Coming to Terms with Polygamy

How can we come to terms with issues like polygamy in the early Church when we do not understand all of God’s reasons for them?

"I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." -1 Nephi 1:17

photo by denys nevozhai

When an angel asked Nephi about a vision he received, Nephi responded, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). Like Nephi, we do not always understand God’s teachings or commandments.

For example, some Latter-day Saints struggle with the early Church’s practice of polygamy. As we seek to understand the reasoning behind God’s commandments through study and prayer, we can come to terms with difficult issues like polygamy.

Both the scriptures and modern prophets teach that monogamy—marriage between one man and one woman—is God’s standard. Indeed, polygamy is no longer allowed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those practicing it may not become or remain members. However, in specific periods throughout time, the Lord has ordered certain people—such as Abraham, Jacob, and, more recently, Joseph Smith and the early Saints—to participate in plural marriages.

The Gospel Topics essay “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah provides a few possible reasons for this commandment, one of which is that God wanted to “increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant.” Indeed, the practice of plural marriages resulted in a large number of children born to faithful Latter-day Saint families, which helped the Church grow when it was still young and had few strong members. This idea also correlates with the teachings of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, who declared that the Lord permits polygamy on occasion in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30).

Ultimately, we do not understand all of the reasons why the Lord provided the revelation to practice polygamy, and we may never fully understand it within this lifetime. However, even if we do not know the meaning of all things, we can still be assured that God loves us and that every commandment he gives is for our good. As we pray to him, he will strengthen our testimonies and fill us with peace.

Read “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah” to learn more about the early Saints’ practice of polygamy and possible reasons why the Lord instituted plural marriage.

Source: lds.org/topics

—Sarah Keenan, Mormon Insights 

feature image by anneileino

Find more insights

Read a Mormon Insights article by Chelsea Jamison, “A Trial of Faith: The Beginning of Plural Marriage in Nauvoo.”

Read FairMormon’s article “Mormonism and Polygamy” for more information on polygamy in the nineteenth century.

Take a look at John Hilton III’s BYU Religious Studies address “I Know Not” to learn how to cope with unanswered gospel questions.

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7 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading the Gospel Topics essay that is linked in the article. Both articles highlight a very important distinction: monogamy is the Lord’s standard in His plan for His children. Polygamy is the exception.

  2. I am so grateful for this article! My roommate has had a lot of anxiety about polygamy in the church. I was able to share this with her and help her understand the history a little bit better.

  3. I appreciate your insights on this difficult topic. I also struggle with accepting some of the things that were done in the church back then, but I agree that having faith in God’s plan can help us to understand some things better.

  4. I really appreciate this post. There are a lot of things we don’t understand about Church history, but it is comforting to know that we won’t understand everything until the next life. Thanks for this great reminder!

  5. It is always interesting to me how, even in tough circumstances, the Lord sends his love and his Spirit to help us get through it. When we don’t understand something at first, we should not let our doubts define our actions. As we study with diligence and wait with hope and faith, answers will come. And in the meantime, before those answers arrive, it has been my experience that Heavenly Father sends us peace and strength to continue on.

  6. I have never had a hard time with consecration, but I have always had a hard time with polygamy. I can share everything except my husband. But I do understand that as hard as it was, it was one of those things intended to try their faith as much as probably having a practical explanation. I believe that it will be an entire class, a case study, if you will, in spirit prison before I can fully understand. Until then, or until I have to live it, I reserve judgement.

  7. I think that these new gospel topic essays are amazing. They answer some of the hardest questions that members face. The new cornerstone classes are also great for helping people gain and strengthen their testimonies in this day of shifting standards. I remember being quite surprised when we addressed issues like polygamy and the Mountain Meadows massacre in my Foundations of the Restoration class. These are the types of topics that are often avoided but need to be addressed. I am grateful that we can read these essays that don’t give apologies or sugar-coat the facts but just give the truth behind these more difficult topics.

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