Silencing Mormon Polygamy – Failed Persecutions, Divided Saints & the Rise of Mormon Fundamentalism

Silencing Mormon Polygamy – Failed Persecutions, Divided Saints & the Rise of Mormon Fundamentalism
Genre: Religion & Historical
Publisher: Hindsight Publications
Publication Year: 2008
Format: Soft Cover
Length: 401 pages

Today, when mentioned in Church meetings, the practice of polygamy is often portrayed as antiquated, odd, and undesirable. Modern saints are largely, if not uniformly, grateful that they are no longer called upon to live that way. Because apostles of the LDS Church have repeatedly and publicly announced that polygamy was never an essential doctrine of the restored gospel, this shared heritage has dissipated into a dismal understanding of who fundamentalist Mormons are. Indeed, President Hinckley has gone so far as to proclaim that “[t]here is no such thing as a ‘Mormon fundamentalist.’ It is a contradiction to use the two words together.” While every fundamentalist Mormon is familiar with an 1886 revelation declaring “I have not revoked this law nor will I” and while
most every fundamentalist Mormon considers this revelation as the basis for rejecting Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 manifesto, the vast majority of saints continue to be befuddled by the mulish stance taken by fundamentalist Mormons in rejecting that 1890 “revelation.”

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About the Book

To address this lost understanding, the first section of this volume will present a plethora of statements from apostles and leaders of the Church claiming that:

1) when the law of the land demands that the latter-day saints disobey God by abandoning plural marriage, the only honorable course of action for latter-day saints is to disobey the law of the land,

2) “the Lord will never give a revelation to abandon plural marriage,” and

3) if the latter-day saints abandon plural marriage, the Lord will separate a remnant of saints from among them who will be willing to live their lives in accordance with this important doctrine.

While mainstream latter-day saints will largely disagree with a modern application of these teachings as set forth by the early leaders of the LDS Church, the clarity and consistency of these teachings should help them to appreciate why fundamentalist Mormons believe the way they do. Nevertheless, this volume will be no apology for fundamentalist Mormon teachings either. There are gaps in the historical record that leave every fundamentalist Mormon with no choice but to recognize that some leap of faith is necessary to continue to believe what they believe – no religious sect is exempt from this universal fate and fundamentalists have not inherited a trail blazing exception. However, it is hoped that the reader will have an enhanced respect for the religious history of fundamentalist Mormons and a better understanding as to why persecutions have failed to silence Mormon polygamy.

