Becoming a God
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
with old odd ends stol'n forth of holy writ,
and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
Ye shall be as gods.
The Serpent to Eve
Theology of Polygamy
No leader of a vigorous movement has ever lacked for
willing females desirous of trading their feminine pleasures for intimacy with a heroic
celebrity. Nor did Joseph Smith. Few religious leaders, however, have created a theology
to justify this activity and then enjoined it upon their followers as a practice essential
to heavenly exaltation. The highest heaven in the Mormon spiritual cosmogony is the
celestial kingdom, which itself contains three levels. The highest of these - the
celestial of celestials - is for polygamists only. These particular individuals receive
the privilege of having an eternal sex life with innumerable brides - populating worlds as
yet unborn with progeny as countless as the sands of the sea.
As Brigham Young said: "Polygamy is the only religion
popular in heaven, for this is the religion of Abraham, and, unless we do the works of
Abraham, we are not Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." Journal
of Discourses 9:322.
To followers somewhat alarmed at this new doctrine Joseph
solemnly explained that an angel with a drawn sword had appeared to him and commanded him
to enter the Patriarchal Order or be destroyed. A local poet phrased the situation this
I once thought I had knowledge great,
But now I find 'tis small
I once thought I'd religion, too,
But I find I've none at all,
For I have got but one lone wife,
And can obtain no more:
And the doctrine is, I can't be saved,
Unless I've half a score.
Anon: February 7,1844.
Those with the courage and fortitude to enter into this
"ancient order" would be rewarded after death by becoming, not angels, but gods.
"Then shall they be gods," reads the revelation on plural marriage of July 12,
1843, "because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to
everlasting because they continue. Then shall they be above all, because all things are
subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power and the angels are
subject unto them."
Those who shrank from this challenge, but still remained in
the Mormon church, would exist singly in their saved condition to all eternity as holy
eunuchs, "ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more
and an exceeding and an eternal weight of glory: for these angels did not abide my law;
therefore they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation,
in their saved condition, to all eternity, and from henceforth are not gods, but are
angels of God for ever and ever."
Real-time Polygamy: Bedding Down
In April, 1843, the Prophet took his friend, Benjamin F.
Johnson, for a walk and revealed to him Christ's new message. Pursuant to divine command
Joseph asked that Johnson's sisters enter into the covenant. "The Lord had commanded
him to take another wife," recorded Johnson in a memoir. "Among his first
thoughts was to come to my mother for some of her daughters." The Prophet then
explained that the parable of Jesus about the man who had one talent and hid it in the
earth referred to the man who had but one wife and would not take another. He would have
her taken from him and given to one who had more. Johnson letter: Journal of Wilford
Woodruff, October 14, 1882.
A month later Joseph visited again and expanded on the
theology of polygamy:
Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting
covenant and be married for eternity, by the power of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease
to increase when they die, that is, they will not have any children after the
"Before retiring," records Joseph, "I gave
Brother and Sister Johnson some instructions on the priesthood," concluding with
words the Church today considers holy scripture:
In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees:
and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood,
and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end
of his kingdom: he cannot have an increase.
Doctrine and Covenants, 131:1-4.
Having discoursed, he went to bed. "The prophet again
came," recorded Johnson of this occasion, "and at my home occupied the same room
and bed, with my sister, that the month previous he had occupied with the daughter of the
late Bishop Partridge as his wife."
Joseph Jackson, conversing with Joseph's older brother,
Hyrum, one evening, asked the Patriarch about one of his "spiritual" wives.
"Yes," said Hyrum, "I have slept between her and my wife." "My
God," said Jackson, "how did you keep them from quarreling?"
