Brittany Chapman Nash: Polygamy and the Church’s Past
From the early 1840s to 1890, the principle of plural marriage was practiced within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This aspect of history is one we tend to avoid talking about as Latter-day Saints. Perhaps we feel uncomfortable—or maybe even embarrassed—about the past. But how can we look back with respect for our forebearers while also acknowledging and feeling gratitude that polygamy is no longer something that is asked of us? On today’s episode, we talk with Brittany Chapman Nash about polygamy and what we learn from the people who practiced it.
I think they had different joys and different sorrows than we do, and maybe richer experiences, and different blessings.
Brittany's book: Let's Talk about Polygamy
Brittany's FAIR Latter-day Saint address: "An Act of Religious Conviction: Mormon Women and Nineteenth-Century Polygamy"
2:45- Interest in Polygamy
4:56- Family Folklore
8:26- A Part of the Story to Own
13:57- Theology of Plural Marriage
19:31- Historical Context
22:47- Lived Polygamy
25:50- Different Joys and Different Sorrows
29:09- Motivated by Faith
31:11- The Role of Agency in Polygamy and Abuses of the Practice
36:01- Assumptions of Intent
41:01- Acting According To Their Convictions
43:16- What It Means For Us Now
48:42- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
In her new book, Let's Talk about Polygamy, Brittany Chapman Nash writes, "When I first began my journey studying polygamy, I was angry by what I saw as injustice that God required such a difficult principle to be lived by these faithful, tried people. But as I studied the personal writing, stories, and testimonies of polygamists, accepting them on their own terms, I found peace. The practice could never have been sustained for a half-century by compulsion, manipulation, or simple sexual desire.
"Those who set the foundation of the Latter-day Saint faith were not two-dimensional superheroes as they are sometimes portrayed, but they were complex, strong, intelligent, full-bodied kingdom builders who were willing to leave loved ones, wealth, comfort, and native countries for what they believed to be true. This same willingness drove them to accept polygamy, a practice they accepted as a commandment of God instituted in their time, for His unique purposes," end quote. Today we'll talk with Brittany all about that journey.
Brittany Chapman Nash is a specialist in Latter-day Saint women's history and co-edited the award winning four volume Women of Faith in the Latter Days series, and Fearless in the Cause: Remarkable Stories of Women in Church History. Brittany worked as a historian for 10 years in the Church History department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has served on committees of the Mormon History Association, Better Days 2020 and the Young Women general board. She is a member of the Mormon Women's History Initiative team, a group dedicated to popularizing the history of Latter-day Saint women.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones. And I am thrilled to have Brittany Chapman Nash on the line with me today. Brittany, welcome.
Brittany Chapman Nash 2:01
Thank you so much for having me.
Morgan Jones 2:04
I am so excited about this. I'm also admittedly a little bit intimidated, which is probably par for the course when it comes to what we're going to talk about today. But the good news is, Brittany is a pro. So she's just going to rock this conversation, and I am just going to try to hang on to the coattails.
But Brittany, I have to tell you, I listened to your audio book–I went on a very long walk earlier this week and listen to the majority of your audio book as I was walking–and felt like I learned so many things. And so let's start at the beginning of your interest in the topic of polygamy. And I think it begins with, you're being asked some questions about the Church and polygamy–which is probably where all of our interest in polygamy starts.
Brittany Chapman Nash 2:57
Thanks, Morgan. I love the image of you walking and listening to this book about polygamy and soaking in some of the details. But the book opens with an experience that I had as a seventh grader in middle school, and my teacher, we were discussing like, United States history, and my teacher was talking about Utah and one of the first things he mentioned was about how–about the polygamous Mormons in Utah. And so I felt like, "Oh, I have to clarify that Mormons no longer practice polygamy." I felt this need to defend my faith and clean up a common misunderstanding. So I raised my hand and timidly said, "Mormons don't practice polygamy anymore." And I had, like, not uttered a word in the classroom the entire year, except for that little statement there. And–
Morgan Jones 3:56
They're like, "She speaks."
