Guest Post: Happily Living with Eternal Polygamy

widowerBio: Abel Keogh is the author of six books who lives in fast-growing Utah County with his wife, Julie, and the requisite seven children. His books include the relationship guides Dating a Widower and The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers. He currently serves as the secretary of the second elder’s quorum (yes, the ward is that big). You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about Abel and his books at abelkeogh.com.

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After reading Meg Stout’s review of The Ghosts of Eternal Polygamy and the comments that followed, I realized that there is little first-hand information out there from Latter-day Saints who are currently sealed to more than one spouse. Because of that, I wanted to share my story in regards in order to bring some insight, hope, and clarity to those who may be struggling with the doctrine of eternal polygamy.

Raised in an active Latter-day Saint family, I never gave more than a passing thought to the doctrine of polygamy. Even though my mother’s side of the family included pioneers who crossed the plains, I have no polygamous ancestors. I was taught that polygamy was something the Lord instituted in the early days of the LDS Church then later discontinued in 1890. I knew that men could be sealed to more than one wife if one of them died, but not knowing anyone in my family that was sealed to more than one woman, I never spent much time dwelling on it. I also never thought I’d be sealed to more than one woman.

The next time I encountered the issue of polygamy was when I served a mission in Bulgaria. There was a huge misconception among the Bulgarians that Mormons still practiced polygamy. To those who were willing to listen, I explained that I only had one mother and polygamy was something that the church no longer practiced. Most of my time with investigators was spent talking about the Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith. I can’t remember anyone discontinuing discussions because of polygamy or it being a subject of contention or worry with the members.

A year after I returned from my mission I was sealed to a woman in the Logan, Utah temple. Nearly three years later, at the age of 26, I unexpectedly became a young widower when my late wife took her own life. She was seven months pregnant at the time and though doctors were able to save the baby it soon became clear that she wasn’t going to make it. Nine days after she came into this world, I made the most difficult decision of my life and removed my daughter from life support.

It wasn’t until I started dating again that I realized that worries about eternal polygamy would make it challenging to get into a serious relationship. When the subject of my previous marriage and sealing came up in dates or getting-to-know-you conversations, I could tell by looks and comments that many women gave me that there would be concerns they would have to overcome in order to marry a man who was also sealed to a deceased spouse.

A few months after I started dating, I met a wonderful woman named Julie. Julie was 23 and a recent college graduate who was enjoying living on her own and utilizing her Chemistry degree in her first post-college job. When she learned on our first date that I was a widower, her gut reaction was that she never wanted to date me again. Though she had thought about the possibility of dating a divorced man, like most women in their 20s, dating a widower had never crossed her mind. Just the thought of sharing her husband with another woman in the eternities was enough to turn her stomach. Nor did she like the possibility of living in the shadow of a dead woman.

Despite her reservations we continued dating. I fell in love with Julie early in the relationship and knew she was someone I could happily spend this life and the eternities with. Though she had strong feelings for me, Julie was more hesitant to commit to a serious relationship. Though I knew my being a widower was an issue, I didn’t realize until later how much time Julie spent on her knees praying and seeking guidance on whether or not to continue dating me because of her concerns regarding eternal polygamy.

Then at an unexpected time and an unexpected place, Julie received an answer to her prayers. My wife’s story of how and when the answer came is for her to share so all I will say is that answer confirmed to her that she would be happy in the next life if she choose to marry me. With her answer in hand, we continued dating. Nine months after our first date, we were sealed in the Bountiful, Utah temple.

Even though Julie received an answer to her prayers, we both knew that we had to address the eternal polygamy issue before we were sealed to each other. When we began to seriously discuss marriage we decided that we wouldn’t let thoughts of things we don’t fully understand dictate our happiness. Instead of focusing on what might happen in heaven, we resolved to do our best live the gospel and follow the commandments in this life. We both understood that if either of us were not found unworthy in the day of judgment, it wouldn’t matter who or how many people we were sealed to.

In the 13 years since we were sealed to each other, Julie and I have done our best to keep our lives focused on each other, living the gospel, fulfilling our callings, and following the prophet. This isn’t to say our marriage has been perfect or that the eternal polygamy issue hasn’t come up or caused moments of worry and concern. However, through prayer, open communication, and putting each other’s wants and needs above our own selfish desires we’ve been able to navigate the concerns regarding eternal polygamy as well as other issues that all married couples encounter.

