Sister Wives

By: Cathy Sims; ©2010
The advertisement for the new series “Sister Wives” on The Learning Channel (TLC) said, “Rethink marriage.” At this time in our nation we are being challenged to rethink marriage. It seems that society no longer wants marriage to be defined as “one man and one woman.” Traditional marriage has come under attack from the homosexual community, the Mormons, and the Muslims.

The advertisement for the new series “Sister Wives” on The Learning Channel (TLC) said, “Rethink marriage.” At this time in our nation we are being challenged to rethink marriage. It seems that society no longer wants marriage to be defined as “one man and one woman.” Traditional marriage has come under attack from the homosexual community, the Mormons, and the Muslims.[1]

How did you react when you heard that they were airing a program promoting polygamy? I was shocked because it is illegal in our country. I was glad when I saw on the news that this family is being investigated by the Utah police on charges of polygamy. When interviewed about the investigation, Kody, the husband, said that they felt it was worth the risk to share their story.

I really didn’t want to watch this program because I knew it would make me mad (and it did). You can tell that Kody, and all his wives, think that he is special. Kody said, “I just fell in love, and then I fell in love again, and I fell in love again.” In one clip, one of the wives got upset when she found out that Kody had sealed his engagement with wife #4 (Robyn) with a kiss. She said that she had not kissed him until they were at the altar being married, because she didn’t feel right kissing a man that already had a wife, until after they were married. I really don’t see the logic in what she said, but if it is logic I’m looking for, I don’t really think I will find it in this family.

I have enjoyed reading blogs about the show. A lot of people call the husband (Kody) the alpha male, which reminds me of the animals (especially wolves) in the nature programs. Most of the comments are unfavorable, but of course there are those that say it does not matter what others do in the privacy of their own home.

When Kody met Robyn (wife #4), he said he didn’t even consider her because she had been divorced. He said that he had put up this wall because she had been married before. (Am I the only one that sees the irony in that statement?) Meri (wife #1) said when she met Robyn there was definitely a connection between them and she said, “I just knew she was a person I could be friends with…” (There are women that I have a connection with and are my friends, but that doesn’t mean that I want them to sleep with my husband.)

Mormons today cannot logically condemn polygamy without also condemning the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and many other presidents of the church who practiced it and/or declared it an eternal covenant. Nor can they logically accept polygamy without causing additional Mormons to practice it, thus bringing even more social condemnation. Neither can they remove the polygamous teachings in section 132 of Doctrine and Covenants, for this is part of the very revelation containing the essential Mormon doctrine of celestial marriage.[2]

On plural marriage Joseph Smith stated, “For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not in that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”[3] The Mormons had to practice polygamy or be condemned to eternal damnation.

So, the polygamists practice it, the Reorganized Church condemns it, and the Utah church accepts it in heaven but not on earth—at least for the present.

Former Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner observe:

Zina Huntington, a wife of Brigham Young and a defender of the doctrine of polygamy, counseled: “It is the duty of a first wife to regard her husband not with a selfish devotion. She must regard her husband with indifference, and with no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy.”
[Nevertheless] It is almost impossible to conceive of the sorrow that the Mormon women went through. Joseph Lee Robinson, who was himself a polygamist and a faithful member of the church, frankly admitted: “Plural marriage… is calculated in its nature to severely try the women even to nearly tear their heart strings out of them.[4]

The Tanners cite many examples of the misery such teachings brought—of first wives who paced the floor all night while the second wife lay in the arms of their husband, of a woman who, while her husband was with another woman, climbed to the roof of the house and willfully froze to death![5] Even Brigham Young admitted that many women were “tormented” and that “my wife… has not seen a happy day since I took my second wife.”[6] But this did not stop him from taking up to seventy additional wives—much to his own vexation.[7] He later threatened to set them all free for, “I will go into heaven alone, rather than have scratching and fighting around me.”[8] Joseph Smith suffered the same torment from his many wives.[9] While Mormons claim Smith had only one wife, the evidence suggests he may have had as many as eighty-four.[10]

Many of the faithful also practiced a novel kind of polygamy, or a form of sanctified adultery. Such men would take for themselves other men’s wives while they were yet living. Documentation for this can be found in Journal of Discourses,[11] and a dozen other sources cited by the Tanners.[12] The evidence is clear that Joseph Smith and many others appropriated for themselves the wives of other men.[13] In Wife No. 19, Ann Eliza Young, a wife of Brigham Young, revealed in 1876:

Joseph not only paid his addresses to the young and unmarried women, but he sought “spiritual alliance” with many married ladies. He taught them that all former marriages were null and void, and that they were at perfect liberty to make another choice of a husband. The marriage covenants were not binding, because they were ratified only by Gentile laws. These laws the Lord did not recognize; consequently all the women were free. One woman said to me not very long since, while giving me some of her experiences in polygamy: “The greatest trial I ever endured in my life was living with my husband and deceiving him, by receiving Joseph’s attentions whenever he chose to come to me.”… Some of these women have since said they did not know who was the father of their children; this is not to be wondered at, for after Joseph’s declaration annulling all Gentile marriages, the greatest promiscuity was practiced) and, indeed, all sense of morality seemed to have been lost by a portion at least of the church.[14]

H. Michael Marquardt discovered a case where one woman, Sarah Ann Whitney was married to three men at the same time:

Sarah Ann Whitney was married to Joseph Smith on July 27, 1842. Nine months later on April 29,1843, she was married to Joseph C. Kingsbury with the Prophet Joseph Smith officiating. She was then eighteen years old. Since her first child David was born on March 8,1846, she was about seven months pregnant with Heber C. Kimball’s child at the time of her marriage to him in the Nauvoo Temple on January 12,1846. It seems that Joseph Smith married Sarah Ann Whitney for time and for all eternity and then relinquished her for time, in a pretended marriage ceremony to Joseph C. Kingsbury who then let her become pregnant with child by Heber C. Kimball.[15]

In other words, Joseph Smith had taken Whitney as a secret plural wife and then performed a “pretended” marriage of her to Kingsbury to cover his own sin.[16] Thus, from these and many other testimonies, “it is hard to escape the conclusion that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were living in adultery.”[17]

Furthermore, the Tanners and others document additional odd arrangements, including many cases of incestuous marriages to sisters, and even to daughters and mothers. Smith himself married “five pairs of sisters” as well as a “mother and daughter”—a sin for which Leviticus 20:14 prescribes the death penalty.[18]

One former polygamist wife discussed the perversity that existed within “the Mormon Kingdom”:

It would be quite impossible, with any regard to propriety, to relate all the horrible results of this disgraceful system…Marriages have been contracted between the nearest of relatives; and old men tottering on the brink of the grave have been united to little girls scarcely in their teens; while unnatural alliances of every description, which in any other community would be regarded with disgust and abhorrence, are here entered into in the name of God.[19]

In his weighty preface to Bill Hickman’s confession, J.H. Beadle, Esquire, refers to some of the grave consequences and implications behind the Mormon doctrine of polygamy:

Nor is their social system other than organized selfishness. The Saints must marry many wives. Why? Because he will thus “build up his kingdom for eternity.” But the numbers of the sexes being equal, even in Utah, he must build it at somebody else’s expense; if he marries ten wives, nine other men must do without one apiece. Can men who entertain such an idea of God’s providences have much consideration for God’s creatures? Will those who hold such low and imperfect notions of their neighbor’s rights have regard for that neighbor’s life, or liberty, or property, if he “stands in the way of the kingdom of God”? Can a man be much better than his ideal? Can the devotee rise above the standard of his god?… If a man will crucify the wife of his youth, and put her to open shame, by introducing another woman into the family, and calling her his wife, if he will make misery for two helpless persons and pervert nature’s current in the breast of woman, whether for earthly lust or heavenly glory, he shows by that act that he will use another’s misery for his own happiness, that he is a long way on the road towards doing any other mean thing which will give him an advantage over his fellow-man. Hence a nation of slave-holders cannot long remain a nation of freemen; a race of polygamists is sure to become a race of self-seeking sensualists. Love, forgiveness, kindly charity, must wither in such an air.[20]

The horrors and tragedies of the polygamist lifestyle can often be seen in the early literature of the period. One such book is the autobiography by Mrs. T.B.H. Stenhouse, Tell It All: The Story of a Life’s Experience in Mormonism, with a foreword by Harriett Beecher Stowe. In the preface, Stowe refers to the sorrows and oppression that thousands of Mormon women have suffered. She condemns polygamy as “a slavery which debases and degrades womanhood, motherhood, and the family.”[21]

The author herself, based on her own experience and her wide knowledge of the polygamist activities within the church in the nineteenth century, referred to the Mormon practice as “the worst oppression and degradation of woman ever known in a civilised [sic] country.”[22]

