Polygamy in Eternity

Will polygamy be practiced in the Celestial Kingdom?

Yes, probably. Many early Church leaders taught this,[1][2] and there are no known instances of Church leaders contradicting this teaching. However, modern Church leaders have noted that the exact nature of the practice in the afterlife is unknown.[3]

Is polygamy a requirement to be in the Celestial Kingdom?

No, probably not. In the past, some Church leaders taught that it was a requirement for exaltation,[4] whereas others taught that this was not true.[5] Shortly after the release of the 1890 Manifesto,[6] President George Q. Cannon[BIO] taught that exaltation could be received without polygamy.[7]

Additionally, in 1956 David O. McKay stated that "his understanding" of section 132 in the Doctrine and Covenants meant that all blessings are available to those that do not practice plural marriage.[8]

But doesn't Doctrine and Covenants 132 say that those who don't practice polygamy will be damned?

Probably not. It says that people "must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned" where the "law" is the "new and everlasting covenant[9] of marriage."[10] So if the "law" is just referring to eternal marriage, then no, you won't be damned if you don't practice polygamy. However, if it refers to polygamy, then yes, you will be damned if you don't practice it.

Joseph Smith did not specify if the "law" required polygamy or not;[11] however, several people testified that they never heard Joseph teach this.[12]

Do we have to believe or agree with the principle of polygamy to be in the Celestial kingdom?

Probably to some extent. If some continue to practice polygamy in the afterlife, then it seem reasonable to conclude that even those who reject plural marriage for themselves would need to accept that polygamy has a place in the celestial kingdom.

But didn't Gordon B. Hinckley say that polygamy isn't doctrinal?

In a 1998 TV interview, President Hinckley replied to a question about modern polygamy being practiced by "Mormon fundamentalists" in Utah where he said "It belongs to the civil officers of the state. . .I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal."[13]

However, both the context of the statement and the practice of posthumous plural sealings during Hinckley's tenure[14] support the idea that Hinckley's statement was in reference to unauthorized polygamy.

Did David O. McKay teach that polygamy wasn't a "principle but a practice"?

Yes. In the notes of a 1956 First Presidency meeting President David O. McKay said "I explained that is was my understanding regarding plural marriage that the having of more than one wife is not a principle but a practice."[15] (emphasis in original.)

President McKay also taught that "his understanding" of section 132 was that it was in reference to "eternity of the marriage covenant; it was not on polygamy" and that it was not correct to teach plural marriage as a "principle."[16]

So did David O. McKay think that polygamy would be practiced in heaven?

There is no record of President McKay making a statement about plural marriages in heaven, however the practice of men being allowed to be sealed to more than one woman continued throughout his tenure as president of the Church.[17]

Have any prominent women supported polygamy in eternity?

Yes. Eliza R. Snow,[BIO] Zina D. Young,[BIO] Emily Young,[BIO] and others expressed support for it.[18]

Does the Church teach that God practice polygamy?

No, but some early apostles speculated that He did. Orson Pratt[BIO] believed that God the Father was a polygamist,[19] and Orson Hyde[BIO] taught that Jesus Christ was a polygamist and had children.[20]  

If polygamy isn't practiced today, why can a man be sealed to more than one woman today?

It's unknown. The structure of sealings continues in the tradition of plural marriage[21] but the details of how this is implemented are unknown.[22] However, if you practice plural marriage in mortality, with living people, you will be excommunicated.[23]

Why can't a woman be sealed to more than one man?

They sometimes can be. Plural marriage in mortality has been taught as one man married to multiple women.[24] However, the Church handbook states a deceased woman may be sealed to all men she has legally married in mortal life.[25]

If someone is sealed to more than one spouse in mortality, will they be forced to be polygamous if they don't want to be?

No. The idea of being forced to practice polygamy is in opposition to the fundamental principle of agency. Lucy Walker, one of Joseph Smith's plural wives, recalled Joseph teaching that "a woman would have her choice; this was a privilege that could not be denied her."[26] Charles W. Penrose[BIO] also taught in the Juvenile Instructor that all plural marriages in eternity would be done through the mutual consent of all spouses.[27]

The Facts

  • Prophets and apostles have taught that polygamy exists in heaven.

  • Before the ban on polygamy, some Church leaders taught that it was a requirement for exaltation.

  • After the ban on polygamy, Church leaders taught that it was not a requirement for exaltation.

  • D&C 132 is not clear on the issue of polygamy as a requirement for exaltation.

Our Take

The history and practice of polygamy can be uncomfortable or frustrating. So when some Church leaders teach that it's an eternal principle, rather than just something that was practiced in the 1800s, those feelings could be made even worse.

Polygamy is a complicated subject, but the teachings on this particular idea—that it's a requirement to reach exaltation—are relatively clear. Modern prophets and apostles have taught that it's not required of us. We don't exactly know what the family of God will look like, but we do know it must be big and complex, with all of His children being sealed in eternal families.

That being said, it will still be something that will probably be practiced in the afterlife, which is kind of weird and requires faith in God to know that it will be okay. Agency is a critical part of the plan of salvation, and God goes to great lengths to protect our agency. It’s important to remember that God loves us, understands our minds and hearts, and if polygamy is eternal, we have our agency to choose whether to participate or not.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Female member of the church
    It's hurtful to women to have another woman be with your husband. I don't believe polygamy is part of eternal life if we are meant to be happy.
  • Vicki
    Polygamy permits a man to take more than one wife but a woman may have but one (eternal) husband. Simple math certainly suggests there are more, maybe far more women who will receive Celestial glory then will men. Certainly suggests the need of polygamy in the eternities.
  • Greg B
    Jacob in the Book of Mormon teaches that God prefers marriage between one man and one woman. God directs more than one wife only at special times on earth to raise up a righteous posterity. Men sealed to more than 1 wife on earth gives women right to a celestial marriage.
  • Eliza E
    I want to research polygamous relationships more. I sure don't get the "why" of polygamy, but I don't think I want God to break up families just because they were polygamously sealed.
Footnotes