By Ramona Siddoway
Last month I wrote about some common myths about the Mormon church. I continue the discussion this month with Myth #3: Mormons have more than one wife. The practice of having more than one wife – polygamy – is strictly prohibited and not endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.
To be fair we do understand somewhat why this stereotype persists. The reasons are twofold: firstly, it was practiced in the early 1800’s for about fifty years but officially ended in 1890. Although polygamy has not been practiced for over 120 years the name “Mormon”, as well as the name of Brigham Young, is often associated with plural marriage. In 1831, as Joseph Smith read and pondered about the Old Testament practice of plural marriage, he decided to pray about it. Divine instruction was received to renew this principle as a religious practice. All of the members at the time, including Joseph Smith, were raised in – if not religious – at least in traditional, monogamous families and homes. The idea of more than one wife was as foreign to members then as it is today in most western countries and cultures. Even Brigham Young was not thrilled about the idea, but along with Joseph Smith wanted to be obedient to what they believe God had commanded.
Although polygamy was introduced to the Church relatively few practiced it in the beginning. When the Latter-day Saints moved west more members entered into plural marriages. Instigated by rumors and exaggerated reports the government initiated laws and executed harsh punishments against plural marriage and Church members who practiced it. Many men went to prison or into hiding. Wilford Woodruff, the president of the LDS church at the time, prayed for guidance in light of the mounting persecution to the church. He was inspired to release a document officially ending plural marriage in 1890.
The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is monogamy. In the Book of Mormon there is a scripture that reads, “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none. … For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:27-30. Italics added.) This scripture means that monogamy is the Lord’s standard and law unless He commands otherwise, as He has done in both scripture and in the history of the Church.
Much of the confusion today also stems from that fact that in the United States there are groups currently practicing plural marriage. These groups are not affiliated with the Mormon Church. One such group that some media outlets and casual observers are confused with is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Although their name is very similar to ours the nickname “Mormon” has been erroneously applied to them as well as to our church. The late Gordon B. Hinckley, who served as President of the Church from 1995 to 2008, reiterated the Church’s doctrine.
“I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter. If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, 'We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law' (Articles of Faith 1:12).” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Oct. 1998 General Conference).
Today Mormons do not practice polygamy. We have not practiced polygamy for a long, long time. Will that change? We don’t know. We just know that plural marriage has ceased and saying anything else is merely speculation. But whenever I tease my husband about whether or not he would ever take another wife he just looks at me and in a tired voice replies, “I can barely handle one wife.” Thanks, honey.
Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons) where she volunteers in the Public Affairs department. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Interfaith Houston.