Pearson’s Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Review

GhostCarol Lynn Pearson, who describes herself as one of the “wise-woman elders” of Mormonism, has written a book documenting how the specter of eternal polygamy pains those who have embraced Mormonism.

For many Mormons as old as me, Carol Lynn Pearson was *the* Mormon poet. Her poetic voice was clear and inspiring in her initial books of her poetry, widely quoted in Mormon circles. Her life appeared to be unusually graced until her beloved husband came out as gay. Pearson’s book about her husband was published in 1986, after her former husband died from complications related to AIDS.

Pearson started as precocious and innocent girl believing the promises of 1970s Mormonism and has arrived at the status of elderly and wounded woman, crying out to God and us listeners with her stories of how entitled polygamous patriarchy harms everyone, but particularly the female members of the Mormon tribe.

As a reviewer, I am simultaneously irritated with Pearson while applauding her clarity in pointing out the damage stupid beliefs about eternal polygamy can cause.

I am irritated because she sees Mormon plural marriage through a lens I no longer see as valid, a lens through which she describes Joseph Smith “taking” 30-40 wives, including some with legal husbands and at least one as young as fourteen. I would have rendered that phrase that Joseph Smith covenanted with ~40 women, including some with legal husbands and one woman who may have been as young as thirteen. But I would have pointed out that in every case that has been examined, the few children borne by these women during this time have been positively confirmed to be the biological children of the legal husband (with no confident reports that any otherwise unmarried women conceived at all). And I point out the vast sexual heresy that engulfed Nauvoo in 1841-1842, to which I posit Joseph was responding to by entering into covenants with associated teachings, covenants that appear to have been asexual for the most part.

Yet I applaud Pearson because the pain she describes is the very reason why I feel it is so critical to unearth the forgotten sins of our past, the truths it appears our pioneer forebears had righteously buried in full repentance before their Lord, Jesus Christ.

Pearson begins with a delightful passage describing her beginning at writing this book. Her magnolia tree is in full bloom, and her writing desk looks out from an upper story window, giving her the impression she is writing in a tree house. Pearson embraces all, yet is particularly delighted by her tribe, her Mormons. Though her tribe contributes little to the horrific statistics of world-wide abuse of women, there is still this pocket of pain. Pearson wrote of how she set about to document the stories and statistics related to Mormon feelings about marriages that would be polygamous after death in the wake of the 2014 media storm about the Church History essays on LDS.org.

Pearson next describes the instance when she learned about plural marriage in eternity, from a Seminary teacher who was a remarried widower. He had testified to his students that he would be able to be with both his beloved wives in eternity, and bore witness that such marriage was acceptable and even preferred by God. She grew up in a day when polyamory wasn’t a household term, when people dreamed of being together forever with their one true love, a day informed by Disney princess stories of happily ever after and monogamous domestic bliss.

As a maturing student, Pearson wondered why maleness seemed so much better than femaleness. She wrote an essay about eternal polygamous marriage under the writing prompt “A Fate Worse than Death.” When her professor attempted to point out the compassion of a God who would allow a man to be with both women he had loved in life, Pearson asked why a woman couldn’t be with both men she might have loved in life.

Pearson’s book is informed by her conviction that “the Ghost of Eternal Polygamy exists today from error, that plural marriage never was–is not now–and never will be ordained of God.”

Pearson sees things through the lens of women who love their husbands and dread being required to share that husband with another woman in eternity. [She does not appear to consider the corollary, the man who gets to Final Judgment only to have God and his wife look at him in disdain and say “nope.”]

For the rest of the book, Pearson alternates her chapters with chapters composed of stories from others, women and men she heard from when she performed her survey of admittedly self-selected respondents. She eloquently displays to us the pain the current version of history causes for many who do (or have) believed. There are enamored brides who fear the supposed requirement to embrace other women as sister-wives in eternity. There are righteous widows who are rejected by never-married men because these men wish a woman they can have in eternity. There are children destined to be united in eternity to a man who died long before they were conceived. And the stories, painfully honest, roll on.

Yet to me, as a woman who has imagined Celestial marriage being restored without the accommodation of plural marriage, Pearson does not seem to consider the alternative history we would have had if Joseph Smith had not covenanted with at least one plural wife. The pain some feel today seems nothing to the millions who would have been denied any ability to be sealed to their mortal husband or father.

Pearson does not seem to consider the possibility that Emma was as informed and accepting as described in 1860 by a then RLDS Whitehead, who had witnessed several of the covenant ceremonies where Emma participated in helping her husband be eternally united to other women. Pearson, like so many others, presumes that Emma’s reactions were rejections of plural marriage, rather than seeing that Emma’s reactions (at least in the 1840s) were correlated with direct threats to Joseph’s life rather than plural marriage itself.

Pearson seems willing to erase doctrine to achieve rest for herself and others on this topic. I prefer to retain core doctrines while challenging erroneous history and false beliefs.

