The following is part two in a two-part series. To read part one, CLICK HERE.

Implications for Sundry Latter-day Saint Cultural Assumptions about Polygamy

If this interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants 132 is correct, then some interesting things begin to happen to our casual acceptance of certain “folkways” accepted uncritically in Latter-day Saint culture.  A whole new vision begins to appear when we understand from God’s own reasoning that monogamy is the rule, polygamy is the exception, and he is not indifferent between the two because the second is an Abrahamic sacrifice in his eyes and the first is not.  Serious doubt is now cast on a variety of pervasive assumptions concerning polygamy in our culture.

The first interesting thing that happens to our folkways is that doubt is now cast on the uncritical assumption that polygamous marriage is ubiquitous in the celestial kingdom, and that even if we are not commanded to practice polygamy here, we may be required to practice polygamy there.  As God’s commandments are not temporal but spiritual in nature (D&C 29:34-35), God will continue to view polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice even in the context of the hereafter.  A general law of God continues, but a departure from the law, involving as it does Christlike sacrifice about which God is not indifferent,  by its very nature is temporally bounded because of God’s love for his children and his desire to see such Christlike sacrifices come to an eventual end, even if they have wrought great good in their time and place.   It is unclear how God could be constrained for all eternity to command a departure from the law of marriage, which departure he himself would desire to bring to an end.  To disallow individuals a choice in this important matter, given that God himself is not indifferent about the subject, would imply that heaven is not the best of all possible worlds from God’s own perspective and does not represent perfection. 

Furthermore, we must keep in mind the two-fold spiritual purpose of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant: to raise up a righteous seed unto God in mortality, and to prepare the marriage partners for their work as gods with their own eternal increase.  Remember from Jacob 2 that the rationale the Lord himself gives for polygamy is related only to the first purpose, not to the second: “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 law of monogamy]” (Jacob 2:30).  From what we have learned from Doctrine and Covenants 132, we now know why the Lord relates polygamy only to the first purpose and not to the second: because polygamy is seen by the Lord as an Abrahamic sacrifice that merits eventual relief and thus does not continue in the hereafter.  After this life, those who become gods will be engaged in their own work of eternal increase, whereas in this life we are engaged in the work of God’s eternal increase.  Since the exception of polygamy is related to God’s servants assisting him in his work “to raise up seed unto me,” as part of a preparatory stage to godhood, what applicability can the departure from the law have to those who become gods after this life is over?  Thus, though the principle of marriage in the new and everlasting covenant serves the dual spiritual purpose of marriage, and the law of monogamy serves the dual purpose as well, the lawful exception of polygamy is not in general commanded by God because its form serves only one of the two purposes of eternal marriage.

Some in LDS culture assume that polygamy is not merely a doctrinal necessity but a circumstantial necessity in the hereafter.  Generally this assumption takes one of two forms.  In the first form of the assumption, some assert that there will be more women who inherit the celestial fullness than men, and since everyone in the highest level of the celestial kingdom is married, polygamy then must follow as a natural consequence of the sex ratio there. This “folkways” is unsound both doctrinally and demographically.  There is simply no basis for assuming a celestial sex ratio highly skewed in favor of women.

First, how could God be no respecter of persons and create a system where one spirit, because of gender, has a much better chance of reaching the celestial kingdom than the other gender?  If God is the author of all fairness and if gender equality is a foundational principle of the gospel, he could not have authored such a system.  Even if this system were somehow fair, for such an outcome to ensue would mean that the male gender was disproportionately assigned to or an attribute of weaker spirits.  There is no doctrinal or scriptural basis for such a belief. 

For those who feel polygamy is ubiquitous in the celestial kingdom, this belief demands that, at a minimum, twice as many women make it to the celestial kingdom as men.  But human demographics argues against such a conclusion.  Approximately 106 male babies are born on earth for every 100 female babies born. [20]  More males have existed on earth than females.  Yet by age five, the sex ratio is about 1:1, for male babies are more susceptible to genetic disorders.  Therefore, a large number of males die before the age of accountability and are automatically saved in the celestial kingdom.  Also, male deaths through such mechanisms as the wholesale killing of male children by an enemy power (e.g., in Moses’ time and in Jesus’ time), or males laying down their lives in righteous defense of family and homeland also increases the pool of males eligible for the celestial kingdom.  Using established demographic procedures, several  BYU sociologists declare in perhaps only a partially tongue-in-cheek essay that they can demonstrate there will be more males in the celestial kingdom than females! [21]

All the foregoing serves to make the point that it is by no means clear that females will outnumber males in the celestial kingdom.  There is absolutely no scriptural or empirical basis upon which to assert the sex ratio of the celestial kingdom.  If we cannot confidently assume that there will be more exalted women than exalted men, then one cannot conclude that polygamy must then follow.

