Valerie Hudson Explains Polygamy, An Exception to the Law

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Since it is too hot here in the Southeast to do much of anything, I was piddling around on the WEB and came across this article in the Deseret News about the recent Fairs conference. Valerie Hudson, a BYU political science professor, presented, according to the article, her interpretation of the history of Mormon scriptural teachings regarding plural marriage. She seems to have a greater handle on the Lords thinking and disposition on polygamy (an exception to the law of monogamy, which is the Lords primary plan of happiness) than even those who introduced it to the LDS Church.
Since I didnt have much else to do and I was curious about this person who also thinks that even if polygamy should be legalized, the Church would still excommunicate those who engaged in polygamous marriage. I looked at the Wikipedia entry about her. I discovered that she is leaving BYU, having accepted a position at Texas A&M where she will hold the George H. W. Bush chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service. I also found that she was one of the founders, and senior editor of Square Two an on-line journal.
It is still being too hot to do anything, so I looked up Square Two. This on-line journals purpose, I read, is to publish scholarly articles on important issues of the world today . . . informed by an LDS perspective. I looked at the most recent issue, feeling a need for exposure to scholarly materials informed by an LDS perspective. I read two articles, both interesting. The first, Like Father, Like Son?, compares Rex Lees Constitutional perspective with that of his son Mike Lee. The authors, Ryan Decker and Jensen Gunther, think the apple, Mike, has fallen a long way from the tree. They also raise questions about how informed Utah voters are.
The second articlebyline Anonymous Bishopasked questions about Mormons doctrine of eternal marriage, and second marriage follow the death of a spouse. Says Anonymous Bishop: Maybe I’m just too hung up on semantics, but if we say we’re married for time and all eternity, shouldn’t we act like we’re married for time and all eternity? Why is fidelity to spouse in this life important, but can be abandoned the moment our spouse dies? Bishop says the young people in his ward ask him questions like that, and he doesnt have good answers. Ah, but the commenters do. They who comment may be informed by LDS thought, but there is something lacking in the scholarship, me thinks.
I havent searched further in Square Two, but it seems to hold promise of some interesting perspectives in ways I had not expected based upon the Deseret News report of the Senior Editors paper at FAIR.

23 thoughts on “Valerie Hudson Explains Polygamy, An Exception to the Law

  1. Unless and until FAIR, MDL and folks like Valerie Hudson show a willingness to tell the truth, their enthusiasm for making up faith-promoting nonsense puts them in the same LDS ghetto as Meridian and a world apart from First Things.

  2. who also thinks that even if polygamy should be legalized, the Church would still excommunicate those who engaged in polygamous marriage.

    Well, that’s probably true, isn’t it?

    Sounds like some very interesting articles! Can you give us the links?

  3. Hudson goes into greater detail in the first comment on this page, where it forms part of a long-winded Square Two discussion of gay marriage I don’t particularly recommend as a whole. Her comment includes the remarkable statement “The test of whether you have a marriage or not is whether it is gender-equal monogamy.” (by “gender-equal” she means an equal partnership of different genders; she opposes same-sex marriage, as do all the participants). I probably will not be the only one to question how descriptively consistent this idea is with Mormonism, but she makes an argument for it, in more detail than was possible in the Deseret News article.

    She is responding to three men (hence the “you men don’t get it” formulation); follow the “original article” link in the left margin if you want to see what they said. Her remark about “who’s having an orgasm” and related content refers to Hertzberg’s section “Gay Marriage, the Natural Law, and Mormonism”, if you want to see where it came from. Hertzberg is all about gay marriage, though; it’s Hudson who brings in gender equality and polygamy.

    Sherlock’s original article is just terrible. He says:

    Of all the groups that opposed gay marriage in California, the Mormon Church has come in for the harshest, openly hate-filled criticism.