Ultimately, I recommend Pearson’s book to anyone who thinks there is no reason to challenge the status quo regarding the history of polygamy. The pain Pearson documents is real and honest. It is a pain that arises from the idea that Joseph Smith righteously bedded dozens of women without the concurrence or knowledge of his beloved Emma, with modern Mormons supposedly assured that there will be so few righteous men in heaven that the good women who arrive there will need to cast themselves on the righteous few by the handfuls to assure each righteous woman of Celestial Marriage.

As for me, I look forward to an eternity in the vicinity of all my children from my marriages, with the hope that I and my dear husband will mutually wish to spend eternity together, with God’s approbation. Ultimately, I echo in paraphrase what my ancestor said on her deathbed to the man who had been her earthly partner for the decades since Joseph Smith’s death, “God will do what is right.”

44 thoughts on “Pearson’s Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Review

  1. I would far rather find myself as sister wife to the several women my husband married after divorcing me, without our sealing being dissolved by anything other than his unrighteous behavior, given that he repented and made restitution, than suffer the pain involved in the abandonment of vows made by Sister Pearson’s husband.
    As pressure mounts to have the Church change basic doctrine about the nature of men and women, she uses her skill as a writer to undercut and cast doubt on the validity of the prophets.
    Some with ‘itching ears'(2 Timothy 4:3) will heed her and use her words to justify apostasy.
    How sad when writers and other artists create work that sets them up as worthy to be heeded, then use that prominence to lead those who value their work astray.

  2. Polygamy is repugnant to me. It is a mammoth trial of faith that I hope might be resolved in the next life in a way that brings sweetest peace to all the faithful.
    But something else is repugnant to me: the writings of some that are void of faithful perspective — written by a ‘wise-woman elder’ or not. I know the issue is full of pain for many many women. But it is also full of pain for us faithful men as well. We all have pain. But if you are going to write, give honest, faithful perspective as well. Or get your acrid propaganda out of my face.

  3. I can’t help but think of D&C 121 which, for me at least, makes it clear that priesthood power is built on persuasion, long suffering, etc. and eschews compulsion completely. I believe that the eternities will likewise be free of compulsion including whether or not we CHOOSE to continue in the relationships we have made here on earth, even if we are sealed to more than one person.

  4. I forgot to mention that Carol Lynn Pearson will be talking about her book in the DC area on Tuesday (9/13) in the home of Greg Prince, so I hope to have a chance to talk with her at that time. That was the reason I purchased the book, since I wished to have my own opinion about what she has written rather than forming my opinion on the fly the night of her presentation.

    I am reminded of a story I was told, of an accomplished single woman whose good friend died. Her friend’s widower suggested that now that he was available in mortality, it would be appropriate for the single woman to become his wife. It took this single woman a while to externalize her feelings, but she eventually realized that she despised her friend’s husband, due in part to the impression that her friend’s death was in part hastened by the neglect of her husband to her declining health. I imagine the neglect was along the lines of “Honey, you’re just imagining you’re sick. Just think positive and have faith…”

    I had forgotten that Carol Lynn’s maiden name is Wright. I wonder if she is a cousin of the fellow named Wright who was super-eager to get sealed to my grandmother. She was engaged to Wright when she eloped with my grandfather, then Wright came back by her home a decade or so later when his first wife died. In one version of that tale, he invited her to leave her non-believing husband and be sealed to him (bringing along her children). In the final version I obtained from my grandmother, the visit was merely in hopes she would agree to become his child’s foster mother. Then around the time of my grandmother’s fiftieth anniversary, Mr. Wright arranged to meet with my grandmother, allegedly assuring her that his wife had agreed to give him a divorce so he could be free to be sealed to my grandmother. By the final version, I was assured that it was just innocent talk between friends.

    Just to say that if Carol Lynn grew up by a culture informed by the kind of man who pines after a married woman for over fifty years, in hopes of making her one of his eternal wives, then I can understand why she says what she says.

    Luckily, I am a descendant of the woman who said “No.” to Mr. Wright and grew up in a culture informed by the women who thought Mr. Wright was a bit odd to be obsessed with being sealed to the woman who eloped with another man.

  5. We’ve been given only the sketchiest outline of what life in the CK and beyond will be. CLP’s “complaints” are based on assumptions of what the details of that life will be. She appears to be projecting or extrapolating earthly conditions and situations into the Celestial. Perhaps the worst asssumption is that the occupants of the CK will be anything but full of the most complete, exquisite and utter joy that their being is capable of. I think that general rule will hold for all three kingdoms: the Lord will “bestow”, if that’s the right word, as much glory upon each son and daughter that they can stand (“abide” in scripture-speak.) One has to “abide” (withstand, be capable of) the glory.

    therefore, whatever the living arrangements are for married/sealed polygamist couples in the CK, it will still be in accordance with the maximum joy/glory possible. Whatever the details, their joy and glory will be hUUUUUUUge. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

    And for those of us who end up in the lower two levels of the CK or a lower kingdom altogether, we’re all going to be single anyway, so no need to worry about polygamy. 😉

  6. “Dwelling on the one that got away” and “buyer’s remorse” seem to be a common problem among men. A few stories from the OT might fit those themes. And it continues today with people looking up their high school sweetheart on FB, which has led to more than a few divorces and new marriages.