The second form of the assumption that polygamy is a circumstantial necessity in the celestial kingdom is the notion that one Heavenly Mother is incapable of producing and nurturing the vast numbers of spirit children that Heavenly Father appears to have fathered.  After Christ comes, “time is no longer” (D&C 84:100; D&C 88:110).  With God, past, present, and future are continually before his eyes (D&C 130:7).  What this means, no one knows in this life.  But clearly it means that the same temporal constraints do not exist for Gods.  What, then, does it mean to say that something “would take too long” for a God?  Additionally, it does not appear that God is in some great hurry to do his work.  It may have taken billions of years to produce the universe and, eventually, our solar system.  Why does he need to rush the production of spirit children?  Furthermore, we do not know anything about how spirit children are organized or how long it takes to organize them.

But how could one Heavenly Mother take care of so many children?  This question takes on its true character if we change it to ask: How could one Heavenly Father take care of so many children?  We believe Heavenly Father is capable of loving each one of us completely.  If a single he has such abilities, why do we doubt that a single She has the same? [22]  In addition, Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother do not exist as a typically modern nuclear family unit–they have an entire and very large eternal family organization to help them.  Think of all that Christ, Their Son, accomplished in creating numberless worlds at a time when he did not yet possess a body and had not yet entered into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  We must suppose that our divine parents have plenty of help in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

We see other things in a new light, as well.  In mortality, when God does command polygamy, he understands it is an exceptional sacrifice by the innocent of the joy that would be theirs if they could obey the law instead, despite the paradoxical joy given to the innocent sacrificer.  This departure from the law can cause pain and sorrow, but it brings about a greater good that makes faithful endurance and obedience a source of paradoxical joy.  Nevertheless, if his righteous daughters and sons weep because of polygamy–even in times when he commands it–he is not upset at them, but he weeps when they weep because, like Abraham, they are willing to sacrifice and suffer for a time that God’s work of love might be accomplished.  And, like Christ, they willingly make a sacrifice that the law itself cannot demand of them because that sacrifice provides the blessings of eternal life for the many. 

Since God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy for it appears he views polygamy as a sacrifice in similitude of the sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son, then his love dictates that at the earliest possible moment when the exceptional commandment to depart from the law can be lifted, he will do so.   If no greater good can come from a Christlike sacrifice, it becomes meaningless and gratuitous suffering.  Our understanding of God’s love for his children would appear to preclude continuing to command sacrifice that has no meaning.  Indeed, the sacrifices of the Mosaic law had meaning up until the victory of Christ, and God scrupulously required them until that point (3 Nephi 1:24-25).  But after Christ’s victory, the sacrifices of the Mosaic law became meaningless, and thus God no longer required them to be performed.  This not only applied to the sacrifice of innocent animals, but also to a sacrifice on the part of innocent humans, such as circumcision (Moroni 8:8).  Indeed, continuing Mosaic sacrifice was tantamount to a rejection of Christ or at least a profound misunderstanding of the Atonement, about which God was surely not indifferent. [23]

Thus God, though initially commanding Abrahamic sacrifices, also strongly desires to eventually provide a ram in the thicket.  He is not indifferent to whether the ram is there or not.  He wants that ram to be there, and he will guarantee its presence.  Though an Abrahamic sacrifice may merit one a reward, it can never constitute such a reward.  To think otherwise is incompatible with the idea of a loving God, who sees a distinction between pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow. Indeed, Lehi teaches that if such distinctions cannot be made, then “there is no God” (2 Nephi 2:13).  There will always be a ram in the thicket for those who are obedient to a commandment to depart from the law; somehow God will “make an escape” (D&C 132:50) for these innocent and obedient and righteous souls whom he must love even more intensely because of their willingness to make such a Christlike sacrifice. Sometimes this escape cannot be within the space of one’s mortal lifetime.  Christ’s own escape came after his death.  But no matter whether the escape be in this life or after this life, somehow righteous souls such as Abraham and Joseph Smith will have their “ram in the thicket.”