    He goes on at some length about the harsh criticism. Later in the article he reminds us not to let our hearts be carried away by sob stories of suffering gays, such as those found in Carol Lynn Pearson’s No More Strangers:

    Painful stories of personal rejection tug at the heartstrings and the behavior of some persons is wrong. The answer, however, is not to alter a principle merely because some are made uncomfortable by it.

    Sherlock’s article is followed by Hertzberg’s reply, which is more interesting, but very long-winded. Then there is Hancock’s reply to Hertzberg, which expresses general disagreement in an essentially friendly manner, except that it starts this way:

    Hertzberg presents himself throughout his response as the cool, deliberate reasoner proposing to counter the great rhetorical effect of Sherlocks appeal to the most visceral emotions, an appeal that excites passions that undermine the intellectual inquiry necessary constructively to clarify the issue at hand.

    Oh, Hertzberg, you hypocritical impostor, you! What’s the deal with this whole FAIR/FARMS/Nibley polemical style? Have these people just lost track of how their writing sounds to people outside their own subculture? Or is there some secular tradition of scholarly backbiting that they are following?

  4. Badger, they’ve probably lost sight of how they sound to outsiders – just like the pro-gay folks online have no idea how utterly emotionally unhinged and shrill they sound to neutral bystanders.

    Polarized debates tend to have that effect. Both sides sound freaking nuts.

  5. So, “both sides” in this case of false equivalence would be FAIR in one corner and “pro-gay folks online” in the other? Talk about sounding nuts. I wish they’d just put Joanna Brooks in charge of the MDL already:

    “We misdirect our energy when we respond defensively to legitimate questions and criticisms of controversial church positions. We cant be part of civil society unless we respond candidly. The price of admission is forthrightness.”

    Works for me. Or is that still too much of a taunt? As far as Valerie Hudson is concerned, yeah, I triple-dog-dare her to tell the truth for a change. I’d love to see someone try to defend that DesNews article linked to above. It’s chock full of lies.

  6. Seth, I’m only puzzled because it seems to me that it’s intended to sound scholarly, and to me, it doesn’t.

    As political debate goes, I think it’s pretty mild.

  7. Chino @ 9:

    Id love to see someone try to defend that DesNews article linked to above. Its chock full of lies.

    And yet, I feel like it represents the extent to which most Mormons grasp the history of polygamy in their culture. They believe Joseph married a bunch of women because God told him to (in the Abraham/Isaac fashion), not because he wanted to.

    Badger @7:

    by gender-equal she means an equal partnership of different genders; she opposes same-sex marriage, as do all the participants

    It’s interesting, though, but she also opposes “traditional” marriage in the sense that she recognizes that traditional marriage is about men owning women and women making babies for the purposes of inheritance. On the one hand, all the Church’s arguments against gay marriage have to do with “the power of creation,” but yet emphasizing the “the power of creation” undermines LDS women like Hudson who are interested in these “gender symmetric” relationships. Ironically, gay couples have less issues with gender role symmetry (for example, housework gets evenly divvied up), which is a good influence on children. I’m curious what Hudson thinks should be the Church’s new argument against gay marriage.

  8. Alan, if most Mormons believe Joseph Smith “married a bunch of women” then I’d expect those same Mormons to correct a newspaper that prints this:

    “Plural marriage, as Mormons refer to it, was practiced by some members of the LDS Church in the late 1800s…”

    How is that line not a lie? There are plenty more. And the point, apparently, is for folks like Valerie Hudson to tell them over and over again until the target audience nods along.

    Edit: Or here’s another one …

    “The new and everlasting covenant, colloquially known (by Mormons) as temple marriage, is an eternal principle of the highest importance” and is based on a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman, Hudson said Thursday during her talk…

    Hahahahahahahahaha. Jokers.

  9. Interestingly Alan, the most recent issue of Time magazine ran a front page cover story showing that statistically even heterosexual marriages divide the house and child work up pretty evenly, and women in the US need to get over the notion that the men aren’t doing their fair share of work around the house.

  10. Now if we can just get Time to write an article telling the world that the LDS Church is and has always been opposed to polygamy, but they just did it for a little while in deference to God, who wanted them to make a sacrifice so it would be counted unto them as righteousness.

