Thursday, June 21, 2007

Coming to Terms With Polygamy--A Response

In this post I respond to Caroline's questions at Exponent2 blog regarding how I have come to terms with polygamy.

I have several different thoughts. First, I believe that the Church continues to practice polygamy today. Because sealings to multiple wives continue to be practiced in the Temple, and because we believe in an afterlife, polygyny is something we must come to terms with as Latter-day Saints.

In the early days of the Church many leaders declared that polygyny was necessary in order to be exalted. However, Melvin J. Ballard refuted this idea in (I think) 1912 when he said that a man sealed to one wife could be exalted. Thus, my thinking is that polygamy is not necessary. (You just have to convince your husband not to be sealed to another wife after you die!) There are many women who are repulsed by the doctrine (how much of this is cultural conditioning we do not know), and imo they will not be forced to live it. Other families have been sealed into the principle. There is no evidence to suggest that these sealings will be dissolved. My opinion is that they will continue in the next life. Whether or not we personally contract into a polygamous union, it remains so much a part of our doctrine that I doubt any of us will not be personally affected in some way.

I'm not against polygamy myself. But I've had different experiences than many of you. My parents were involved in polygyny from the time I was age 12. It had nothing to do with Mormonism or religion, it was a lifestyle choice. I did not agree with my parents' choice to bring another wife into the family. The choice had many negative repercussions regarding the four children's relationships with our mom and dad. Nonetheless, I saw that it was a viable lifestyle. There was little, if any jealousy. The three adults usually acted as a cohesive unit (much to our dismay as children!) Living closely as a family made it impossible to hide any problems or tensions. I must admit that they were very few and usually solved with patience, tolerance, and love. Both women lived in our home and had separate bedrooms. (I have No Idea what the sexual arrangements were--and I don't want to think about it! Please! They're my parents!) Both women were employed full-time (the youngest child was already school age). Both women had feminist inclinations. Both women as well as my dad shared household responsibilities. All three were very happy with the arrangements, and seemed close and emotionally connected. Thus my personal experience has convinced me that polygyny is a lifestyle that can be lived in love and satisfaction for all parties.

In addition, I have always had very close female relationships. Always. Until I came to Vernal I always had female friends I could rely on emotionally. A woman will listen to you hash the same experience out umpteen million times. A man will (usually) listen to it once. Then he will want you to solve it or get over it. (Yes, I know I'm generalizing a bit!) But there are many reasons that I find a woman to be better "best friend" material than a man.

I can imagine retaining my feminist sensibilities in a polygynist relationship. In fact, I can picture myself in a coterie of chattering females, discussing a book we've read until 3 in the morning, while polygamist hubby waits alone and cold in the upstairs bedroom!

The last point I wish to make is the "obedience" issue. I read two posts at FMH dealing with this issue (See #1 and #2). It interests me that Mormon women who are traditional in every way state that they would rather give up their exaltation than live polygamy. I wonder at statements that if polygamy was reinstated they would "flatly refuse" to obey prophetic counsel. I am often taken to task on this blog for some of the stances I take. Conventional believers would have me adhere more closely to prophetic counsel. Yet it seems acceptable, on the blogs and in wards in which I've lived, to rebel against this one principle.

As I wrote this post, I asked my husband if he would ever want to live polygamy, and he was emphatically negative. He doesn't feel up to dealing with multiple females. I guess most of that is my fault! I think he finds me emotionally taxing. So perhaps I will never have to face this issue head on. I'm not like my parents; I don't believe polygamy is something to be entered into without the specific instructions of the living Prophet of God. But I like to think that if "The Principle" was required of us once again, I would see it as a fascinating and fulfilling adventure.


Sofiana said...

I just found this today. You are right it is a matter of Obedience. I am amazed at how many people either think God would Not Ask IT of them, so therefore it is not true, etc. I have had my own answers that I have chosen not to mention on my blog, I know I would be ridiculed by the feminist women out there.

Bored in Vernal said...