The Ram in the Thicket

What will the ram be?  Here we inevitably move beyond what the scriptures and modern revelation have told us. Though we can feel fairly assured that our description of the situation in mortality is accurate, we do not know enough to feel so assured about our thoughts on the hereafter.  Nevertheless, we venture into that territory for one good reason: no woman who has ever felt pain about polygamy is satisfied until her concerns about the hereafter are at least addressed.  No woman who has felt pain about polygamy can honestly strive for a place in the celestial kingdom unless she feels that that kingdom is a place in which she would actually want to live.  Women are greatly affected in mortality by their perceptions of the mysteries of eternity.  And so, acknowledging that our thoughts on the hereafter are merely our own, but having pondered long and hard on what we do know, we will present such thoughts as we have for the sake of the women we know who are in great pain over the issue of polygamy in the hereafter.

What will the ram be?  Perhaps those who honorably entered and kept their marriage covenants in a time of God-commanded polygamy will have the opportunity to “escape” that exceptional commandment to depart from the law in the next life, if they so desire.  For God not to allow that escape would be tantamount to condemning certain persons, because of the time period in which they entered mortality, never to partake of the natural joy brought by the law of marriage ordained by God.  Remember that whatever an individual’s reaction to polygamy in this life–joy, sorrow, or the two intermixed–the most mature and fully understanding perspective must be that of the Lord, who, it appears, views polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice.  If escape were not allowed at some future point, this sacrifice, and its accompanying suffering, would then be an eternal decree for persons who were born in periods when God commanded a departure from the law.  Heaven, in a sense, would be a place of eternal sacrifice and eternal suffering for these individuals.  We feel strongly that God could not ask this of any person, especially given God’s view that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice about which he is not indifferent.  Even Christ’s sacrifice and his suffering in his sacrifice came to an end.  No, God in his infinite mercy must provide an escape from all Abrahamic sacrifices he commands his children to make because of the greater good that comes to others from them.  In the eternities those who sacrificed and suffered like Abraham will have the opportunity to live under the law, not under the departure from the law, without this affecting their exaltation. [24]  We do not say that no one will live polygamously in heaven.  We do claim that, given the Lord’s analogy as discussed above, it is plain that no one can be commanded to do so, and that the choice to opt out of polygamy cannot and will not affect an individual’s exaltation.

Whatever escape the Lord has provided for these faithful souls, it will be consistent with the law of sealing and sealing transferability.  For those not familiar with the doctrine of sealing transferability, it is the means by which God’s eternal family is to be organized after all the unworthy “links” in the great family chain have been dropped.  When a link thus falls out, not only is a “child” dropping out, but a husband or a wife is dropping out as well.  This circumstance does not leave the worthy spouse dangling–it merely leaves a place for another more worthy person to fill.  We can see this transferability operation with reference to all sealings, not simply the marriage sealing.  For example, if children are born under the covenant to parents who wind up unworthy of them, the children will not undergo a new sealing ordinance after this life.  The fact that they worthily entered into the covenant and stayed worthy of being persons born under the covenant appears to be sufficient: their sealing will simply be “transferred” to worthy parents in the next life.  Church manuals of instruction teach us,

When a man and a woman are married in the temple for time and all eternity and then separate, the children will go with the parent who is justified and who has kept the covenants.  If neither of them has kept his covenants, the children may be taken away from both of them and given to somebody else and that would be by virtue of being born under the covenant.  A child is not to be sealed the second time when born under the covenant, but by virtue of that birthright can be transferred. [25]

Thus it appears that choosing to enter sacred covenants of sealing and remaining worthy of those covenants is all that matters from the standpoint of the individual’s exaltation as a member of God’s eternal family–the actual people to whom one is sealed might or might not change in the re-forging of the great family link of all God’s exalted children.  Even if you are sealed to an unworthy person, it is as if that person is a stand-in for one who is worthy–whom you may not even meet in this life.  This explains why the Church does not cancel the sealing of a wife in a divorce situation unless another marriage sealing is to take place; because what matters is that the wife chose and presumably remains worthy to be sealed to a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder–even though she will most likely end up having that sealing transferred to someone else.  Her first husband remains, as it were, a “stand-in” until a transfer can take place. [26]            

