MODERN PLURAL MARRIAGE
Recently a variety of news events in the Inter-mountain Area have highlighted polygamous families. Infamous activities of the LeBarons, or Singer-Swapp group have cast a negative shadow on a people who are generally very tranquil and God-loving. The publicity given to individuals trying to live the Principle of Plural Marriage has exposed more Mormons and non-Mormons alike to their theology, their hopes, and their faith. One important aspect of their faith deals with sealing authority,(1) however, relatively little has been written addressing this important topic
Those practicing polygamy after the LDS Manifesto in 1890 are referred to as modern day polygamists. Many modern day polygamists follow a theology labeled as Fundamentalist. The term Fundamentalist(2) is applied to individuals who claim to follow fundamental doctrines and practices which they allege were lost through unauthorized changes in the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Usually, they or their progenitors were members of the Church. The first application of the term Fundamentalist to modern believers in plural marriage appears to have occurred in the late 1930's. The decade of the 1930's represents the period when polygamists coalesced into identifiable groups. It was also a time for the crystallization of their theological tenets.
Observing that thousands of contemporary polygamists consider
themselves to be Fundamentalists should not imply a unity of beliefs or
authority claims among them. The many varied groups have continued to grow
and progress in numbers during the last few decades despite their illegal
familial unions and estrangement from the main body of Latter-day Saints.
Presently, one prolific Fundamentalist writer, Ogden Kraut,(3)
estimates that over 30,000 individuals are involved with the practice of
modern plural marriage. That number probably represents more people than
were practicing polygamy at the time of the 1890 Manifesto.
POLYGAMY - A REVIEW
Joseph Smith may have understood the law of celestial marriage including the plurality of wives as early as 1831. In 1831, Joseph labored with the inspired translation of the holy scriptures and asked the Lord how He was able to justify the practice of plural marriage among the Old Testament patriarchs.(4) The Lord's answer to that question was a revelation recorded in 1843 that is now section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.(5) Section 132 includes a discussion on the eternity of the marriage covenant, including the plurality of wives.(6)
Plural marriage may have been practiced by Church leaders prior to the recording of section 132 in 1843, but the exact extent to which Joseph and others may have engaged in it is unknown.(7) The prophet Joseph Smith's first recorded plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman which was performed April 5, 1841.(8) During the remainder of his life, Joseph took additional plural wives and assisted other worthy Church members to do the same. However, the practice was kept secret and was very limited.
The principle of plural marriage was revealed to the Saints
generally and to the world during a special conference held August 28-29,
1852 in the Old Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.(9)
For almost four decades afterwards, members of the Church would engage
themselves in such sacred unions as directed by their priesthood leaders.
That period also saw an intense effort by the United States Government
to eliminate the practice by passing strict laws against it. The Latter-day
Saints endured the persecution until 1890 when President Wilford Woodruff
issued a Manifesto.(10) The Manifesto announced
to the Church membership and to the Gentiles that the Saints were to obey
the law of the land. However, new plural marriages did not entirely cease
in 1890. Recently, two noted authors observed:
Earlier polygamous families continued
to exist well into the twentieth century, causing further political problems
for the Church, and new plural marriages did not entirely cease in 1890.
After having lived the principle at some sacrifice for half a century,
many devout Latter-day Saints found ending plural marriage a challenge
almost as complex as was its beginning in the 1840s. Some new plural marriages
were contracted in the 1890s in LDS settlements in Canada and northern
Mexico, and a few elsewhere... President Joseph F. Smith issued his "Second
manifesto" in 1904. Since that time, it has been uniform Church policy
to excommunicate any member either practicing or openly advocating the
practice of polygamy.(11)
PRIESTHOOD AUTHORITY RESTORED
Today, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints testify that Joseph Smith was the Lord's prophet commissioned to bring about the "restitution of all things" as prophesied.(12) They also assert that the "restitution" referred to included a restoration of the priesthood. The priesthood is the authority which allows man to act in God's name to effectuate His ordinances. The priesthood, with its authority, keys and powers, was restored over a span of several years to Joseph Smith.
The lesser or Aaronic Priesthood was bestowed on Joseph
Smith and Oliver Cowdery by John the Baptist on the banks of the Susquehanna
River near Harmony, Pennsylvania, May 15, 1829.(13)
During the next month, the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was restored:
And also with Peter, and James,
and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed
you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys
of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;(14)
The restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood included Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery being ordained apostles by Peter, James, and John.(15) Notwithstanding, the power and authority of the apostleship they received, additional priesthood keys needed to be re-established on earth.
On April 3, 1836, Joseph Smith, with Oliver Cowdery, received
a vision in the recently completed Kirtland Temple.(16)
The vision opened with the Lord Jehovah standing before them accepting
His House and the sacrifice of the saints associated with its construction.
