Entrenched in Mormon Culture
I am a 7th generation Mormon who grew up in Utah County. I attended church all my life, had regular family scripture study and FHE. My dad was a BYU math professor and my mom a devout scripture scholar. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (with all its required religion courses) and married a 5th generation, returned missionary in the temple.
And I didn’t learn that Joseph Smith personally practiced polygamy until I was in my 20s.
I had heard the story about Emma pushing Eliza down the stairs, causing a miscarriage in her jealous rage. But it was all fabricated nonsense created by anti-Mormons trying to defame the prophet. Like everything else that looked or sounded unsavory.
Everyone knew about the public polygamy in Utah. Every year our elementary class toured the Beehive House, complete with all the wives’ bedrooms and fairly open discussion about managing the logistics. Polygamous ancestors were a dime a dozen (or two).
Whenever the topic of plural marriage came up it was usually swept away with a Gordon-B-Hinkley-like flick of the wrist. “It’s behind us.” We don’t practice it. Move on. Nothing to see here.
When specifics were brought up—I asked questions because the whole thing bothered me so much and I wanted reassurance—the answers I always heard (from seminary teachers, religion teachers, ecclesiastical leaders) was along the lines of, “Joseph Smith restored it, but didn’t practice it.” Joseph’s and Emma’s repeated denials were cited as proof and their “love story” was held up as an example of fidelity and support.
In this context, the explanations made sense and I believed them. I had no reason not to.
Fuzzy Presentations About Polygamy
What are the post-correlation, pre-internet sources that a typical, non-CES employee, non-historian member would come across? I’m sure there are some, but specifically what sources do we expect members to have learned this information?
In my experience, polygamy was addressed on occasion, mostly as circumstance demanded. The references were usually vague. From one of my BYU religion manuals, Church History and the Fullness of Times: Religion 341–43, p.424:
The law of plural marriage was revealed to the Prophet as early as 1831, but he mentioned it only to a few trusted friends. Under strict commandment from God to obey they law, the Prophet began in 1841 to instruct leading priesthood brethren of the Church concerning plural marriage and their responsibility to live the law.
It was revealed to Joseph, he told those closest to him, he instructed some priesthood leaders. As long as one of them isn’t my husband—and as long as it’s just instruction—I can quietly put it back on my proverbial “shelf.”
Skip forward to current Gospel Doctrine lessons. Yes, D&C 132 is included in the curriculum. (I’ve been called to teach GD four times, I actually do know this.) But in the context of the discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, the portions of this section that actually address plural marriage are generally glossed over or skipped entirely and certainly do not include much elucidation of his still unexplained practice.
The material covered in the most recent lesson includes Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4; 132:4–33. The first reference discusses the need for marriage in order to obtain celestial glory. The second talks about eternal marriage while skipping the items listed below (among others) in the reading assignment and main lesson outline:
- Joseph ask about Biblical polygynists.
- Those who receive the law of plural marriage must obey it.
- God commands Abraham to take another wife.
- Abraham free of sin in taking another wife.
- Abraham justified in breaking other explicit commandments because of specific direction.
- Abraham being called righteous for having concubines.
- David, Solomon, and Moses receiving wives and concubines in righteousness (mostly).
- Joseph to “restore all things.”
- Declarations about adultery.
- Joseph giving women to other men “for he shall be made ruler over many.”
- Emma to accept plural marriage and all additional wives.
- Joseph “shall be made ruler over many things.”
- Emma to be faithful to Joseph.
- If Emma will not be faithful to Joseph she will be destroyed.
- Emma will be destroyed if she doesn’t accept “my law.”
- If a man marries a virgin and she gives her consent for her husband to marry again (and again and…), there is no adultery.
- If a woman who is married sleeps with another man, she shall be destroyed.
- If a man with appropriate keys teaches his wife about polygamy and she she’s not on board, she will be destroyed.
- If a wife doesn’t accept polygamy, then the husband can still marry other women righteously.
So what is left in the actual lessons and study of Gospel Doctrine?
- Eternal marriage is essential in Heavenly Father’s plan.
- Youth should prepare now for eternal marriage.
- After a husband and wife are sealed in the temple, they must abide in the covenant to receive the promised blessings.
