Year of Polygamy

Holly’s story

Bio: Holly grew up in the mainstream LDS as a devout member for 45 years. She is a business leader and entrepreneur and philanthropist and the mother of five children and lives in Heber City, Utah. Her experiences below helped motivate her to partner with Holding Out Help.

In so many ways I had the ideal Mormon upbringing. I grew up in a large family of eight kids in the American West, all who were devoted to truth, service and goodness. We found expression of those things through our membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mother was the faithful anchor to our family, especially since our dad wasn’t a member at the time. Though we loved him and adored him as our father, he was a scientist and claimed his petroleum engineering brain would not allow him to believe. My dad is a good man who worked hard and taught us so many good things and we all secretly held out hope that one day he would join the church. We went to church and mourned that our dad’s resistance prevented us from having a forever family.

My brother and I often lamented that we would lose our father, who we loved so dearly, in the next life. It was so painful to live so much of my young life believing that my sweet dad would be replaced by someone with a higher priesthood in the next life. I spent so many years agonizing over this conflict. We tried our best to bring him to the gospel, but he was a scientist who couldn’t reconcile his views with Mormon cosmology.

His work brought our family to Casper, Wyoming. As soon as we settled into our ward and neighborhood, we knew we had moved to the right place. The Bishop in the ward was a beloved and prominent member of the community. This was during the 1970’s at the time when LDS bishops held their callings longer than five years. Our Casper Bishop was an institution in Wyoming. Perhaps this is why we were flattered when he took a special interest in our family.

His intentions were always good. He could see that my mom struggled to bring her large brood of kids to church by herself. She wanted her children to be active and faithful and because my dad wasn’t interested in Mormonism, it was my mom’s job to do it. Though we lived in a stable two-parent household, our family was sometimes treated like we were being raised by a single mother. In some ways, at least when it came to religion, we were.

My mom is a good woman and she wanted to do right by her kids, bringing us arm-in-arm to the Celestial Kingdom. We immediately connected with the Bishop and his family, who also had eight kids around this time. They took us under their wing and it wasn’t long before our friendship extended beyond the walls of church. Both our family and the bishop’s family had a no-sleepover rule when it came to others families, but we spent many nights at their family home. Those were some of my favorite memories! The children in their household were especially devout, trying to abstain from “worldly” media and television, which meant they were also especially creative. So many nights were spent playing games and doing things like we were pioneer children, finding fun the “old fashioned way.”

The Bishop’s devotion to the church wasn’t just in the home, of course. During Fast and Testimony meeting the deacon would pass the mic throughout the congregation and would come to the first pew on the first row. There sat the Bishop’s family, all lined up and reverent, with every single family member ready to “bear their testimony.” We all admired them so much. They were a family headed straight to the Celestial Kingdom!

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere between those early years, a returned missionary had met with the Bishop to discuss some questions he had encountered in the mission field. Our Bishop was the kind of man who loved to do a “deep-dive” and loved to read, so when the missionary gave him a book about the Adam-God theory, he devoured it quickly. In later retellings of this moment, the Bishop would explain that he obtained a testimony of this book just as he had with reading the Book of Mormon. It caused a burning in his bosom and took over his heart.

Because he had never heard of this “theory” before, Bishop decided to research it, utilizing his extensive library of Mormon texts. It was in the Journal of Discourses, writings of prophets from Woodruff back to Joseph Smith, that he found out the truth of this theory. Brigham Young taught and believed that Adam, the first man on earth was also our God. Why had he never heard of this before? That led him on a journey to find out more.

The Bishop and the returned missionary started a study group and invited prominent members of the ward and stake. It was limited to husband and wives, so my mom couldn’t attend. But since she was eager to understand the sacred, the unexplored mysteries of heaven, she was invited to join in private discussions with the Bishop’s family. It wasn’t long before myself and my brother would beg to attend as well. We spent so many hours sitting on couches and carpets, listening to the Bishop and other intellectuals in our neighborhood talk about some of these “deeper” truths of the Gospel. You know, the things that regular members didn’t know or talk about because it required a certain kind of faith, humility and understanding to be able to digest.

From first grade to eight grade, I sat at the feet of this Bishop, learning the real truths of our history and Gospel. I was the Saturday’s Warrior generation, one where we believed Mormonism to be one of the most beautiful, expansive responses to any question the universe ever posed. It was intoxicating to learn these higher truths. I’d happily participate in my Merry Miss class with girls my own age, trying my best to radiate the light of the Gospel, but it was in these meetings and discussions that I was learning sacred, saving ordinances. Many girls in my youth group cared about cute boys more than they cared about getting into the Celestial Kingdom. But I was different, I was special. I was invited into the mysteriousness of Godliness and I was learning my Divine purpose.

