A&E Investigative Reports: Inside Polygamy

Inside Polygamy is a 90-minute documentary hosted by Bill Kurtis on how bad the current (1999) situation is with polygamy. The particular focus is in Utah where there is a conservative figure of 30 to 50 thousand polygamists.

On a personal note to Evangelicals, this film demonstrates the real need of ministry to polygamists and those leaving polygamist families. The situation is only getting worse, and we need Evangelicals to step up to the plate in this area. Where are all the Evangelical shelters for those leaving a polygamist colony? Where are all the Evangelical support groups for former polygamists? Where are all the Evangelical missions that actively bring the gospel to polygamists? Evangelicals are sadly absent from this very important mission field.

The film begins with the Kingston clan that runs The Latter-day Church of Christ, and proceeds to tell how a 16-year-old girl ran away from her uncle/husband David Ortell Kingston. Because she ran away, her father, John Daniel Kingston, beat her unconscious. The father was arrested for child abuse and the uncle/husband was arrested for unlawful sexual conduct and incest, but neither was charged for polygamy... which is still a crime in each of the United States.

The film goes on to interview or document various polygamist groups--the Allred group, The Worldwide Group of Polygamists (a "Christian" non-Mormon group), The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, and the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona (both have the largest concentration of polygamists in the United States). These groups are clearly distinguished from the Salt Lake City based Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), which gave up the practice of polygamy in 1890. The fundamentalist Mormon groups believe that the Salt Lake City based church has apostatized from the truth originally given by Joseph Smith, Jr. (who had 33 wives) and Brigham Young (who had 56 wives). This "truth" is still found in Mormon Scripture (Doctrine and Covenants 132).

A&E also interviewed many individuals who had left the polygamist lifestyle and are now outspoken critics of it. Most notable were Rowena Erickson of "Tapestry of Polygamy" (now "Tapestry Against Polygamy"), and a couple of sisters who were molested by polygamist family members. The former provides assistance for those leaving polygamy and needing to adjust to living in a whole new society. The latter provide very graphic testimonies, so caution should be used in viewing this material.

A&E also interviewed Utah state senator Scott Howell, who is a member of the Salt Lake City based Mormon Church. He tells how horrified he was when he spoke with former polygamist members about how prevalent sexual abuse is (particularly with children) in many of these polygamists groups. He also tells what a drain they are on the welfare system. When asked why the state doesn't do anything about it, he responded that they do not have enough money or jails to lock up all the polygamists. The film also pointed out how it is very difficult to prove the fact of polygamy in particular instances, since nothing is legally documented and polygamists often hide behind the aegis religious liberty.

From a theological point of view, it was interesting to hear how many of these polygamists were saying that God told them to obey His law of polygamy. So even though many did not want to, they all wanted to be obedient to the voice of the Lord. They were clear that polygamy is not for everyone, but it is only essential for those who want to rule as gods in the celestial kingdom (the highest level of heaven)--at least this is clearly the case for the fundamentalist Mormon groups in contrast to the Christian polygamist group. So this special calling of the Lord appears to be rather subjectively communicated.

Now perhaps the Lord can subjectively communicate some item of knowledge. The problem though is why would we think God has communicated that polygamy should be entered into by anyone when we have reason for believing that God has already objectively declared that it should not be entered into? Why are we so sure that God did indeed speak to them as opposed to them being simply deluded or listening to the enticing and deceptive voice of Satan?

It is very difficult to see how one is caring for his own "one flesh" (cf. Matthew 19:5-6 with Ephesians 5:28-29) when he is bringing other partners into the equation. But after watching the A&E film, it is obvious that polygamists will claim that one may bring other partners into the equation if he cares for his wife in such a way as to discipline her selfish desires. There are feelings of jealousy that must be overcome to be a worthy servant of the Lord. But if this is the case, why not add other husbands to the equation to discipline the jealous desires of the husband? Of course fundamentalist Mormon polygamists will claim that this just is not the pattern of celestial marriage instituted by the Lord for one man with more than one wife. But this would seem to go against the apostle's claim that men and women are equal in Christ (Galatians 3:28). So if wives can add husbands to the equation just as husbands can add wives, then obviously the "one flesh" has broken down somewhere. If it breaks down with the wife adding another husband, then it would equally seem to break down with the husband adding another wife.