Tanya, what is your blog?
I'm hoping no one will ridicule anyone--we all know this is a really hard issue to deal with...

amelia said...

thanks for this BiV. i agree with a great deal of it. i'm the friend caroline mentioned in her exII post. i just don't see what the fuss is about. i mean, i realize that there's great potential for abuse within a polygamous situation. but there's great potential for abuse in a monogamous situation, too. and for whatever reason, i'm able to divorce myself from a lot of the cultural stereotypes against polygamy and recognize that it could be a viable version of marriage.

in response to tanya: i actually think that my feminism is in large part what allows me to divorce myself from those stereotypes. because i don't see it as one man deserving two women, or one man being too much for one woman to handle, or any other manifestation of sexism. when we stop thinking in terms of sexist expectations (which is what feminism is all about), i think it's possible to consider polygamy as an agreement reached between multiple equals without the kinds of implied power structures sexism brings to the table.

Starfoxy said...

Amelia- you make a really good point, that without sexist trappings polygamy could be a very equitable working relationship.

Here's the thing though, all of the discourse about polygamy within church relies heavily upon the power structure of one man presiding over many women. This is why the idea continues to bother me, the sort of polygamy that we find palatable has very little relation to the sort of polygamy that was, (and theoretically will be) practiced.

claire said...

Whenever I think of "celestial polygamy," I wonder about my grandparents. They both were married with children, and then widowed. They married about 30 years ago (think Brady Bunch). They were married to their original spouses 10-15 years. They are not LDS, so does she have to be sealed to her first husband, and he to his first wife, since that's who the kids are from? I picture them all living happily together.

As for real-life polygamy, I see what you're saying. I value my female friendships as well. But to say polygyny can/should work is to say that polyandry can/should work as well, no? If not, why not? Purely biological reasons?

Anonymous said...

Great post BiV, very intersting family history. I agree with what you have to say here and I'm glad you posted it because the exII post frustrates me for a number of reasons you deal with nicely here.

Jacob J

Bored in Vernal said...

There are a few differences between polygyny and polyandry which lead me to believe that polyandry is not a viable option within the celestial marriage paradigm. The major problem is that of parentage. In polygyny the parentage of the child is never in question, as it would be in polyandry. (of course, with genetic testing, this point can now be argued.)

Some have questioned the fact that Joseph Smith contracted several polyandrous marriages. It is true that Joseph was sealed to women who already were married to another husband. However, the women were married to their first husbands civilly, and not sealed to them. I don't believe that Joseph considered them "real" marriages in the eternal sense.

Caroline said...

Very interesting background, BIV. I can see why you have a different perspective on this topic.

I think Starfoxy made a good point, though, about how polygamy in a Mormon context - here and in the afterlife - is based around the idea of a man presiding over all his wives. It's impossible to divorce polygamy from patriarchy in that context. And it seems to me that when polygamy is imposed onto an already patriarchal structure, the results will not be ennobling or empowering for women.

amelia said...

i just don't put a whole lot of stock in that word presiding. what does it mean? even elder oaks in his effort to clarify the differences in presiding in the church vs. in the home couldn't do it. in practice, i think it means essentially nothing for many, if not most, mormon families. my father doesn't do a lot in our home that i would describe as "presiding" other than choose who says the prayer at dinner.

i also think we have to be careful about ascribing the order of the temporal church organization to the order of the hereafter.

Bored in Vernal said... seems to me that when polygamy is imposed onto an already patriarchal structure, the results will not be ennobling or empowering for women.

Yeah, Caroline--I hear you on that one.

ECS said...

Thanks for this excellent post, BiV. I guess I'm not afraid of polygamy affecting my life, because I have the option of leaving my marriage if my husband wanted to "marry" someone else.

I very much agree, however, with Starfoxy's concerns - that Mormon, middle-Eastern and African polygamy - seem to necessitate the subjugation of women to men. In theory, this subjugation isn't a necessary component of polygamy (it sounds like it wasn't a problem for your parents), but while men still universally compel social and religious authority over women, I think it's almost unavoidable in most situations.

onelowerlight said...