As the Bishop became more ardent in his beliefs and as his studies led him to more conflict with the current LDS faith, his role as Bishop would eventually come to an end. It was during a Stake Conference when church apostle Mark E. Petersen attended and publicly denounced and excommunicated our Bishop. Our Stake was scandalized and torn in two. Here was this pillar of our community, reviled by church leaders for teaching the truth! How could this be? Worse still, were rumors that Petersen shamed the Bishop’s family for having so many children, something that we all had been taught was our one true purpose on this earth. It was an insult and proof the church was going astray from the teachings of the prophets.

Our family eventually moved to Colorado for my dad’s work, but the Bishop’s family had become our own and so we always kept in touch with them. Back in Casper, Bishop and his wife were now carrying the scarlet letter, but they persevered. He continued meeting and gathering like-minded Saints and even went so far as to take a plural wife; another woman in the stake. This was done in secret and when she got pregnant and had a child, very few people knew the real secret of the child’s parents.

During my years with this family, the Bishop started receiving revelations. He had several for me, some of which I still have papered in my journals. They were usually encouraging, benign things, telling me how important I was in the Kingdom of God and what a beloved, righteous daughter I was. Eventually Bishop received word from Heavenly Father that I was to be promised to the Bishop’s son as his first plural wife. He was a boy about my age, who I had always nursed a crush for, and though I was confused about where this left me in the social scene among my peers, it was always haunting the back of my brain.

In Colorado, we continued to interact with our mainstream ward, but I can’t begin to articulate the depths of my confusion. I lived a bifurcated life. There was the lower law and the higher law of my mind and heart, and I knew and understood both. The lower law was Merry Miss and youth activities, dating and seminary. The higher law was waiting around the corner.

I was in 9th grade when our family went back to visit Casper, Wyoming. Bishop asked us if we wanted to get “Re-baptized,” like the old Saints used to do. He wanted to make sure we were baptized under the right authority, as he was increasingly concerned the modern LDS church was “out of order” with the teachings of the prophets. Though we knew my own dad would be furious, my mom and I decided to secretly take the plunge. We went to a lake in the area and there I was rebaptized. The secrecy of it confused and troubled me, and yet I had now read many fundamentalist tracts provided by my Bishop and other ward leaders. I had Ogden Kraut’s Segregation of Israel all but memorized. I knew about Blood Atonement, polygamy, the United Order and Adam God. They were the truths that our founding prophets taught. They were the real truths of the gospel.

When I look back at this time of my life, I have empathy for myself. We soaked this in like no one else. My family was constructed of very obedient, earnest kids who wanted to do everything that the Lord commanded, just like Nephi. This diligent desire to be a good daughter of God, compounded my confusion. I knew logically the real history of the church and the doctrine we didn’t talk about, but I also knew that most people around me didn’t know it. It made me lonely and depressed often. Worse still, I knew I was called to live polygamy when I came of age. There were so many nights that the doctrine made me sick and I would cry for hours over the thought of it.

I had an obedient spirit. I wanted to do what HeavenlyFather wanted me to do. I wanted to be exalted but the thought of polygamy made me cry. I was so torn up. When I’d ask the Bishop why I was having this strong reaction to the doctrine, he’d say, “You see, that’s the natural man speaking. It’s a witness to you. One of the challenges and rewards of living God’s Law is that you have to overcome the natural man. The natural man has tendencies to be jealous and petty. This is why polygamy is a Celestial law because it’s allowing us to overcome our natural man.” The Law of Polygamy was the refiner’s fire. It was what separated the people who went to heaven versus those who were exalted as gods.

I understood the concept of course, but I still hated it. It made me feel shame that I couldn’t quite accept it in my heart, though I was trying.

Most kids in High School worry about grades and prom dates. But mine were riddled with years of anxiety and prayers.

“Heavenly Father, I know you want me to do this. I wish I never knew about it but I have been taught and I can’t deny that I know it. Help me to understand what to do. If I reject it, I won’t go to heaven and it is my greatest desire to be with you. Help me to know what to do. If you really truly want me to live polygamy, i will. I just need to have a witness.”

Often I felt like I had to lie about my faith because whenever I tried to talk with people about it, no one knew how to respond. When I attended BYU Jerusalem, I finally asked a professor who I believed was as knowledgable about the things in Heaven as the men in our Casper ward. I asked him about these doctrines and he said, “Holly, I’m going to tell you something simple. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught false doctrine.” This only confused me more because I knew it was the modern church that was out of order, not the other way around.

I’m lucky that my story eventually led me out of the church and out of Mormonism. I did not end up in polygamy, but I did spend decades agonizing over it. When my oldest son was on my mission, and my husband and I (not the Bishop’s son) had our own crisis of faith, it wasn’t because we didn’t know the truth. We knew the history and truths of Mormonism, we just rejected it as good or right. We rejected it as a true story. That helped liberate us. I feel very lucky that it didn’t turn out differently for me. I still have a lot of love for our friendship with this Bishop and his family, but I do mourn the years I was taught to reject my own gut feelings. The natural man, the thing I was taught to ignore, was really the thing trying to keep me safe, all along. I’m glad I listened.


Placeholder Image