Her own experience in polygamy was typical:

What now was to be a woman’s lot among the Mormons? A life without hope! Who can express the terrible meaning of those words—without hope! Yet so it was. Hereafter our hearts were to be daily and hourly trampled upon; the most sacred feelings of our sex were to be outraged, our affections were to be crushed;—henceforth we were to be nothing by ourselves; without a husband, we were told, we could not even enter heaven! We were told that in the other world Polygamy should be the only order of marriage, and that without it none could be exalted in glory. We were told these things by men who we believed were true and holy men of God; and we trusted in them.[23]

But nevertheless, life became full of bitterness and horror:

The terrible reality—Polygamy, refused to be ignored, and I felt all the more bitterly afterwards. I was never happy, for life had lost its charm to me. Ere I slept at night one dreadful thought was haunting my pillow,.. One thought was ever present in my mind.[24]

Although Mrs. Stenhouse tried valiantly to protect her own daughter, Clara, her child was eventually married to the oldest son of Brigham Young, Joseph A. Young. Clara thus became the daughter-in-law of Brigham Young himself which brought great tragedy into her life.[25]

Stenhouse also observes that Joseph Smith himself lived in polygamy before he received the alleged “revelation” officially endorsing the practice:

People who lived in Nauvoo, respectful people, and not one or two either, have assured me that four years before Joseph is said to have received the Revelation [on polygamy], he was practicing Polygamy, or something worse, and that the Revelation was given to justify what was already done.[26]

She further discusses the practice of annulling so-called “unholy” or previous “non-Mormon” marriages and the grief it brought to thousands of Mormons and their spouses and children:

Marriages contracted by the Gentiles or by Mormons in accordance with Gentile institutions, are not considered binding by the Saints. That was partly the cause of my indignation and the indignation of many another wife and mother—we were told that we never had been married at all, and that our husbands and our children were not lawfully ours.[27]

Stenhouse describes various aspects of this polygamy, some things reminiscent of modern practice. There were two classes of “spiritual” wives. One class consisted of older women who were married for their money. A woman in this class would only become a man’s true wife in eternity when he raised her from the dead. The second category of “spiritual” wives consisted of women who were already married. However, a woman from this class married again because she did not think that her current husband would be able to raise her to a very high position in the celestial world. As a result, the woman is secretly “sealed” to a Mormon man who can supposedly exalt her to a better estate. In the resurrection, she will become the wife of the one to whom she was secretly sealed.[28]

But, such beliefs became the spiritual justification for a great deal of sexual immorality. Mrs. Stenhouse comments, “I think it will be evident even to the dullest comprehension that under such a system, ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’ are far more likely to play a prominent part than anything heavenly or spiritual. All this is so repugnant to the instincts and feelings of a true woman, that I feel quite ashamed to write about it.”[29]

Concerning Brigham Young she observes:

Of the prophet’s moral character, the less said the better. He has been remorseless and cruel in his enmities, and he has connived at and even suggested, if nothing more, some of the most atrocious crimes that have ever been perpetrated on the face of the earth. In business matters,… he has evinced an amount of dishonesty which can scarcely be credited…. The story of his sordid avarice and his contemptible meanness in the accumulation of money would fill a volume. Morally and physically the Prophet is a great coward.[30]

Stenhouse alleges, that Brigham Young amassed enormous riches from the poverty of his followers, did many other evils and “set the worst example which despot or false prophet ever presented to the world.”[31]

Just as today the public perception of the Mormon religion and its reality are two different things, so it was in the nineteenth century:

People outside of Utah may be deceived, as indeed they frequently are, by representations made in ignorance of what Mormonism and the Prophet [Brigham Young] really are. But the Gentiles long resident in Utah, the Apostates, and even the Mormon people themselves, if only they would tell the truth, could testify to the truthfulness of the picture that I have drawn of Brother Brigham [and Mormonism].[32]

However, noting that the people were sincere, she comments “their fault was in their faith.”[33]

The tragedy and even death that Mormon polygamy brought to the Mormon people (and even non-Mormons) is difficult to chronicle in a few short pages. The interested reader should avail himself of the literature and books of the period—only then will he discover how great an evil Mormonism was.

But we should remember that despite official censure, there are more polygamous marriages today than there were in early Mormonism.