After the Savior departed, three additional angelic messengers appeared
in succession, each with keys to restore to Joseph Smith:
After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
Behold, the time has fully come,
which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi -- testifying that he [Elijah]
should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come.(17)
Besides Moses, Elias and Elijah, additional keys and knowledge were apparently communicated to Joseph Smith on other occasions during his lifetime by prophets such as Michael,(18) Gabriel,(19) Raphael,(20) the Apostle Paul,(21) Nephite prophets(22) and others. Exactly what transpired during the visits of these men to Joseph Smith is unknown, but undoubtedly instruction was given and possibly keys imparted.(23)
Prior to May of 1842 Joseph received divine understanding concerning the ceremony of the temple endowment and priesthood keys associated with it. During that month he instructed others in its sacred concepts, administering solemn covenants.
We may not know all the heavenly messengers sent to Joseph
Smith to restore God's priesthood authority to the earth. However, Latter-day
Saints are secure that the restoration was complete before his martyrdom
and that a mechanism was in place to allow a perpetuation of that important
SEALING AUTHORITY CONTINUES WITHIN THE CHURCH
A basic tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the same priesthood powers that were restored to Joseph Smith during his lifetime have been preserved through an orderly line of succession as shown below. Joseph Smith received keys and authority from several angelic visitors during his earthly sojourn and they have passed from one Church President to the next in calm succession to the present-day President, Ezra Taft Benson. The authority has always remained within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the care of those priesthood leaders holding the apostleship. Joseph Smith taught: "If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray."(24) Joseph knew the priesthood keys would continue within the Quorum of the Twelve.
JOSEPH F. SMITH
HEBER J. GRANT
GEORGE ALBERT SMITH
DAVID O. McKAY
JOSEPH FIELDING SMITH
HAROLD B. LEE
SPENCER W. KIMBALL
EZRA TAFT BENSON
HOWARD W. HUNTER
GORDON B. HINCKLEY
Upon the death of a president of the Church, the apostle
with the most senior ordination in the Quorum of the Twelve becomes the
senior apostle upon the earth. He has in every instance become the President
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.(25)
As the senior apostle, he holds all the priesthood keys including those
of Elijah to seal on earth and in heaven. The Lord has specified that only
one man on earth at a time holds those keys. The importance of performing
a marriage utilizing the keys held by that one man cannot be overemphasized.
THE "ONE" ANOINTED AND APPOINTED
In July of 1843, the Lord referred to Joseph Smith as
the one anointed and appointed to hold the keys of sealing power:
And verily I say unto you, that
the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds,
obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations,
that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise,
of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity,
and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium
of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on earth to hold this power (and
I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last
days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power
and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy,
virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts
that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead. (D&C
132:7.) [Underlining by the authors.]
The Lord gave instructions concerning this "sealing power"
in the verse quoted above. He repeated the need for proper authority later
in the same section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
And again, verily I say unto you,
if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all
eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law,
and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I
have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither
of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by
me, Saith the Lord, neither by my word; when they are out of the world
it cannot be received there, because the angels and the gods are appointed
there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore, inherit my glory;
for my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God. (D&C 132:18.)
The authority which God has given to man to seal men and
women for time and all eternity is controlled by one individual who holds
the keys to this power. The Lord refers to this man four different times
in the first 19 verses of section 132. Such marriages must be:
...entered into and sealed by the
Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed... (Verse 7.)
...through the medium of mine
anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and
I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last
days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this
power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred); (Ibid.)
...sealed by the Holy Spirit of
promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power,
...sealed unto them by the Holy
Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed
this power and the keys of this priesthood; (Verse 19.) [Underlining
In these references the Lord says that this ordinance
must be performed "of him...," "by him..," or "through him..." (stated
twice) or it is of "no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection
from the dead" (verse 7). Latter-day Saints testify that the one man is
and has always been the Senior Apostle and President of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints.
OTHER PURPORTED LINES OF AUTHORITY
The four popular schismatic priesthood lines of authority
may be identified:
1. "Independent" Independents
2. Benjamin Johnson - LeBaron
3. Lorin C. Woolley to Joseph W. Musser (most popular)
4. "Woolley" Independents
The priesthood doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, as well as that derived from the claims of a man
named Lorin C. Woolley, will be discussed in greater detail in the following
The diagram below shows a line of authority which is not a true claim to Sealing Keys, but rather the assertion that such is not necessary. Some modern "Independent" Independents teach that the spirit alone may justify a plural marriage in the eyes of the Lord.
The need for the "one" anointed and appointed mentioned in D&C 132
as holding the keys of sealing(26) is not
addressed or is professed to not be an issue. Hence they are "independent"
of all other polygamists.