Brittany Chapman Nash 3:58
Yeah, totally. And so I just–that moment is kind of seared in my memory as the first conversation I had about polygamy. And since then I've had a lot of great opportunities to study polygamy and became interested in it.
Well, some ancestors of mine practiced polygamy. And so I was introduced to the concept as a child, learning about those ancestors and hearing their stories. And so that's where my introduction to lived polygamy was. But I came to understand later that some of those family–the family lore I was told, was incorrect. Which is one of the great things about studying history is you can learn what were things really like instead of what was family tradition.
Morgan Jones 4:56
That's interesting. What were some of those things that you were maybe told as a child that then you came to find were not true?
Brittany Chapman Nash 5:04
Well, one of my ancestors is named Ruth May Fox, and she was a prominent woman in Church history and Utah history. She was really involved in the suffrage movement and other women's causes. And she was also–she served in the Young Women General Board or what was called then the Young Lady's Mutual Improvement Association. And so she was involved in working with the youth for over 40 years on the general level. And she became Young Woman general president in the 30's.
Morgan Jones 5:41
Brittany Chapman Nash 5:42
–And when she was in her 70's, so a long life of service. And her husband married polygamously when in 1888, so nearing the end of the time that polygamy was a more widespread practice. And so she was the first wife in a polygamous union. And so the family lore was that after Ruth's husband, Jesse, married a second wife, whose name was Rosemary Johnson. What I was told was that he married Rosemary and lived the rest of his life there and Ruth was left alone to support herself and her family.
And so I kind of grew up with this like romantic tragedy of how heartbroken Ruth must have been and how difficult everything was. And so once I started learning about Ruth's actual experience, living polygamously, found out it was completely opposite from that. Looking at letters and censuses and documents between Jesse and his second wife Rosemary, plus historical context of things actually going on with the law and prosecution of polygamists and how that affected Jesse, Jesse actually, in reality lived primarily with Ruth, and Rosemary, lived a remarkable life and lived much of her life . . . kind of just–I feel like–fending for herself. Jesse was there to support, but she also, she lived primarily on a farm, raised most of her children on a farm and ran the farm and just a remarkable woman and totally different from like, complete opposite from what I understood as a girl.
Morgan Jones 7:43
That's so interesting. So as we get into this interview, and as we talk more, we're going to talk about kind of how to look at these things. And that was the biggest takeaway for me from your book. Of course you give a lot of information that I think may be new to people that haven't completely dug into this topic, but I think the biggest takeaway for me, was, yes, you can look at all of these things, but also like, here, on your own, this is how to look at it and here are things that you want to make sure that you consider and you just highlighted some of those things in telling about that experience. So we'll get more into that.
But before we do, I want to highlight something that you said in a talk that you gave at the Fair Mormon conference. And I will be honest and say that I had never thought of plural marriage in this way until I heard you say this. And when you said it, it rang true to me. So you said, "I have since come to view plural marriage as a part of the Latter-day Saint history to unapologetically own and to hold as one of the most valuable testaments of faith in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." So before we get into any of this, why Brittany, would you say that you have come to believe that to be true, and why is viewing it as a testament of faith important in your approaching it?
Brittany Chapman Nash 9:15
When I first began studying polygamy, it was through my ancestor Ruth May Fox. I was working on my master's thesis and wanted to feature her writings. She left diaries and an autobiography detailing a lot of these experiences that Utah women were having at the turn of the 20th century.
And so I wanted to highlight her life as an example of a Utah woman through her life writings. And I started learning more about polygamy in that context, and I was really uncomfortable with what I was learning. I had never studied polygamy before, beyond what I had learned in seminary, and really I don't recall learning any . . . in my–I graduated from BYU–I don't recall learning much at all about it in my classes there, nothing deeply, at least. So the history that I was learning was new and unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me. I didn't quite know what to do with it.
