I lived in Southern Utah for a while and saw first hand the concerns that polygamy causes; including child abuse, male domination and sexism, jealousy, secrecy and avoidance of others, etc. Most people are aware of the Fundamentalist LDS Church that practices polygamy as their leader, Warren Jeffs, has been in the news and is currently serving in prison for child abuse. THOSE are the very reasons why polygamy was taken away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over 100 years ago. God knows the consequences when polygamy is lived unrighteously. He knows that when man is given a good thing it has the potential of being abused. The FLDS Church is the perfect example to show us that.
So, why did He command polygamy in the first place? There’s an exception in the Book of Mormon that allows for polygamy when it is needed.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord… For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;…
For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things. (Jacob 2:24,27,30)
God basically says many wives are bad, BUT, to “raise up seed unto me” sometimes it is necessary. And back in the mid 1800’s in the wild west, it was necessary.
Raising up a “Seed”
Growing up in the desolate and arid deserts of Utah and Arizona gives one a different perspective than those who live in more moderate climates. It’s HOT. It’s desolate. It’s rough terrain. It’s a harsh environment. Did I mention it’s HOT?
Back when the Mormons moved out West there was no air conditioning, no cars, no supermarkets, no dishwashers, refrigerators, phones, or any other modern convenience. There wasn’t even a railroad.
The men were out all day working farms and businesses, and the women had to prepare the food, cook the food, clean the house, take care of and watch children, wash clothes, and the many chores of running a household and family. And it took ALL DAY. Then they had to start all over again the next day.
If I were a woman back during those days, I’d be praying to God for help. But, He had already sent help… another woman. By allowing polygamy, “sister wives” freed up women to do more. One wife could teach and watch the children, while another cooked, while another cleaned, while another could even get a job in town. They could help each other, cry on each other’s shoulders, and they could relax once in a while. And, they could have more children and “raise up a seed” unto God.
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: (Psalm 127:3-5)
The only drawback, they had to share a husband.
WE might think it’s strange now, but for them, out in the wilderness, it was a way of life. It was a blessing.
They weren’t as sexed a society as we are today; even though, yes, the sexual aspect was abused. There were problems and there was sin, but that’s the only thing critics focus on. What we don’t hear from them are the success stories, and there were many.
Life Got Easier
Back East they heard the problems polygamy caused. They they didn’t understand what it was like out in the deserts, and the blessing it was to colonize the West. Political advocates sought laws to ban the practice.
But by then, the steam train had come to Salt Lake. They included refrigerator cars that could carry ice and perishable foods. Goods such as heavy stoves, iron tools, plows, and other necessities were flowing and being traded much easier. They built factories and stores.
Life was getting easier on the Pioneers. Because of that, “sister wives” were no longer necessary. It was time for God to take it away.
Sometimes God, in his sovereignty, uses governments and laws as incentive. The government passed laws that Church property would be lost, men would be imprisoned, and families torn apart. President Wilford Woodruff received “modern revelation” that it was time for polygamy to go (actually he had a vision of what would happen if they continued polygamy) . And so it was discontinued.
Critics today only look at the external pressures “forcing” the Church hand, when it’s the opposite. God had to use those forces to make sure His Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, didn’t end up like the Fundamentalist LDS Church and abusing it for man’s pleasure. Polygamy was never meant for man’s pleasure. That was the great sin with King David and Solomon and why they were condemned.
While polygamy has its roots in raising up a righteous generation to God, He also has kept the woman in mind. By having the comfort, blessing, and help of another female “sister wife” during times of difficulty it let her know that He was there for her.