BENJAMIN JOHNSON - LEBARON LINE
This purported line of authority gave birth to The Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times which claims priesthood authority through Benjamin F. Johnson. They assert that Benjamin Johnson was an adopted son of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as well as being a business partner holding the power of attorney for the Prophet. This group believes that Benjamin F. Johnson was the head over the Kingdom of God on Earth or the House of Israel. In that capacity, they assert, he appointed A. Dayer LeBaron to be the Prophet's birthright heir holding the priesthood office of "The Right of the Firstborn"(27) which is the right to stand as Adam (who is the Firstborn) or as God to the human race.(28)
There are three grand divisions in the Priesthood in the Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times, according to its proponents, which are subordinate to the office of the Right of the Firstborn: First, the Office of the Grand Patriarch, which "...presides over all the spiritual blessings of the Church in concert with the right of the Firstborn, and which has the authority to perform all the ordinances pertaining to the house of God." Second the office of the Presiding Bishop, which stands next in authority to the Right of the Firstborn, but presides over that business"... pertaining to the temporal concerns of the kingdom of God..." And third, the office of the President of the Kingdom, standing next to the Right of the Firstborn with authority to transact all business pertaining to civil government in the Kingdom of God.(29)
Benjamin F. Johnson (1844)
(adopted son of Joseph Smith)
A. Dayer LeBaron (1905)
Ross, Joel, Ervil LeBaron (1950s)
The "Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times"
Prior to his death, members believe Dayer LeBaron conferred his Priesthood
upon one of his sons. Disagreements ensued over which of his sons, Ross,
Joel or the infamous Ervil LeBaron, received Dayer's authority. Confusion
also surrounded the priesthood offices themselves which has been analyzed
elsewhere.(30) The activities of Joel and
Ervil are known to many and served to diminish the number of believers
in their priesthood line.
CONTRASTING PRIESTHOOD CLAIMS
Another purported lines of priesthood authority is promoted by two other
prominent modern polygamist sects. This book will primarily focus on those
two priesthood lines which claim to derive their doctrine and priesthood
keys through a man named Lorin C. Woolley (picture).
See diagram of lines of authority.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK
The remainder of this publication will focus on four basic aspects of
the priesthood derived through the claims of Lorin C. Woolley. Specifically
First we will contrast general concepts between those Fundamentalists who follow Woolley's teachings with those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then we will look more closely at the details of the Fundamentalist priesthood theology by addressing these four areas in greater depth.
3. Ogden Kraut, an "Independent" Fundamentalist, has written more than 45 books and pamphlets on polygamist themes. He publishes at Pioneer Press, 7285 Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84121. Interestingly enough, none of his publications have addressed the topic of fundamentalist priesthood authority.
4. Church History in the Fulness of Times, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1989, pp. 254-255. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1978, 5:xxix-xxx. (Hereafter abbreviated HC.)
5. The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981 edition. Salt lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. (Hereafter abbreviated D&C.)
14. D&C 27:12-13. An excellent analysis of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is available by Larry C. Porter, "Dating the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood," Ensign, June, 1979, pp. 5-10.
15. See D&C 18:9, 20:2-3, 27:12; The Journal of Discourses 26 vols. Liverpool, England: F.D. Richards et. al., 1854-1886 (hereafter abbreviated as JD), 6:29, 320. Recent research suggests that the full significance of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood may not have been completely appreciated until years after it occurred. See Ron Barney, "Priesthood Restoration Narratives In the Early Church," to be published in an upcoming issue of Brigham Young University Studies.
25. Wilford Woodruff confirmed that the senior member
of the Quorum of the Twelve was to become the Church President in a letter
to Heber J. Grant. Excerpts from that letter are found in President Woodruff's
journal for March 28, 1887:
At the death of the President of the Church, the
Twelve Apostles became the presiding authority of the Church, and the President
of the Twelve was virtually the President of the Church by virtue of his
office as much while presiding over the Twelve Apostles as while presiding
over two as his councilors. (Wilford Woodruff Journals, LDS Historical
See also Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Prophets, Priesthood Keys, and Succession, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1991, pp. 106-117.
28. Ervil M. LeBaron, The Priesthood of God And The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times, Buenaventura, Mexico: Church of the Firstborn, n.d., p. 28. Quoted in Dean C. Jesse, "A Comparative Study and Evaluation of Latter-day Saint and `Fundamentalist' Views Pertaining to the Practice of Plural Marriage." M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1959, p. 37.
29. Ervil M. LeBaron, Priesthood Expounded (Mexican Mission of the Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times, August, 1956), pp. 23, 36. See also, The Priesthood of God and The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times, pp. 10, 16, 17. Quoted in Jessee, 1959, pp. 23-24.