Such stand-in, or “proxy,” marriages were common in the early Church, because in the first several decades of the restored Church, one could not be sealed to loved ones who had not been baptized into the Church before they died.  Surviving family members were sealed to General Authorities to assure their exaltation.  Widows whose husbands had died before hearing the Gospel were sealed to a general authority as the authority’s wife in order to assure their exaltation, and then typically had their husbands sealed to the same General Authority as a child so as “to keep him in the family”! [27] This resulted in many women becoming plural wives because of the mistaken understanding that they could not be sealed to their dead husbands and could not gain their exaltation unless sealed to someone as a wife.  For example, women who had never even met Joseph Smith while he was alive were sealed to him after his death; also, one woman had her aged mother sealed to her (the daughter’s) husband shortly before the mother died so that the mother could receive her exaltation.  Wilford Woodruff had over 400 of his dead female ancestors sealed to him as wives.  These practices seem to indicate that the parties involved understood that the man in question was more of a stand-in or proxy so that the woman could receive the marriage ordinance and thus her exaltation, than an understanding that these women were married in some meaningful sense to these particular men for all eternity.  For example, what can it mean to have a dead woman sealed to you, whom you have never met in this life, whose will on the matter you cannot possibly know, and who is in fact one of your great-great grandmothers?  Or to have your own mother-in-law sealed to you as a wife?  Or, in the case of a woman, to be sealed to a dead man whom you have never met, and whose will on the matter you cannot possibly know? These marriages make sense best as proxy marriages.  Indeed, when President Wilford Woodruff announced in 1894 that women could be sealed to their dead husbands (and children to their dead parents) even if the deceased had not been baptized before their deaths, many thousands of sealing transfers took place to rightfully reorganize family lines. [28]

This understanding of sealing transferability in the final welding together of all those who are worthy to become members of God’s eternal family may help us envision an honorable “escape” for those faithful men and women who were commanded to depart from the law of marriage and the natural joy that derives from living that law.  If God is truly “no respecter of persons,” then the time period in which one entered mortality should not determine one’s opportunity for ending an Abrahamic sacrifice.

Ambiguous Verses and the “Reward” Interpretation

Three verses in Doctrine and Covenants 132 have caused some to misinterpret the Lord’s clear and strong message concerning his lack of indifference between monogamy and polygamy and his view that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice which merits an escape and not a perpetuation.  Though there are many variants of this alternative interpretation, generally speaking, this viewpoint, which is not reconcilable with the Lord’s explanation of his views on polygamy, suggests that polygamy is seen as restricted because it is the reward, or privilege, of especially righteous individuals.  It is restricted because less righteous individuals should not have such a privilege.  Indeed, in this interpretation the more righteous a man, the more wives he will be given in the hereafter.  The three verses in question are verses 39, 44, and 55 of Doctrine and Covenants 132.

In verse 39 the Lord explains that because of David’s sin, “he shall not inherit them [his wives and concubines] out of the world, for I gave them unto another.” In verse 44 the Lord says that if a woman is wronged by her husband, the prophet should “take her and give her unto him that hath not committed adultery but hath been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.” In verse 55 the Lord promises Joseph “an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.” Verse 55 echoes the Lord’s statements to his disciples:

There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). 

Some view these three verses as supporting an interpretation of celestial polygamy as a reward for righteousness.  Verse 39 is interpreted as meaning that all of David’s wives and concubines will be given to one exalted man.  Verse 44 is interpreted as meaning that faithful men will be rulers over many wives.  Verse 55 is interpreted to mean that righteous men will have many wives as a reward for service to the Lord.

The overarching reason for rejecting this interpretation is the Lord’s own lengthy analogy between Isaac and Hagar.  God is not restricting polygamy because it is a special reward or privilege reserved for the especially righteous; God is restricting polygamy because it is an Abrahamic sacrifice and he does not wish to prolong such sacrifice any longer than is necessary.  One can not accept the “reward” interpretation without simultaneously rejecting the “sacrifice” interpretation the Lord himself gives.  As we have seen, the test of Abrahamic sacrifice may indeed come to persons because of their special righteousness, and obedience in that sacrifice can merit one a reward, but the reward itself cannot be perpetual Abrahamic sacrifice.  This would mean that Abraham’s reward for obedience to the commandment to sacrifice Isaac is to be commanded to go back to Moriah or that Christ’s reward for the Atonement is to be nailed once more to the cross.  This interpretation reduces the Lord’s strong reasoning in Doctrine and Covenants 132 to incoherence, and thus it cannot be preferred to an interpretation that preserves coherence in the Lord’s statements, as the “sacrifice” interpretation does.