  7. A quote from last month’s 1st Presidency message by Elder Eyring:

    “A prophet of God once offered me counsel that gives me peace. I was worried that the choices of others might make it impossible for our family to be together forever. He said, ‘You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.'”

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/08/the-hope-of-eternal-family-love?lang=eng

  8. Meg,

    That’s a pretty charitable review of Pearson’s book considering that Carol Lynn Pearson has a long history of getting members to cast doubts on the prophets or doctrine that don’t align with her personal/political beliefs. In regards to this book, Pearson is on record claiming that D&C 132 isn’t inspired and that the doctrine needs to be corrected. I understand the pain that both men and women experience with this subject but there are people more qualified than Pearson to opine on this subject.

    JS

  9. Hi James,

    In reading some of the comments in the “Other Voices” chapters, it’s pretty clear that many who contributed don’t understand the doctrine. So many instances where folks are fundamentally confused, and in some cases the confusion clearly also existed on the part of their leaders.

    That said, a child who cries after putting their hand on a hot fire is still hurting. Mocking them may not be the best initial response. But if they keep putting their hand in the fire, they may well need to be forcibly removed from the hearth.

  10. A non-LDS, non-church-going woman once asked me why anyone would do polygamy. She’s a single mom, and her baby-daddy turned out to be a jerk (to put it nicely).

    I asked her (and we were talking about earthly marriage, not any heavenly arrangements):

    if you had only these options, which would you choose, a) be married to a jerk, b) share a good husband with two other women, or c) stay single. She thought for less than 3 seconds, and replied ” share a good husband”.

  11. Hi Bookslinger,

    Brilliant…!

    Obvious choice d (a good man who is wholly dedicated to the woman in question and her children) is the best option.

    But it reminds me of the challenge women faced as wives of early Mormon men. The men were constantly gone on missions. This accounts for the reduced reproduction rates from plural wives, in my opinion. But if the men had been monogamist, then there would arguably have been even lower rates of reproduction and survival, lower than the rates for monogamist a who weren’t trying to build up the kingdom.

  12. Yeah, and how is option d working out for millions of single moms with jerk baby-daddies? Waiting for option d is effectively option c.

    It also just occurred to me since my last comment, that we have a bastardized (pun not intended) form of polygamy going on now in our civilzation. One might say we have Satan’s imitation of polygamy. And I don’t mean just the recent surge in popularity of “polyamory”, but since the sexual revolution of the 60’s, just regular promiscuity, one nighters, hooking up, friends with benefits, serial short term relationships, multiple baby-daddies per woman, multiple baby-mommas per man. Or to paraphrase what was said during the Smoot hearings, “the monogamists aren’t monog-ing anway”, so who’s better off, sister wives and children of a man who supports them and sees them regularly, or baby-mommas with deadbeat baby-daddies who they never see?

  13. Hi Bookslinger,

    In my option D the woman hasn’t had a baby with a jerk baby daddy.

    The non-celestial version of uncommitted polygamy is exactly what you describe, and it is the same (or close cousin) to what Bennett taught in Nauvoo.

  14. Meg, I am still uncertain why in your opinion “Joseph was responding to by entering into covenants with associated teachings, covenants that appear to have been asexual for the most part.” How would that have helped the situation with Bennett? How did that help anything? I am honestly curious not being an antagonist. And what did that have to do with the way Brigham Young practiced polygamy? His way seems different than what Joseph would have been practicing. I’ve read your work but I am still confused. Probably doesn’t help that I am a new mom with little to no sleep at the moment. Thanks!

  15. While Mormons busily multiply post hoc explanations for Smith’s behavior, Occam’s Razor steers us directly to the obvious, namely, that Smith was a sexual predator. He used his prophet-fish status in his tiny Mormon-pool to manipulate women into acquiescence. If you’re in the mood to lighten up after reading Pearson’s wonderful book, you might try Joanne Hanks’ “It’s Not About the Sex My A**.”

  16. Hi Al,

    My deductions regarding Joseph Smith are not ad hoc.

    The image of Joseph as predator can only be sustained when historical evidence is suppressed or manipulated.

    1. “The image of Joseph as predator can only be sustained when historical evidence is suppressed or manipulated.”

      Sister Meg, that is a quotable quote. Thanks so much! Xièxiè.

  17. The fact that the spectre of eternal polygamy causes real pain for people like Sister Pearson is a testament to the power of the LDS faith in the afterlife, and our extraordinarily earth-like conceptions of it. If Sister Pearson didn’t actually believe in eternal marriage enduring in earth-like forms, polygamy wouldn’t bother her. It would just be some esoteric doctrine, like Catholic limbo, which most Catholics don’t literally believe in.

    But Mormons have adopted an afterlife conception which is extremely vivid, a conceptualisation which is basically “heaven is just like life on earth, but coupled with eternal glory.” And the vividness in the LDS cultural imagination aids Mormons in having perhaps the strongest after-life faith of any other religion.

