In this month's July Ensign, a talk by Elder Ballard has been reprinted. In the article, we read his counsel about not being defensive while sharing the gospel. One of the things he touches on is the issue of polygamy -- a topic that gets a lot of people riled up (and makes some want to be defensive). ;)
Our Church members have often allowed others to set the conversational agenda. An example is plural marriage. This ended in the Church as an official practice in 1890. It’s now 2010. Why are we still talking about it? It was a practice. It ended. We moved on. If people ask you about polygamy, just acknowledge that it was once a practice but not now and that people shouldn’t confuse any polygamists with our church. In ordinary conversations, don’t waste time trying to justify the practice of polygamy during Old Testament times or speculating as to why it was practiced for a time in the 19th century.
I'm seeing people get riled up about this comment by Elder Ballard, too.
I've been involved in discussions about the Church on and off for 15 years. Polygamy is an inevitable topic in many circles, such as those passionate about feminism. But discussions always include an inordinate amount of focus on frustrated (sometimes desperate) speculation and personal opinion -- much of which is, imo, potentially very problematic.
In my view, if people try to speculate or explain or justify or apologize for polygamy, there is a huge risk of creating folklore -- false foundations and perspectives on which people could wrongly build their understanding -- which can later bring disappointed and disillusionment when such faulty explanations are shown to be misguided. I really haven't seen anyone who is upset about polygamy be able to come up with something to explain it -- or explain it away -- in a satisfactory manner. I infer from Elder Ballard's counsel that explanations in support of it are also often insufficient or at least unnecessary.
Do I understand wondering about the topic of plural marriage? Sure. I don't think there are many who don't at some level. But to me this counsel from Elder Ballard is very wise. We can show others that there is so much more to Mormonism than polygamy.
Part of why I appreciate his counsel is because there are so many opinions about topics like this. Again, discussions about it usually lead to little or no resolution but a lot of speculation.
In short, we can spend precious time and energy "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). And we can lead ourselves and others away from the beautiful core doctrines of the Church.
Most importantly to me is this: A testimony of the gospel can and should be independent of opinions or unauthorized speculation about the practice of polygamy. We don't even have to like it and definitely don't have to understand it all to fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm not talking about being a blind sheep here, I'm talking about digging roots of faith that run deep because they are focused on the truths that bear the most fruit: the Savior, the Atonement, God's character and the plan of salvation, principles and ordinances of the gospel that bind us to God. Wringing hands over the whys and wheretofores of polygamy does not, in my experience and observation, yield the spiritual fruit that the pure and simple (and at the same time very deep) doctrines do. (Some may suggest that is because because polygamy was wrong, but I submit that it could be because the focus on it is.)
All of this reminds me of Sister Beck's recent counsel (and other leaders' counsel as well) about avoiding distractions. Distractions can come in the form of activities and how we spend our time, but also in the form of ideas and where we let our mind and heart focus. Elder Ballard has reminded us to focus on the core of the gospel. There is power in truth. Speculation is not truth, and at some point is just a waste of energy at best and a potential source of false doctrine and even deception.
And now...remember, remember that it is upon the arock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your bfoundation; ... Hel. 5:12