The Awful Works of Abraham

A decade after plural marriage was announced publicly in a special session of conference, Brigham Young declared,

“Why do we believe in and practise polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ It is the only popular religion there, for this is the religion of Abraham, and, unless we do the works of Abraham, we are not Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise” (July 6, 1862, Journal of Discourses 9:322).

Brigham Young, God’s alleged modern mouthpiece, makes it ultimately clear that God is at the center of the polygamy issue and that this God revealed the practice to Joseph Smith. However, in a recent interview with Mike Wallace, Mormon candidate Mitt Romney stated, “I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.” Romney could have been using hyperbole, but without knowing for sure, I have to assume that to Mitt Romney polygamy is more awful that hearing your home has burned to the ground, or more awful than hearing a doctor tell you that you or a loved one has cancer, or more awful than hearing that all your children have been killed in a car accident.

This is not the first time Romney has spoken disparagingly about plural marriage, yet I am not aware of any journalist who has asked what I think should be an obvious follow-up question, “If the practice of polygamy is truly awful, doesn’t that make the Mormon God culpable?”

A Mormon fundamentalist who believes in living “the principle,” would immediately say no. Those who firmly believe in plural marriage insist that the idea of assigning blame comes only from those who have denied the faith of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor. Still, I’m curious as to how Romney would answer this question. Did God make a mistake when he revealed this practice to Joseph Smith? Did God require something “awful” as a condition of salvation? If that is so, what does this say about Romney’s God? Or, better yet, what does Romney’s display of distain say about Romney?

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4 Responses to The Awful Works of Abraham

  1. Arthur Sido says:

    Young’s words are a perversion of the Biblical record. God did not institute or command polygamy with Abraham. I am just finishing up preaching through Genesis and the life of Abraham and one thing is clear: God did not endorse the marriage of Abraham to Hagar and He never viewed Ishmael as a legitimate son. In fact, when He orders Abraham to listen to Sarah and send away Hagar and Ishmael, He speaks of Ishmael as the son of Hagar, not the son of Abraham….

    Genesis 21:10-13 (ESV) 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”

    Because of the boy and your slave woman. Note He doesn’t say “your other wife and your son”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of polygamy is it? To try to defend polygamy with Abraham is either extraordinarily poor exegesis or willful deception.

    My wife and I have often said that polygamous mormons are living a truer version of the original mormonism than many of their contemporaries. At least they have the courage of conviction to stick to Smith’s teachings on plural marriage, false though they may be, at least they are consistent with the new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage: “For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory..(D&C 132:4). A new and everlasting covenant that was practiced for less than 60 years? When we were LDS, polygamy was dealt with as a joke or an uncomfortable topic to be sidestepped, and yet it is a major tenet of mormonism that has conveniently been set aside for political reasons.

    I addressed Romney’s comments on my blog briefly for anyone who cares to take a peek!

  2. neal says:


    You have studied this issue more deeply than most of us and you know that Brigham Young, John Taylor, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and perhaps even Joseph Smith, and many others, had feelings similar to Mitt Romney’s regarding polygamy. They were obedient to the principle believing it had been revealed by God and came to accept it and embrace it only as they practiced it. Members of the church are routinely chastized on this site for not giving complete answers to questions. You have taken one quote from the past, tied it to one current observation, and then hint, with no hint of subtlety, that “Did God make a mistake when he revealed this practice to Joseph Smith? Did God require something “awful” as a condition of salvation? If that is so, what does this say about Romney’s God? Or, better yet, what does Romney’s display of distain say about Romney?”

    My answer — Sometimes God commands things that are hard. Acknowleging that they are hard makes us human — it doesn’t demean God. I can’t imagine Abraham was cheerful at the command to sacrifice Issac, yet he was prepared to be obedient. Was that awful? Yes! If Abraham had voiced his concerns that it was awful, would you accuse him of impugning God? Or would you see him as a loving parent expressing his emotion and feeling about what God had commanded him to do.

    Brigham Young is famously quoted as saying (watching a funeral cortege pass by) that he would sooner be the corpse on its way to burial than to contemplate being obedient to the law of plural marriage. In other words “I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy”. Yet Brigham was obedient, as were others. They followed Christ’s admonition that if we will know the doctrine is true, we need but live it.

    The purpose of this blog is not to be “fair”, but to evangalize, so I don’t ask that you be fair. I would think that you should at least be consistent. If you ask for completeness, then you should give the same. This posting was manipulative and dishonest. While I often disagree with you, I have been vocal in my appreciation in your sincerity. This posting was not worthy of your mission.

  3. Bill McKeever says:

    Neil, If Romney meant that polygamy was merely a hard and difficult lifestyle then I must conclude that he purposely skirted the intent of Wallace’s query. I certainly don’t have a problem with polygamy because it may have been a “hard” way of life, I have a problem with it because I do not believe God commanded it as a means for salvation. No doubt, because of the vague way Romney answered the question, some might easily conclude that he used the word “awful” as a synonym for “false.” While that might put some voters at ease, we really don’t know if that is what he meant. I admit I have no clue what he meant, that is why I asked the question.

  4. Alex D says:


    You made a good point in your rebuttal by pointing out Young’s voiced opinion on polygamy. However, I feel that your position could’ve been better supported had you refuted the evidence that suggests that polygamy is still (and always has been) a live doctrine in Mormonism.

    As Arthur Sido mentioned before you, D&C 132 clearly states that Joseph Smith’s revelation was to be an “everlasting covenant.” Everlasting, by definition, means “forever” — not going away anytime soon, in other words. If polygamy is truly a dead issue, then why hasn’t the Church removed D&C 132 from the Scriptures (or put notes in that section declaring that it is no longer church doctrine)? You could just as easily rebut with President Woodruff’s 1890 “Manifesto” (AKA Official Declaration No. 1) and how it prohibited the practice of polygamy in the LDS Church, but let me ask you this question: Where in the Manifesto does is explicitly state that God prohibits polygamy? If you read it thoroughly, you’ll find that no such passage exists. God never told Woodruff that polygamy was morally wrong; he only “told [Woodruff] to ask the Latter-day Saints a question” pertaining to the consequences of not obeying the law of the U.S. Government (I.E. The Temples would all be taken away, the ordinances within would be stopped, etc.), and “by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and… believe alike with regard to this matter.” In other words, God told Woodruff that he would have to ban the practice in order for the Church to survive and continue to practice its ordinances and not because He Himself declared polygamy to be morally wrong.

    So, where does that leave us? Today’s Church declares polygamy to be an abomination, but the revelation (D&C 132) clearly describes an “everlasting covenant.” Does this place the modern LDS Church in apostasy for not following God’s will, or does God’s acceptance of the Church’s current stance on this issue show that even He makes mistakes? If God is all-knowing and immutable (as the Bible says), then don’t you think he’d have seen this coming and not deemed polygamy necessary, or is it true that he’ll just bring back the practice later on in history when society (and the government) is more accepting of it?

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