Was LDS Polygamy a Form of Sexism?

CES Letter Core Question

Was polygamy sexist?

If Brigham Young was really a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, would it not be unreasonable to expect that God would give him a hint that racism is not okay, sexism is not okay, blood atonement is not okay, and God’s name is not “Adam”?

CES Letter, Page 69

“Sexism” is a very unfortunate label for plurality in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

The CES Letter seems more interested in sound-bites than accurate reporting.

John Taylor recalled his feelings toward plural marriage and it wasn’t seen as “sexism”: “The doctrine was first introduced of men having more wives than one[.] It was a thing new to the whole of us yet it was a thing that was substantiated by scripture and made manifest also by revelation and it only needed men to have the spirit of God or woman to know and to understand the principles that Joseph communicated unto them.”

Several of Joseph Smith's plural wives left accounts of their conversion experiences:

Mary Elizabeth Rollins remembered that, "An angel came to me – it went through me like lightning – I was afraid. Joseph Said he came with more revelation and knowledge than Joseph ever dare reveal." 

Desdemona Fullmer reported a night vision in which an angel told her that the polygamy doctrine was true. 

Lucy Walker recalled that, "As I was praying the last time, an angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me that the principle was of God and for me to accept it." 

Helen Mar Kimball recounted that a "vision of my mind was open to see & understand the will & design of the Allmighty [sic]. I had a view of the order of plural marriage. The beauty & the glory which I saw in it was enough to make up for the trials in this life.

Other Nauvoo plural wives received similar manifestations:

Vilate Kimball's daughter Helen described that a "vision of her [Vilate's] mind was opened, and as darkness fleeth before the morning sun, so did her sorrow and the groveling things of earth vanish away, and before her she saw the principle of celestial marriage illustrated in all its beauty and glory, together with the great exaltation and honor it would confer upon her in that immortal and celestial sphere." 

Elizabeth Whitney recalled that she and her husband, Bishop Newell K. Whitney “were seemingly wrapt in a heavenly vision, a halo of light encircled us, and we were convinced in our own bosoms that God heard and approved our prayers and intercedings before him." 

Phoebe Woodruff reported that, "I went to God my heavenly Father, and enquired of him of the truth of this doctrine. He made it manifest to me as plainly as I could have wished, that it was of him."

Some Church leaders reported premonitions:

Brigham Young received special "reflections that were upon my mind while in England. But this was not until after I had told him what I understood." 

Lorenzo Snow recalled that plural marriage "was revealed to me before the Prophet Joseph Smith explained it to me. I had been on a mission to England between two and three years and before I left England I was perfectly satisfied in regard to something connected with plural marriage." 

James Allred remembered that “he did not believe it at first, it was so contrary to his feelings, but he said he knew Joseph was a prophet of God so he made a covenant that he would not eat, drink or sleep until he knew for himself, that he had got a testimony that it was true, that he had even heard the voice of God concerning it.” 

Thomas Grover recalled a vision of a future plural wife: "On a sudden there stood before me my oldest wife that I have now and the voice of the Lord said that 'This is your companion for time and all Eternity.'"  

Church member Martha Jane Knowlton Coray had a peculiar dream that convinced her of the propriety of plural marriage. 

Samuel Amos Woolley, recounted his own dream-vision verifying the validity of plural marriage.  Additional similar experiences from other Nauvoo polygamists are alluded to in numerous testimonials of the correctness of the principle of plural marriage.

Lucy Walker, recalled the value of plural marriage in teaching character strengths:

I will say [that polygamy] is a grand school. You learn self control, self denial; it brings out the nobler traits of our fallen natures, and teaches us to study and subdue self, while we become acquainted with the peculiar characteristics of each other. There is a grand opportunity to improve ourselves, and the lessons learned in a few years, are worth the experience of a lifetime, for this reason, that you are better prepared to make a home happy. You can easily avoid many unpleasant features of domestic life that through inexperience you otherwise are unprepared to meet. 

Eliza R. Snow wrote that plural marriage helps to purify participants: “I bear my testimony that plural celestial marriage is a pure and holy principle, not only tending to individual purity and elevation of character, but also instrumental in producing a more perfect type of manhood mentally and physically.”

Plural wife Helen Mar Kimball Whitney also wrote about her feelings concerning the trials polygamy created in her life:

I did not try to conceal the fact of its having been a trial, but confessed that it had been one of the severest of my life; but that it had also proven one of the greatest of blessings. I could truly say it had done the most towards making me a Saint and a free woman, in every sense of the word; and I knew many others who could say the same, and to whom it had proven one of the greatest boons--a “blessing in disguise.”        

Martha Cragun Cox related how plural marriage led to intense prayers that brought inspiration: “I knew the principle of plural marriage to be correct-- to be the highest, holiest order of marriage. I knew too, that I might fail to live the holy life required and lose the blessings offered. If I had not learned before to go to the Lord with my burden, I surely learned to go to him now. . . . I found relief only in prayer when the Holy Spirit gave me inspiration.”

The oversimplification of plural marriage as reflected in The CES Letter is unfortunate because it is deliberate and very misleading.


Additional Resources:

“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