Some Protestants, such as Born-Again Christians, believe that one can be saved in heaven—assured salvation. Did early Mormons believe in something similar? Was polygamy a ticket to heaven, not just for the man, but for his wives and children as well? Dr. Bill Smith will talk about this in our next conversation.
Bill: The idea is that the elite Mormon men, those with—maybe I should use the word assured salvation, like Joseph Smith, it was a great thing to be a child of somebody like that theoretically. It was a great thing to be their child because as Joseph says, “On the other side of the veil, I will claim what I seal.” In other words, anybody he is sealed to is guaranteed to go into heaven with him. Because he is guaranteed in the revelation in fact that he’ll be going to heaven. So, this is important. It’s an important story for important people.
That sounds doubly bad I guess in the present day. It sounds sexist. It sounds elitist, but in fact that’s the way it worked out. A lot of people engaged in polygamy, a lot of women engaged in polygamy, not as many men of course, but it was really a story in terms of descendants, a story of elite Mormon men, because they are the ones that had 30 wives, or 15 wives, or 25 wives, or more. Most of those men had children with most of those wives.
Dr. Smith talks about how the theology of assured salvation has changed over the years. We will also talk about one of the major justifications of polygamy: raising seed. If that was so important, why didn’t Joseph have children with wives other than Emma?
Bill: I can’t really answer that except to say that the record on the ground seems to suggest that at least with some women, other than his wife, he was having sex. But I think it is impossible to argue beyond reminiscent accounts and that sort of thing, whether or not that was really going on. I think it’s probably a sure thing that it did happen, but with who and how often? That’s really hard to say.