Mormonism and polygamy

Table of Contents

Mormonism and polygamy

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Polygamy in Latter-day Saint scripture

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1835 Doctrine and Covenants denies polygamy—D&C 101 (original)

Summary: The 1835 edition of the D&C contained a statement of marriage which denied the practice of polygamy. Since this was published during Joseph Smith's lifetime, why might the prophet have allowed it to be published if he was actually practicing polygamy at that time?

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Book of Mormon statements about the practice of polygamy

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Does Joseph Smith's lack of children through polygamy contradict the commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth"?

Summary: Joseph Smith does not appear to have produced any children by his plural wives, except for Emma, yet, Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states, "But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men." Why did Joseph practice polygamy, if it was not for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth?

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Polygamy in the 19th Century

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The purpose of plural marriage

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Plural marriage as a requirement for exaltation

Summary: Some Church leaders taught that plural marriage was a requirement for those wishing to enter the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Because the Church does not currently practice plural marriage, some claim this means that either the leaders were wrong, or that current members are not destined for exaltation.

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19th century statements from Church leaders regarding the practice of plural marriage

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John Taylor's statements regarding polygamy

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Brigham Young's statements regarding polygamy

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Early Church leaders' comments about the difficulties of plural marriage

Summary: It is claimed that early Church leaders "admitted" that there were many difficulties with plural marriage that caused "problems" and "great sorrow."

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Reports that the Lamanites were to become "white and delightsome" through polygamous marriage

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Divorce among Mormons in the 19th century

Summary: Some critics like to emphasize that some LDS members did not receive civil divorces before remarrying—either monogamously or polygamously. They either state or imply that this shows the Saints' cavalier attitude toward the law.

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Divine manifestions to plural wives and families

Summary: Did those who entered into plural marriage do so simply because Joseph Smith (or another Church leader) "told them to"? Is this an example of "blind obedience"? No, they bore witness that only powerful revelatory experiences convinced them that the command was from God.

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Polygamy practiced after the Manifesto

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Prevalence of polygamy in Utah

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The Law of Adoption: The sealing of men and women as children to prominent Latter-day Saint leaders

Summary: Critics point to the early practice of sealing men and women as children to prominent LDS leaders as an example of changes in LDS belief.

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Parley P. Pratt's marriage and murder

Summary: It is claimed that Parley P. Pratt's practice of polygamy was responsible for his murder, partly because he married a woman who hadn't been divorced from her first husband.

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Lorenzo Snow's statements about polygamy during the Temple Lot case

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The attitude of the modern Church toward polygamy

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Relationship of polygamy to modern Mormonism

Summary: Critics or ill-informed commentators often try to make it appear as if modern polygamist groups continue to have Church connections. Some often call upon the Church to "stop" the polygamist activities of such groups.

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President Gordon B. Hinckley's comments regarding polygamy

Summary: Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement on Larry King Live on September 8, 1998 with regard to the practice of polygamy: "I condemn it [polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law."

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Twentieth century LDS publications which discuss plural marriage

Summary: Some have claimed that the Church suppressed the fact that Joseph Smith taught plural marriage, or other details. This selection of books published by Church leaders and in presses associated with the Church (e.g., Deseret Books, Bookcraft, BYU) demonstrate that there has not been silence on plural marriage. Not all of the information is entirely correct, given what is now known from the historical record, but are included here as written as a reference for the type of discussions which continued regarding plural marriage.

Polygamy as practiced anciently

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Early Christians on plural marriage

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Why was Joseph Smith sealed to mothers, daughters and sisters? Did this not violate a biblical prohibition?

Summary: A biblical prohibition under the Mosaic law prohibited polygamous marriages involving a mother and daughter: "Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time." Leviticus 18:18. The law also prohibited one from marrying two sisters: "And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you." Leviticus 20:14. Why, then, was Joseph Smith sealed to mothers, daughters and sisters? Did this not violate a biblical prohibition?

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Joseph Smith and polygamy

Summary: Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy. From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry).

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Polygamy Book draft chapters written by Gregory Smith

Initiation of plural marriage

Summary: When and how did plural marriage begin in the Church?

Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage

Summary: Church sources and authors that discuss Joseph Smith's plural marriages

Introduction of eternal marriage

Summary: This chapter also discusses Fanny Alger

Early womanizer

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith had a long history of "womanizing" before practicing plural marriage. This chapter includes Eliza Winters and Marinda Nancy Johnson.

Illegal marriages in Ohio?

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith performed monogamous marriages for time of already-married members, violating Ohio law in Kirtland. Such claims are false and represent a misunderstanding about the law of the day.

Age of wives

Summary: Critics of Joseph Smith are sometimes filled with righteous indignation when they raise the issue of his wives' ages.

