March 22, 2024

Joseph Smith Wives: The End of Polygamy (Part 3)

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Scripture Central

The following content is a transcript from Tyler Griffin and Anthony Sweat’s ‘Come Follow Me’ discussion on ‘The End of Polygamy.’ To watch the full video, click here

If you stop and think about it for a moment, what an amazing thing that there are times in your life where, if you think about this you'll probably be able to identify a few of them, where God has asked you to open your hands and let go of something that you were really comfortable with or you had gotten used to or you were in a comfort zone and he sometimes will ask you to let go of that thing. In this case, it was plural marriage, or, Joseph Smith polygamy, for these people. But you'll notice he doesn't ever leave people empty-handed. He replaces it with something even better. 

When we're willing to trust him and believe that He knows what He's doing, to use some of the ideas that Isaiah teaches in Isaiah chapter 40 where he's trying to reason with these people who are having a really hard time trusting God and believing that He's going to fulfill all these promises that He's made, Isaiah goes into this mode where he's asking them questions, where he says things like, “Who has measured the Heavens with a measuring rod? Who's held all of the waters of the earth in the hollows of His hand? Who's held all of the lands and the nations of the earth in balance? Who can counsel God?” He's giving us this idea that we need to be meek and recognize God knows what He's doing.

In 2 Nephi 27, midway through the very last paragraph, I just look back to kind of what we were saying about his focus. He says, “ The Lord had decreed the establishment of Zion, He has decreed the finishing of this temple, he had decreed that salvation of living and dead should be given in these valleys, in the mountains and Almighty God decreed the devil should not afford it.” If you can understand that, that is the key to it. That shows his motivation right there for ending plural marriage, including Joseph Smith wives. That's beautiful.

Now I said ending but maybe it's important to note that 1890 did not end up leading to the end of plural marriage. It opened the door for the ending of plural marriage. You know, I heard a colleague of mine one time say that the starting of plural marriage, we like to think of plural marriages starting and stopping like a kitchen faucet like turned on turned off, and he said the

starting of plural marriage it's more like one of those big fire hydrants or dam wells where it was really difficult and really slow and the ending of plural marriage, turning that thing off was really difficult and really slow. 

The Second Manifesto 

So in 1904, the church gives what has come to be known as the Second Manifesto. And what's going on in between here is that Wilford Woodruff says “We intend to submit to the laws of the land.” We're not going to teach the practice of plural marriage anymore, but we send people to Canada and Mexico and many plural marriages still take place in the Church, sometimes without Wilford Woodruff’s knowledge. So it just kind of continues as a whole and two things lead up to a second manifesto. One of them is that B.H. Roberts is elected to Congress and he has three wives and he is not allowed to take his side. He will not let him sit in Congress. He's like, “Nope he's a polygamist.” And then in 1903 Reed Smoot, who's monogamous and has one wife. Oh, sorry, to add some context, in 1896 Utah becomes a state. We get statehood and we're able to send people to Congress and the senate but they won't let Reed Smoot take his seat. Back in the senate, they're like, “We need to investigate this man and we need to make sure that he is loyal and that the Latter-Day Saints are loyal because we have heard too many rumors that they're continuing to do a polygamy.” So there's going to be these hearings.

They'll call President Joseph F. Smith. Wilford Woodruff has now died. Joseph F. Smith is the prophet; they call him to testify for the Senate. They make him lay open things about the temple endowment. There's a lot of difficulties, but at the end of the day, after the Reed Smoot hearings, they number one, they allow Reed Smoot to take his seat. One of the classic lines from his hearing is one of the senators says, "I would rather a polygamist who doesn't polygamy than a monogamous who doesn't monogamy," kind of as a jab, like, "Hey, he might belong to a church that had polygamy, but he's a better, more moral man than a bunch of you other senators who I know are not loyal to your wives." So Reed Smoot's actually able to take his seat and does great work, changing the reputation of the church in Washington.

But one of the results is Joseph F. Smith comes home and says, "We're drawing the line honestly on plural marriage," and he issues what's called the Second Manifesto, which in essence says anybody who enters into a new plural marriage, excluding Joseph Smith wives which happened before, from here forward will be excommunicated from the church, and there were many who did that, yeah. And one of the difficulties was we even lose some of our apostles, in particular, John W. Taylor, will be excommunicated from the church after the Second Manifesto because he refused to agree that plural marriage should be relinquished.

So you would think, "Okay, now we're done, that's the end, right?" Wrong, this is where you get some splinter groups and some break-off groups. It's the point of departure for them where they say, "You know what? Joseph was a prophet, Brother Brigham was a prophet, John Taylor was a prophet, but Wilford Woodruff got it wrong, and now Joseph Smith, he's got it wrong." So they break off. There are different splinter groups to begin here. This really starts the core of what is known today as FLDS or fundamentalists, and fundamentalist means they believe in, as it was called, the principle. They called polygamy the principle, and they think it is fundamental to this. They think it's the end-all, be-all.

So what happens is you get these different groups breaking off, some bigger than others and more influential than others, but they keep declaring to the world that they are what used to be called Mormons, that they're members of this Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or other break-off groups. And so there's this association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with these groups; you're guilty by association at that point.

