Polygamy in Pieces - Part Two: Text of Manipulation (Doctrine & Covenants 132)

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


Transcript for this episode by the amazing Heather B!

Works Cited for this episode:

Other resources for this episode worth exploring:
  • Biography of Almera Woodard Johnson (Doctrine and Covenants 130 & 131 were written by Joseph Smith while he was visiting Almera in Ramus, IL. The two were wed in the spring of 1843 while Almera was visiting her sister Dulcena Didamia Johnson.)

Channing: Hi, friends! I’m Channing.

Elise: And I’m Elise.

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: [00:00:12] But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs, so join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 129 through 132 for November 8th through the 14th. This week, it's going to be a little different.

[00:01:03] Because there is so much content and so many feelings and so many resources about this week’s sections, especially section 132, we've decided to do a miniseries titled “Polygamy in Pieces.” Each day we'll release a new episode covering a different aspect of early Mormon polygamy. We hope that this series is a deep dive but comes to you in manageable parts.

[00:01:31] Today, we'll be turning to section 132 to examine how it's working as a text of manipulation. 

So now that you kind of have this timeline, we kind of get this idea of what the background, what the backdrop was like as far as the practice of polygamy goes, but as we move away from the historical lens and move closer to the text, I know that Elise has done so much research on the text itself, and I'm excited to hear what you have about that.

Elise: [00:01:59] Yeah, thanks. Well, it's really helpful that we have the timeline because now we can see that Joseph Smith wrote section 132 after he and his secret friend group had already been practicing polygamy for many years, many years. One of the things I think that was really shocking to both Channing and I this week was actually sitting down to read section 132. We knew it was going to be bad, but we were, like, so surprised that it was this bad. And one of the first things I was thinking of is, okay, maybe we should look at this text to see what it's trying to do in a persuasive, like propaganda type way, because persuasion and propaganda, they shape how we view and interact with the world and when well done, they can even shape and change our beliefs in positive ways. But when you pair this idea with salvation and religion and all things godly, you've got a really dangerously powerful text that causes serious harm. And to this level, I don't necessarily think the title of this being a persuasive text is the most honest or appropriate, in fact, it feels to me like it's a manipulative text. And manipulative here is an attempt to control or prey on someone using artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially for one's own advantage. So for me, section 132 is now reading like a manipulative text. I just wanted to walk through some of the main themes that we see to see how powerfully awful it is.

[00:03:32] So at the beginning, in verses one and two, we have this clear declaration in an attempt to maybe build credibility because we see that it's God speaking. It says, “the Lord, thy God.” God is a strict God, of order. In verse eight, we see that, “Mine is a house of order and not a house of confusion.” So we have this bit of credibility that's trying to be built, I think, in the section by saying, “no, no, no, this isn’t me Joseph, writing it on my behalf. I'm just doing what God wants me to do. It's God's voice directly.” Other themes that arise in this text, an immense amount of fear and punishment if we don't listen to God's new and everlasting covenant.

[00:04:12] In verse four, it says, “if ye abide not that covenant, then you are damned, for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.” And that same line is repeated again in verse six. Here, we also see a theme or pattern of damnation, not just in a general sense, but in a way that has specific consequences for our heavenly salvation and our afterlife experience. We read some more verses that back this up by saying, like in verses 16 and 17, if you don't abide by this covenant, you'll be merely angels or like ministering servants who are destined to minister to those who are more worthy and who are better than you, who are “worthy of a far more and exceeding and an eternal weight of glory.”

[00:04:57] Verse 17 basically says, “sorry, angels, you didn't abide by my law and now you're destined to remain “separately and singly without exaltation in their saved conditioned for all eternity and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.”” So we see this theme of like, “it's not just damnation in your current life, it's an eternal damnation where you have to live and basically suffer the single ministering angel life only. And you don't get the full exaltation or full benefit of being a worthy God or something like that. 

Channing: [00:05:34] Right. Yeah, I also think too, just really quick, but this is the verse that is consistently used against single people in the church where they're basically like, “well, sorry, if you don't get married, like you don't make it. Right? You don't get there.” And I'm also reading this and I'm like, oh, for all of our Ace friends, they're probably like, “Hey, that single life for me, sounds fantastic.”

Elise: [00:05:55] Mmhmm. Or for all of our, like, LGBTQ+ folks, like, not included here. 

Like, absolutely damned to this separately, single, like, ministering servant angel life. Like, what?

Channing: [00:06:08]Like, yeah, we won't be, we won't have time to cover it today, but there is an amazing, like, Blair Ostler does an amazing job with kind of reshaping and re-interpreting the commandment for celestial marriage and, like, queer eternal marriage and formulates it in a way that says like, “well, queer means unusual or it means different and so here are all of the different ways that eternal marriage might exist.” And so for anyone interested in that, I encourage you to check out her book, an introduction to Queer Mormon Theology, and she also has an article in the Exponent that I think outlines that really well as well. 

Elise: [00:06:50] As we continue on through the section, we see lots of emphasis on the eternal nature of Godly things and this new and everlasting covenant being one of them.

