So I recently finished teaching the second half of the Doctrine and Covenants at BYU, which I enjoyed very much. When we got to some of the harder issues that are part of the curriculum, especially polygamy and blacks and the priesthood, I wanted to cover them in a way that was both direct and helpful. I applaud the church’s essays in these topics, assigned them, and wanted to cover these topics in the same spirit of openness. Yet these are tough and as 132 approached, I was trying to thing about how to go about it. To me it seemed like I had three options. 1) Dodge it. Again, I didn’t want to do that. 2) Tell the students information that I felt pretty sure was incorrect. As I mentioned in this previous post, I like the articles but think there are some mistakes, especially eternity only sealings. 3) Tell them what I believe is correct. Having tried this out on my own kids and feeling it went well, I decided to give my assertion about shared marriages a shot. So I got my powerpoint ready and headed to class.
I begin each class with a quiz so that they’ll read and have things to discuss. For these class periods (the difficult issues) I just had them write down any questions. The first hand after they turned them in: “Explain to me eternity only sealings because that doesn’t make sense to me.” “Oh boy,” I thought, “getting right to it.” After a little hedging I decided to simply answer the question. “I don’t believe there were any eternity only sealings.” He nodded and said, “Okay that make sense.” Knowing that I was differing from the church’s article, I then told the rest of the class, “Feel free to disagree with me. I won’t quiz you on that, but I don’t believe there were any eternity only sealings.”
After some more questions, I moved on to my power point. I started with a quote from President Uchdorf’s October 2013 conference talk. “Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction. Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.” I then told them that polygamy was such a topic and that we were still trying to figure out what it all meant.
Then I thought I’d give them some background which included a few things were know about Fanny Alger. There were audible gasps at each fact listed: young *gasp*, servant *gasp*, close to Emma *gasp*. “Oh no,” I thought, “I’m traumatizing them with stuff that feels second nature to old-hand MHA types.”
Then I showed them Smith’s marital pattern: how he married mostly married women, and then shifted to single. How the median age for the first group was 33 and for the second was 19. They seemed curious but no gasps like there were for Alger. I also went over DC 132:41. No gasps. I proposed to them they could think of the shift from married to single women like the shift between all things in common and tithing, shifting from the higher to the lower. Some head nods. I also proposed that we could view the first system, shared wives, like the law of consecration: i.e. sharing. More nods and even questions about what that might be like in the next life (I told the I didn’t know.)
I then quickly went over Heber and Helen Kimball to illustrate what I argue was the shift between married and single wives. When I wrote the number “14” on the board, *gasp*. I explained that this was probably Heber’s idea.
On the “quiz” one of my students had asked about Emma’s reaction and so even though that wasn’t in my powerpoint (oops) I decided to give a stab at it. Thinking on my feet, I told them to read 132:51 and asked them what they thought it meant. One student who had usually seemed pretty disengaged, raised his hand and said, “It seems like it’s saying that Emma could have additional husband but that now she can’t.” I told them that that was what I thought it meant.
I then, as an aside, mentioned that there was a lot of tension over this issue between Joseph and Emma at the time section 132 was revealed and that Emma was really upset. More gasps.
I concluded by saying that this was kind of a disaster but that so were attempts to establish Zion in Jackson County. Head nods.
So what I noticed was that the gasps came at information that is pretty agreed upon: young wives and disputes with Emma. They didn’t seemed traumatized by shared wives.
We discussed the topic some more when we got to Official Declaration 1. For that one, I had them read the church’s essays on Utah polygamy and Spencer Fluhman’s article on Helen Kimball. They had a lot of questions about why it stopped and we brainstormed about that. When we got to Helen, my normally chatty group got pretty quiet. I kept trying to prod them with questions but they just looked somber.
After class, I read their questions and one said that the article had really bothered her. I tried to write something encouraging and handed it and the other quizzes back the next class period.