And I was kind of left to my own devices to try and interpret what I was learning through people's writings. And then scholars’ views of what was happening, and so did not fit in with the tidy paradigm of Church History I then understood, I knew at that time. And it made me upset and confused. And I probably would have stopped learning about polygamy at that point, if I wasn't forced to learn more about it, because I was writing my thesis about Ruth's life.
And so it was that force of moving past that discomfort into the discomfort of learning more about polygamy, where I really came to terms with it. And I really–I read a breadth of sources and was introduced to a lot of women's personal experiences about it. And for me, that really turned the page between learning about polygamy on an academic level through articles and books written by scholars, and then learning what lived polygamy was actually like. What did the people have to say about it? And why did they live it? What were their testimonies of it?
And that totally shifted my perspective. And once I learned what their faith looks like and why they chose to do what they did, through their own words, it completely transformed how I felt. And so that statement that you read, it's based on the appreciation I've come to have for the faith that motivated early Latter-day Saints to embrace polygamy, not because they were sexually motivated to do it, like it's easy to assume that some were motivated to do it for . . . to fill base passions, you know, and then . . . that was kind of, I think, my initial concern, and I think a lot of other people may have viewed it with that concern, that it was for immoral purposes, that it was created and sustained, but that I've found to be largely false.
And it was, most people participated in polygamy because of their belief in the truthfulness of the gospel. And it was a difficult principle to live, I think, at least initially most people would say they would never dream of living polygamously, who eventually chose to practice, particularly in the first generation of Latter-day Saints who chose to live that way. And I think just building on the testimony of doing difficult things.
And also, I grew up at least with the mentality that it was–polygamy was something not to really talk about, that it was something we should emphasize we do not do any more, rather than something that we did do. And to acknowledge that and to appreciate the faithfulness that compelled people to practice when the law of plural marriage was in force.
Morgan Jones 13:56
Yeah. Well, and I want to talk today as we go through this about how we can–I think you make a very important point that had you not been writing your dissertation, perhaps you would have given up earlier and not gotten into this. And so I think a lot of us, it just feels like such a hard thing to even approach, that we either don't mess with it or it shakes faith. And so as we talk together today, my hope is that we can kind of understand how to approach it without letting it shake our faith.
So maybe let's get into some of these puzzle pieces that you highlight in the book. You talk about how when we're looking and seeking to understand polygamy, there are five different puzzle pieces that we need to explore. The first being theology, second: historical context, third: strong historical sources, fourth: stories from polygamous individuals or their children, and then fifth: religious faith.
So, starting with theology–for those that are not as familiar perhaps with the Old Testament, what was the theology associated with the practice of polygamy? And what would those early Latter-day Saints have known about the history of polygamy that may have led to this practice?
Brittany Chapman Nash 15:33
The theology of plural marriage, I think is really complex. And to me, it is a prime example of the evolutionary process of revelation that Joseph Smith experienced as the Church was being established. So as sort of layer upon layer, eventually led to what became the practice of plural marriage.
So there are many different reasons why people chose to practice based on theology. And you mentioned the Old Testament practice of polygamy, and that certainly played a part into one of the reasons expressed that with the restoration of the Church, there was to be a restoration of all things, one of which was the Old Testament practice of polygamy.
And so kind of–with the evolution of the doctrine of marriage, how it became uniquely LDS, was that marriage was a heavenly state of being. So that in itself was a different sort of concept than maybe other Christian churches would have anticipated. Some expected marriage to be just an earthly state of being, and then in heaven, people were no longer married. But Joseph Smith introduced the idea that marriage was a heavenly state of being. We remained married. We remained connected with individuals through marriage bonds.
And then there came the concept of eternal marriage kind of as a natural evolution from that, and then from that plural marriage, and then the sealing keys being brought into that and how the sealing keys allowed those marriage bonds to be eternal.
