In light of the updated LDS Church policy regarding same gender unions and children raised by same gender couples, I was struck by what Joseph Smith did in Nauvoo in the case of Parley P. Pratt and Mary Ann Frost [Stearns Pratt].
Parley was a widower, having previously been married to the then-deceased Thankful Halsey, a widow herself when she married Parley. Mary Ann Frost was a widow who had greatly loved her first husband.
In 1843 Hyrum Smith performed a ceremony sealing Parley to Mary Ann. As soon as Joseph learned what Hyrum had done, he annulled the sealing.
In our modern day, there would not be such a fuss. Mary Ann would have already made a decision regarding whether she was sealed to Stearns or not. Based on that prior decision, she would either be able to be sealed to Parley or not. For those of us sealing deceased parties, we are permitted to perform sealing ordinances between all who were conjugally “married” and let God sort out how the relationships ought to be in heaven.
Unfortunately for Parley and Mary Ann, theirs was the first complex marriage involving deceased spouses. Hyrum had ignored the rights of the deceased parties and had sealed Parley and Mary Ann simply because they were married.
Hyrum’s understanding of the doctrine was insufficient at that time for him to properly administer. Therefore Joseph rescinded the incorrect action. In this case Joseph was dealing with one person who misunderstood, who happened to be his brother and arguably the most senior member of the Church other than Joseph himself.
[In a similar manner, the leadership of the Church needs to correct the insufficient understanding of hundreds or even thousands of sitting Church leaders. Like Joseph, they have rescinded the ability of local leaders to act inappropriately. If there is doubt that some local leaders might act inappropriately, there is the fact of the new policy being leaked at speed, which could only have been done by an LDS leader privy to Handbook 1.]
Other marriages had presented as one (or a combination) of the following:
Man and wife, like Isaac and Rebecca. Check.
Man and wife and handmaid made wife, like Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Check.
Man and deceased wife and new wife, like Abraham, Sarah, and Keturah. Check.
Man and wife and wife’s sister, like Jacob and Rachel and Leah. Check.
Man and wife and many wives to create linkages to other “kingdoms,” like Solomon and his many wives. Check.
With Parley and Mary Ann, the best analogy would have been Boaz and Ruth. But even here, most people forget that Ruth’s covenant husband was Chilion. In the Bible record, it isn’t even entirely clear whether Chilion or Mahlon was the son of Naomi and Elimelech who married Ruth. But Deuteronomy 25 provided guidance about the child of a widow, implying the eternal relationship between a widow and her dead husband:
6 And it shall be, that the [child] which [the widow] beareth shall [bear] the name of [the] brother which is dead, that [the dead brother’s] name be not put out of Israel.
In Deuteronomy, a brother who would not perform the duty of a brother to his dead brother’s wife was in for stiff social shame:
9 Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.
Things had softened in the four hundred years between Deuteronomy and the life of Boaz, for when Elimilech’s closest kinsman was unwilling to perform the duty of a brother to the fertile widow of Elimelech’s household (and gain the right to buy Elimelech’s land in Bethlehem), the tale went:
7 Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.
8 Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe.
No spitting involved.
Back to Parley and Mary Ann
It wasn’t sufficient that Parley and Mary Ann were married and fond of one another. As the first instance of a complex marriage involving deceased spouses, Joseph felt it necessary to reinforce the rights of the deceased spouse.
If you are unaware, my thesis is that plural marriage in the early days of the Chrch was at least in part to ensure that we didn’t fail to seal all wives to their husbands when performing posthumous proxy ordinances. Once this had been accomplished and the primacy of the sealing ordinance understood, there was no longer a need for individuals to contract plural marriages in mortality. Monogamy rocks, and so that is the recommended configuration in mortality, no matter how complex our serial monogamies might end up being in eternity.
William and Jane
Another use case was the marriage of William Law and Jane Silverthorn [Law]. Jane was a righteous woman, but Joseph Smith believed William Law was an adulterer. Thus when William sought to be sealed to Jane, Joseph refused. The love between two spouses was not sufficient when one of them was guilty of sexual sin.
