Chapter Thirteen

The Mormon Family

"My husband, Ralph, and I have been members of the LDS Church since July 1979. We were shocked at your book and at the same time relieved. We were taking classes to prepare us and our two daughters to go to the temple. We have asked members of our ward many times what we would have to do once we were in the temple. And answer has always been, ‘When it’s time for you to know, you will be told.’ Our questions have never been answered.
"We need to know more – we are at a complete loss. And I’m really afraid."—Alexandria

You never really encounter Latter-day Saints alone. Hovering over every conversation is a family network contradicting your every statement, clouding every issue, and confounding reason.

The young Mormon man with whom you are talking once sat in a Primary circle singing, "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission." His dad promised to send him to college and buy him a new car – after he returned from his mission. "I would have shamed my family terribly," a tough ex-cop told me, "if I had not served a two-year mission. I had no choice."

Women drag their kids to the pharmacy to get their monthly Valium prescription filled because they cannot bring themselves to take birth control pills. They’ve been carefully taught that "spirit children" in heaven are patiently waiting to be "born under the covenant" (that is, to come to earth and "take on bodies" in a good Mormon home).

In Utah, which is two-thirds Mormon, family life is advertised in TV and radio spits as slices from "Father Knows Best." But in reality, social scientists are pessimistic about the quality of Utah family life. (See statistical footnotes in Chapter Two.)

Bringing Latter-day Saints to Christ almost always precipitates a family crisis as loved ones react with fear and anger. Sometimes family problems reach gigantic proportions. Christians are often unprepared for the furor that follows the conversion of a Latter-day Saint. If you are to evangelize Mormons, you need to be prepared for the heartbreak of watching the new Christian experience rejection and ostracism.

Mormonism is a closed system. Many Mormons have no social life outside their Church. They may go off to Gentile jobs each morning, but when they come home, it is to a Mormon family and Mormon Church activities.

For Mormons, salvation is a family affair. Eternal marriage, on the one hand, and genealogy, on the other, attempt to extend the family relationship into eternity. That means that when somebody leaves the Church, he endangers the salvation of other family members. Many people have told me stories like this: A young man was born again. His Mormon bishop called him in and told him that unless he changed his mind, it would be necessary for his wife "to find someone else to take her into the Celestial Kingdom." When a Mormon leaves the Church, especially when a man leaves the Church, the marriage is in peril.

Therefore, we must move with utmost sensitivity as we deal with Mormon families. We must attempt to preserve the marriage at all costs except the loss of the eternal soul. I tell people who come to Christ to be very careful and patient with their Latter-day Saint spouses. Let them come at their own speed. Do nothing to rush them.

In my own case, when I was born again, I told my wife that we would raise our children as Mormons. And I refrained from being water baptized as a Christian for two years. (God arranged it so that by the time I was baptized, my wife was ready to join me.)

The Bible says the spouse will be won by the godly behavior, not by witnessing and argument. A life lived flat out for Christ with tenderness and sensitivity to the feelings of the unsaved spouse will do more than Scripture-quoting and arguing. When I told my wife that we could raise our children as Mormons, I was honoring the vow I made to her at marriage. I knew God would protect my children until my wife was saved. And as a matter of fact, my eight-year-old daughter made a public profession of Christ the same night my wife did.

I was fortunate. Not every man who leaves Mormonism for Christ keeps his family. And we must be prepared to press our witness to the limit in spite of the dangers involved. It’s a great responsibility and we’d better be sure our hearts and motives are pure as we interfere in the lives of others.

Women in Mormonism stand in a unique position: Mormonism is unashamedly patriarchal. Women do not hold the priesthood. They are dependent upon their husbands to enter the highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom. Mormonism has adopted, practiced, and championed polygamy, something no other sub-culture in the Western civilized world has done.

Personally, I think it is impossible to understand Mormon family structure without understanding the horrors of polygamy. Although the Utah Mormon Church no longer practices polygamy (as Mormon fundamentalists in Mormondom do openly), it is still a doctrine of the Church. Mormons expect to practice polygamy in heaven. As a matter of fact, I would not be surprised to see the Utah Church again sanction the practice in our day. Why not? If fornication, trial marriages, and adultery are no longer crimes in our culture, if we are not going to send men to jail for living with more than one woman – out of wedlock – how are we going to be able to justify convicting men for doing so within the bounds of wedlock? And if the public accepts polygamy as legal, the Mormon Church is free to reinstitute the practice at will.