Furthermore, the verses are ambiguous enough that no hard and fast interpretation of a “reward” of polygamy can be inferred.  We do not know how David’s wives and concubines will be reassigned in their sealings.  They will clearly only be given to another with their consent, but if they choose to depart from the exceptional commandment of polygamy, which is their right under the Lord’s designation of an “escape” from all Abrahamic sacrifices (D&C 132:50), then the manner of distribution might be one to one other righteous man, another to still another righteous man, and so forth.  We must allow the Lord’s own analogy to constrain our interpretation of verse 39. [29]

Pertaining to verse 44, from a broader scriptural context the Lord cannot be saying that a faithful man will be a ruler over many wives.  First, God does not say “wives” in this verse.  Second, we know that in other scriptures talking about “ruling over many,” the Lord is referring to the exalted man and woman, side by side as equals, ruling together over many things: worlds and kingdoms and numberless posterity (see our discussion in Chapters Two and Three).  All of the righteous, both men and women, are of the Church of the Firstborn (D&C 93:22) and thus inherit the fullness of the father (D&C 76:94), and stand as joint heirs and equals with Christ (D&C 76:95, 88:107).  Joined in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, they are gods, having all power (D&C 132:20; 76:58), and they rule over many things together as a result (D&C 52:13; 76:54-5, 59; 78:15).  Interpreting verse 44 as indicating that a faithful man will rule, together with his wife, over many things is more in harmony with the broader context of revealed scripture and is more in harmony with the Lord’s view of polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice, not a reward.

Verse 55 is interesting but sufficiently ambiguous that it cannot be used to support the “reward” interpretation either.  A careful reading of verse 55 and Mark 10:30 indicates the Lord is talking of a familial reward in reference to “this world” and “now in this time.” Since this familial reward did not come to the disciples or to Joseph Smith in their mortal lives, perhaps the Lord could be referring to a righteous person “now in this time” meriting a place in the celestial kingdom, where all who are worthy of that kingdom will be welded together in the great family chain of heaven.  Be that as it may, how are we to understand the word “wives” in verse 55?  Since the verse is ambiguous, let us try to understand one of the other terms in the string of family relations the righteous man will obtain.  How is it that a man may have a hundred “mothers”?  Will these many women all be able to claim the physical experience of having given birth to Joseph Smith, which is how we usually define the relationship of mother to child?  No, that seems unreasonable.  Some larger sense of the relation implied in the word “mother” must be at work here.  The Lord himself suggests that this is so.  When told that his mother and brethren awaited him, Christ asked “Who is my mother?  And who are my brethren?  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!  For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50). 

We suggest that the tremendous vision of the final welded human family, where everyone is connected to everyone else through the generations, is being alluded to here by the Lord in these verses from Doctrine and Covenants 132, Mark, and Matthew.  In this interpretation Joseph Smith may have thousands of mothers and thousands of all other relations.  But these linkages may not be as direct and immediate as the linkage between Joseph Smith and his own mother, Lucy Mack Smith, in that chain.  Likewise, the linkage between Joseph Smith and the “wives” of verse 55 may also be in the context of the great human chain and may not be referencing a direct and immediate relationship.  In sum, verse 55 is still too ambiguous to permit a “reward” interpretation concerning polygamy, given the unambiguous nature of the Lord’s own elaboration of the “sacrifice” interpretation.  The reward spoken of here–that of eternal place in the righteous extended human family–is for both men and women (Mark 10:30) and as such may not be making a comment on polygamous marriage at all.