"Oh," said Hyrum, "they are sisters: and that is not all, they are one in
Martha Brotherton, a young convert, perked up with delight
when the Prophet invited her to a private audience. When she arrived, she found Joseph in
the company of Brigham Young. The Prophet began to expound on the doctrine of eternal
marriage, concluding with the opportunity for Martha to become a plural wife of Brigham
Young. Martha was shocked. "What," she thought to herself, "are these men,
that I thought almost perfection itself, deceivers? And is all my fancied happiness but a
dream?" Joseph, seeing Martha's hesitation, sweetened the proposition. "Well,
Martha," he said, "just go ahead and do as Brigham wants you to . . . and if he
turns you off, I will take you on." Even with this gallant offer, the young lady
still declined. Joseph, displeased, did not lose his composure. He did, however, ask her
to keep quiet about the whole business. "Upon your honor," said the Prophet,
"you will not tell." "No sir, I will lose my life first," said Martha.
"Well, that will do," said Joseph, "that is the principle we go upon."
Affidavit of Martha H. Brotherton, July 13,1842 before Du Bouffay Fremon, J.P., St. Louis.
The Savior and Polygamy
To say that Jesus had made polygamy a requirement for
exaltation and the privilege of becoming a god raised the question of whether the Saviour
practiced the doctrine Himself. O, yes, indeed, explained Apostle Orson Hyde, that's why
he was crucified.
If Jesus Christ were now to pass through the most pious
countries in Christendom with a train of women such as used to fol1ow him, fondling about
him, combing his hair, anointing him with precious ointment, washing his feet with tears,
and wiping them with the hair of their heads and unmarried, or even married, he would be
mobbed, tarred and feathered, and rode not on an ass, but on a rail.
Journal of Discourses 4:259. Brigham Young's
Counsellor, Jedediah M. Grant, a member of the three-man First Presidency of the Church,
which included the Prophet, stated the matter directly:
The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in
anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his crucifixion, was evidently based upon
polygamy . . . . A belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution
of Jesus and his followers.
Journal of Discourses 1:346.
Counsellor Grant cited the Second Epistle of John as
evidence that the Beloved Disciple had more than one family. "The elder unto the
elect lady and her children," begins the epistle, supposedly referring to one family.
"The children of thy elect sister greet thee," closes the epistle, purportedly
referring to a second family of the Apostle. The Saviour, as a good Mormon indeed,
a courageous and martyred preacher of the fullness of the gospel, - (It was He that
administered the oaths and grips to Peter, James and John in fulfillment of which they
kicked Judas to death and slew Ananias and Sapphira) this same Jesus did not leave his own
wives childless, nor did his own disciples fail to heed the patriarchal call. "There
are those in this audience," declared the second-in-command of the Church, George Q.
Cannon, on July 2,1899 "who are descendants of the old twelve apostles - and shall I
say it, yes, descendants of the Saviour Himself. His seed is represented in this body of
men." The Prophet, Lorenzo Snow, in attendance, nodded his assent.
Under pressure from federal laws and Supreme Court
decisions outlawing polygamy, the Mormon hierarchy compromised in 1890 and abandoned the
institution in exchange for the granting of statehood to Utah. The outcry among the
faithful was fierce, for they felt that political cowardice had triumphed over religious
duty and that those who abandoned polygamy for the sake of preserving the Church
would win eternal damnation for their decision and eternal celibacy as well. In the
previous decades church leaders had emphasized over and over that there was no alternative
to plural marriage for a man who wanted full salvation. Apostle and later Prophet Joseph
F. Smith stated on July 7, 1878:
Some of the saints have said, and believe, that a man with
one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the priesthood for time and eternity, will
receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with
more than one. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is
In 1929, Lorin C. Woolley published an account of a visit
of the Saviour to President and Prophet John Taylor in 1886. After the visit, says
Woolley, reportedly an eyewitness:
President Taylor placed his finger on the document (the
manifesto forbidding plural marriage), his person rising from the floor about a foot or
eighteen inches, and with countenance animated by the spirit of the Lord, and raising his
right hand to the square, he said:
"Sign that document - never!"
"I would suffer my right hand to be severed from my
"Sanction it - never!"
"I would suffer my tongue to be torn from its roots in
my mouth before I would sanction it!"
Lorin C. Woolley, sworn statement of the events of
September 27, 1886.