This is a very interesting post! I also believe that polygamy is something that we LDS need to learn to accept, even if only the principle and not as a current Earthly practice. I used to be nervous about it until I read some family histories that described how my ancestors lived it. One of them was George B. Reeder, who founded Brigham City. He led a really fascinating life and, from the history, seemed like a very good man. He was called to practice the principle when some visiting GA's preached to the locals that they should take on an extra wife if they could afford it economically. The Reeders were doing pretty well, so after a long talk, in which George made it clear to his wife that he wouldn't enter into it if she objected to it, they decided to do it. He married a girl who was working as a maid in their house, and was an immigrant from Denmark (I think), but before he even considered asking her about it, he went to all of her relatives in the area and asked them if they were ok with it. When he got their resounding approval, they married, and according to the history, they all didn't have any major problems together. I'm a descendent of the second wife. When I read that history, it helped me to see that 1) not all people who enter into polygamy are obsessed with power, sex, or degrading women, and 2) it's a living situation that can actually work.

After that, and some other pondering about it, I came to believe in the principle and tried to work it out in my mind and to see if I could live it. I used to ask my mission companions about this, and many of them were actually pretty uncomfortable with the idea, which surprised me. One of my best companions, who since has lost his testimony and chosen not to be active (though he has nothing against the church or its members) told me that this was a major issue for him and that he didn't think he could do it. I had an Armenian companion, on the other hand, who just said that one wife would be more than enough to handle!

I do think, though, that if we feel, as LDS, that we can't live this principle, and especially that we can't believe it, we're leaving open a very alarming weak point in our testimonies. The gospel isn't something that you can place bounds around and say "this is the whole truth." You HAVE to be open to new truths, because honestly, I think that there is an unlimited of things out there that God COULD reveal to us, but we're just not ready for it. Things that would make us uncomfortable, and would probably make us upset. Things that may even cause us to question the very foundation of our faith. As for polygamy, it's already been revealed by the prophets of God that this is a true principle--and though the practice has been rescinded, the principle has not, never has, and IMO never will be, because it's true! If we choose not to accept that, we're chosing to reject something that God has revealed to us--and I'm not ready to do that.

Well, sorry if I sounded a bit preachy, but that's my opinion. Great post!

Anonymous said...

I wasnt going to respond to any of these articles, mostly because contention or disagreement doesnt do anything but cause unchristlike feelings, and you most likely wont even listen to me anyways.

The Church doesnt practice Polygamy anymore!!! In fact, it is the First Presidency's stance that anyone who openly preaches that Polygamy is an ordinance for our Salvation, or that it is a part of our church doctrine at this point in time is excommunicated! You seem to be pushing the fact that polygamy is being practiced, and you are preaching how polygamy is still alive, when the only thing keeping it alive is you! Why are you stuck on something that doesnt even affect you!!! In Moses' time they sacrificed animals... does this mean that when we go to heaven we 'might' be called upon to be tested to see if we are obediant and we are going to have to sacrifice animals? NO! Because the Lord stopped that practice!!! Its the same thing with Polygamy.

Why do you think you were born into this world at this point in time and not back in the days when polygamy was practiced!? Maybe its because the Lord knew what you could and couldnt handle. The only time the Lord used polygamy was when he needed to raise seed, or to expand his kingdom. The Lords kingdom is expanding at an phenominal rate and it is prophecied that it will continueto grow to the time when he comes again. There is proof right there that the Lord would never need to bring back polygamy again, because we are growing without it. Hence his need not to have it to build up seed!

The Lord didnt send us down here to earth so that we could die and then be tested later in Heaven to see if we would be obediant and live the law of polygamy. He sent us here on earth so that we could be tested HERE and then when we die we recieve our exaltation in HEAVEN! You're not going to be tested after this world, because our test is here in this world to see if we are faithful to the covenants we have already made and kept here on earth, because that is the Lord's promise! Its not your trial or test in life to be a polygamist! So why should this doctrine even be theorized about? Thats like saying, "Maybe the Lord is going to make me sacrifice my son to get into Heaven, becaused he's asked of that before!"

