Why Monogamy Isn’t Sufficient

I adore monogamy.

But because of my writings, from time to time I am contacted by someone (usually associated with the apostate Snuffer movement) who tries to convince me that Church historians and particularly Brian Hales are wrong about Joseph Smith teaching plural marriage.

Because Snuffer trained to be a lawyer, the folks who contact me try to wrap their reasoning in legalistic terms. But it’s a problem to try to argue history with someone (like me) who actually knows the source documents. Monogamists arguments take license with truth. They often take gross license with the truth. They depend on you being too stupid and uninformed to know that they are lying.

I have already excoriated one variant of the Monogamists’ attempt to re-write history (Commentary on Joseph Smith’s Monogamy, 2015).

But here’s the point, and why monogamy had to be removed as a requirement for eternal marriages:

Insisting on monogamy when doing temple work for the dead would result in excluding numerous women and their children. Maybe many of us are lucky enough that our ancestors were never married to more than one spouse over the course of their entire lives. But even if there were just one woman in a million who married a widower with children and then proceeded to conceive that man’s children, this would be sufficient for ensuring we didn’t insist on monogamy when we perform temple work for the deceased billions of mankind.

Maybe once we all get to heaven it might turn out that there are more men that women. But the point is that we need to make sure we do all the ordinances for everyone in this life. Insisting on monogamy when sealing up our dead would leave far too many women and children without their saving ordinances.

Please don’t be ignorant and stupid. Lovingly allow for all the ladies and their kiddos to be sealed into the family of mankind. Don’t throw off the gospel because of any reason. But particularly don’t throw off the gospel because of this monogamist silliness.

Pretend I was as eloquent about the evils of folks insisting on monogamy as Mormon was about folks baptizing their infants (Moroni 8). Except for the part where Mormon uses words like hell. My autistic daughter gets very upset with me when I say words like hell.

End of rant. For now.

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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.

21 thoughts on “Why Monogamy Isn’t Sufficient

  1. Whether or not they acknowledge it, people who believe in the bible but not in polygamy are caught in the following impossible triangle:

    1. Abraham, Jacob, David (before his affair with Bathsheba), Solomon (before his apostasy), etc. were righteous men of God.
    2. Marriage is a holy sacrament.
    3. Polygamy is sinful and wrong.

    You can pick any two, but not all three.

  2. Hi Joe,

    Since the term polygamy means many things, I prefer to use the term plural marriage.

  3. Meg,

    I agree with what you wrote. That being said, what’s your response to those who point out the “unfairness” (their word) of women not allowed to be sealed to multiple men? Why should a widow not be able to be sealed to someone after the death of her husband?

  4. I don’t know about the current policy for the living, but I know for a fact that my great grandmother was sealed to both her husbands after they were all dead. I believe that has been the practice for a long time. So from an eternal perspective – she was sealed to more than one man.

  5. @Lily, you’re correct that a woman can be sealed to multiple husbands after they’ve all passed away. That’s been policy since 1998 or thereabouts. But that’s little comfort to many widows who remarry or who think they’ll have to choose a husband in the next life.

    (Again, purpose of this comment isn’t to start an argument but to help formulate a response to those who feel this way.)

  6. Temple work for the dead is a misguided effort. We are only sealing ourselves to others who are in need of redemption.
    The true doctrine was lost after Joseph Smith’s death and involves being sealed to the “Fathers in heaven,” those who are already saved, including Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    To advocate polygamy is to lose sight of the fact that marriage between one man and one woman is the Lord’s pattern and template for marriage and is in fact the very image of God – meaning that God has one wife.
    To advocate polygamy is to advocate something that isn’t the image of God.

  7. You do not understand the sealing power which Joseph had.

    When one prizes his or her errors and holds them as true (when they are not), one dwindles in unbelief. Unbelief is often used in connection with losing truth, forsaking doctrine, and therefore, “dwindling.” The phrase “dwindling in unbelief” is the Book of Mormon’s way to describe moving from a state of belief, with true and complete doctrine, to a state of unbelief, where the truth has been discarded.

