Polygamy: What Latter-day Saints Really Believe

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy between 1840 and 1890. At present, the Church strongly asserts that God’s standard for marriage is only between one man and one woman.  

Cebu City Philippines Temple
Photo by Jeric Garcia

Why did some early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practice polygamy? 

Some leaders and members of the Church practiced polygamy during the mid 1800s because they were commanded by God to do so. So marriage then between one man to several women was according to God’s will. Though all the reasons for this commandment are not clear, some reasons are understood. For example, the Book of Mormon teaches that men should have only one wife unless the Lord commands His people to “raise up seed unto [Him]” (Jacob 2:30). The practice of plural marriage by early Latter-day Saints did cause a surge in the number of children born during that era.

Another side that the Church looked into is the fact that Polygamy was practiced by many known Biblical figures like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. In this context, the early Latter-day Saints believed that these ancient principles and practices taught by the Bible must be restored and adapted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Whatever the reasons for the practice of Polygamy, early Latter-day Saints strongly believed that they were following God’s commandment. And in doing so, blessings will come their way because of the obedience they showed.

Some leaders and members of the Church practiced polygamy during the mid-1800s because they were commanded by God to do so.

What polygamy was like for early Latter-day Saints? 

The practice of polygamy faced fierce objection and resistance in its early years. During its introduction, selected members of the Church were ordered by Joseph Smith to keep it a secret as many men including Smith himself, were hesitant to jump into the practice by marrying another woman. It became open when they received a confirmation from God, which affirmed that engaging in the practice of polygamy is God’s will. As soon as the news spread, many Church members condemned it and outsiders were outraged. This resulted in chaos and division among members of the Church, resulting in many members leaving the Church.

On the brighter side, there were polygamous families living warmly, happily and were contented. Women, who would probably be on the losing side of a polygamous marriage, soon came to the defense of Joseph Smith and the practice of polygamy itself.

Under the practice of polygamy by the Church, it’s noteworthy to mention that women were given freedom to marry at their own will, without any force or intimidation. They can choose their husband, can turn down any proposals, or remain unmarried. Additionally, divorce and remarriage were allowed for men and women in unhappy marriages.

Devoted Church members opted not to practice polygamy. During the year 1857, about half of the people living in the Utah Territory are in a polygamous family. By 1870, this number of people living in polygamous households dropped to about 25 to 30 percent. It has continually declined through the passage of time.

As early as 1890, the practice of polygamy had come to its end when Church President Wilford Woodruff was inspired by God to issue a declaration.

Do Mormons believe in polygamy today? 

No. The Church does not authorize and sternly prohibits polygamy today. As early as 1890, the practice of polygamy came to an end when Church President Wilford Woodruff was inspired by God to issue a declaration. Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), a former President of the Church, was quoted as he explained the Church’s position:

“I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. . . .

“If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law’ (Articles of Faith 1:12). One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time...

“More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71–72).

What do Mormons believe about marriage and family? 

Mormons are into the belief that marriage between one man and one woman is the will of God, and that such marriage is an important part of His plan for His children. To learn more about what Mormons believe about marriage and family, ComeUntoChrist.org. ◼︎