Polygamy not only illustrates the repression of women in Mormon society, it epitomizes the Church’s powerful system of mind control. When you understand Mormon mind control, you are beginning to comprehend the essence of Mormonism.

Men as well as women were victims of this practice. By circumventing the New Testament standard, men were placed in a position of power that brought out the worst in them.

But, of course, it was the women who bore the pain and degradation of polygamy.

The History of Mormon Polygamy

The Book of Mormon condemns polygamy in very strong terms (Jacob 2:23-27), but Mormons were accused of polygamy from the earliest days of Mormonism. Their Church officially denied the charge, declaring that "one man should have one wife…" (Section 104 of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants declared that the Church believed polygamy to be a crime.)

The public declaration, however, was a cover-up for Joseph Smith’s real feelings. One of his close friends testified that he was practicing polygamy as early as 1835 when the Church was in Kirtland, Ohio. (1) The first woman the already-married Joseph Smith took to be his wife was Fannie Algar a "comely young girl" who lived with the Smiths in Kirtland. Apostle John Widtsoe said Fannie lived many years after the Prophet’s death and never denied her relationship with him. (2)

When Joseph finally came out of the closet, he brought polygamy as a commandment of the Lord. He said he received the revelation on plural marriage on July 12, 1843 (just less than a year before his death). Anticipating resistance (and his wife Emma’s reaction), Joseph couched the prophecy in strong language:

If ye abide not that covenant, then ye are damned…. And let my handmaiden, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph…. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed. (3)

Emma, to say the least, was not pleased with the revelation. Joseph wrote it out and his brother, Hyrum, took it to Emma to read. Hyrum returned to tell Joseph he had "never received a more severe talking to in his life." In fact, Emma took the revelation from Joseph and destroyed it. (4)

Amazingly, although Joseph was practicing polygamy from 1835 on, and while the official revelation on the subject came in 1843, and while the practice was widespread in Utah from 1847, the Church continued to publish the 1835 revelation against polygamy until 1876.

 

The Woe of Polygamy

Mormon polygamy was born, I believe, in the lust of Joseph Smith. Again, Brigham Young carried it to the ultimate conclusion with at least twenty-seven wives.

But polygamy was a spiritual regression. Although God tolerated both divorce and polygamy in the Old Testament, the clear teaching of the Bible is the Genesis 2:23-24 idea that man and woman come together in a divinely ordained "two." Jesus reiterates that in Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:1-12.

Likewise, Paul calls the Church to monogamy in 1 Timothy 3:2. In eloquent terms he sets forth the high biblical calling of mutual submission in the monogamous marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:23-33.

Brigham Young said women ought simply to "be happy to have a man from the Lord!… Sisters… what is your duty? It is for you to bear children." Women shouldn’t torment themselves with whether or not their husbands loved them, Brigham said, but should just shout "Hallelujah!" that they have a man. (5)

Even faithful Mormon polygamists understood the heartbreak of polygamy. One wrote, "Plural marriage … is calculated in its nature to severely try the women, even to nearly tear their heart strings out of them." (6)

The manipulation Joseph Smith exercised through polygamy was illustrated when he demanded to have Vilate, the wife of Heber C. Kimball. Kimball sweated and prayed for three days before bringing her to Joseph, who then told him it was really just "a test of his loyalty." A few days later, however, Joseph accepted Kimball’s eldest daughter, Helen Mar – in "half-ripe but of womanhood." (Many believed Kimball had struck a deal with Joseph, trading Helen Mar for Vilate.)

Brigham Young had little patience with his wives who complained about the institution of polygamy:

You must fulfill the law of God in every respect, and round up your shoulders to walk up to the mark without any grunting…. There is no cessation to the everlasting whining of many of the women in this territory…. I will not hear any more of this whining. (7)

 

The Woman in Modern Mormonism

What is it like to be a modern Mormon woman? And how can we reach into the Mormon family with the Gospel of Christ? Is there life for the post-Mormon woman?

