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Polygamy Helped the LDS Church


cshaw

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Hello everyone. I've decided to come out of lurk mode to try and make a contribution to those who have been troubled by the LDS Church's practice of polygamy. As I have been reading through several threads discussing polygamy I kept wondering if I should share an e-mail correspodance I had with an LDS Anthropologist about two years ago. I've X'ed out his name because I don't know if it's appropriate to share his reply or if he would want to be inundated with emails about this topic. I can tell you that he is a Cultural Anthropologist who teaches Anthropology of Religion. The following is an email I sent him when I was trying to find some perspective on the potential benefits that could have been associated with the practice of polygamy.

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Professor XXXXX,

Recently, I've been thinking about Polygamy and wondering if it may have actually provided the early LDS with some possible societal benefits which are often over looked by present day LDS or the Church's critics. I've asked Marc A. Schindler and he referred me to you.

I often tire of the perception that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young "just liked the ladies."

Can you share any perspective? Or is polygamy truly an enigmatic blemish upon LDS history?

CShaw

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From an anthropological viewpoint, there is no one naturally superior form of human marriage. Rather, different societies have come to idealize different marriage forms because each form is economically and/or politically advantageous in different circumstances. For instance, polygyny (the form of polygamy in which there are plural wives) causes a family to grow more rapidly than does any other marriage form. So, in the thousands of societies anthropologists have studied, polygyny is consistently preferred under circumstances in which rapid family growth is beneficial. Rapid family growth* and, therefore, polygyny* is normally valued in frontier areas in which a population is expanding into a new environment and in environments in which survival requires heavy labor by male relatives.

Actually, of all the societies anthropologists have studied, at least

75 percent regard polygyny as the ideal marriage for. So, even though we contemporary Americans live under conditions in which it would not be economically viable (except in a few isolated, rural communities) and, therefore, value monogamy, there really isn't any reason to consider polygyny any kind of "blemish."

Yes, polygamy *was* adaptive in helping Mormon pioneers tame the arid lands of the Great Basin. Farming communities here grew up at the mouths of each major canyon along the north-south trending mountains because the rivers (really creeks) that flow out of them were the source of water for farming. The pioneer settlers built canals to channel this water both north and south of each town's canyon as far as the water supply permitted, and this defined the amount of arable land that was available for farming. The farmland became private property by means of the Homestead Act, which gave 160 acres of land to each family that was willing to do the work of building a home on it and transforming it into agriculturally productive fields. Now, a monogamous family could survive acceptably on a 160 acre farm, but a polygamous family that was willing and able to work 160 acres *for each* plural marriage prospered even better. In effect, the Homestead Act subsidized Mormon polygamy, since those polygamous families that were willing to work hard enough to do so could become land-rich in the process.

In Utah territory, polygamy was common because it was economically advantageous under the Homestead Act. Polygamous pioneers were able to obtain 160 acres of land to farm for each of their plural families. One result of polygamy in Utah Territory is the fact that of all 50 states,

Utah has the highest percentage of arable land that is privately owned today. Through polygamy, federal land became privately owned farms, enabling a rapidly growing population (fueled by a tremendously high conversion rate and the large number of immigrant Mormons coming to the territory from Europe and the eastern U.S.) to feed people in an arid environment that previous American pioneers had passed over on the way to California as unsuitable for settling in.

Also, the sex ratio among early Mormons was rather unbalanced since the number of women who converted to Mormonism was much greater than the number of men. So, polygyny was also economically adaptive for these women in a day in which the economic productivity of families was the primary means of survival for people. The system worked this way: polygyny was most advantageous in the smaller Mormon settlements north and south of Salt Lake, particularly to the original settlers of these colonies because it permitted the most industrious among them to convert their labor into higher farm-based income (as described above). But, when the next generation of young men reached marriageable age, they found that all the good farm land in their community had already been acquired by their fathers, uncles, and the other pioneer men of that generation. The polygyny of the previous generation also meant that there was a surplus of young men in the younger generation, since many of the young women of the younger generation had already "married up" by becoming plural wives of wealthy, established, older men. So, about every twenty years, the colony towns experienced a new wave of migration to establish new farm settlements further north and south of Salt Lake City. Parents would give their sons enough provisions and money to travel to Salt Lake, the large urban and mercantile hub of the territory, where they would buy the equipment such as plows they would need to start their own farm and where they would find a wife from among the incoming, single convert women. Then they would travel north or south and settle a new part of the territory. In the end, Mormon colonies were founded throughout the Great Basin, all the way up into Canada in the north, Arizona and Mexico in the south, and Nevada and California in the west. The church wouldn't have grown anywhere near as rapidly and its people would not have been nearly as prosperous had they simply practiced monogamy, and Mormons would likely still be a persecuted minority even today.

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Going back to lurk mode.

cshaw

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Polygamy better be purposeful and sanctifiable or else why does the Bible tell us that it would start in the last days:

Isaiah 4: 1 AND in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

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"Multiply and replenish the earth" is just that much easier with polygamy.

That is an untrue statement.

A woman can give birth to only one child every nine months at most. Usually, for physiological reasons, the time frame is even greater.

It doesn't matter a whit whether the sperm which fertilizes her egg comes from a polygamist or a monogamist. She can only give birth, at the absolute most, once every nine months.