A fundamentalist group of Mormons, who never accepted the
manifesto of 1890, claim that Jesus himself forsook the Church after this action and that
is why direct revelation so copious in the nineteenth century has virtually
ceased in the twentieth. The marriage of one man to one woman in the Temple is today
considered a celestial marriage, but in terms of the original doctrine, it might better be
called a lesser celestial marriage. According to Joseph Smith, no one can become a god and
populate new worlds and create them as well unless he has more than one wife. Such is the
law of Abraham upon which the choicest blessings of heaven are predicated. Indeed,
according to the doctrine of Brother Joseph, all the Mormon wives of today will in the
next world be taken from their husbands and given to polygamists. Polygamy, in fact, is
something many Mormons cherish, though it is rarely discussed. "There will be
polygamy after the first resurrection," one elder informed me.
Such sub rosa celestiality is a far cry from the
thundering avowals of the founders of the church. "Now if any of you will deny the
plurality of wives and continue to do so," warned Brigham Young, "I promise that
you will be damned."
The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are
those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to
come into the presence of the Father and the Son: but they cannot reign as kings in glory,
because they had blessings offered to them and they refused to accept them.
Those with the courage and wisdom to enter polygamy at
times vented their disgust towards those who had only one wife. "I have
noticed," said Heber C. Kimball, "that a man who has but one wife and is
inclined to the doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into
plurality looks fresh, young and sprightly." Let us be real men, exhorted the
Apostle. "For a man of God to be confined to one woman is small business."
Apostle George A. Smith, a good friend of Joseph Smith, felt similarly. "They are a
poor, narrow-minded, pinch-backed race of men," he discoursed, "who chain
themselves down to the law of monogamy, and live all their days under the dominion of one
wife. They ought to be ashamed of such conduct." Journal of Discourses,
Adam as God
Brigham Young startled some of the faithful one day by
declaring that Adam, in reality the archangel Michael, is the god of this earth "and
the only god with whom we have to do." The Adam-God doctrine is a logical extension
of Joseph Smith's theology of polygamy. A new world is created and populated by a god from
the celestial kingdom who "comes down" with one of his wives. The movie shown in
the Temple endowment ceremony, which is stopped periodically for the administration of
oaths and grips, begins with a meeting between Elohim, the supreme god, and Jehovah, who
is Jesus, and Michael (Adam). Professor Wolfe records an account of this portion of the
ELOHIM: Jehovah and Michael, there is matter unorganized.
Let us go down and make a world like unto the other worlds we have created.
JEHOVAH AND MICHAEL: We will go down.
Jesus assists Michael (soon to become Adam) in
"organizing the matter" and forming the earth out of chaos. But it is actually
Michael's planet: Jesus is just his helper - somewhat like an elder brother helping a
younger brother get started in business. With everything set - the grass, trees, animals,
lakes, streams, oceans, etc. - Adam summons Eve, one of his wives (not from his rib, but
from the celestial mansion) and they "go down" to the new planet and start
procreating - as is their privilege since they had wisely begun their journey to eternal
reproductive glory by exchanging polygamous vows on some other planet as offspring of the
procreator of that planet. Having passed successfully and polygamously through that mortal
probation, they now enjoyed the immortal fulfillment of becoming the heavenly father and
heavenly mother of new planets of their own originally earthly children of a
celestial god and now celestial gods themselves.
When Brigham Young said that Adam is the god of this earth
and "the only god with whom we have to do," he was declaring his expectation
that someday he would be the god of an earth of his own and the only god with whom the
people of that world would have to do. And likewise for all other faithful Mormon
polygamists. As a Mormon male is god to his wife and children in this world, he will be
god to entire worlds the next time around and his wives will be the various goddesses of
his planetary kingdoms. "I shall have wives and children by the million," said
the visionary prophet, "and kingdom after kingdom." Journal of Discourses
8:178. Eve, in short, was a plural wife of Adam, and all the plural wives of Mormon
priests can someday be Eves too.
Christ is Born of Adam?