And then you also have the revelations about the celestial kingdom and the three degrees of glory, and then further the degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom, and how the sealing ordinance–it's kind of like the entry point into the highest heaven in the celestial kingdom, and that becomes pivotal.
So it–the theology evolved to be a very family centric theology, where family is at the center of heaven in so many ways. The only document that we have from Joseph Smith himself about the theology of polygamy, or the theology of plural marriage, is Doctrine and Covenants 132. So that is really the only document we can go to, to point to its theology from Joseph Smith. And then there were a lot of other theological points, like that evolved over the years. And I found, personally from my experience, trying to unpack the theology, there was a lot of different ideas, those secondary ideas for why theologically plural marriage was part of that marriage covenant.
Morgan Jones 19:04
Yeah. Well, and that makes sense. I think about like–this is dumb, but there are a lot of different reasons that people say like, if a friend asks you “Why don't Latter-day Saints drink tea and coffee?” There's a lot of like people making up their own theology for why that is. And so it makes sense, you know, that different theories would be kind of bought into but you mentioned that when you were trying to better understand Ruth May Fox, the historical context was also helpful to you, so maybe that might be a good example for what you mean when you say to look at the historical context.
Brittany Chapman Nash 19:45
Yes, and sources as well, because if I just listened to family lore and not explored any more deeply myself, or there was a type script of her autobiography and all–she just includes one paragraph in a 50 page autobiography about plural marriage. So if I just simply read that paragraph, and then what I had heard, my perception of her polygamous experience would have remained the same. But when I read diaries, read Rosemary's records, read letters between Jesse and Rosemary, I learned much, much more of the big picture of what was actually going on, not just my limited understanding, and then filling in all of the blanks with my own ideas.
Morgan Jones 20:38
Yeah. So Brittany, what would you say historically was important for you to understand about what was going on at that time surrounding Ruth?
Brittany Chapman Nash 20:51
Well, in their story in particular, Jesse and Rosemary married in 1888. And during that time there was lots of prosecution of polygamous men going on. And so polygamous marriages were really kept very quiet. Ruth was, I mean, there was a few . . . Ruth was not present at the sealing ceremony, which was often . . . in earlier periods when prosecution was not as heavy, first wives were often present in the sealing ceremonies. But Ruth was not there. It was done at night, they didn't even know who had married them. So even the sealing, the person conducting the sealing was kept confidential for the sake of law, prosecution.
And so it would have been . . . at that time, most polygamous men lived with their first wife, who was their legal wife. To do otherwise would have been very reckless, I would say. Legally reckless and increased the likelihood of their being arrested and put in prison and fined, or their wives being subpoenaed, and all the different things that happened at that time when they were trying to . . . when laws were being enforced, trying to end the practice of polygamy.
Morgan Jones 22:35
Brittany Chapman Nash 22:36
Does that make sense?
Morgan Jones 22:37
Yes. It did, yes, I'm just trying to digest. So then you have that it's important to also explore the stories from polygamous individuals and their children, like these stories of lived polygamy. And you talk about how everything is not as black and white as it may seem. And I think this is true of all history. When we look back on it, it seems like oh, this is like very black and white, this is very clear. And then actually, things are not, and they're not now, so why would they be then? But for example, you say not all polygamous marriages were unhappy, and not all monogamous marriages were happy. So what did you learn in your research about these polygamous homes and whether people were happy in them at all or not?
Brittany Chapman Nash 23:40
For some reason when I began learning about polygamy, I viewed it as something different than monogamy, like totally separate worlds. And in some way they were, because they were juggling different dynamics. But in other ways, not at all. I mean, it's the same institution of marriage. And so why should I expect that plural marriages would either be all unhappy–which was kind of my initial perception, like "How could it be otherwise? Everybody was unhappy and they hated their situations."
But you know people adapted, some people came to really appreciate the relationships within their plural marriages with their husbands, with their sister wives. Some marriages may have thrived even more because of the more autonomous relationship that many women had with their husbands. Many women ran their own households and the husband came occasionally to see them.
