On the Cover:
“Mormonism is well known for its embrace of the family and conservative sexual practices. Yet in the nineteenth century sexual experimentation, especially plural marriage, was the church’s most distinguishing feature. In the twentieth century sexual non-conformity gave way to Victorian respectability as Mormons became assimilated into the American mainstream. This transition, as well as contemporary dichotomies between belief and practice, public and private views, are the subject of the thirteen essays in this anthology, including: “‘They Shall Be One Flesh’: Sexuality and Contemporary Mormonism” by Romel W. Mackelprang; “Changing Perspectives on Sexuality and Marriage” by Klaus J. Hansen; “‘The Abominable and Detestable Crime against Nature’: A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980″ by Rocky O’Donovan; “Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage” by Eugene England; “Single Cursedness: An Overview ofLDS Authorities’ Statements about Unmarried People” by Marybeth Raynes and Erin Parsons; and “In Defense of Mormon Erotica” by Levi S. Peterson
About the editor: Brent Corcoran is the author of Park City Underfoot: Self-Guided Tours, co-author of Wilford Woodruff’s Journals: An Index, and author of a forthcoming article, “Thomas Taylor and the Nineteenth-century Utah Iron Industry” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Multiply and Replenish
Mormon Essays on Sex and Family
Edited by Brent Corcoran
Signature Books / Salt Lake City / 1994
For Miles Alan Merrell
Cover illustration: The Fourth Article of Faith by Michael Clane Graves, 1976, acrylic on canvas
Cover design: Julie Easton
Printed on acid-free paper.
© 1994 by Signature Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Composed and printed in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Multiply and replenish : Mormon essays on sex and family / edited by Brent D. Corcoran.
p. cm. Includes bibliographical references.
1. Sex–Religious aspects–Mormon Church. 2. Sex–Religious aspects–Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 3. Marriage–Religious aspects–Mormon church. 4. Marriage–Religious aspects–Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 5. Mormon church–Doctrines. 6. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–Doctrines. 7. Sexual ethics. 8. Family–Religious life. I. Corcoran, Brent D.
261.8’343–dc20 94-14855 CIP
Editor’s Introduction [see below]
01 - Between Heaven and Earth: Mormon Theology of the Family in Comparative Perspective
02 - Changing Perspectives on Sexuality and Marriage Klaus J. Hansen
03 - ”They Shall Be One Flesh”: Sexuality and Contemporary Mormonism
04 - The Persistence of Chastity: Built-in Resistance in Mormon Culture to Secular Trends
05 - Exhortations for Chastity: A Content Analysis of Church Literature
06 - Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage
07 - ”The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature”:
A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980
08 - Gender and Spirit
09 - Ethical Issues in Reproductive Medicine: A Mormon Perspective
10 - Single Cursedness: An Overview of LDS Authorities’ Statements about Unmarried People
11 - A Lone Man in the Garden
12 - In Defense of Mormon Erotica
13 - The Demography of Utah Mormon
14 – Epilogue: Mormon Ideas of Home
[p. vii]For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, God’s injunction to Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth (Gen. 1:28) provides the answer to life’s existential question. God created human beings to reproduce, and in so doing to glorify himself. This is our purpose.
The following collection seeks to document the Latter-day Saint experience with family, reproduction, and sexuality. In reality, a single compilation of such essays can only begin to explore the universal implications of family life in Mormonism, for the Mormon family is of eternal proportion. The cosmos is structured along family lines, with a heavenly father and mother, God and God’s wife, and their human children–literally their spirit offspring–who are all brothers and sisters. Mormons must be married to attain the highest degree of exaltation in the next life. Some feel that their future reward is related to the number of children they produce in this life.
In the first two essays, Lawrence Foster and Klaus J. Hansen explore the historical importance of the Mormon family. They argue that Mormonism began as a reaction to the disintegration of social institutions, especially the family, on the nineteenth-century American frontier. Church founder Joseph Smith sought to establish a bulwark against epidemic “latter-day” wickedness and to provide the faithful few with a refuge to prepare for Jesus Christ’s second advent and millennial reign. Plural marriage functioned to establish boundaries between the faithful and faithless, and to ensure that the faithful would persist in being so.
Hansen documents changes in Mormon theology from the nine-[p. viii]teenth- to the twentieth-century LDS church. He believes that Mormons have always been sexually conservative. But while in the nineteenth century they were not significantly preoccupied with sexual vice, by the twentieth century they had internalized general American sexual mores and become more concerned with this particular area of human behavior. This evangelizing trend, according to Hansen, occurred because with the 1890 Manifesto ostensibly banning plural marriage, polygamy was no longer available to supply its peculiarizing function. In essence, twentieth-century Mormons “began to adapt to the forces of modernization by internalizing their sexual mores.” Mormons were compelled to “out-Victorian” the Victorians. Foster warns in turn that the twentieth-century “sentimentalized ideal of family life which Latter-day Saints have chosen to emphasize in their proselytizing efforts” may descend into idolatry when “overriding importance is given to any human institution” to the expense of others.
The disruption between nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mormon family values holds a center place in the scholarly discussion of Mormon family life. As other essayists point out, this disruption is the result of more than just the abandonment of polygamy.
Lester Bush, for example, explores the Mormon encounter with medical science, especially reproductive medicine and birth control. Early Mormons were antagonistic toward western medical doctors. But the twentieth-century church came to embrace medical science. The church historically taught that the body must be treated as sacred, as a temple. The essential cause of illness was the fall of Adam, a supernatural event which led to a break with the divine presence. Some early LDS leaders taught that the sins of the parents were passed on to their offspring in the form of a weakened physical constitution.
