Polygamy Required for Exaltation?

Brigham Young taught the doctrine that polygamy is required for exaltation:

The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.
— JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES 11:269

Several other prophets after Young, including Taylor, Woodruff, Snow, and Joseph F. Smith gave similar teachings that the New and Everlasting Covenant of plural marriage was doctrinal and essential for exaltation.

CES Letter, Page 64


Next Relevant Quote


BRIGHAM YOUNG SUNDAY SCHOOL MANUAL

  • In the Church’s Sunday School manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, the Church changed the word “wives” to “[wife].”
  • Not only is the manual deceptive in disclosing whether or not Brigham Young was a polygamist but it’s deceptive in hiding Brigham Young’s real teaching on marriage:

    The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.

CES Letter, Page 115-116

No presiding Church leader has ever taught that polygamy is required for exaltation irrespective of when and where a person is born on earth. Between the 1840s and 1890, the issue was obedience, not some unique eternal blessing attached to the practice of plural marriage.

Statements made between 1852 and 1890, when plural marriage was treated as a commandment, can be easily quoted out of context to create the appearance that Church leaders taught that all men in the Celestial Kingdom would be polygamists.

The CES Letter repeats the most common quotation, which is from Brigham Young who made a statement in 1866 that is also very popular with Mormon fundamentalists:

“The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory.”  

However a new transcription of this discourse from George Watt's Pittman shorthand shows that the expectation to practice polygamy was totally dependent upon whether a people had the privilege to do so. There is no mention that all men and women in the Celestial kingdom will be polygamists:

with titles

This new transcription demonstrates that twice Brigham Young emphasized that a person must have the "privilege" to practice plural marriage or there was no expectation to practice polygamy.

Another similar statement comes from an 1878 discourse by Elder Joseph F. Smith. He taught:

Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or non-essential, to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. In other words, some of the Saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the Priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false. 

Alone this quotation can be read to mean that all men, irrespective of when and where they lived, were required to enter plural marriage to be fully exalted, which is a common interpretation by modern polygamists.   However, toward the beginning of the talk Joseph F. Smith clarified:

It [plural marriage] is a principle that pertains to eternal life, in other words, to endless lives, or eternal increase. It is a law of the Gospel pertaining to the celestial kingdom, applicable to all gospel dispensations, when commanded and not otherwise, and neither acceptable to God or binding on man unless given by commandment, not only so given in this dispensation, but particularly adapted to the conditions and necessities thereof, and to the circumstances, responsibilities, and personal, as well as vicarious duties of the people of God in this age of the world.

Apostle Smith's statement that plural marriage is "applicable to all gospel dispensations, when commanded and not otherwise, and neither acceptable to God or binding on man unless given by commandment" is perhaps the best available summary of the eternal position of polygamy in LDS history.

D&C 132: 18, 38 describe the condemnations to individuals who assume to practice plural marriage without the authority of the "one" man holding the sealing keys (v. 7).

Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal on February 12, 1870, that a Church member, John Holement, “made a long speech upon the subject of polygamy. He contended that no person could have a Celestial glory unless he had a plurality of wives.” In response, President Brigham Young clarified that “there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one wife.”  

On February 10, 1873, in the Salt Lake School of the Prophets, a question was raised regarding the truthfulness of the claim that “no man who has only one wife in this probation can ever enter Celestial Kingdom.” Wilford Woodruff “expressed disagreement and John Taylor said ‘he did not believe [it].’” 

In 1884, First Presidency Counselor, George Q. Cannon, stated that, “He believed there would be men in the Celestial Kingdom that had but one wife.”  First Presidency Counselor John Henry Smith recalled in 1900 that “President Young once proposed that we marry but one wife.”


 Additional Resources:

12 Myths Regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

“Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” LDS.org Essay

“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” LDS.org Essay

“Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah” LDS.org Essay

“The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” LDS.org Essay

Like Two Crazy Aunts in the Attic: Latter-day Saints and Popular Polygamy Stereotypes” (2010 FAIR Conference) by Craig L. Foster

“Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage: D&C 132″ by Jed Woodworth

“Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives after the Martyrdom,” Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 13, no. 2. Fall 2012, 255-69.

