Lesson 153: Official Declaration 1 and the Continued Development of Temple Work

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


Introduction

After the Prophet Joseph Smith received revelation directing him to teach the principle of plural marriage, some Church members began practicing plural marriage under his direction in the early 1840s. In subsequent decades, the Church experienced public opposition because of this practice. “After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the … Manifesto [Official Declaration 1], which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church” (Official Declaration 1, introduction). Even while the Saints experienced opposition, they worked diligently to build temples, where they received saving ordinances for themselves and for the dead. They built and dedicated five temples between 1846 and 1893.

Suggestions for Teaching

The Lord reveals that Latter-day Saints should cease the practice of plural marriage

Ask students to name righteous individuals in the scriptures who have been arrested or imprisoned for doing what God commanded them to do. (Answers might include Daniel, Abinadi, Peter, Joseph Smith, and the Savior.)

Explain that many Latter-day Saint men were arrested and imprisoned because they continued to obey the commandment to practice plural marriage after the United States government passed laws making the practice illegal. Some women were arrested as well, usually because they would not reveal the locations of their husbands, who had gone into hiding to avoid arrest.

Ask students to summarize how the practice of plural marriage began among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The Prophet Joseph Smith received revelation about the principle of plural marriage, and the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s in response to the Lord’s command [see D&C 132].)

Invite a student to read the following paragraph aloud. Ask the class to listen for some of the difficulties Church members experienced as they obeyed the Lord’s command to practice plural marriage.

In August 1852, as part of a conference in Salt Lake City, Elder Orson Pratt publicly announced that in obedience to a commandment from God, some members of the Church were practicing plural marriage. Elder Pratt made this announcement under the direction of President Brigham Young. Many religious and political leaders in the United States opposed this marriage system, which they considered immoral and uncivilized. Latter-day Saints were ridiculed in public speeches, books, magazines, and newspapers. The United States Congress passed laws that limited Church members’ freedom and hurt the Church economically by restricting the amount of property the Church could own. These laws ultimately led to the arrest and imprisonment of men who had more than one wife. These men were denied “the right to vote, the right to privacy in their homes, and the enjoyment of other civil liberties” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [1996], 97). By 1890, hundreds of faithful Latter-day Saints had served time in prison. Others went into hiding to avoid arrest and imprisonment. In these conditions, many families suffered from stress, grief, poverty, and hunger.

After the 1852 announcement, plural marriage became much more widespread, and thousands of men and women were sealed in plural marriages under the direction of priesthood leaders. Although the world ridiculed them for practicing plural marriage, many faithful Latter-day Saints defended the practice and testified that they knew it had been revealed by God through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  • How would you summarize the difficulties early Latter-day Saints faced because they obeyed the Lord’s direction to practice plural marriage?

President Wilford Woodruff

Explain that these difficult circumstances led President Wilford Woodruff to prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance concerning the Saints’ practice of plural marriage. In 1889, President Woodruff instructed Church leaders to discontinue teaching the principle of plural marriage. By 1890, very few plural marriages were performed, and these were done against the counsel of President Woodruff. However, some people published reports that the Church was still promoting the practice of plural marriage. These reports brought further opposition against the Church. In September 1890, President Woodruff issued a Manifesto, which is now known as Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Summarize the first three paragraphs of Official Declaration 1 by explaining that President Woodruff declared that reports alleging that the Church was still promoting the practice of plural marriage were not accurate. Then invite three students to take turns reading aloud the fourth and fifth paragraphs of Official Declaration 1 (beginning with “Inasmuch as laws”) and the subsequent statement by President Lorenzo Snow, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to follow along and look for what President Woodruff instructed the Saints to do.

  • What were the Saints instructed to do? (Refrain from contracting or forming any plural marriages.)

  • According to the statement by President Lorenzo Snow, why is it important that the direction to refrain from contracting any more plural marriages came through the President of the Church? (Because he was the only person on the earth who held the keys of the sealing power. You may want to remind students that plural marriage could be authorized only through the priesthood keys given to the President of the Church [see D&C 132:7, 48].)

Invite a student to read aloud the first paragraph of “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto,” which follows the text of the Manifesto. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a principle President Woodruff taught the Saints.

  • What did President Woodruff teach the Saints? (As students respond, write the following doctrine on the board: The Lord will never permit the President of the Church to lead the Church astray. You may want to invite students to mark words or phrases in their scriptures that teach this doctrine.)

  • How can this principle help us today?

Explain that some Church members wondered why they were directed to live the principle of plural marriage but then directed to cease. The Lord directed President Woodruff to ask the Saints a question. Invite three students to take turns reading aloud the third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs of “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff” (beginning with “I have had some revelations”). Ask the class to follow along, looking for the question President Woodruff asked the Saints.

  • How would you summarize the question President Woodruff was inspired to ask the Saints?

Explain that the Saints were in danger of losing the St. George Utah Temple, the Logan Utah Temple, the Manti Utah Temple, and the nearly completed Salt Lake Temple. (If possible, you may want to display pictures of these temples.)

