Prophets in Mormonism/Part 35

By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©2009
Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, said he received Doctrine and Covenants 132 as a revelation from God commanding him and other Mormons to have a plurality of wives. That “revelation” is still in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants because Mormons believe it came from God even though they may not be living as polygamists.

Led by a “living prophet”

Mormons often boast that they are the only church that is led by a living prophet and by current revelation. But, no new revelations have been added to their scripture since Joseph F. Smith’s 1918 “vision of the redemption of the dead” and it didn’t become LDS scripture until 1976 when LDS Prophet Spencer W. Kimball added it to the Pearl of Great Price and later it became Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138. Before that “vision,” the most recent addition was Doctrine and Covenants 135 containing Brigham Young’s 1847 instructions for the LDS move to Utah. Although 1847 was 162 years ago and during that time Mormonism has had 14 more “prophets,” the one and only new revelation they have added to the Doctrine and Covenants is Joseph F. Smith’s “1918 vision.” Is that really “constant, current revelation”? There are two “Official Declarations” in the back of the Doctrine and Covenants after the “revelations.” Those “Declarations” changed Mormon doctrines in 1890 and in 1978, but they are not officially called “revelations.”

Plurality of wives

Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, said he received Doctrine and Covenants 132 as a revelation from God commanding him and other Mormons to have a plurality of wives. That “revelation” is still in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants because Mormons believe it came from God even though they may not be living as polygamists. It begins, “Verily, thus saith the Lord….” But polygamy caused so many problems for the Mormon Church that in 1890 the “Woodruff Manifesto” or “Official Declaration-1,” was given to abolish it. The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual lists some things on page 361 that influenced Woodruff to make his “Declaration” to stop LDS polygamy. It says,

The first legislation against plural marriage (polygamy) came ten years after the doctrine had been officially announced on 29 August 1852 by Elder Orson Pratt…The bill was signed into law 8 July 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. The Anti-Polygamy Act of 1862 defined plural marriage as bigamy, and made the contracting of such a marriage punishable by a fine of five hundred dollars and imprisonment for a term of five years…Once the constitutionality of the act of 1862 had been upheld by the highest court in the land persecution (prosecution) of those who practiced plural marriage became more severe. In March 1882 Congress passed the Edmunds Bill. This law disenfranchised those who practiced plural marriage, making it illegal for them to hold any office or place of public trust. Five years later, in March 1887 Congress passed the Edmonds-Tucker Law. This Law disincorporated the (LDS) Church, dissolved the Perpetual Emigration Fund, gave the property of the Church to the government for the benefit of the common schools of Utah, and put a stop to female sufferage.

The same Manual also says on page 362,

On September 24, 1890 President Wilford Woodruff met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his two counselors “upon an important subject.” On the twenty-fifth President Woodruff recorded: “I have arrived at a point in the history of my life as the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the Church. The United States government has taken a stand and passed laws to destroy the Latter-day Saints on the subject of polygamy, or the patriarchal order of marriage; and after praying to the Lord and feeling inspired, I have issued the following proclamation which is sustained by my counselors and the Twelve Apostles.”

The proclamation that followed that statement is “Official Declaration-1” or the “Woodruff Manifesto.” In it Woodruff said, “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intension to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise…And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” Mormons voted unanimously to accept that proclamation at their Semi-annual Conference on October 6, 1890.

In order for Utah to become a state in 1896 the U. S. Government required the state constitution to prohibit polygamy. Even though that was done, many Mormons, including their prophets, apostles, and other leaders continued to live as polygamists. Sixteen years after 1890, LDS Prophet, Joseph F. Smith, was tried and convicted of polygamy. After that the LDS Church began to enforce the Utah State law against polygamy. Even though most Mormons today aren’t polygamists, there are more polygamists now than there were in Brigham Young’s day! Most of them are in groups that have splintered off from the Utah LDS Church and who still believe Joseph Smith’s doctrine and practice of polygamy.

Some Mormons today refer to Woodruff’s 1890 “Declaration” as a revelation, but does it sound like God revealed it or that it was the result of government pressure? If God really commanded Joseph Smith and the Mormons to live as polygamists, should they have stopped it? In Acts 5:17-29 Peter and those with him were put in prison and commanded not to teach about Jesus, but as soon as they were out they taught about Him. And when they were questioned about it, they said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Shouldn’t the Mormon Prophet’s response have been similar if God told them to be polygamists? Brigham Young even said, “The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter polygamy” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 269). Godhood is the goal of all devout LDS, so polygamy is very important unless LDS Prophet Brigham Young taught false doctrine!

There is more about LDS polygamy and the “Manifesto” in old books like Under the Prophet in Utah, by Frank Cannon and Harvey O’Higgins. We will discuss “Official Declaration -2” in the Doctrine and Covenants next time.

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