In the decades following the demise of polygamy, Church leaders were continually called upon to answer questions concerning the practice of plural marriage. The answers provided illustrate the negotiations that these leaders undertook between the presence of the past and demands of the present. I believe that it is simplistic to argue that leaders only downplayed polygamy. Rather, narratives of polygamy were often shaped during this period with not only Protestant America in mind (which led to a marginalizing of plural marriage) but also the RLDS (which led to a centralizing of polygamy in the Mormon past). The following excerpt comes from Charles W. Penrose, “Peculiar Questions Answered Briefly,” Improvement Era 15, no. 11 (September 1912): [sorry, GospeLink doesn’t give page numbers].
Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered
A letter has been received from Australia propounding some peculiar questions, evidently prompted by persons who desired to provoke controversy rather than to obtain information. This may not have been the motive of the writer of the letter, therefore answers have been sent, brief, but to the point and without detailed explanations. For the benefit of persons who may meet with similar queries but are not familiar with the subjects presented, the questions and replies are published in the IMPROVEMENT ERA, as follows:
Sir:-Your letter of inquiry has been received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and this is in reply to the questions which you propound:
Question 1: What is the “New and Everlasting Covenant?”
Answer: The “New and Everlasting Covenant,” referred to in the revelation written July 12, 1843, Doctrine and Covenants, section 132, is the covenant of celestial or eternal marriage “new” to this dispensation, being a matrimonial union for time and all eternity, whereas marriage as previously understood and solemnized in the world was simply until the pair were parted by death.
Question 2: Do you believe that Jesus was married?
Answer: We do not know anything about Jesus Christ being married. The Church has no authoritative declaration on the subject.
Question 3: Do you believe that Adam had more wives than one, either in this world or in the spiritual world?
Answer: We do not know of any wife of Adam excepting Mother Eve.
Question 4: Is plural or celestial marriage essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come?
Answer: Celestial marriage is essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come, as explained in the revelation concerning it; but it is not stated that plural marriage is thus essential.
Question 5: Do you believe that a man who has been polygamously married or married under the law of celestial marriage in your temples, can commit any sin whatever, excepting the shedding of innocent blood, and yet have part and come forth in the first resurrection?
Answer: We believe just what is stated in that revelation concerning persons who have been sealed up unto eternal life but who commit sin that is not declared unpardonable, and in their redemption after they have paid “the uttermost farthing” of the penalty imposed by eternal justice, and have been “delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption.” (See par. 26, also Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:29; I Cor. 5:5.)
Question 6: Can a Latter-day Saint be a true member of the Church and in good standing, who flatly denies the divinity and authenticity of the revelation on plural marriage?
Answer: No one can be counted a true Latter-day Saint who flatly denies the divinity of a revelation accepted as divine by the Church.
Question 7: Supposing that a true Saint has been married the second time-his first wife being dead-he is sealed to both for time and eternity, does this mean that polygamy will exist in the celestial glory?
Answer: If a man has had more than one wife sealed to him for time and eternity, of course it means that if faithful they will be his in celestial glory, as in the case of Abraham and others whose wives were “given to them of the Lord.”
Question 8: Will not a righteous husband and wife, who have fulfilled every other ordinance, be together throughout eternity, although they have not been sealed in a temple?
Answer: Every righteous husband and wife whom “God hath joined together” by his holy ordinance and authority will be one in eternity if they never saw “a temple.” But the ceremonies of men that God has not appointed have an end when men are dead. (Sec. 132:13-18. However, there are means provided for sealing ordinances in behalf of the worthy dead so that none will lose that which they merit.
Question 9: Do you believe in “blood-atonement,” or in other words, do you accept and believe in the principles taught in Brigham Young’s sermon of 8th of February, 1857, Journal of Discourses, volume 4, pages 219, 220?
