Revealing the Revelation

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

William Clayton, Joseph’s Scribe

Despite all that had happened through the end of June 1843, Joseph had never written down the revelation regarding plural marriage. Nor had Joseph spoken publicly about the doctrine involving possible plural marriage.

That was about to change.

Emma had demanded something of Joseph in June 1843. In response, Joseph had packed up Emma and the children and traveled some 200 miles northwest to the home of Emma’s sister, Elizabeth Hale Wasson. The pressures of Church leadership and the women Joseph had covenanted with were left behind in Nauvoo.

We’ll never know how long Joseph intended to remain with the Wassons. Sheriff Reynolds of Jackson County, Missouri, and Constable Wilson, of Carthage, Illinois, came to arrest Joseph, pistol-whipping him and tearing him away from Emma in a scene reminiscent of the horror at Far West, when Joseph was dragged to prison and his family was thrust from him by the sword.

By the beginning of July, Joseph was back in Nauvoo, protected by the strong city charter Dr. Bennett had crafted. Emma’s relief was short-lived. She was once back in Nauvoo, with all the stresses and individuals that had caused her grief the month before. She had made a demand of Joseph, which God had commanded Joseph to grant her. She planned to campaign until her promised relief was granted.

Unfortunately, we do not have Emma’s description of what she’d been promised, or the aftermath. William Clayton would not record his version of the story until decades later, after Emma’s sons had visited Utah, intent on convincing the Utah Saints to abandon the polygamy the young Smith brothers believed their father had never taught.

The Revelation is Written

William Clayton, Joseph’s scribe and a practicing polygamist in July 1843, wrote a letter in 1871 documenting that Joseph dictated a revelation on plural marriage to him on Wednesday, July 12, 1843. The revelation in question is now Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.[ref]D&C 132.[/ref]From the wording, it appears William Clayton was being asked to counter the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Joseph’s sons. Joseph’s sons and RLDS missionaries would have been challenging that any such revelation could ever have been written during Joseph Smith’s life:

I did write the revelation on celestial marriage given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, on the 12th of July, 1843.

When the revelation was written there was no one present except the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and myself. It was written in the small office upstairs in the rear of the brick store which stood on the banks of the Mississippi river. It took some three hours to write it Joseph dictated sentence by sentence, and I wrote it as he dictated. After the whole was written Joseph requested me to read it slowly and carefully, which I did, and he then pronounced it correct… The original was destroyed by Emma Smith.[ref]Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, p. 77.[/ref]

Two years later, on February 16, 1874, Clayton would produce a more expansive version of the story, sworn to before John T. Caine, notary public, in Salt Lake City:

“On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843, Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the ‘brick store,’ on the bank of the Mississippi River. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, ‘If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.’

“Joseph smiled and remarked, ‘You do not know Emma as well as I do.’

“Hyrum repeated his opinion and further remarked, ‘The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity or heavenly origin,’ or words to their effect

“Joseph then said, ‘Well, I will write the revelation and we will see.’ He then requested me to get paper and prepare to write. Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph, in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.

“Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage, and I wrote it, sentence by sentence, as he dictated. After the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct He then remarked that there was much more that he could write, on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.

“Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.

“Joseph quietly remarked, ‘I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did.’ Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket, and they both left the office.”[ref]Andrew Jensen, The Historical Record 6 [May 1887): pp. 224, 225–226[/ref]

Joseph and Hyrum were long dead. Emma Smith would die in April 1879, and William Clayton passed away in seven months later. Clayton’s statements in the 1870s imply Emma’s concern centered on the doctrine of plural marriage. However the contemporary record indicates her concern may have been financial.

The record for July 12th indicates “Hyrum took the revelation and read it to Emma. I directed Clayton to make out deeds of certain lots of land to Emma and the children.”[ref]History of the Church 5:507.[/ref]

With Joseph marrying multiple young women, who could potentially bear any number of children, Emma would have an understandable concern about the property available to sustain herself and her children.

On July 13th, the journal record says “I was in conversation with Emma most of the day…” On the 14th, the record says “Spent the day at home.”[ref]History of the Church 5:509.[/ref]

Emma had the original manuscript of the revelation burned. Apparently she didn’t know a copy had been made by Bishop Whitney while he had possession of the revelation.

In 1867 Emma told Elder Jason W. Briggs that she had never seen the purported revelation and had not burned the thing, a testimony also reported by Edmund Briggs.[ref]RLDS History of the Church 3:351–352; The Messenger of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1 [April 1875], p. 23. From the date, it appears Briggs’ testimony was published as a direct attack on Clayton’s 1874 account.[/ref] This could possibly true and still be substantially consistent with Brigham’s version, if Emma had refused to look at the written words and if Joseph had been the one to burn it, at her behest.[ref]When I separated from my first husband, my mother did not want to have to lie to my husband. So she would drop me off around the corner from whatever home I had arranged to shelter in that night, so she could honestly tell my abusive husband that she didn’t know where I was.[/ref] Unfortunately for Jason Briggs’ version of the tale, where the revelation was merely an 1852 artifact of Brigham Young’s creation, there are many other accounts attesting to the existence of the revelation in Nauvoo during the summer of 1843.

It might have been best had all copies of this version of the revelation been burned. After all, Joseph maintained that he could reproduce the revelation at any time. But a copy had been made of that particular version of the revelation, a version including very specific revelation regarding Emma and the events of summer 1843.[ref]Joseph F. Smith or Joseph Fielding Smith later opined that the revelation in its entirety ought not to have been canonized, as I recall, containing as it did these time-specific and embarrassing details regarding Emma Smith. If anyone knows off-hand where that opinion is recorded, I would be grateful to include the reference.[/ref]

Hyrum Begins to Share the Revelation

Almost immediately after Hyrum was himself introduced to the doctrine of plural marriage at the end of May 1843, he began to officiate in marrying others.[ref]One of these early sealings would show Hyrum’s lack of understanding. Even though Joseph had sealed Hyrum to the widowed Mercy Fielding [Thompson] for time, Hyrum had not understood that widows should be given the chance to be sealed to their beloved first husbands. So Hyrum sealed Parley P. Pratt to his wife, Mary Ann Frost [Sterns Pratt], a sealing Joseph would feel he had to cancel.[/ref]

Howard Coray tells of an early instance where Hyrum explained the revelation:

About the 1st of July of [1843], my wife had a peculiar dream and, believing that it had significance, she desired me to accompany her to Brother Hyrum Smith’s for the purpose of getting him to interpret it.

We went the next Sunday to see him, but having company, he was not at liberty to say much to us; he said, however, if we would come the next Sunday, he would interpret the dream, but wished to see us by ourselves, when there was no other one present.

Accordingly the next Sunday we went, but found as many at his house as the Sunday previous. He said to us, come again the next Sunday and probably it will be different; but in a day or so he called at our house, and invited us to take a ride with him in his buggy. We accordingly did so.

When we had gotten far enough out of town to converse safely, without attracting attention or being understood, he commenced rehearsing the revelation [D&C 132] on celestial marriage and carefully went through with the whole of it, then reviewed it, explaining such portions of it as he deemed necessary. This was on the 22nd of July, 1843.

The dream was in harmony with the revelation and was calculated to prepare her mind for its reception. She never doubted the divinity of it, nor rebelled against it. And while still in the buggy, Brother Hyrum asked my wife if she was willing to be sealed to me. After a moment’s thought, she answered yes. He then asked me if I wished to be sealed. I replied in the affirmative and after telling us that he knew by the spirit of the Lord that it was His will for us to be sealed, he performed the ceremony, then and there.[ref]Howard Coray, Autobiography, available online at, retrieved May 15, 2014.[/ref]

Hyrum and the High Council

On Saturday, August 12, 1843, Hyrum Smith was in a meeting of the Nauvoo Stake High Council when the conversation turned to marriage. Hyrum, apparently still of the impression that “The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity or heavenly origin,” excused himself to obtain the copy of the revelation.

Returning to the High Council, Hyrum proceeded to read the revelation.

James Allred, David Fullmer, Thomas Grover, Aaron Johnson, Austin Cowles and Leonard Soby, documented the meeting in letters and affidavits.

Hyrum was on a roll. He took the revelation to William Law. Upon request, Hyrum left the revelation with William Law to study. William’s wife, Jane, also studied the revelation that night.

Perhaps Hyrum’s own faith in Joseph, supported by the faithfulness of individuals he had interacted with prior to August 12, led him to believe that everyone would be able to overcome the resistance he himself had felt towards the doctrine.

Unfortunately, the men of the High Council were the same men who had investigated the instances of illicit intercourse in May 1842. The women who testified against John C. Bennett and Chauncy Higbee had repeatedly mentioned that Bennett or Higbee or even Joseph’s brother, William, had claimed Joseph taught about illicit intercourse, but that the women had subsequently learned that Joseph taught no such thing.