Now perhaps the polygamist may claim that even though men and women are equal, they do have different roles--even in marriage. Then the polygamist may claim that the Lord may give the role of sharing the husband to the wives while retaining the "one flesh." But why think that the role of being shared is different for the husband and the wives, especially when the leaders of the Church (who we are called to emulate) are to be the "husbands of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:5-6)? How can these fundamentalist Mormon Church leaders (or even the "Christian" polygamist minister in the film for that matter) legitimately enter into this practice of polygamy? Of course these Mormons will play the modern day revelation card, viz., the Doctrine and Covenants 132, to settle the issue. But how can this settle the issue when it seems to go squarely against what God has already revealed in the Bible?

Further, given what Paul said about Church leaders only having one wife, how can celestial marriage for these fundamentalists be better than having one wife, and how can this polygamist marriage be better than even being single? St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 was trying, given the present distresses, to spare believers all the headaches associated with marriage and to free them up to be more devoted to the things of the Lord. If they marry, they do not sin and in fact do "well" (vss. 28 and 38), but nonetheless, they should do "better" by remaining single as he was (vss. 26-40). How could he even say all these things if the ultimate goal of life was to reach the celestial kingdom and become like God in ruling over a planet or a set of planets with one's wives? Paul's advice would seem to make no sense.

Now what if these polygamists use the examples of biblical characters (e.g., Abraham, Issac, Jacob, David or Solomon) to legitimize their practice? The problem is that description does not prove prescription. In other words, simply because some practice is described in the Bible is no reason, in and of itself, to think that some practice "ought" to be done.

Finally, if the practice of polygamy is done because it is necessary (at least for these fundamentalist Mormons) for couples to go on in the afterlife to rule as married gods, and if it can be proven that couples cannot be married in the afterlife, then there is a good reason why polygamy should not be done (at least for these fundamentalist Mormons). In logic, this is simple modus tollens.

  1. If P then Q.
  2. Not Q.
  3. Therefore not P.

In other words,

  1. If polygamy should be done (P) because it is necessary for celestial marriage (Q), and
  2. Celestial marriage turns out not to be true (not Q), then
  3. Polygamy should not be done (not P).

This is perfectly valid, but is it sound?

In Matthew 22, Jesus plainly told the Sadducees that there is no marriage in heaven. Mormons commonly understand this as a civil, temporal (in contrast to a "time and all eternity" or celestial) marriage ceremony, and that this ceremony is to be done here on earth, not in heaven. But does this fit the context? In this passage, the Sadducees asked Jesus which husband will the woman who had seven husbands be married to in the resurrection (vss. 24-8). The answer is simple for Mormons: it depends on whom she was sealed to in the temple (if granted that marriages of any kind were actually done in the temple). But Jesus did not give this answer. Instead Jesus said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (vs. 30).

Now if this is not obvious enough to a Mormon, then the question needs to be asked if there are any married angels in the resurrection. Is the angel Moroni, for example, single or a god who rules over his own planet with his goddess wife or wives? Doctrine and Covenants 132:17, 20 and 37 clearly distinguish between angels (who do not receive exaltation) and gods (who do receive exaltation). Verses 15-17 make it clear that those who are not sealed in celestial marriage while on earth go on to live as angels "separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity" (17).

Hence, there is no celestial marriage (not Q), and as such, polygamy should not be done for that end (not P).

For a further description of Inside Polygamy, and how to order a copy, click here.

R. M. Sivulka
Salt Lake City, UT
January 25, 2004 

Add Comment