    Joe V:
    Abraham, Issac, and Jacob were redeemed of God. “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

    “But Joseph said David was not raised from the dead when the righteous came forth at the time of Christ’s resurrection, because he put Uriah to death, and the crimes of polygamy and murder always go together” [Saints’ Herald, 48:184]

  8. I suspect Arelius and Aimee sympathize with the Snuffer line of reasoning.

    If one studies the marriage system of the Old Testament (and BTW the Book of Mormon), the key is the woman.

    This all gets into the institutional (or conjugal) paradigm of marriage. There’s a BYU Education article from 2017 that traces the evolution of the shifting view of male-female relationships, which incidentally have changed so drastically that same gender marriage seems an obvious step.

    To suggest that a woman needs to be sealed to multiple men in this life (albeit serially) is to elevate individual-focused companionate marriage – the same paradigm shift that has facilitated and even demanded same gender marriage.

    The same people who tend to demand a woman be sealed to all men she has loved also are happy to suggest that monogamy is the only proper marital form (see Carol Lynn Pearson’s Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, which I reviewed here). I’ve been less than amused to read women strenuously arguing that the importance of eternal monogamy is such that we should expect the current Sister Oaks and Sister Nelson to happily embrace an eternal spouse other than their current husbands.

    What I see are people whose concept of eternal marriage differs from the marriage that is doctrine because they want it to conform to their individual-based perceptions of what is compassionate. Snuffer and his folks wish to retain all the power of the gospel while legalistically denying the power of unifying mankind as envisioned by Joseph (as documented by Wilford Woodruff’s journals circa December 1841 and later, see Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870). The folks who demand each individual be sealed to every spouse ignore the non-symmetric biblical marriage system, which was the marriage system by which Israel exercised covenant relationships fo millennia.

    There is a saying with which some might be familiar: “Thy will, not mine, be done.” A related saying is God’s admonition that we not add to nor detract from His word.

    Not even in pursuit of our individual preferences.

  9. @ Arelius: Although it has been revealed in this dispensation that we have a Mother in heaven, I don’t recall any of the prophets, ancient or modern, placing any kind of limit on the number of wives our Father in Heaven has, except a lower limit (e.g., greater than or equal to one).
    Membership in Covenant Israel entails a sealing relationship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and when the sealing work is perfected–in the Millennium–all who ever lived upon this earth will be sealed in an unbroken line back to Abraham, and further past him to Adam and Eve. Temple work for the dead is neither misguided nor has that doctrine been lost.

    @Aimee K.: I think we do understand that sealing power, or rather, I think that President Nelson and his fellow Prophets, Seers, and Revelators do– as well as any mortal can. They all hold that power, and President Nelson holds the keys and authority to that work.
    However, the fact that you chose to quote the journal of a splinter sect of Restorationist Christianity leads me to suspect that perhaps you do not believe President Nelson to be Joseph Smith’s successor. While I would tend to agree that adultery and murder often go together, I find it most ironic that you say plural marriage leads to murder– the most prominent persons I can think of who faithfully practiced plural marriage and were connected to a murder because of it (Joseph Smith, Jr. and Parley P. Pratt) were the victims, not the perpetrators.

  10. I appreciate the original posting. God’s ways are not our ways. Meg’s posts make me think.

    Regarding something I read in the comments, I do not agree that mothers in heaven have been revealed in this dispensation. Our God has not spoken on the matter. The thought has crept into the fabric of Latter-day Saint thought, and some Latter-day Saints believe there are mothers in heaven, but it is not revealed from God. I caution against itching ears and looking beyond the mark. At least, that’s how I see it.

  11. Hi ji,

    While we do not currently have an unequivocal canonized revelation regarding the idea that Heavenly Father engendered our spirits in partnership with Heavenly Mother, it is everywhere implied in the Restoration.