Other families all lived together in the same household, and they all worked together in creating a very smooth-running household and others came to really appreciate that. And then there were others who were in those exact same situations and it was just miserable because of the different personalities and different circumstances in their individual situations. So, I would say some monogamous marriages thrive and others are extremely difficult. And some monogamous marriages last, and some do not last, and the same is true of plural marriages. Some lasted, some did not.
Morgan Jones 25:36
Right. Which makes a lot of sense. Are there any specific accounts associated with polygamy–while we're on this topic of lived polygamy–are there any specific accounts–maybe aside from Ruth May Fox–that you found particularly faith promoting?
Brittany Chapman Nash 25:55
There are many different accounts that really affected me, sort of brought new understanding of what was possible in human relationships as far as levels of patience, forgiveness, acceptance, willingness to try to work together. And so there were just . . . there is one woman that comes to mind, Martha Cragun Cox is her name. I just particularly love her writings, I've just been thinking about them.
She's one woman who found great joy in her relationship with her sister wives in a way that opened my eyes to the positive aspects of what could be in these relationships. So she had two other sister wives and gave this beautiful statement about how grateful she was to know that . . . Let me see if I can find it real quick.
Morgan Jones 27:04
Okay. Yeah, take your time.
Brittany Chapman Nash 27:07
It's just makes me so emotional every–almost every time I read, I'm just like, "Oh, how do they do this?"
Morgan Jones 27:14
Well, even when you said like, she had this beautiful relationship with her sister wives, I kind of got chills a little bit because I'm just like, man, these are better women, then me.
Brittany Chapman Nash 27:24
Yeah, they really–they learned things that we cannot learn in the way that our marital arrangements are now.
Morgan Jones 27:36
Brittany Chapman Nash 27:36
I think they had different joys and different sorrows than we do. And maybe richer experiences and different blessings. So Martha Cragun Cox wrote of her sister wives, she said, "To me it is a joy to know that we laid the foundation of a life to come while we lived in that plural marriage, that we three who loved each other more than sisters, children of one Mother Love will go hand in hand together, down through all eternity. That knowledge is worth more to me than gold, and more than compensates for all the sorrow I have ever known."
And, yeah, that just gives me chills every time I read that because they have such a difference of perspective, viewing a fullness of relationships and the reality that in being sealed to the same husband, they were also sealed together as wives and how much they valued that. And Martha–
Morgan Jones 28:48
Yeah. No, go ahead.
Brittany Chapman Nash 28:49
And Martha had a lot of sorrows in her life. So to recognize–for her to say, it's worth all the sorrow I have ever known. It's profound.
Morgan Jones 29:01
Yeah. We're not talking about somebody that didn't have any sorrow.
Brittany Chapman Nash 29:05
Morgan Jones 29:07
That's powerful. Brittany, let me ask you this. The last point, religious faith. Tell us a little bit about what you mean by that. What does it mean to look at that aspect?
Brittany Chapman Nash 29:19
Okay. Religious faith was . . . I believe that religious faith was at the core of their motivation for marrying plurally, otherwise most would not have. They were living a commandment. And although . . . some people's motivations . . . Well, I suppose we'll talk about the abuses of polygamy later, but I will just speak in general terms: generally, the majority of people who practiced plural marriage did so because they believed that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.
They believed that he had received revelation that the law of plural marriage was to be enforced again. And they believed Church leaders who encouraged them to practice and the testimonies of fellow Saints who practiced, and they believed it was a commandment of God. And that is why some chose to do it. Majority of Church members did not . . . a minority of Church members chose to practice polygamy.
But if it's calculated, if we were to calculate the number of Latter-day Saints who raised their children of a polygamous couple or belong to polygamous family through marriage, it was tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints who belonged in some form to a polygamous family.
