5. The early Mormons practiced polygamy. Although officially outlawed it is still practiced by many today
As early as the 1930s some leading Mormons started the practice of ‘spiritual wifery’ although it was often kept secret from the public at large and even from most church members.
In the 1840s the Mayor of Nauvoo, John Bennet used polygamy and spiritual wifery as an excuse for widespread sexual encounters. He told women that sex was permitted as long as it was kept secret and offered to abort any pregnancies that resulted from the congress. Extremely lurid and suggestive stories were leaked from Nauvoo which caused the Mormons to be looked on with suspicion.
Smith was always vocal in his condemnation of polygamy. He was, however, married to about thirty women, some of whom he may have coerced into ‘marriage’ with threats of eternal damnation if they refused. One of his colleagues, Cowdery, accused him of adultery but the charges were denied, presumably for the reason that the marriages were lawful in the eyes of the Church. This was one of the grounds on which Cowdery was named as a dissenter. Just before his death several high ranking Mormons accused Joseph Smith of proposing to their wives and published newspaper articles stating that he was using the Church and the doctrine of polygamy to seduce unwilling women.
In 1852, when the Mormon presence was established in Utah, Brigham Young made a public announcement condoning polygamy. This was to play a part in the Mormon War with the US Government (see below). By 1876 plural marriage was officially authorized in the Church’s Doctrine and Covenants.
By 1890 the Mormon position on plural marriage had become difficult to justify in light of several federal acts outlawing polygamy. It would prove a significant stumbling block to Utah becoming a fully-fledged state of the USA. The then President of the Church, Woodruff, had for some time, been refusing permission for Church members to contract polygamous marriages and in 1890 he claimed to receive a revelation from Jesus telling him that the Mormons should no longer practice polygamy. He put this manifesto to the Church and it was accepted as policy in October 1890.
This manifesto notwithstanding many within the Church continued to practice polygamy and in 1904 the Church issued a second declaration prohibiting the practice and stating that all who were found to be engaging in it would be punished.
Since then the official line of the Church is that polygamy is banned. However, many sects of what are, today, called Mormon Fundamentalists still practice ‘the principle’ of plural marriage. While the Church does not formally approve of polygamy it does state that it may allow it at some point in the future.
There are also circumstances in which a man (and these days a woman) can be ‘sealed’ to more than one person. Sometimes this ‘sealing’ will take place vicariously after death. Often it happens if a man is widowed and wants to marry again. Church teaching states that he will, in heaven, be in a polygamous marriage with all his sealed spouses (see 3 below).
4. Mormons believe they can baptize the dead
Mormons believe that only the baptized can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For this reason they allow those who died before they could be baptized to be baptized after death with a willing living person serving as their proxy. Baptism of the dead is not practiced in any other mainstream branch of Christianity. The Church believes that, once a person has been baptized by proxy are free in the afterlife to accept or reject the baptism. While anyone aged 12 or older may act as a proxy in a baptism of the dead, the ceremony can only be performed by priests who have attained a certain level of priesthood and only in certain temples. The Church has, in the past, baptized many prominent people including Hitler and Ghengis Khan. This practice has caused offence (particularly to relatives of holocaust victims who were vicariously baptized) and these days Mormons are encouraged only to perform a proxy baptism on the ancestors of Mormons.
3. Mormons belief that men will become gods on their own planet with multiple wives
Mormons believe that Jesus (before he became mortal) created the Earth at the request of God for the specific purpose of testing humanity. When the resurrection occurs all spirits (except the damned) will be assigned one of three degrees of glory.
A former Church Leader Lorenzo Snow summarized the belief as ‘As man now is, God once was; As God is now, man may be’. Mormons say that this couplet sets out the Mormon belief in progression whereby those spirits assigned to the highest degree of glory will exalted. They will be as gods and goddesses and live the life God lives with their sealed family members. In order to be exalted a man must be in a celestial marriage with a member of the opposite sex.
In the official Church a celestial marriage can (these days) only take place with one partner at a time. When this happens a man and a woman are said to be ‘sealed’. Any children of the marriage are ‘sealed’ to the family. If the wife dies the man can enter into a subsequent ‘sealed’ marriage with another woman, all sealed wives will live with this man in the afterlife. Marriages can also be sealed posthumously. While a man can enter as man sealed marriages as he wishes during his lifetime (as long as his wives pre-decease him and the new wife) a woman can only be sealed to one man in her lifetime. She can be sealed to other after her death.
Mormons believe that the Earth is only one of many inhabited worlds each designed as a testing ground for the exaltation of humanity. It is not clear whether these worlds exist in our universe or in a ‘multiverse’. Mormons further believe that our earth was created by a pre-mortal Jesus at the request God but that God himself lived on another Earth for a time as a mortal. Joseph Smith referred to Jesus as the creator of many worlds and his translation of the Bible states that there are ‘millions of earths’.