The question is this:
Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice);
or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, November 1, 1891
This was a traumatic episode for the Church. Years of teaching and preaching and digging heels in over the revealed religious sexual practice of polygamy almost led to the demise of the church. The Mormon identity was polygamy. And despite our best efforts over a century to scrub away the polygamy, the Mormon brand of polygamy is still embedded in the nation’s psyche despite the generations. Now that’s the kind of brand identity staying power any ad agency would die for.
With the first and second manifesto, the fervor and zeal to be polygamists was channeled into not being polygamists. It was a thorough deep cleaning of Mormon identity to where now most members of the church stomachs churn at the thought of the practice.
Now days the preface of the Manifesto blandly states:
The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise.
What we are missing here in that bland preface are the epic struggles, events, sermons, and posturing that occurred up to the instant God declared otherwise.
Today we are going through another traumatic episode for the Church with all the accompanying epic struggles, events, sermons, and posturing. Let’s just look at this January. January of 2016 was a somber month for the LGBT in the church.
On January 10th we witnessed the correlation of individual accounts of disagreement and surprise with the policy whispered from the very bottoms of the leadership hierarchy to the top. In one pronouncement the LGBT exclusion policy was declared “the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord.”
Policy became revelation.
President Nelson was kind enough to draw a line in the sand for church leaders and members alike. Perhaps you can disagree with a policy in polite Mormon company, but you cannot disagree with a revelation. With a policy you disagree with the policy. With a revelation you disagree with GOD.
Then on January 28th, both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune broke the story of an alarming number of LGBT youth suicides that occurred since the policy announcement. This information was first shared by Mama Dragon Wendy Montgomery during the “Knit together in Unity & Love” LGBT Mormon Conference at Loyola Marymount University during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. 34 families had personally reached out to her since the policy was announced to share their grief in the loss of a LGBT youth family member.
The “Policy” has created a visible fracture within the church. President Nelson is trying to repair it with revelation. Members are either burning bridges or building them in the confusion. And while we wait for an honest to goodness common consent revelation where we can raise our hands to signify our consent, children are dying and members are suffering. Mixed orientation marriages are failing. Children with a gay parent are excluded and otherwise faithful gay members are resigning from the church rather than endure the very real and hurtful label of apostasy.
This is doctrinal heel digging we simply have not seen since the days of polygamy in the church.
Why the divide? Why the heel digging?
Greg Prince summed up this phenomenon beautifully.
The reason LGBT issues are splitting the LDS Church is that its leadership still clings to the belief—and some leaders cling to it with the tenacity of a death-grip—that homosexuality is a matter of choice, and that having made the bad choice at an earlier time, someone with “same-sex attraction” (a euphemism that I detest) can simply choose to be straight. All of our LGBT-related policies and doctrines are built on this foundation.
What could happen if the Church continues to cling with the tenacity of a death grip that homosexuality is a choice, just like being a polygamist is a choice?
We have history as a guide.
When I was a young man, one of my favorite uncles who taught seminary and institute for the CES took my family on a Utah church history tour. One of our stops was a non-descript white farm house where he pointed to the porch and casually mentioned that Wilford Woodruff sat there in a rocking chair dressed in women’s clothing while US federal marshals searched the barn next door hoping to find and arrest him for polygamy.
I have always found it fascinating that Woodruff was not only evading the law, but wore women’s clothing to do so.
Last summer I desired to study more about this period in church history and came across this gem.
This out of print book now freely available for download on the internet holds a treasure of information concerning the days lived under the Edmunds act. Atkinville is a small village four or five miles west of St. George. The town’s namesake family, Willliam and Rachel Atkins and their extended family were proud members of the Mormon underground, hiding the polygamists of the church.
Originally Wilford Woodruff intended to hide in St. George while evading federal law enforcement in the Utah territory. Woodruff states in his journal on 7 Aug 1886: “Arrived at St George and slept at the home of John and Emma Squires in the same bed where I had slept for six months last year.”
Emma Squires recalls that when Woodruff lived in her place, he had a room upstairs where he always retreated when someone knocked, before she opened the door. She had to be very careful not to let anyone know he was there. The home was near the red hill and had orchards and vineyard at the rear of the house where Woodruff occasionally went hunting quails in a disguise that Emma made for him: a sunbonnet, and a mother hubbard dress.
Despite the disguise, an inquisitive neighbor met and recognized him in the rear of the house as he was returning from the hill. Now discovered, he had to find a new place to live immediately.
He retreated to Atkinsville, a village 4-5 miles west of St. George.
Joseph Walker remarked “It was no small honor, even as it was a heavy responsibility, to have such an eminent man’s safety and welfare entrusted to this family. His residency lent luster and added importance to the place, beyond anything else that could have happened to the villages.
And thus Atkinville became a hub of the polygamy underground.
This was a time in our early history when the church organization dug its heels in.
What lessons can we learn from Atkinville as we witness the church organization once again digging its heels in? In examining our history, can we perhaps understand what our future holds if we stubbornly continue this path?