Anyway, I was sort of curious how all this went over, so on the final, which was all essay questions since I didn’t have many students, I asked, “In what ways could plural marriage be related to the building of Zion.” It was one of 8 questions I asked on the final and they only had to answer 5, so they didn’t have to answer that one if they didn’t want to. I was curious if any would and what they would say.
I was intrigued when they handed them in and I saw that only one of my female students didn’t answer it (most of my males students did to, but not as high a percentage, and the one female student that didn’t answer the question was the one who asked on the first day why we weren’t practicing it anymore.) Apparently most wanted to answer the question. I was also really intrigued by the answers. Here are a few, numbered and genders listed.
1 (F) “To build Zion is to build a people that are one in everything. D&C 78:5-6 ‘That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.’ As the saints practices polygamy it helped them become more equal in earthly things and to also watch out for one another more. The sharing of earthly things with more [?] helped them become more closely knit together and they became closer to becoming one. This also helped there be no poor or rich among them which is the key to building Zion.”
2 (M) “Plural marriage can be related to building Zion in a few ways. During this time in the Church there was a focus on consecration and on caring for the needs of others in order to build Zion. I believe that a righteous family setting is the best place to not only have everything in common, but also to better understand the needs of others. The Lord knew that members of a gospel centered family were much more likely to care for and serve one another, so I believe He tried to create as many of that type of family and get as many people into them as He could. The vehicle for accomplishing this was polygamy. Throughout the Doctrine and Covenants the saints are counseled to look after one another, “widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor” (83:6) which would help them to become of “one heart and one mind” (45:65). I believe that the family served and still serves as a microcosm for the true Zion society. In a family everyone gives all that they have and takes what they need. Though the Saints struggled to live the law of consecration and build Zion as a whole, I believe that there was and still is today much success in living these principles in the home. In an effort to bring more children into this situation and allow even more to experience the blessings of Zion, the Lord instituted polygamy.”
3 (M) “Plural marriage was another element of the “Zion project.” Plural marriage seems to relate very closely to the building of Zion with relation to the Law of Consecration. There are many principles in the Law of Consecration that are comparable to what the practice of plural marriage was doing. For example, “order established that the saints may be equal in bonds of heavenly and earthly things” (78:5). This notion of equality and “all things in common among the saints was very prevalent.” [source?] Other scriptures in reference to the law of consecration say, “one man should not possess above another;” (49:20) and also that, “every many equal according to his family” (57:3). Zion was intended to be a God-like society wherein it could truly only function and be build upon ‘principles of celestial law’ (105:5). Part of the Celestial Law was sealing people together to abide by the principles of a Zion like society.”
4 (F) “D&C 78:5 says, “That you may be equal in the bonds of Heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also.” Polygamy, particularly in the early stages, allowed for multiple people to be sealed to each other. This led to sharing more of everything, as well as being bonded to each other. Those with more money often had more wives and children. This allowed them to spread their wealth. In doing so, they were working towards practicing the Law of Consecration. This is a very difficult law to live by and it is required in Zion. Polygamy gave the Saints a chance to work on and improve this skill, especially because their last attempt failed.”
5 (F) “Another way plural marriage can be related to building Zion is it established a feeling of family in the church. As a result of plural marriage, many of the Saints were consequently related through marriage. One of the characteristic of Zion is the great love for one another that the people will have. By establishing greater family bonds though temple sealings the Saints could increase in charity. Temple sealings of one family to another was also important for the reason it sealed the human family back to God so that in the eternities we can be linked together.”
Oh and the student that wrote that she had really been upset by the article on Helen, later wrote me this email
I simply wanted to say thank you for teaching about the difficult subjects that you did and in the way that you did. It’s true: I would have been upset reading that essay about Helen without any prior knowledge of it. (More upset, I guess. It still took some effort to be ok with all of that. Still working on it!). I have truly enjoyed this class and I have learned so much and gained a much greater appreciation for the Doctrine and Covenants as well as for the history of the Church and those who were called to build Zion.
Thank you for your preparation and for the Spirit with which you have taught.”
So I felt pleased with the results.