    But it does have this drawback. Because our afterlife is SO vivid, we get hung up on sorting out details, like polygamy and polyandry, unable to simply abandon them to the mysteries of the hereafter like other religions do. So we suffer, thinking how terrible eternity will be with polygamy, and this threatens to derail our faith in the entire institution.

    If Mormons get to heaven, and they find it is like the traditional Christian heaven, they will all be like the angel in the story book “The Littlest Angel,” pining after their humble little box of treasures from their earth-life, unable to concentrate on their new harp lessons and celestial choir rehearsals. Joseph Smith’s Mormonism created a heaven for the “Littlest Angel.” He takes our modest little box of mortal treasures and makes a heaven out of it. Our modest little families, our modest little talents, we get to just keep on doing what we are doing, but with a little halo of “eternal glory” added. Nietzsche would approve. His philosophy of “eternal return” posits an eternal life made up of a non-stop repeat of our earth-lives for all eternity, same spouses, same kids, same sexual acts, same bearing children, same eating, same working. If we can rejoice in such an “eternal return” we have found true happiness, and if nothing else, Mormons DO rejoice in this eternal return. They have found, what Milan Kundera called, “a categorical agreement with being.” They love life, and they want it to continue just so, and if it is not just so, if it threatens to add something strange like polygamy, they fall to pieces.

    1. I agree with you, Nate, that Mormon eschatology is so vivid that some are bothered by details that they would not be concerned with if they were to be glorious beings full of love.

      For me, I understand the mortal purpose of sealing children to parents and extending those sealings to our beloved dead. But other than glorious kinship, it is not clear how our parent-child relationships will function in heaven. The parent-child sealing (while glorious) does not seem to have the eternal functionality of the sealing between spouses.

      Those adding their voices in Pearson’s book imagine a heaven where the women are as belittled and oppressed as the worst examples of abusive patriarchy the individuals can imagine. Pearson tells us women are like pennies and men are like the nickels and dimes in the eternal economy. But that is horse manure.

      I imagine a heaven where we realize the vast love we have for all members of the human family. Those who wish to retain their earthly associations (righteousness of all parties permitting) can do so. But there will be vast numbers of beloved and treasured individuals, should the one(s) we loved in life not accept the atonement that would make them clean. And there will be many, like my son, who died long before any earthly associations could be formed. Such (in my opinion) are not damned to eternal solitude as children, but will be offered the fullness we seek. So clearly there would need to be some accommodation for allowing the innocent dead to become partnered in the Mormon vision of eternity.

      This morning I was reflecting that polygamy has never haunted me. Even before I delved deeply into all matters Joseph, the example of my maternal forebears (7 of whom were married to men with more than one wife) has shown me that plural marriage can be a delight.

      Elvira Cowles Holmes had three biological daughters who grew to womanhood. The first (16) married a widowed English convert shortly after his wife’s death had left him with sole care for their two surviving small children. The second daughter declared far and wide that she would never marry a polygamist or an Englishman, or a widower. Implicitly, she was declaring she would never marry the man her sister had married. Yet in time she was persuaded that he was a desirable and worthy mate. The two married sisters then turned their persuasive powers on the third, who wished to train to be a teacher. This third daughter held out until she was the almost spinsterish age (at that time) of 19, but when General Conference rolled around, the two older sisters insisted the third accompany their husband to Salt Lake City while they attended to the childbirth of one of them. In that Conference, the husband was called to serve a mission in Australia. And for some reason, this coincided with the third sister agreeing to be married to her sisters’ husband.

      While on his mission, the husband would write delightful letters to his “MPE,” Marietta, Phebe, and Emma Lucinda. When he died of a heart attack not quite twenty years later, the three sisters continued to raise the twenty children of the household. The children report that their mothers never raised their voices in anger. One who would become a US Congressman would tell how his brothers would beat him up because their mother was kinder to him than them. His point being that boys are boys, and his aunties didn’t prefer their own children above the other children of their husband.

      The thing that haunted me in connection with my second marriage was the possibility that it would become adulterous, like the first. Pearson’s book Goodbye, I Love You amplified that fear, suggesting that my husband might seem devoted but then turn out to be gay. As my second husband was willing to refrain from kissing during our engagement, I felt great dread of this “gay” possibility. But then I decided to put away fear until such time as there might be a reason for the fear. And it turns out I didn’t have to fear.

      In similar fashion, I suggest that those who allow themselves to become consumed by fear are making a choice. It is like someone who insists on picking at a sore until it becomes infected. It is like how my sister’s grief at her son’s death led to her becoming temporarily psychotic. Seeing her example, I realized that when my son died, I had to protect my mental health by getting adequate sleep and rest, which we had not insisted she get when her tragedy struck.

      It is not that the initial fear is wrong, but that there are ways and ways to respond to any fear. I find the preponderance of stories in this book to be stoking an irrational fear, leading in some cases to requiring abandonment of the entire belief system to calm the irrational fear.

