattern can be seen as occurring during the transition between John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. I believe Meg makes a strong case for John Taylor’s belief that polygamy was essential. I find this believable because of his personal investment in polygamy. Initially repelled by the idea, he adopted it with zeal. One indication of his potent advocacy of ‘the principle’ is the behavior of his elderly father who converted and immigrated to Deseret in his sixties. He married first when he was twenty five years old but once he moved west he married three additional women with no children resulting. I firmly believe that God intended polygamy to be a tempering experience for the early Church as well as having other purposes, not the least of which was to open minds and hearts to the idea of sealing more than one wife and children to one man. As members of the Church we confront several hurdles including a teenaged prophet, ancient records dug from the earth or purchased from a traveler, and stringent dietary and lifestyle constraints that are out of step with Western culture. Polygamy is no longer required but it casts a long shadow that makes some feel they would rather it had not happened. Some advise that the Church should make changes to better reflect the progressive practices of religions which embrace SSM, PP, LGBT+ lifestyles, and female clergy. Reality contradicts the advice as we observe those same churches struggling to retain members. In eagerness to prune the wide spread oak of the true gospel into a nice tidy tree, such advocates of reform would destroy the very branches on which fruit is grown.

  28. Hi Meg,

    I’ll make one more post here. I appreciate the time you have taken to share your responses to my thoughts. You are correct, I have come in at the end of your series. I will work my way through it.

    I have a concern about your first post and your position that Joseph never consummated his plural marriages. It would be different if you shared the names of those who reported sexual relations with him. It is one thing to mention two anonymous women who lied to try to win a lawsuit. It is another to say that Eliza R. Snow lied for no good reason whatsoever. I don’t think she felt a need to aggrandize herself to Heber C. Kimball. I find it hard to discount her statement.

    As for the reasons for polygamy, I doubt we will agree, for the time being at least. I will take what you have written and think about it. Thank you once again.

  29. Hi DD,

    I have considered the Heber C. Kimball reference, and posted this some years ago:

    Eliza was given a chance to deny she could ever have been pregnant. According to Joseph Smith III, Angus Cannon said “Brother Heber C. Kimball, I am informed, asked [Eliza Snow] the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith and afterwards to Brigham Young, when she replied in a private gathering, “I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that.””

    Angus Cannon was the appellant in the case of Cannon v. United States, which was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1885, so he had a vested interested in the tale he told. He was also old enough to remember if Eliza had been pregnant, as member of the circle of children likely to have been either pupil of Eliza or playmate of Eliza’s pupils. Let us introduce two seemingly innocent twists to the quote and place it in 1885 around the time of Wyl’s written speculations about Eliza and John C. Bennett.

    “Heber [] Kimball (son of Heber C. Kimball, age-mate of Angus Cannon and another inner-circle 7-8 year old child in Nauvoo) asked Eliza Snow in a private gathering the question if she had been [celibate] in her marriage to Joseph Smith. [Young Heber and young Angus could have been eye-witnesses to Eliza’s pregnancy, if she had been pregnant while teaching school in the Red Brick Store during the winter of 1842/3. Asking her if her marriage to Joseph had been celibate would be a semi-discreet way of getting her to rebut Wyl’s tale circa 1885.]

    ” ‘I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that,’ Eliza replied.”

    Eliza’s reply to Heber Kimball, if correctly reported, has the beauty of confirming nothing yet implying worlds. Her reply is equally vague and brillant whether in response to Heber C. Kimball asking about virginity before his death in 1868 or to the younger Heber Kimball asking about celibacy in a specific marriage to clarify the truth or error of a troubling accusation.

    What we have in this story is lots of tellers and multiple opportunities for someone to slightly mangle the tale in transmission. In particular, there is no reason Angus Cannon would have asked Heber C. Kimball about this matter before the elder apostle’s death.

    By the way, I no longer hold that Eliza was pregnant when she was teaching school.

    The two women who asserted rather more strongly than not that they’d been intimate with Joseph were Malissa Lott and Emily Partridge, and these testimonies were elicited during the Temple Lot trial, where the fate of the Temple Lot was in the balance. It had to be proved that Brigham Young’s version of the Church was “correct” and that Joseph’s sons did not legitimately follow in their father’s footsteps. And so it all hinged on whether or not Joseph had taught (and practiced) plural marriage. Brian Hales actually uses this trial to suggest that Helen Mar Kimball must not have been intimate with Joseph, since she was conveniently located to the trial and in good health. If she could have asserted sexual relations, then Hales argues she would have been put on the stand.

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