Polygamy: What is Family?

image from here

Polygamy & The Church

Recently on the Church’s website, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an article, providing updated information regarding polygamy and the practice of it throughout early Church history.

Polygamy is a radically different understanding of the family than frequently espoused in current Mormon ideology. When polygamy was practiced, a family potentially involved a man, multiple women (who may or may not have had other husbands), and children.


As members of the Church living in this dispensation, we must face the following pressing questions. For example:

  • What is a family?
  • How do we understand the idea of family?
  • Have we unnecessarily restricted our idea of what makes up a family?
  • Is a family limited to a husband and wife with children?
  • What does it mean for our interactions as a community that the definition of “family” has changed throughout Church history?
  • Do we gain something by accepting different ideas of what constitutes a family?

Perhaps the most important question is the following:

  • How should we respond to the former practice of polygamy?

3 Lessons to Learn

Unfortunately, I do not have a satisfactory answer to these questions. However, I can provide some possible lessons to learn from polygamy, regardless of whether I understand or like the practice.

  1. The family and community are central to the Gospel. This concept may take different forms, but the fascination with relationships, in many varied forms, illustrates the importance of building connections.
  1. Polygamy helped establish Mormons as a peculiar people. Since polygamy was outside the norm, this practice firmly established Mormons as peculiar and forced a sense of community.
  1. Polygamy functioned as a sort of Abrahamic sacrifice. This sacrifice allowed people to bind together, recognizing the shared cost to the community.
image from here

Now, these three lessons are not one hundred percent positive. It’s possible (and not necessarily wrong) to see the aspects of polygamy that led to these three positive lessons in a negative light. Again, I do not understand the practice of polygamy.


Without a doubt, the practice of polygamy is difficult to understand, particularly within a modern context. Much of what happened is unclear and unexplained, complicating our conception of what occurred. Despite these problems and my inability to personally understand the necessity of polygamy, I better appreciate the value of family and community, by striving to make sense of the past.

By Conor Hilton

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