  18. Well, I think that some of the “fear” in Pearson’s book isn’t fear at all. She is totally confident that God’s views on polygamy correspond exactly to her own. We all think God is on our side. She has no fear of polygamy in the afterlife because she doesn’t believe that God ordains it. But she uses the fear it strikes in other people as leverage to try and shame the church into softening their positions.

    But she shouldn’t even bother. If God really hates polygamy as much as she does, He wouldn’t have allowed it to happen. Even if it wasn’t exactly His will, He is responsible for letting it happen and drag on like it did. You can’t believe in a God who is an extreme interventionist in the 1820s and 30s (non-stop angelic visitations, golden plates, etc.), and then say that that same God pulled back and let Joseph Smith slide into error in the 1940s, or let Brigham Young flaunt his public, openly sexual polygamy, without sending any talking donkeys to save him from himself as He had with the prophet Ballam. Polygamy happened, and God is responsible for it, either because He masterminded the whole thing for whatever crazy reason, or because He didn’t care enough to stop it.

    The problem with people like Pearson is that they hold unrealistic views about God’s prophets. These guys are honest, righteous men, and they care deeply about trying to do God’s will. How could they have possibly gone into something as egregious as a non-sanctioned, unrighteous polygamy, when their hearts were so centered on Him?

    Pearson needs to take her book and address it as a prayer to this strange God. “Why,” in the words of President Packer, “would You do such a thing? Aren’t You supposed to be my Father?” When a vigorously interventionist God establishes a church with honest men like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the church turns out to be a little bit deranged, one should direct one’s doubts and concerns to God, not to the honest prophets, who were just doing their best in the face of a crazy God.

  19. The quote that has been echoing in my mind the last week or two is, from CS Lewis.
    “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men”.

    Falling apart when we hear weird things reflects a lack of faith and a serious indication that the culture shock of a Celestial Kingdom would be too much for us to overcome. Because there will be a culture shock. There will be things different we never even considered, or even thought could change. To imagine the CK as earth but merely without death or taxes, is ignorant. I might not be able to imagine what I can’t imagine, but I know there will be more.

    Joseph complained about exactly this tendency.

    “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.”

    I hope this never applies to me.

  20. Hi Zen,

    To better understand the comment Joseph made about the Saints flying to pieces like glass, it is useful to know that he made those comments around 21 January 1844, as recorded by Wilford Woodruff. This would be right after Joseph would have confronted William Law about the reports of his adultery, which Law denied. Rather than repent and accept a time of reduced privileges as a result of his unconfessed sin, Law rebelled and demanded that he be retained in his position and privileges.

    So while the quote is applicable to others, I can’t help but imagine a prideful Irishman, unwilling to bend himself to accept counsel because of pride.

    1. Ah, thanks Meg. Context is so important to really understanding our history. I think that is especially true because we weren’t around in our early history to be eye-witness to nuance and unrecorded context.

  21. As far as I know, none of the 1840’s offshoots of the church (CoC, et al) have any form of eternal sealings, nor proxy work for the dead.

    I assume the FLDS have some form of what they claim to be “sealings”, but then they have polygamy.

    IOW, the prophet who gave us sealings, gave us polygamy. If you throw out polygamy, you throw out the prophet, and without that prophet, then there are no eternal sealings either.

    (Just based on Meg’s review) CLP seems to ignore the flip side of her coin. If sister wives would be in unacceptable pain for sharing a man in heaven, then what of the pain of women who marry a widower, who will have no husband in heaven? Or men who marry a widow?

    Wouldn’t her “solution” would take us back to creedal Christianity’s model of a marriage-less (almost gender-less), sex-less heaven?

    I think Meg did a good job in the beginning of her book, on logically laying out the _need_ for polygamy in heaven. Eternal family sealings pretty much logically require the existence of some form of polygamy.

    ‘Sides, if we throw out both Joseph’s and Brigham’s polygamy, then they would have been false prophets, and the church would not be true anyway. There are hints in both the OP and in the comments that that may be CLP’s line of reasoning anyway.

  22. I had a challenge to faith years ago when I realized my testimony of JS and the BoM didn’t cover the succession crisis after Joseph’s death. It was spiritually answered by a confirmation when Elder David B Haight spoke at our stake conference. But I was also able to logically deduce the answer when I realized the RLDS/CoC didn’t do sealings or proxy work. JS left enough written material to indicate those are requirements.

  23. As a divorced woman myself and daughter of a divorced woman (and obviously friend to numerous divorced women), I was surprised at the number of women who had taken it upon themselves to obtain a cancellation of sealing from their deceased husband (apparently good men) so that they could offer their new husband “sealing” as part of the deal. Their pain was that they were forced to go through a process to break off the sealing from their first husband.

    For my part, I wondered how they justified doing this, and how the system allowed them to do this. But then again, I figure God will make things right in eternity anyway, so I’m not bothered if the sealing arrangements on earth are a bit troublesome.

    When I remarried, I went through the process of getting the sealing to my first (abusive, unfaithful, fiscally reckless) husband cancelled. That was irritating because my good bishop had never been involved in a sealing cancellation and didn’t realize how time critical things were. By the time he sent papers to Salt Lake, there was no way the cancellation would be complete by our planned marriage date. So I initially married my current husband “for the period of our mortal lives.” The cancellation came through three months later and we were able to be sealed in the DC temple on Thanksgiving weekend.

