It is painful for many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to think about polygamy.
Not only does it conjure thoughts of persecution and misunderstanding from society at large, but the doctrine of plural marriage can also stir up deep and painful questioning. This questioning can become even more painful when members speculate about plural marriage in the eternities. Speaking of women specifically, how many of them want to be part of a heaven that consists of them being required to share their husband? I’ll bet not very many.
There aren’t very many commentaries that provide peace and comfort regarding this controversial subject in the Church’s history. But in his groundbreaking new book, The Cultural Evolution Inside of Mormonism, popular author and speaker Greg Trimble tackles the topic of plural marriage head-on with his wife and comes to some surprising and faith-inspiring conclusions. (His chapter on polygamy is comprehensive and well researched.)
Here are four insights from the book we feel every Mormon should ponder on as part of their journey to better understand this difficult part of our history.
Plural Marriage is NOT the New & Everlasting Covenant
In Doctrine and Covenants 132, the Lord reveals “unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”
Mistakenly, too many members of the Church believe this scripture refers to plural marriage. Consider this quote from James E. Talmadge that Trimble shares as a jumping off point for his research:
“The Latter-day Saints were long regarded as a polygamous people. That plural marriage has been practiced by a limited proportion of the people, under sanction of Church ordinance, has never since the introduction of the system been denied. But that plural marriage is a vital tenet of The Church is not true. What the Latter-day Saints call celestial marriage is characteristic of The Church, and is in very general practice; but of celestial marriage, plurality of wives was an incident never an essential. Yet the two have often been confused in the popular mind.”
Plural Marriage is NOT a Requirement for the Celestial Kingdom
So, what does it mean that plural marriage is not the new and everlasting covenant? According to Trimble, he believes that “plural marriage is NOT a celestial law, and it’s NOT required in the celestial kingdom.”
Because many members of the Church confuse plural marriage with the new and everlasting covenant, they believe they will need to live it in order to obtain the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom.
According to Trimble, it’s just not true! He reaffirms plural marriage as “one of those exceptional commandments given to men and women at various times for specific purposes.” With scriptural and historical evidence and logic, the case for this is clearly laid out in the chapter of his book and it’s extremely comforting.
Polygamy was a Sacrifice
Through scriptural reasoning, Trimble walks us through the days of David, the references to plural marriage in the Book of Mormon, and his own confusion after reading the Doctrine and Covenants. In the end, Trimble finds in Section 132, a connection between plural marriage and Abraham being asked to sacrifice the life of his only son Isaac.
“After studying D&C 132 in depth, polygamy, to me, has become less about sex and more about sacrifice. This principle, in all actuality, requires the ultimate emotional sacrifice. To those required to live this principle, this sacrifice was worse than death. The emotional pain, especially for a woman, surpassed anything they could have suffered physically.
It is compared with only one other type of sacrifice in all of scripture: the Abrahamic sacrifice.”
But there is a key inside the scriptures indicating that the sacrifice of polygamy would be met with an eventual “escape” so that people could return to the eternal law of monogamy.
Understanding Sealings Over Time
To truly understand plural marriage as both a historical event and a gospel principle, we must try and look back on the context of the times. As the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored, God has revealed more and more about the temple ordinances.
“In the early days, the Church was still trying to wrap their heads around sealings,” Trimble says. “The Restoration took place over time and was difficult to understand. Many of the sealings that took place were done as “proxy” or “stand-in” marriages. You had people being sealed to General Authorities in every direction to assure their exaltation.”
This early confusion over the doctrine of eternal marriage caused a lot strange things to be done in ignorance. It wasn’t until many years later with Wilford Woodruff in which the sealing ordinances would be fleshed out and their understanding corrected.
A Final Thought
It’s important for members of the Church to do their diligence in reviewing the past and building testimonies for the future. As Trimble states, “Polygamy is such a touch topic. It’s tough for anyone that truly seeks to understand it in this life, but hopefully, some of the things in this chapter help people to look at this topic in a different light.”
You can read or listen to Trimble’s full chapter on plural marriage and other essential topics in his book, The Cultural Evolution Inside of Mormonism.