President Hinckley on Polygamy Being "Not Doctrinal"

CES Letter Core Question

Is polygamy doctrinal?

In a September 1998 Larry King Live interview, President Hinckley was asked about polygamy:

Larry King: You condemn it [polygamy]?
Hinckley: I condemn it. Yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal.

Contrary to President Hinckley’s statement, we still have Doctrine & Covenants 132 in our canonized scriptures. We're also still practicing plural marriage in the Temples by permitting men to be sealed to more than one woman (so long as only one is living). Apostles Elder Oaks, Elder Perry, and Elder Nelson are modern examples of LDS polygamists in that they're sealed to multiple women.

Polygamy is doctrinal. Polygamy is not doctrinal. Yesterday's doctrine is today's false doctrine. Yesterday's prophets are today's heretics.


CES Letter, Page 64

Per Jim Bennett: "The context of President Hinckley’s statement suggests that he was not disavowing previous polygamy but, instead, drawing a distinction between the past and present. He was absolutely correct in saying that it is not doctrinal to practice  plural marriage today. I can think of no faster route to excommunication from the Church than becoming a polygamist. His statement is consistent with the passage in Jacob 2: monogamy is the doctrinal norm, but there are periods in history where the Lord requires polygamous exceptions to the rule."

President Hinckley denied that any doctrine in or out of the Church states that polygamy should always be practiced, which is true.

Joseph Smith taught that only one man holds the sealing keys (D&C 132:7) and that all plural marriages must be authorized by the person holding those keys. Accordingly, plural marriages performed without his approval are invalid after death. President Hinckley condemned polygamy today because he knew that all such unions were unauthorized.

D&C 132:18 emphasized the need for valid eternal and plural marriages:

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word; when they are out of the world it cannot be received there, because the angels and the gods are appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore, inherit my glory; for my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God. (D&C 132:18.) 

Verse 38 explains that “David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me” (italics added). Marring plural wives without the permission of the “one” man holding the sealing keys is “sin.” God's house is a house of order (D&C 132:8, 18).

While in Nauvoo, Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother and Associate President and Church Patriarch, attempted to seal a marriage without Joseph’s approval. Two years later, in 1845, Brigham Young recalled the event:

Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was, nor never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the –sealing power- keys of the sealing power in the church, that all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the church. . . . Hyrum [Smith] was counseller . . . but the sealing power was not in Hyrum, legitimately, neither did he act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph in every case This was proven, for Hyrum did in one case undertake to seal without counsel, & Joseph told him if he did not stop it he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.

Not only was proper authority required to perform celestial plural marriage, but in the early days of its practice, a person needed permission from Joseph Smith to teach it to others. In January 1844, Church member Hiram Brown, who had not been taught by the Prophet concerning plural marriage, but had apparently heard rumors, was excommunicated for publicly teaching it without authorization.  Concerning another occasion, John Taylor (not the apostle) recalled another man, Durfy, who “went out to Layhart [Illinois] and he told the people there he thought the time would come when they would practice polygamy, or the same doctrine in reference to plural wives, that David and Solomon did.”  Durfy was "severely rebuked."

The minute Brigham Young heard of the Prophet’s death he was in the East doing missionary work.   “The first thing that I thought of was whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth,” Brigham recalled.  “Brother Orson Pratt sat at my left; we were both leaning back in our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said, ‘the keys of the kingdom are right here with the church.’”   Brigham believed that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve held the priesthood keys and that he, as the senior apostle, presided. 

In 1847, three years later after the Prophet’s death, W.W. Phelps served a mission to the eastern states where he married three wives polygamously. His mission companion, Henry B. Jacobs, performed the marriages without first obtaining permission from President Young.  Phelps returned to Winter Quarters, Iowa, with his three new "wives." Brigham Young heard the story and addressed Phelps:  "You have been living in adultery – [N]o man can have the 2nd woman unless he ha[s] the consent of the man who holds the sealing power..."  He also remarked: "[I]f bro Phelps had told us last Spring that he was going to bring a girl – I wo[ul]d. have given her to you & [would have been] glad to do it."  Phelps was excommunicated on December 6, 1847 but was quickly rebaptized after acknowledging his misunderstanding. Nevertheless, the most important observation is that President Young considered unauthorized plural marriage relations adultery, even when the participants were (like Phelps) sincere in those marriages.

Earlier that year President Young complained of men who would enter into plural marriages by virtue of the authority of “some clod head of an elder” who was willing to perform the sealing ceremony without proper sealings authority from Brigham:

[A man would] go to some woman that does not understand which is right or wrong and tell her that she cannot be saved without a man and he has almighty power and can exalt and save her and . . . then go to some clod head of an elder and get him to say their ceremony, all done without the knowledge or counsel of the authority of this church. This is not right and will not be suffered. . . . They would even try to pass right by me and go to Jos[eph Smith]. Thinking to get between mine [sic] and the 12.


Additional Resources:

Did Joseph Smith Teach Exaltation Requires Plural Marriage?

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

“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

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

A Reconciliation of Polygamy by Valerie Hudson

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

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

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

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

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

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 

Fundamentalists and the 1890 Manifesto