    When my first husband wished to be sealed in the temple, the policy had changed so a bishop was required to seek feedback from the prior wives of a man seeking sealing. I think this was partially to ensure that men aren’t eternally sealed to a wife if they have major unresolved issues in their past (shades of Dr. Bennett). I found that process hugely disturbing, but it was because my former husband’s bishop didn’t understand the process and told my ex-husband to get me to send a letter via my ex-husband delineating the reasons for our divorce and any subsequent failure to honor legal obligations. The bishop should have contacted me directly and had me send any correspondence directly to the bishop, rather than asking my former husband to be the intermediary.

    With tens of thousands of bishops, all lay members, it is not surprising that the process gets mangled from time to time.

    I once saw in a sort of vision the progress of sealing mankind together in these last days. In that vision, it started as a flickering flame in Nauvoo, a flame nearly extinguished before it caught hold. Then I saw the tiny flames migrating west and expanding along the western lands from Canada to Mexico. I saw the flames extending deeper into the past of this world, but still sparse. Then I saw as the flames fully penetrated our past and spread to cover the entire earth. It was glorious to see, this symbolic representation that all mankind had been joined, that the work was acceptable to God, that all His children had been offered the means to salvation in God’s kingdom and reunion in His heaven.

    If I believe Jacob 5, then there will come a day when those in our present world will cease to tend the eternal flame. According to folklore, if there ever comes a year when no more children are born into the New and Everlasting Covenant, then that will be when this earth will realize the fate of the scriptural vineyard which has ceased to bear tame fruit. (As I understand it, it is this folklore that makes modern polygamist sects so resistant to giving up their lifestyle, since they think the New and Everlasting Covenant is what they are doing.)

    Pearson talks about the widows who are shunned by men wishing to have “their own” wife. The Old Testament had a solution for such men, who refused to marry such a woman. In Deuteronomy, the woman is to publicly remove the shoe from the man’s foot and spit in his face, and the man and his subsequent family would be known as “The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.” In Ruth an unnamed man refuses to buy the field previously owned by Elimelech because it would require him to marry Ruth. Thus this unnamed man removed himself from the lineage that would become the ancestry of Christ. But we like Boaz so much that we don’t focus on the shame of the man who refused Ruth.

    Culturally we can do more to remove the irrational fear that everyone will have to be in a polygamist household in eternity and we can do more to shame immature men who are unwilling to love a woman merely because she is the widow of a god man. But I will never advocate that we extinguish the eternal flame of hope that is the New and Everlasting Covenant.

  24. Meg, in the past I’ve made the half-joking speculation that, for all we know, the whole of creation may be an assignment from a council of sister-wives to Heavenly Father to “take the kids out camping”.

  25. My father died at 58 and my mother never remarried. I don’t think she was interested, based on the rare comments she has made on that topic. I am myself still married to my first wife. She will almost certainly outlive me. I do not know and do not care to ask if she could see herself remarrying under such circumstances.

    The thought that my wife might cancel her sealing to me to render herself more marriageable is one that I admit disturbs me a little. On the other hand, I don’t believe she would do me lasting harm by doing so.

    “…we can do more to shame immature men who are unwilling to love a woman merely because she is the widow of a god man.”

    I will not be joining you in that shaming. There is perhaps some reason to think badly of a widower, already sealed to a wife, who is reluctant to marry a widow for time only. But for a man who has never been sealed, I don’t feel that I begin to have the right to question his misgivings.

  26. Hi Kent,

    I asked my husband if he would have hesitated to marry me if I had been a widow instead of a divorcee. He replied that if he had received the various promptings to marry the widow me as he received to marry the divorced me, he would have married me anyway.

    Say my husband were to die and I decided to marry again. If the man I found myself loving after becoming a widow were to demand I cancel my sealing to my current husband, I’d give demanding suitor the heave ho, after a lecture about the doctrine. God will not deny a good man blessings merely because he cherished a previously sealed widow. After all, if the man doesn’t marry the lovely previously sealed widow, he’s already pre-denied himself the precious decades he could have spent with that individual.

  27. Meg, I hope you and your husband die seconds apart, holding hands in the nursing home when you’re in your nineties. Better yet, I hope you guys survive the Tribulation, and the Second Coming, and then get twinkled in the Millenium.

    In the mean time, I’d marry your crazy cat-lady sister (or aunt!) just so I’d get to see you at family reunions and major holidays.

  28. Ooo – if I could design the perfect transition to the next life, it would be more along the lines of one of us getting a non-painful cancer that gives us a certainty of passing but still a couple of months to prepare. And the other would live in our home I hope we will have purchased a couple of blocks from a temple, having a chance to settle everything in an orderly manner, then following a year or so later, passing in some manner that isn’t traumatic at all to anyone else living (since it obviously wouldn’t be traumatic to anyone else who had already passed). Maybe a stroke that takes the survivor to the hospital where the survivor could pass in the care of professionals, but before the professionals will have had to be owed very much money.