I could be angry or upset at a thousand different things that the Lord once commanded... I mean what if I had to slay someone with their own sword, and steal their own gold plates from their house because the Lord commanded it(Nephi). What if I had to take an army of men and destroy a whole city, including the women, and children, even the animals, and not leave a living thing upon the face of the city(Saul, David). These are all unpleasant things that we do not have to worry about because thats not our trial in life, and we are proven herewith (on earth, now, not later in heaven) whether we will be obediant and faithful to the commandments of God. For now (here, on earth) is the time for us to prepare to meet god, a probationary time. Our trial isnt polygamy in the afterlife, nor will it be our trial here on earth because like I said earlier, the only time God has instituted polygamy is to raise up seed (Jacob 2). And we arent going to be having a numbers problem with seed and the Kingdom of God here on earth, because the church will continue to grow, up through Christ's coming again.

So now all I've said here has probably cause contention, whitch as we are told is a cause of pride and is of the devil. So i havent accomplished anything really, just probably ticked you off. I'm not a part of this blogger thing, i was just surfing through, sorry if I upset you, but sometimes we all need to be straightened out. So please if you think I need to be straightened out, let me know. My email is Cheers.

Bored in Vernal said...

I am glad to hear your opinion on this subject. Many of the members of the Church believe the same way you do. I would really be interested to know how you respond to the following questions.

If you don't believe polygamy is being practiced today, then why are men being sealed in the temple to additional wives after their first wives die?

Do you think that these sealings will not be in force in the afterlife? If so, why aren't women allowed to be sealed to other men after their first husbands die?

Don't you think that these people have to struggle with the conception of what their family will look like when they leave this world? In my opinion, their lives are touched very strongly by polygamy in the here and now.

In addition, some have asked the question, if polygamy was instituted by God strictly for the building up of seed, why was Emma the only wife through whom Joseph had children? At least in his case, it seems there must have been an additional reason or two!

I would sincerely love to hear responses to these questions.

SilverRain said...

BiV - I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with you on the opinions you stated in your post. (There's a first for everything! :D) I find it fascinating that you have a real, personal experience with polygamy, came away with a healthy opinion & understanding of the principle, but still support the concept that one shouldn't practice polygamy until one is commanded by the living prophet.

I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

Bored in Vernal said...

SilverRain, How fun it is to agree on something! Thanks for your comment and keep up the thoughtful blogging.

Alison Moore Smith said...

#1 -- Thank you for acknowledging that we practice polygamy now with the multiple sealings. A fact utterly lost on some of the most intelligent Mormons.

#2 -- Thank you for acknowledging that, since this IS part of our practice, women DO have to deal with it one way or another.

#2 -- Did you know that women can also be sealed to multiple husbands--if the work is being done vicariously after they are dead and had multiple spouses while alive?

#3 -- I personally know ONE woman who was sealed to two men in her life without canceling the first. (She was a widow.)

#4 -- I just love it when men "reassure" their wives that they'd never, ever, ever want to get near a polygamous relationship, by stating that one woman is already more than he can bear. How lovely.

#5 -- Don't think I've ever read this kind of post from someone who actually lived with polygamy. Very interesting. Thanks for the POV.

#6 -- My dad was born and mostly raised in Vernal. There used to be a Moore's Market there. He was born in the back of the grocery store. :) Go Vernal!

fMhLisa said...

I already said most of what I have to say on the subject on my post that you linked to. That was a pretty good post. (patting self on back) I do want to add . . .

In theory and in practice, I can see how polygyny can be a viable lifestyle. It can have problems, it can work out, just like monogamy. I'm sure there are many lovely stories of happy polygamous families, just as there are many stories about benevolent patriarchy sailing away smoothly. But just because these systems can work out when the people involved make it work, it doesn't change the fact that at the core, they are se-ist systems. (as starfo-y said)

I also wanted to respond to JS's polyandry, I see it as more comple- then you seem to. I do agree that JS himself did not consider his wive's first marriages to be "real", but church policy now certainly would. In many cases they continued living with their first husbands, some of whom were faithful members of the church all their lives. So if the modern church had to decide which marriage was valid, would they too claim that civil marriages aren't real (how scandalous) or that JS's celestial marriages were not valid (unthinkable) or would both marriages have to be legitimate?

