I think every woman at some point of their spiritual journey in the LDS church has had to come to terms with plural marriage. I think most men have also, but I don’t think it’s such a “hot button” for them. At least, not what I have noticed. My approach to difficult questions are to always come from a framework of faith and seeking to understand. Because of I have a firm testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith, I have had questions and a lack of understanding, but not doubt. Lest one think the journey of faith has been easy, let me assure you the questions have sometimes been HUGE.
Co-existing with Unanswered Questions
I don’t have all my questions answered, but I can live with that. Faith can co-exist, in fact, always does, without complete understanding. Richard Bushman who wrote “Joseph Smith: A Rough Stone Rolling” said that we simply cannot understand plural marriage in our day and time and culture the way Joseph understood it. That may seem like a cop-out to some, but to me it is satisfying. I’ve had my soul searching issues that I’ve sought answers for in prayer, temple attendance and increased obedience. Some I’ve had a resolution with, some not. I’ve relied on the testimonies of prophets, apostles and other respected mentors in my life to get me through those times. I’ve often felt like Peter when the Lord asked him if he would also desert him as many others had. Peter said, “Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” I sometimes feel the same way about the prophet.Joseph. He restored all the beautiful doctrines of the restoration that I love. If I desert him, I lose so much of what I hold dear. I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. That I cannot deny. That has carried me through some rough times.It’s not the purpose of this blog to go into the details of plural marriage. The church has done am excellent job of that with their posted essays. I have always known about plural marriage in the church. I’m a product of polygamous marriages. I’ve know that Joseph practiced plural marriage. I knew that it was a source of great conflict with Emma. I’m surprised at the people who said they didn’t know these things. When the church posted the essays of plural marriage, my reaction was this is not new information, only more detail. Moreover I was encouraged and uplifted by the church’s essays. They were honest. They relied on known facts. Nothing was whitewashed. The difficulties were spelled out. As the record states: “Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. . . . The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith.” It was made clear that those faithful early saints initially abhorred the thought of plural marriage. Through deep and earnest prayer many gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the principle. How I admire them! What a trial of faith! I can’t think of a greater trial of faith. Here is what Lucy Walker recorded.
Lucy Walker recalled her inner turmoil when Joseph Smith invited her to become his wife. “Every feeling of my soul revolted against it,” she wrote. Yet, after several restless nights on her knees in prayer, she found relief as her room “filled with a holy influence” akin to “brilliant sunshine.” She said, “My soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew,” and “supreme happiness took possession of my whole being.”
Do I trust Father? Living True to Covenants
I have read and studied many articles and blogs on plural marriage. People whom I’ve never met have strengthened me with their blogs and websites. One individual in particular, Greg Smith, influenced me in this regard. He gave a talk at the 2009 FairMormon Conference. It’s a lengthy article going into claims made against Joseph Smith, but the most important part of the article, to me, is the account of his personal journey in studying about Joseph and plural marriage. After he read some disturbing claims about Joseph and plural marriage, and knowing that he had many things yet to learn and understand about the topic, and knowing that he didn’t have years to devote to looking up primary sources he expressed the following sentiments:
“So, I determined then to take that to the Lord and it was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. The scriptures talk about having the Spirit give you words—give you words to pray when you don’t know what you should say (e.g., Romans 8:26, 3 Nephi 19:24). Well, I thought I knew what I was going to say, but apparently that wasn’t what I was supposed to say, so I ended up saying something quite different from what I knelt down intending to talk about. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself telling my Father in Heaven what bothered me and instead of begging him for answers or insisting upon them (as I had half planed to do) I found myself telling him that I would not forsake him, that I would not forsake our relationship, that I was not going to turn my back on it or on him. And, that I was not going to abandon my covenants. I told him that come what may, I would do whatever he wanted me to do. And then, I asked him if it would be spiritually dangerous for me to commit the kind of time and energy and effort and intellectual work that this project would probably require.
“I thought this was going to be the first of many struggling prayers over the issue. But God is gracious and he told me very clearly that I was quite free to investigate it, that it would all work out, though he gave me no idea of how or in what way, and that I had nothing to worry about. And here I am, four years later, talking about it—you must be careful what you ask for, you may get it. I almost think he was a little bit unfair! If I had known this was part of the deal—I did not bargain for this. I did not set out to be the person people ask about plural marriage. Anyone out there who wants the title can see me after. . .
“But, the problem was, in that moment, when I first approached God with this, was that my spiritual life did not have four or five years, which is how long I’ve been doing this now, to sit in the church archives. My spiritual life could not be put on hold for that long. How long could I halt between two opinions? If Joseph be Baal or a sexual predator, don’t follow him. Jesus called the apostles and did not tell them to spend three or four years with the primary sources before deciding to answer the call to “Come, follow me.”
And for me, ultimately, the question (I see now) had nothing to do with plural marriage at all. Plural marriage was only the catalyst for a much more fundamental question and that question was, “Do I trust Father?” And I see now, by the grace of God, that my instinctive reaction was to do that, to express my trust and, amazingly, to mean it. http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2009-fair-conference/2009-everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-plural-marriage-but-were-afraid-to-ask
I feel much like Greg Smith. I have committed to Father that I trust Him and I will be true to the covenants which I have made with Him.