The LDS Church's Attitude on Polygamy and Domestic Abuse
The LDS Church currently believes family life should be safe and free from abuse
The LDS Church, polygamy, and domestic abuse
The LDS Church has very serious teachings against domestic abuse, and its leaders are charged with addressing any form of domestic violence that is brought to their attention. As you'll see later in this article, the early years of polygamy (or plural marriage) is one are that might be questioned as an abusive practice.
The LDS policies on the issue of domestic abuse are both general and specific.
The general teachings are to treat others (especially family members) with love and respect, to be 'honest to your fellow man,' and to cherish your family and value it for all eternity.
The specific teaching is that men should not exercise 'unrighteous dominion' over their wives.
Members who wish to attend an LDS temple (temples are considered the most sacred of places in the church) are interviewed at least once every two years, where they attest to their worthiness to enter the temple.
At this interview (called a 'temple recommend interview), or other personal meetings with the the leader (or bishop) of the congregation, questions can be asked about whether an individual is following the teachings of the church about respect for spouses and family members.
If the church leader senses a problem, it can be addressed in several ways. First and foremost, church assistance will be offered if counseling or other services are needed. In serious cases, a member can also lose his or her standing in the church.
Effects of domestic abuse on self-esteem and family life
How the LDS Church helps victims of domestic abuse
Domestic abuse, in particular, violence toward women, can have serious and far-reaching consequences. It can cause injury, or even death, and it can damage the integrity of the family unit and create serious issues for the children in the household.
The LDS Church has extensive services to help its members in a number of areas, including abuse situations.
The structure of the LDS Church is such that every household is served individually, and the goal is that members should be given help and support when they are in need. Each household (even if the household consists of one person) has 'home teachers' who should make contact and, if possible, visit each month to bring a brief message and to see if the household needs help. Home teachers can be two men, or a married couple.
Women also regularly visit with other women in the congregation. Pairs of women (companions) visit with two or three other women each month to form friendships, share church information and messages and to see if the woman is in need.
Sometimes, during these visits, the home teachers or women companions (called 'visiting teachers) may sense a domestic problem. In those cases, the problem can be discretely referred to one of the congregation's leaders.
Church leaders are taught to deal with these problems with compassion and support. If safety is a concern, they can refer members to local resources that offer protection in such cases. Leaders can also refer people to counseling, either offered through the church (LDS Family Services) or other resources.
LDS Family Services has trained and qualified counselors who are also familiar with church teachings, and members who need this support can arrange to use these services.
In addition, the leader of a congregation will counsel with members individually during difficult times, both to offer spiritual support and to assess the needs of the member and his or her family.
"Brother Jake" takes a humorous look at polygamy
Was Mormon polygamy abusive?
Most people know the LDS Church practiced polygamy for several decades in the 1800s. Although for years, the church claimed this started as a way to protect women on the trek west (which ultimately ended with the founding of Salt Lake City), in recent years, the church has released the true details of the history of polygamy in its early years.
Through a series of official LDS essays, the church revealed that rather than having only one wife, Joseph Smith actually had more than 30 wives. Unlike what church literature claimed to persons who investigated membership, Smith did not at first inform his first wife, Emma, that he was engaged in polygamy, also known as plural marriage, with several women, including at least one girl of only 14.
Some, including longtime members or recent converts, were surprised at this information and feel it perhaps constitutes domestic abuse. Of further concern is the now-known fact that Joseph Smith married women who were already married to other men, which is known as "polyandry" (a situation in which a woman has more than one husbands). There is evidence that these women were told to keep the liaison a secret from their first husband.
Joseph Smith's polyandry has been widely discussed since the information was officially released by the church in recent years, and it is still troubling to many members who were not informed of it when they joined, or in their early years as children born into the church. Mormon Stories Podcasts has done interviews with historians and other experts on polyandry and other subjects.
Scholars and commentators have examined the issue of how this impacted marriage in a Year of Polygamy series of podcasts. Although the official and current church stance on plural marriage is that it is prohibited, the recent release of information that Joseph Smith did not inform his wife of these marriages troubles many people.
Each individual should decide if this piece of LDS (Mormon) history is bothersome and decide for herself or himself if it should be considered domestic abuse, or if the church appears to have deceived potential or current members.
Joseph Smith and polygamy - a reenactment
A mother teaches her children not to hit and to avoid unrighteous dominion
What does unrighteous dominion mean?
The LDS Church teaching not to exercise 'unrighteous dominion' can extend to any action of force used against another person.
This video shows a mother teaching her children how to teach each other to respect each other, and she uses a lesson on unrighteous dominion to explain that her children should not hit each other or force them to do something they do not want to do.
A major teaching of the church, one of the basics of Mormon beliefs, is that all people have free agency, which means they have the personal freedom to choose right from wrong. Since Joseph Smith told more than 30 women that God commanded him to marry them, some people question whether that constituted what we would call abuse today, or if it reflects unrighteous dominion.
This means forcing a spouse (or, in the case of this video, your sibling) to do something against their will is exercising unrighteous dominion. Some have questioned whether Joseph Smith committed unrighteous dominion by telling young teenaged girls and older women who were already married that "God commanded" him to marry them.
In the case of domestic abuse, unrighteous dominion could include such traumatic things as violence toward the partner, forcing intimacy on a spouse, verbally abusing them, exerting pressure or force to perform an act against their will, controlling their life in some way or other forms of 'dominion' over the spouse that is not righteous or healthy. Abuse can even take the form of extensive or egregious dishonesty with or lying to a partner or family member.
The church teaches that men should protect their wives and children from the harms of the world, and this responsibility applies to their own actions as well. As with men, women are expected to treat family members with respect, too.
This article is intended to offer general information about how the LDS Church (the Mormon Church) views polygamy and domestic abuse and the types of resources its members can turn to for help. It is not intended to offer counseling or guidance on these issues.
© 2012 Marcy Goodfleisch