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Few aspects of Joseph Smith’s life have been scrutinized more in recent years than his personal practice of polygamy.
Some readers’ first exposure to Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy comes from reading sensational headlines. Exaggerations and assumptions fill internet discussions, podcasts, and newspaper articles, so it is hard to know where to go for accurate information.
The temptation by some authors to fill in historical gaps often results in distortions that stir up emotions and create tantalizing soundbites that, even if largely fictional, may generate unnecessary fear and confusion.
Polygamy is part of the collective Mormon past that many struggle to understand. Current members have no cultural or religious basis to situate plural marriage. Members in pioneer Nauvoo shared that same struggle. When Benjamin Johnson first heard of it, he recalled: “If a thunderbolt had fallen at my feet I could hardly have been more shocked or amazed.”
Early Mormon polygamy is a historical puzzle that can at best be awkwardly reconstructed from fragmentary recollections. But it is apparent from reminiscences that those who practiced it were convinced it represented a religious practice instituted by God.
Church Historian Matt Grow noted that the more complicated the history, the more nuanced conclusions should be. Mormon polygamy was undoubtedly complicated, warranting provisional conclusions. In this interview, Daniel C. Peterson of the Interpreter Foundation interviews Brian and Laura Hales about the most common questions asked about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.
Join us for this candid discussion about what can and cannot be known about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. This episode is a joint production of LDS Perspectives and the Interpreter Foundation. Access a transcript of “Tough Questions about Polygamy” at the LDS Perspectives website.
The so-called problems with polygamy that we with mortal views anticipate in the hereafter will be easily resolved by exalted persons – that is, by persons who without exception (not one single exception) will be Christlike, godlike in their nature, who will have a pure love for everyone, who will be perfectly just and merciful, who will be perfectly kind, perfectly patient, and perfectly understanding. No exceptions. If anyone fails to meet these Christlike criteria, that person will NOT be exalted, and thus is not involved with any anticipated problem of polygamy in the hereafter.
Your friend brings up a common question. Because polygamy on earth is so unfair to women, worries may arise that celestial plural marriage would be eternally unfair to women. Some writers seem to exploit these fears unnecessarily.
Perhaps, you or your friend would want to read a book review that discusses these ideas in some detail:
There is much we don’t know, but God has promised us eternal joy. We know nothing of the dynamics of eternal marriage or eternal plural marriage, so wisdom indicates we should trust God’s words and be patient.
Great podcast, I appreciate all of the Hales’ research. One question that has been asked of me about polygamy is though the Church has stopped the practice, we still practice what this person called “eternal polygamy” because a man can be sealed to more than one woman in the temple; if his previous spouse has passed away. The friend of mine asking this question was upset that a woman who has passed away has no say in the decision to participate in a marriage with a husband who is sealed to someone else. I imaging this all gets worked out in the next life and nobody will be sealed to somebody they don’t want to be sealed to, but I don’t feel that is an appropriate or accurate response. Any thoughts to this question from a friend of mine? Not having a relative who has had this specific situation, I am not even 100% clear on how these sealings work for a widower….