I can identify six themes that parallel the “family under siege” idea of today in the history of Atkinville. As you read each theme, compare and contrast the action of the church organization in those last days of polygamy with the organization’s actions today in a post Obergefell world.
- Woodruff was running from the law, pursued by U.S. Federal marshals.
Wilford Woodruff writes in his journal on February 23, 1887, “Marshall Armstrong arrived in the evening in St. George.”
Therefore, feeling the pressure of federal law enforcement he took his bed and luggage and went to Atkinsville “to stop a while.” It was the safest place he would find in the region. He developed confidence in the hospitality, dependability and loyalty of the family.
The geography of Atkinville was such that he could quickly flee to the thickets of tamarix lining the river bottom lands and the tules of the pond with little fear that the marshals could find him.
Today: As the federal government and other organizations begin to enforce equal protection under the law for LGBT, what positions do you see the church taking to be able to continue LGBT restrictions? Is religious freedom to discriminate against the LGBT analogous to hiding in the “thickets of tamarix and the tules of the pond?”
- The Saints willingly defied the law of the land to observe the law of God.
In the book it clearly states that the “majority of the people [in Atkinville] were loyal Latter-day Saints, who faithfully entered “the conspiracy to assist the harassed brethren.” They felt no guilt and no embarrassment in thus helping ‘the work of the Lord.’
Today: Marriage equality is now the law of the land in America. Did classifying same sex married couples as apostates elevate the law of God over the law of the land? Why does the church accept people in opposite sex civil marriages but reject people in same sex civil marriages?
- The Saints had an elaborate system designed to defend those who embodied the ideal of polygamous families.
The Saints in Atkinvillle vigilantly kept track of the Marshall’s whereabouts with elaborate chains of communications, signals, and relay messages using back roads and trails. An alert at Atkinville started this chain of events: A young girl was stationed at a strategic hill top where she could watch the approaching roads. If she spotted the buggy of Marshals McGreary and Armstrong coming around the dugway above Bloomington or coming down the Price road, she would signal for the next step.
Upon receiving the hilltop alarm, there was a “rush to get Brother Woodruff, his bedroll, food and water, his books and fishing tackle into the large boat (l4 by 5 ft.) on the pond where he could remain safely concealed in the heavy cattails and rushes.”
When Woodruff worried that he might be spotted by the Marshals from the bluff above the pond he was assured that “there were plenty of places to hide where neither the marshals from the hill, the devil from below, nor the Lord from above could see the boat.”
Today: What things create an elaborate modern day system designed to defend the ideal of one man/one woman marriage?
- People took this defense very personally.
While all the Atkins were alert and felt personal responsibility for Wilford Woodruff’s safety, Nellie Atkins’ childish adoration of “Grandpa Allen” as she called him, was especially appealing to Woodruff. When she would write to Woodruff after his departure from Southern Utah he would write back. In one of his letters (3 Sep 1887) addressed to her he said, “I read it (your letter) in the presence of some apostles and a room full of people and they were much pleased. They thought you was a brave young lady who was willing to do so much to defend the life and interest of the President of the Church.”
(While in Atkinville, Woodruff was not yet the President of the Church. John Taylor died on July 25, 1887 so Woodruff was President of the Church at the time of his letter to Nellie in September of 1887)
Woodruff continues, “But I don’t wish to put my little lady Nellie to so much trouble and danger. I have a large stout man who goes with me everywhere night and day, carries two pistols and a double-barrel shotgun and says he will shoot the marshals if they come to take me. (Don’t tell anybody of this) So I am pretty well guarded. I miss you in buttoning up my shoes. I don’t stop at home any nights so Alice (Wilford’s daughter) can’t button my shoes and I have to ask some big man that will weigh about 200 lbs. to button my shoes and he is so awkward about it, I wish I had my Nellie with me.”
Today: What polarization have you seen today concerning LGBT policy and procedures? What discussions occur in your wards, stakes, and institutes? Who do you see as proud to defend the life and interest of a discriminatory policy?
- The Saints were gladly willing to suffer and possibly kill for the cause
The Atkin family was very solicitous about the welfare of Wilford Woodruff. In 1937 Henry T. explained, “All of us children knew he was in the home and we were proud to have our home selected for this purpose of keeping him in seclusion.
We would have stood almost any torture before we would have exposed President Woodruff.
Wilford Woodruff would also often hide from the marshals in the St. George temple.
“That these were grim and desperate times is attested by an incident reported by Joseph Walker (letter, Apr 26 1956). His father, Charles L. Walker was the night guard at the temple from the time of its completion in 1877 to the time of his death in 1904. He possessed a beautiful Colt’s revolver and powder horn that he had purchased in St. Louis on his way to Utah in 1855. On both the horn and the handle of the revolver were carved in his typical hand writing, CLW 1855, with St. Louis added on the horn.”