Drew Briney. Silencing Mormon Polygamy: failed Persecutions, Divided Saints, & the Rise of Mormon Fundamentalism. N.p.: Hindsight Publications, 2008. Xv, 377 pp. Photographs, endnotes, charts. Hardcover: $39.99; Paper: $27.99. Drew Briney, a practicing attorney who graduated from Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School, here outlines the major doctrinal claims of Mormon fundamentalist groups on priesthood authority and polygamous marriage, particularly regarding historically controversial events of 1886. Briney notes in his introduction: "In some instances, fundamentalist Mormons have strong historical support for their priesthood claims. In other instances, fundamentalist Mormons are left without substantial historical support and must face the 'leap of faith' their religion requires. Undoubtedly, both sides will find themselves scratching their heads a little as they analyze the historical record from the unique and thorough analysis that follows" (iv). The first three chapter present authoritative statements by nineteenth-century Church leaders such as John Taylor, Rudger Clawson, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and others, concerning both the Church's sanction of polygamy and its continual resistance of U.S. laws forbidding cohabitation. John Taylor in 1880 exclaimed: "When adulterers and libertines [referring to Congress] pass a law forbidding polygamy, the Saints cannot obey it….I defy the United States" (3). Chapter 2 documents a range of views of Church members during the pre-Manifesto - from a commitment to polygamy to calls for an end to the practice. Briney thus shows the controversial nature of the doctrine even within the Church. These first chapters are meant to create, "a doctrinal foundation for the reader to better appreciate the context of [the]1886 revelation" (ii). This revelation, which has never been canonized and which some claim did not occur, is accepted as binding by modern Mormon fundamentalists. According to fundamentalists records by Lorin C. Woolley, John W. Taylor, Daniel Bateman, and others, President Taylor spent the night at the Woolley home, during which he received visitations from Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ concerning plural marriage. The next morning, he recorded a revelation: "I [the Lord] have not revoked this law [of plural wives] nor will I for it is everlasting" (146). Briney then provides a textual analysis of the revelation, reports fundamentalist and mainstream responses to it, and appraises its historical plausibility (Chapters 5-6). After writing the revelation, President Taylor summoned trusted, nearby men to an eight-hour meeting, also held the day after the all-night visitations, at the Woolley home, during which he reportedly ordained several, granting them authority to continue the practice of plural marriage - if necessary outside the Church - to ensure that the practice would never end. Briney notes the difficulty in reconstructing this crucial event for fundamentalism, acknowledging: "The large majority of…accounts are secondhand…and largely come from a questionable source" (168). Chapters 7-9 present those retrospective and secondhand accounts by Lorin C. Woolley, Daniel Bateman, Joseph Musser, and others, in which Briney attempts to sort fact from fancy. Briney also reproduces prophecies attributed to President Taylor foretelling an apostasy of the mainstream Church and the continuation of plural marriage by a handful of dedicated Saints. Briney notes that these pronouncements "are not subject to any objective, historical analysis because they were all documented after the predicted event occurred" (215) by Joseph Musser and Daniel R. Bateman. The final section, "How Much Authority," acknowledges: "Believers in Lorin C. Woolley's claims [concerning priesthood ordinations outside the Church empowering the continuation of polygamy] are inevitably confronted with a serious conundrum - how much authority did John Taylor confer upon him [and others]?" In this final section, Briney looks at the possible meanings of phrases such as "keys of the kingdom" and "fullness of the priesthood" in Woolley's account and their possible interpretation for fundamentalist Mormons. A historical appendix reproduces a number of documents in near-complete form to encourage the reader's fuller perusal.
– Journal of Mormon History
Review by Vickie Cleverley Speek Title: Silencing Mormon Polygamy: Failed Persecutions, Divided Saints & the Rise of Mormon Fundamentalism Volume 1 Author: Drew Briney, J.D. Publisher: Hindsight Publications Genre: Nonfiction History Year Published: 2008 Number of Pages: 377 Binding: Paperback Price: $27.99 I read this book twice. As luck would have it, I received it about the same time that my father died. I tried to read the book, but the complicated ideas didn’t make sense at the time and the type was so small I could hardly read it. I decided to put it aside for awhile. Three weeks later, sporting an improved sense of concentration and a new pair of reading glasses, I picked up Silencing Mormon Polygamy and started rereading. I’m glad I did. Briney has written a valuable book that should be on the shelf of anyone researching Mormon History. The book deals with important principles that existed in the early Mormon Church and how those beliefs led to the birth of what is now known as Mormon Fundamentalism. The concepts of civil disobedience, plural marriage, the Council of Fifty, the Church of the Firstborn, and the double meanings behind the terms Kingdom of God and the Patriarchal Priesthood are extremely controversial and complicated. Briney attempts to clarify them in an objective way. On September 26 and 27, 1886, John Taylor, prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was at the home of John W. Woolley in Centerville, Utah, hiding from federal authorities determined to take him into custody for practicing polygamy. On the afternoon of Sept. 26, he presided over Sunday meetings where the abolishment of polygamy was discussed. That night, Taylor was visited by Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith in an all-night revelation in which Taylor was instructed never to renounce the Mormon practice of polygamy. The following day, Taylor revealed his experience to a small group of people and spent the remainder of the day instructing them in spiritual matters. Sometime on September 27, Taylor placed his hands upon the heads of five men and gave them the authority to perform plural marriage ceremonies. He also ordained them to set others apart to perform plural marriages so there would be no cessation in the work. Taylor exhorted the men to ensure that not a year would go by without children being born into the principle of plural marriage. Taylor’s Sept. 26 revelation is well known among Fundamentalists but unknown to most members of the LDS Church who believe Mormon polygamy ended with President Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 Manifesto. The priesthood John Taylor gave the five men is significant. The Patriarchal Priesthood or Priesthood of Elijah is a superior priesthood which dates back to Kirtland and Nauvoo days and connects to the secretive Church of the Firstborn. Also known as the Kingdom of God, the Church of the Firstborn was supposedly the true governing organization of the Mormon Church. If proven to be true, this creates a huge problem for current members of the LDS Church as it confers a higher priesthood to Fundamentalist Mormons than that practiced by the Twelve Apostles. Silencing Mormon Polygamy is an unbiased attempt to better understand the events of September 26-27 and present reasons why those events are so significant to thousands of fundamentalist Mormons. The book contains every known firsthand account, important hearsay accounts and some circumstantial evidence of the two days. Briney extends that knowledge into an extensive collection of charts and footnotes, which are as important to read as the main volume itself. The book also draws on the minutes of Lorin Woolley’s School of the Apostles, important fundamentalist materials that have never before been published. Silencing Mormon Polygamy has its faults, but most of them deal with formatting. Even with my new reading glasses, the type font is too small and the subheads, printed in gray, are too light. The artistic design on the first page of each chapter looks unprofessional, and however useful, there is too much underlining. I wish the book had an index. I think Silencing Mormon Polygamy would benefit from a more extensive introductory chapter that could give the reader more insight into the significance of the events. Perhaps the book could also include the biographies of the five men John Taylor ordained and an overview of the excommunication trials of the LDS apostles accused of practicing polygamy. Hopefully, these details will be expanded upon in Silencing Mormon Polygamy: Failed Persecutions, Divided Saints & the Rise of Mormon Fundamentalism Volume Two. I’m looking forward to it.
– Vickie Cleverley Speek
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