Current state of polygamy in the Latter Day Saint movement

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Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, privately taught and practiced polygamy.[1] After Smith's death in 1844, the church he established splintered into several competing groups. Disagreement over Smith's doctrine of "plural marriage" has been among the primary reasons for multiple church schisms.

The members of the largest faction, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), do not continue to teach and practice polygamy today. In the late-19th century and early-20th century, the practice was formally abandoned as various laws banned polygamy in the United States, and the LDS Church was persecuted for violating those laws, resulting in confiscation of LDS Church properties. The LDS Church no longer sanctions open polygamy. However, many LDS men were sealed in LDS temples to more than one woman "for eternity", following the divorce or death of the first wife, the latter example being the case with two current LDS apostles, Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks.

The second-largest Latter Day Saint church, the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or RLDS Church), has a history of opposing the LDS Church's practice of polygamy. Other smaller Latter Day Saint churches were also formed as a means of opposing the LDS Church's polygamy. The formal shift in doctrine by the LDS Church later in the early-20th century gave rise to the Mormon fundamentalism movement, which has since fragmented into a number of separate churches, the most well-known being the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). The FLDS Church and other Mormon fundamentalists believe the practice of polygamy should continue and that it was wrongfully abandoned by the LDS Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[edit]

Polygamy is condemned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[2] Latter-day Saints believe that monogamy—the marriage of one man and one woman—is the Lord’s standing law of marriage. However, the LDS Church considers polygamy to have been a divinely inspired commandment that is supported by scripture;[3] today, the LDS Church teaches the historical aspects in an adult Sunday School lesson once every four years.[4] The LDS official position is God rescinded the commandment to practice plural marriage. Church apostle Joseph F. Smith explained, "The doctrine is not repealed, the truth is not annulled, the law is right and just now as ever, but the observance of it is stopped".[5]

The LDS Church has not officially tolerated plural marriages since the 1890 Manifesto. However, all of the First Presidency and almost all of the apostles of the time continued to maintain multiple families into the 20th century, feeling they could not dissolve existing unions and families.[citation needed] Research beginning in the 1980s estimated the average incidence of polygamy during the 40 years in which it was a practice of the LDS Church was 15% to 30%, depending on the years and location,[6] including virtually all church leadership at the time.[7] Polygamy was gradually discontinued after the 1904 Second Manifesto as no new plural marriages were allowed and older polygamists eventually died, with polygamous LDS families cohabitating into the 1940s and 1950s.[8] Since the Second Manifesto, the policy of the LDS Church has been to excommunicate members who practice, officiate, or openly encourage the practice of plural marriages.[9] However, LDS leaders even in the late 20th century, such Joseph Fielding Smith have acknowledged the belief in polygamy in the afterlife, in the case of a widower becoming sealed in eternal marriage to a second wife after the death of the first wife. In such a case, a man can be married to two or more women in the Celestial Kingdom.[10]

Relationship of current practices to plural marriage[edit]

As of 1998, by proxy "A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life."[11] Theological issues persist as the LDS Church states marriage relationships continue into an afterlife, yet people may only have one living spouse.[citation needed]

Community of Christ[edit]

The Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church) has rejected the practice of polygamy since its inception and continues to affirm monogamy "as the basic principle of Christian marriage".[12] Many Community of Christ adherents believed Joseph Smith never taught or practiced polygamy and that the doctrine began with the teachings of Brigham Young in the LDS Church.[13][14] The Community of Christ does not recognize Smith's 1831 revelation or the 1843 revelation on polygamy as canonical, and some members regard them as inauthentic.

Although some past leaders of the RLDS Church—most notably Joseph Smith III and others who were descendants of Joseph Smith—have strenuously denied that Smith taught or practiced polygamy, the Community of Christ today states that it "does not legislate or mandate positions on issues of history".[12] The church acknowledges that research into the early Latter Day Saint movement "seem[s] to increasingly point to Joseph Smith Jr. as a significant source for plural marriage teaching and practice", but the church argues that it must be recognized that Smith was not infallible in his teachings.[12]

Strangite Church[edit]

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) have historically taught and, in limited numbers, have practiced plural marriage.[15] James Strang was married to several women during his leadership of the church. However, the Strangites reject the 1843 revelation on polygamy by Joseph Smith.[15] The Book of the Law of the Lord, a part of the Strangite canon, sanctions polygamy, but the church reports that "there are no known cases of polygamy currently in the church".[15]

Mormon fundamentalist sects[edit]

Over time, many who rejected the LDS Church's discontinuation of plural marriage formed small, close-knit communities in areas of the Rocky Mountains. These groups continue to practice what they refer to as "the principle", despite its illegality, and consider polygamy a requirement for entry into the highest heaven. Commonly called Mormon fundamentalists, they may practice as individuals, as families, or within organized denominations.

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints[edit]

Members of the FLDS Church generally believe at least three wives are necessary for entrance to the highest heaven.[16] Similarly, wives are required to be subordinate to their husbands.

The FLDS Church currently practices the law of placing, whereby a young woman of sufficient age is assigned a husband by revelation through the leader of the FLDS Church, who is regarded as a prophet.[17] The prophet may give wives to (and remove wives from) a man according to his worthiness.

Apostolic United Brethren[edit]

The AUB currently supports plural marriage, justified on the "1886 Meeting".[18] While not all members practice plural marriage, it is considered a crucial step to achieve the highest glory of heaven.[19] The leaders of the AUB do not arrange marriages, nor do they authorize marriage for people under 18, nor for those who are closely related.[18]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo". Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  2. ^ "Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  3. ^ See Doctrine and Covenants section 132 and Jacob 2:30.
  4. ^ "Lesson 31: 'Sealed ... for Time and for All Eternity'", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 1999) pp. 176–82.
  5. ^ Letter from Joseph F. Smith to the Honorable A. Saxey, Provo, Utah, 9 January 1897.
  6. ^ (Hardy 2005, p. 215).
  7. ^ Bachman, Danel W., Esplin, Ronald K. (1992) "Plural Marriage", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 3:1095. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.
  8. ^ Embry, Jessie L. (1994). "The History of Polygamy". Utah State Historical Society. Those involved in plural marriages after 1904 were excommunicated; and those married between 1890 and 1904 were not to have church callings where other members would have to sustain them. Although the Mormon church officially prohibited new plural marriages after 1904, many plural husbands and wives continued to cohabit until their deaths in the 1940s and 1950s.
  9. ^ "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage". Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  10. ^ Joseph Fielding Smith (1954). Doctrines of Salvation Volume 2 - Joseph Fielding Smith.
  11. ^ LDS Church, Church Handbook of Instructions, (LDS Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998). "A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life."
  12. ^ a b c "Community of Christ: Frequently Asked Questions".
  13. ^ Times and Seasons 5:423 and 474.
  14. ^ Millennial Star 4 (January 1844): 144.
  15. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-21. Retrieved 2008-11-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ Coman, Julian (2003-10-19). "Three wives will guarantee you a place in paradise. The Taliban? No: welcome to the rebel Mormons". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  17. ^ Bonnie Ricks. "Review: The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern Day Polygamy". The Institute for Religious Research ( Archived from the original on 2008-05-16.
  18. ^ a b The Primer, Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities: Fundamentalist Mormon Communities (PDF), Utah Attorney General’s Office and Arizona Attorney General's Office, June 2006, retrieved June 29, 2010
  19. ^ Bennion, Janet (1998), Women of principle: female networking in contemporary Mormon polygyny, Oxford University Press, p. 22, ISBN 0-19-512070-1


Further reading[edit]