To establish the godhood of the original parents the
divine procreators Mormon theology, before application of the twentieth-century
airbrush, introduced the Saviour as an essential but subsidiary personage. The planet has
fallen, and elder brother Jehovah (Jesus) returns to set things straight that the children
of Adam may themselves attain polygamous glory. He does so by being born of a virgin who
has not known a man; she has, however, known a god. In keeping with patriarchal
prerogatives this god is not the Holy Ghost but is Adam himself.
Mormons do not believe in the Immaculate Conception, nor do
they believe that Jesus had a human father. Believing that "sexuality is actually an
attribute of God," and that Adam is the sexual god of planet earth, they contend that
Mary conceived Jesus after sexual intercourse with Adam. "Mary, the wife of
Joseph," said Brigham Young, alluding to the conception of Christ, "had another
husband." In the Autumn, 1967 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought,
upon whose Board of Editors sat Chase Peterson, soon to be Dean of Admissions at Harvard
University, appeared an article on sex and salvation by Carlfred B. Broderick. "The
eternal preservation of reproductive sexuality," began Mr. Broderick, "is the
central distinguishing characteristic differentiating the exalted from the merely
saved." He then explained that "the Saviour was fathered by a personage of flesh
In light of their understanding that God is a procreating
personage of flesh and bone, latter-day prophets have made it clear that despite what it
says in Matthew 1:20, the Holy Ghost was not the father of Jesus.
The role of the Holy Ghost was to make it possible for the
mortal, Mary, to withstand the immediate presence of God.
Since a woman cannot become a goddess save as a plural wife
to a god, the question arose among Mormon theologians as to whose wife Mary became.
Apostle Orson Pratt speculated: "Inasmuch as God was the first husband to her, it may
be that he only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in the mortal state, and that he
intended after the resurrection to take her as his wife in eternity." To Catholics,
Mary is the Mother of God; to Mormons, she is one of his many wives.
Whereas some Christians may dispute the idea of the
trinity, Mormons find this concept too limiting. In the theology of Mormonism, every man
can be a priest and "hold all the priesthood there is," and every man can become
a god as well. "We believe that the Father is god," said a Mormon doctor in
1843, "the Son is god, and the Holy Ghost is god: that makes three at least who are
god, and no doubt there are a great many more." Henry Caswall, The City of the
Somewhat like the royal families of Europe, the Mormon
potentates developed a high regard for the worth of their own blood. "Shouldn't I
prefer my own blood to any other?" asserted Elder Victor Cram. "Don't I love my
own blood best?" Secure in the knowledge that they were destined to be gods, the
patriarchs grew reluctant to dilute the celestial blood of their descendants with the seed
of the unexalted. "To have a pure priesthood," related one elder, "we may
in time have to follow the example of the doves in their nest, as Christ meant it to be
understood." Thus, polygamists sought out the sons and daughters of other polygamists
as mates for their own children. "You will find here polygamists of the third
generation," stated Elder T.H. Stenhouse. "When these boys and girls grow up,
and marry, you will have in these valleys the true feeling of patriarchal life."
Articulating this distinction further, apostles sought to
marry their children to the offspring of other apostles. And the prophet? Recorded one
listener: "Brigham Young said he hoped the day was not far distant when . . .
children would be brought up to regard each other as future partners, for that thus the
family would become more compact." In an interview with Brigham Young, author William
Hepworth Dixon asked if the church endorsed the practice of a man marrying a widow who had
a young daughter, having children by his new wife, and then marrying the daughter as well
when she came of age. "This is part of the question of incest," answered the
Prophet. We have no sure light on it yet. I cannot tell you what the church holds to be
the actual truth: I can tell you my own opinion." Mr. Dixon then asked if Brigham
Young saw any objection to the marriage of brother and sister. "Speaking for himself,
not for the Church, he said he saw none at all." J.H. Beadle, Life in Utah: or the Mysteries
and Crimes of Mormonism (Philadelphia, 1871); The Mormons: the Dream and the