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The Godly Purposes of Plural Marriage

The Godly Purposes of Plural Marriage

What do you think about when you hear someone make a comment about the Latter-day Saint practice of plural marriage? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Are you immediately drawn to the hardships, the disdain, and disgust that this principle ever existed among our people?

If so, I’m hoping that a focused study on the positive outcomes from plural marriage will help you to move towards a feeling of appreciation and ownership of the principle.

I was discussing plural marriage with a fellow Latter-day Saint recently and this person claimed to have no idea why it was practiced and acknowledge it was something they would never understand.

I then read a verse from Jacob 2 in the Book of Mormon (referenced below) that contained one purpose for polygamy and my friend looked at the ceiling and said, “Huh, I’d never thought of that.”

Plural marriage was instituted by God for glorious purposes. Yet, it appears in much of the messaging we present to people regarding the principle, there is apology and shoulder shrugging as if we don’t understand entirely why this practice was instituted instead of testimony and witness of the hand of God in its institution.

Consider this entry in the November 2016 New Era under the title, How can we explain polygamy when someone asks about it?

We believe that the marriage of one man and one woman is God’s standing law of marriage. But at various times throughout history, God has commanded certain people to practice plural marriage. In the Bible, for instance, we read about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others who were told to take multiple wives. Though we don’t know all of the reasons God might command people to practice plural marriage, one reason mentioned in the Book of Mormon is to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30)—or to increase the number of children born in the covenant.

It’s important to understand that plural marriage in the Church in the 19th century was revealed through the Lord’s prophets (see D&C 132), that it was regulated (people entered into it only by invitation or approval of Church leaders), and that women could choose freely whether to be in a plural marriage or not. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Church members’ acceptance of this practice was a great trial of their faith. It was never easy. It went against cultural norms, laws, and, often, their own personal desires.

Through revelation, the Church ended plural marriage around the turn of the 20th century (see Official Declaration 1). Nobody is authorized to practice it today.

In reading this, while one of the purposes is outlined, I definitely don’t get a feeling that this was a glorious principle. Again, I feel our messaging has been more defensive and apologetic instead of proactive in declaring the glorious purposes of the Lord that were accomplished in this marvelous work and a wonder. 

In the Gospel Topics Essay on Plural Marriage, they do go more in depth to introduce and shine a light on various possible purposes for plural marriage.

Latter-day Saints believe that the marriage of one man and one woman is the Lord’s standing law of marriage. In biblical times, the Lord commanded some to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.1 By revelation, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to institute the practice of plural marriage among Church members in the early 1840s. For more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints under the direction of the Church President.2

Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes in instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord].”3

Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes. It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in many ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,” covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition.4

The Purposes of Plural Marriage

According to the Gospel Topics essay, the possible reasons for plural marriage are as follows:

  • To increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant
  • Marriage became available to virtually all who desired it
  • Per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished
  • Ethnic intermarriages increased
  • A sense of cohesion and group identification was created 

In my mind, these purposes should be at the forefront of our discussions about plural marriage. It wasn’t about sex or control as many declare, it was that God needed to raise righteous seed and provide for His saints so His marvelous work and wonder could roll forth.

When I asked for some feedback from people on social media about the positive outcomes and purposes of plural marriage, one reader commented:

My husband’s MTC was the Hotel, Utah. When they had huge meetings they were in the assembly room of the Salt Lake City Temple. One general authority who spoke to them asked all the missionaries that had ancestry that practiced plural marriage to stand up. There were few that remained sitting. He said “Plural marriage rose up a mighty generation.

What Would the Numbers Be

What would the growth of the Church and Kingdom of God be like without the institution of plural marriage? We currently have 17 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How many would there be without plural marriage? 5 million?

We currently have 300+ temples that are operating, under construction, or announced – temples that allow members of the Church to perform vicarious work for the dead in extending the ordinances of God to the living and the dead. How many would there be without plural marriage? 25?

We have 60,000+ full-time missionaries that are spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. How many would there be without plural marriage? 10,000?

Clearly, all of these estimates are just that, but clearly the impact of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be nowhere near what it currently is without the early saints having lived the practice of plural marriage and having had an abundance of righteous posterity.

Searching for Understanding

One of our online readers recounted:

My step-father is 87 year old. He grew up in Vancouver, Canada where there weren’t many church members. He was teased a lot about polygamy. He served a mission in Sweden back in the 1950’s. While in Sweden, he met a very old member of the church who had joined when she was 16. My step father said, “You joined the church when polygamy was still being practiced. How did you deal with it? What did you think about it?” This old lady looked my step father in the eyes and said, “I never had a problem with it. Elder, you listen to me. When the Lord gives a commandment, He gives understanding with that commandment. When the Lord takes the commandment away, He also takes the understanding away”.