Last, nonscriptural statements by early Saints indicate that they believed polygamy to be the mode of married life in the celestial kingdom and that quantity of wives in the hereafter is a sign of a man’s degree of righteousness, which statements seem to support the “reward” interpretation. [30] However, we must remember that these statements were made in that period of time where some confusion existed about the sealing order of heaven.  It was thought that one could not be sealed to dead relatives who had passed away without being baptized.  Widows felt they had to be sealed to a general authority to assure their exaltation; remember that men thought they had to be sealed to General Authorities as their children, and that all must eventually be sealed directly or indirectly to the head of the dispensation (Joseph Smith) and that is where their sealing duties ended.  Thus, many early General Authorities had many wives and many children because of the confluence of these ideas about sealing and the God-given commandment to practice polygamy.   In a sense, then, the actual practice of polygamy in the early Church was profoundly affected by some confusion over the sealing order.  It is conceivable that this situation affected the understandings of these early Saints on the topic of husband-wife sealing in marriage, as well. [31]  We note that this confusion was cleared up by the same prophet in whose tenure God rescinded the exceptional commandment to practice polygamy: Wilford Woodruff.  Indeed, we believe it is no coincidence that this was the case.  In rescinding polygamy in 1890 in the context of the constrained views of the time about sealing, Wilford Woodruff, acting as the Lord’s mouthpiece, was seemingly placing exaltation out of the reach of many persons whose immediate family had not received the Gospel before death.  The sorrow of this situation could only have been rectified by removing the confusion over sealing.  Thus, resolving the confusion over sealing in 1894 was a necessary appendage to the rescindment of the commandment to practice polygamy in 1890.

May we pause to say that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff led the Church with courage, inspiration, and nobility at a time when the Saints were commanded to make great sacrifices, including the Abrahamic sacrifice of polygamy.  They, and all who willingly made the sacrifices required of them by the Lord, are due all our honor.  They placed devotion to God above all else, and placed on the altar their reputations and even their very lives.  In addition, Wilford Woodruff led the Church with inspiration and skill during the period when the Lord rescinded the commandment to practice polygamy, which rescindment must have seemed to many at the time as a great sacrifice, as well. [32]  Our understanding of the commandment to practice polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice should cause us to deeply revere those early Saints of whom that sacrifice was required.

Returning to the main point of this section, in conclusion, then, though there are three ambiguous verses in Doctrine and Covenants 132, a careful examination of them does not lend credence to the alternative interpretation of polygamy being a special reward of righteous persons in the hereafter.  The commandment to live polygamy may be given to especially righteous persons in mortal life, but it is given as an Abrahamic sacrifice, which sacrifice may merit a reward but does not constitute a reward.  The “sacrifice” interpretation of polygamy is, in our opinion, the only interpretation that renders the Lord’s argument concerning Isaac and Hagar coherent.


This new vision of the compatibility of Jacob 2 and Doctrine and Covenants 132 is important for many reasons.  However, the most comforting aspect is that those women and men who feel pain at the thought of polygamy are all right in God’s eyes  God would not think it odd if they did feel pain.  God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy in the new and everlasting covenant because he, too, views polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice which will cause suffering, but also (for the righteous) paradoxical joy and a closer relationship with him.  We envision God weeping when righteous polygamous wives and husbands wept.  Just think of what that means!  For those who weep at the mistaken thought they may be commanded to practice polygamy in Heaven, God does not condemn your feelings.  On the contrary, God will not command you to practice polygamy in the next life, and if he commands you to practice it in this life, you can rest assured of two things: 1) he will make it up to you: you will have a ram in the thicket, even if it be in the next life; and 2) God will lift the exceptional commandment of polygamy just as soon as his loving purposes in commanding it have been fulfilled simply because he feels compassion for those who make an Abrahamic sacrifice in polygamy in similitude of the Atonement. 

Though an exceptional commandment may come to one because of special righteousness, and though obedience to an exceptional commandment to practice polygamy may merit one a great reward, the sacrifice itself cannot constitute that reward in light of what the Lord has revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 132 about his mind concerning these matters.  He desires that all his children have the natural joy that comes from the law of marriage, which law is monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  God is not indifferent between monogamy and polygamy, and God views polygamy as an Abrahamic sacrifice, which is why he actively and severely restricts its practice even in this dispensation of the restoration of all things by Joseph Smith (D&C 132:40).

