In my search for truth I began to study the LDS religion. I have a question about the practice of polygamy. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:23-27, 3:5-7 it seems to clearly teach that polygamy is an abomination to the Lord. Then I read in the Doctrine and Covenants Sec. 132 that God apparently gave Joseph Smith a “New and everlasting Covenant” concerning the teaching of polygamy in that it was God.s plan for mankind. Several years later the then president Woodruff in the manifesto seemed to repeal the “new everlasting covenant.” How can I believe in a religion that seems to contradict itself?
It’s easy to see how these commandments of the Lord may appear to be conflicting. But let’s examine the situation to see if we can’t clarify what appears to be conflicting.
Not all of God’s commandments are given to all people for all time. In Old Testament times, when the children of Israel had escaped from Egyptian slavery under the God-directed leadership of Moses, extremely harsh commandments were given to the Israelites in the desert. The death penalty was imposed for what to us would be very simple infractions, such as cursing one’s parents. So the commandments have been changed many times by the Lord to prepare his people to overcome the world and return to his presence.
The case of polygamy is another example where the commandment to be espoused to more than one wife was given to only a few of God’s faithful servants. Many of the prophets of the Old Testament were commanded by the Lord to take more than one wife, including Abraham, Solomon and David. David, however, also took a wife contrary to the will of the Lord, and in great iniquity, and as a consequence has lost the blessings that to him were promised. However, the commandment to take more than one wife was never given to the members of the kingdom at large, and also was not introduced among the faithful Nephite members of the church at all.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represents the promised restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the dispensation of the gospel known as the dispensation of the fullness of times, during which all of the rites, ordinances and blessings of the gospel that had been given to any of the previous dispensations would again be restored to the church, as mentioned by Paul to the Ephesians—
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him (Eph 1:9-10).
Among the gospel principles that were restored through the prophet Joseph Smith was the concept of eternal marriage, which includes “the new and everlasting covenant” of marriage. That sacred covenant has nothing to do with the concept of polygamy, or plural marriage. Eternal marriage is a required ordinance for exaltation, which is the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, and is such a sacred ordinance that it can only be performed in one of the holy temples of the Lord.
After the institution of eternal marriage, a few of the early saints were called upon to enter into plural marriage. Only those persons who were directed by the prophet and president of the church were authorized to enter into a plural marriage relationship. Shortly after the start of the practice, however, the hostile U.S. government as a harassment measure against the Mormon Church passed a law prohibiting plural marriage. When this occurred the Mormon Church submitted a test case to the courts. As the law was upheld by the court it was appealed by the Church. The appeal process continued through to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the supreme court ruled against plural marriage in 1890, the Mormon Church, under the direction of its president, Wilford Woodruff, issued the Manifesto banning plural marriage as a practice of the church. However, the principal of eternal marriage with its “new and everlasting covenant” of course was not effected, and continues in full force today.