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.
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 , 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?
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.
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].)
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 , 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.