So, and there's even—I should add, even during this time period we've gone through this, to this back to the slow turn off, we still have some people who, they're still not up to speed, and they're like, "What? There was dirt?" And we even have on record Joseph F. Smith and others saying, writing stake presidents or bishops, saying, "Is anybody doing new plural marriages in your area?" They're still trying to figure it out even after this, to put it into it.

And then it gets so— it gets so contentious and such a big deal that we get what is called the Final Manifesto in 1933, clear down the road here in 1933. And this Final Manifesto, it's kind of a game-changer because it becomes church policy that you don't even talk about it, talk about, you don't research polygamy or Joseph Smith wives, you don't speak in your meetings, you don't write in your journals about it. It's kind of, become this taboo topic. It was Heber J. Grant who became the prophet in 1918, and I would say Heber J. Grant actually went on a proactive opposition against polygamy, even though, ironically, he was a polygamist and had three wives, but by the time he became church president, he was only one of his wives was living, and he really wants to see these put into place. So he proactively goes against, "Let's not even talk about or teach about it because that will—let's distance ourselves." Yeah, we need to distance ourselves from some of these fundamentalist groups that have broken off, which one of the consequences of this policy is that people born, you know, in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, my parents, my parents, they never heard about polygamy other than they knew that they're in some cases their grandpa or their even their dad or mom was raised in a polygamous home, curriculum, and it was never taught.

This manifesto was so important that it's a 16-page document, they had it read in every ward and you had to sign it, I mean. And then they really want to distance the church from this, and so you won't see polygamy talked about in our church curriculum, so we get a generation from the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s who weren't raised hearing polygamy talked about very much, which is the time that my parents came to be and then they give birth and so we don't hear it talk about much and then in the 1990s, the internet starts to open up to popular mainstream and suddenly people are talking about it and so we're going back and reading history saying, "Wait a minute, so we're kind of the generation right now, um, that didn't hear much about polygamy and now it's everywhere again being talked about." So if it kind of feels like there's so much being said about it, it might be able to tie back to the final manifesto of it trying to be a little bit distanced from fundamentalist groups, which is so interesting because now, uh, our generations today, alive, people alive today, it can become a trial of faith for us in a different way than it was a trial of faith for the people from the 1840s through the 1890s who were asked to live it and then a different trail of faith for those who were asked to turn it off, to stop it, and then a different trial of faith—how will we talk about that, how have we talked about it and how do we teach about this?

Well, it's now a trial of our faith today to wrestle with it and grapple with it and say, "Hmm, what was really going on and how much of it was God's will, how much of it was people just doing what they thought? Can I—can I just share one story with this?" Because at the heart of it, for every listener out there, the ultimate fundamental question is, do I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that God invested him with the keys to govern the kingdom with prophetic authority and that those have been passed down and do I believe that God is guiding that head of the church in with continuing revelation? That is really the heart of it. That's it because the story—real quick story. I one time had a chance—I was with a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and there was a group of Muslim religious educators. They came; they wanted to learn how Latter-day Saints taught their youth, especially regarding Joseph Smith polygamy. So I was fortunate enough—this member of the Seventy and these Muslim religious educators with their translators—they came and watched me teach in your seminary class. Yeah, this is back in my seminary days.

When we got done, we had a question-answer session, and one of the men raised their hand and said, "Is polygamy allowed in your church because in Islam the Prophet Muhammad says it is?" And I said I turned to the general authority like, "You're the member of the Seventy; you answer that question." And he turned back to me; he goes, "Go right ahead."

And I said something like, as best I can remember my words, I said something like, "You know it's interesting to say that our Prophet Joseph Smith, our founding prophet, our Muhammad in his way received a revelation allowing a man to have more than one wife." And then I said, "But then the U.S. government passed a bunch of laws that made it illegal, and so we quit practicing plural marriage." And right when I said that the general authority stepped in, and he said, "Actually, that's not correct." He said, "Our Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation allowing a man to have more than one wife, and our Prophet Wilford Woodruff received a revelation that that practice should cease." And he said, "Our church functions on revelation from God." And it was a great corrective for me to reorient what it was all about.

That's powerful for me. That's the essence of Official Declaration 1 and Official Declaration 2. Do I feel like I'm smarter than God's prophets? Do I feel like I know more, that I'm more connected with God than they are? I love, again back to Isaiah when he gives that statement that you'll find at the very, very end of Second Nephi chapter 7, where Jacob is speaking to the people and he's quoting Isaiah 50. Listen to this: "Behold, all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. We can come up with all the rationale, all the reasoning, all of the excuses for why we think it was done the way it was done why it was wrong, or why it was right. We can kindle our own fire and walk by the light of our own sparks." But he says, "This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow." That's Isaiah speaking very plainly, saying you can walk by your own light, or you can turn to the light.

One of the ways that we love in the church is trusting that God is guiding our prophet today for what we need, just like He guided Wilford Woodruff for what he needed, and Joseph Smith for what he needed regarding Joseph Smith polygamy, and Heber J. Grant for what he needed at that time. It's a beautiful principle. 

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