I would say old Wilford was right

in the Times this morning, I found a front-page article on a subject that I have long been interested in and thought a lot about. As I read it, a thought came to me in a flash. Perhaps it was inspiration by the Spirit, perhaps it was just me catching on to an idea that has been on its way to the surface of my brain for a while.

First, the article: Blind Eye To Culture of Abuse

Now, the exposition, and a caveat: I’m Mormon, I believe in revelations and God issuing commandments to men and all that stuff. This post doesn’t presuppose that you do, and I’m not trying to convince you with this post. I’m discussing ramifications of decisions, and that’s universal.

A little background on the FLDS: in 1887, the US congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act disincorporating the Church and ordering siezure of most of its major assets, outlawing plural marriage (polygamy, as most American non-Mormons refer to it) and, interestingly, taking the right to vote away from women in Utah (they had had it since 1870 by that point… The US itself didn’t follow suit until 1920… 33 years after the right had been stripped from the women of Utah… but that’s off-topic, no?).

The Church and its leaders fought hard against the E-T act and went through the court system to do so, suing, appealing and so on all the way up to the Supreme Court. This was made further challenging because many of them, President Wilford Woodruff included, were now fugitives and had to spend considerable time in hiding due to their polygamous marriages. The Church lost in the highest court. President Woodruff returned to Salt Lake from San Francisco, looking at the Temple for confirmation of the solution he believed he must pursue, yet dreaded.

His account is that he recieved a revelation and commandment to cease the solemnization of plural marriages by the Church, and he issued “The Manifesto”, AKA Official Declaration 1. This short article discusses the reciept of The Manifesto, its consequences and some of the reasons The Lord gave for issuing it. Of course, many people have since (and at the time) attacked brother Woodruff’s choice as mere political expediency rather than revelation, either because they don’t believe in such things as revelation or for other reasons, such as unwillingness to obey. Whether you believe he was a prophet or not is irrelevant  to this discussion, really.  He had vigorously contended for the Church’s cause at the peril of his own life on many occasions already, including being part of the many dangers of Zion’s Camp and getting thrown in prison for preaching several times during his missions. This is not a man that was afraid of persecution or even prison. We do know this much about him.  He was willing to be jailed or killed for his beliefs, as he had repeatedly demonstrated.

Here is where I get to the bit about his foresight. Now, we do still believe that eventually, plural marriage will be restored… legally AND by revelation. That day’s a ways off and we’re not rushing to get it back, but we still believe in the principle, though we don’t currently practice it for a number of reasons, not least of those being that the Lord hasn’t told us to bring it back. I don’t want more than one wife anyway: what a headache! I love K very, very much… but one wife keeps me occupied enough that a second seems more burden than blessing.

The article I referenced at the start of this blog helped me crystallize some of my thoughts on the matter. Whether Wilford Woodruff knew it or not, and whether he was acting under divine mandate or not, his manifesto did much more than keep the temples open and help restore the Church’s legal status.

It saved the Church at large from becoming like the scum of the FLDS. I’m not going to mince words talking about these people: they’re hypocrites, child-molesters, dreadfully manipulative scumbags, practitioners of incest, abandoners of male children to the elements and rapists. They deserve to rot in jail and, if you believe such a state exists, in Hell. Whatever their beliefs, their practices are abhorrent before man as well as God.

Taking official sanction for plural marriage away after it was outlawed preserved the soul of the Church, even if it changed their marriage practices. He didn’t dissolve preexisting plural marriages and a lot of men had to stay in hiding (away from their families, for the most part) for much of the rest of their days… or just dissolved their earthly unions while keeping eternal ones intact. He stopped any more from being solemnized, and this made the Church more open to the outside world, kept it from developing a secretive culture of concealment and furtive back-room “spiritual weddings” with close relatives of far below any legal age like the FLDS.

Without the need for generations of ongoing secrecy and illegality, there was no need for the church to have quite as acute a siege mentality as these people maintain, one that led the FLDS to draconian social control, cruel punishments for transgression and male child abandonment (intended to reduce the number of males to compete with for the women) while girl children get an even worse fate. It permitted the Church to deal openly, with its head held high and meeting people in the eye rather than scuttling in dark corners and remote compounds for generations at a time. He instead chose a road that allowed dialogue with the outside and made it possible to “be in the world” even while trying not to be of the world.  When I think of the FLDS now, I realize that is where the whole Church might have gone if it were not for Wilford Woodruff being willing to make a very hard change.

Prophet or not, divinely inspired or not, Brother Wilford made the right decision.


12 Responses to “I would say old Wilford was right”

  1. creativedv8tion Says:

    Interesting reading.

    Now, Plural Marriage/Polygamy isn’t intended for every man, right? (Yes, I know that currently it’s not intended, I’m talking outside such considerations.) On the show Big Love, Bill (the main character, played by Bill Paxton) has a talk with his son about Plural Marriage, and basically says, “It’s not for everyone, it’s a mighty responsibility, but I think you’re a good, strong man and you could certainly do it if you feel the calling from God to do it.” (That’s horribly paraphrased, this episode was several weeks ago, but you get the jist of it.)

    Which brings up another question – has the show been addressed by the Mormon Church, either on a local/personal level or in any grander level? (I mean, you know if HBO put out a show about a family of Southern Baptists that focused on an aspect that wasn’t entirely legal or socially acceptable, they’d be boycotting Disney again. Or maybe they’d boycott all cable channels or sales of Tic Tacs. You can never tell with them.)

