The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men by Carol Lynn Pearson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love Carolyn Pearson. The first book I picked up of hers was a small fable for our times called The Lesson. At the time I had no idea who she was, what else she'd written or her story. I was so naive to so much of Mormon culture and famous people when I went to BYU! Now of course, I've read so many things by her and about her. She feels like a wonderful example of what a woman in the church can be. She talks about herself being a "tribe elder" and I would totally agree. She talks about being part of the churches trek from "patriarchy" to "partnership" and I say "AMEN"!
Her writing style is so wonderful. Whether she's writing poetry, or short fables, or about heavy subject matter like this book- her words just flow on and off the page effortlessly. Instead of just presenting us with historical facts she's able to take us there so that we can see and feel the words, discussions, heartbreak, etc.
In this book she discusses the history of polygamy, the doctrines and culture behind section 132, current temple practices, and more. A quick summary being that while we excommunicate members for practicing polygamy we haven't excommunicated the idea of polygamy from among our members. That while we don't practice it here on earth, temple practices and historical church teachings seem to threaten that polygamy still awaits all of us in the eternities.
In between each chapter of her own research and thoughts she has chapters of quotes from men and women within the LDS culture telling their own stories. Stories of men who are sealed to multiple women (through divorce or outliving their spouse). Stories of women widowed young who then have children with a second husband and have to figure out if they should break their sealing to the first husband so their children can be sealed to their dad (her second husband). Stories of daughters whose fathers made terrible jokes about wanting other wives beyond their mothers. Stories of men who felt they didn't need to put as much effort into their marriages now because in the eternities they could have new and better wives. Women who fear putting their whole selves into a marriage because they don't want to love their husband too much if they have to share him in heaven. And on and on.
I read this book shortly after finishing In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton which talked about the history of polygamy and the women who lived it. I felt like as I read that book I had this inner dialogue with myself- feelings of betrayal at not knowing the full history and also fear that what I believed about heaven and marriage was somehow wrong. Fear that polygamy would someday or somewhere be reinstated. And finally coming to the conclusion that eternal polygamy was wrong. Reading The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy afterward was so validating! It discussed and alleviated so many worries. And also, it helped me know that I wasn't alone in my study and deep thought about this subject.
Carolyn describes beautifully about her testimony being shattered into a million pieces during her own divorce. And that when she was finally ready to pick up the pieces she took each one carefully in her hands and decided which to keep and which to let go. She decides ultimately to let the piece of eternal polygamy go. She knows that God loves her. She knows that heaven with plural marriage sounds more like hell and so she chooses to believe that heaven will not include plural marriage. And I'm happy to agree with her there!
I love that even with this opinion on polygamy she is very gracious and respectful toward Joseph Smith and his life. She still views him as a prophet and considers him a friend. She so beautifully pays tribute to him and to Emma. I too can't wait to give Emma a hug in the life to come.
The final thing I loved about this book is the chapter in which she just lists out each reason/theory we've heard about why polygamy was practiced and then using historical facts and quotes knocks each one of them down. I loved this because each time someone guesses as to why it was instituted it leads to false doctrines and false ideas being spread. Some of them are so trivial too that I can't help but think "Do you really think God would sacrifice all of these women's happiness for that?"
After reading a few books on the subject I tend to believe that it was a misunderstanding of the sealing covenant. Joseph knows he needs to seal all the inhabitants of the earth together and he also believes that Christ's second coming is imminent. For some reason he lets men be sealed to one another as brothers or father and son but when it comes to women they are always married into the sealing covenant. Even here we have to take into account the culture and feelings toward women at the time and acknowledge that the idea of spiritual wives was gaining popularity among many starting out religious communities. I'm also sympathetic to the belief that it may have been issued by God in order to test the saints but only when paired with my definite belief that it could only have been temporal- not eternal. I also understand that many people will see it being completely driven by lust. Whatever the reason, I feel like Doctrine and Covenants 132 makes it pretty clear that if anything polygamy is the exception to God's rule of monogamy and only a temporal sacrifice...meaning not eternal in nature. When you think about all the revelation that the church has received since then about man and wife and their relationship as equals I don't see any way to mesh that with the idea of polygamy. The idea that God loves women and God wanting us to all practice polygamy just can't coexist in my brain.
Which is Pearson's real point. That the idea of eternal polygamy needs to be addressed so that we can put away the fears and misconceptions that are still silently prevalent in the minds and hearts of many faithful members. We often think of polygamy being a long ago doctrine that doesn't effect us anymore but it directly effects temple practices, family teachings and I believe it's also why we don't talk about our Heavenly Mother more (because of the false belief that there is more than one!). I, along with the author, hope that these things will be addressed. I believe further revelation and direction is needed in this matter and I appreciate Sister Pearson bringing attention to this topic.
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