We had a survey a couple of months ago about what Keepa readers would like to have addressed here. Hands down, by a margin of something like 5 to 1 over any other suggestion, the request was polygamy. So, I’ve been gathering stories about plural marriage as it was lived and how/why/when/by whom it was taught.
But you haven’t seen any of that appear yet, have you?
Plural marriage turns out to be the hardest subject by far I’ve ever wanted to address – not because the topic itself is so hard, I think, but because I’m afraid of where some of the comments will lead. I’m sure regular readers will be able to discuss this as we have anything else – violence, race, mission monstrosities – but I don’t have the same expectations of others, and I don’t look forward to trolls and modern polygamists and mockers.
So why is it so hard to talk about polygamy, even here among friends? Some ideas, in no particular order, which may serve as guidelines for discussion of upcoming posts. I’m spelling them out here to have a handy place to refer commenters unfamiliar with Keepa and its culture:
Conflation of historical polygamy with modern polygamy. Our ancestors, whether biological or cultural, made tremendous sacrifices to adapt to the practice of plural marriage. I’d like to understand those ancestors better, and honor their commitment to following prophetic guidance, which means speaking positively about plural marriage as practiced historically by the Latter-day Saints.
But speaking positively of historical polygamy is very easily misunderstood as speaking positively of polygamy in general, including unauthorized modern polygamy. None of us likes having our people confused with those who currently practice plural marriage, and there’s a risk that speaking positively of historical experience and teaching may be misconstrued as approval or endorsement of apostate groups or individuals who practice polygamy today.
Keepa continues as it started: a blog for believing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and friends who are courteous, sympathetic, and affectionate of us as a people. We had occasional problems early on with a few visitors who tried to use Keepa to promote an acceptance of modern polygamy; that was, is, and will remain unacceptable. Commenters who either attack the Church for its historic practices, or who attempt to use posts about plural marriage to promote modern apostate practices, will be banned.
I’m no expert. The roots of our historical plural marriage practices were laid down by Joseph Smith in a time and place about which I am no expert – for professional reasons I have deliberately concentrated on post-1847 history (there are already so many people working on the Joseph Smith era that chances of my being able to make a genuine contribution are just about nil). I have a general understanding of our early polygamic history, enough to be comfortable as a practicing Latter-day Saint, but I’m no expert. Upcoming posts will feature the lives and trials and experiences of Latter-day Saints of the late 19th century – but we aren’t going to get far into Joseph Smith’s own marriages or the origins of plural marriage. Regular commenters can bring up anything (whether or not I can respond is another question), but unfamiliar commenters who want to make unflattering charges against Joseph Smith will not be given an opportunity to take advantage of my unpreparedness to debate the details. Unflattering charges against Joseph Smith or other early church members have no place here at Keepa. Live with it.
The “ick” factor. Most of the time when polygamy is mentioned around the Bloggernacle, it is with a shudder of distaste, even disgust. That’s fine. People can’t help their emotional reactions, I suppose.
However, comments by those who don’t normally support Keepa, which can be summarized as “Oh, how horrible!” or “How awful for women!” are not solicited.
When it comes to marriage practices, most of us find acceptable the things we were raised with, and find unacceptable the things that were presented to us as taboo. Most of us, for instance, would shudder at the idea of marrying a first or second cousin – that’s a taboo for the culture in which most of us were raised. Yet for a very great number of people in a very great number of places, such marriages are not taboo, and may even be highly desirable.
Many of our polygamous ancestors married sisters, or other closely related women, and the 19th century press expressed immense horror at that practice, above and beyond the factor of plural marriage. That’s because canon law in many times and places has followed the rules laid out in the Mosaic law, which forbid a man from marrying two women (even serially) who were too closely related, either to himself or to each other. Yet most of us would not think twice today if a widower married his deceased wife’s sister. It is not taboo any longer, at least in our secular society.
My view of polygamy is that it is no more or less “icky” than any other kind of marriage – people who are raised to think of it with revulsion are going to be repulsed. People were grew up believing that plural marriage was acceptable in its time and in its place, with proper prophetic authorization, are less likely to be repulsed.
I am not repulsed. Therefore, I do not welcome comments that say only “I am repulsed.” If commenters want to make that point along with some valid statement, fine, but we’ll have no chorus of “ick” and “yuck” and “blech,” okay?
Okay, that’s what makes it hard for me to begin a conversation about plural marriage. What do you think we can and should expect from such a discussion?