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The Revocation of Polygamy - Does God Change His Mind?


Contender Ministries


The ability to change one’s mind can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing.  Deciding to forsake sinful behavior and accept forgiveness through Jesus Christ is a good thing.  Deciding to ignore God and live a worldly life is a bad thing.  Some changes of mind are neutral, such as the decision to rearrange the furniture in the living room (unless you are the one moving the furniture, in which case it’s easy to make an argument for it being a bad idea).  The God of the Bible does not make mistakes, and therefore does not need to change His mind.  Yet according to Mormonism, God has changed his mind.  When we look at the commandment for polygamy, and its subsequent revocation, we see that the LDS Church believes in a god that is nearsighted and prone to making mistakes. 

In his handbook for Mormon missionaries, Glenn L. Pearson presents a discussion between a missionary and a contact named Jim.  Jim first explains how he felt that the early LDS practice of polygamy was abhorrent.  The elder tells him that it is not up to us to question God, and since God commanded polygamy through revelation to the prophet, polygamy was justified.  Jim then makes a good point by asking why polygamy was ended, if it was such a good and righteous practice commanded by God.  The missionary replies, “Jim, you are playing God again.  God can ‘Command and revoke, as it seemeth… good.’ (Doc.& Cov. 56:4)  We don’t have to know why.  Sometimes he tells us and sometimes he doesn’t.  It is enough to know that it is God’s will.  It so happens that he did reveal to President Wilford Woodruff the reason.  But it would have made no difference if he hadn’t.”1  This is a very convenient argument that falls flat if one will look at the language of the polygamy commandment and revocation, and then look at real Scripture, the Bible. 

The “Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, Including Plurality of Wives” was formerly included in the Pearl of Great Price (click on the image to view first page of the revelation).  In has since been included into Doctrine and Covenants as section 132.  In verse 4 of section 132, Joseph Smith cites God saying through revelation, “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.”  [emphasis added]  Everlasting – lasting forever – is a strong word, and indicates that this alleged commandment is never, ever supposed to end.  Rarely do we see an alleged prophecy that is specifically called “everlasting.”  Yet somehow, the LDS Church no longer recognizes plural marriage as acceptable.  Somehow, in 1890, God changed his mind.  Let’s examine what ended the “everlasting covenant” that must be followed to avoid damnation. 

In September 24th, 1890, LDS President and prophet Wilford Woodruff issued a manifesto officially ending the practice of polygamy within the Mormon Church.  In this manifesto (also known as “Official Declaration –1”), Woodruff states, “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”  Nowhere in the manifesto does Woodruff lodge a personal opinion on the subject of polygamy.  More importantly, Woodruff does not explain what God told him that resulted in the “everlasting covenant” being brought to an abrupt end.  However, he did explain himself in three subsequent addresses.  The following excerpt is very revealing about his motivation:

The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?….I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do….”2

Wilford Woodruff revealed that the reason he ended the “everlasting covenant,” is because the church leaders (including him) would go to prison, and all property (personal and church-owned) would be seized by the government.  If we believe this to be a personal decision not based on divine revelation, then we can see that it was self-serving and in the interests of self-preservation.  However, if we are to believe that this decision was based on divine revelation, then we must conclude that God is not omniscient, and he made a mistake when giving Smith the revelation establishing polygamy in 1843.  If the manifesto was not based on divine revelation, then we must conclude that the prophets of Mormonism are false prophets.  If the manifesto was divinely inspired, then God is a limited being that makes mistakes. 

Does God change His mind?  1 Samuel 15:29 refers to God and says, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.”   The NIV and NASB versions of the Bible interpret repent as “change His mind.”  Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I change not;…”  Even more explicit is James 1:17 where we read, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”  Humans change our minds because we are not omniscient.  We can’t see how every decision of our lives will play out over time.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of Christianity – is all knowing, and does not change His mind.  We do our crossword puzzles in pencil, whereas if God were inclined to do a crossword, He would no doubt use a permanent marker. 

A common argument some Mormons will present to support the idea that God changes His mind is the belief that Jesus did away with Mosaic law, handed down from God in the first place.  This is erroneous and unscriptural thinking.  First, Jesus said He came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17).  Even in the days of Moses, God required a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.  The birth, life, and death of Jesus did not change that.  Jesus became our once-for-all sacrifice when He died on the cross.  And one should not think that God the Father was just blindly happy with the Mosaic system of temple sacrifice until He one day figured out a better way to do it.  He didn’t suddenly change His mind and say, “Well, the Romans probably won’t let Israel keep doing this; I gotta come up with a better plan!”  The arrival of The Son to purchase our redemption for us was part of the plan from the beginning.  I believe that God allowed the system of temple sacrifices to continue for thousands of years to make mankind aware that we are powerless over sin without Him.  He made us aware that we cannot save ourselves, and any redemption from sin must come by His grace and our faith.  Our works amount to nothing more than “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  No, the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ was always part of the plan, not an alteration to it. 

In Pearson’s handbook for the Mormon missionaries, he said, “Missionaries, and others involved in missionary work, seem to have a fixation about problem-solving.  They want to have a pat answer to each objection.  They prefer something either intellectual or scriptural which will settle the controversy in a decisive manner…. Even if [a missionary] learned all the hundreds [of pat answers] he would need today, there will be hundreds more needed tomorrow…. We must not even pretend that we can answer all their objections.”3  When it comes to the truth or falsehood of religious beliefs, no one should be looking for a “pat answer.”  We should all be looking for truth.  The basis for the very existence of the LDS Church is their claim of modern-day revelation to true prophets of God.  When their prophets fail the biblical test of a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22), the sincere Latter-day Saint should be looking to the foundation of biblical truth, rather than for pat answers.  They should look to the God of the Bible, rather than the contrived god of Joseph Smith.  An eternity is too costly a wager to place on men such as Smith, Young, and Woodruff.  God doesn’t change, nor does His love for you. 

Notes:

1 – Glenn L. Pearson, The Book of Mormon Key to Conversion (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, Inc., 1963), p. 17.

2 - Cache Stake Conference, Logan, Utah, Sunday, November 1, 1891. Reported in Deseret Weekly, November 14, 1891.

3 – Pearson, pp. 4-5.