Additional Teaching Ideas
- Faithful Saints will not be denied the blessings of eternity
- Examples of happy, enduring temple marriages
- Assignment for youth and young single adults
- Avoiding worldly trends
- “Temples and Families” video presentation
The last of the “additional teaching ideas” is “Plural marriage.” It is described thusly (emphasis mine):
The following information is provided to help you if class members have questions about the practice of plural marriage. It should not be the focus of the lesson.
This is followed by:
- Mostly this isn’t good but once happens once in a great while to “raise up seed.”
- A very few early leaders “were challenged by this command” but did it anyway.
- We stopped doing this in 1890 with the Manifesto. (Ahem.)
In this Gospel Doctrine discussion, if you go outside the actual reading assignment, if you get to the “additional ideas,” and if someone in the class asks about it, you might correctly parse this sentence (if, in fact, it is given accurately by the teacher):
The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it.
And there you have the official Gospel Doctrine teaching on and explanation of Joseph’s brand of polygamy.
Why the Misinformation?
I understand the duck and cover from the teachers and leaders I interacted with. Who wants to talk about something so uncomfortable? I sure don’t. I don’t want a class (particularly a youth class!) to ask me what the heck was going on with the polyandry and young women and secret marriages other wives didn’t know about. I have no answers and the church essays don’t either.
But why did so many I encountered give false responses? I don’t know. I trusted them and didn’t question them. These people were, in my estimation, decent and sincere (or I wouldn’t have asked them). Given that multiple “authorities” gave similar responses, the answers seemed credible. Happy to have an answer I could (mostly) deal with, I moved on.
Thinking back, today, here are a few guesses as to why I was mislead so often:
- Some thought what they said was true.
- Some felt protecting the prophet’s character was more important than defending polygamy(or God?).
- Some didn’t want to address polygamy as it challenged their belief system.
- Some didn’t know how to explain it so wanted to change the subject.
Not Just Me
It wasn’t until I moved to Florida in 1991 and my (faithful-till-death) parents sent me Mormon Enigma that I learned that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy himself. I was horrified at what I read. I stopped reading for a few months and later forced myself to finish. I didn’t want to believe it because it made no sense and the implications were awful, but the citations were solid.
I tried to have the most generous response I could muster, “Wow. I must have been absent (or asleep or daydreaming or staring at boys…) every single day this was discussed! What a coincidence!” Everyone knows this stuff and they are fine with it, so I just need to get some context.
Soon after, while introducing a hymn written by Eliza R. Snow in Relief Society (in the Boca Raton Ward in South Florida), I mentioned the obviously well-known fact that Eliza R. Snow was one of the few people on earth to be married to two different prophets. Cool!
I was met with confusion. So I said, “Well, she was married to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.” You know, obviously.
Not only did my statement garner surprise, but also anger. Vocal anger. Not one single person in our very large Relief Society acknowledged any notion that Joseph Smith married multiple women. The claims were horrific and offensive to them. The suggestion was heretical.
Myriad experiences since then have convinced me that, at least until the essays were published, enormous numbers of believing Mormons didn’t believe stories about Joseph’s polygamy and many who did didn’t know the details. As Julie Smith said:
I think the root of the problem is that virtually nothing was said by the church (i.e., through official channels) for decades, which means that the one or two times a teacher went rogue and said something about polygamy, that something—whatever it was—loomed large for the hearer. This is how you get people stunned that others hadn’t heard anything and others stunned that people had heard anything.
After the sometimes contentious discussion following Julie Smith’s post “New Polygamy Essays,” Kaimi Wenger ventured forth on social media to create a completely non-scientific poll, just to get a feel for the climate. Here are the choices given and the votes cast:
- 133 – By about age 20, I was aware that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage.
- 95 – By about age 20, I was not aware that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage.
- 11 – Other, if applicable.
As of this writing, approximately 40% of those participating in that poll did not know. That’s a chunk of change for a topic that supposedly obvious and universal and the result is likely skewed by the makeup the group in which it was posted. As one person noted:
I found out about this stuff about eight years ago. At that time there was a lot of news about Warren Jeffs going on and I pretty much considered him to be a scumbag, when I found out that JS was doing the same things and I was disgusted! It rocked my world! I went to my Brother in Law to ask him about it, he has worked for the Church Historical Department for probably 32+.years now, he said he had never heard of it. I think that he was probably told to say that if anyone asked. I went to my Brother and he outright dismissed it as anti-Mormon stuff. That discovery lead to many many other disturbing and testimony destroying info that I continue to research. It has been quite a ride with lots of sleepless nights and conflict. It’s kind of nice to see that the Church is sort of trying to be “honest with your fellow man”. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Have the essays changed the lack of knowledge among the typical, non-historian, church-going member?