Morgan Jones 31:03
Yeah. That's really, really interesting. While we're on that topic of ways that–one thing that struck me as I was preparing for this interview is that you said, "Polygamy was a practice that was vulnerable to abuse and that cannot be excused. However, plural marriages formed in good faith were the norm." How do we see plural marriage being abused when we look back at history?
Brittany Chapman Nash 31:31
One of the big questions I had to ask myself while writing this book, one thing I really wanted to understand while studying plural marriage is, what was the role of agency in polygamy?
Because I wanted to understand–were people feeling compelled, were they being forced into these plural marriages? Or were they actually choosing them? And agency, the freedom to choose, was a huge part of both the sealing ceremony and the process in place for marrying plurally. And in women's and men's personal accounts, agency was huge. And so I think when abuses occurred in plural marriages, that sense of agency of choosing plural marriage was not there.
There were women, and usually it's young women, ages 14, 15, 16, who felt compelled to enter plural marriages. And I included several examples in the book to help illustrate those points.
There was a period in Church history, and that has been called the reformation, which was in 1856-1857, just a period of maybe a year at the most, where plural marriage was really being preached and repentance and commitment to the gospel was on people's minds. And it was during that period where plural marriage reached its peak. More people married polygamously than at any other time.
And a lot of . . . several people, like there were strange, some strange and conflicting things being preached in local places and they differed. Some young women recorded either their parents pressuring them into marriage, or they felt religious pressure from doctrine being preached to enter plural marriages.
And then also, others record later, like, of one, you know, I'm thinking of one story in particular of a young woman who was essentially tricked into marrying someone plurally under the pretext that she was receiving her temple endowment. So these really bizarre and horrible, horrifying things happened.
And again, these were exceptions, but they did happen and–
Morgan Jones 34:22
Brittany Chapman Nash 34:23
We expect more and we expect differently from people because this was a religious practice. And as some–I'm thinking of different quotes from women in my mind as I'm talking with you, but how Latter-day Saints saw this happen, and they were equally appalled, as we are, you know, they weren't blind to accept these abuses of the practice.
And part of that, like there were some liberal divorce Laws in Utah and within the Church in general to allow–I feel–one of the reasons was for women to reclaim agency who may not have felt that initial freedom of choice. The young woman that I mentioned who was tricked into being a plural wife, she divorced after a few years. And other women did that too, the women who married during the Reformation period, there's the highest divorce rates from women who married from that period, and elsewhere. So about–it's possible that about one in four polygamous wives did divorce. So agency was still there. Even if plural marriages just weren't working, and people didn't want to live that lifestyle, they did not have to.
Morgan Jones 35:46
Right, right. And maybe that agency came along a little bit delayed, but was there.
Brittany Chapman Nash 35:52
Morgan Jones 35:53
That's helpful. So Brittany, I had a question come to my mind as you were talking about that. And I–if you don't want to answer it, just tell me. But one thing that I have had people ask me, and in particular somebody really close to me, one day was asking me some questions about my understanding of polygamy.
And fortunately, because of my job, I did know the things that she was asking about. And so you could tell she was going along and saying these things that she was like, "I can't believe that you believe in this Church, that these things happened." And specifically, one of the things was, “Did you know that Joseph Smith had a 14 year old wife?”
And after, it was kind of funny, because this person, as we went along, like I said, it was kind of like, "I can't believe that you would still believe in this Church." But then at the end, it was almost like, "Oh, wow, like you actually do know what you believe." And then she said to me, "So knowing all of those things, how can you believe that Joseph Smith really was a prophet?" And I tried to like, share how I would answer that question. But for you, Brittany, how would you answer that question?
Brittany Chapman Nash 37:12
I would say that there is an assumption of intent there. Because unfortunately, we don't know more about Joseph Smith's theology of plural marriage. And also, so that's one thing, and then also, I would have to include the element of agency there as well, and then what did it mean to be sealed, and why?