Now here was Joseph’s respected brother, Hyrum, blithely claiming that Joseph indeed had received a revelation stating a man could have multiple wives.

It is not clear if Hyrum understood at the time how much the written version of the revelation shocked many hearers.

Austin Cowles was one of those in the High Council that day that would leave the Church as a result of Hyrum’s reading of the revelation. Austin wrote:

Forasmuch as the public mind hath been much agitated by a course of procedure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by a number of persons declaring against certain doctrines and practices therein, (among whom I am one,) it is but meet that I should give my reasons, at least in part, as a cause that hath led me to declare myself.

In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet; that the said Hyrum Smith did essay to read the said revelation in the said Council, that according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines;

1st, the sealing up of persons to eternal life, against all sins, save that of sheding innocent blood or of consenting thereto;

2nd, the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that “David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not save in the matter of Uriah.

This revelation with other evidence, that the aforesaid heresies were taught and practiced in the Church; determined me to leave the office of first counsellor to the president of the Church at Nauvoo, inasmuch as I dared not to teach or administer such laws.[ref]The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 2, Col. D. Available online at, retrieved 15 May, 2014.[/ref]

Austin’s experience hearing the testimonies of the women who had been seduced by Dr. Bennett and his “Strikers, for we know not what else to call them”[ref]The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 1, Col. F. Available online at, retrieved 15 May, 2014.[/ref] appears to have featured significantly in his rejection of the revelation.[ref]Modern historians make a point of the fact that Austin’s daughter, Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes] had become one of Joseph’s plural wives earlier that summer. However I don’t know why Austin would have any idea about Elvira’s sealing to Joseph.[/ref] Austin was perhaps more troubled that “sealed” persons could commit any manner of sin save murder and be assured of eternal life. And yet Austin believed deeply in the fundamental doctrines Joseph had taught, contained in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants.

William and Jane Law were similarly horrified, though their opposition focused almost solely on the doctrine of plural marriage.

Austin and the Laws would eventually contribute to an opposition newspaper, named the Expositor. Even having determined that Joseph’s alleged teachings on plural marriage had to be stopped, those behind the Expositor affirmed their belief in the doctrines Joseph had originally taught:

We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants, and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks a language which, when spoken in truth and virtue, sinks deep into the heart of every honest man. — Its precepts are invigorating, and in every sense of the word, tend to dignify and ennoble man’s conceptions of God and his atributes[sic]. It speaks a language which is heard amidst the roar of Artillery, as well as in the silence of midnight: it speaks a language understood by the incarcerated spirit, as well as he who is unfettered and free…[ref]The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 1, Col. E. Available online at, retrieved 15 May, 2014.[/ref]

In 1866 Brigham Young would say of Hyrum, “although he was just as honest as an Angel, and as full of integrity as the Gods… he had not that ability which Joseph possessed to see and understand men as they were.”[ref]Brigham Young, Sermon, October 8, 1966, LDS Church Archives, cited in Gary Bergera, Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44, available online at, retrieved 22 March 2014.[/ref] The cold reading of the revelation in a hot room to skeptical men was a massive mistake, for which Hyrum would pay with his life.

Joseph’s Secret Campaign

Unlike Hyrum, Joseph taught about the revelation in intimate settings. As Danel Bachman wrote, Joseph introduced the doctrine of plural marriage “primarily through private and personal interviews.”[ref]Danel Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith,” p.176.[/ref]

Aroet Hale tells of one gathering, and how Joseph explained the revelation to a group of “regular” saints:

“The Prophet Joseph was visiting at our house on one occasion and spent the evening. My father was a bishop of one of the wards. With the Prophet’s consent, father invited in his counselors and a few of the good old staunch brethren.

“Among the few was Uncle Henry Harriman, one of the first seven presidents of the seventies, and Jonathan H. Holmes, and several others of fathers old stand-by friends. This circumstance took place at my father’s house, Jonathan H. Hale, bishop.[ref]Jonathan Harriman Holmes, Jonathan Harriman Hale, and Henry Harriman were three cousins from  Massachusetts who joined the Church together and traveled to Kirtland in 1835. Holmes was one of Joseph’s bodyguards, husband of the ill-fated Marietta Carter, and “assigned” husband to Elvira Annie Cowles, who had been sealed to Joseph by the time this gathering took place.[/ref] This was the first time that our parents had ever heard the Prophet speak on the subject of celestial marriage.

“During the evening, the Prophet spoke to Uncle Henry Harriman. Said he, “Henry, your wife Clarisa [sic] is barren; she never will have any children. Upon your shoulders rests great responsibilities. You have a great work to perform in the temple of our God. You are the only Harriman that will ever join this Church.” He even told the lineage that he was of and told him that he must take another wife and raise up a family to assist him in his great work, and to honor and revere his name.

“The Prophet also told Aunt Clarisa [sic] that if she would consent to this marriage and not try to hinder Henry, that she should share a portion of the glory that would be derived from this marriage. Uncle Henry Harriman was finally convinced that the command that the Prophet Joseph had given him was right. In a short time, he took a young woman [Eliza Elizabeth Jones] and was sealed by the Prophet.[ref]Eliza Elizabeth Jones was born in January 1830, making her at most 14 if Joseph performed a sealing ceremony between Eliza and Henry before Joseph’s death. Henry and Eliza were sealed in the Nauvoo temple in January 1846 and Eliza conceived her first child in the summer when she was 16 years old.[/ref] He brought her to the valleys. They have raised a family of children. They have done a good work in the St. George temple.”[ref]Aroet Lucious Hale, Journal, available online at, retrieved May 15, 2014.[/ref]

Joseph would sometimes delegate news regarding plural marriage to others. We see this in the case of Orange Wight, teenage son of Apostle Lyman Wight. Orange became aware of plural marriage in 1841, discovering that John Higbee[ref]This was likely John Somers Higbee, uncle to Chauncy Higbee and Francis Higbee. As John Higbee is not identified as an early polygamist by either Gary Bergera or George D. Smith, it seems possible or even likely that John Higbee was involved in Bennett’s spiritual wifery, not Joseph’s plural marriage.[/ref]  had two wives.[ref]Orange Wight, May 4, 1903, letter to Joseph I. Earl, available online at, retrieved 15 May 2014.[/ref] When Orange was almost 80 years old, he would write:

The next I noticed when in company with the young folks the girls were calling one another spirituals… when at Nauvoo in the winter of 1841 and 1842, I became fully initiated.[ref]It is not clear if this means Orange became informed, or if it means he became an active member of the group involved in illicit intercourse. After Orange was “initiated” at age 18, he was sent away from Nauvoo on a mission under the supervision of two older missionaries.[/ref]

“Now although [I] would not be 20 until 29 November, 1843, I concluded to look about and try to pick up one or more of the young ladies before they were all gone. So I commenced keeping company with Flora Woodworth, daughter of Lucian Woodworth (called the Pagan Prophet).

“I was walking along the street with Flora near the Prophet’s residence when he, Joseph, drove, up in his carriage, stopped and spoke to I and Flora and asked us to get in the carriage and ride with him. He opened the door for us and when we were seated opposite to him he told the driver to drive on. We went to the [Nauvoo] temple lot and many other places during the afternoon and then he drove to the Woodworth house and we got out and went in.

“After we got in the house Sister Woodworth took me in another room and told me that Flora was one of Joseph’s wives. I was aware or believed that Eliza R. Snow and the two Partridge girls were his wives but was not informed about Flora. But now Sister Woodworth gave me all the information necessary, so I knew Joseph believed and practiced polygamy.”

Orange Wight would go on to marry two cousins of Marietta Carter [Holmes], deceased wife of Jonathan Harriman Holmes. But Orange and his father settled Texas rather than joining with the “Brighamites.”  So his 1903 letter to Joseph I. Earl describing these events were not informed by decades of living in the shadow of the apostles who had been close to Joseph during his life.

Brigham Young Explains the Doctrine

For those of us attempting to understand the revelation many decades into the future, it is easy to get caught up in the belief that polygamy was about established men gathering up their pick of the available teenage girls. But if we look at the early explanations from Joseph and Hyrum and Brigham, we see that it was explained as part of a complete marriage system that allowed all members of a family to be joined together, and to establish links not only between spouses, but to their future, as in the case of Henry Harriman.

On July 9, 1843, before Joseph had written down the revelation, Brigham Young documents a discussion he had with a professor from a Southern university, who asked if Joseph Smith had more wives than one (as Dr. Bennett had widely claimed). Brigham admitted that he had. To explain, Brigham asked if the gentleman believed the Bible and the resurrection.

I then asked him if he believed parents and children, husbands and wives woud recognize each other in the resurrection. He said he did.

Also if parents and children would have the same filial feeling towards each other which they have here; and he said he believed they would, and that their affections would be more acute that they were in this life.

