You are here

Joseph Smith Wives: The End of Polygamy (Part 2)

Post contributed by Scripture Central
Scripture Central's picture
March 20, 2024
Image courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Image courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The following content is a transcript from Tyler Griffin and Anthony Sweat’s ‘Come Follow Me’ discussion on ‘The End of Polygamy.’ To watch the full video, click here

It was in 1890 October when the manifesto was presented to the church and accepted. That's important to say by the way after the manifesto, and we need to read what he says, and we will, but it's important to know that in October of 1890, at that General Conference, the manifesto was presented to the body of the church and was sustained unanimously. Although some did abstain from voting, the report in the Deseret News, anyway, was that it was unanimous. So after that now you have some aftermath that's going to take place. And not everybody was cheering when they heard this news. 

There were a lot of people who have sacrificed their lives, their good name, their fortune for plural marriage, and the families that were now existing, including Joseph Smith wives. And that is a big problem too because remember the moment we say we're going to submit to the laws, the big question that comes up is what about our existing families? Does that mean that husbands who have two wives or three wives that they're going to choose to only stay with one and abandon the other two women? Where, you know, Zina Huntington Young says the hearts of many were tried with this announcement and there were a lot of unresolved and kind of nebulous questions in the air. 

After it was announced this is a difficult time and there were still some people trying to perform marriages. When Wilford Woodruff found out that one had been performed in the endowment house, what did he do? He tears down the endowment house but what's hard is that some people, in that context too, they were wondering now is this just Wilford Woodruff appeasing the government? 

It's important to know that in the mid 1880s, we send people proactively up to Canada and down to Mexico to go practice plural marriage because we're like okay, if in America we're having issues maybe we can send people to these other countries. So even after it's announced there's some people that are wondering “Are we just saying and appeasing this?” “Do we really mean that we're going to stop this?” “What about existing families?” And Wilford Woodruff says, “I did not say that you should abandon your families,” Correct? “Husbands, you have no right to abandon your wives and children.” And so many people continue to live in plural marriages as well so we've painted the picture hopefully with some of the historical and cultural and political landscape that's surrounding this manifesto in 1890.

Now let's actually read some of the the parts of the actual declaration. And it's important too, as we read both Official Declaration One and Two, these are declarations that a revelation has been received. These aren't the revelations themselves, which maybe if the revelation was written down word for word we would have had them or that the church would have had them incorporated into sections of the Doctrine and Covenants if it was a “Thus saith the Lord” kind of thing. This is a declaration that these key revelations were received as a whole and some explanations around them. So they introduced these press dispatches in the first paragraph, having been sent for political purposes from Salt Lake City which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah commission, in their recent report to the secretary of the interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that 40 or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year. 

He goes on to say in the second paragraph, “I therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We're not teaching polygamy or plural marriage nor permitting any person to enter into its practice and I deny that either 40, or any other number of plural marriages, have happened during that time period been solemnized in our temple wherein another place in the territory.” I'm just going to jump down to the paragraph where he says, “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort,” that's the Supreme Court that we kind of talked about, “I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws and use my influence with members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.” That's really the crux of it is “We fought this. You said it's constitutional. The Lord has revealed to me that we should stop teaching this practice. I intend to use my influence to have the Church submit to this going forward.” 

Now as you jump down below there's the statement from President Lorenzo Snow to get the sustaining vote to make this official. And then underneath that you get these excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding polygamy, or, Joseph Smith polygamy. These six terms are excellent. These are amazing and that first paragraph there, the first line of the first paragraph is a fairly common phrase that we use in the Church, attributed to Wilford Woodruff, where he says, “the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray.” It is not in the program, it is not in the mind of God. 

And by the way, Wilford Woodruff isn't the first person I’ve ever found as I've researched and looked at this. Brigham Young says that “the Lord will not permit the president of the Church to lead the Church astray” and it's been reiterated by many people, many church leaders. Even as recently as Elder Ballard has said, “The Lord won't allow the leaders of the Church to lead you astray.” Now one of the things that I think is important here is to understand what that means or could mean, anyway. The word astray some people interpret as saying the Lord won't permit his leaders of the Church to ever make any mistakes. Now, while that is fine to make that interpretation, I personally don't think that's accurate. 