Children of polygamous marriages

Summary: While the record is frustratingly incomplete regarding sexuality, it does little but tease us when we consider whether Joseph fathered children by his plural wives. Fawn Brodie was the first to consider this question in any detail, though her standard of evidence was depressingly low. Subsequent authors have returned to the problem, though unanimity has been elusive.


Summary: Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history.

John C. Bennett

John C. Bennett Prior to Nauvoo

Summary: Bennett's early behavior can teach us much about how to interpret his behavior and claims from the Nauvoo period.

Bennett's Brothel at Nauvoo

Summary: Bennett had a brothel, and some have claimed that the Mormons' tolerance of it illustrates their moral depravity. In fact, the Saints destroyed the brothel and ultimately excommunicated Bennett for this and related acts.

Rise and Fall of Bennett in Nauvoo

Summary: Bennett quickly rose in influence and popularity in Nauvoo, but his inappropriate behavior ultimately led to his excommunication. In return, he vowed revenge on Joseph Smith.

Sarah Pratt

Summary: John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith exchanged charges, each claiming that the other had attempted the seduction of Sarah Pratt, wife of apostle Orson Pratt. Learn about this complex period of LDS history here.

John C. Bennett and Prostitution in Nauvoo

Summary: Bennett was charged with procuring women for purposes of prostitution, and teaching others in Nauvoo how to religiously manipulate women into sexual intercourse. These events eventually led to Bennett's excommunication. Individuals drawn into Bennett's schemes would later play a role in the events that led to Joseph's incarceration and murder in Carthage.

Nancy Rigdon and Plural Marriage

Summary: Even more complex than the Sarah Pratt episode, Sidney Rigdon's daughter Nancy was approached by Joseph Smith regarding plural marriage.

Sidney Rigdon and Bennett's charges

Summary: In part due to Bennett's determination to disgrace Joseph, the Nancy Rigdon episode almost led to a rupture between Joseph and his long-time friend and counselor in the First Presidency. A miraculous series of events convinced Sidney to continue to support Joseph, though the Prophet's confidence in his counselor was never entirely restored.
See also Brian Hales' discussion: Joseph Smith’s Pre-Nauvoo Reputation--Nancy Rigdon and Athalia Rigdon
Some charge an early involvement with Nancy and/or Athalia Rigdon, but these charges are implausible. (Link)
Three Changes after the February 1842 Angelic Visit
The third change, which occurred in April, came as Joseph Smith made his second proposal to a previously unmarried woman in Nauvoo and the first proposal since his marriage to Louisa Beaman. (Link)
John C. Bennett Impacts the Secret Expansion of Plural Marriage
John C. Bennett arrived in Nauvoo in September of 1840 and stayed less than two years. In spite of his relatively brief time living among the Saints, his impact upon the secret expansion of plural marriage was immense. (Link)
Was Bennett a Polygamy Confidant of Joseph Smith?
His accusations against Joseph Smith could not be based upon firsthand knowledge. Clearly, Bennett was positioned to hear rumors about polygamy and the identities of plural wives. However, his apparent distance from the nucleus of Nauvoo polygamy is obvious in his writings and accusations. (Link)
William and Jane Law and the Prophet
William Law was Joseph's counselor, but eventually broke with the Prophet and helped publish the Nauvoo Expositor. (Link)
Plural Marriage and the Martyrdom
Did Joseph Smith Intend to Abandon Plural Marriage?
William Marks related that Joseph’s conversation denouncing plural marriage occurred “three weeks before his death” or around June 6. Perhaps Joseph had such a change of heart during the first week of June, but this seems unlikely and other parts of Marks’ recollection are implausible. (Link)

Gospel Topics, "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah"

Gospel Topics, (2013)
In accordance with a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage—the marriage of one man to two or more women—was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s. Thereafter, for more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints. Only the Church President held the keys authorizing the performance of new plural marriages. In 1890, the Lord inspired Church President Wilford Woodruff to issue a statement that led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church. In this statement, known as the Manifesto, President Woodruff declared his intention to abide by U.S. law forbidding plural marriage and to use his influence to convince members of the Church to do likewise.

After the Manifesto, monogamy was advocated in the Church both over the pulpit and through the press. On an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law; a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years. In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages. Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.

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Valerie Hudson, "A Reconciliation of Polygamy"

Valerie Hudson,  Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference, (August 2011)
During the period of time when the restored Church was commanded by the Lord to practice polygamy, some practiced it without any discernible hardship and still others with great pain. Contemporary Church members may look back upon that period with acceptance, or indifference, or discomfort, and I would like to say at the outset that I don’t see that diversity of feelings is harmful that people differ in their reactions to polygamy I don’t think is the issue. Rather, since the New and everlasting covenant of marriage is at the heart of the work of eternal life and godhood; confusion about the nature and form of lawful marriage ordained by God is harmful.

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