[00:07:01] There's a whole lot of talk about if you marry in the world, but it's not by God's word, this covenant only lasts until you die and then you're not bound by any law when you're out of the world. And so again, you'll have these consequences of not becoming Gods or Godly. One of the resources that I loved coming across for this episode was an entire book called “Exposé of Polygamy: a Lady's Life Among the Mormons” published by Fannie Stenhouse, and she writes, like, it's her own personal experience of going through polygamy during the time that it was happening.

[00:07:32] It is powerful. And we have so many passages from her in this episode because we feel like it's important and sacred to honor her voice along with many other women that we'll be sharing here. 

Channing: [00:07:44] She really is such an incredible writer. So we're very excited to share. She writes, “My sorrow concerning the introduction of polygamy was not like any other grief for it was utterly without hope. Had its teachings been for this life only I could have borne it with more fortitude and should have endeavored to resign myself to my fate, but we were taught that it was to be “for time and for eternity.” When I thought that sometime my life must end and that then earthly sorrows would cease, this brought me no comfort for the cause of my grief was still to exist beyond the grave.

[00:08:21] Polygamy was to be practiced in heaven as well as on the earth. The only possible hope that remained to me was that there, in another world, I might perhaps be so changed as to not know myself or anyone else or that my feelings might be so greatly altered from what they were in this world. That I should not realize any pain from what we were taught were the matrimonial arrangements in heaven.” 

Elise: [00:08:47] There's so much sorrow in this passage. And you also see this kind of struggle that not just Fannie but many of the women go through having to kind of talk themselves out or through the logic of polygamy. And we'll talk about this more in a bit. One of the other things that I thought was kind of curious about section 132 is how it built up some of its justification.

[00:09:11] There's lots of mention of like, “oh, well, Abraham practice polygamy. And so did David and so did Solomon. And so did Moses.” So it's not just a justification because we're calling on old prophets, but there's another line that comes in about why this isn't going to be considered sin. And this is so wild because even if you know that it's a sin in your heart, Joseph Smith came in and crafted an argument that basically removes him and all of the leaders from accountability.

[00:09:38] This argument also encourages people to push down their own intuition and simply follow along because God said so. We see lots of verses that say things like, and in nothing, did they sin. Or in verse 59, “If he do anything in my name and according to my law and by my word, he will not commit sin and I will justify him.”

[00:09:59] So again, we've got this justification for people wanting to practice polygamy, basically saying, “well, God's got my back. God told me this was okay. And so it's not a sin. It's not adultery. And not just that it's okay, but that we have to do this or else you'll be destroyed.”

We move on to this whole section about Emma being called out directly, but also all of the other women who don't comply. Lots of threats here of destruction.

[00:10:24] Verse 52 says “they shall be destroyed” and it continues. “But if she will not abide this covenant, she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord. For I am the Lord thy God and I will destroy her if she abide not in my law.” 

Channing: [00:10:40] And Fannie, who we read a passage from earlier, also really speaks to this tension that she's feeling between this really angry, demanding God that we're experiencing here in the text and the one that she thought that she knew. She writes, “She learns from the revelation that if any man have a wife who hold the keys of this power and he teaches her the law of my priesthood as pertaining to these things, then she shall believe and administer unto him or she shall be destroyed saith the Lord, your God for I will destroy her. This is a beautiful position for any loving wife to be placed in. Her husband is to teach her polygamy and she must believe, for it is distinctly said she shall believe. But should she lack evidence of the truth of the revelation and cannot believe in its divinity then “she shall be destroyed” and the Lord, like a kind and loving father adds, “I will destroy her.” What language to place in the mouth of a kind and loving God and Father. How opposite is this to the teachings of Jesus Christ? But it is in keeping with the other teachings of the Mormon church. Mormonism taught me to look upon the great ruler of the universe as a God of vengeance, while everything in nature has taught me that he is a God of love.” 

[00:11:57] Friends, this book was published in 1872, and I'm reading this. That could be read here today. I am like jaw dropped on the floor, amazed at this.

Elise: [00:12:07] It is amazing. It's amazing because it's so upsetting and it connects, like, all of the troubling episodes that we've had about a God of vengeance and a God of punishment showing up.

[00:12:19] That's a common theme in Mormonism. And so even for the women who were put off by this call to destruction from the polygamy section, it aligns with some portion of Mormonism, which would make it all the more easy to have to force or talk yourself into abiding by it, even though-this is the wildest part- even though, you know, in your heart of hearts, that God is a God of love, you have to talk yourself out of it because you're being forced to, or else you'll be destroyed. 

Channing: [00:12:49] I've loved hearing from Fanny, what an amazing writer she is. And honestly, I was, like I said, I was reading that and I'm like, she took the words right out of my mouth. Like I was going to say the exact same thing and she already said it all hundred plus years ago… 200 plus years ago! Fannie, you're amazing. 

Elise: [00:13:07] Friends, thank you so much for joining us on this episode where we got to take kind of a specific almost nitty-gritty look at section 132 to see all of the different themes and patterns that emerge to make this a text of manipulation. We love you so, so much, and we can't wait to talk to you tomorrow as we continue this series Polygamy in Pieces. Bye.

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