Luckily, we also have many words of those who lived “the principle” to understand what it was like. There are accounts of the pain and heartache, but as this article is focusing on the positive of plural marriage, I want to shine a light on one account that shares many of the blessings of plural marriage. One such book that contains many of these positive accounts is Let’s Talk About Polygamy. You can click the image below to learn more about this particular book.

I did want to draw more attention to the writings of Helen Mar Kimball, however. Helen was the daughter of Heber C. Kimball, and is often mentioned as one of the women that Joseph Smith forced into plural marriage at a young age. The wonderful thing about Helen is that she wrote down her feelings and thoughts on the matter in a pamphlet called, “Why We Practice Plural Marriage.”

Her stated purpose on the first page of this pamphlet is: “to throw more light up it, and to show forth the foolishness and inconsistency of those who hold it up as a “foul stain that pollutes the very soil where it exists.'”

Please take some time to review the words of Helen. She lived the principle and felt strongly enough about it that she spent her days advocating for the practicing and testifying that it was from God. Mind, you she did this during the days of intense persecution and adversity that the Saints endured precisely because of this principle. She wasn’t dealing will sarcastic comments online. She was living in a time when people were jailed for this practice. Her faith and courage are exemplary. You can click the button below to access her pamphlet online. On the bottom right of the landing screen you’ll be able to toggle through the pages. 

Why We Practice Plural Marriage – Helen Mar Kimball

This article is just a brief introduction to the subject. I will keep adding to this article as I come across more thoughts and as I find more quotes from Helen and others who lived the principle of plural marriage.

We must ask ourselves this question though: Do we really believe that this practice was ordained of God? If we do, then we need to see God in it and not be ashamed. We need to understand the purposes behind it and own it. We also need to realize the human hand in trying to live a principle of God. Surely, I don’t want to discard the pain and difficulty that was associated with plural marriage, but to assume that was all the design of God would be an error.

Do you have any stories from your ancestry that speak to the blessings of plural marriage? Have any of your ancestors borne testimony of this principle? Are there journals and diaries that you have read that helped you “own” this principle and appreciate those who covenanted to live it? If so, please leave those in the comments below.

Wednesday 13th of September 2023

I always consider one reality when it comes to plural marriage. Agency.

Do you think God can or does guarantee who will choose righteousness on Earth or Exaltation and Celestial Marriage in the life to come? Due to agency, I don't believe there will be an even 50/50 split among the sons and daughters of God who are righteous in this life or who reach that glorious eternal status of joy.

So ask yourself this. Who do you think that is righteous should not be given the greatest of all rewards? I personally feel like, as a man, that there will be more women on Earth and in the eternities who are righteous. So, can you honestly denounce or reject the idea of plural marriage and doom those righteous daughters of God to be unmarried forever? Do you expect to receive Exaltation while expecting it to be withheld from another?

If there are more women than men who are righteous and deserve that eternal reward of Celestial Marriage, well... you need plural marriage to achieve that and so some men will have more than one wife (starting in this life in the rare, historical occasions when God has commanded it).

It's a testament to the goodness and perfection in God. He has prepared a way to bless all His children who choose Him over everything else including their own lives. None are turned away, especially not the likely abundance of women over men who are given that reward.

Mark Tinman

Saturday 9th of September 2023

Seems to me polygamy caused much more harm than good.

Ben Arkell

Friday 15th of September 2023

I can understand that perspective - but I don't share it. Especially considering the work that will occur during the millennium. Plural marriage was necessary in the marvelous work and wonder.

Janis Sanders

Saturday 9th of September 2023

When I was on my mission we came across a woman who was very angry about plural marriage. As I was thinking of what to say to her reply, I gave all the normal ones we hear going around the church and then a s scripture that I had read many times and had to even memorize came to my mind. Act 3 : 20-21. It talks about the last days there will a restitution of ALL things which God has spoken. We know that the ancient prophets and many saints over time have practiced plural marriage. Soooo, to me it seemed like the Spirit was telling me that in order for ALL things to be restored then plural marriage also needed to be restored. It did not need to be restored for a long time. To me after that plural marriage no longer was a stumbling block to my testimony but it becam6 a building block as I saw it as being part of the fulfillment of that scripture verse.

Ben Arkell

Friday 15th of September 2023

Thanks for sharing! The Spirit is a wonderful blessing and an eager teacher!


Saturday 9th of September 2023

Doctrine and Covenants 132 states: the revelation requires that a wife give consent, Emma did not. Verse 54- The Lord will destroy her if she abide not by my law. Was Emma destroyed? Does Heavenly Father love us or does He threaten us? This revelation was put on paper many years after the practice began. 14 year old girl? Married women? Fact: There have been more male children born than female since the beginning. Shouldn’t we all have an opportunity for an eternal marriage, one man and one woman? The answer is Yes.

Alan Mills

Friday 8th of September 2023

Has the doctrine of plural marriage been rescinded by the Church Prophet or has the practice of the doctrine ceased due to a need for conformity to the law?