Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Plural Marriage

For the sake of this post, polygamy is defined as the practice of a married man marrying another woman as a result of God's command.

For whatever reason, I see constant online debates on this topic. It is, in my opinion, a depressing showcase of modern individuals' inability to engage in dispassionate rational thought.

In order to dissect an issue, we have to settle on what we are actually talking about.

Here are the big questions:

1) Is polygamy a sin?
2) Can God command people to practice polygamy?
3) Is it essential for salvation?
4) Should I be a polygamist?

Is polygamy a sin?

If polygamy were a sin, we would not have any (even one) examples of saved men who were polygamists. Yet, we know that Abraham and Jacob, both polygamists, are saved men. Therefore, polygamy cannot be a sin. This is not the same as saying that polygamy is required for salvation (see below).

Can God command people to practice polygamy?

The law of Moses commanded men to take to wife the widow of their deceased brother:
If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. (Deuteronomy 25:5)
God has also authorized polygamous relationships outside the law of Moses. Though God clearly indicated that David sinned in taking Bathsheba to wife, God said he gave David the wives of Saul:
...Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. (2 Samuel 12:7-8)
Can God command individuals to practice polygamy? Definitely. He has in the past.

Is it essential for salvation?

If polygamy were essential to live in this life for salvation, we would not have any (even one) examples of saved persons who were not polygamists. There are very many in scripture, therefore polygamy cannot be essential to live in this life for salvation.

Should I be a polygamist?

Has God commanded you to? If yes, do it.

If no, introspection is in order.

I have shown that polygamy is not essential for salvation. There are no scriptural scenarios of which I am aware where an individual righteously engaged in polygamy without God's approval. This does not prove that any engagement in polygamy without God's revelatory involvement would be sin, but it should give pause to anyone who would rush into the idea without spending a great deal of time reaching out to God about it. Saul was destroyed for failing to wait on the Lord in offering a prescribed sacrifice. Despite the fact that he copied the correct form of sacrifice, he did not obtain God's permission to give it, and was severely cursed as a result.

This is no minor endeavor. Are you struggling to keep all of God's commandments in a normal, monogamous life? Why would you then voluntarily enter into something orders of magnitude more difficult? If you are blowing up your fingers while playing with firecrackers, why would you desire to be given atomic launch codes?

If you are true and faithful in all things, do you realize that godly polygamy requires extreme condescension, patience, long-suffering, knowledge, and charity? The only righteous reason to desire to enter into polygamy is to draw closer to God than is possible without suffering greatly for the benefit of another. I don't know many if any who honestly have that desire.

Most that I have met who desire to enter into plural marriage do so out of the lust that consumes them.

It is most definitely something that most people should not even consider. There are so many other parts of life that ARE required for salvation and are lacking in most people's lives. Why not focus on that?

Here are the questions that actually don't matter AT ALL:

1) Did Joseph Smith practice polygamy?
2) Does the Book of Mormon forbid polygamy?
3) Is polygamy practiced in heaven?

Did Joseph Smith practice polygamy?

Fact: Joseph never publicly taught polygamy, and in fact condemned it.

Conjecture: Joseph never had any children from polygamous relationships. Contrary to popular belief, this has not been proven, and cannot be proven. DNA can produce probabilities of progeny, not guarantees, and the accuracy of the probabilities degrades significantly over time. While the presence of a very probable child would provide strong evidence that Joseph was a polygamist, the absence of a very probable child simply means a very probable child has not been found. Given the weakness of long-term DNA progeny testing and the fact that all possibilities have not been tested, this is an incredibly weak argument against polygamy.

Did he practice polygamy? A better question would be, what does it prove if he did, and what does it prove if he didn't?

If he did practice polygamy, Mormons would have to investigate the implications of his public denials about it, just as they have to reconcile Abraham's public lies about his marriage to Sarah. It would not provide any additional data for the big questions above.

If he did not practice polygamy, it would not provide any additional data for the big questions enumerated above.

Does the Book of Mormon forbid polygamy?

For some reason there is debate on this, though I don't think there is anything to debate about. The question surrounds Jacob 2:24, which reads:

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

Anti-polygamists say this scripture says that polygamy is always an abomination to God. Does it? No it does not. It says that having many wives and concubines is an abomination. Is many the same as more than one? No, it is not. Therefore, there is no contradiction between this verse and the answers to the big questions provided above.

There is a secondary debate about the meaning of Jacob 2:30:

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.
The question here is whether this means that if God wants people to practice polygamy, he will tell them to, or if it means that he has to command people not to practice polygamy because otherwise they will, and that is a sin. No matter how you interpret this verse, it does not answer any of the big questions. The debate over it is simply a distraction.

Does the Book of Mormon forbid polygamy? A better question would be, what does it prove if it does, and what does it prove if it does not?

Given that God did in fact command people to practice polygamy at least one time in the past, if the Book of Mormon forbade polygamy, it would simply prove that God can forbid polygamy to a certain group of people at a certain time (in this case, the Lehites at the time of Jacob). Does this advance any of the key questions? No. This topic is irrelevant, and is only a distraction from what matters.

Is polygamy practiced in heaven?

It might surprise you that I list this under the questions that don't actually matter. Let me explain. Several people who have claimed to have been to heaven report that they didn't see God with multiple wives. The argument that some make here is that because the exalted will only have one wife in heaven, no one should practice polygamy here.

Is the only purpose of marriage to create a marriage worth eternal preservation? Most--in fact almost all--marriages will endure for this life only. Yet, despite the fact that due to the failings of one or both spouses, the marriage will end at death, it is of incredible worth to them in helping them learn Christlike attributes. It turns out that the vast majority of things that are good and valuable to us while in mortality will nevertheless not be present in heaven.

Any argument for the eternal contributions of a mortality-only marriage is also an argument for the eternal contributions of a mortality-only polygamous marriage.

Setting up stakes.

We cannot put anything off limits to God. He can command anything he wishes of us, and we must be prepared to be true and faithful to everything he teaches us, no matter how offensive it may be to our carnal minds.

Here are three quotes from Joseph Smith on the topic of limiting what we will accept from God (setting up stakes):
"To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty— will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions. 
Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther, did Abraham when called upon to offer his son, did the Saviour, no..." 
"The mystery power and glory of the preisthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state."
"I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some thruth. but I want to come up into the presence of God & learn all things but the creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further.—which I cannot subscribe to."
Those who rally incessantly against polygamy are not only proclaiming their ignorance from the rooftops, they are evangelizing damnation to all who believe them by encouraging people to set up stakes for the Almighty. Stop it.

The point of it all.

If there is anything God could command you to do that you would not do, you are in unbelief and can only progress so far. Turn to God, trust in God, and rid your heart of anything that would prevent you from doing whatever he asks of you.