  2. uhlrik Says:

    Nah, it wasn’t for everybody. One of the requirements was the man had to be able to financially care for his wives. As for that show… it’s not about practicing members of the Church, and yes… the church has addressed it. They (and I) are none to amused with that show, to be frank. The little disclaimer hidden somehwere in either the opening or closing sequence? The Church got that put there. They insist that the show’s producers try to make it perfectly clear that these people are NOT members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints. If they were, they’d have been excommunicated years before. How well the show’s producers have done at their promise, I don’t know. I only watched about 10-15 minutes of it, and once. It didn’t hold my interest.

    The Church isn’t too keen on HBO programming to begin with, in all honesty.

  3. creativedv8tion Says:

    See, I don’t see the point of you, or the church, being “none too amused”. The show has never, not once, tried to imply or suggest (remotely) that the people are either indicative of the LDS flock, much less active members of the actual LDS church, but part of a splinter cult.

    In fact, the main characters are a splinter group from that splinter cult, if you think about it, as they’ve left the commune to live amongst the rest of the world.

    But, not once, does it paint the cult lifestyle of the commune as anything but: a) a deviance from the Mormon faith and b) reprehensible.

    Now, I suppose you might suggest that it’s easy for me to feel that way, b/c I’m not a Mormon, so it’s not a personal thing. And were things different, maybe I would feel differently.

    And, sure, there hasn’t been an HBO show about a guy who was living a mostly non-criminal lifestyle who ended up going to prison for several years for his first offense and ended up having his life changed forever b/c of it…

    Oh, wait, there has been. OZ is one of my fave tv shows. 😉

    The point is, I’d be the first to admit if they were disparaging your faith and your church (I might still enjoy the show – in fact, I likely would – your faith isn’t mind, and I don’t mind the casting of stones in the name of a well-crafted story, and while my jury is still out on Big Love , I’m still watching it, so that says something.

    I doubt any church is too keen on HBO programming. Churches in general tend not to like shows that offer slices of life outside of the happy-happy life-is-good God-is-great genre.

  4. uhlrik Says:

    Well, looking at the early history of LDS plural marriage, I’m inclined to say no. Several of the prominent brethren were ordered to take second wives and had serious problems with the idea until they secluded themselves in prayer and consulted with their wives. Some of Heber C. Kimball’s (early apostle) journal entries on the subject are fascinating reading.

  5. uhlrik Says:

    Well, part of the reason we’re not especially amused in general is that, while we’re aware that the folks are ostensibly not members, this sort of thing coming up always brings old wounds into the open again. The issue almost led to the Church being dismantled by military force*, after all.

    *The church was attacked by troops on many occasions before and after the practice of polygamy began. Local militias in Missouri, Ohio, Illinois and similar places, for example, were often involved in attacks and persecutions. Heck, the 200+ member mob that stormed Carthage Jail and murdered Joseph Smith was composed of the militia regiment that had been assigned to guard him in the jail. Most notable of course were the Utah War (in which polygamy was explicitly an issue), the Missouri Mormon war and the Mormon War In Illinois.

  6. uhlrik Says:

    I haven’t watched that much HBO programming, but what I’ve seen hasn’t encouraged me to come back. Sex and the City, for example… I watched a couple of episodes mostly just to see what all the flap was about. Regardless of the moral issues, the show was just crap. It seemed badly-written to me, and extraordinarily self-satisfied. All it had going for it was the somewhat risque subject matter, which didn’t interest me.

    Like I said, I haven’t watched more than a small amount of Big Love, so I can’t give a real analysis of the show and won’t pretend that I’m qualified to. What I have seen is some of the consequences of its being on the air. People circulating anti-mormon literature belaboring the point that plural marriage used to be practiced, for example, seems to have spiked again. On the plus-and-minus side, it’s given us plenty of occasions to explain things and hopefully reduce general ignorance on the subject. Which goes along with the “oh, this again… feeling.

  7. creativedv8tion Says:

    Well, it sucks that it’s a part of your history, but for good or ill, right or wrong, it is and I’m of the opinion that’s that. Harsh, perhaps, but that’s me, I guess.

  8. uhlrik Says:

    I think it’s more that it’s just what always gets trotted out, in exactly the same way… and we’re just tired of it.

    The history itself, we’re not ashamed of (at least I’m certainly not). The sheer repetetive harping just gets old.

  9. uhlrik Says:

    I don’t particularly care what they think, I just get tired of correcting their misconceptions when they shove them in my face. I feel I should correct their misconceptions when they’re at least civil about presenting them. If they’re not, I just don’t bother.

  10. creativedv8tion Says:


  11. bosantibe Says:

    I can agree with that. It’s simpler. That alone is reason enough. When you focus so much emotional intensity on a person it can be hard to keep them all straight, but when you add multiple partners to the mix your wires get crossed all to hell and both relationships will probably suffer the fallout. Much easier, more direct and less confusing to have a single major romantic entanglement, especially in the longterm sense.

  12. bosantibe Says:

    Using the letter of the law to twist its spirit; your wife is very wise in the ways of society, I have no doubt. It’s good to do the KISS thing for just such reasons, which is why I keep making up revisions to the American judicial system that are insane and impossible to implement but I would love to see played out in microcosm.

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