I saw the garment video pop up in my Facebook feed about a thousand times, posted by devout members and not-so-devout. I was seriously pretty sick of seeing that thumbnail of male garments (do they know they can pick a different one?) all spread out on display.
To date, the polygamy essays I’ve seen have been shared almost exclusively by ex-members, disaffected members, agitating members, or at least members willing to rock the boat (heh). The few times I have seen them promoted by what we might call “conservative members” it has been done so along with a raft of rather nonsensical declarations.
Many claimed they have known the info for-freaking-ever, but then seem to have conflated general Utah polygamous practice with Joseph Smith’s particular mix of polyandry/polygyny behind Emma’s back. Others said it doesn’t matter because he was a prophet. End of discussion. Many have tried to rationalize the practices with mental contortions. For example, an old friend of mine posted this:
Interesting that Joseph Smith never had any offspring from any of those marriages, except with Emma, his first wife. That makes not one grain of sense, since most women were very fertile in those days, as evidenced by the norm of family size during that time period … unless those marriages were never consummated, which is completely consistent with the Gospel that Joseph was trying to restore. And a further evidence that he wasn’t in the marriages for sex. Very interesting.
The message here (and elsewhere) is that Joseph was faithful to Emma (and therefore his polygamy was fine and dandy) because (in their claims) he didn’t have sex with anyone else. But how does that notion play out with, say, Brigham Young (who, for the record, also had three or more polyandrous marriages) and his 55 wives and 56 children? Polygamy was good for Joseph because he was (supposedly) sexually faithful and it was good for Brigham because he wasn’t? (And how good it was for the wives is rarely discussed, but I digress…)
Another common response was denial/blame. One person chimed in with this:
I have a friend that’s been serving a mission with LDS tech. He’s told me that many articles he’s written were changed due to that insidious legal division at church headquarters. Let’s look at the article on blacks and the priesthood, where it denies cursings. Not only it had distortions regarding the past, but it was completely anti-doctrinal. To say otherwise is to deny both the bible and the Book of Mormon.
Groups like FAIR are some of the wicked that’s [sic] been trying to change church policies. God does not change according to man.
One of the distortions from this publication I have issue with, is saying that Joseph married other men’s wives. Which is simply not true. Then again it is the legal division of the church that publishes things online.
If I don’t like it, it’s not true. Even if it’s on the church website it’s not true because the legal department is the public face of the church and they are a bunch of heathen liars.
Some members got angry:
I’m glad the church finally came clean about it. It seems like I always knew he practiced it but I could never figure out why the church actively hid it for so long. The thing that really got to me were all the “carefully worded statements.” That really pissed me off. And then I read some wise words about how some people lessen Martin Luther King Jr. And Ghandi because they did things that were not morally upright. That doesn’t negate the good they did, it just shows that they were men, pure and simple. Joseph Smith was a man, pure and simple. I strongly believe he was a fallen prophet because of the polygamy and all the lies. He wasn’t martyred. He got his just reward.
Some created supposedly apologetic posts, got the facts wrong, rewrote, removed comments, and moved on like nothing ever happened.
You Could Have Known
Could I have found out that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and learned at least some of the details about how he did it? Obviously. Even pre-internet (shock!) there were places to get a lot of the information. If I had thought I was given misinformation and/or had a burning (or even moderate) interest in church history by my 20s, I might have. But neither applied.
Yesterday even Meridian published an anonymous (often convoluted, possibly multi-authored) post admitting:
Strictly speaking, the Church has acknowledged many times that Joseph Smith had been sealed to more than one woman. Church Historian Andrew Jenson collected affidavits from women near the end of the 19th century who attested to the fact that they had been married to Joseph Smith. Various Church periodicals and priesthood manuals have published references to Smith’s plural marriages. Available resources do not mean, however, that every person would have found the information. Regardless of the information’s availability, it is still a difficult topic for many Mormons who are only now hearing the information to digest.