If we as a culture have lost the capacity to see God-commanded polygamy as the Abrahamic sacrifice God tells us it is, if we have lost the capacity to see that God actively desires there be an escape for the righteous who have obeyed this exceptional commandment, then we have lost something profoundly precious.  We have lost the vision of the greatness of God’s love for his children.  To lose that vision brings “the gall of bitterness,” as Mormon remarked about others who similarly placed constraints on God’s love of the innocent, for we “deny” the “mercies” of God (Moroni 8:14, 23).  If cultural misinterpretations cause the women and men of the Church to mourn over polygamy, either because they mistakenly believe that God is indifferent between sacrifice and nonsacrifice and so no escape from this sacrifice will be provided by God or because they are led to feel that they are selfish and not righteous if they feel pain at the thought of polygamy, then these cultural misinterpretations are actively harming our people.  We then have a duty to root out these cultural misinterpretations from our midst, lest they cause great spiritual mischief (Moroni 8:6). [33]

The balm to be had in Gilead on the issue of polygamy is great, indeed.  One can only hope that the encrusted scales of our cultural folkways will fall from our eyes as we understand that Jacob of the Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith received the very same revelation from the Lord.


[20] Indeed, some estimate that up to 60% more male fetuses are conceived than female fetuses.  However,  most miscarriages and stillbirths involve male fetuses, so the ratio of males to females at birth is lower–though still favoring males–than the conception ratio would indicate.  (See Stephan Klasen, “‘Missing Women’ Reconsidered,” World Development 22, no. 7 [1994]: 1061-1071.) [Back to manuscript]

[21] See Tim Heaton, et al., “In the Heavens Are Parents Single?: Report No. 1,” Dialogue 17, no. 1, (Spring 1984): 84-86. [Back to manuscript]

[22] Some in LDS culture take this assumption even further.  One interpretation of human male sexual anatomy holds that males are designed to be polygamous.  Whatever the merits of that interpretation, we cannot then infer that celestial life is polygamous.  To understand this point, consider the lion.  The lion has been given an anatomy replete with large, sharp teeth and claws.  In the fallen world this anatomical endowment is used to kill prey and tear flesh.  However, we know that in the millennium “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together” (2 Nephi 21:6), and “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain” (2 Nephi 21:9).   Indeed, scripture tells us that “the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (2 Nephi 21:7).  The function and purpose of the lion’s teeth and claws in celestial life thus cannot be derived from their function and purpose in meeting the exigencies of the fallen world.  Therefore we cannot infer from male sexual anatomy that males will practice polygamy in the celestial world because they have a presumed proclivity and anatomical capability for practicing it in the fallen world.  It may be more helpful to interpret the presumed proclivity and anatomical capability for polygamy on the part of males as arising from the exigencies of the fallen world, just as the proclivity and capability for killing prey and tearing flesh with teeth and claws has arisen for the lion from the conditions of the fallen world.  Otherwise, we must either conclude that the lion will be unfulfilled and frustrated living in the celestial world because his anatomy is not being used for that which it was designed, or we must conclude that the manner of life in the celestial world is bounded by the manner of life in the fallen world and that God must permit violence in his holy kingdom for the sake of leonine anatomy.  Neither conclusion is justified.  That this case is parallel to that concerning human male anatomy should be clear.  If God’s law of marriage is monogamy in the new and everlasting covenant, as scripture unequivocally states, then God’s law–not human male sexual proclivities or anatomical capabilities in the fallen world–is the determinant of sexual relations in the celestial world. [Back to manuscript]

[23] Indeed, those who desire to practice polygamy in times when God has not commanded it are in spiritual chaos.  That desire would be analogous to Abraham, after hearing the message of the angel and seeing the ram, proceeding to sacrifice Isaac anyway as a testimony of his faithfulness to God.  We can only surmise that from God’s point of view, such an act would constitute anything but a testimony of faithfulness! [Back to manuscript]

[24] We also do not believe that the exercise of one’s right to opt out of the exceptional commandment to practice polygamy could affect the ability of loved ones to enjoy one another’s presence.  If all within the celestial kingdom are entitled to dwell in the presence of our Father (D&C 76:62, 94), surely they are all entitled to dwell in each other’s presence.   Descendants of those who practiced polygamy with honor, then, need not fear that particular ancestors would be “lost” to them if these ancestors chose to make their escape.  No one is lost and no one is unconnected in the final welding of the great chain of the human family. [Back to manuscript]

[25] Questions Frequently Asked About the Temple and the Endowment (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 10. [Back to manuscript]