  11. Just an aside, if I sound snippy, it’s b/c I used to TA for the Hancock mentioned above and his MO hasn’t changed in twenty years… Here’s a taste of Ralph’s “John Adams Center” (home to Matt Holland, Daniel Peterson, Richard Sherlock, et.al):

    The John Adams Center aims to burst the bubble of dogmatic secularism and enable people of faith and traditional morality to defend their views in the public sphere. — Ralph Hancock, President of The John Adams Center

    And these JAC-Mormons have a favorite author. Guess who?

    To be ignorant and simple nownot to be able to meet the enemies on their own groundwould be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. — C.S. Lewis

    Must.spare.uneducated.brethren.the.harsh.truth. Gasp

  12. parker — Wow, you’re right that that Square Two anonymous bishop article is really interesting, with some intriguing comments!

    The bishop/author makes some points that probably deserve more thought in faithful Mormon circles:

    Nor, if I were to die and she remarry, could I force her to “choose” me over some other righteous husband. If I die and my wife remarries another man, how is that being faithful to me? Why is fidelity to spouse in this life important, but can be abandoned the moment our spouse dies?

    If you’ve been sealed, why is okay to remarry if your spouse dies? I know you can, but why? If I’m supposed to have a testimony that my spouse is alive and waiting for a joyful reunion in the Spirit World, then why would I remarry? What am I saying if I remarry? By allowing (even encouraging) people to remarry after they’ve sealed, we seem no better than other religions who teach that “Dead is dead.” Marriage is over when one of the spouses dies. Therefore, move on with your life. But wait a minute — I thought I’m married for time and all eternity? What sense does it make to say that and then walk out the door and remarry if my wife dies?

    As expected, some of the commenters point out that death (like divorce) ends the “for time” marriage, so you’re free to marry someone else “for time.” But why should you? As explained in the comments:

    However, mortality is very different from the Spirit world and Celestial Kingdom and the death of a spouse leaves a very real hole that is often best filled by a new mortal spouse.

    So true, but I can’t help but feel reminded of the counsel given to gay brothers and sisters. They often feel an emotional hole during mortal life that can only be filled by a spouse that they’re emotionally-bonded with. Excuse me for oversimplifying, but it sure looks like the doctrine is that the need for companionship justifies cheating on your [dead] eternal spouse, but somehow doesn’t justify marrying your [same-gender] true love…

  13. @12 This is my biggest pet-peeve about the modern CoJCoL-dS:

    The Mormon Church has not practiced plural marriage for more than 120 years, but in the midst of inaccurate and confusing news coverage of the trial and conviction of FLDS leader and polygamist Warren Jeffs, he Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research coincidentally devoted an entire session to Hudson’s interpretation of the history of Mormon scriptural teachings regarding plural marriage.

    It’s not enough for the communication organs of the church to continuously publish inaccurate and confusing information — they have to preface it by accusing other people of inaccurate and confusing coverage. Constantly.

    Inasmuch as there’s inaccurate and confusing coverage of Mormonism, Mormons should understand that these sorts of accusations (combined with the church actively spreading misleading half-truths) are part of the problem.

  14. I haven’t read Hudson’s presentation from this year’s FAIR, and won’t until FAIR puts the text online. I’ve read her presentation from last year’s FAIR, her essay on womanism in Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies, her testimony at Mormon Scholars Testify, and a number of her articles at Square Two. My assessment so far?

    She has a knack for making bold, intriguing claims about controversial issues, and she’s capable of very poetic writing. Really, one of the better Mormon writers I’ve read in terms of keeping the prose flowing. But I have serious issues with some of the sources she cites to back up her arguments, and so far, the meat of her arguments crumbles rather quickly upon cross-examination.

    Take her FAIR presentation last year. It was ultimately just, “men have priesthood, women have babies.” It was the most eloquent, poetic version of “men have priesthood, women have babies” that I’ve ever heard, but it was still “men have priesthood, women have babies”—which is a terrible argument, and she didn’t even really make much effort to address the points that make it such a terrible argument.