    I actually do have a sister who is currently not married. She just visited yesterday and we had lunch at a Brazilian steak house and then participated in a family activity that created a bond that will not likely be forgotten as long as either of us remains lucid. She’s currently sealed, but the man to whom she is sealed walked out on her and prior to their marriage refused to give my daughter a blessing of healing because he said he didn’t believe in such things. So that’s a sealing in want of a man to make the covenant between God, my sister, and her daughter more complete. Not boys who tell her it is no longer her turn to be their spouse.

  29. I had a friend growing up that came from a large family. Christmas fell on a Sunday one year and the children opened their presents before going to church. For some reason, all of the children complained bitterly that they didn’t get anything they wanted. The parents said nothing, but while the children were in Sunday School, they came home and gathered up all of the presents and stored them away. When Christmas came around next year, the same exact presents were found under the Christmas Tree. Surprisingly, no one complained.

    I think there’s a high likelihood that a lot of the angst and complaining in this and other areas is coming from the fact that a lot of people in and out of the church are complaining about the Christmas presents they chose prior to mortality. I use the word “chose” intentionally because I am of the opinion that each of us chose our gender “before” our premortal existence based on a number of criteria. Probably sounds whacked, but that was taught in an ancient religion course I took at BYU and said course was taught by a professor who was both associate dean and worked on the church curriculum development committee. Not that those two bullet points on his resume make him infallible, but they do lend credence to him not being way out in left field. The bigger thing to me is that it feels right both mentally and spiritually.

    The same professor also taught that in the eternities, exalted men and women will share and exercise a complementary priesthood power in a way that we do not currently understand. I believe that is also correct. I recall that he spent one entire class session talking about Priesthood and Life in a way that both shocked everyone in the room and concurrently caused a massive shift in understanding for all of us.

    The Prophet Joseph taught we are being welded into a great chain that starts from the very beginning of this mortal experience and will not end until the last spirit child at the tail end of the Millennium has been sealed into that chain. That chain is being forged in mortality from the Priesthood and is based on “priesthood descent” and not necessarily familial, linear descent. For example, we talk about the Lamanites routinely in the church even though almost everyone these days recognizes that Lehi’s descendants were not the only people here in the Americas and that there is a high likelihood that the amount of Lehite genetic material in most native Americans is very small. It’s not the genetics that matter. It’s that the Lord made a covenant to Lehi that all these people would get their priesthood blessings through him. In the same way, the Lord promised Abraham that all those who were not of his bloodline would be adopted into his priesthood-line. That priesthood lineage may well in fact jump around multiple generations of men who were not necessarily worthy of the blessings that were promised to them on conditions of faithfulness. Theoretically speaking, it’s not impossible that I could find myself directly sealed to a great-great-grandfather if the intervening men were not found worthy of exaltation. Same thing in the other direction.

    While men were given the rights to Priesthood in the grand council in heaven, women were given the right to Life. Priesthood follows the man. Life follows the woman. Woman stands guard at the passageway into this life. Man stands guard at the passageway out of this life. Woman creates mortal Life coming into this world. Man creates eternal Life leaving this world. A bit of extrapolation here, but in the eternities, I think it’s also likely that woman creates premortal life and man again creates eternal life. In partnership. The one thing that Dr. D mentioned that floored the class is how Life works. Because Life follows the woman, the woman has right to that Life in the eternities. He postulated a highly unlikely scenario, but one that probably will still play out at least a few times during judgment. If a man and woman, either sealed or unsealed, have children and then get divorced and (re)sealed to other people, what happens to the children? The stewardship over Priesthood cannot descend from two separate men, nor can the stewardship over Life cannot descend from two separate women. No child will be sealed to two sets of parents. He taught that any children from the first marriage will follow the woman and will be sealed to her and her “new” eternal husband. I’m sure you can imagine how relieved all the women in the class were and how upset the men were.

    I don’t doubt that there are some trees wherein a branch might connect into the trunk in two separate spots, but in just about every case I’m familiar with, a single branch connects at a single point. A single link in the priesthood chain connects to one point above and a point below for each child. We’re making a chain. Not a basketball net. That, along with the gate analogy mentioned above, is why I believe Dr. D was correct when he asserted that he did not believe that women will not receive the priesthood in this life, but will independently exercise an aspect of a complementary priesthood in the next life.

