Polygamy or plural marriage, as it is often called, was instituted by Joseph Smith as a practice of the Mormon Church. There is probably no more controversial subject for the Mormon Church than polygamy, both among its members and among its critics. The Church officially ended the practice of polygamy in 1890, but its status as a Mormon doctrine shames and confounds some of its members, and is exploited by detractors of the Mormons.
As revealed to Joseph Smith, the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage states that a marriage performed by priesthood authority is binding in heaven and on earth, is the supreme ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ and is required to enter the The highest glory of the heavens. The typical earthly ceremony houses a couple until “death do them part.” A marriage ceremony in a Mormon temple, called a seal, because it is done with power to seal in heaven what is bound on earth, join a couple in marriage for time and eternity. These are two different ceremonies. A married couple by civil authority must also be sealed to each other in a temple for their marriage to be eternal. However, in the United States and some other countries, Mormon temple officiators have often been given the civil authority to perform a marriage in the place of residence of the couple, so sealing for eternity is Also recognized as an earthly marriage. The result of this doctrine is that it places marriage and the family as the defining characteristic and the most important part of a Mormon life. This is an eternal truth in which many rejoice. Although polygamy is no longer approved by the Mormon Church, polygamous marriages in its history remain valid according to its doctrine and for many it is difficult to reconcile this.
Polygamy in the Mormon Church
There is evidence that Joseph Smith spoke about a revelation about the doctrine of polygamy as early as the 1830s but was not recorded until 1842. At first Joseph was reluctant to practice it and many of his closest friends and leaders The Mormon Church advised against it. Sidney Rigdon was so opposed to her that at the death of Joseph Smith, she began her own branch of Mormonism that rejected polygamy. Emma, Joseph’s wife, begged him not to teach or begin the practice of polygamy, but in spite of social taboos, Joseph obeyed the revelation of God. The fact that it was initially practiced in secret is difficult for many to understand. Social conditions made it impossible to practice polygamy openly. This may have been the reason why it was never publicly recognized as a practice of the Mormons, until they settled in Utah where they were majority and there was some distance between them and their pursuers. Rumors of strange sexual practices among Mormons fueled many of the revolts in Mormon history. When it was officially announced in 1852, the US government Sent troops to Utah to civilize the Mormons. Slavery and polygamy were considered the two relics of barbarism by the Republican Party and when they finished with the first, they went after the second. Legislation was passed to prevent it, and Utah Statehood was retained on this issue. In the late 1800s many Mormons were imprisoned and others, including many leaders, went underground. Faced with growing pressure from the government, Mormon Church President Wilford Woodruff announced the end of the practice of polygamy in 1890.
There is an attempt by many people to portray Joseph Smith as a sexual deviant. This is due to the nature of their numerous marriages. First, they were secretly. Research has shown several of them, but it is not clear exactly how many were. Some of them were already married to other men, some were young teenagers, and Joseph asked to marry the wives of some of his closest friends. Much of this evidence is distorted by Joseph Smith’s enemies and must be understood in the proper context. It is not clear how Mormons understood the eternal marriage when it was introduced, but many women were sealed to Joseph Smith, while maintaining earthly marriage with other men. This would make them the wives of their husbands in this life and wives of Joseph in the next life. Joseph also asked to be sealed to the wives of some of his closest friends to him as a test of faith, but he never married any of them. These points are often used to show Joseph Smith, as a handcuff thief, when the nature of the relationship was very different. Even some men wanted their wives sealed to him. Joseph is also defamed for having proposed marriage to young girls. It is a slander of history since it was the custom to marry at that age in the 1800s, and now it is not. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith lived with or had sex with any of the women he married, other than with his first wife Emma. The nature of these marriages was spiritual and eternal as Joseph tried to teach the doctrine of polygamy.
The European concept of romantic love dominates the Western world and spreads more and more. Polygamy is practiced in many regions of the world, but the same tolerance is not shown for other alternative lifestyles that are growing in acceptance. It also seems to many that Mormon polygamy is misogynist, because plural wives are allowed, but a woman can not marry more than one man at a time. By current standards, polygamy appears as an outdated practice of patriarchal societies and it is difficult to understand why it is a doctrine of Mormonism.
The only scriptural reasons for polygamy are to multiply and fill the earth and raise righteous posterity (Doctrine and Covenants 132: 63; Jacob 2:30). The Mormon Church has never renounced polygamy as a doctrine, even though it currently forbids it in practice. It is a subject of great controversy among believers and non-believers alike, as they try to understand the gospel with the social climates and taboos today. It is curious that the Victorian influence that persecuted the polygamous Mormons also gave rise to one of the greatest burlesque cultures and prostitution in history. Fidelity between monogamous relationships does not seem to be improving either, but for some reason Western thinking can not allow polygamous marriage. Just as when it was first introduced by Joseph Smith, polygamy remains a test of faith.