Unmoved by such statements, Daniel Peterson declares all this info readily available:
First of all, many of these things [Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Mountain Meadows Massacre, multiple First Vision accounts, Joseph Smith’s using a stone in a hat for translation] have been taught by the Church. The four items above, for example, are, respectively, (1) obviously implicit in Doctrine and Covenants 132 (what on earth is it talking about in the early 1830s, if not plural marriage?), (2) discussed in Seminary and Institute manuals, (3) published in Church magazines and in books printed and distributed by the Church’s wholly-owned publishing company, and (4) mentioned in at least one General Conference talk that I can think of just off the top of my head.
In other words, Joseph’s marrying already married women under threat of destruction should be obvious from section 132. (What else could it possibly mean?) All you “newly-minted apostates” are simply intolerable.
[Double spaces in Peterson’s quote were removed because they make my head explode. I don’t fault Peterson for not being up-to-date on 30-year-old proportional typeface protocol. I’ve publicly lamented the fact that bloggers by and large don’t know their way around computers, and I know and readily admit that many such bloggers of the Bloggernacle are far better writers and grammarians than I am. What I object to, though, is when certain people loudly demand that their own area of expertise should also be everyone else’s. This simply isn’t true. Ahem.]
Then Peterson defers to M* as The Source so Geoff Biddulph (after “Heavenly Father [very Joseph Smith vision-like] hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost)”) can resort to the aforementioned conflation, call anyone troubled by the revelations “naive,” patronize them about for not reading scripture enough to suit him, and then spend a number of paragraphs to explain that it’s not taught because there just isn’t time.
Given the role of the Church, and indeed the history of Jehovah’s prophets in every dispensation of time, it is not at all surprising or alarming to me that the Church has recent history that is difficult to understand. This is where faith comes in. If there is something about Church history you do not understand, you are being challenged to find a faithful way to respond. Many people try to find out more information (this is what I did), but others just file away the difficult information until another time and concentrate on the joy of the Gospel. I know it is hard to believe, but some people prefer to concentrate on the eternal joy of knowing that families can be linked together forever than, say, how many wives Joseph Smith had.
Biddulph doesn’t offer to share the “more information” that cleared up all the issues for him if, indeed, he had any. But I would love to know the specifics of the eternal family revelry we should be marinating in. Is it to be lucky enough to be included as one of the many wives of some esteemed man? Is it to be a queen (among many queens) to one’s husband? Is it to be an invisible being who probably does something or other, but certainly has no connection with her spirit children? It’s hard to indulge in the “eternal joy” of having families sealed without acknowledging the actual practice of sealing and eternal doctrine about women.
You Should Have Known
Should I have found this information? I spent my time in college studying accounting and business and musical theater (and men). After college I had six kids and taught myself to program. I have spent over 20 years doing web tech. Would it have been a better use of my time to distrust the answers I got and look for “further light and knowledge” about Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Which activities should I have given up to do so? I don’t know.
But the fact that many of us went through years of typical church education and activity and never heard anything about it is meaningful. And it shouldn’t be surprising that those who find out such things later without thorough explanation, are a bit taken aback.
As Kaimi Wenger said:
The often condescending response “you should have known” misses the point that a lot of members don’t know. Members who have attended church their whole lives, held callings, read scriptures, gone to seminary and Institute.
I’m one of them. I lived in half a dozen wards growing up, in several different states. I attended four years of seminary, earned scripture mastery awards, read the scriptures and other church material regularly, took several Institute classes, served a mission, served as Elders Quorum President. And I didn’t realize that Joseph Smith was a polygamist.
The idea that one should be able to discern this from the elliptical and bizarre language of D&C 132 is silly. D&C 132 is taught, like most scripture in the church, through use of a few cherry-picked verses as prooftexts of current practice. That is, it’s taught as, “here, read a few lines, that means families-are-forever, the end.”
Even people who read the whole thing don’t necessarily pick up the details about Joseph Smith. It’s a weird section and not enlightening.
What adds insult to injury is the amount of what we label “education” that we give to people. Church members think that they know the important things. In fact, much of the time education is simply catechism, where a teacher asks a question and the class recites pre-approved answers.
Amen, Brother Wenger.
