Saturday, September 17, 2011

Joseph Smith's Limited Plural Marriage Sealings

Yesterday, while at a college baseball game, I got an inquiry from David C. asking the following:

A few people have contacted me and told me of “apparent errors” in your book… primarily that Joseph Smith performed a lot more plural marriages.  
This in part of an email I received from a friend:
Under the plural marriage section of Denvers book, I remember that he mentions that only 1 other plural marriage was performed for another man besides Joseph before his death... making his case that not many others lived it. When I came across that a couple nights ago, I was pretty sure there were more... Brigham, Heber, Will Clayton, etc/ I came across 2 different books tonight, one "The Refiner's Fire" by JL Brooke - said that there were over 20 different men who also participated before Joseph's death. The other: The Persistence of Polygamy by Bringhurst and Craig Foster (Pres of FAIR) states on pg 126, quoting from Brian C Hales' extensive research and soon to come book, that 34 plural marriages were done for Joseph, and 29 for other men before Joseph's death. These they called sealing ceremonies. Many of these brethren that later lived PM in Joseph's time were also performing PM sealings before they lived the law themselves -p. 128.

The reference this inquiry makes to the "apparent error" in my book (Passing the Heavenly Gift) can be found on the bottom of page 163 and top of page 164 and includes footnote 210. What I wrote on those pages is as follows:

"Of the 23 marriages sealed by Joseph prior to his death, other than his own, only one involved a plural wife. If eternal wives was necessary for exaltation, as was taught in the second phase, proof of that cannot be established through Joseph's actions." This is accompanied by a footnote which gives all the names and cites to Lisle G. Brown's work The Holy Order in Nauvoo, appendix 1. You can find The Holy Order in Nauvoo online, if you look for it. There you can read the names, or you can look at footnote 210 in my book where they are also set out.

The question raised in the email is confusing two issues. The specific topic being discussed in my book involves the narrow issue of the connection between exaltation and plural wives. I explain that eternal marriage is necessary, but plural wives is not. I distinguish between Section 132 (and other statements) during Joseph's lifetime and what became an absolute requirement for exaltation during the phase of Mormonism immediately following his death.

Another recent book contains the same list as the Lisle G. Brown article cited above. It is Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera's book Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845. The list can be found in that book on pp. xxxiv-xxxv.  

To put the two different issues into contrast, you need to focus on the topic I am discussing, namely the relationship between requirements for exaltation and plural wives. Joseph's ultimate indication of what was required for exaltation is not found in civil unions, or even church marriages he performed. It is found in the final ordinances, including the second anointing, in which exaltation was assured and a person was sealed up to eternal life. That final step is found in Joseph's organized Quorum of the Anointed, as it was then called.

Joseph Smith performed civil marriages. Joseph performed religious marriages. But the link between exaltation, eternal life, sealing up to a kingdom as an eternal inheritance, is to be found unconditionally in the final order he organized known as the Quorum of the Anointed. My book is focused only on that step.

Joseph was able and did perform civil marriages. Joseph also performed other forms of religious marriages. However, on the subject of sealing an eternal union, with the promise of eternal life, that kind of union represents something different. In that form of union we find what Joseph understood would be a marital union that would include exaltation.

In the context of that form of union which is associated by Joseph with exaltation itself, there was, apart from his own, only one other plural marriage. Therefore, if plural wives was REQUIRED for exaltation, as taught subsequently by Brigham Young, the proof for that cannot be based upon Joseph Smith's actions.

In the second book cited above (Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845), they observe this about the final Quorum of Anointed which represent heirs of exaltation in Joseph's practices, "Still, many polygamists were not admitted into the quorum during Joseph's lifetime. Of the twenty-eight men who are presumed to have entered plural marriage during Joseph's lifetime, sixteen (57 percent) joined the quorum prior to Joseph's death; twelve (43 percent) did not.  Acceptance of plural marriage did not automatically assure admission into the quorum. (See Table 2.)" (Id. p. xxiii; the referenced Table is the same list as I was referring to in footnote 210 on page 163 of Passing the Heavenly Gift.

Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845 also, referring to those who were polygamists and included in the Quorum before Joseph's death, observes: "No plural wife received the ordinance prior to Joseph's death. '[D]uring the lifetime of Joseph Smith,' Quinn concluded, 'polygamy was only an appendage 'to the highest order of the priesthood' [the second anointing] established on 28 September 1843'" (Id. pp. xxxv-xxxvi, citing to Quinn, Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles, p. 88.)

When I write, I try to be very specific. When speaking about a limited topic (i.e., the requirements for exaltation established by the actions taken by Joseph Smith), I am not referring to other topics. Nor did I take the added step of suggesting that the unsealed plural wives might be evidence of concubinage, or marital relationships which were not intended to continue after this life. That subject isn't even raised in my book. So the better approach would be that the topic I am discussing be read narrowly, and the context I am addressing be carefully considered, before assuming there are "apparent errors."

People assume deep topics and carefully composed language can be read with the same superficiality as reading a text message. I do not write that way. In fact, someone who has hastened through the book probably won't even understand it. The careful reader will find a good deal more in everything I've written than will the casual reader. It took careful, solemn, ponderous thoughts to learn what I've learned.  Reading it in casual haste will never yield to such a reader what can be found.

As I also mention in the latest book, everything I've written is focused only on one topic. There has only been one theme to it all.  Therefore if someone is interested in being redeemed from the fall, they will find there is a description of the path back in these commonly-themed books. Whether it involves discussion of The Book of Mormon, my testimony of Christ, or church history, it is all centered in redemption of the reader from the fall.