I then said, “We see in this life, that amongst Christians, ministers and all classes of men, a man will marry a wife, and have children by her; she dies, and he marries another, and then another, until men have had as many as six wives, and each of them bear children. This is considered all right by the Christian world, inasmuch as a man has but one at a time.

“Now, in the resurrection this man and all his wives and children are raised from the dead; what will be done with those women and children, and who will they belong to? and if the man is to have but one, which one in the lot shall he have?”

The professor replied, he never thought of the question in this light before, and said he did not believe those women and children would belong to any but those they belonged to in this life.

“Very well,” said I, “you consider that to be a pure, holy place in the presence of God, angels, and celestial beings’ would the Lord permit a thing to exist in heaven that is evil?

“And if it is right for a man to have several wives and children in heaven at the same time, is it not an inconsistent doctrine that a man should have several wives and children by those wives at the same time, here in this life, as was the case with Abraham and many of the old Prophets? Or is it any more sinful to have several wives at a time than at different times?”

[The university professor answered,] “I cannot see that it would be any more inconsistent to have more wives in this life than in the next, or to have five wives at one time than at five different times. I feel to acknowledge it is a correct principle and a Bible doctrine, and I cannot see anything inconsistent in it.”[ref]Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, July 9, 1843, pp. 134-136.[/ref]

This early record of Brigham’s explanation of plural marriage helps us see that he had, originally, seen plural marriage to be part of an over-arching marriage construct, fully consistent with modern ideas about sealing spouses and children and ancestors together. We also see Brigham making the case that plural wives should bear children, a point on which he and Emma would disagree after Joseph’s death.


From the time Emma was sealed to Joseph, the first semi-public sealing between two individuals who were already married, the doctrine of eternal sealing, and the concomitant doctrine of plural marriage, began to spread among the saints. Where Joseph and others had previously confined their teachings to secretive meetings with individuals, this new era involved larger meetings, where the underlying reasons for doctrine were explained, rather than simply stating that God had commanded it, and obedience would yield eternal blessings to the family of the individual participating.

Emma, always concerned about the threat plural marriage posed to Joseph’s life, and secondarily concerned about the temporal security of herself and her children, would have happily terminated all open discussion of plural marriage. She clearly believed plural wives had no business producing children.

But the teachings of Joseph and Brigham make it clear that plural wives should be permitted to have children. I have cherry-picked the best examples, but many more exist, of which I believe most are contained in Chapter 29 of Brian C. Hales’ book on Joseph Smith’s polygamy.

Finally, Hyrum’s action in sharing the revelation with the Nauvoo High Council led to disaffection of several prominent leaders. Hyrum’s decision to share the written form of the revelation with William and Jane Law similarly led to rejection and disbelief. Therefore it is not unreasonable to cite Hyrum as the inspiration for the Expositor.

Dr. Bennett had created an environment where many in the United States were at least informed of the possibility of sexual shenanigans in Joseph’s Nauvoo. When the revelation of the revelation fell on unbelieving ears, all of Dr. Bennett’s past accusations were revived in the minds of those horrified by the prospect of plural marriage. The Expositor would be the fuse to the powder keg of suspicion Bennett had created. When Joseph and others made the decision to destroy the Expositor press in the summer of 1844, the fuse was lit.

But Joseph was not dead yet. Carthage was still a year in his future. The actions and decisions during this last year of Joseph’s life would have a profound impact on the way Joseph’s followers continued Joseph’s legacy.

Future Planned Posts:

Those Virtuous and Pure
Daughter of Hope
The Prodigal Returns
Conferring the Mantle
Collecting the Sorrowful
For Eternity and Time
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy

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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.

47 thoughts on “Revealing the Revelation

  1. I love the descriptions of the trusting (naive?) Hyrum going to Emma and the High Council to explain the doctrine to them. Hyrum really seems like a man without guile.

    I also am fascinated by BY’s logical explanation of polygamy in the eternities.

    For us history fanatics, this series is like a sweet, smooth dessert.

  2. I hadn’t realized the “Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on this issue” went all the way back to William Law amongst the Latter-Day Saints. And it reached its inevitable result there, as well. Has Satan ever had a more effective argument to turn faithful Members out of the Lord’s Church?

  3. “I hadn’t realized the “Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on this issue” went all the way back to William Law…”


    I wasn’t thinking of the Expositor in terms of current efforts by believers to steady the arc. Surely the similarities are there.

    Since Austin Cowles is my ancestor, I am intrigued by the way he stuck by his values. Even though he parted with the Church, and undoubtedly played a role in the events leading up to Joseph’s death, his descendants among the Saints were taught to honor him by his daughter who had been sealed to Joseph Smith. I also know how horrified Austin was that Joseph was killed. That certainly was not his intent.

  4. I have read BY’s explanation of plural marriage several times before, and it is why I still ask why we are limited today to be serially monogamy if (presuming the efficacy of the sealing authority) we’ll be plural tomorrow. His emotional reasoning is also why I think we have a sealing procedure that allows polyandry. What women with serial husbands would want to have to choose among them? Given those acute feelings between spouses that will be magnified in the next life, why would God require women to choose among several husbands, but allow husbands to have several wives? Except for one obvious catch, and that’s the issue of not allowing living women to be sealed to more than one husband. I used to think it was to prevent eternal paternity issues, but even the latest handbook has backed off the “born in the covenant – belong to the first husband” position a bit. If you throw in the consideration that by the time many widows remarry they are beyond child bearing years, what would be the big deal in allowing a living woman to be sealed to more than one man? I’ve found instances of relatively famous male leaders who, in fact, were sealed to women who in turn were previously sealed to other men. What I don’t have is a way to research how and when and why sealing policies have changed over time. I can barely remember the verbiage used before the 1998 handbooks came out. Anyway, good work as usual. Great insights into the practical workings of plural marriage in Nauvoo.

  5. Hi IDIAT,

    As for Brigham’s explanation, you could certainly use that basic concept to indicate why all manner of spousal relationships should perpetuate into eternity. And yet there are many spousal relationships accepted by people today that we can’t be confident will be permitted in eternity.

    Old Testament law had a construct for dealing with a woman who had more than one husband, as in the stories of Ruth and Tamar. It didn’t include a woman being considered the wife of multiple husbands. Though one imagines that in the case of Ruth she actually spent much more of her life with Boaz. Certainly their love was more than mere convenience, what with her sneaking in and sleeping at his feet, and the subsequent matter of him jockeying the “legitimate” levirate husband out of the picture by his smooth presentation of fact. And yet nowhere in the Book of Ruth does it suggest that she might end up with Boaz in eternity, when one imposes the Mormon construct of eternal marriage on the story. It is clear that she would have been considered eternally bound to Mahlon, that Boaz was committing to raise up seed to Mahlon.

    In the case of Tamar, she wanted a child, and she sure as heck won’t want to spend eternity with Judah, even if he was the one who contributed the male portion that engenders a child.

    So if you could have been there with the Southern professor and Brigham Young, I’m pretty sure the two of them would have just looked at you funny for suggesting it could possibly be Biblical to have one woman with more than one husband in eternity.

    Which isn’t to say you are wrong. Just that there is nothing in the Bible or in current LDS marriage policy that suggests you should hope you are right.

  6. If there were no hope, I wonder why the leaders I researched bothered to be sealed to their second wives, knowing they were already sealed to their first husbands? Was it insurance? Was it done with a hope that she would someday dump the first husband in the eternities and choose to spend eternity with the second husband? That seems a bit cold and calculating. Maybe they knew the first husband wasn’t worthy of the celestial kingdom. Yet, wife didn’t bother to obtain a sealing cancellation first. I don’t know that we can pin current doctrine to a few isolated stories from the OT.

  7. FWIW my nonmember friends would say there will be no filial feelings towards spouses and children but we’ll love any and all as brothers and sisters equally as children of a God. That position completely eliminates the need for sealing authority.

  8. Current policy supports sealing an individual posthumously to all those of an opposite gender with whom they had a conjugal relationship – either ceremonial or child-engendering (with or without ceremony). This is not understood to mean that a woman sealed to multiple men will actually end up with all these men – rather it gives her the chance to decide, rather than allowing her descendants the errant belief that they should make the decision. Just imagine how much that would hold up the work, if descendants were waiting until they had done enough research to know which spouse their maternal ancestor actually wanted to be with before performing the sealing(s).

    Depending on which leader you are talking about, they may have considered that the more deserving spouse’s sealing would trump others. A variation of this occurred, for example, with Joseph F. Smith in his marriage to Alice Ann Kimball, who was divorced from her first husband. Alice’s sealing to her first husband may have been cancelled as I’m confident he’d been excommunicated in association with his conviction for bank robbery (which came at the worst possible time, as his example as a “product of polygamy” was put forth when the anti-polygamy legislation was being considered in Congress). However Alice’s children had been born in the covenant and didn’t need to be sealed to Joseph F. Smith, and yet he had Alice’s children sealed to him anyway.

