Up to this point we have discussed the philosophy underpinning why something like plural marriage might even be associated with such a glorious thing as the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you hung up on how grimy it makes your insides feel or how contradictory it seems to everything you've ever believed about the sacred institution of marriage? We've been there! But, besides trusting that God is just, fair and loving, there was one particular heart-soothing concept that helped us through the really rough parts of the journey and got us to where we are today with it: Sisterhood. We both have slightly different experiences with this and, because we are two different women, we are going to offer two distinct pleas.
My Sisters Spoke From the Dust: A Plea From Amanda
I remember reading D&C 132 with a special kind of vehemence at one point - especially parts like verse 64 where the Lord promises that any wife, being taught the principle of plural marriage by her husband and not complying with it, would "be destroyed." It made me feel so powerless and abused. How was that fair? How was that righteous? That was before I was introduced to my dear, dead sisters.
Have you ever heard of "tough love?" This kind of language in D&C 132, aimed at women, now seems to me like powerfully tough love utilized, believe it or not, for the benefit of all woman-kind. I immersed myself in a study of the wives of Joseph Smith and as many of their admirable contemporaries as I could find, and do you know what they taught me? That the celestial law of plural marriage is for women. It's not really about the men at all! It's about, because of, and FOR women.
#1 - It's because every righteous, worthy woman has the RIGHT to the reward of exaltation, regardless of whether or not her spirit companion or mortal companion, through the exercise of his own agency, lived up to his own covenants.
#2 - It's because, as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young expressly taught regarding the matter, "A woman would have her choice, this a privilege that could not be denied her."* That means that some men, because of the cultivation of their personal character, goodness and intelligence, will attract possibly several women of equal goodness and intelligence. A woman has the RIGHT to the best possible husband her worthiness qualifies her to receive.
If we acknowledge these as two of the fundamental rights of women, it must follow that, before the final setting-in-stone of family units, there will be adjustments made to allow every last woman these long-awaited blessings. If these women will have their choice then, realistically, there is no guarantee that your monogamous marriage can remain exclusive. And, given you have paid the price to qualify for that celestial realm, you will undoubtedly understand this at that point because your heart will be open as wide as eternity to welcome any sister whose salvation rested on it. And if not (here comes the tough love) you will be destroyed. In other words (from how I understand it) you will be removed from the family organization (destroyed=disorganized). You will not retain your place if you cannot abide the law of that kingdom, because the Lord is merciful to women and will not see any of His sisters denied her earned place there, especially at the hand of another sister.
It behooves us to overcome our natural feelings of disdain for what Joseph F. Smith called "a righteous principle...a pure and holy principle...a principle that pertains to eternal life...a law of the Gospel pertaining to the celestial kingdom." (Journal of Discourses 20:26 and 20:27) And we can only do this by relying on faith, as we seek knowledge line upon line.
These, my dear, dead sisters, whose faith still seems to cry out from the dust include women like Eliza R. Snow, Zina Diantha Huntington and Emmeline Wells. They enjoyed special ties with their sister-wives. They held spiritual gatherings where they bore testimony to one another and administered to each other comfort and blessings. Elizabeth Ann Whitney was a mother-like mentor to young Emmeline Wells. Despite the grueling realities of polygamy meshed with mortal conditions, these women made the best of things. Evidence suggests that they viewed their relationships with each other as some of the most important of their lives. Who does not crave sisterhood of this kind?
Would You Take Me In?: A Plea From Angela
Have you considered that one positive aspect of plural marriage might be right under our noses? Think of the women in your life that you love. I know a lot of amazing women. I love the occasional Girl’s Night Out. I crave the companionship of women because we have so much in common, we understand life’s joys and sorrows in a similar way. It’s funny to be writing this because, honestly, I have often felt more at home with the guys. I had a lot of guy friends in high school and I had six brothers growing up. Sometimes I feel like I just don’t understand other women. Even with my siblings and their spouses, I find myself torn between the conversation the men are having (that isn’t about sports) and the conversation the women are having. But in the end, particularly as I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life, I love talking and sharing with the women I love.
This subject has been on our minds for the last while as we’ve created this website and tried to fill it with helpful resources for you to consider. During that time I have talked with some of the women in my family about it. It’s a hard thing to think about, especially when you are happily married. To one sister in particular, I asked this question: Would you take me in? If I never married in this life but was otherwise faithful or if my husband failed to live up to his covenants even though I was personally worthy of exaltation, would you take me into your family so that I could enjoy the blessings of exaltation that I had earned throughout my life? Her answer was hesitant but sure: Of course.
I think one of the reasons we have a hard time accepting this principle is that we always imagine some strange woman forcing her way into our otherwise peaceful lives. That is the fear talking. If we can replace that fear with faith I think we’ll find that it makes more sense that we would know these women and, mostly likely, love them. We have no recollection of our premortal life. I think that if we could remember, even for a moment, we might be overcome with emotion at all the forgotten relationships we had built there. It is entirely possible that relationships were formed and promises made with our dear sisters that we have no memory of. Add to that the relationships we have formed in this life and, personally, I think there could be worse things than spending eternity with the women I love, even if we are sharing a husband. Perhaps even because we are sharing a husband. For it is because of our husband that we will have the opportunity to be with each other for eternity.
I hope this isn’t too overwhelming and that you take the time to ponder on these ideas that we have shared with you and consider the possibility that our reward in heaven will be even more wonderful than we even imagined, not in spite of plural marriage, but because of it.
* Lucy Walker Kimball, "A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Lucy Walker Kimball Smith, Church History Library. Brigham Young echoed this theme when he said "When your daughters have grown up, and wish to marry let them have their choice in a husband...Take this or that man if you want them my girls...you shall have your own agency in the matter." (April 16, 1854, Brigham Young Office Files, Church History Library) And Kathryn Daynes mentions a quote by one of Brigham Young's daughters that she heard her father teach, that women "ought to have their choice in the matter for they can choose but one; and they have a right to select that one." (Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One: transformation of the Mormon marriage system 1840-1910, University of Illinois Press, 2001)