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Polygamy better be purposeful and sanctifiable or else why does the Bible tell us that it would start in the last days:

Isaiah 4: 1 AND in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

Eh...that interpretation violates the Proclamation on the Family. And if this is the last days...the last thing women are concerned about is being called by a man's name.

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It doesn't matter a whit whether the sperm which fertilizes her egg comes from a polygamist or a monogamist. She can only give birth, at the absolute most, once every nine months.

Shades actually said something in a noncombative way. Wow. And he is right, too. Statistically, polygamy produced less children per woman than mongamy.

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The church wouldn't have grown anywhere near as rapidly and its people would not have been nearly as prosperous had they simply practiced monogamy,

This is probably true. Kathryn Daynes reinforces the idea that immigrant women received economic benefit through marriage because they received a share of wealth that they could not have gotten otherwise (even though small).

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I would love to tell the Lord what He should be doing, but somehow I think He wouldn't like it and it wouldn't be too wise from my side. So if the Lord commands polygamy, we obey (or not and accept the consequences). If He says we stop, we stop (or not, and face the consequences). How complicated is that?

Continuous revelation is true and he who seeketh shall find and he whoo knocketh, shall have the door opened (if he enters or not is again his/her choice)

Shalom!

G.

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That is an interestin article CSwaw, Thanks. It brought up two points I've thought of in the past.

First:

His closing remarks that without polygamy, "we would now be a persecuted minority [in our own state of Utah]." I think this is absolutely true. In a way, maybe it was the intense persecution that the Mormon's recieved was one of the original reasons for the Lord commanding Polygamy for a season. If the Saints had been able to live in peace where ever they started, there would have been no reason to move to the deserts of Utah for peace, and no reason to have a larger majority to protect their freedom's. In essence I marvel at how Anti's today do the works of their fathers who instigated mobs, preached lies about us, inflamed rhetoric, and inspired hatred etc... All of which lead to the death's of thousands of people over those early decades. Yes Anti's have been the cause of much death and misery. And while (thankfully) the fruits of their work is not harvested much today in the form of murder and other such misery, many seeds of such, like hatred, prejudice, slander, bias, bigotry are planted still today. Of such the Lord said.

D&C 121

16 Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.

17 But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves.

18 And those who swear falsely against my servants, that they might bring them into bondage and death

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Interesting article.... Two sentances, in particular, LEAPED out of the monitor at me, given my own intense interest in supporting gay marriage and the opposition that many LDS members feel for it. These two particular sentances seem to fly in the face of what many here have said in defense of 'the traditional family':

From an anthropological viewpoint, there is no one naturally superior form of human marriage. Rather, different societies have come to idealize different marriage forms because each form is economically and/or politically advantageous in different circumstances.

A quote that defies the current outcry of "preserving marriage/family which has (allegedy) 'always been' (though erroneously so, if this professor is to be believed) to preserve society from utter destruction" if there ever was one...

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In essence I marvel at how Anti's today do the works of their fathers who instigated mobs, preached lies about us, inflamed rhetoric, and inspired hatred etc... All of which lead to the death's of thousands of people over those early decades. Yes Anti's have been the cause of much death and misery. And while (thankfully) the fruits of their work is not harvested much today in the form of murder and other such misery, many seeds of such, like hatred, prejudice, slander, bias, bigotry are planted still today. Of such the Lord said

You know, this is often something that is brought up, and not something I completely disagree with. However, you can put other religions in this same quote. Take Wicca (witches) for example. The "Anti's" of that religion, insitgated mobs, preached lies about them, inflamed rhetoric, and inspired hatred, etc. All of which lead to the death's of MILLIONS of people over the years. It is true, Anti's have been the cause of much death and misery, sadly though, not just of LDS. Many seeds do continue to be planted.

My next question would be could someone point me in the direction of information showing that there were more women than men in Utah when polygamy was practiced?

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Interesting article.... Two sentances, in particular, LEAPED out of the monitor at me, given my own intense interest in supporting gay marriage and the opposition that many LDS members feel for that institution. These two particular sentances seem to fly in the face of what many here have said in defense of 'the traditional family':
From an anthropological viewpoint, there is no one naturally superior form of human marriage. Rather, different societies have come to idealize different marriage forms because each form is economically and/or politically advantageous in different circumstances.

A quote that defies the current outcry of "preserving marriage/family which has (allegedy) 'always been' to preserve society from utter destruction" (though erroneously so, if this professor is to be believed) if there ever was one...

Daniel, try reading it again. It said the TYPE of marriage didn't matter, NOT that marriage didn't matter

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Daniel, try reading it again. It said the TYPE of marriage didn't matter, NOT that marriage didn't matter.

Who said anything about marriage 'not mattering'?! I certainly didn't... I ABSOLUTELY believe it DOES! Otherwise, I wouldn't be supporting all three forms (or "types," to use your word) of marriage--straight, polygamous, AND gay!

I'm not sure what you are inferring I tried to say--I stand fully behind my statements I made above.

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Guest Just Curious
Also, the sex ratio among early Mormons was rather unbalanced since the number of women who converted to Mormonism was much greater than the number of men.

Proof???

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