    The case of Hyrum’s marriage to Mercy Fielding [Thompson] made it very clear that he was to yield her up to Mr. Thompson in the resurrection.

    Anyway, this appears to be a question that might legitimately be brought to leadership (e.g., an apostle) for clarification. I would be a bit leery of anything done between Joseph’s death and, say, 1945. By 1945 we are no longer dealing with new polygamous marriages where personal emotions of the leaders involved could cloud the issue and we have a firmly-established understanding that sealings are to be used to join families along biological and adoptive lines, not merely to connect soul-mates (a belief that contributed to the adultery of former apostle Richard R. Lyman – he intended to have himself sealed to the woman after one of them died, and I suppose after years of considering that woman his effective plural spouse, it eventually seemed silly to him and her to deny themselves the physical affections spouses appropriately share).

    As Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated in 1943, I would consider anything prior to that to be a bit suspect, personally. I’ve never encountered individuals who work in the temples who understand things the way you persistently have represented. I suspect these kinds of conclusions explains why certain sorts of records aren’t easily available regarding marriages in early Mormondom. We idolize these early leaders/Saints, and presume that if they did something, they must necessarily have been right to do so. But prior to the 1890s they didn’t even have a consensus that sealings should proceed along biological lines. There was also very much this idea that if a better man was available, a woman was free to ditch her husband of record and take up with the better man. This was the explanation given in retrospect for those women who agreed to be sealed to Joseph Smith though married to faithful men. Brigham definitely used this rationale for justifying his appropriation of Zina Diantha Huntington [Jacobs Smith] as his own wife, based on the technicality that Brigham had been the one to stand proxy for Joseph in the temple, and was therefore Zina’s husband already as well.

    I think Zina did much more “for the kingdom” as Brigham’s wife than she would have been able to do as Jacob’s wife, but it was a terrible precedent to set. And if the man who has been prophet for decades sets this precedent, why should others refrain from following suit?

    I think it would be brilliant, however, if you were to assemble your information and publish it. If you already have, I do apologize for not being familiar with your writings and reasonings.

  9. As for those who do not believe there is a need for baptism by proper authority opining that sealings are not required, they clearly believe in a God (if He exists in their mental model of the universe) who doesn’t require the authorized baptism taught by the LDS Church. As no other Christian religion doctrinally believes in an family-oriented afterlife, they would never have been taught about this.

    The teaching that there is some aspect of family relationship in eternity is the central “heretical” Mormon doctrine. We would say this is the most important of the plain and precious things that were stripped out of the scriptures. Another would be the need for legitimate priesthood authority – an inconvenient teaching for anyone whose priesthood provenance was suspect.

    As for sealing families together from children to parents, it’s not obvious what the eternal purpose of such sealings would be, to me. However it’s clear to me that the only reason we would ever bother seeking out our ancestors to perform the saving ordinances is our desire to create those binding links between parents and children. Our knowledge that parents love children and would want to see them saved, and that believing children would want their parents saved, is what gets us off our metaphorical couches to seek out our ancestors and perform all the sealing links, which necessitates the saving ordinance of baptism for each individual involved in those sealing relationships (when death occurred after the age of accountability).

    I submit that your non-member friends don’t believe in a God who requires baptism. Else how do they justify the damnation of all those who died without baptism? I presume they simply say “God is omniscient – He can do anything.” But in this they forget that man is free. Man must be persuaded to choose God, for the God I worship will force no man to heaven.

    This sealing work is all about persuading men (including “men” who are female) to choose God. We, their daughters and sons, their mothers and fathers, plead with them to join us, to be joined to us, to return to God. For those who knew not God, His voice would not be persuasive. But what woman can reject the pleas of her sucking babe, what man can reject the anguished invitation of his honored father? And so we become the enabling missionaries to allow all of mankind, as they are converted in the afterlife, to be the missionaries to their own beloved family.

    That’s my vision of why we perform sealing ordinances between generations. And perhaps there’s also an eternal function other than this immediate salvific function of reaching to all mankind.

    So I would come back and say that you have to be able to seal a man to all his wives to effect this binding together of the entire human family, “lest the whole world be wasted at His coming.” There is no need for women to be actually sealed to all the men they loved to effect the binding together of the entire human family, as the legitimacy of levirate relationships is well established.

    That said, let us seal everyone to all their partners with whom they did or could have engendered children and let the individuals and God work out the details. And let us seal all children to all their parents, biological or adoptive.

    As for me and mine, we will consider that families are to be bound together for eternity, to effect the will of God.

  10. Harold Glen Clark was the first temple president of the Provo Temple. He was sealed to Virginia Driggs in 1929, and she died in March of 1950. He was then sealed to Mary Deane Peterson Gilbert in December of 1950. He died in 1984. The interesting thing is that Mary Deane Peterson was first sealed to Arthur Gene Gilbert in 1941. Bro. Gilbert died in 1947, so at the time Mary was sealed to Bro. Clark in 1950, she was already sealed and living. This is in direct violation of the temple sealing policies of today. Then, after Bro. Clark died in 1984, Mary Deane Peterson married a third time to Glenn Andrew in 1986. He died in 2004, then she died in 2006, and they were sealed by proxy in 2009. Summary – Clark sealed to two wives, Andrew is sealed to two wives, and Mary Peterson is sealed to three husbands, the first two of whom while living, the third vicariously. Can you point to any language in a current church publication that says only one of Mary’s sealings will be honored at the end of the day?

  11. No wonder you keep coming back to this.

    I suspect if Joseph were here, he would have cancelled the sealing Harold Glen Clark performed between himself and Mary Deane Peterson [Gilbert], as he did when Hyrum errantly sealed Mary Ann Frost [Stearns Pratt] to Parley P. Pratt.

    After everyone was dead, then it’s fine for descendants to perform all the sealings they want, so Mary Dean Peterson’s sealing to her final husband is not in violation of policy.

    I would defer this question to an apostle. However as I am not related to any of the individuals cited in this case, it would be best if this question came from a descendant. Won’t stop me from submitting the question, just that I won’t hold my breath until I get an answer.

  12. Not to belabor the point, but since you can’t point out any language in modern church publications, is that a concession?;) I know it’s not, and I, too, have read the many quotes of early leaders as to “why” a man can have plural wives but a woman can only have one husband in the eternities. My problem is that those quotes have not been quoted or used in many, many years, so that today, laid out in the handbook for leaders to see, is the simple principle: We believe we have sealing authority to bind in heaven as is bound in earth. Vicarious sealings may be done for the deceased, and if those parties accept those sealings and otherwise keep those covenants so made, those sealings are binding. You would think it would be a relatively simple matter to have language in the handbook, even in a parenthetical way, that says no matter how many husbands a woman has, she’ll eventually have to choose one. I haven’t been able to find such language.

  13. I’ve referred this question to a lawyer friend who is a temple worker, to start on the process of finding out what the current language is (and where).

    I am aware of cases where a woman was sealed in the temple to her first husband, who then died soon after the marriage. The inability to be sealed in life to the subsequent husband with whom the woman had her children and spent the vast majority of her life became a tender point.

    I may be wrong, but I don’t know of too many people who, like you, think that women will be potentially actually sealed to multiple partners in eternity. So I suspect it wasn’t deemed necessary to spell out that policy in extreme detail, which would merely injure those already hurting.

    It seems that a corollary to the current policy of allowing deceased women to be sealed to all potential conjugal partners might be allowing a woman who was sealed to a man who is now deceased to be sealed to her subsequent spouse(s) – this would acknowledge that such sealings could be performed after her death. And this would necessitate an explanation one way or another about the validity of these multiple sealing relationships in eternity. Which by extension would necessitate a clarification of the nature of eternity, demonstrating how this assymmetric relationship with regards to sealings is appropriate.

    However I’m not sure this issue ranks high on the list of the hot burner issues at the moment. I’m reminded of the letters in the Book of Moroni, the chapters with the letter talking about the disputations about infant baptism, which is followed by the letter talking about the gross wickedness leading eventually to the end of the Nephite civilization (the one we typically don’t read because it is so graphically nasty).

  14. Alma Sonne served in various church positions. Born in 1884, Bro. Sonne was sealed to Geneva Ballantyne in 1912, had four children, then she dies in 1941. He was then sealed to her sister, Leona Ballentyne Woolley, in 1943, and they were married until her death in 1971. Bro. Sonne then dies in 1977. Leona was first sealed to Joseph Young Card in 1905, then married to Kenneth Woolley in 1911, then was sealed to Alma Sonne in 1943, then sealed a third time to Kenneth Woolley in 1997 by proxy since she died in 1971. Appears to be yet another instance of a women being alive and sealed to two men at the same time. I understand the notion of sealing all deceased couples up, then letting it all shake out in the end. That is the classic answer you’ll get from a church leader. But, it would have made no sense to have Leona living and sealed to Husbands 1 and 3. Why wasn’t she sealed to Husband 2 while living? I think it’s because sealing policy changed for a while, and for some window of time, living women were allowed to be sealed to more than one husband. I just don’t have the research tools available to me to confirm that suspicion. In the end, it doesn’t matter too much until we have a definitive word as to whether women will — or won’t — be forced to choose among several husbands.

