Since former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is running for President, more attention is being paid to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members, commonly called Mormons. Recently PBS broadcast two two-hour shows about Mormons, and people are using Romney’s religion to bash him.
I guess it’s time I wrote about polygamy and the Church, since it’s in the news again. At this point, I need to point out the obvious to the people in the back who are not paying attention — these are my opinions. I don’t presume to speak officially for the Church in the same way that I don’t speak officially for the company I work for. Now that the legalistic CYA is done–curse this litigious society–it’s on to our story. Drudge is reporting some quotes from a recent interview of Romney by Mike Wallace that will be broadcasted on 60 MINUTES this weekend. Here’s one paragraph from Drudge’s flash.
Romney acknowledges that voters may have a problem with his religion’s history of polygamy. “That’s part of the history of the church’s past that I understand is troubling to people,” he says. The practice, outlawed before 1900, is equally troubling to him. “I have a great-great grandfather. They were trying to build a generation out there in the desert and so he took additional wives as he was told to do. And I must admit, I can’t image [sic] anything more awful than polygamy,” he tells Wallace.
I don’t have a problem imagining something more awful than polygamy. Slavery is worse. Hutus and Tutsis machetteing each other is worse. A planet-killer asteroid wiping out all life on Earth would be worse. And I imagine being nibbled to death by ducks would be a real bummer, too.
But is there something intrinsically wrong with polygamy? I’d have to say no since the Bible records many people who were polygamists, and these weren’t bad people, either. Both Abraham and Jacob had multiple wives, and the Bible records them as being godly men. King David also had multiple wives, and when the prophet Nathan confronted David, he confirmed that the wives were given to David by God. It was in the killing of Uriah the Hittite and taking his wife where David sinned.
So if God gave these men multiple wives, how can it be wrong? The key is recognizing the difference between participating in polygamy because God commands it, and doing so because you want to. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob chastised the people because they were taking multiple wives and using the fact that David did so as their excuse.
Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none… 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.
So marriage is defined as one man and one woman, unless God commands otherwise. It took a revelation from God to instruct Joseph Smith to start polygamy, and it took a revelation from God to finish it. That revelation came to Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president and prophet of the Church. And since the command to practice polygamy was rescinded at the end of the 19th century, the LDS Church has officially stopped supporting polygamy. Any member of the Church who advocates for or practices polygamy will be excommunicated from the Church. The Church even issued a press release back in 2005 about linking active polygamists with the Church.
Recent news reports regarding various issues related to the practice of polygamy, especially focusing on groups in Southern Utah, Arizona and Texas, have used terms such as “fundamentalist Mormons,” “Mormon sect” and “polygamous Mormons” to refer to those who practice polygamy.
There is no such thing as a “polygamous” Mormon. Mormon is a common name for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church discontinued polygamy more than a century ago. No members of the Church today can enter into polygamy without being excommunicated. Polygamist groups in Utah, Arizona or Texas have nothing whatsoever to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Since it has been over a century since the practice of polygamy was stopped in the Church, why bring it up now? Every time someone in the a U.S. Army gets interviewed, are they asked about the Wounded Knee Massacre? Do reporters bring up the USS Maine explosion when Spain is mentioned? Is Jack the Ripper an issue discussed when London is in the news? The answer to these three examples is no, there is no need to bring up these events from a century past unless the subject is germane to the discussion. So why is polygamy a germane subject for Mitt Romney now? The simple answer is that the media doesn’t like Republicans in general and Romney in particular, so anything that could be brought up to tar him with past events is allowed.