How the Lord’s Pattern in Dealing with His Prophets Explains the Early Practice of Polygamy.
I’ve had an epiphany. Literally. But first, I want to point out that I’m a Mormon. . .a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A run of the mill, ordinary member, who has lots of opinions but is not an official spokesman for the Church.
As Mormons, we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We believe that he died for our sins on Calvary and that through His grace, and becoming His true disciples, we can return to live with our Heavenly Father.
We believe the Bible to be the word of God and we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. The Book of Mormon does NOT replace the Bible to us. It is another witness, another Testament of Jesus Christ. It is the record of peoples that fled Jerusalem in about 600 B.C. and came to the Americas, established societies, and recorded the testimonies of their prophets and righteous leaders. After the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, the Lord visited the people on the American continent and taught them the same doctrines that are recorded in the New Testament. It was these people he referred to when speaking to his Apostles when he said, “Other sheep have I that are not of this fold. Them also must I bring.”
We believe that the New Testament church, the fullness of the Gospel and priesthood authority was lost after the death of the apostles and was restored again early in the 1800s. Yet, as the Book of Mormon and the New Testament Gospel of Christ and Priesthood authority were restored to the earth after almost two millennia of apostasy, there were practices and doctrines taught that are controversial and cause much angst, especially among women.
I have mused and considered over the strange practice of polygamy in Mormon history. When I have prayed and asked our Heavenly Father if Joseph Smith was a true prophet, I have received a clear and resounding answer, “Yes!” He is the Joseph prophesied in the Book of Mormon. (2 Nephi 3:24) “And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.”
But it’s tough to explain polygamy in that light when it goes against all the knowledge I have of the value, love, support, honor and covenants that our Loving Father in Heaven has toward his daughters.
I think I’ve figured it out. But we’ll have to take a romp through history, back to the beginning.
Let me show you the pattern of prophets.
Adam and Eve did something that forced them to flee to a less desirable place where they could grow and develop and learn to trust their Heavenly Father. He gave them a choice that required an excruciatingly difficult decision. Their transgression (their CHOICE) put them in a position where they MUST develop their faith.
Enoch dreaded speaking to the people of his time because he had something that was deeply embarrassing to him. He dreaded it so much that he turned down the calling when it came. When the Lord assured him that He would support him, he went forward, despite being a callow youth of 60 years and “slow of speech.” The people of Enoch were not attracted to him because of his charisma, they were attracted to him through the development of their own faith. The Lord values faith based on the word of a prophet above the faith that develops from seeing miracles or meeting logical tests. He explains this in the New Testament when speaking to Thomas when he says that more blessed are they that have NOT seen but have believed on the testimony of others.
He condemns sign-seekers as a wicked and adulterous generation. Indeed, the demand for a demonstration of power disqualifies a person from receiving it.
Noah was told to build a MAMMOTH ship where there was no water. If you study the Biblical timeline, you’ll find that it took him about a hundred years. All that time he was building a boat and preaching to the people that they must repent. Imagine the mockery and frustration he must have borne! Only those with enough faith and a willingness to listen to the Spirit of the Lord were saved. Being willing to listen to a prophet and obey the will of the Lord through his teaching is shown as the highest form of faith.
Abraham was asked to do the very thing that was most abhorrent to him. How could he kill the child of the covenant? How could he kill the child of his and Sarah’s old age? Her only child!
The Lord explicitly explains that it proved to Abraham that his faith in God superseded all societal laws, traditions and even commandments. It established in ABRAHAM’S mind that he would do WHATEVER the Lord asked. But those who knew about the event would be sorely shaken, no doubt.
Moses had a criminal background and a speech defect. How could he be the one to lead millions of Israelites out of bondage when he could be arrested at any moment and he couldn’t string a sentence together? Have you ever noticed that the Lord told him that he COULD do it if he had sufficient faith? When Moses insisted that it was impossible, the Lord instructed him to use Aaron as a spokesman? Feeling incompetent (perhaps even BEING incompetent) seems to be a mark of a true prophet. He wants prophets to know that they absolutely are not functioning without the Lord’s help.
Isaiah was told to run around naked for three years, (Isiaah 20: 2-4). Imagine what that would do to a man’s credibility! It went against the Law of Moses, and people would have thought he was flat out crazy. ONLY THOSE WITH GREAT FAITH AND THE ABILITY TO DISCERN THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD WOULD PAY ANY ATTENTION TO A NUDIST.
Ezekiel was instructed either to eat human dung or to bake his bread with it (for fuel?) Ezekiel 4:12-17. The Lord mercifully allowed him to use cow dung instead. (Whew! I’m so glad we got that fixed!) But Ezekiel was strict in his adherence to the Law of Moses. Here again, the Lord asked him to do that which was opposite in the extreme to what he had been taught and what the social expectations were. Only one willing to put extreme faith in personal revelation and a willingness to accept the unpopular role of prophet would do the abhorrent thing that was asked.
The poor, hardworking apostles of the New Testament were asked to give up their livelihoods and “Come follow Me.” John the Baptist put such complete faith in the Lord to provide that he lived and taught in the wilderness, apparently never pursuing any vocation beyond that of his spiritual calling. Who wants the reputation as a mountain man or a wild man. How much heed would you pay to a hermit that offered you spiritual guidance, but had never done anything to prove his authority, sincerity or even his sanity?