    Women are denigrated In the world and in the Christianity that evolved away from the teachings of Christ and the early Fathers (see Givens and Givens, The Christ Who Heals for a moderately concise discussion of that evolution, though not focused on women, per se). But in the Restoration, women are seen as full and necessary partners in God’s eyes (I believe President Nelson touched on this in his Sunday AM comments this past weekend).

    Obviously, there was a time in the 1980s where it became something of a localized fad for people to pray to Mother in Heaven. As we have been commanded to pray only to the Father (in the name of Christ), this alternate approach to prayer was seen to be a troublesome trend, and it was suppressed. This was also around the time that Brother George Pace popularized a focus on Christ, which similarly led some to elevate Christ above the Father (possibly praying directly to Christ). This excessive de-emphasis of Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit was similarly criticized by Church leadership (my better half recalls a Conference address by Bruce McConkie to this point), though Brother Pace repented of that errant emphasis so fast many may have remained ignorant of that situation.

    As to canon, the vision of the afterlife and Christ’s post-mortal mission to stand up the work among the deceased (D&C 138) was only canonized in the 1970s. However the idea was taught in conference in 1918, and President Nelson has spoken of a revelation his ancestor had regarding this matter in the late 1800s.

    To the point of Heavenly Mothers, The Family: A Proclamation to the World states “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents…,” which I think can only be read as Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In English, alternate ways of rendering this text that explicitly used the term “Heavenly Mother” could have led to potential for misunderstanding.

    While it is certainly fair to assert that no canonized revelation necessitates belief in Heavenly Mother(s), it is dangerous to assert that the God Saints of the Restoration worship has not spoken on the matter.

  12. I want to state that in a world where individual-focused companionate marriage is the coin of the land, those marriages currently deemed legal are legal. One thinks of Jesus’s statement “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”

    In the days of Jesus, people wished to rise up against the lawful rulers of the land (Rome) in the name of obedience to God. And Christ taught us that is wrongful (another theme that was discussed during this past General Conference).

    The challenge for many arises because child-focused (or society-focused, sometimes referred to as ‘institutional’) conjugal marriage remains the standard of covenantal marriages solemnized in the temples of the Church. As individual-focused companionate marriage has drifted away from society-focused conjugal marriage (an institution created to care for the new members of society who enter life through conjugal relations between men and women), those who do not understand wish to make covenant marriage into what they see around them in the world.

    By the way, in 2007-8 I tumbled across a delightful document that described the twelve gradations of marriage in Scotland. This search arose from an intense debate I was having with my mother (Pat Chiu) about a story I was writing about Margaret of Scotland, where I asserted that plural marriage was permitted in the western kingdoms of that era (even if utterly rejected as a choice by Margaret). I mainly recall the most elevated of these many gradations of marriage was the union of a royal (or their heir) to the royal wife who would in turn bear a royal heir. I was surprised to find that “marriage” by which a father was to care for the child (and the child’s mother) resulting from rape was not the least form of marriage. The least honored form of marriage was that marriage created to care for the child(ren) produced from the conjugal activity between individuals who were mentally infirm. Alas, I was not a blogger at M* at the time, and I did not have the habit of documenting finds. And the internet soon became too crowded for me to relocate this document. Just to say if anyone tumbles across this document, I would love to read it again, both to have a source as well as to ensure I am not misremembering what I read (or giving it more credence that is warranted).

  13. Meg,

    I regret that you read my comment as denigrating women or seeing women as less than full and necessary partners in God’s eyes, then you misunderstood my comment. That was not my intention.

    I am okay with your statement that heavenly mothers may be implied in the Restoration — that’s why I said the idea has crept into the fabric of Latter-day Saint thought. I acknowledge its presence there, but I do not see it as a necessary and normative belief for all Latter-day Saints.

    It may be that God has spoken to some members on this matter of heavenly mothers, but He has not spoken to all members or to His church on this matter. Generally, we teach that when one receives private revelation, it is intended to be kept private. My purpose in making my comment was to keep open some space around this matter, as previous comments may have suggested dogmatic certainty or finality on the matter.