So some accounts exist that are . . . one explanation about that particular marriage is that it was a way of connecting families. So we often think of marriages today as kind of vertical: husband, wife, and then their immediate families.
But in Joseph Smith's time period they tended to think more horizontally about the sealing ordinance. They would be sealed to a family member to unite those families together. So a husband and wife would be sealed, and then other members of other families could be sealed. So you're kind of creating this network of families.
Some have suggested that that was the case in Helen–her name's Helen R. Whitney–and Helen writes about this. So that's the first thing you want to go to, is what did Helen say about this? Who cares what anybody else says, let's let her talk for herself. What is she saying?
And she writes about it quite a bit. And she said that her father had a great desire to be connected with the Prophet Joseph Smith. And she was seen as a way to link those families. So her father is the one who approached her with the idea.
And at the same time, she was taught that it would–being united with Joseph Smith with the sealing ordinance–would affect her and her family eternally. And she was willing to make the marriage covenants, believing that she would receive an eternal reward. Did that marriage include intimacy? We don't know. Helen left a poem that said she made that marriage decision for eternity alone, and that has been interpreted by some to mean that there were no sexual relations, it was just a marriage for eternity alone.
And so I don't think we will ever really know the answer to that question. But I would say like, just what did Helen have to say about it? And that's what matters most. I think it also calls into question Joseph Smith's character. I think that's what a lot of what some people worry about with that.
And there's so much nuance that goes into the documents he created at the time, the documents left behind from people talking about plural marriage at that time–I am comfortable with the answer of "I don't know," and the reality that we can't know the answers to all the questions. And in this case, I think it's good to seek out all you can, but also with the understanding that we may not know all we want to know about that particular scenario.
Morgan Jones 40:57
Right. Right. I think that's helpful. So Brittany, when we're talking about this–and this is a topic that is difficult for people to wrap their heads around–and when you have studied it, and still are a believing member of the Church, why have you come to appreciate this aspect of our Church's history?
Brittany Chapman Nash 41:31
I respect Latter-day Saints in the 19th century for acting according to their convictions. They believed the gospel and they knowingly entered plural marriage, knowing that it may be . . . that it would be a trial. And they did that because of their faith in God's commandments and of their commitment to the gospel. And I, I respect that.
I think that foundation of faith and commitment has blessed us as members of the Church. It's given us an attitude of faith and commitment to the gospel, because so much was required, particularly, and in the earlier days, and that they did make many of their choices because of what they believed would–the blessings they believed they would receive in the next life.
And I appreciate that example of commitment, especially when it feels like so often, it feels like so much is variable now in our time. It's easy to let things slide, you know, what is right? What is wrong? What are we really committed to? But to know that they were so completely committed to something to willingly enter a very difficult situation, in the name of faith, is inspiring to me.
Morgan Jones 43:13
Absolutely. You, at the end of your book, you answer a question that I thought was really fascinating. You said, "What does polygamy mean for Latter-day Saints today?" And I wondered if you could give our listeners just a little taste of how you might answer that question.
Brittany Chapman Nash 43:30
Okay. We . . . I think have inherited kind of what my husband calls "the baggage of polygamy." In some ways where we don't quite know how to deal with this topic–this taboo topic. And so we may feel maybe an obligation to defend the practice or to accept the practice, or–
Morgan Jones 43:53
It's almost like a little chip on our shoulder.
Brittany Chapman Nash 43:55
Yeah, yeah. And it doesn't need to be. And I feel like–well, there is a fear. First, I would say these are not new questions, the questions that we're trying to answer right now, they were also trying to answer the same questions in the 19th century. What does it mean for us? What does it mean for me?
And that was when a commandment to live plural marriage was existing, and now it's no longer existing. And so some have a very real fear of being asked to live polygamously in this life or the next. Others don't want to have to defend a practice they don't believe was inspired. So what does that . . . can we still be believing Latter-day Saints and have a difficult relationship with polygamy?