  15. I look forward to clarification.

    Until then, I submit that individual instances where living women were sealed to a subsequent spouse despite having been sealed to a prior spouse are more likely due to inadequate doctrinal understanding and poor record keeping than “case law” that should cause us to rethink the reason that 99.9% of women aren’t sealed to a subsequent spouse when they had been previously sealed to a man who died.

  16. “Every man who truly loves a woman and every woman who truly loves a man hopes and dreams that their companionship will last forever.” Gordon B. Hinkley, Liahona “The Marriage That Endures”, July 2003. Do you think President Hinkley was only referring to first marriages? Are you saying a woman who remarries doesn’t “truly love” her second spouse? Or, are you saying that regardless of whether, or how much, she loves her spouses, tough luck. She will have to choose one of them. Add to that the language in the gospel principles manual that says ALL marriages are meant to be eternal. Not just first marriages. Not just a widower marrying a never married sister. All marriages would include widows and widowers previously sealed to first spouses who then remarry. Otherwise, you are creating a whole class of marriages that are “worthless” in an eternal sense. You see, where the rubber meets the road, and we’re dealing with real people and real emotions, it seems silly to tell members that every relationship of marriage should be treated as eternal, then turn around and mutter under our breath “except you silly sisters – you had better figure which husband you love most of all.” I actually have about 150 pages of research on plural sealings. Maybe I’ll submit a series to the permas here and see if they’re interested.

  17. Another reason it becomes critical to “know” the policy is because we’re an international church, with temples and members spread over the world. Not every member has access to what someone said 130 years ago in general conference or some other old journal of discourse. Even what was said then is not necessarily doctrine now. Those members rely on what the church publishes in official manuals and such. Therefore, the absence of language in Handbook 1 (there’s a whole section on temple and marriage) is telling. Given the fact that we do allow deceased women to be sealed to all husbands they had in mortality, and then we preach that such sealings are valid if accepted by faithful parties, why would a member have any reason not to believe the eternal polyandry will exist? Do we really want to rely on the “unwritten order of things” and hope word is passed along somehow? That seems like a poor way to deal with the issue. Better to have such an important part of sealing policy clearly and unambiguously written so there would be a consistent position taken throughout the church.

  18. With 150 cases, I’m presuming that some of these are gathered from FamilySearch rather than being close relatives whose personal stories you know intimately. There are times when updates get made to that database that are nice, but not consistent with the actual history. For example, five of the wives of John W. Taylor now show up as being legitimately sealed to him as of the date of their original marriages, but that wasn’t the case until roughly 100 years after his last (disobedient) marriage following the 1904 manifesto. Just saying that the Family Search database gets updated by people working behind the scenes in various ways, sometimes not in accordance with historical fact.

    Out of the Blue

    Again, if what you are suggesting has been the policy, there are billions of women to whom this applies, hundreds of thousands at the least that this applied to in life. So if you are right, there are the 99.9% who never got the message (presuming your 150 instances reflect a significant portion of the cases where a women was sealed in life to more than one man).

    Before you go out on a limb here, you might want to get an authoritative answer to your specific question, not just lovely soundbites that you have interpreted to support your position. Given how emotional this issue is, you run the risk of creating something similar to OW, with good people standing up to declare that what you suggest *should* be the way it is, independent of Church policies.

    If you are right, making a public scene isn’t the best way to get the errant policy changed.

    If you are wrong, publishing documentation of the 150 instances where policy appears to have been strange, along with the soundbites that support your position, has potential to deepen the anguish of those this policy wounds.

    It’s a free country. So you can forward the suggestion of a series on this to Geoff. If you have a rationale for how this benefits us all and doesn’t have potential to turn into an OW-like fiasco, I’m good for it. But my SWOT analysis of this doesn’t incline me to want to go there in this manner until such time as there is a secific position on this from someone relatively highly placed.

  19. My impression of prophetic teaching from Joseph to Brigham and on down to the early restoration prophets, is that exalted man and woman populated the eternities by creating spirits in a pattern similar to procreation on earth. Brigham and some of the earlier leaders (did BY get this from private teachings from Joseph or go rogue…) took the next step and said these exalted beings then initiated mortality again on new worlds (Adam-God) become both the spiritual Father and Mother in creation, but also the mortal Father and Mother of all living.

    My only reason for pointing this out, is this kind of “timeline” or destiny for God’s exalted children would pretty clearly spell out the eternal significance of sealing and provide an answer for not only refuting IDIAT’s polyandrous theory, but some members confusion over homosexuality and why it can never be accepted in the eternities.

    If heaven is a place where we all just around being happy singing the “Everything is Awesome” song as an eternal family, anything goes I suppose.

  20. I realized why I feel so strongly on this. It has to do with my experience as a divorcee and watching others who are divorced go through the process of having a prior sealing cancelled before being able to be sealed to a subsequent husband in the temple.

    As James A. Cullimore, then-assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote in 1975, “Since a woman cannot be sealed to two men at the same time, she must have a cancellation of sealing from one before she can be sealed to another.” This was part of a Q&A to two questions, one of which had to do with “What happens when a couple gets a temple divorce?” First Elder Cullimore clarifies that it is not a “temple divorce,” but a cancellation of sealing.

    If it was acceptable for a woman to actually be sealed to multiple men, there would be no reason to cancel prior sealings. For example, a man who remarries after a messy (or civilized) divorce is not asked to cancel the prior sealing.

    There was an uproar about this in the 1990s as I recall, with critics pointing out how asymmetric the policies were between men and women. They had hoped the Church would do away with requiring the cancellation of sealing for women who desire to be sealed to a subsequent spouse in the temple. Instead the Church instituted similar policies of reporting for men who remarry after divorce.

    The remainder of this is based on my experience and understanding. The current procedures as documented in the most recent Handbook of Instructions are not contained in the portion of the Handbook available on the internet.

    The individual’s bishop meets with the prospective spouse and identifies if there is anything untoward between the individual and their former spouse(s). The bishop is then responsible for contacting the former spouse(s) to give them the chance to comment on matters related to their former spouse. Contact is supposed to be documented, so usually the bishop is asked to attempt to call or visit the former spouse(s). Failing that, the bishop is to write a letter asking for clarifying information (e.g., outstanding obligations the prior spouse has not fulfilled, such as being delinquent on spousal support or child support or failing to pay off debts). The letter is supposed to be sent via registered mail or some other means that allows the bishop to document that a good-faith effort to contact the prior spouse(s) was in fact conducted.

    The cancellation of sealing cannot be done without being considered by the First Presidency of the Church. The backlog for getting a sealing cancelled can be several months, and this is not something that can be expedited (as we learned when it became clear my sealing cancellation might not occur prior to my wedding to my current husband).

    When a woman’s prior sealing has not been cancelled, she is not sealed to her new spouse in the temple. The marriage is performed “for the period of your mortal lives.”

    If a couple hasn’t sought a cancellation of the woman’s prior sealing before the wedding, they must wait a year before being allowed to be sealed in the temple. In my case, the cancellation was in progress, so we were able to be sealed once the cancellation had occurred, roughly six weeks after my second marriage.

    My ex-husband sought to be sealed to his second wife after the policy had changed to make it required for both men and women to go through the same process, though in this case the sealing itself had already been cancelled (and cancellation of sealing wouldn’t have occurred if he was simply remarrying). His bishop gooned up the process, having my ex-husband contact me about documenting stuff. That’s why I know it’s *not* supposed to be handled that way. It’s been years ago, but I remember that being asked by my ex-husband to document why the divorce had occurred and send it to him, to hand to his bishop, caused me more mental anguish than the then-recent death of my son.

    So despite the fact that apparently several hundred folks and their respective Church leaders didn’t get the memo about not being sealed to more than one man, I’m very certain that Church policy does not allow a woman to be sealed to more than one man in life.

    For what it’s worth, this updated policy allows the Church to avoid solemnizing sealings between known scum and unsuspecting women. Though it happens rarely, there are cases when a man has behaved so badly that his name gets put on a list. Wouldn’t want to be that man. In fairness, I assume there are also female names on that list.

    On an unrelated note, I understand there is chatter about letting people get married civilly without any penalty. Currently (as I understand) a couple who marries outside the temple, when it’s possible to be married in the temple, must wait a year before they are allowed to solemnize their eternal intentions via a temple sealing. It would be sad to only learn a year into a marriage that the Church won’t let your partner be sealed to anyone due to bad behavior (murder, extortion, stuff like that).