  14. Hi ji,

    Sorry for my part if in commenting out loud I suggested I thought you believe women have a lesser role. It was just that as I gathered my thoughts about the assertion that Mother in Heaven is merely an idea that has crept into the fabric of Restoration thought, I necessarily reflected on the many women who do feel that women are considered lesser than men.

    People outside the Restoration are free to imagine their God as female. But Restoration concepts of God are much more concrete and male. So the respite some modern women find in re-imagining God is less available to female Saints.

    I do think The Family: a Proclamation… makes it a bit hard to maintain this space you wish to keep open. I’m not sure what is gained by retaining deniability regarding Mother in Heaven.

    Perhaps it is also because the main vehicle by which the idea of Mother in Heaven has entered the “fabric” of Restoration thought is through the literally golden pencil Joseph Smith gave to Eliza Snow, and was a hymn Eliza wrote in response to the fact that her earthly father had abandoned the Restoration. While “O, My Father” isn’t officially canonized, having your text included in the Church hymnal is closer than most writings will ever get to canonization. Especially in a song that we sing regularly, including most Fathers Day Sundays.

  15. I think we forget that if a sealing is done in error God fixes it (i.e., either doesn’t recognize it, or applies it properly). Man cannot force God’s hand. We have the keys within the Church (which gives the Church the permission to do the ordinances) but in the end all ordinances are subject to God’s acceptance.

    All sealings and relationships that are approved of by God will be sorted/recognized in the afterlife and/or before the final judgement. We just need to live the Gospel to the best of our abilities. Concurrent plural marriage existed at various times in our history (apparently condoned by God), and (non-concurrently) still exists for all who were sealed and then remarry after the death of a spouse.

  16. My mother is sealed to her first husband
    ( whom she divorced for his adultery; had two children with him)
    The son from the first marriage did the work to have his / my mother and his father sealed.

    ( I am not sealed to my mother and father. Not sure I want to do so)

  17. Hi Tulan,

    Not sure from that concise description where you stand.

    I’m happy to have been born in the covenant, though it will take my father significant repentance should he wish to regain a place with God and at the side of my mother at some future eternal day.

    I learned a lot from my mother’s willingness to remain sealed to my father, despite the things that led to the civil divorce and several things that happened after the civil divorce. It was also interesting to see her willingness to embrace his subsequent wives in eternity, presuming they were worthy.

    Though she did say, with a twinkle in her eye, “Of course, if that were to come to pass, I’ll be the first wife…” and she may have then laughed. Really hard.

    Considering that the woman who seduced my father and broke up his marriage to my mother did so with the express intent of destroying his “Mormon” family, I also found the possibility of an eternal life with them together a thing to ponder.

    Second mile stuff, surely.

  18. meg, ji’s comments become more clear, at least they did to me, if you focus on his use of the plural MiH as opposed to the singular.

  19. I can see the objection to someone confidently asserting that we necessarily have different Heavenly Mothers.

    It’s funny, because I’m researching the circumstances leading to the Norman Conquest, and brothers with the same mother were far more loyal to one another than brothers of the same father.

    When Harold Harefoot was believed to have killed his paternal half-brother’s maternal half-brother, the enmity was so great that when the Harefoot died, his paternal half-brother had him exhumed, posthumously executed, and tossed into the fen.

    The biblical covenant form of marriage, like any social construct, can lead to terrible outcomes. A thousand years ago regicide was common (compare the historical MacBeth (elevated to a position of prominence by his levitate marriage to Gruoch) and others of that time to Amalickiah and Ammoron and Tubaloth, all of which followed Amalickiah’s levitate marriage to the Queen of the Lamanites).

    Many of us remember the stupid speculation the there were three sorts in the war in heaven, and those excluded from priesthood for a time may have less valiant in that pre-mortal conflict. I remember a BYU religion teacher spouting that nonsense in a class I was taking. Rubbish.

    God wills that we seek His will and love one another. As Hillel and others have said, all else is commentary.

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