Morgan Jones 44:56
Brittany Chapman Nash 44:56
And I believe we absolutely can, that it doesn't even need to be a wrestle. I've found peace simply as I've come to understand the stories of Latter-day Saints. And one way that . . . I guess here's one, if somebody needs something solid to stand on, this is one thing that I have come to find.
So this is just coming directly from the book, "Must modern Latter-day Saints share the same conviction as early Saints that polygamy was right? As early as 1856, Saints who desired to receive ordinances in the temple, such as the endowment and sealing, were asked a series of questions to determine their commitment to the gospel and their worthiness to receive those sacred ordinances and blessings.
"Among those questions, they were asked if they had a belief in, quote, the plurality or plural marriage, end quotes. Although they were not required to practice polygamy, belief in it was a measure of faithfulness before ordinances were received. This affirmation has not been required since that time.
"The essential convictions of Latter-day Saints are defined in today's temple recommend questions, such as having faith in God, a testimony of Jesus Christ, and supporting and sustaining our leaders today."
And, you know, the variety of other questions we can look at online as the temple recommend questions. And nowhere in there, does it say, "Do you believe in polygamy? And will you practice polygamy?" You know, and I don't want to . . . I want to tread carefully, because I don't want to miscommunicate, but I don't think we have to have a difficult relationship with polygamy, it is not required of us today. It will not be required of us in the future. God is the God of agency.
And our modern leaders have made it clear that the sealing ordinance, marriage between a man and a woman is what is needed for exaltation. It's not a plural marriage, it is a single marriage. And the sealing ceremonies themselves are identical between the plural marriages conducted in the past and the monogamous marriages conducted in the past and at present. There's identical blessings and promises and equal exaltation promised.
And the . . . I believe just the, there's the concept of eternal marriage, and plural marriage is a part of that, of that larger concept of eternal marriage. It's not something to feel threatened by. Nobody's going to force us to do anything, either here or in the next life, and God is a God of love and happiness. And we should expect only happiness in the next life. I think that God is bigger and has a bigger plan than we often–then I often–give him credit for–well, God has a bigger plan than I often expect, and His wisdom is far reaching.
Morgan Jones 48:22
Right. And isn't that always true? Where, you know, we look back at something and think, "Wow, I didn't see that turning out the way that it did." And certainly, that will be true when we, after this life and be like, "Oh, wow. Now I can see the way that all of that was working together."
I love your approach to this, Brittany, for a few reasons. I love that you said you know, we don't have to have–we're not asked if we have a testimony of plural marriage, that's not something that's required of us, but also looking back with compassion and admiration for those who were able to answer that question. I think that's a helpful thing for me to think about. My last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Brittany Chapman Nash 49:19
I think the one relationship we really need to cultivate is the relationship with Jesus Christ. And having that relationship be separate from the institution of the Church, from other people, from Church leaders, it's a very personal relationship. And it's easy to be all in in a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's hard to be if we think about being all in the institutional Church or of accepting all the imperfections perhaps of–or the things we do not understand, as humans are trying to run God's kingdom on earth. We are all part of a machine trying to work together to go forward. And that goes for people past, people now–we are all very much human trying to understand what God wants for us and trying to live accordingly.
And being all in is doing our best to contribute to that with our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, knowing He is the only one who can help us perfectly along and join our Heavenly Parents, eventually, at the end of our lives.
Morgan Jones 50:42
Brittany, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing your research and your scholarship. I think very few of us have the energy or whatever you want to call it to actually dig in to the extent that you have, and so thank you for doing the work on behalf of all of us and being willing to share it. I just appreciate your time very much.
Brittany Chapman Nash 51:08
Thank you so much.
Morgan Jones 51:14
We are so grateful to Brittany Chapman Nash for joining us on today's episode. You can find Let's Talk about Polygamy in Deseret Bookstores now. Brittany's book also includes a list of additional resources for those who may be interested in learning more.
Thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode and thank you for listening. We'll be with you again next week.