These sacral medical beliefs can be contrasted with the dominant attitude toward health and the body in modern industrial societies where illness is attributed to a physical defect or foreign intrusion into the organism. Physicians exclude from scrutiny events that take place away from the person.
When Mormons began to embrace western medicine, they faced two competing systems for understanding the human body. Questions arose: Are sexual desires part of the fate of carnal man, [p. ix]something to be controlled, or related to hormones, or the psychology of instinct? Are bodies of divine creation or animal? Medical science desacralized sex, and Mormons have been confronted by issues of reproductive control technologies, sexual orientation, and the flexibility of family structure and gender roles.
Mormonism’s uneasy accommodation to profane conceptualizations of reproductive and family issues is evidenced by the persistence of conservative sexual behavior and values. Studies by Marvin Rytting, Tim B. Heaton, and Harold T. Christensen have documented this persistence into the last decade. Christensen notes the reaction by Mormon officials to the perception that Latter-day Saints have been influenced by secular philosophies. Rytting demonstrates a corresponding intensification of sermonizing by church leaders on sexual and family issues. Heaton’s work shows constancy among Mormons to maintain large families.
In current affairs, Mormons have sometimes joined political hands with Christian fundamentalists in pursuing a conservative family agenda against lesbians and gay men, including same-sex marriages and spousal benefits. They have also ventured into political campaigns against abortion rights and dissemination of sexual and birth control education, as well as public sex education generally.
The church’s modern mission is defined as a struggle against the secularization of family life and sexual experience. In 1993 LDS leader Boyd K. Packer specifically singled out homosexuals and feminists as part of a triumvirate of arch-enemies to the church’s mission (the third was intellectuals). The church has asked professionals to prepare scholarly responses to secularizing trends, to become a kind of Mormon “Jesuitical” order to defend itself against the forces of secular humanism. Romel W. Mackelprang and Rocky O’Donovan in part chronicle the endeavors of some of these Mormon Jesuits.
Unofficially, other scholars are also endeavoring to explore the modern contradictions and struggles within Mormon family life and sexual experience. As physicians, Lester Bush and Jeffrey Keller examine the implications of medicine on theology. Marybeth Raynes, Erin Parsons, and Delmont Oswald address the unmarried Mormon’s place in the church’s social life and theology. Rocky O’Donovan’s account of gay and lesbian experience is a critique of Mormon homosociality and [p. x]homophobia. Levi Peterson, a member of the growing LDS literati, tackles the perennial problem of art versus pornography.
Eugene England’s thought-provoking essay reflects the discomfort many feel for the historical contradictions of Mormon family theology. England admits the problems of a nineteenth-century polygamous heritage, seeking to create a modern theological context for monogamous heterosexual marriage with a reproductive emphasis.
One area that is underrepresented in this compilation are Mormon women’s perspectives on family life and sexuality. To date Mormon feminist scholarship has tended to focus almost exclusively on the historical relationship of women to the church’s patriarchal hierarchy and male priesthood structure. Therefore, I see as redundant republication of work readily accessible in such recent compilations as Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, edited by Maureen Ursenbach and Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, edited by Maxine Hanks.
As an epilogue to the present compilation I have selected a sermon given on national radio by Mormon apostle Stephen L Richards. Richards spoke in the 1930s, but his discussion sounds as though it were delivered today. Richards was administrator of the church’s missionary program, and he seems to have originated the central place the family plays in today’s Mormon society. He decried the abandonment of “old-fashioned American family values” and thought that apartment-living families did constitute “good homes.” Richards’s sermon could have as easily been given during the LDS church’s semi-annual world general conference.
Richards’s address is also interesting for its historical position on the crest between nineteenth-century and twentieth-century Mormon family life. In 1933 the governing First Presidency was compelled to issue an official statement again denouncing polygamy because of fundamentalist Mormon resurgence.
Reading Richards’s sermon in the context of the essays it follows, one may conclude that for all the church’s responses to modern challenges, little has really changed. Indeed, change in inconceivable within an eternal family.
I have endeavored to include essays with a variety of points of [p. xi]view. In one case, that of O’Donovan’s previously unpublished gay history, I felt that the author represented a fairly widely accepted point of view among gay Mormons. A recently published collection, Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-Sex Orientation, provides an opportunity for lesbian and gay Mormons to share experiences. But its moderate ideological stance does not necessarily represent the perspective of many lesbians and gays who share a Mormon “heritage.” Taken as a whole, Multiply and Replenish provides insight into the wide (perhaps wider than many readers will have expected to exist) range of perspectives on the experiences and problems of the Mormon family. Perhaps, within an institution with rigid roles, it would be expected to encounter such diversity as individuals seek to interpret these forms within the context of their own experiences.
Appreciation is extended to the following authors and publications for permission to reproduce, sometimes in a different format, the essays appearing here: to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought for essays by Lester Bush, Eugene England, Klaus J. Hansen, Romel W. Mackelprang, Delmont Oswald, Levi S. Peterson, and Marybeth Raynes and Erin Parsons; to Sunstone magazine for essays by Harold T. Christensen, Lawrence Foster, Jeffrey E. Keller, and Marvin Rytting; and to Signature Books for the essay by Tim B. Heaton. The essay by Rocky O’Donovan is published here for the first time.