The restoration of the Gospel kicks off with a prophet losing 116 pages of sacred scripture after all. The Lord allows us, as we learn and grow, and leaders, local stake and even general leaders, to make mistakes. That's different than leading astray. And maybe one analogy that I like to give is that we all as parents make mistakes and we sit down and try to lead our families as best as possible. And we pray and we seek for revelation and we get revelation and we get inspiration to guide our families, but it doesn't mean that we don't make mistakes in implementing it or in figuring it out along the way. And if I brought in my children and lined them up and said, “Do your mom and dad ever make mistakes leading your family as parents?” They would have to fill up another hour's worth of this show documenting how many mistakes we make as parents in our weakness. But if you asked our children, “Do your mom and dad lead your family astray?” Now that's a whole nother question altogether. And the promise is that the prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants and ordinances thereof. That's how I interpret this. It's beautiful. It’s that idea that when you look at repentance the way that President Russell M. Nelson talked about it in General Conference a few years ago, using the Greek word “metanoia”, it's to change. I think that we can look at that word and that idea of repentance not in this, “I've committed this serious sin,” it's just “sometimes we need to change”. Sometimes we need to shift the way we're looking or re-tune our ears or shift our heart, turn our heart, or adjust something. That's repentance! And I don't just repent individually, my wife and I repent collectively in our home. And our family repents. We change, we adjust, we make improvements over time, and we seek God's will throughout that process.

Well the church collectively, under President Nelson's definition, repenting doesn't mean that they committed a serious sin or doesn't mean they led the church astray, it's just that we're making a change. We're getting more in line now with what is needed based on what God is giving us. And there's power in sticking with God's prophets, seers, and revelators, who are watchmen on the tower. They have a more elevated view than I have. And by the way, if you look at the beacon of what the Church is aimed towards, there's something in the center goal's eye. It obviously is the Savior, but it's in connection to the Savior through the ordinances of the temple through the ordinances of the gospel and the ordinances of the temple. And so when the prophets say we won't lead you astray, they're saying we will always teach you the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation and exaltation and we won't lead you astray from that. And the very fact that Wilford Woodruff is saying, “Lord, do you want us to keep practicing plural marriage or do you want us to lose the ability to perform the ordinances of salvation and exaltation” shows him keeping the church in line with God’s will. This is an example of keeping the Church on the path of the ordinances, outside of Joseph Smith wives.

Now in the second excerpt that's given at this Stake Conference, he asks them, because there are a lot of people who are like, “We've mentioned they're wrestling with this.” They're trying to figure out if this really is from God and he says, “In order to answer that question you need to step back and answer a different question,” which is really the crux of the matter that was facing him as the prophet at the time, which was “Should we allow the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and all the leaders to be imprisoned? Should we lose all of the assets of the Church including the temples? Should we break up all these families because the men are in prison, or should we let go of plural marriage?” That's the question he's asking them to answer and it's fascinating to me that previous to 1890, I could be wrong but I don't know of any records of any sealings of children to parents taking place in the temples. And then it's a few years after the manifesto where we get to retain our temples, hold on to them and we get to move forward in not having the First Presidency arrested and the Quorum of the Twelve and all these men put in prison. Then the revelation comes in the St George temple to start sealing children to parents. 

Some people might not be aware that prior to this time, during the time of Joseph Smith polygamy, and you'll see the connection here in a second, that we weren't sealing children to parents and children to their parents. We were not sealing vertically, we were often sealing horizontally or dynastically. Sometimes they called it the Law of Adoption and people would be sealed up to prominent church leaders’ families. And in 1894, I believe is the year, just a few years after the manifesto, is when we get to retain the temples. This revelation comes where the Lord tells Wilford Woodruff, “You seal parents to children and make the chain vertical,” which has been the direction we've gone ever since. What a blessing for countless people on both sides of the veil. 

Display ad for ScripturePlus app by Book of Mormon Central