Question: What did Joseph teach Mary about plural marriage? What did she say?

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Question: What did Joseph teach Mary about plural marriage? What did she say?

At Nauvoo, Joseph and Emma were kind to the Lightners, and Joseph worked to persuade her husband to be baptized: "The Prophet Joseph tried hard to get Mr. Lightner to go into the water, but he said he did not feel worthy, but would, some other time. Joseph said to me that he never would be baptized, unless it was a few moments before he died."[1]

Mary seems to have been prepared spiritually for the doctrine of plural marriage. She reported, "I was not sealed to him until I had a witness. I had been dreaming for a number of years I was his wife. I thought I was a great sinner. I prayed to God to take it from me for I felt it was a sin...."[2] This is yet further evidence that she knew nothing of plural marriage until Nauvoo; she would not have been mystified or felt guilty about dreaming about being Joseph's wife if she had been taught the doctrine and accepted it in 1831.

In 1842, Joseph told Mary about plural marriage. Her reaction is not that of a child who has been groomed, of a woman over-awed by the prophet's status, or someone who meekly submits. She was offended:

I have never told a mortal and shall never tell a mortal I had such a talk from a married man."[3]
I was not sealed to him until I had a witness....but when Joseph sent for me he told me all of these things. "Well," said I, "don't you think it was an angel of the devil that told you these things?" Said he, "No, it was an angel of God. God Almighty showed me the difference between an angel of light and Satan's angels.[4]

Mary clearly did not believe Joseph at first; even the prophet's appeal to a revelation from an angel is not enough for her. She was quite prepared to think that this was an evil deception:

Well, I talked with him for a long time and finally I told him I would never be sealed to him until I had a witness. Said he, "You shall have a witness." Said I, "If God told you that, why does he not tell me?"..."Well," said he, "pray earnestly for the angel said to me you should have a witness." Well, Brigham Young was with me. He said if I had a witness he wanted to know it. "Why should I tell you?" said I. "Well," said he, "I want to know for myself." Said he, "Do you know what Joseph said? Since we left the office the angel appeared to him and told him he was well pleased with him and that you should have a witness."[5]

Joseph does not hesitate to tell a suspicious and reluctant Mary that she will have a divine witness--a strange and risky act for a predator to undertake.

Mary described her search for a witness:

I made it a subject of prayer and I worried about it because I did not dare to speak to a living being except Brigham Young. I went out and got between three haystacks where no one could see me. As I knelt down I thought, why not pray as Moses did? He prayed with his hands raised. When his hands were raised, Israel was victorious, but when they were not raised, the Philistines were victorious. I lifted my hands and I have heard Joseph say the angels covered their faces. I knelt down and if ever a poor mortal prayed, I did. A few nights after that an angel of the Lord came to me and if ever a thrill went through a mortal, it went through me. I gazed upon the clothes and figure but the eyes were like lightning. They pierced me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. I was frightened almost to death for a moment. I tried to waken my aunt, but I could not. The angel leaned over me and the light was very great, although it was night. When my aunt woke up she said she had seen a figure in white robes pass from our bed to my mother's bed and pass out of the window.[6]

Mary received a witness, and her aunt (who knew nothing of her conversation with Joseph) served as a second witness of the experience. We might argue that Joseph so bedazzled Mary that she hallucinated--a dubious claim--but he cannot have fabricated her aunt's unwitting verification.

Mary reported her experience to Joseph:

Joseph came up the next Sabbath. He said, "Have you had a witness yet?" "No." "Well," said he, "the angel expressly told me you should have." Said I, "I have not had a witness, but I have seen something I have never seen before. I saw an angel and I was frightened almost to death. I did not speak." He studied a while and put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He looked up and said, "How could you have been such a coward?" Said I, "I was weak." "Did you think to say, `Father, help me?'" "No." "Well, if you had just said that, your mouth would have been opened for that was an angel of the living God. He came to you with more knowledge, intelligence, and light than I have ever dared to reveal." I said, "If that was an angel of light, why did he not speak to me?" "You covered your face and for this reason the angel was insulted." Said I, "Will it ever come again?" He thought a moment and then said, "No, not the same one, but if you are faithful you shall see greater things than that." And then he gave me three signs of what would take place in my own family, although my husband was far away from me at the time. Every work came true. I went forward and was sealed to him.[7]

Even the angelic vision does not suffice for Mary. She received three more (unspecified) signs which Joseph predicted. She told the same story in a letter:

As it is, I can never forget that [angel's] face, it seems to be ever before me. A few days after this Joseph asked [p. 48] me if I had received a witness Yet? I said no, he said you soon will have; for the Angel expresly told me you should Have--then I told him what I had seen, for I fully realized what I had lost by my cowardice...After receiving other Testimonies, I felt I could no longer disbelieve, and in the month of March 1841 Brigham Young Sealed us for time, and all Eternity....[8]

The weight of these witnesses convinced her, and she entered plural marriage. None of this is consistent with a woman who has been "groomed" or otherwise manipulated. She has put Joseph's claims to a severe test, and has found him justified in every particular.

Mary was a woman of considerable spiritual gifts and strength of mind. She said, near the end of her life:

But I want you to remember what I have said, that it is my testimony, as long as you live. I want to say to you as I said before that Joseph said if I was faithful, I should see greater things than the angel. Since then I have seen other persons, three came together and stood before me just as the sun went down -- Joseph, Hyrum and Heber C. Kimball. It was prophesied that I should see Joseph before I died. Still, I was not thinking about that. I was thinking about a sermon I had heard. All at once I looked up and they stood before me. Joseph stood in the middle in a circle like the new moon and he stood with his arms over their shoulders. They bowed to me about a dozen times or more. I pinched myself to be sure I was awake, and I looked around the room to see where I had placed things. I thought I would shake hands with them. They saw my confusion and understood it and they laughed, and I thought Brother Kimball would almost kill himself laughing. I had no fear. As I went to shake hands with them, they bowed, smiled and began to fade. They went like the sun sinks behind a mountain or a cloud. It gave me more courage and hope than I ever had before....[9]

Thus, her visionary and revelatory experiences were not confined to times when somehow under the influence of Joseph's charisma.

Notes

  1. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, "Autobiography," Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 17 (July 1926), 203.
  2. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 2, emphasis added off-site
  3. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 2 off-site
  4. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 2, off-site
  5. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 2 off-site
  6. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 2, emphasis added off-site
  7. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 2-3, emphasis added off-site
  8. B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 47-48; citing Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Autobiography, Susa Young Gates Collection, UHI, 18–22, 24–24-25.
  9. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner," address at Brigham Young University, (14 April 1905), typescript, BYU, 3, emphasis added off-site