Sunday, April 20, 2008

Current FLDS verses Historic LDS Polygamy

I have heard some of my colleages at work ask if there is any relationship between FLDS polygamy and the historical LDS practice of polygamy which ended in the early 1900's. I am concerned that some of them might ask, "So, is this how it was? Or, is this how the LDS polygamy used to be?"

According to the journals of my wife's ancestors, media detail on current FLDS practice seem nothing like how polygamy was practiced by the LDS church in the late 1800's. My wife's great-g-g-g-grandfather moved from Canada and imigrated to Utah with the first LDS pioneers to settle the West. He was a body guard to Brigham Young and buried bodies at Hauns' Mill. He did not have any desire to practice polygamy and was initually repulsed by the notion despite having a testimony of Christ, and the restored gospel. However, when the Martin and Willie Handcart companies were stuck in Wyoming, he left immediately as part of the rescue party.

His wife and he took in a young women who had lost her husband. She was badly frostbitten and had permenant disfigurement she carried her entire life. She was nursed back to full health and lived with that family and was cared for. Because of her disfigurment, she had few prospects to remarry and no oportunities for a carrier. In the West a women could work outside the home as only a teacher or a midwife. All the other jobs consisted in back-breaking, manual labor.

In Utah, the rescued woman was essentially fatherless and now a widow and never had had children. Years after the rescue the Bishop called my wife's husband to take her as a second wife. This issue was discussed and accepted by both husband and wife and the rescued girl became a second wife. A separate home was built for her, and she was given healthy children to raise and had every need provided for. Athough not an ideal situation, she was able to enjoy being a mother, homemaker, and wife and lived a fulfilled and spiritual life with a close relationship with Jesus Christ which was evident from her love and testimony expressed in her journal.

Polygamy is not the ideal situatation. If it were, Adam would have given him multiple wives in the garden. But, there are situations like all commandments where the Lord commands otherwise. According the the Law of Moses and the Law of Levirate Marriage, one purpose of polygamy that is accepted is to raise up righteous seed. In the Law of Levirate marriage if a man dies and his wife has given him no children she is commanded to be taken as a second wife by the man's brother to raise posterity unto the deceased man. In the same spirit, Abraham took Hagar to wife because Sarah was unable to bare children. The other reason that God may justify polygamy as an exception is to care for the needs of the fatherless and the widow. Polygamy was commanded by God to be practice by the LDS church for these 2 specific exceptions although those at the time might not have understood it. When polygamy not longer served a higher purpose it was revoked and is prohibited by the LDS church

Women were not to be treated like property in the LDS church. Women were encouraged to educate themselves, and develop their talents in homemaking, arts, music, literature, and sciences. The daughter that came from the polygamist union between my wife's g-g-g-grandfather and the rescued women studied obstretrics and gynecology and became an accomplished physician (not just a midwife) in Idaho.

Also, coercion was not to be involved. Polygamy was done by consent with the blessing of parents and family. In many cases a marriage was not consumated for several years after a marriage ceremony was performed. Polygamy served to benifit women in a way because men had to raise the bar in a sense of their behavior because other married men were still "in-the-game" so to speak. Women could never claim that "all the good ones have already been taken." Also, if they entered a polygamist relationship and they were not being taken care of they were more free to cancel the marriage and remarry out of polygamy. Second wives were given more freedom with regard to divorce because in a way their situation satisfied the command of Christ that divorce be permitted only in the case of adultery. But in this case the adultary was justified just like God justifies killing for the defense of family and country.

LDS men were not to desire the practice of polygamy. It was a call that was extended to a minority of men in the church who met strict criteria of self-mastery, righteousness, and had the means to care for a second family. Even with polygamy, LDS men were expected to practice strict chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Again, not an ideal practice and more open to be abused like in the case of the FLDS church, this was not something that anyone would desire to enter into. Brigham Young upon learning of the command to practice polygamy said:

"Some of these my brethern know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin, knowing the toil and labor that my body would have to undergo; and I have had to examine myself, from that day to this, and watch my faith, and carefully meditate, lest I should be found desiring the grave more than I ought to do" (JD 3:266).

But not long after obeying God's command, although an exeption, he was blessed and understood the necessity of it. Brigham Young became a fervant proponent of the practice and carried a consideral burden in taking on the support of many of Joseph Smith's wives after his death in the spirit of caring for the now fatherless and widows and in raising up seed unto his brother Joseph Smith whose second wives bore him no children.

At the time it was preached that men and women could not enter the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom unless they practiced this law. But that is because the practice was expected of them by God. There is no such expectation on members of the LDS church today, because the command to practice polygamy has been revoked and the original order established in the Garden of Eden and practiced in the Book of Mormon was restored.

5 comments:

AEP said...

BRoz, you need to be careful taking Flora Jessup's unsubstantiated word, and she is the source for most of the "information" you cite on FLDS daily life. Two traits historical LDS polygamy and modern FLDS polygamy share are (1) outrageous lies told by those who leave and (2) the gullibility and prurient interests of the public.

BRoz said...

I agee that we should wait for the investigation, and the DNA evidence to be gathered and the jury and the judge to decide before passing judgement. But the details so far on hopefully a small minority are concerning to say the least.

Anonymous said...

I agree with aep--you can't believe all the horrible stories you hear about the FLDS just because someone says they're true. It's pretty difficult for someone who has left a religion with bad feelings to be unbiased and report things in a neutral way. Look at all the terrible claims ex-LDS people make about the things we supposedly do in our church.

BRoz said...

I agree it is unfair to take the word of an ex-FLDS. So, in the spirit of do-unto-others, I removed the portion which contained unsubstantiated details of FLDS practices.

Anonymous said...

You account of polygamy in the LDS church may be correct - I don't fully know - but it is not very credible. It reads like a simple viewpoint. I would like to see an extensive collection of historic material from a wide range of people. Thanks for sharing your wife's ancestor's experience though!