“Joseph states: ‘My father was a good shot–at 30 paces he could place a slug between the eyes of a fattened hog or pick a chicken hawk off the tall ash trees at the back of the lot. Father’s revolver always lay at hand beside the big Bible in his hut at the temple. When the “Feds” were on the loose in town, he often told me as we walked around the temple at night, “I have my orders.” He went into no further detail.”
“Whenever Wilford Woodruff or other ‘high authorities’ were on the ‘underground’ in St. George, his trusty colts must always be in place behind his waist band–on the left side, just beyond the mid-line where his right hand could most quickly grasp it, and loaded. “He often told me that when Wilford Woodruff came from his rendezvous at Atkinsville to spend some time in the temple, to get exercise, (he) would walk around the temple building while father patrolled. They timed their walking speed so that each was opposite the other–so that if a prowling ‘Fed’ (should come) upon Woodruff, he (would be) within easy range of the deadly colts revolver.”
Today: What are we seeing when our Mama Dragons all too frequently answer the call at all hours of the night to go and find yet another youth who has been kicked out of their home for being LGBT? Why a rise of youth LGBT suicides since the policy announcement? What of the suffering of our children who wonder why they cannot be baptized when their peers can? Who and how many exactly are the acceptable collateral damage to the policy?
- The Atkins defended the ideals of polygamy, but vehemently opposed living under that order.
William and Rachel Atkins continued to hide polygamists in a room made of stone that they specifically built to accommodate hiding a number of polygamist men. The Atkins home was a safe house for polygamist men as they were being chased down through the Utah Territory by U.S. Marshals.
“Although William had not availed himself of the opportunity of taking to himself other wives, he was willing to assist those of his friends who had.”
“William Atkin with the help of his wife Rachel was able to forgo the pleasures and blessings of the patriarchal order of marriage and managed to live a full and happy life in spite of the handicap of being a monogmanist. He and Rachel thought they added some planks to their celestial platform of salvation by giving sanctuary to [the] prominent polygamists as well as to Wilford Woodruff.”
Rachel would spend long hours of cooking for the polygamous men and accepted the extra work with little if any murmuring.
However her hospitality and forbearance reached a breaking point one day.
One day some of the harassed polygamous brethren in Dixie hear that the U.S. Marshals had arrived in St. George so they all decided to go to Atkinville and do a little “fishing.”
Upon the arrival of the company of polygamous brethren, “William was immediately dispatched to the garden for vegetables and the two boys were sent to rob the rooster of three of four fat pullets from his harem to furnish fried chicken for the visiting Mormon polygamists.”
“While Rachel was in her very warm kitchen preparing dinner, she overheard the brethren telling William of the trials that following God’s laws entailed when they were in conflict with those made by man.”
“Later she heard one of them tell William that it was not fair that he, he William, who had not complied with the law of patriarchal marriage, should be allowed to prosper and live in peace and comfort with his family while they were sacrificing so much for the Lord’s cause.”
“When he went on, with the support of the other brethren, to urge he William to take another wife, her Irish temper flared, there was a crash of breaking china and before those bewildered elders realized what was happening she stood in the doorway, the personification of outraged womanhood, and with sizzling chicken behind her, proceeded to roast those meddlesome men in no uncertain terms…”
“She told them, that she had heretofore been willing to give them the hospitality and protection of her home, but if they could not hold their meddling tongues they would no longer be welcome.”
“As for William, he could get another wife if he wanted but…as soon as No. 2 stepped foot over the threshold, she, Rachel, would step out and go back to England where he would never see or hear from her again. She meant it and William knew she did, and anyway he was not anxious at all to get another wife.”
Today: Rachel is my new hero! How many LDS families do not live as an ideal family under the ideals of the Proclamation? Of these, how many still support it despite not living it or even wanting to live it? How many staunch proclamation supporters change their view once they discover they have an LGBT child?
Many people try to equate gay marriage to race and the priesthood. This is not a proper comparison. The church now acknowledges that you are born with your skin color. You had nothing to do with that circumstance here or in the pre earth life.
“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
N.B. “Today” was said twice in that one paragraph.
So what then is the proper comparison for gay marriage? Elder Christopherson tells us very plainly: The situation with polygamist families, for example, and same-sex marriage couples and families really has a parallel.
This is why in this post as well as my previous posts I have relied heavily on our history with the practice of polygamy and its eventual demise. Not only am I paralleling the situation with polygamy, but so is the church.
And because of that, we have history as a guide.
Like Prince says, the church considers homosexuality a choice just as it considers polygamy a choice.
Recognize this quote? “Why would our father in heaven do that to anybody?”
But being gay is not a choice.
And in that day when sexual orientation is no longer paralleled with polygamy, but with the other things you are born with like the color of your skin… then, just then… and not until then…
We may have open cannon and continuing revelation today that can erase the hurtful teachings and practices of yesterday, but open cannon and continuing revelation cannot heal the effects of those yesterday teachings and practices.
How can we heal the effects of those yesterday teachings and practices?
An apology is a wonderful first step… so very healing.
Even the great and abominable church offers apologies.
Whoops…Great and abominable church…
That was a yesterday teaching.