The media is all a-buzz with stories about the recent publication of essays about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. Although I don’t particularly appreciate the way the media has handled this, I do recognize that with regard to Church members, the stories have been written more for those who struggle with polygamy.
And so, today, I write a few thoughts with those who do struggle in mind.
I once had a friend say that we should be uncomfortable with polygamy. Monogamy is the rule in God’s law, and polygamy is the exception. In my view, the fact that people are uncomfortable with this practice that existed for several decades of early Church history, is understandable — if not right. (I say that with a caveat, which I share below.)
So I’d just say if you feel uncomfortable with polygamy, it’s ok to say and feel that. I personally don’t believe that someone needs to have a “testimony” of polygamy to have a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of the divine calling of Joseph Smith. One can be uncomfortable with polygamy and still have faith.
I love what President Uchdorf and Elder Holland have said. We can act on what we do know and believe as we consider what we may struggle with or doubt. The invitation that our leaders extend is not to let struggle hijack faith. So my encouragement to you is not to abandon what you do know, whatever that may be.
And please, please don’t be afraid to take your doubts and fears and feelings to God.
I read a wonderful book by S. Michael Wilcox who talked about the power of pouring out our souls to God. I spent a lot of years thinking that God really didn’t want to hear me talk about how I was really feeling — that somehow He just wanted me to be happy and faithful and fine, regardless of what life threw at me. I’m so sad that I had that view of Him for so long. I truly believe, now, after many experiences of my own “pouring out” of my soul and sitting in my struggles enough to be honest about them, that He doesn’t expect us to pretend that we feel what we don’t. I believe He wants us to be honest with Him, to, as Brother Wilcox says, pour out what is inside.
And then we are invited to see what God will pour in, if we will let Him. I have found that when I open myself up to His answers, they often are not what I would have expected, or even thought I wanted. But they always, always nudge me forward and closer to Him. (They usually delight me, too, because they end up being more than I could have known to ask for.)
I read a recent post by a fellow blogger and I think she makes a good point. It’s not wise or kind to dismiss the experiences and feelings of those who feel shocked or betrayed or confused by this information. And so although I understand frustration with the headlines that claim that this is all new information (and again I share the frustration at the the drama of it all) I think we ought not dismiss the real pain some feel as they think about polygamy.
And I also think that the same courtesy of being kind and not dismissive needs to be extended to Joseph Smith himself. So this is my caveat to the above statement that discomfort with polygamy can be a good thing. It’s okay to not like the idea of polygamy, but that doesn’t mean Joseph Smith was wrong in practicing it. The nature of mortality means that we all see through a glass darkly. We in the 21st century do not have a perfect lens with which to judge others in the past. Joseph Smith lived in a time with a role and rules and inspiration that none of us can understand simply because we aren’t walking in his shoes. We also can’t receive revelation about what we might have done had we lived then because revelation comes for our lives in the present, and we aren’t being asked to live polygamy (credit becky). In fact, if someone does live in a polygamous relationship, they can’t be a member of the Church.
I personally believe that a key reason God invites us not to judge others is simply because it turns our attention away from Christ and His healing power for whatever it is that makes us want to cast judgment in the first place (which is usually pain, fear, or other such emotions).
I understand that the hinge point is that to have a testimony of the Church, we need to have a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine calling. And for some, polygamy can feel like an insurmountable barrier to receiving a testimony of that calling that the prophet had.
My plea — not as anyone special, just as a sister in the gospel — is just to remember that God has ordained the process by which this testimony can be received. The process of gaining a testimony is something that won’t hit the headlines like these recent essays have, but it is nonetheless real, and has played out in the lives of millions of people around the world. Every person’s process will have its own twists and turns and will take the time that it takes. But even those twists and turns can be glorious, although difficult at times — because this process (this life, really) is about learning to engage directly with God for answers. Finding Him through the Fall and the messiness of mortality is why we are here.
And whew. Sometimes that process is really hard. Polygamy is not my wrestle, but I have my questions and struggles. We all do, I think, at some point or another. If it were all easy, what need would we have of faith or Jesus?
God bless you in your journey to find Him through and in your struggle.