“A Subject That Can Bear Investigation”: Anguish, Faith, and Joseph Smith’s Youngest Plural Wife” by J. Spencer Fluhman

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask)” (2009 FAIR Conference) by Gregory L. Smith

Joseph Smith DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophet’s Genes” (2008 FAIR Conference) by Ugo Perego

A Reconciliation of Polygamy by Valerie Hudson

Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?” (2012 FAIR Conference) by Brian C. Hales

“O that my voice could reach the ears of those uninformed and misinformed” by Suzanne Armitage

“‘Mormon” Women’s Protest: An Appeal for Freedom, Justice and Equal Rights,” The Ladies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints protest against the tyranny and indecency of Federal Officials in Utah, and against their own disfranchisement without cause. Full Account of Proceedings at the Great Mass Meeting, held in the Theatre, SALT LAKE CITY UTAH. Saturday, March 6, 1886

Ask the Apologist: Contradiction between Jacob and DC 132

Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” by Gregory L. Smith

The Fallacy of Fundamentalist Assumptions” (2005 FAIR Conference) by Blake T. Ostler

Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young” (2006 FAIR Conference) by Allen Wyatt

A Response to Grant Palmer’s ‘Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo’” by Brian C. Hales and Gregory L. Smith

Separated but not Divorced: The LDS Church’s Uncomfortable Relationship with its Polygamous Past” by Craig L. Foster

Hagar in LDS Scripture and Thought” by Andrew C. Smith

Stretching to Find the Negative: Gary Bergera’s Review of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology” byBrian C. Hales  

Does God Have a Wife? –  by Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt

Plural Marriage and the Half-Empty-Glass School of Historiography –  by Allen L. Wyatt

Prologue to the Study of Joseph Smith’s Marital Theology –  by Danel W. Bachman

The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives –  by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Scott H. Faulring

Articles of Faith 3: Craig L. Foster on Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church, Craig L Foster, 0:33:04

Best of Fair 12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask), Dr. Greg Smith, 1:02:38

Articles of Faith 1: Brian C. Hales Interview – Articles of Faith Show, Brian C Hales, 0:25:27

FairMormon Frameworks 4: Brian Hales Polygamy, Brian Hales, 1:08:58

Mormon FAIR-Cast 85: Foundations of fundamentalist polygamy, Martin Tanner, 0:19:55

Mormon FAIR-Cast 187: Polygamy Roundtable, Gregory L. Smith, 1:25:20

RiseUp Podcast: Polygamy and Joseph Smith, Dr. Greg L. Smith, 0:21:42

Polygamy and Joseph Smith with Greg Smith

FAIR Examination 9: Polygamy as an Abrahamic Sacrifice–Dr. Valerie Hudson, Dr. Valerie Hudson, 1:00:07

Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church- Craig Foster

Mormon FAIR-Cast 85: Foundations of fundamentalist polygamy

Joseph Smith’s Polygamy –Dr. Brian Hales– Fair Mormon Podcast

Polygamy as an Abrahamic Sacrifice–Dr. Valerie Hudson– Fair Mormon Podcast

Plural Marriage and Maintaining Faith- Dr. Gregory Smith- Fair Mormon Podcast

The Naturalistic vs. Faithful View of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales

12 Myths Regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales 

pt 1 “Zina and her Men” 2006 FAIR conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 2 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 3 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 4 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 5 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

Pt 1, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes” by Ugo Perego

Pt 2, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 3, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 4, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 5, “”Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 6, Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Reconciling Belief with Polygamy” by Brian Hales

Testimony of Early Polygamous Wives: Mary Elizabeth Rollins

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Margaret Cooper West

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Elizabeth Whitney

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Phoebe Carter Woodruff

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Vilate Kimball

The Wives of Joseph Smith and Their Testimony- Zina Huntington

The Wives of Joseph Smith and Their Testimony–Lucy Walker

Did Joseph Smith Marry Young Women? Fair Mormon Answers

LDS and Popular Polygamy Stereotypes by Craig Foster

Are Mormons Polygamists

Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital Status of Zina Huntington

Joseph Smith’s DNA revealed: New Clues to the Prophet’s Genes” by Dr. Ugo Perego

Controversies of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy” by Brian Hales

Joseph Smith DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophet’s Genes

A Refutation of Grant Palmer’s Treatment of Sexual Allegations Against Joseph Smith” by Brian Hales