Just for the record, Mormons don’t practice polygamy. About 25-30%% of Mormons back around 1880 practiced polygamy. It hasn’t been practiced by Mormons for over 100 years. If you heard something on the news about Mormons practicing polygamy, either the news is mistaken and is accidentally calling someone who isn’t a Mormon a Mormon, or somebody is calling themselves a Mormon when they really aren’t. If a Mormon were caught practicing polygamy today they’d be excommunicated right away.
Ok, that said, some critics of the Mormon church try and say that parts of the Book of Mormon condemn polygamy, that therefore the LDS Church doesn’t even obey it’s own scriptures, and therefore Mormons are a bunch of sneaky monkeys who shouldn’t be trusted to manage your 401k.
For example, critics use the scriptures Jacob 1:15; 2:23,24,27,31;3:5; Mosiah 11:2,4; and Ether 10:5,7. But what do these scriptures say?
Jacob 1:15 – “And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.”
However, this scripture doesn’t actually condemn polygamy, but rather the “desiring of many wives and concubines…” Polygamy amongst Mormons was never intended to be a “Hey, I need more sex so I’m going to get me some more wives…” type of thing. Rather, it was God commanding men to take additional wives, which in many, if not most cases, the men were quite reluctant to do. Plural marriages were an assignment, not a personal choice or privilege. I know that’s hard to believe in our current sex-crazed culture, so you can believe that or not, but it’s true.
But in addition, this single verse of scripture needs to be taken in context with the scriptures around it and the situation in which these words were being delivered. They were being spoken by Jacob, a Book of Mormon prophet, who was rebuking his own people for their wickedness in committing adultery, unlawfully marrying additional wives, and justifying it by their misunderstandings about David and Solomon. Here are some follow up verses from the prophet Jacob which are part of the same rebuke (see Jacob 2:27-30).
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
The key is verse 30. God is saying that if he wants to use polygamy to increase the population of his chosen people, then he will institute polygamy by way of commandment (with the understanding that commandments are delivered through a prophet, not directly to individuals). Otherwise, no polygamy.
Moving on, Jacob 3:5 states “Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not aforgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father-that they should have save it were bone wife, and cconcubines they should have none, and there should not be dwhoredoms committed among them.”
This verse does not condemn polygamy. It states that the Lord gave a commandment “unto our father” (Jacob’s father was Lehi) that they should not practice polygamy. Therefore it was against God’s commandment for the descendants of Lehi to practice polygamy, unless otherwise commanded as stated previously.
The same explanation can be applied to the scriptures in Mosiah. As for the verses in Ether, this is an entirely different people than the Nephites/Lamanites who were descendants of Lehi, therefore they were not subject to the same, specific commandments Lehi’s descendants were, but it can be assumed that, as in every other case we know of, polygamy was strictly forbidden unless God commands it, and that the condemnation of the practice is not a condemnation of polygamy itself, but a condemnation of practicing it incorrectly, in order to satisfy sexual desires rather than in obedience to God’s commands.