I recently attended the sealing of a close family member and I was struck by the language provided in the sealing. Additionally, I was intrigued by the counsel that was given, which was to study D&C 132. Why this counsel struck me is that I’ve read D&C 132 a number of times, and each time I was consumed with the focus on polygamy. Believing that the sealer was not encouraging polygamy, I have decided to examine the scripture one more time.
First I read the LDS.org student institute manual for D&C 132. The historical summary provides a couple of key points, first that this is really a revelation on plural marriage which evidence suggests was understood as early as 1831. Second that the purpose was to convince Emma of polygamy. The quote from Hyrum is especially insightful:
If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.
The revelation had never been documented before and to finally see it in writing would give validity to the practice. What the summary on LDS.org does not include is Emma’s response to the revelation. The History of the Church details her reaction as follows:
Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.
So why was Emma so bitter and angry after receiving D&C 132? If the revelation is about living forever as a married couple? I believe she perfectly understood the full intent of the revelation and was especially angered by this verse in D&C 132:
64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
Joseph felt he had received a revelation commanding polygamy, and commanded Emma to accept else she should be destroyed. Ultimately Emma did allow Joseph to marry two sisters who were living with them at the time, Emily and Eliza Partridge. Ironically, Joseph had already secretly married both sisters without the knowledge of Emma or either sister. Despite the initial approval, the story ultimately ends badly for the Partridge sisters. Later in life Emma denied Joseph’s teaching of polygamy.
New and Everlasting Covenant
OK, so this post isn’t supposed to be just about polygamy, as it is not a practice currently sanctioned by the LDS church, and I can’t imagine a sealer encouraging my family member to engage in polygamy just before he was planning on being married to his sweetheart. Verse 4 of D&C 132 provides the language we’re seeking (emphasis mine):
4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
So what does “new and everlasting covenant” mean? After a little research I found an apologetic website that provides the unfortunate answer:
John L. Brooke concluded: “A deceptive code developed, allowing the leadership to condemn ‘polygamy, in the ordinary and Asiatic sense of the term,’ while defending ‘the Holy order of celestial marriage,’ ‘the true and divine order,’ and the ‘new and everlasting covenant.’”
Put another way, since polygamy was illegal at the time, the leaders of the church had created a set of code words for what they were actually practicing, and one of those codes was “the new and everlasting covenant.”
This news is especially concerning considering the language in the current sealing literally states:
Brother _________, do you take Sister _________ …this holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant…
I’ve left out the majority of the ceremony out of respect, but a simple Google search can provide the rest of the wording. There are also YouTube videos available that confirm this wording is in practice today.
Evidence of Early Understanding
I found a great blog post that gives the timeline for the revelations on polygamy. The revealed understanding at the time was regarding extra-marital involvement with Lamanite descendants in order to help turn their skin white. This revelation contains two logical problems:
- Dark skin can be removed through righteousness, suggesting that dark skin is a curse for wickedness
- The Lamanites are easily identifiable and the Book of Mormon occurred throughout the Americas and especially near Ohio
Both of these topics have been addressed by recent gospel topics essays. In Race and the Priesthood the essay states:
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse…
In the essay Book of Mormon and DNA Studies it states:
The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA.
In fact the essay makes it clear that there is zero DNA evidence that Native Americans came from a group which migrated from the middle-east circa 600BCE.
Keys to Celestial Marriage
The final concern I have regarding the early understanding of this revelation is one of keys. The keys of Elijah were not restored to the Earth until 1836. Joseph did not even have the keys for Celestial Marriage before this point.
So I’m left wondering, perhaps the sealer did promote polygamy albeit unknowingly. Perhaps the Church still openly teaches the doctrine of polygamy, and perhaps it is to be understood as Joseph Smith intended.