William Law being who he was, he reacted to being thusly thwarted by plotting to murder Joseph Smith. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were eventually found that William was substantially responsible for Joseph’s untimely death.
[Jane asked Joseph to seal her to himself, but Joseph refused. I suspect it felt a bit too much like the tale of David and Bathsheba, to enter into a relationship that would result in the spiritual death of the woman’s current husband. Joseph refused when there was still hope for William. Alas, William rebelled and took Jane with him in his rebellion.]
Joseph and Hannah
For those who have sinned, a useful case is that of Joseph Ellis Johnson and Hannah Goddard. Hannah had married apostle Lorenzo Snow as a plural wife. Then she got cold feet. It is unclear whether the marriage had even been consummated. While Hannah’s estranged apostle husband was off on a mission, Hannah developed a close relationship with Joseph Ellis Johnson and conceived a child.
Joseph Ellis Johnson eventually got up the courage to ask Lorenzo for forgiveness. Following that, Joseph Ellis Johnson submitted himself to a Church disciplinary council. In the transcript of the council, Joseph Ellis Johnson said:
I am come purposely if possible to get the matter settled & atone for the wrong I av done—I av neglected to lay it before you before this…— all I can do is beg for mercy—I became acquainted with the girl, & the consequences r as the[y] r—I saw bro. Snow at Kanesville & he was satisfied—I am come here to atone for the wrong I av done.
Joseph Ellis Johnson was eventually able to return to full fellowship and was sealed to Hannah and her children.
[For what it’s worth, this transcript should never have been made public. It became public when Michael Quinn decided to attack Brian Hales’ thesis that Joseph Smith was an honorable man who only engaged in conjugal relations with women to whom he had been sealed in covenant. But I contend that the “Joseph” who appears to have had sex with Mary Heron was Joseph Kelly, not Joseph Smith, see my analysis of the case of Mary Heron.]
Mormon marriage is not merely a ceremony binding people who love each other. Rather, it is about binding families together in specific ways that turn the hearts of the children to their fathers and mothers.
For those who have sinned, there are options. William Law represents the going postal option. Joseph Ellis Johnson represents the submission to authority option.
Playing with Fire
During the April 2013 conference, President Monson told a story on himself. When eight, he and his friend, Danny, had wanted to play in a field that was encumbered with long grass. They decided to clear the dry grass:
I said to Danny, “All we need is to set these weeds on fire. We’ll just burn a circle in the weeds!” He readily agreed, and I ran to our cabin to get a few matches…
Both of us had been warned repeatedly of the dangers of fire. However, I knew where my family kept the matches, and we needed to clear that field…
I recall thinking that the fire would burn only as far as we wanted and then would somehow magically extinguish itself.
I struck a match on a rock and set the parched June grass ablaze. It ignited as though it had been drenched in gasoline…
We panicked as we realized there was nothing we could do to stop it. The menacing flames began to follow the wild grass up the mountainside, endangering the pine trees and everything else in their path.
[We ran for help. It took several hours for all the available men and women of the town to put out the fire caused by that one match.]
Danny and I learned several difficult but important lessons that day—not the least of which was the importance of obedience.
I remember President Monson’s meaning being very clear. Like his eight-year-old self playing with fire, I understood him to say that we are now playing with fire as we rearrange society without thought of the consequences. In lives where improper passion of two people for one another is allowed to catch hold, the initial result will be welcomed. Only too late will the dire consequences be appreciated. By then it will be beyond those who ignited the passion to correct. It will take an unknowable amout of time to fix, and many individuals will be required to sacrifice to halt or correct the damage.
That said, the people of Vivian Park continued to love Tommy Monson and Danny Larsen. In the same manner, we love all, even if their lifestyle is not in accordance with God’s law, as understood by Mormons.
You might be one of those who doesn’t believe a legal marriage could be inappropriate in the eyes of God. As in the case of young Tommy Monson, repeated warnings fall on deaf ears. Fences are thus put in place for those who don’t know enough to keep away from disaster, who don’t even believe disaster is possibe.