    I just recently went through the portion of the Book of Revelation where the Apostle John saw God sitting on His throne in Heaven. I had one of those a-ha moments where something clicked into place. We hear constantly that lack of direct knowledge and contact with a Divine Mother is holding back the eternal progression of Her daughters. Yet John did not describe a Man and Woman on the throne. Just a Man. If you look at that point in history, with the Sibylline oracles, fertility worship, groves and orgies, female deities and female priests, if a direct and immediate representation of Female Divinity were necessary for our collective eternal progression, that would have been the place to put it in. Yet it wasn’t. Arguing that John was a misogynist is a non sequitur. So, if we have a correct picture of what John saw, God the Father did not choose to reveal God the Mother. Is it possible that the Great and Abominable Church stripped that out? Possible, but not likely. Again, if any time was conducive to Female Divinity, it was then so I can’t see a reason to pull it out of the Revelation. In addition, according to what I’ve read about the Revelation of John, we have more manuscript variants and scraps of manuscripts of Revelation than just about every other book in the Bible. Possibly put together. The general consensus of those who study the manuscripts is that, while we may not spiritually understand what John was saying, we’re very certain textually what he said. So at least at this point in our journey, we have to deal with a Father sitting alone on a throne, surrounded by a green rainbow because everything He does is related to bringing to pass our Eternal Life.

    Every person dealing the topic of “Eternal Polygamy” has two possibilities. Possibility one, also known as the Pearson Hypothesis, is that the Father and Mother take great pains to ensure that the number of exalted male children is exactly equal to the exalted female children and each is uniquely paired up and welded into the chain. However, we are routinely told that our Father is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Irrespective of how feminists might feel about the matter, one of those had four wives. Twelve sons and an unknown number of daughters who received rights to Life from four different women and rights to Priesthood from one man. If it is one man-one woman in eternity, all those who have Ephraim or Manasseh lineage have a major problem as our common mortal ancestor, Joseph, was a son of the second wife, therefore we would not be tied directly into Jacob and all the prophecies and promises to Ephraim go down in flames. Not going to happen. Possibility two is that you have to allow multiple sources of Life to be grafted onto a single Priesthood link. Otherwise, God is a respecter of persons and cannot exalt a daughter who would otherwise be worthy of it. I think SSA relationships in the eternities as a means of balancing the system are as likely as all of us Ephraimites finding out before the Judgement Seat that we’re not actually Jacob’s posterity but Esau’s.

    Some may accuse me of being an insensitive, unfeeling man who just can’t get it. One of the first things I learned, quickly, on being called as ward financial clerk is that everyone in mortality is currently eating a garbage sandwich in one way or another. No exceptions. You don’t realize who’s been laid off, having child or spousal trouble, etc., until you have to start writing out welfare checks. As Young Men’s President, it went up a step as I was “privileged” to sit in ward councils and learn even more things that I didn’t want to know. As a husband of a woman who has multiple autoimmune conditions that are slowly destroying her body, I have carried a family on my back for thirty years with little help. Yes, at times I complain bitterly about the pain and strain I am under, but in my lucid moments, I try to remember that a covenant made but not remembered is still in force. I am still responsible for choices I made in an earlier life that put me on this trajectory. If I didn’t want to be the family pack mule, I should not have made the decision that put me on the path to be the family pack mule. I don’t get a “get out of jail free” card simply because I’m finding the going challenging. None of us do. The Lord has explicitly told us that He will thump us until we submit to His will in all things as a child submits to its parent. The means of thumping and the price to be paid varies from person to person, but the bill always comes due and the currency to be paid is always faith and obedience. Not currently doing too well on those. My wife doesn’t like my jokes about 44 magnum mouthwash much at all. At some point, all of this will be made known to me. Maybe I had to be a pack mule because I covenanted to be such before I was born. Maybe I had a terminally bad attitude before and this is how He has to break me of it. Perhaps my heavy metal predilections were formed eons ago and this is His way of telling me that I need to put aside speed metal and learn to love MoTab. Don’t know, but just because you don’t necessarily see my thumping doesn’t mean it’s not real and doesn’t mean I can’t look at your thumping and tell you that you need to embrace the suck until you reach a point in time that He tells you why you’re enduring your own personal hell.

    Sorry for the extended duration of the rant, but this is something that has been annoying me for the last couple of years. And now, back to your local power metal station.

  30. Eons ago, when online stuff was just Usenet groups, someone was asking me about the logistics of sealing, given that some might not be included in the chain when all is said and done.

    I replied that some extended families will be like broadcloth, with every thread tight and in place. Other families will be like lace, with those threads that remain still bound together in beautiful patterns.

    The totality of Pearson’s hope is illogical, but there are points where she illuminates issues that are actionable within the fullness of the gospel. Part of the reason I wasn’t entirely negative about the book is because some of the male privilege and female mistreatment she discribes resonates with the reason that I think we need to massively overhaul our understanding of the past.

    I’m sure if Emma Hale Smith could, she’d be delighted to switch my suite of “problems” for the ones she faced. On the other hand, her suite of problems was connected to particular people she loved, and I don’t think she’d ever want to switch out those dear associates. So in my imagined life swap meet, Emma would ultimately decline to switch lives with me. And I would decline to switch lives with her. It behooves us all to find the joy in the present we have been given, while looking for opportunities to improve the presents of those within the sphere of our influence.

  31. Thank you for giving us such ongoing thoughtful insight and wisdom, Meg Stout. Your contributions are the main reason I subscribe to the Millennial Star. I thoroughly enjoy your writings and the discussions that often follow, as they provide much-needed breaths of sanity and well-articulated logic. Please keep it coming! (And bookslinger, I hope you get that date!)

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