  21. Meg – I appreciate the tutorial on sealing policies and procedures, but I am in such a position that I have had access to Handbook 1 for almost 25 years. I think you’re going way beyond my position. I mentioned above that I think there was a window in time (1930-1950?) when sealing policies allowed living women to be sealed to more than one husband. If you were to read H1, you would see that sealing instructions are termed “policies.” In my experience, policies change over time. They are not doctrine, although they are usually based on doctrine. The fundamental doctrine is that family units are meant to be eternal. We claim to have PH authority that enables this. So, because of circumstances (death) sometimes family units change. Why do we allow deceased women to be sealed to their husbands but not living? I don’t know for sure. In 30 years of looking there is no explanation to be found. I personally think it relates to patriarchy issues. By not allowing living women to be sealed, we assure that any children born to the woman are born in the covenant of the first sealing. The inference is that those children born “belong” to the first husband. (That ought to stir up the feminist in all of us.) That position obviously hurts the chances of a young widow remarrying. Not too many men want to raise up seed to another man. (Even GA’s, with rare exception, won’t remarry a woman sealed to another man.) Even the examples I mention above are of living women who are well past child bearing age. I thoroughly understand the patriarchal theories behind one man plural wives. However, the ideas discussed were mostly given at a time when leaders were doing their level best to justify the practice of plural marriage. I liken many of those talks to the efforts over time to justify the priesthood ban. We didn’t really know why so we struggled to put some sense into it. Is it possible that starting with the 1998 handbook, and continued in the 2010 handbook, that there is a backing away from the positions given 100 plus years ago? Maybe. I haven’t read a clear explanation of the sealing policy changes. I’ve actually been in leadership meetings with 4 or 5 apostles over the last 15 years, and I wish I could have had a one on one to ask the questions I have. Those meetings didn’t really lend themselves to a lengthy discourse. At any rate I am sure one day the doctrine will be fleshed out. Until then, I’m fine with the sealing policies in place.

  22. I’m sure Church leaders would be happy to do away with the huge time suck associated with cancelling sealings if it turns out this step isn’t required.

    Were they to do this, I can imagine that a widow would potentially be permitted to be sealed to a subsequent spouse, but they would still require all the rigor they currently do for folks who get divorced. Because there are some seriously bad eggs out there. I knew the murdered wife of Raven Abaroa. Raven finally accepted a plea bargain, agreeing that he’d go to jail because the evidence was sufficiently strong that it could convict him. My friend’s family’s main concern is that he will continue to victimize women (scary stories, some reported on America’s Most Wanted and others I know of because of my relationship to the family). So I’m good with the Church preventing known bad eggs from easily getting sealed to another spouse in the temple.

    So in the handbook you have access to, has it rescinded the policy of cancelling sealings for divorced women who seek to be sealed someone else? Not that I have any personal need to know: all the temple marriages among my close family and friends are thriving.

    Edited to add: A reason for allowing a deceased woman to be sealed to all potential conjugal partners with whom she could have engendered children (long winded way of saying male partners, not female partners) is to avoid folks hesitating to do work, or hesitating to seal the woman to all her children, as potentially someone would think her children by other men weren’t “important.” I think the 1975 Q&A response gave some interesting insight into the status of a child who is sealed into a marriage. It is the sealing of child to parents that is important, not the particular parents (in cases where one or more of the parents are wackos). Thus it isn’t critical that posthumous sealings of children to parents include *the* husband that would be the ultimate choice of the woman.

    A guy who won’t marry a woman just because she’s sealed to someone else is a jerk. Dude, it isn’t like any other religion actually believes spouses end up together for eternity. There are examples of men who adored the women they couldn’t be sealed to (Jonathan Harriman Holmes comes to mind).

    Had the conversation with the husband. Since he was 37 and never-previously married when the spirit told him to “ask Meg to marry,” he maintains that he would have asked me to marry even if I hadn’t been in a situation where he could ever hope to be sealed to me. Assuming, of course, that the spirit wacked him over the head as happened in the actual history.

  23. So in the handbook you have access to, has it rescinded the policy of cancelling sealings for divorced women who seek to be sealed someone else?

    No it hasn’t because, as is oft repeated, the sealing policies of today do not allow a living woman to be sealed to more than one man. A divorced sister seeking to be sealed to another husband would have to obtain a sealing cancelation. However, after her death, she could be resealed to the first husband by the kids or some other relative. Only a deceased woman may be sealed to all her husbands and even that requires that she and all husbands be dead. I understand the dislike of a man who wouldn’t marry a man sealed to another woman. But, President Joseph F. Smith warned men against doing exactly that because of the seed issue. (Quote is in Doctrines of Salvation). I guess it could just be coincidence, with all the widows floating around out west, that our apostles just happened to marry sisters who weren’t sealed to other men. Anyway, let me work on that series. I don’t have 150 instances of living women being sealed to more than one man. I have other stuff to present on plural sealings.

  24. “President Joseph F. Smith warned men against doing exactly that because of the seed issue…”

    That’s funny, because Brigham was very much into the idea of providing widows levirate husbands, to the point where it was clearly policy that a woman couldn’t be sealed to her deceased husband unless the guy standing proxy was married to her for time.

    Joseph F. Smith’s beliefs on this issue is probably why he decided to have Alice Ann Kimball’s kids sealed to him, to avoid mixing the seed, as it appeared to him. But none of the modern Church leaders would support him in that interpretation. At least Spencer Kimball, whose father was Alice Ann’s twin, opined that Joseph F. Smith erred in sealing Alice’s children to himself.

  25. I mis-spoke earlier. I wasn’t sitting in front of my computer and was going off memory. It wasn’t Joseph F. Smith – it was Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr.:

    RAISING UP SEED UNTO ONE’S BROTHER. When a man and a woman are married in the temple for time and all eternity, and then the man dies and the woman marries another man, she can be married to him for time only. When a man marries a woman who was married previously to her husband in the temple but who has now died, he does so, or should, with his eyes open. If the children are born to this woman and her “time” husband, he has no claim upon those children. They go with the mother. This is the law. Certainly a man cannot in reason expect to take another man’s wife, after that man is dead, and rear a family by her and then claim the children. If he wants a family of his own, then he should marry a wife that he can have in eternity. This is in full harmony with the patriarchal order. What was the law anciently? Was not the second husband supposed to raise up seed for his brother?”

    Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, p.78 – p.79

  26. FWIW – it seems like this is the reasoning behind our policy of not allowing a living woman to be sealed to more than one man. I haven’t been able, despite 30 years of fairly diligent search, to find any other explanation of the policy. If you are privy to something in an official church publication that explains the doctrine behind limiting a living woman to one sealing at a time, I would greatly appreciate the reference.

  27. Francine Christensen, “Blending Family Styles: Making a Second Marriage Work,” Ensign, Jun 1981, 28 (Sister Christensen’s article, like so many, deals mostly with temporal logistics, and doesn’t address doctrinal issues at all. But this portion caught my eye:)

    Sometimes the challenges posed by sealings in previous marriages cause concern. One of the great men that we know is married, for the first time, to a woman whose temple marriage was interrupted by her husband’s death after the birth of two children. They now have five children of their own and the father has raised all seven to be fully committed to the principles of the gospel. Even though he has felt some uncertainty about the future, he has felt the spiritual peace that he will be blessed and be happy if he fulfills his responsibilities.

    This brother is the man President Joseph Fielding Smith warned. He has “taken” another man’s wife, impregnated her, and therefore those 5 children “belong” to the first husband. And, he has lived his whole life without being sealed. Will he, like President Smith implied, be condemned for not having married a sister to whom he could be sealed in this life? Or, since his children will eventually seal him and their mother together after they’ve all died, will he be praised? Is the first husband going to “thank” the second husband for marrying his wife, and then getting her pregnant five times? At the end of the day, whose wife will she be? As for Sister Christensen’s own position, she was sealed to her first husband, had children, then married a man who was previously sealed, then (I think) they had a child together. Obviously their child is “born in the covenant” of her first sealing. But after many long years married to her second husband, does she want to spend eternity with her first husband, her second husband, or both of them? Since we can seal her (eventually) to her second husband, does she even have to choose? And that uncertainty felt by the husband mentioned by Sister Christensen? The portion in the 2010 Handbook on Temple and Marriage was amended to state:

    Members who have concerns about the eternal nature of such relationships can find peace in the knowledge that Heavenly Father is loving and just. He will ensure that eternal family relationships will be fair and right for all who keep their covenants.

  28. Which isnt anything different from what has always been understood.

    He does say it in a rather ungracious way that is significantly male-centric versus children of God-centric.

