Mormonism and polygamy/Brigham Young said that the only men who become gods are those that practice polygamy
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Brigham Young said "The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy"
Important introductory material on plural marriage available here
Joseph Smith era:
Question: Is plural marriage required in order to achieve exaltation?
Brigham Young said "The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy"
Critics of the Church point to a statement made by Brigham Young to make the claim that Latter-day Saints believe that one must practice plural marriage in order to achieve exaltation:  Brigham Young once said,
The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:269.)
This quotation is often used in anti-Mormon sources. They do not include the surrounding text which explains what Brigham Young had in mind on this occasion (italics show text generally not cited by those trying to worry modern-day readers):
Brigham Young also said "if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith"
We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us...It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: "We will pass along in the Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character and office, etc,"—the man that has that in his heart, and will continue to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.
Brigham was stating that the command to practice plural marriage was from God, and it is wrong to seek to abolish a command from God
It is clear that Brigham was making several points which the critics ignore:
- The command to practice plural marriage is from God, and it is wrong to seek to abolish a command from God.
- To obtain the blessings of Abraham, the Saints were required to be "polygamists at least in your faith": i.e., it was not necessary that each enter into plural marriage in practice, but that they accept that God spoke to His prophets.
- It was wrong to avoid plural marriage for worldly, selfish reasons, such as believing the Church would fail, and hoping to have political or monetary rewards afterward.
- Faithful Saints cannot expect to receive "all that the Father has" if they willfully disobey God. When the people have "had blessings offered unto them," and if they refuse to obey, God will withhold blessings later because of that disobedience now.
Finally, it must be remembered that Brigham Young is speaking to a group who had been commanded to live the law of polygamy. There is no basis for speculating about what he would have said to a group who did not have that commandment given to them, as present-day members do not.
Question: Did Brigham Young believe that one could not enter the Celestial Kingdom unless they were a polygamist?
Wilford Woodruff: "President Young said there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one wife with Many wives & with No wife at all"
I attended the school of the prophets. Brother John Holeman made a long speech upon the subject of Poligamy. He Contended that no person Could have a Celestial glory unless He had a plurality of wives. Speeches were made By L. E. Harrington O Pratt Erastus Snow, D Evans J. F. Smith Lorenzo Young. President Young said there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one wife with Many wives & with No wife at all.
Wilford Woodruff: President Young...said a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord
Then President Young spoke 58 Minuts. He said a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord.
Seminary Teacher Resource Manual: "We have no knowledge that plural marriage will be a requirement for exaltation"
"Doctrine and Covenants 132," Seminary Teacher Resource Manual on LDS.org:
Note: Avoid sensationalism and speculation when talking about plural marriage. Sometimes teachers speculate that plural marriage will be a requirement for all who enter the celestial kingdom. We have no knowledge that plural marriage will be a requirement for exaltation.
Question: Did other Church leaders believe that plural marriage was a requirement for exaltation?
Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor did not believe that polygamy was a requirement for exaltation
When a debate in the School of the Prophets arose when one claimed that "no man who has only one wife in this probation can ever enter [the] Celestial kingdom," both Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor disagreed.
George Q. Cannon believed that there would be men in the Celestial Kingdom with only one wife
George Q. Cannon, a member of the First Presidency, noted in 1884 that "he believed there would be men in the Celestial Kingdom that had but one wife," and in 1900 a counselor to Wilford Woodruff remembered Brigham Young "proposed that we marry but one wife." Cannon said that "I am perfectly satisfied there are men who will be counted worthy of that glory who never had a wife; there are men probably in this world now, who will receive exaltation, who never had a wife at all, or probably had but one."
Wilford Woodruff and others claimed that they had never heard Joseph Smith teach that one had to have more than one wife to be exalted
In 1892, Wilford Woodruff and others were asked, in essence, "if Joseph Smith had ever taught you at Nauvoo or anywhere else during his lifetime, that in order for a man to be exalted in the hereafter, he must have more than one wife?"
- I don't know that I ever heard him make use of that expression or use that form of expression.
- Bathsheba W. Smith
- I never heard of that.
- Joseph C. Kingbury
- No sir. He did not teach me that. He did not say anything about that....I heard it preached from the stand that a man could be exalted in eternity with one wife.
Daniel H. Wells stated the plural marriage was only practiced after one had a thorough understanding of the doctrine
Daniel H. Wells, second councilor to Brigham Young, made it clear that plural marriage was then a commandment, but it was necessary to obey only when they had "a thorough understanding" of the doctrine and "other circumstances [were] favorable" for practicing it:
It [plural marriage] was a doctrine of the church that when male members came to a thorough understanding of the revelation on the principle of plural or celestial marriage, and other circumstances being favorable, if they failed to obey it they would be under condemnation, and would be clipped in their glory in the world to come. The circumstances that would excuse a person would be physical incapacity and the like....The doctrine was enjoined upon all male members of the Church whose circumstances were favorable to their taking a plurality of wives.
- The following critical works use this quote from Brigham to claim that Latter-day Saints must accept polygamy as a requirement to enter heaven. Contender Ministries, Questions All Mormons Should Ask Themselves. Answers; Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 233, 422 n. 48-49. ( Index of claims ); George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), xiv, 6, 55, , 356. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review)); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 29, 258.( Index of claims )
- Brigham Young, "Remarks by President Brigham Young, in the Bowery, in G.S.L. City," (19 August 1866) Journal of Discourses 11:268-269. (emphasis added) See Quote mining—Journal of Discourses 11:269 to see how this quote was mined.
- Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:527 (journal entry dated 12 February 1870). ISBN 0941214133.(emphasis added)
- Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 7:31 (journal entry dated 24 September 1871). ISBN 0941214133.(emphasis added)
- "Doctrine and Covenants 132," Seminary Teacher Resource Manual on LDS.org (2001, [updated 2005])
- Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 3: Theology (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 208. citing Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, Minutes (10 February 1873).
- Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 3, 208., citing Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 8:235 (journal entry dated 9 March 1884). ISBN 0941214133. and John Henry Smith as cited in John P. Hatch, editor, Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890–1921 (10 January 1900), 72.
- Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 75. ISBN 0252026810.
- Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 3, 194., citing Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent's Testimony, Part 3, p. 66, question 698; p. 205, question 600; p. 225, questions 1028–1029; p. 319, questions 590–91.
- Daniel H. Wells, "Local and Other Matters... The Reynolds Trial," Deseret News Weekly (15 December 1875): 732, cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 3, 206–207.
Best articles to read next
The best article(s) to read next on this topic is/are:
- Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 74. ISBN 0252026810.
- Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 3: Theology (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 191–194, 205–211.