Nephi of the Book of Mormon was instructed to kill a man so that his own family would have the scriptures. Have you ever noticed the irony in that instruction? Do you wonder that Nephi spends so much space explaining why he believed he must do it? But note the side effect of that action. It made him a wanted a man, a fugitive from the law in Jerusalem, not only because he’d killed Laban, but also because he’d stolen the brass plates that Laban had kept, (apparently by legal right.) Lehi’s family could never return to Jerusalem after Nephi’s decisive action.
Abinadi (in the Book of Mormon) gave his life in order to deliver the sermon or to restore the Gospel to Alma who in turn restored it to many of the expatriate Nephites. But he was ridiculed, threatened and lied about before he finished his message. The Lord could have given Abinadi a better pulpit. He could have put him in a position of authority where the people had to listen. He could also have miraculously rescued him after he gave his message. He didn’t. He forced them to choose. Only with the exercise of great faith and sacrifice did anyone respond to Abinadi’s message.
The list goes on and on and on, all pointing to Jesus Christ who gave up everything to do the Father’s will. He gave up everything, however counter-intuitive it might have seemed, to do what the Father asked. He could have come down from the cross. With a thought, he could have turned the scourge in Pilate’s court into serpents that bit the entire group of wicked Jews to death. But he did ALL that the Father commanded.
So if we are willing to look at Joseph Smith in the light of the scriptural pattern of prophets, what would God ask of an 1830’s man? What would he ask of an American whose ancestors had fled religious oppression to set up a new society based on New Testament principles?
The Mob violence he and other members of Church experienced was not unique to them. The 1830-40’s were singularly prone to mob violence.
Joseph would have understood the ramifications. With his Puritan, Biblical upbringing, a member of a large religious family whose approval he would naturally crave, the direct prohibition against adultery in the ten commandments and all social trends in the Northern United states, it would not be welcome instruction. Slavery was not only still legal, but widely practiced in Northern states at the time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. Mob violence against minorities, (blacks and Irish) was rampant. The idea of driving an objectionable people from an area was an economic principle. It reduced the competition for blue-collar jobs. It was especially bad in northern cities like New York and Boston.
He wasn’t commanded to build a giant ship in an inland area, he wasn’t a stutterer with a criminal background instructed to lead a million people out of bondage. He wasn’t asked to kill his long-awaited son and he wasn’t asked to run around naked for several years to get people’s attention. He wasn’t asked to eat his own poop, nor was he asked to relinquish his livelihood to become an unpaid preacher of truth. He wasn’t asked to kill a man to get the scriptures.
He was asked to do something that fit well with the pattern of decisive actions required of prophets of God. He was asked to do something that would be repulsive to him and to his family and especially to the creature he loved most on earth, his wife Emma. It would cause an irreparable strain between them. He was already apparently self-conscious about his lack of education and poverty. And practicing something more repulsive to society would further strain his credibility.
Polygamy and economic and political competition became the major factors in the reason the Latter-day Saints were mobbed and driven from state to state. Polygamy made the Church repulsive to anyone who didn’t have the faith to ask God if it was true. It was a major factor in driving the saints into the wilderness where they could recover and begin to thrive: a place where the Lord’s promises could be fulfilled.
I think I understand it now. In each prophetic case, the Lord couldhave provided a much less objectionable way of preserving his people. He could have provided a miracle, written prophecies in fire in the sky if He wanted to.
But he wants us to use the Holy Spirit in learning to discern truth. He wants us to recognize that sometimes we are surprised by what the Lord expects us and asks us to do or to believe. Sometimes the “in-credible” is exactly true. He wants us to learn to trust Him. He wants us to learn to ask Him. It takes a very humble person to believe a prophet whose credibility is strained. He wants us to recognize in every generation and dispensation that His word may go against our current tradition and social expectations.
It is one way that he attempts to overcome what is frequently referred to in scripture as “the vain traditions of their fathers.”
Jesus sums up this principle in Matthew 13:57 “And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.”
The next verse explains that he didn’t do “mighty works” among the people that knew him best “because of their unbelief.”
Jesus identified the public slander that would be given about him. (Matt 11:19) “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”
So people can find fault with anyone. Even the only perfect person to ever live on earth was not accepted among his own people. They misperceived his actions because it went against their expectations.
Belief has to come first. Faith must precede the miracle.
So it isn’t that the Lord wants men to go naked when they come to him. He doesn’t want us to forsake employment to be full-time disciples. He is merely demonstrating that true disciples are willing to sacrifice all that is precious to them, (even their own dignity, credibility or most precious family relationships) to follow his instructions.
We’re not left without instruction in discerning when it is of God and when it is the product of imagination. (James 1:5) “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” To upbraid is to scold or criticize. So God promises NOT to scold or be angry with us for asking questions. He is inviting us to bring our questions to Him, and he promises to give us answers. I’ve tested this. I know it’s true. But nobody receives any truth until they humble themselves and sincerely ask God.
Jesus taught that by their fruit we know whether something or someone is good or bad.
In the Book of Mormon, (Moroni 7:13) But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”
How is this relevant to us? What is the law of Sacrifice? What has the Lord asked of you? Will you do it? Will each of us give our whole heart and trust in Him to keep the promises He has made to us if we do?
He beckons us. (Matt 11:28-30) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Turn to Him. Ask. Pray. Exercise faith in Him. Study. Discern the fruit. Prepare to offer all of your heart and mind to God and become a sturdy tool in His hands.
Wednesday’s post will be written by Tami, Charlene’s Mom. She explains some of her feelings, observations and experiences with her (then foster) daughter, Charlene almost 20 years ago. It gives some interesting insights. Friday will be by a young mother who, with her brother, were adopted very young into a family with 4 biological children.