Mormonism and polygamy/Introduction

Table of Contents

Mormonism and polygamy: Introductory remarks

Plural marriage was implemented by Joseph Smith in the mid-1830s. It was introduced in secret to a limited circle in Nauvoo prior to the Prophet's death in 1844. It became public in 1852, and was practiced openly until 1890, when President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto publicly discontinuing the Church's encouragement of the practice. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith issued the Second Manifesto, which made polygamy a sin liable to result in excommunication. Modern-day practitioners of polygamy have no membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Present day Church leaders have been clear that it is not Church doctrine that plural marriage is required for exaltation. Furthermore, we have no revealed knowledge on the extent (if any) of plural marriage in the post mortal state:

Instructions to LDS seminary teachers:
Note: Avoid sensationalism and speculation when talking about plural marriage. Sometimes teachers speculate that plural marriage will be a requirement for all who enter the celestial kingdom. We have no knowledge that plural marriage will be a requirement for exaltation.
Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Seminary Teacher Resource Manual (Intellectual Reserve, 2001, [updated 2005]).

Historical evidence demonstrates that the nineteenth century Church members who entered into plural marriages–both men and women–were virtually all reluctant to do so, and did so only on the basis of religious conviction. Many women and their families reported divine manifestations that convinced them that the command to enter plural marriage was of God.

Despite the Saints' religious convictions, polygamy was a challenging social arrangement for women and men. Scarce resources of time, money, and affection were not always shared equally. Natural human tendencies of jealousy could and did occur. These inherent difficulties were only heightened by the intense social and legal persecution heaped upon the Saints by the American federal government.

Plural marriage is a complex subject which can be difficult to understand. Some difficulties arise because of different social practices in many nineteenth-century marriages (such as the practice of marrying younger women than is customary today). Others occur because of sensationalism, distortions, or out-right fictionalization of plural marriage. Almost all the evidence available about Joseph Smith's plural marriage was produced after-the-fact. Some data that we would like to have simply does not exist or has not yet been located. Women left some accounts, but sometimes only male perspectives of a given event or issue are available.

The FairMormon Answers wiki has many resources (including some focused specifically on Joseph Smith) to help readers understand these and many other issues. If you cannot find an answer to your particular question, please contact FairMormon.