    As for sources, I’ve seen multiple articles or presentations by her where she’s claimed that Genesis 3:16 can be translated “and he [Adam] will rule with you [Eve]” instead of “and he will rule over you.” This is so egregiously wrong that it’s hard to know where to begin. If there were any possibility that the passage could me taken like that, Christian egalitarians would have been on it for decades, but there isn’t. I know for a fact that Hudson has been notified that the passage cannot be translated as such, yet she persists in spreading the misinformation and telling Mormons that it can.

    When people ask her about the “preside” part of the Family Proclamation, she’s fond of quoting a 2004 General Conference talk wherein L. Tom Perry said, “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . ” The problem with this? He only said this in the spoken version of the talk. That part about co-presidents was removed from the written version of the talk. So yeah, the church affirms that men and women are co-presidents in their households . . . kind of . . . sort of . . . just kidding. If critics cited as authoritative something that had been removed from the published version of a conference talk without noting the matter, apologists would take them to town over it.

    I’ll certainly read her polygamy article when FAIR puts it online, but I can’t say I have great expectations at this point.

  15. chanson, I guess that is why the Church needs a prophet–to distinguish between those hearts which have holes that can be salved in this life, and those that must value the divine sacrifice they make in this life, waiting for the eternities when they will be repaired. When you know the truth you are free.

    Speaking of being free, re Ms. Jack’s assessment of Hudson free and liberal use of “documentation,” I wonder where Hudson gets the idea that Mormon’s believe that marriage in the eternities will be monogamous, according to the DN report.

    Ms. Jack, when you have read her presentation, please return and report.

  16. Hudson’s monogamous god is quite the trickster. First, he forces people to make the “sacrifice” (“sacrifice” for men, sacrifice for women, generally) of entering polygynous marriages. Their reward? He breaks up most of their marriages after they die. Did you love more than one of your wives? Too bad. You don’t get to stay together. Are you a second, third, or later wife who loved your husband? Tough luck. The joke’s on you — only the first wife actually counted. In the end, you were just a concubine after all.

  17. Ms Jack, or anyone else familiar with Hudson, there’s something that crossed my mind in the reading I did yesterday, and I wonder what you think of it. I’m about to say something Hudson herself would probably reject; I’ll come back to that point later. Like Ms Jack, I was impressed by her ability as a writer, and I undoubtedly haven’t seen her best. Ms Jack says she can be very poetic, but her arguments are weak. But is she merely making arguments? She speaks in powerful language, lays out a new doctrine of marriage, gives a re-interpretation of Mormon polygamy doctrine tantamount to a contradiction of it, disposes of inconsistent Bible verses as mistranslations, makes general conference talks do her bidding, and in her own way teaches as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

    It has been remarked that, in comparison with their early predecessors, today’s LDS prophets, seers, and revelators are mere administrators. It has also been said (in effect) that old LDS doctrines never die, they just fade away, and are superseded. But the new superseding understanding has to come from somewhere. If Hudson puts it out there, it may, slowly, be absorbed into the doctrine of the church.

    Presumably it’s likely Hudson would say has no such intention. But could she, or someone like her, be the present-day Mormon functional counterpart to the Biblical prophetesses? If her ideas are one day preached as doctrine in general conference, I’d say it’s the results that count.

    I guess I’m also asking if she seems, to those who know her better, to be too committed and passionate for this to be just an apologetic trial balloon.

    The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert, that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.

    Isaiah answer’d, I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing, and as I was then perswaded, & remain confirm’d; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.

    Then I asked: does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?

    He replied, All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing.

  18. Badger,
    I think that sort of bottom-up “prophetic” change has happened before. Eliza R. Snow putting Mother in Heaven into a hymn and Stephen E. Robinson’s Believing Christ contributing to a shift in Mormon doctrine away from works and toward grace come to mind.

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