Recently my wife, Margaretta, reflected on the unique position of the Mormon women in a piece for our newsletter, "Through the Maze." This column so impressed His Majesty the King of Tonga, that he himself (a born-again and very evangelical Christian) translated it into Tonganese and reprinted it in a large-circulation Methodist newspaper. I reprint it here:

"I was born and raised as a Mormon in the land of Zion. My earliest memory is my desire to be married in the temple. I wanted to have my family sealed to me for time and all eternity, just as I was sealed to my family. This seemed like such a wonderful thing to me. I pitied the poor Gentiles who would only be with their families for this life.

"As I grew older, I acquired another motive for temple marriage. My teacher in the Mutual Improvement Association had not married her husband in the temple. She often related to our Mutual class that since she had not married her husband in the temple, she would be a servant in the Celestial Kingdom. She would have to wait on tables and take care of the babies of those who had been more faithful. She would never be able to become a goddess to populate and rule worlds with her god-husband.

"I determined that I would never be a servant and wait on others; I would have a world of my own with my husband. I do not ever recall hearing that Jesus said, ‘If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, you must be the servant of all.’

"I judged my Mutual teacher harshly. I considered her weak because she and her husband had not gotten themselves worthy to go through the temple.

"I promised myself I would never compromise on the issue of temple marriage. And I didn’t! In 1966 Jim and I were married in the Idaho Falls temple. I was able to wear the holy garments and the way was now clear for me to make it to the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom. I would, of course, have to continue to keep myself worthy, but I really felt I had accomplished my goal.

"Looking back now over thirty years of Mormonism and my ten years as a born-again Christian, I am able to compare two quite different lives. I am able to see the differences between being a Mormon woman and being a Christian woman.

"As a Mormon woman of unshakable faith and testimony, I was often called upon to believe things that were so unbelievable I was forced to simply put them out of my mind. For example, I was taught that in the last days, many men would be killed and my husband might be forced to take other women as his wives to keep them safe under the Covenant. I didn’t like to think about that.

"I also knew that in the resurrection, my husband would have to call me out of the grave, using a name given me in the temple. I wasn’t sure I could trust Jim’s memory! (A friend’s husband did forget her name and had to go back to the temple to get it again.) I also worried that Jim might just decide not to call me out.

"When Jim left the Church, the Stake President warned him that if he didn’t repent, I would be given to another man in the resurrection. I especially didn’t like to think that my destiny could be changed by my husband or some other men, and that I had no say in the matter.

"After I became a Christian woman, I began to see that Jesus has a special plan for all women. I began to experience the joy in my destiny as a woman of God. I read in the Bible that: ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:26-28).

"This does not mean that there is no order in Christian living. Jesus has placed the husband at the head of the home. But this does not change my personal relationship with Jesus in any way. Jim is the head of our home. He is the spiritual covering for me and our children. I wouldn’t have it any other way (most of the time!). But I am not under his thumb. I am a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ and I am an heir to all the promises of Abraham just the same as my husband is.

"It is exciting to know that Jesus considers me a child of God through faith, and an heir to all the promises of Abraham. I never have to worry that I will be kept out of any corner of the Kingdom of God by the whim of men. I will enter the same way any other child of God does – by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, trusting in Him and Him alone. I cannot express the difference knowing these things has made in my life. I have literally experienced the promise of John 8:36: ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’"

When we attempt to reach Mormons for Christ we are faced with entering their private worlds and speaking the word of truth to them. When we do that, families sometimes will be thrown into confusion.

I know there is no way to cut chains of bondage without the chance that the sword of liberation might also be a sword of division. Jesus Himself, the Great Liberator, said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." He says anyone who loves family more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:34-37).

A sword of division is in our hands. Frankly, I don’t like it. I wish there were another way. In my finite wisdom, I question why God allows cults to exist. And why His Church is charged with the responsibility of confronting them.

God grant us the sensitivity and wisdom to cut the cords of bondage without harming the bound victims.

  1. Tanner, Mormonism – Shadow or Reality, p. 203-204.
  2. Tanner, Mormonism – Shadow or Reality, p. 203.
  3. Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 132, vs. 4, 52, 54.
  4. History of the Church, Introduction to Vol. 5, p. XXXIL.
  5. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 37.
  6. Tanner, Mormonism – Shadow or Reality, p. 209.
  7. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pp. 55-57.
  8. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pp.259-260.