Obviously I don't know the answer, but I don't think that JS's opinion on the matter at the time is the final word on the topic.

As I said in my post, I am fond of traditional pair bonds. But I also think that other arrangements might work, I just have a problem with the idea that that only other possible allowed arrangement is a fundamentally se-ist one.

artemisandollie said...

Thanks for this post.I've been reading FMH and links practically nonstop for the last three days- when I read the Bust article. My friends and family are considering having me deprogrammed...I particularly appreciate your posts, you seem to weigh your personal experience with conventional wisdom in a really engaging way. I appreciate your sharing your own families experience with polygamy but have two questions: Are your parents LDS? If they are how do you reckon their choice of polygamy is divorced from their faith, "a lifestyle choice?" And secondly, I can see how your personal experience contradicts this generalization, (and in the interest of full disclosure I am a 31 year old atheist, raised Bahai, woman)but the context that I and honestly ALL of my friends understand polygamy as it is practiced today by Mormon fundamentalists is straight up pedophilia. I see glancing mentions to JS's 14 year old bride and a yearning for an understanding of "the principle" as it applies in the afterlife but it seems conspicuous that the reality of plural marriage as it is practiced in the US today has everything to do with the sexual exploitation of children. Is it because you truly feel no connection to the fundamentalists that it is not discussed? If that is true, what about the roots of what you do claim?
I have always wanted to ask thoughtful Mormons these questions but my only progressive LDS friends moved away and I haven't stayed in touch...Also I was wary of making her the Ask A Mormon girl...
Thanks for all of your great dialogue.


artemisandollie said...

ok, I read down one column and got the answer for Q #1. Sorry.

J G-W said...

Fascinating conversation.

I have struggled with Joseph's polygamy, mainly because so much of it was done behind Emma's back, without her consent... And I believe it hurt her deeply. Also because the secret practice of polygamy ended up deeply dividing the Church at the time, and was likely a factor in Joseph's assassination and the general chaos that ensued afterwards as Mormons splintered into numerous hostile factions.

Four of my great-great-grandmothers were second or third wives. I have heard stories about only one of these marriages, and none of them were positive. There was intense rivalry and hatred between wife number one and wife number two, and wife number one made life for wife number two (my ancestor) and her children absolutely miserable until she finally left. Apparently there was considerable inequality between the two families... Wife number one lived in the big mansion with the husband, while wife number two lived in the shack out on the farm. Wife number one's children got ponies for Christmas, wife number two's children got tattered, used rag dolls. Maybe some of these stories have been exaggerated over the generations. But needless to say, I was not left with the impression hearing them of how "wonderful" polygamy was.

At the same time, to me the principle is not unlike the principle of the United Way. In order for it to work properly, it takes a certain level of humility, discipline, and spiritual maturity on the part of multiple parties. It requires, in other words, a covenantal approach. To me, it seems likely that polygamy was discontinued because the Saints simply weren't ready to live it the way it was supposed to be lived.

I think celestial marriage will be a very different affair from what any of us imagine. Its practice in the early Church, I believe, was meant to open the Saints eyes to something much larger.

J G-W said...

Oh, and another thing... This marriage was contracted "post-Manifesto." It was one of those "shadow" marriages between 1890 and 1904, when the Church finally started actually enforcing the Manifesto.

For this reason, there were lies told about when the marriage was originally contracted, and some embarassment later about the fact that it was "post-Manifesto."

I've heard the "Oh, I would never put up with that!" line in my family too. But if it were reinstated, I think some of us would make the adjustment and others of us would have a harder time of it. Remember, Brigham Young himself said that when he first learned of the principle, he felt as though he would rather have died first.

Bored in Vernal said...

j g-w, Thanks for your comments. There is no doubt that the post-Manifesto plural marriages were particularly difficult. You make a cogent point that if the principle were lived today, many faithful members would probably make the adjustments they needed to in order to follow the prophet.

btw, I love your picture! Who did it? It looks sort of like Trevor Southey's work.

J G-W said...

I'd LOVE to have my portrait done by Trevor Southey. This portrait was done by a very talented local artist, a friend of ours named Lois Rhomberg.