[26] Much needless heartache can be prevented if this is understood.  If her husband marries again in the temple after he has divorced her, a woman whose sealing is still intact may feel she is being forced into eternal polygamy against her will.  This is not the case.  As we have noted, her ex-husband is a “proxy” for he who will be her sealed companion if she remains worthy of this blessing.  Similarly, a woman’s children with a subsequent husband being automatically sealed to her former husband (unless a sealing cancellation takes place) is similarly to be understood.  The children are worthy to be born under the covenant and will be so.  Given the principle of sealing transferability, to whom they are sealed is not as important to their exaltation as the children being involved in the sealing in the first place.  Sealing transferability lends equity to sealing situations that cannot be understood as equitable to women in any other way.  However, as Eugene England noted, this understanding still cannot explain why a woman who is dead may be sealed to more than one man, but a woman who is alive cannot.  We have good reason, however, to believe that that constraint will be removed by the Lord in the near future. (Another excellent resource on the issue of LDS polygamy is England’s classic essay, “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage,”originally published in Dialogue in 1987, but now available online from the Eugene England Foundation at[Back to manuscript]

[27] Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974): 306. [Back to manuscript]

[28] Over 13,000 such sealing transfers occurred.  See Gordon Irving, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974): 308-312. [Back to manuscript]

[29] Notice how this verse and also verse 44 point to the doctrine of sealing transferability as discussed in the previous section.  Worthy wives of unworthy men (such as David) are transferred by right of their original marriage sealing.  These wives are worthy to occupy a place as a wife in the grand genealogy of God’s eternal family, but their marriage partner may or may not be he to whom they were married in mortality. [Back to manuscript]

[30] The quantity of wives a man takes in mortal life when commanded by God to practice polygamy could be a sign of his degree of righteousness.  We suppose this would depend on the motivation of the individual man in taking these additional wives. [Back to manuscript]

[31] Indeed, Irving contends that a proper interpretation of the statement by Joseph Smith (in the context of a vision given to Brigham Young following Joseph’s death) concerning the “confused” state of the human family had specific reference to these erroneous sealing practices.  If Irving’s interpretation is correct, then it is indeed noteworthy that Joseph Smith, from the vantage point of the hereafter, was able to see the error he did not notice during his mortal probation and that he desired to impart his new and clearer perspective to his successor on earth.  (See Irving, op cit.). [Back to manuscript]

[32] Spiritual manifestations accompanied the rescindment of the commandment to practice polygamy.  Here is but one example that could be cited in this context: “More than once I heard Father say before other members of the family that when he went to that Conference he and some of his friends who had suffered exile and imprisonment had determined to vote against the Manifesto.  ‘But,’ said Father, ‘some power not my own raised my arm, and I voted to sustain President Woodruff in this matter.  As soon as I had done it a sense of peace and contentment came over me.’” (Jensen, Juliaette Batemen, Little Gold Pieces [Salt Lake City: Stanway Printing Company, 1948], 130.   We are indebted to B. Kent Harrison, Juliaetta’s grandson, for bringing this episode to our attention.) [Back to manuscript]

[33] Indeed, in the course of writing this chapter we discovered how great this spiritual mischief can be.  The research assistant helping me with this chapter spoke about the issue of polygamy with another of my research assistants, a wonderful young woman from a family active in the Church.  The young woman in question stated that she has strong reservations about marrying in the temple for fear that if she died, her husband might remarry and she would become a polygamous wife in heaven.  She stated that polygamy sounded like hell, not heaven, to her and she did not want to wind up in such a place.  I had no clue that my research assistant felt this way!  Another young mother spoke to me of how she held her feelings of love for her husband in check, because she “knew” that if they were worthy to go to the celestial kingdom, he would be assigned many wives.  To combat the feeling of anguish and despair this caused her, she tried to love her husband less!  One young man, suffering from a life-shortening genetic disorder, was told by his roommates (all returned missionaries) that because of his physical difficulties here on earth, when he got to the celestial kingdom he would be given “hundreds” of “the most beautiful women imaginable” as his reward.  The young man replied that he would prefer one not-so-beautiful but loving companion here and in the hereafter.  These are but a few of many such cases that space does not permit us to mention.  Indeed, these cases bring to mind a quotation by C.S. Lewis: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him.  The conclusion I dread is not, ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.’”  We cannot allow this spiritual mischief to continue, given that the scriptures revealing the Lord’s mind on the subject provide the needed balm to dispel it completely [Back to manuscript].