Was LDS Polygamy a Form of Sexism?
CES Letter Core Question
Was polygamy sexist?
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.