What Do We Do with Section 132?

By Brian C. Hales

Doctrine and Covenants section 132 is undoubtedly the most controversial of all of Joseph Smith’s revelations because it mentions the practice of plural marriage. Ironically, it is also one of the least discussed of all of Joseph’s official teachings for the same reason.

The 2014 Gospel Topics Essay discussing plural marriage encourages a new transparency on this subject and the historical and doctrinal references within the revelation. Yet, talking about polygamy more frequently does not necessarily make it any easier to understand or accept. Why? Because it favors men and is impossible to defend it as being fair.

Not only is polygamy here in mortality very difficult to practice, an associated fear involves the possibility of eternal plural marriage, which from our current view might be considered eternal unfairness. I have a daughter who has harbored the anxiety that if she dies before her husband (to whom she is sealed) passes away, he might remarry in the temple and she would become an eternal polygamist without her choosing. Here’s a few thoughts on the subject:

  • We know almost nothing about eternal marriage and even less about eternal plural marriage.
  • Worrying about eternal polygamy is worrying about the unknown.
  • Exalted beings are promised a “fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33) and “eternal happiness” (Alma 3:26).
  • Worthy Latter-day Saints can trust these promises.

And there may be more to think about. President Joseph F. Smith taught in 1915: “If a man and woman should be joined together who are incompatible to each other it would be a mercy to them to be separated that they might have a chance to find other spirits that will be congenial to them. We may bind on earth and it will be bound in Heaven, and loose on earth and it will be loosed in Heaven.”[1] This counsel seems to apply to a couple in the early stages of marriage. It also acknowledges that righteous men and women have agency even after a sealing has been performed. In other words:

  • D&C 132:19–20 promises exaltation and godhood to a monogamous couple who live worthily and are sealed by the priesthood authority of the “one” man holding the sealing keys (vv. 7, 18).
  • The power to seal is also the power to loosen.
  • Lucy Walker remembered Joseph Smith’s teaching: “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.”[2]
  • We are taught that vicarious (and living) ordinances will continue during the millennium when communication between worthy mortals and righteous spirits will be enhanced.
  • Agency and righteousness will allow all worthy beings to be sealed in joyful eternal marriages that they have chosen, even if some loosening and resealing ordinances need to be performed.

Section 132 speaks of eternal things that are difficult to understand and that are easy to misunderstand. The first third of the revelation talks of the power to seal families eternally together. This seems to be Joseph Smith’s zenith teaching.

The next two-thirds of the section speak of plural marriage. Do those verses ever need to apply to me personally? President John Taylor explained: “[God] has told us about our wives and our children being sealed to us, that we might have a claim on them in eternity.  He has revealed unto us the law of celestial marriage, associated with which is the principle of plural marriage.”[3] So we understand:

  • Polygamy is not a covenant, an ordinance, or a ceremony.
  • Polygamy is not a law, but a principle.
  • Polygamy is a practice that God may command, permit, or not permit on earth through the “one” man holding the sealing keys (v. 7), who is Russell M. Nelson today.
  • The law of celestial marriage is fulfilled as a worthy monogamous couple are sealed by proper authority (D&C 132:19–20).
  • The vast majority of God’s followers since Adam and Eve have lived monogamy, not polygamy.
  • God’s prophet has never declared that all exalted beings are polygamists.

Some of the fears and frustrations associated with thoughts of polygamy can be assuaged through the knowledge that the eternal happiness that God has promised to exalted beings could not include eternal unfairness. We might call it a gospel mystery (and there are quite a few). Staying in the covenant path during mortality will allow the Latter-day Saints to someday understand this mystery as it is revealed in a future realm saturated with a fulness of joy.

For more information regarding D&C 132, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMBWxnHVIuU&t=5s .

More Come, Follow Me resources here.

[1] James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:330-31.

[2] Lucy Walker Kimball, “A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Lucy Walker Kimball Smith,” CHL; quoted in Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving an Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience, Logan, Utah: Utah Journal Co, 1888, 46. The context was plural marriage, but the principle would seem to equally apply to monogamy.

[3] John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 24:231; italics added.


Brian C. Hales is the author or co-author of several books dealing with Joseph Smith and plural marriage. He and his wife, Laura Hales are co-webmasters of JosephSmithsPolygamy.org. He is also the author of several articles dealing with the origin of the Book of Mormon. Brian is currently pursuing an MA degree (history) at Arizona State University.

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