How “Wife Sacrifice” Tanked the Lectures on Faith

The Lectures on Faith used to be part of the Doctrines and Covenants, but a strange event in Eureka, Utah, may have helped give it the boot.

On 17 April 1920, James E. Talmage took a train to Eureka to investigate alleged “separatists” that were trying to re-establish the United Order. The next day, he wrote in his journal that the allegations were “greatly exaggerated.” He had found a small group of families in the West Tintic Branch, led by Moses Gudmundsen, who had “tried to establish a system of cooperative farming.”

However, less than two months later, Talmage returned to West Tintic and became “convinced that the evil one is acting upon the minds of certain men and women in this locality.” On 20 February 1921, Talmage and Rudger Clawson took part in a high council proceeding where they heard that:

residents of the West Tintic branch . . . had adopted a system of “wife-sacrifice,” whereby men were required to give up their wives to other men, and this under a diabolical misinterpretation of Scripture as to the law of sacrifice requiring one to give up all he has, even wife and children.

Twelve men from the branch were excommunicated or disfellowshipped, and the West Tintic Branch was dissolved.

Reflecting on the trial, Talmage wrote:

They have made sacrifice their hobby. The eating of meat, the taking of animal life even to provide food, and many other practices common with other people have been forbidden there; while long fasts and particularly the sacrificing of comforts and wholesome desires have been held up as ideals. . . . The present state is one of abominable immorality. Some of the women, notably the wife of Moses Gudmundsen . . . withdrew promptly from the colony rather than countenance in any degree these ungodly practices.

Gudmundsen asserted “that the faithful must sacrifice everything—home, family, all. . . . He built much upon the discussion of sacrifice in the Sixth Lecture [on Faith] of the Doctrine and Covenants.”

The passage in question reads in part:

Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.

In early 1921, while Talmage was in the midst of dealing with the West Tintic Branch, he and a committee that included Elders Joseph Fielding Smith and John A. Widtsoe recommended that the Lectures on Faith be removed from the D&C. It’s very possible that his ongoing experience with the West Tintic Branch was a factor in this removal.

(Condensed from “Sacrificing the Lectures on Faith,”  by James P. Harris, Sunstone 172.)