The Mormon church continues to refuse to take responsibility for the flood of suffering and destruction it has brought to thousands of devout Mormon people, most of them women. That the practice was evident in the early church all Mormons concede. But it was more prevalent than the church admits. As many as fifteen to twenty percent of the Mormon population in the inter-mountain west (not the claimed two percent) were polygamists.[34] The paradox that more Mormons were not polygamists (given the threat of eternal damnation) is explained only by the cruelty of the practice itself and the practical difficulty of incorporating such liaisons.[35]

The following discussion between John Ankerberg and Sandra Tanner from our program, Mormon Officials and Christian Scholars Compare Doctrines,[36] on The John Ankerberg Show sums up the differences between Mormonism and Christianity:

John: Now, Sandra, you also were a Mormon and you defended it bitterly. You fought for it and it was the evidence that brought you kicking and screaming across the line. Wasn’t it a letdown? Wasn’t it a step down to be shooting to become a goddess and now as a Christian you don’t hold that now, do you?
Sandra: No, actually I think there is a wonder that comes into your Christianity when you realize that you can just turn all of the sin that is in your life over to the Lord and that God’s righteousness is what applies now. In Mormonism there is a great burden because you’ve got to strive all the time. If you work at it hard enough, you can become a god. So there is a burden of guilt that lays there on you all the time. You’re not working hard enough. You didn’t do all you could.
John: That was lifted when you became a Christian.
Sandra: When I came to the Lord I could turn all that loose and say, “God supplies the righteousness. I don’t have to work it out on my own. I can just trust Him for that.”

Scripture references for monogamy:

Genesis 2:24 – For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 19:5, and then He adds in verse 6: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (NASB)
1 Timothy 3:2 – An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (NASB)
1 Timothy 3:12 – Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. (NASB)
Deuteronomy 17:17 – He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. (niv).
Leviticus 18:18 – You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness. (NASB)



  2. See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, (Deseret Book, 1958), 257.
  3. Doctrine and Covenants 132:4
  4. Journal and Autobiography of Joseph Lee Robinson, 60, microfilm copy in LDS Genealogical Library, from Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Pr), 226-227, citing S.P. Hirshim, The Lion of the Lord, 229-230.
  5. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Pr), 227.
  6. Journal of Discourses, 4:55-57; 12:312.
  7. Journal of Discourses, 6:180-181; 8:178; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Pr), 233.
  8. Journal of Discourses, 4:55.
  9. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Press, 1979), 230-231.
  10. John J. Stewart, Brigham Young and His Wives (Salt Lake City, UT: Mercury, 1961), 31; Brodie, No Man Knows, Appendix C, 434-465; Stanley Ivins, Western Humanities Review, 10:232-233 for the 84 figure; cf. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Pr.), 231-233 and Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Joseph Smith and Polygamy (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1966), 41-47, a publication cited in Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Press, 1979), 231-233.
  11. E.g., Journal of Discourses, 2:13-14.
  12. Cf. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? 213-217.
  13. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Press, 1979), 236.
  14. Ibid., 239, emphasis added.
  15. Michael H. Marquardt, The Strange Marriage of Sarah N. Whitney to Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Joseph C. Kingsbury and Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1973), 18-19; cf. Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2nd. ed., 1971), 471-472.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Press, 1979), 242; cf. 236-247.
  18. Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2nd. ed., 1971), 336; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, (Moody Press, 1979), 245.
  19. Fanny Stenhouse, Tell It All (Hartford, Connecticut U. S. A.: A. D. Worthington & Co. Publishers, 1875), 468-469.
  20. Hickman, Brigham’s Destroying Angel, 12-14.
  21. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in the preface to Fanny Stenhouse, Tell It All (Hartford, Connecticut U. S. A.: A. D. Worthington & Co. Publishers, 1875)
  22. Fanny Stenhouse, Tell It All, (Hartford, Connecticut U. S. A.: A. D. Worthington & Co. Publishers, 1875), ix.
  23. Ibid., 139-140.
  24. Ibid., 143.
  25. Ibid., passim.
  26. Ibid., 151-152.
  27. Ibid., 153.
  28. Ibid., 254.
  29. Ibid., 254
  30. Ibid., 271-272.
  31. Ibid., 274.
  32. Ibid., 273-274.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? 225.
  35. E.g., Journal of Discourses, 11:128
  36. Mormon Officials and Christian Scholars Compare Doctrines, The John Ankerberg Show, 1983

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