    I can see why men might read that statement of the principle and decide they won’t bother dating a widow. Of course in this they are ignoring the admonition to care for the widows and fatherless. I suspect he was also dealing with the fall-out of the prior lacuna regarding proper sealing procedures, where guys wanted to be sealed to a widow who was previously sealed, arguing that this would be required so their children could be sealed to *them*.

    I’m curious why that lacuna came to pass. I think it could have been a combination of factors, related to unwillingness to point out proper procedure in these things. So you have an era when the romantic model of marriage is in full force, young women are becoming widows because of wars, influenza, etc., silly men are deciding they won’t marry a widow if they can’t be sealed to her, etc. But then we get to the 60s and divorce begins to become a more prevalent factor. In the face of a man wishing to be sealed to a divorcee, it becomes more obvious that she shouldn’t remain sealed to the slimeball (seeing it from the woman’s POV) who she’d originally been sealed to. And so it goes.

    My assessment of how this could have evolved. Pure conjecture.

  29. So Elvira Annie Cowles promises to marry Joseph Smith.

    Due to unknown factors, Joseph asks Jonathan Harriman Holmes to be a public husband for Elvira. They are wed 1 Dec 1842.

    After Emma accepts the New and Everlasting Covenant, a ceremony is performed sealing Elvira to Joseph Smith (with one of the Partridge girls as witness).

    Several months after Joseph’s death, actually the same month Jonathan is asked by Emma to exhume Joseph’s body and re-bury it, Jonathan finally engenders a child with Elvira.

    In the Nauvoo temple Jonathan and Elvira each stand proxy as the other is sealed to their other spouse (Jonathan to the martyred Marietta, Elvira to the martyred Joseph).

    Elvira has five children by Jonathan, two of whom die before they grow up.

    On Elvira’s death bed, Jonathan tenderly waits at her side, asking her what her report will be to Joseph. Has Jonathan been a good husband? Elvira responds he has been the best husband, the best father. And then she says that Joseph will do all that is right.

    Now in this case Jonathan was sealed to another woman, his first wife. And Elvira was sealed to the much-married Joseph. So perhaps it does not seem as tender to you as it does to me, their relative certainty/uncertainty in the face of Elvira’s death.

    A man marrying a good woman to whom he can’t be sealed is one of the many ways in which this life can fall short of the ideal. What of my son, who died before he could even be married? Is there any blessing God will withold from him because of that? And what of the jerks who managed to get sealed to a woman but then abused that woman? Is that man somehow to be blessed for a ten minute ceremony that wasn’t consistent with the rest of his life’s actions?

    Personally, I consider that we all have known each other for an eternity, and if for some reason we are unable to be with the one we hoped for due to whatever circumstance, we will be able to find another one of God’s children with whom we will joyously be able to live in eternity.

    On the other hand, I do imagine there will be many who we might suppose would fail to merit the highest heaven, who will get there. And who will be joyously united to the spouse they loved in life, all the foibles of life notwithstanding. Christ’s atonement covers pretty much everything, if we will throw ourselves on His grace.

  30. So Meg, I do have a question. Were the Nicolaitane band referenced in Doctrine and Covenants 117 the Strikers, related to the Strikers, or something else entirely? My understanding of the term Nicolaitane band historically seems very similar — sexually promiscuous but outwardly pious. Have I missed this covered elsewhere in this series?

  31. D&C 117 was given in 1838, several years before Bennett and his folks started their campaign.

    Nicolaitans were gnostics that believed that mere intellectual belief could save. In this, the most eggregious example in early Mormon history was Amasa Lyman, who didn’t think the atonement was necessary.

    So Nicolaitans aren’t the same as “Strikers” though I could imagine those engaging in the illicit excesses characteristic of “Strikers” had some interesting intellectual sophistries going on to justify their behavior.

  32. IDIAT, you ask some interesting questions but seem unable to accept that we (the Church) don’t know the answers and won’t know the answers in this life. Sealing children to parents seems almost irrelevant since children grow up, marry (get sealed) and start the cycle all over again. Who really cares who adult children are sealed to, beyond their spouse? Will a sealing somehow trump free agency and long established relationships? I don’t think a sealing will act as a chain or a prison for people who are sealed-in whatever combination, i.e. horizontally between spouses or vertically between parents and children.

    If I understand the Plan of Happiness correctly, the parent-child relationship is a convention for mortality. Once we move on to the next phase of our eternal development, the relationships revert to something more akin to the pre-mortal existence and are more horizontal than vertical. Unless death is another form of birth (moving from one place to another) and another father is introduced into the equation, once we move on from here the parent-child relationship is no longer really relevant and what becomes more relevant are the actual relationships that were established here or get established on the other side. I don’t see where any sealing would trump or constrain continuing whatever relationships we want to or establish new relationships on the other side. (As an aside, I wonder if spouses who pass on are also free to form new romantic relationships and even remarry in the spirit world like the spouses who are left behind here are free to do. Could make for some awkward reunions on the other side. lol)

    Meg, I empathize with what you shared about writing a letter re: sealing clearances. I’ve been in a similar circumstance and it was similarly painful. It is really a poor policy and even more poorly thought out. Not sure what is to be really gained from soliciting comments from prior spouses or what interest is really being protected. There has to be a better, less painful way than the current process.

  33. rb – it’s not that I don’t know we don’t have all the answers. But we perform sealings, and we perform them in an orderly fashion, record them, have very clear sealing policies, etc. I think we tend not to take the sealing power too seriously when in fact, it is very serious business. So serious that an angel restored the keys of sealing to Joseph Smith. I, personally, am not overly concerned about the sealing connections between parents and children. I envision our connections to our children like the surface of sphere instead of top down. However, early church leaders thought parent child relationships were important, otherwise they wouldn’t have all the “born in the covenant” concerns. People often talk about agency in the next life. Query: In this life, I imagine you consented to being sealed to your spouse. You accepted all the laws, ordinances and so forth that pertain to holy matrimony. The deal was made before God, angels and witnesses. Do you think, short of not keeping your covenants through lack of faithfulness, that you will be able to just “change your mind” after this life is over? I don’t think so. I do believe there will be plenty of adjustments made in the next life because we have to accommodate all those people who’ve died without being married, died below age 8, lived on earth but had mental or physical infirmities that prevented them from marrying, etc. In that sense, I know there are still plenty of questions for which we don’t have answers. But I would hope our efforts to exercise the sealing power does come with some clarity and order.

    “(As an aside, I wonder if spouses who pass on are also free to form new romantic relationships and even remarry in the spirit world like the spouses who are left behind here are free to do. Could make for some awkward reunions on the other side. lol)” I have believed this position for years (though I have no authority for it). It just makes sense. And yes, I think there will be plenty of remarried widows and widowers “moved on” in this life who will be surprised to learn their predeceased spouse has “moved on” in the spirit world and is waiting to be sealed in the Millennium.

  34. “you ask some interesting questions but seem unable to accept that we (the Church) don’t know the answers and won’t know the answers in this life.”

    Just curious, does anyone else think this answer is almost a bit too protestant “we lack revelation”? I feel a little torn as I start to see it being given more and more. When Alma saw women and children being slaughtered, he didn’t resort to the “we don’t know” but gave an answer, which is quite frankly a very hard answer.

    I’m not saying we don’t have scriptural precedent of “not knowing the meaning of all things”, but very often where there are unknowns, the spirit illuminates the scene, bringing knowledge to those who would receive it.

    Do we have instances of Joseph telling others he doesn’t know and we can’t know until the resurrection?

    Is the spirit being constrained from providing answers because we won’t accept them and will get offended? There are very few (if any) personal questions I’ve struggled with that the the spirit has not helped me to understand. I’ve never once felt “well we just don’t know” is the answer over something I really cared about. That doesn’t mean I can articulate it well or share the meaning of all things with others…

    But we believe in revelation, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but revelation has meant much more to me than telling me where my keys are or that I should change lanes, etc. I’m grateful for those small instances, but I do not believe for a second that’s the purpose of what revelation through the Holy Ghost was ultimately intended for.

  35. Aaron:

    I always go back to President Kimball changing the words to “I Am a Child of God.” The Lord through His Spirit will often teach us what we must do, but less often teaches us what we must know. Looking back at my life, I cannot think of more than a couple of times (all on very big-picture items) when the Lord taught me to know something first. Almost always, the Lord will tell me something that I need to do, and after I have done it (or am in the process of doing it), then I figure out what I am supposed to learn out of that lesson.

    The other thought I had through this is priorities. President Matthew Cowley, Elder Cook said, went his whole time as a Mission President speaking on two subjects — faith and repentance. He died working on a talk on baptism. You are right that Alma and Joseph received revelation to answer the questions of their day, but those tended to be big questions. What is the answer to evil? What is the nature of God? How do we gain the faith needed for salvation? How do we repent?