  • What important work would cease if the temples were confiscated?

Ask a student to read aloud the seventh paragraph of “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff” (beginning with “I saw exactly”). Invite the class to follow along, looking for what President Woodruff would have done if God had not commanded him to instruct Church leaders to discontinue the practice of performing plural marriages.

  • What would President Woodruff have done?

  • What can we learn from President Woodruff’s statement, “I wrote what the Lord told me to write”? (After students respond, you may want to write the following doctrine on the board: The Lord directs His Church through revelation to the President of the Church.)

  • How has this doctrine influenced you?

Invite students to share their testimonies concerning the truths you have written on the board. You may also want to share your testimony.

President Joseph F. Smith

Explain that a small number of Latter-day Saints continued to enter into new plural marriages after the Manifesto was given. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith announced “that all [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be … excommunicated” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1904, 75). This policy continues today.

  • Based on what you have learned, how would you respond if someone asked you if Latter-day Saints practice plural marriage? (Help students understand that Church members practiced plural marriage for a time in obedience to the Lord’s command, but that practice ended long ago, also according to the Lord’s command. Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise [see Jacob 2:27, 30].)

The Lord reveals that Latter-day Saints should be sealed to their family members

Explain that after the Manifesto was given, the threat of the federal government confiscating the temples and the property of the Church ended. Without that distraction, the Saints were able to give greater focus to temple work. On April 6, 1893, forty years after the cornerstones of the Salt Lake Temple were laid, President Wilford Woodruff dedicated that temple, bringing the total number of functioning temples to four.

In April 1894, one year after the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, President Woodruff announced that he had received a revelation. Before this revelation, Church members, acting according to the knowledge they possessed, often had themselves sealed, or “adopted,” to Church leaders, such as Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, rather than to their own parents. But President Woodruff learned by revelation that he should direct the Saints “to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to his people” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 3:256–257; see also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff [2004], xxxiii–xxxv).

  • Who can we be sealed to through the sealing ordinance? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: We can be sealed to our family members, including those who came before us and those who come after us, through the sealing power.)

  • How do you feel about knowing that you can be sealed to your family members?

Conclude by testifying of the sealing power and the importance of linking ourselves to the generations of our family through the ordinances of the temple.

Commentary and Background Information

Official Declaration 1. Background included in the 2013 edition of the scriptures

The following statement, which serves as the introduction to Official Declaration 1 in the 2013 edition of the scriptures, can help students answer questions about Latter-day Saints’ practice of plural marriage in the 1800s. You may want to print copies of this statement and distribute them to students who do not have the 2013 edition of the scriptures.

“The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.”

Official Declaration 1. Did the practice of plural marriage end suddenly after the Manifesto?

Some members of the Church continued to enter into plural marriages after the Manifesto was given in 1890. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“Polygamy did not end suddenly with the 1890 Manifesto. Polygamous relationships sealed before that revelation was announced continued for a generation. The performance of polygamous marriages also continued for a time outside the United States, where the application of the Manifesto was uncertain for a season. It appears that polygamous marriages also continued for about a decade in some other areas among leaders and members who took license from the ambiguities and pressures created by this high-level collision between resented laws and revered doctrines. …

“My heart breaks when I read of circumstances in which wives and children were presented with the terrible choice of lying about the whereabouts or existence of a husband or father on the one hand or telling the truth and seeing him go to jail on the other. … A father in jail took food off the table and fuel from the hearth. Those hard choices involved collisions between such fundamental emotions and needs as a commitment to the truth versus the need for loving companionship and relief from cold and hunger.

“My heart also goes out to the Church leaders who were squeezed between their devotion to truth and their devotion to their wives and children and to one another. To tell the truth could mean to betray a confidence or a cause or to send a brother to prison. …

“I do not know what to think of all of this, except I am glad I was not faced with the pressures those good people faced. My heart goes out to them for their bravery and their sacrifices, of which I am a direct beneficiary. I will not judge them. That judgment belongs to the Lord, who knows all of the circumstances and the hearts of the actors, a level of comprehension and wisdom not approached by even the most knowledgeable historians” (“Gospel Teachings about Lying,” Clark Memorandum [Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School periodical], Spring 1994, 16–17).

Since 1904, the Church has excommunicated any of its members who have performed or entered into plural marriages (see Conference Report, Apr. 1904, 75). In 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated the Church’s position on the practice of plural marriage:

“This Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. … If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71).

Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff. The Lord will never permit the President of the Church to lead us astray

President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency told of an experience he had with President Heber J. Grant, who was President of the Church at the time:

“Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, 78).

Official Declaration 1. For more information

For more information about Official Declaration 1, go to Gospel Topics on LDS.org and search for “plural marriage” or “polygamy.”

Supplemental Teaching Idea

The faith and sacrifices of those who worked on the temple. Video presentation—“Only a Stonecutter”

After teaching about the completion and dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, you may want to show the video “Only a Stonecutter,” which illustrates the faith and sacrifices of John Rowe Moyle, a man who worked on the construction of the temple. This video is available on Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs and on LDS.org.