Polygamy-Do Mormons Practice Polygamy?

OK, here’s the big ticket topic that a lot of you will click on first.  Mormons and Polygamy—so sensational! It never gets old, right?  Wrong.  It was old in 1890.

It amazes me that considering all the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is and does, people continue to  ask about polygamy—which is so irrelevant to my membership in the Church and my experiences with it, that it’s hard to even find anything to say. It is not a part of my life as a Mormon, except that strangers joke with my husband about having two wives.  Those jokes are, by the way, incredibly funny—every time (and not to mention, super tasteful too).

For starters, I will state that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not teach or practice polygamy.  President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, recently reiterated that “Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage. If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church.”

Pure and simple, there it is.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not practice or teach polygamy.

So, I can hear you wondering, if that’s the case, why do people associate Mormons with polygamy?  There are a few reasons.  First is the recent horror of the Warren Jeffs incarceration and trial.  Many news outlets carelessly used the term “Mormon” to describe the Warren Jeffs polygamist group. The Associated Press style guide tells its reporters that “It is widely understood that the word “Mormon” refers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sends out “Mormon missionaries,” sponsors the “Mormon Tabernacle Choir” and builds “Mormon temples.” Associating the term “Mormon” with polygamists blurs what should be a crystal-clear line of distinction between organizations that are entirely separate.” {reference}

The second reason is that in the late 1800s, a small minority of the LDS Church members did practice polygamy.  The practice was discontinued in 1890. President Hinckley also spoke about this saying, “More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God.” {reference}

So,  there you have it again.

Well, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my question was this:  Why did even a very small number of Mormons practice plural marriage in the 1800s?   I wonder the same thing when I read in the bible about Abraham, Jacob and the like.  They were great bible Prophets and they also had multiple wives, was that wrong?

Polygamy is painful to think about.  A marriage between one man and one woman feels…it’s hard to think enough words… fundamental, right, sacred.  I think that’s how the western world views it anyway.

Or at least, it used to be.  Now it seems that traditional marriage is hard to find.  Marriage is treated very lightly these days. Half of all marriages end in divorce and, according to research from the University of Denver, 70 percent of couples live together before marriage.  Even within the married population, there is a shocking amount of infidelity.  I was horrified by a recent TV review of the documentary His Way about Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, where Jerry’s public infidelity is glorified and made to seem insignificant, light-hearted, even hilarious.  Watching that made me feel like the last person in America who believes in marriage.

That being said, to conclude my discussion, I will leave you with this thought; The questions I receive about polygamy feel like a double standard.  We may be uncomfortable with the thought that Americans practiced plural marriage in the 1800s, or that polygamy is currently practiced in other nations, or even that polygamy was practiced by ancient Prophets in biblical times,  but why are we not more shocked by OUR OWN current marriage practices in America, or lack thereof?  Something to think about.

If you’re interesterd, HERE is another viewpoint, very different from my own, on the same subject.

This discussion was pretty long, and for those of you looking for a sensational topic, I’m sorry to disappoint you with this very old story and a conversation based on theoretical, not practical, understanding.  But now perhaps you can understand my perplexity on the popular ‘Mormons and Polygamy’ hype.  The truth is, polygamy is very far removed from my experiences as a Mormon.


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