I have a Christian friend who devotes a significant part of his life to charitable international medicine. From our conversations, I can tell he is not too proud of some of America's policies and actions around the world. I would agree in many cases that are more a consequence of capitalism and private central banking then representative democracy. However, I got the sense that he was rather disillusioned about our American-style democracy and he confessed that he tried to be more apolitical.
I asked him if he was surprised at the LDS view towards the US Constitution despite our history of religious persecution and knowing the US history of injustice to Native Americans and slavery and economic imperialism? I read to him from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants:
77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. (Doctrine and Covenants, 101:77-80)
So here we read that God firbids any form of slavery, but raised up wise men and established the US Constitution. Yet, it was that same US government that allowed the early LDS Church to be run from state to state beginning in New York, then Ohio, then Missouri, with the infamous extermination order signed by Governor Boggs, and finally Illinois. Consequently, the Latter-day Saints were forced to leave the US, walk away from their homes and businesses in the dead winter and settle in the wastelands of the Great Salt Lake. And even then, the US Government sent an army to occupy the Utah Territory and prohibited any Mormons from holding political office.
Yet, despite all this, it was revealed to a prophet the mind and will of God on the matter which I consider to be most improbable. Of all people to despise America, you would think the Mormons would be justified. Yet, because of this revelation, I don't think you will find a more patriotic group, even in the South. But let's not mistake love of the US Constitution with US Exceptionalism. The US hasn't behaved itself very exceptional in some instances throughout its history. Nevertheless, LDS believe that the US Constitution was given be God and it is therefore part of our religion.
My friend thought that Mormon persecution was a natural consequence to our historic practice of polygamy which was illegal. However, I reminded him that polygamy didn't start until Nauvoo so the later polygamy doctrine does not explain previous Mormon treatment in New York, Ohio, the so-called "Mormon War" and expulsion from Missouri.
Nevertheless, my friend said that although he sees marriage between one man and one woman, as was set forth by God in the Garden of Eden, being the ideal (I agree); he recognized that the Bible does not forbid polygamy. He recognized that polygamy was required in the Law of Moses in the case of Levirate Marriage and was clearly practiced by many of the Patriarchs, Kings of Israel and is even alluded to in the New Testament as a type of welfare system to care for the fatherless and widows. That said, my friend questioned that if the LDS Church were really led by prophets of God, and if polygamy were a true principle, why would the LDS Church "cave" to political pressure?
He also said that he believed that the polygamy doctrine was a natural manifestation of Joseph Smith's developing megalomania and that polygamy is dangerous and naturally results in the exploitation of young women. According to my friend, the first thing you do when you think you have a little power is exercise unrighteous dominion and begin to believe that the rules don't apply to yourself. It was almost as if my friend had been quoting from D&C 121.
With that, I asked my friend if he observes the law of tithing? He said yes. I then asked why most Christians (except Amish) no longer live the "United Order" with "all things common" as the Early Church did? I reminded him that the failure of the Puritains in Jamestown to live the United Order led to their misery and death and only after they reverted back to property rights and tithing did they finally prosper and then held the first Thanksgiving commemoration. The Puritan failure of "the United Order" is a big part of the Thanksgiving story. So here we have an example of Christians failing at living a true principle and discontinuing its practice. This isn't because, "living with all things common" is not a true principle but because the Jamestown Colonists failed at living it with disastrous consequences. Now nearly all of Christendom observes tithing.
But just like polygamy, we shouldn't judge "the United Order" economic system by how others misapplied it. We shouldn't condemn a true principle because of Communists corruption, abuse and exploitation or Puritain or even Early LDS failures. Likewise, we should be careful not to condemn polygamy instituted for the purpose of a welfare system because of the FLDS corruption, abuse and exploitation or even how Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or Heber C. Kimball practiced it. Joseph Smith got into trouble by being hesitant, (I will explain below) and Heber by being a bit over-zellous.
The best examples of polygamy were my wife's ancestors principally William Bert Simmons who was one of the rescuers to the Martin and Willie Handcart Pioneers. William saved and took in a young widowed and fatherless Sarah Taylor who was badly frostbitten. William and his first wife nursed Sarah Taylor back to health. After a time, they were called by Priesthood authority to take Sarah Taylor as a second wife and continue her support in frontier Utah. Children came of this polygamist union of which my wife is a result.