In sharing this story, it’s not my intention to dismiss or underscore the pain or confusion that some Latter-day Saints feel about eternal polygamy. Rather it is to show those who are struggling with this doctrine can receive answers if they humbly, prayerfully, and patiently petition the Lord.

I don’t claim to fully understand how things will work out in the next life regarding my late wife and Julie. Like many gospel topics, it’s very easy to get hung up on doctrine or issues that we don’t fully understand or haven’t been fully revealed. But instead of spending our time worrying or agonizing over eternal polygamy we focus our time and energy on living the commandments, being worthy spouses to each other, and good parents to our seven children. This has brought us both peace, solidified our love for each other, and made our marriage stronger. Had we chosen to spend our time obsessing about eternal polygamy instead of being faithful spouses and parents, our marriage would not have lasted a year.

Finally, for those Latter-day Saints who feel that D&C 132 is an “error” which “needs to be corrected,” I wonder if they fully understand how their proposal would impact my marriage and thousands of others like it. To them I simply ask which woman would you deny the ability and accompanying blessings of being eternally sealed to their husband and children: my late wife or Julie?

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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 may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

25 thoughts on “Guest Post: Happily Living with Eternal Polygamy

  1. Thank you so much for this perspective. I so much agree with your point of view. I think that part of the reason for the rub of many toward eternal polygamy is that the view of it is so tainted by what they see in the record of its practice in this dispensation. Though there are stories of happy polygamous wives and families, in my opinion the less than optimal way it was rolled out and practiced in the 19th century and the inherent serious challenges of being a multiple wife is the reason that women may fear being part of it in the next (and, the inequities of allowing polygyny, but not polyandry may also be a frustration to some). But, by rejecting eternal polygamy one is making a big assumption that in the next life love, commitment, bonding and emotional intimacy can’t be accomplished in polygamy—which I get, may be for the most part true on earth, but is just not verifiable from our current vantage point. Even sexual intimacy can’t be assumed to exist as we know it in the next life, given the advanced exalted body and time and space differences there. Like you intimated, rejecting eternal polygamy is taking rights from women and breaking their sealings to husbands and children which they desire to keep. How is that fair or good? For me the question is not WHY eternal polygamy (which could mean polygyny & polyandry??), but WHY was it practiced in this dispensation? I think I’ve read all the possible reasons which have made little traction with me, so I’ve shelved it.

  2. Hi KarlS,

    When you say you’ve read all the possible reasons, I take it you’ve read my blog posts and book? In a tweet, “God needed every wife and child sealed into the family of mankind. It became more than a footnote when Joseph and Brigham reacted to the illicit intercourse scandal.”

  3. I stopped dating widowers after reading one of your books. They are blunt. A woman definitely needs to know what she is signing up for.

  4. As far as the eternities go, none of us _know_ what we’re really signing up for when we go to the temple for washing/anointing, endowment, and sealing. (Most of us, both adult converts and 8 year old BICs, don’t even understand how baptismal covenants are going to work out, or what all those “commandments” are going to entail.)

    Yeah, we could quote the words of the temple ordinances, but they don’t paint a clear picture; they are not _detail_ words, they are broad _overview_ words which leave a lot of leeway in parsing, interpreting, and applying them.

    Same thing applies to the various descriptions of post-mortal life in the Doctrine and Covenants, they are overviews and “feeling” words, nowhere near concrete enough to where we could say we _know_ what’s going to happen.

    Then the OT and NT descriptions of post-mortal life are not just nebulous, they are actually cryptic.

  5. Finally, for those Latter-day Saints who feel that D&C 132 is an “error” which “needs to be corrected,” I wonder if they fully understand how their proposal would impact my marriage and thousands of others like it. To them I simply ask which woman would you deny the ability and accompanying blessings of being eternally sealed to their husband and children: my late wife or Julie?

    The problem here is that this only goes one way…suppose I am a young widow, and then I remarry a wonderful man and have children with him and live MY ENTIRE EARTHLY EXISTENCE WITH HIM as opposed to a short year with the first one. Which man are you going to deny the ability and accompanying blessings of being eternally sealed to his wife and children? Choice made for me, the second one gets denied because I can’t be sealed to two men.
    Of course you didn’t give much thought to it growing up and didn’t realize it would be such a hard thing for your wife–you can rely on “we don’t really know” because the choice hasn’t been made for you. Not so for a woman.