    We ask a different sort of question in the Internet age, and I don’t believe that it is as prone to revelation because of the differences. I too would love to understand how the family structure will be organized in the life hereafter. If someone is divorced but has children with another and both are resealed, will they have to live in the same Celestial neighborhood to make visits from their joint children easier? How do we deal with the modern hookup culture that functions much like a polyandrous and polygamous society with multiple children from multiple parent-couples? But assume that I knew what I wanted to know and you knew what you wanted to know — how would that change how you reacted to the person who cut you off in traffic this morning? Would you be more kind and Christlike?

    I am intellectually curious and read everything I can find on the Gospel. But I see a difference between what I read and want to learn, and what I need to do and understand. It is by the Spirit teaching me to do that I learn, not the Spirit teaching me to know so I will do. Of course, this is a subjective experience so I cannot generalize it out unilaterally. But I wonder if this might not be your experience as well, and whether it provides an understanding of the issue for the Church at large.

    And yes, Joseph said he did not know about a number of things (particularly the date of the Second Coming — another thing that would be interesting to know).

  36. As counterintuitive as it sounds and notwithstanding all of the spiritual pomp and circumstance which appropriately surrounds temple ordinances, yes I do think people will have the opportunity to change their minds and opt out of relationships at any point. For whatever reason, people will have the opportunity to simply walk away. People do crazy things here and take all kinds of crazy and reckless risks for what they believe is happiness or fulfillment. Why won’t that happen on the other side? May not happen as often as we see here, but relationships will still be fluid and people’s hearts may not be as committed as they once thought. It is hard for me to imagine someone being forced/trapped with another person if he or she does not want to be.

    I agree that sealings are important, though for reasons which escape me at a logical level. The lack of being sealed shouldn’t stop people from forming relationships on the other side or continuing relationships from this side on the other side. Why can’t two people who were married but not sealed just regroup on the other side? What stops them from just getting together and simply shacking up on the other side, or getting married on the other side? To some that may be an ultimate act of love: sacrificing a shot at the CK to be with a loved one in a lower kingdom.

    If we will be a group of individuals on the other side with our memories and agency, why can’t we just choose to regroup with people we love and want to be with? Armed with agency and memory, it does not appear, a priori, that sealings are required for people to be together in a committed, eternal (maybe) relationship on the other side.

    Aaron, I don’t understand your comment. Is there something wrong with admitting we don’t know the answer to a question or set of questions? That kind of modesty would have saved a lot of heartache and problems with respect to the priesthood ban.

  37. I’m not sure I agree with the thought that the parent-child dealings aren’t especially important. Ignoring the need for a “welding link” between the generations (D&C 128:18), the promises to Abraham, and then repeated to Isaac and Jacob, were that blessings associated with certain rights related to the Priesthood would flow to their seed (Abr 2:11). When we inherit all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, surely those blessings apply to our descendants also; and when our ancestors inherit the blessings of our covenantal fathers (through vicarious ordinances) surely their descendants (i.e. us) also then receive blessings promised to their “seed”. I don’t know how important those sealings will be in the Celestial Kingdom, but I think they are very important for us now as we need the blessings that come from our covenant forefathers – I think that is a particularly important reason for us to aim first and foremost to do vicarious work for our own ancestors. The temple itself reinforces this quite powerfully I think in some of the covenant words.

    As far as lacking revelation, as D&C 132:3 states that those who have the law revealed to them must obey it, I have tended to interpret that as, by implication, stating that given we are not required to obey the law of plural marriage at the moment it is therefore not something we will be able to fully understand. I would still like to, though – as long as I still don’t have to live it….

  38. Dude – you use revelation to find keys? (Actually, I sometimes do as well. But is sure does sound funny…)

    To recap:

    Sealing spouses to each other – a great thing that can go between a man and multiple women, however apparently (certainly under current policy) only goes from a woman to one man. Obviously temporal monogamy is the standard, and God reserves the right to realign things to His will towards the end goal of making everyone maximally happy.

    Sealing children to parents – a great thing that was so sacred Joseph wouldn’t allow it to happen outside a temple. As long as the mother has been sealed, the children are Born in the Covenant, which is hugely important. Having the children necessarily being linked to any particular parent appears to be not so critical as to lose sleep over. If we’re all in His kingdom, we’ll be there. This intergenerational linkage does appear to be a crucial part of the work required to avoid having the “whole world wasted at His coming.”

  39. Johnathan,
    I completely agree that the goal is to become more like Christ and help others to do the same. I just interrupted the main topic with a tangential thought because I increasingly see that “we don’t know” response popping up everywhere, and it seems like it’s being used as a crutch. Like a real crutch, when necessary it’s absolutely vital. But when over used if not necessary it can create all sorts of additional problems.

    I personally try to avoid prescribing every potential strain with a pair of crutches, when sometimes the answer is to put some ice on it, take it easy, or even walk it off. Hobbling around on crutches for the rest of your life (“we don’t know” to all the hard answers) does enable to you get around, but also causes atrophy, pain & irritation, nerve or artery damage.

  40. I’m having fun listening to the Book of Mormon for 15-20 minutes each morning. I’m struck by plain and precious things I’m noticing during this run through the book.

    One of those plain and precious things is that it is our own righteousness that makes the difference, not so much our lineage (Nephi’s discussion (1 Nephi 15?)with his brothers about why the Israelites were favored).

    Being Born in the Covenant makes us Abraham’s seed. Therefore we join those through whom God’s promise will be fulfilled:

    18 Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.

    When we join the Church as initial converts (rather than being Born in the Covenant) we self select to become heirs of Abraham’s covenant.

    Why would any of that be necessary? I am satisfied that the saving work we do for our dead and the work we do teaching our young to love God are sufficient to justify all the sealing ordinances and the brief/temporary practice of temporal polygyny. I suspect there is more about heaven that supports the modern policies regarding eternal sealings between men and all their wives but does not permit sealing of women to more than one man in life.

    As for shacking up with the one you love in eternity being some sort of better form of love, I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’ essay about the mother in eternity who demanded her son join her in a lower level of eternity because mother love was (in her mind) more important that anything else. Lewis’ point was that love of God is primary and anything that takes us away from that, even something as otherwise wonderful as mother love, is sinful.

  41. President Grant shows that there may be more to the relationships of a woman with multiple husbands than meets the eye. Joseph Smith was sealed to Pres Grant’s mother prior to his death. She then married Jedediah Grant, who bore Heber J Grant. Jedediah died shortly afterward. When Heber was called to the Quorum of Twelve in his 20s, he wanted to know why he was called so young, among so many older apostles. In a dream, it was revealed to him that both his fathers, Joseph and Jedediah, were before the bar of God, pleading that their son would be called to the apostleship.
    So we may see some interesting types of relationships in the next life.

    There were many dissidents who accepted some of Joseph’s teachings, but came to the conclusion he was a fallen prophet. Some dissidents accepted the Book of Mormon, but no additional scripture. Others accepted the Book of Commandments, as well, etc. David Whitmer was one of those who accepted the Book of Mormon, but was convinced that Joseph was off his rocker when it came to the Word of Wisdom and other concepts.

  42. Thank-you for your wonderful series. I have a taken several hours yesterday and today to read all of the posts, fascinating! I have known of Joseph’s plural marriages for many years and it never bothered me. I like how you put them in context of why they may have occurred and what it meant to emma. I also appreciate the time you have taken to provide all of the footnotes and I have read through those with each article as well. My only question with this one is how footnote 7 applies to the body of this work. Was it a test to see if people read the footnotes? Thank-you again for all of your hard work and following the promptings of the spirit to fulfill what you were directed to do.

  43. Hi Caryn,

    Footnote 7 (the story of how my mother intentionally avoided having enough knowledge that her report of ignorance to my former abusive husband would be truthful) is just an illustration of how people with sufficient foresight can avoid certain levels of involvement in order to give their later professions of ignorance plausible deniability.

    I don’t think Emma lied when she said she’d not read (seen) the revelation and had not burned the revelation she claimed never to have seen. But I can imagine that the paper was present in the room with her and Joseph and she talked about it for many (many) hours and that she made Joseph burn the original copy. This possibility allows all reports regarding the revelation to be true, though implying very different histories.

    I imagine an Emma whose over-riding aim in life was to protect Joseph as she believed he needed to be protected. After Joseph’s death, she clearly believed his reputation needed to continue to be protected from the accusations of sexuality with the women he had covenanted with, a belief she acted on by remaining in Nauvoo, refusing to teach her sons about the New and Everlasting Covenant, and giving a written testimony late in life that implied Joseph had never even covenanted with other women.

    Ironically, it is Emma’s assiduous effort to protect Joseph that has led to the belief that she was ignorant of his actions, which has in turn led to the widespread belief that Joseph not only had sex with the women he covenanted, but the possibility that he may have been having random sex with anyone that he could get his hands on (e.g., Mary Heron).

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