My friend made a good point about "the United Order" not working as it should among the wicked. He reminded me of Ananias and Sopphira who went to some effort to conceal some of their offerings. In the same way, the wicked cannot live polygamy. In the FLDS communities, most of the second wives collect state and federal welfare. This is a complete abomination of the practice when you realize the purpose of polygamy is to provide welfare needs to the fatherless and widow instead of generating additional welfare need.
What about polygamy being illegal? I asked my friend if he believed marriage to be a institution administered by the Church. He said yes. Well then, since the US Constitution and Bill of Rights specifically says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". Therefore, if marriage is religion, per the 1st Ammendment, the Federal Government has no business making any law with regard to marriage. So, any subsequent laws were unconstitutional until the Supreme Court decided against the US Constitution and against the LDS Church in 1890. The LDS Church Prophet President Wilford Woodruff received direction by God to discontinue the practice instead of going to war against the United States.
The failure to defend marriage is rooted in our failure to define marriage-- union of man and women to biologically create and be reaponsible to raise a child. The failure of the polygamy case and the failure of religion and constitutional government in the world comes down to a failure to define religion. Religion according to James 1:27 is the duty to provide individual welfare and encourage and promote virtuous living. Religion provides individual welfare (visiting the widow and fatherless) through charitable giving but also through the mechanism of administering over the formation of family relationships. Any Federal law or Supreme Court decision with regard to marriage encroaches on the jurisdiction of religion and violates the 1st Ammendment. Marriage is also a civil contract and falls under the jurisdiction of the States.
As far as my friend's claim that Joseph Smith was a megalomaniac. The case against this is:
1. the Book of Mormon is not Gentile-centric but speaks of only a adoption and fulness of the Gentiles followed by a restoration of the lost tribes of the House of Israel. Despite the discussion about marks and curses, The Book of Mormon is actually not Gentile-centric. The Atonement of Christ overcomes all curses as it did in the Book of Mormon and as Joseph Smith foretold would occur in the Last Days.
2. Joseph Smith did not set up his children and posterity to perpetually rule over the Church.
3. Joseph Smith jumped from the window of Carthage jail to draw fire away frim his friends resulting in the preservation of the lives of Willard Richards and Heber C. Kimball.
4. Joseph Smith was very hesitant to practice polygamy and originally entered into "sealings" which were not consumated as subsequent genetic testing has proven.
5. Joseph Smith received D&C121 which clearly puts forth that there is to be no coercion in religion.
Joseph assured Emma the sealings were dynastic/symbolic and not conjugal, but the problems arose after Fannie Alger turned up pregnant. Joseph protected Fannie Alger but the accusations flew. Yet, while Fannie remarried and left the Church, the Hancock family remained even without significant Church position.
This was the Victorian Era. Many people of that time saw marriage and polygamy as a way to secure social and eternal position and blessings in life and eternity. They didn't view polygamy just as a welfare tool. LDS Eternal Marriage (not necessarily polygamy) is required for exaltation. So, you have many women naturally willing to become married to Brigham Young and Heber C Kimball for dynastic reasons. So, there is some of this cultural overlay that may or may not have much to do with the pure intent and expression of this principle.
Finally, my friend is correct that like the United Order, polygamy cannot be practiced by the wicked. The wicked will naturally abuse it like the FLDS do. Yet at the same time, living the United Order would serve to sanctify and perfect our society. Accordingly, LDS polygamy was a priesthood calling and assignment. Elders needed to have the means to provide for another household and take compleye responsibility for the support and maintenance of all wives and children.
Again, one man and one woman is the ideal. But in a wicked world with poverty and in frontier Utah, historical polygamy served its intended purpose and yielded good fruit. However, If anyone is diluted into thinking polygamy if preferable to a single wife consider my experience of holding my wife's hand while she is in active labor with our 6th child, and a home teaching family calls me up for help with a leaking toilet issue. Can you imagine Heber C Kimball with his 43 wives in the modern era all this smartphones and text messaging? Talk about a multitasking nightmare and the most enormous honey-do list of all time.