  6. Hi say what,

    After this life, all marriage relationships can be solemnized. So there is nothing in eternity preventing the theoretical young widow you describe from choosing the man with whom she spent the majority of her life and with whom she bore her children. It is just that a bit of patience is required.

    The second husband (like all, men and women ought to be) is explicitly on notice that there is no eternal right. Only kindness, longsuffering, patience, and so forth.

    Another interesting factor in history is that circa 1900 there was a high profile instance where a woman divorced her husband and the woman’s next husband had her *and her children by the first husband* sealed to him, even though the children had been born in the covenant. I suspect this is why the six widows of my excommunicated ancestor refused to remarry after his death. They refused to allow anyone to think there was any other man they wished to be with in eternity. Years after the last of the children died, the excommunicated man’s baptism and priesthood were posthumously restored, and the eternal marriages those widows so desired was deemed valid in the records of the Church.

    If one wishes the doctrine to change in the LDS Church, there is only one way for it to happen. And that is for the leadership to feel that God has ordained that the doctrine change. It happens from time to time, though increasingly rarely. Most of the changes have dealt with tactical policy stuff.

    The current practice and doctrine allows families to be sealed (and women to be sealed to all husbands posthumously) without encouraging a belief that heaven will condone eternal polyamory. These two things are great and good outcomes deeply woven into the fabric of Mormonism.

    An insistence that the policies that affect the gander must necessarily be blindly applied to the goose is in its way like the supposed mother who agreed with Solomon’s suggestion to slice the baby in half. Each maternal claimant would have had an equal share of baby, but that share of baby would have been without life. Similarly, rearranging the doctrine to seem entirely equal has potential to kill the power of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    Unto woman is granted the right to choose which husband she will remain with in life (when she has had more than one husband). It just requires leaving enough documentation to support someone performing the other posthumous sealing(s) to ensure that is an option.

    My ancestor who was sealed to Joseph Smith suggested on her deathbed that in eternity she might be permitted to be with the man who was father of all her children and with whom she had spent many decades of tender intimacy. She trusted God and Joseph to do whatever was right.

  7. I find myself in the same boat as Brother Abel. My wife had the same concerns. she also went through the process of praying fervently. That is the process that anyone desiring answers to the thorny questions need to go through, because we are looking through that glass darkly. I don’t know how it is going to work out My wife and I just have faith in God that He will make everything right and we all will be happy with the results. Else wise, we would be wasting our time in this religion if we did not believe that.

  8. Meg, in response to my comment:
    Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your thoughts. I should not have said I’ve read “all” the possible reasons posited for polygamy in this dispensation. I know better than to use the word “all”. I had not read your blogs on the subject, though I had read a review of your book and since your reply I went back and read a number of relevant posts in the Faithful Joseph series. Very nice and some interesting insights for sure. While I understand the need for restoring the sealing powers to seal wife to husband in this life and to their children, I don’t see the need for polygamy of living individuals. I see the need for polygamy in the next life (possibly both polygny and polyandry, but not polamory??? Yikes this gets messy), but I don’t see it’s need in this life. Why couldn’t monogamy just have been maintained for the living like it is now and the temple sealing policies (possibly a little more flexible) handle, like they for the most part do now, ensure that all children and spouses are able to be sealed into the web?

  9. Hi KarlS,

    The reason I posit for why God would insist Joseph model mortal polygamy is that western civilizations had so thoroughly embraced monogamy as the sole valid marriage format that the early Saints were liable to refuse to seal multiple women to their deceased male forebears.

    Obviously this would not have required the “mandatory” and pervasive practice of mortal polygamy that emerged. However history “gifted” us John C. Bennett’s illicit intercourse heresy. Joseph responded by teaching the women of dear families of the true doctrine, requesting that they enter into covenant with him. There are no children from Joseph’s covenants with these “plural wives”, suggesting his relationships were rarely, if ever, sexual with these women.

