It’s been a rough year for Warren Jeffs. After a lengthy trial, the leader of a fringe Mormon polygamist sect in southern Utah was recently convicted of assisting in the rape of a 14-year-old girl by compelling her marriage to her 19-year-old cousin. Arranged, multiple, and forced marriages of underage girls were not uncommon in the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
The Mormon Church from its beginnings advocated polygamy—founder Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives, and his successor Brigham Young was married and/or “sealed” to as many as 55 women, including 7-9 of Smith’s widows. Young had at least 57 children through 16 of the wives. In order to gain statehood for Utah in 1890, the LDS church yielded to federal laws banning polygamy. It never completely disappeared in Utah and northern Arizona, however. The HBO TV show “Big Love” has survived into its second season. It describes the adventures of a Utah home-improvement store owner and his three wives and seven children.
As gay marriage seems to gain acceptance in America, the natural follow-up question is whether marriage with multiple partners may ever become legal. Presidential candidate (and Mormon) Mitt Romney will probably be answering polygamy questions throughout the campaign season.
In defense of their founders’ many marriages, Mormons are quick to point out that many of the heroes of the Old Testament had multiple marriages or concubines. Indeed, what a lineup—Abraham, Jacob, David, and then Solomon and his grotesque harem. The messages of the OT prophets were filled with denunciations of Israel’s many sins. One wishes that they might also have condemned polygamy by name.
It is worthy of note, however, that in every case of multiple marriages there was family misery because of it. Emma Smith (Joseph’s first wife) hated it. Commenting on the easy divorce available in the early first century A.D., Jesus said, “In the beginning, the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-5). Guys, put your energy into finding and caring for one woman. One is enough.