Mormon Polygamy: When God is a Jerk

I want to offer this link about Mormon Polygamy on the Ask Mormon Girl blog which is written by Joanna Brooks.  Joanna is a hero of mine, ever since I heard her interviewed on NPR by Krista Tippett.  She is a voice for openness in discussions of all things Mormon, while still remaining true to peculiarly Mormon vision of spirituality.

This post by Joanna is educational about the practice of polygamy in the past and the present (Mormon doctrine still endorses it).   It is of particular interest to me, as this was the first major issue that I had with Mormonism, and my struggle with and resolution of that issue set me on a path that ultimately led me out of the Mormon church.

The pain expressed by Joanna’s readers over this issue is precisely what I was feeling.  The Mormon doctrine regarding polygamy puts many of its members in the awkward situation of believing in a heaven that they do not want to be a part of.  Many Mormons believe that, when male Mormons gain the highest degree of heavenly reward, they will be commanded to do something that violates their honor and their values, namely to betray their spouse and take a second (and third and fourth etc.) wife.

This dilemma is enshrined in Mormon culture by stories from the early years of the church when Joseph Smith told his male followers that God had commanded them to give him their wives.  Many of these people did not doubt the veracity of Joseph Smith’s calling.  The result of not questioning the authenticity of the messenger is that one must begin to question the goodness of God.  And what do you do when you believe that God is a jerk?

And it was precisely this question that set me on a slippery slope out of the Mormon church.  I found myself presented with a choice: to believe in a good God who I had learned about in (Mormon) Sunday School as I child, or to believe in a God that demands unquestioning obedience and tests that obedience with cruel and irrational demands.  This is not an new story.  The idea dates back to the tale of Abraham and Isaac.  These two options, as I saw them, were unreconcilable.   I chose to believe in  a God of goodness, with the consequence being that I disbelieved the goodness of the messenger, namely Joseph Smith.  That decision, in a way, presaged my eventual apostasy from the Mormon church.

Mormonism is neither as vile as it is painted by many evangelicals, nor is it so pristine as it is painted by the modern Mormon public image machine.  I admire Joanna and others like her (like my wife) who are able to walk that fine line between integrity and love of their religious tradition.

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