    Brigham had a different (and valid) perspective. He was faced with evacuating thousands of people from lethal threat. He saw how vulnerable unprotected women were in this circumstance. An evaluation of the hundreds of families that became “polygamous” indicates the he price for being sealed to a deceased spouse, whether a deceased wife or a deceased husband, was to accept another spouse in mortality. With this, Brigham continued a pattern seen in Joseph’s roll out of the New and Everlasting Covenant (e.g. the promises made to Joseph Kingsbury of eternal reunion with his deceased wife and child if he would stand as the more al husband for Sarah Whitney). But had Joseph lived and had the Saints not faced deadly violence and had Bennett’s heresy never existed, then I think we would not have seen the widespread and pervasive mortal polygyny for which the Mormons became known.

  10. @Say What

    As Meg articulately explained, widows do have that option. But maybe some context to the last paragraph of my post will help understand why I included it. There are Latter-day Saints who want to see D&C 132 removed from scripture because it doesn’t fit their views of gender equality. (Which is odd considering Section 132 is more about eternal marriage than polygamy.) However, they never seem to think how their views would affect marriages such as mine and Julie’s who married knowing beforehand how things might turn out in the next one. In order to make things fair and equal they would leave thousands of women without being sealed to anyone. I don’t see anything fair or equal about that. Ironically, their response is to shrug and say that if that happened, it would somehow all work out in the end.

    I would add that if the shoe were on the other foot and I were dating a young widow that was sealed to her first husband, I would have had to go through the same process of prayer and contemplation as Julie when through when we were dating in order to move forward. I would have had to have some kind of answer from the Holy Ghost that things would work out for the best, even if I didn’t fully understand how her and my relationship would work out in the next life.

    And I guess that’s the real point of my post. There are times in our mortal journey where we come up with questions that can’t fully be answered in this life. Instead of complaining or dwelling on the unfairness of life or unanswered questions, it’s important to move forward in faith and trust in our Lord that things will work out. Julie and I don’t dwell on the fact that we don’t have the answers to everything. We take joy in our relationship, each other, and our children. We have faith that should we be found worthy at the day of judgement that God is just and merciful and that however things turn out we will be happy. That attitude has allowed for 13 wonderful years together and will continue helping us move forward side by side until we are reunited in the next life where our understanding will be more complete.

  11. Abel, thanks again for your comments. I agree with them. However, your statement that “it’s important to move forward in faith and trust in our Lord that things will work out” can be hard for some because they are uncertain whether the Lord actually is behind it. If one really knew or even strongly felt “it” was the from the Lord, they could probably do it. The challenge is that the directive (polygamy) came to us through a man. The big question is to determine if we believe that the man got it from God and transmitted it accurately and that we understand it accurately.

  12. Meg, I appreciate your thoughtful response. At first glance they don’t resound positively for me, but I will consider them.

  13. Hi KarlS,

    You return to the idea that the details of implementing the New and Everlasting Covenant came to us via a man, and therefore they are to be questioned.

    It is interesting to note that Joseph taught the doctrine regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant to all, yet it is only those who accepted Brigham’s implementation who retain that doctrine in modern times.

    In my life (as expressed in other posts), God told me to stop kicking against the pricks and trust. For me, when God says “Trust Me,” I tend to listen.

    Joseph and many others (including women) verified that they had undeniable spiritual witnesses that what they were doing regarding entering into plural marriage was correct at that time. Lucy Walker described the angels that appeared to her. Joseph described the rather less pleasant angelic visits he received. John Taylor recorded the answer he received to his plea to end the New and Everlasting Covenant, which he clearly thought was a synonym for plural marriage (God’s answer was an emphatic “NO!!!!!” to ending the New and Everlasting Covenant).

    In Mormon lore, there is a tale of one who decided there must be another way, a better way that eliminated all the pitfalls this individual saw in the plan that was proposed. They fought against what they felt was a flawed concept, challenging God and drawing others unto themselves. Convinced there had to be a better way, they ultimately fought against God and His chosen redeemer. And thus they never had the faith to come to this life.

    For those who wish we could have all the bright Mormon doctrine without the history of polygamy, they imagine that theirs is a better way, that there was a fundamental flaw in what took place. They are not merely backseat drivers, but attempting to suggest they know better than the early Saints even though separated in time by over a century and unaware of even basic realities (such as the terrible sexual heresy that Joseph was facing, where women and men were being taught that it was acceptable to have sex with anyone (married or single) as long as no one found out, where sexual relations were occurring in sight of others, where women were shared between multiple men, including non-members).

