Brigham Young/Polygamy/Hiding history

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Brigham Young and plural marriage

Summary: It is claimed that the Church's manual, The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, attempts to "hide history" by portraying Brigham Young (a well-known polygamist) as having only one wife.

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Question: Does Church manual, The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, attempt to "hide history" by portraying Brigham Young (a well-known polygamist) as having only one wife?

It is fairly common knowledge, both inside and outside of the Church, that Brigham Young was not a monogomist

Some would like to suggest that the Church has been attempting to "fool" its membership into thinking Brigham was a monogamist, when it is fairly common knowledge, both inside and outside of the Church, that he was not. Many US history textbooks used in public high schools mention Brigham's polygamy, for example, and most news stories and other mentions of the Church in modern media will mention polygamy, so it would seem odd (and a bit futile) for the Church to attempt to rewrite this aspect of its history by means of a single lesson in a single manual.

The use of square brackets is an accepted editorial convention when a later author wants to use an earlier author's words but change them slightly to fit a different purpose

Furthermore, the use of square brackets is an accepted editorial convention when a later author wants to use an earlier author's words but change them slightly to fit a different purpose without changing the overall message of the quote. In the case of the quote in question, Brigham Young is giving counsel to a group of men on how they can be good leaders in their families, which for many of them at the time would have included polygamous marriages. In the modern church, members would only have one spouse, yet the counsel on how to be good leaders of families is still relevant, though it would require an editorial change (clearly marked in square brackets) to change "wives" to "wife".

Brigham the monogamist.jpg


Question: What does The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young say about Brigham's wives?

The manual mentions his marriage to and the death of his first wife and his subsequent remarriage to Mary Ann Angel, but does not discuss his other marriage relationships or family life

A review of the manual itself reveals that it does not claim Brigham Young "only has one wife," nor does it "paint [him] as a monogamist." In fact, it primarily concentrates on Brigham's teachings, and only briefly touches on his personal life.

Brief biographical information on Brigham appears in a one-page "Historical Summary." [1] Chapter 1, "The Ministry of Brigham Young," also has some biographical data, although it almost exclusively focuses on his conversion, missionary experiences, calling to the Quorum of the Twelve, and colonization and leadership of Utah. The Historical Summary and Chapter 1 both mention his marriage to and the death of his first wife, Miriam Works, [2] and his subsequent remarriage to Mary Ann Angel. [3] Other than that, they do not discuss his marriage relationships or family life.

In Chapter 23, "Understanding the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage," two instances of the term "wives" were modified to "[wife]," with brackets included to notify the reader of the editorial change. Since the statements did not refer to Brigham's own wives, but were part of his counsel to men regarding their marriages, the edited reading is easier for today's Latter-day Saints, none of whom are married to more than one wife.

The next manual in the series, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, stated "This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles"

The next manual in the instructional series—Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith—includes this clarifying statement in the "Historical Summary" of President Smith's life:

This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Joseph F. Smith. However, in order to put the teachings in a historical framework, the following list is provided to summarize some of the milestones in his life that have most immediate relationship to his teachings. This summary omits some important events in his personal life, including his marriages (plural marriage was being practiced in the Church at that time) and the births and deaths of his children, to whom he was devoted. [4]

This explanation, which is almost certainly directed at detractors of the Brigham Young manual, clarifies that the purpose of the series is not biographical or historical, but didactical. Other Church publications that are historical discuss the subject of plural marriage and its practice among the Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century. [5]

The quotations in the Brigham Young manual are not referring to Brigham's wives, but the wives of the men that he was addressing

Note also that a careful reading of the quotations as shown in the Brigham Young manual or in their original sources (which are clearly referenced in the manual) will show that Brigham is not actually referring to his own wives and family in these quotes but to the families of the people he was addressing, so the suggestion that this quote somehow recasts Brigham as a monogamist is somewhat puzzling. The fact that the author of the letter mentions changing "wives" to "wife" in the Brigham Young manual without sharing the actual quote, which provides this additional explanatory context, suggests that this criticism is borrowed from elsewhere, since many sectarian critics of the church picked up on this story when the manual first came out and characterized it in similar terms and without the proper context, as the author has done here. A FairMormon publication by Mike Parker, "The Church’s Portrayal of Brigham Young," explains further:

In Chapter 23, “Understanding the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage,” two instances of the term “wives” were modified to “[wife],” with brackets included to notify the reader of the editorial change. Since the statements did not refer to Brigham’s own wives, but were part of his counsel to men regarding their marriages, the edited reading is easier for today’s Latter-day Saints, none of whom are married to more than one wife.

The next manual in the instructional series–Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith–includes this clarifying statement in the “Historical Summary” of President Smith’s life:

This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Joseph F. Smith. However, in order to put the teachings in a historical framework, the following list is provided to summarize some of the milestones in his life that have most immediate relationship to his teachings. This summary omits some important events in his personal life, including his marriages (plural marriage was being practiced in the Church at that time) and the births and deaths of his children, to whom he was devoted.10

This explanation, which is almost certainly directed at detractors of the Brigham Young manual, clarifies that the purpose of the series is not biographical or historical, but didactical. Other Church publications that are historical discuss the subject of plural marriage and its practice among the Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century.11

The Brigham Young manual and the manuals that followed it include selected teachings on selected subjects that have application to subjects of concern to today's Latter-day Saints. They do not teach history, but how to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite the complaints of its detractors, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not engaged in a cover up, nor is it attempting to hide an "embarrassing past."

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), vii.
  2. Ibid., vii, 2, 3.
  3. Ibid., vii, 4.
  4. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000), viii. A similar statement appears in the coursebook for 2004, entitled Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant: "This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Heber J. Grant. The following chronology provides a brief historical framework for these teachings. It omits significant events in secular history, such as wars and worldwide economic crises. It also omits many important events in President Grant’s personal life, such as his marriages and the births and deaths of his children." (emphasis added) [Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), viii.]
  5. See, for example: The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (Religion 324-325), 1981, pp. 327, 333-34, 361-363; and Church History In the Fulness of Times (Religion 341-343), 1989, pp. 256, 424-425, 440-441. Scripturally, Doctrine & Covenants Section [DC 132: 132] and Official Declaration 1 remain as canonized statements regarding plural marriage.