Answer: We believe in “blood atonement” by the sacrifice of the Savior, also that which is declared in Genesis 9:6. A capital sin committed by a man who has entered into the everlasting covenant merits capital punishment, which is the only atonement he can offer. But the penalty must be executed by an officer legally appointed under the law of the land.
Question 10: Do you believe that Jesus Christ was begotten by the Holy Ghost, as described in Matthew 1:18-20Luke 1:35?
Answer: We believe that Jesus of Nazareth “was the only begotten of the Father.” It is not stated in either text cited that he was “begotten of the Holy Ghost,” and the contrary is described in Luke 1:35. It was the “power of the Highest” that overshadowed Mary, and Jesus was “the Son of the Highest.” The Holy Ghost came upon her, she “conceived” under the influence of that divine Spirit, but Jesus is nowhere declared as the Son of the Holy Ghost, but as “the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14; Heb. 1:5.) Even the sectarian creeds do not fall into the error that beclouds the minds of some apostates, but say of Jesus that He is the Son of God, “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” etc.
Question 11: Do you acknowledge that the other factions of the Church held or do hold the authority of the priesthood, inasmuch as they honestly fulfil the law of the Church, so far as they understand it?
Answer: There are no “factions of the Church” which was organized April 6th, 1830, and has continued as an unbroken entity and organism from that day until the present. Those persons who go out from the Church no matter how they may establish themselves or what name they may take are not and cannot be parts of the one Church which Christ set up, nor do they hold authority that he recognizes, for that would be contrary to his own repeated declarations, as well as order and common sense.
Question 12: Baptism for the dead-How do we know which of our deceased relatives are to be baptized for, and how do we know when we are to be baptized for them?
Answer: If instead of “we” the questioner had used the word “you,” we would answer: Often by personal revelation, always by the law of kindred and genealogy, and the direction of those divinely appointed to administer the ordinances commanded. It is not likely that he or those who prompted his queries would know anything about these matters.
Question 13: Should there be more than one temple in use at the same time and why? Please give Biblical evidence.
Answer: Yes. There should be as many temples as may be needed for the immense labors in behalf of the dead, for the hearts of the children who have received of the spirit of Elijah are turned to their deceased ancestors, and the hearts of the fathers are turned to their children who can act as saviors for them upon Mount Zion, without whom they cannot “be made perfect,” and there are millions and millions who are awaiting their redemption. It would not matter if there was not a Biblical reference or allusion to this magnificent subject, any more than there is to the colonization of Australia, or the Constitution of the United States. Some folks ought to hunt through the Bible for their own names to be sure they are alive. But let our inquirer read Malachi 4:5, 6; Heb. 11:39, 40; I Peter 3:18-22; I Cor. 15:29; Rom. 11:26; Philip 2:10, 11; Rev. 20:14etc.
Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.
Question 15: Do you believe that Christ will come to the temple at Salt Lake City, and is Salt Lake City Zion?
Answer: We have no revelation on that matter, nor is it preached or discussed. Any city is Zion that is under control of “the pure in heart.”
Question 16: Why do the elders of your Church use Masonic signs and emblems, and has ‘Mormonism’ anything to do with Free Masonry?
Answer: We might answer: “Because they don’t.” Seriously, Elders or other ministers of the Church, as such, do not use any signs of secret orders. Some of our brethren may be or have been members of the Masonic society, but the Church has no connection with what is called “Free Masonry.”
Question 17: Was Joseph Smith, Jr., a Mason?
Answer: Joseph Smith the Prophet was a Mason.
Question 18: Was Joseph Smith, Jr., a polygamist?
Answer: Joseph Smith introduced and practiced plural marriage. The proofs of this are abundant and complete.
These questions are answered, so that it may not be truthfully claimed that we avoid them. Some of them are not subjects of discussion among the Latter-day Saints, but are brought forward usually by persons who desire to cavil and contend, and rarely from a real desire for information. It is to be hoped that our correspondent is not among that number.
CHARLES W. PENROSE,
Of the First Presidency.