The Last Mormon Polygamist…
The last known polygamous marriage, if it can legitimately be called that, within the senior Church hierarchy, was between Apostle Richard Roswell Lyman and a woman other than his legal wife. Lyman, whose father and grandfather had both also been polygamous Apostles, was born 23 November 1870 and was married to Amy Cassandra Brown on 9 September 1896 by Joseph F. Smith. He was ordained an apostle on 7 April 1918 at age forty-seven. Seven years later, in 1925, Lyman began a relationship with another woman, who he had recently restored to fellowship following her earlier polygamous marriage to another man. Her name may have been Roberta Flake, according to Ancestral File. Not trusting anyone else to officiate, Lyman and Roberta secretly ‘exchanged vows’ together, as had so often been the practice during the 1800s. Lyman thus considered it to be a valid polygamous marriage. He continued his role as an Apostle for the next eighteen years whilst, according to the law of the land and also by then, absolutely the law of the Church as well, living in a state of adultery.
Between 1925 and 1943, when Apostle Lyman’s adulterous lifestyle first became known, the Prophet was Heber J. Grant. During that period, between Grant’s counselors and the Twelve Apostles, a total of twenty-one men had been in office, all sustained as prophets, seers and revelators. Four of these men would later go on in their turn of ‘Apostolic Succession’ to become the President of the Church: George Albert Smith; David O. McKay; Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee. Church members are taught that all leaders have the Power of Discernment. That is the ability, especially in interviews, to perceive the heart and mind of the individual being interviewed, determining whether they are telling the truth and if their life is in order and in close harmony with the Lord. This applies not only to the Prophet and the apostles but also to every leader down through to Stake Presidents and Bishops. Indeed, it applies to every worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder, within the realm of his own family, as ‘patriarch’ of the home. What then is the excuse for these twenty-one prophets, seers and revelators to have missed, for eighteen years, the consistent adulterous relationship of a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles? God did not have the spirit once ‘whisper’ to any one of his servants that Lyman was ‘living in sin’ in an adulterous relationship during all those years. No doubt he personally felt that he was living the true law of God and the Church.
So much for the power of discernment we were all taught exists at every level in the Church. These men were all sustained as ‘prophets, seers and revelators’ yet for eighteen years they did not have the ability between them to ever ‘see’ anything wrong in Lyman’s life. Finally, the truth was discovered in 1943 but not revealed by any God. Lyman and Roberta were excommunicated. They were then both in their seventies. The Quorum of Twelve put a one line announcement in the newspapers, simply stating that his excommunication was for “violation of the law of chastity”. Richard Lyman was the last apostle of the Mormon Church to have been excommunicated. For many years, some of the Twelve feared that Lyman would take up with one of the fundamentalist groups. However, he did not do so and was rebaptised on 27 October 1954 aged eighty-three. (Quinn 1997:183 & n.73-74). His first wife, Amy, did not die until 5 December 1954, so presumably Roberta died prior to 1954, as after all that time, and also being excommunicated, it is unlikely that he would have stopped cohabiting with her during her lifetime. Lyman died, as a Church member, on 31 December 1963, aged ninety-three.