    Those wishing to dismiss plural marriage as a mortal mistake by a sex-addicted narcissist do not understand the structure of the New and Everlasting Covenant, which prioritizes sealing all women and children into the family of mankind. They are like the homeowner who so desires an “open concept” living area that they knock down a bearing wall in the process.

    As Paul wrote to James, God giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not. You don’t have to limit yourself to trusting a man. You can ask God. At the very least, He has shown He is more than willing to tell an inquiring soul to trust. So there is no need to solely trust man.

  14. “In order to make things fair and equal they would leave thousands of women without being sealed to anyone. I don’t see anything fair or equal about that. Ironically, their response is to shrug and say that if that happened, it would somehow all work out in the end.”

    Amen! I’m not a big fan of the principal but as I get older, I have to say this attitude, among my “sisters” in the Church bothers me much much more. They seem to have no problem tossing out women that aren’t sealed as long as they don’t have to share a husband. I gotta say, if that’s the attitude of those in the “Celestial” kingdom – you can have it. I’ll go where people actually give a damn about each other.

  15. Meg,
    My responses were a mix of my issues and the validation of the issues that others have that I may not. And, I see I’ve mixed them up in my narratives and confused you about my issues and motives. I still don’t see a rational reason of consequence that I can use to justify polygamy in this life (other than God commanded it), that I don’t see work arounds for, but nonetheless I still think Joseph was told by God to implement it. That’s why in my first post I said I’d shelved the issue. However, the understanding Joseph took from the Divine directives to practice polygamy and some of the implementation of the details seem very hard to justify as being Godly, but I’ve shelved those, too. I think your tongue-lashing has a fair amount of validity, but for my situation may have been misdirected, but I appreciate your concern. I’m a believer, but I don’t see a lot of black and white on many issues that others do and I try and validate and make a space for more than one kind of believer.

  16. Hi KarlS,

    Just as you were speaking on behalf of people than just yourself, I was not responding to the individual who has faith and has shelved these issues. I was talking to the ones you champion, who are hurting because they don’t understand.

    No one other than me is talking about what happened to the women of Nauvoo, and what happened to all too many men who were persuaded that the illicit intercourse stuff wasn’t wrong. Most of them had a chance to repent. Most of them have the luxury of never documenting what happened.

    There was a period of a few months when it appears there was easy forgiveness. But then it became clear the seductions were still happening. Perhaps it was Esther Dutcher Smith, coming forward to tell someone about Gustavus Hills’s attempt to seduce her, as she would later testify to before the Nauvoo High Council. Joseph was faced with trying to find out which of the many men who had confessed were still secret seducers, and which women were still falling victim.

    Emma alluded to the prior time of amnesty in her May 19 address to the Relief Society: “the time had been when charity had covered a multitude of sins— but now it is necessary that sin should be expos’d…”

    Those you champion, the ones who can’t understand why Joseph reached out to protect women he cared about, they don’t know this history. No one is talking about it.

    That makes me mad. Because I see Joseph being slandered constantly because he and others were too wise and kind to tell what was really happening.

  17. KarlS,

    In the scriptures, you’ll see a pattern what what happened to of those who followed the prophets (even if they didn’t understand why) and those who questioned and doubted. Like you, I don’t fully claim to understand everything but move forward anyway. Also, if you get a chance to read Meg’s book, you should. Lots of interesting information at most people don’t know about. Worth the read IMO.

  18. Hi KarlS,

    The most recent version of my book is available as a free PDF download:

    https://www.millennialstar.org/free-book-or-what-i-learned-at-mha/

    Just click on the image of the cover to download the PDF.

    The version still available for sale is the version from just before MHA, before it had been confirmed that Josephine Lyons was the genetic child of her legal father.

    One of these days I will push out the edition of the book that explores the implications of the timing of the Martha Brotherton interview.

    The women’s testimonies in their fullness are included in the Val Avery papers, which you can examine of you live in Utah. I have a PDF that another researcher forwarded to me, but would prefer that you go directly to the Val Avery papers if you have concerns that I am potentially misrepresenting the illicit intercourse seductions.

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