[For the curious: On January 7 I scheduled this post to auto-publish on January 8, since there was already a new post on the 7th. In the hours between the scheduling and the publishing, Dave Evans published a fabulous guest post and this post bumped it off the top spot only a few hours later. I pulled this post to give Dave the top spot for a longer period before reposting. Sorry if it caused inconvenience. (And if you haven’t read Dave’s post, check out Laughing Through General Conference. You’ll be glad you did.)]
From across the Atlantic I am astonished at the level of ignorance – or unawareness – in ‘Deseret’ about Joseph’s polygamy. As a convert here in the Netherlands I always been aware of it, As far as I know most members are aware of it – though not of the polyandry – and it seems not to bother them overly. But I have to inquire more, especially among 2nd generation members. In my own GD class I mention it routinely and do not get much reaction. But then, my class is also used to having lessons on the Documentary Hypothesis and consider that inspiring. Maybe in the International Church we are routinely more exposed to critical literature than in Deseret, especially during the conversion process, by well-meaning family members.
I remember quoting the “I do not know that we teach it’ remark by Hinckley in USA TV, whenI was in Provo, and my host had never heard of it; he was a CES teacher.
This said, we do have a lot of inactives (80% of the membership roster), and one reason that is sometimes given is exactly this polygamy question, even if it is not the dominant one.
I wonder whether someone from another non-Deseret locale can shed some light as well.
Walter van Beek
I think D&C 131 will continue to be taught as “here, read a few lines, that means families-are-forever, the end” for years to come. Polygamy is an unsolvable problem. Whether you believe it was an accident, a tragedy, or hopelessly “advanced” doctrine, it is never going to return to modern correlated doctrine, either as a point of discussion, or as a commonly accepted doctrine of the next life. The only thing the church can realistically do is continue to ignore it. The recent essays on lds.org were not an attempt to open up discussion. They were meant to officially end discussion so we can bury it once and for all. It was not in the Ensign, it was not in General Conference and it never will be. And the new CES curriculum, an entire year focused on “Eternal Families” will ensure that D&C will be even more proof texted to keep us focused on current correlated doctrine.
Our truth claims about Joseph Smith are an important part of modern Mormonism. But even more important than Joseph Smith is following the living prophet, and that effectively means following contemporary correlation. So the story of Joseph Smith will always be subservient to contemporary correlation.
Additionally, not enough people will leave the church over this issue for it to become something the church has to tackle more honestly. Most people won’t care too much, even if they have to revise their paradigms a bit. Even most people who are bothered by it will stay in church and learn to ignore it.
Someone mentioned this quote on W&T the other day which I think is apt:
“The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown” – Carl Jung
I learned about JS’ polygamy in my late twenties, after I had expended much energy over the years in now-embarrassing “defenses of the prophet”. I will never put myself in that position again. I disagree with Dan Peterson’s perception of the accessibility of the information, but I wholeheartedly agree with his use of double spaces at the beginning of sentences. In fact, I’m using them in this comment. If you make me a Ron Poelman-like martyr to free expression by removing my double spaces after I post this comment, then d*mn you.
“Yesterday even Meridian published an anonymous (often convoluted, possibly multi-authored) post admitting:
Strictly speaking, the Church has acknowledged many times that Joseph Smith had been sealed to more than woman.”
Where have I been all my life? More than woman! No wonder it was anonymous! The possibilities are endless. This is Mormonism but not as we know it. Perhaps if we are sealed to our favourite earthly possessions they will rise with us in the resurrection?
“What will I seal you to today Mr. wm?”
“Oh, just my wife, and these jeans I’m really attached too. They are getting a bit worn but I’m hoping this sealing will renew them in the resurrection and make them mine, in their perfect condition, through all eternity”.
Also, Dan E. welcome to martyrhood.
Same experience in Belgium, Walter (1). After I met the missionaries (age 17), my well-meaning father provided me with all the anti-Mormon literature he could find in the library. So, as the elders gave me the first discussions, I was also reading about JS’s polygamy, Destroying Angels, Mountain Meadows Massacre… My testimony came from reading the Book of Mormon and from prayer. Perhaps our critical historical and textual education in high school helped to relativize history and assess things in perspective. Perhaps we were able to block the disturbing items out of our mind.
Not so with all converts: those who idealized Mormon history and denied darker pages, or those who grew up in a strict Mormon family where all shadows were taboo, are often in for some crisis at a later stage in life. The crisis may be intense and, IMO, the church bears some responsibility here. The essays are now trying to mitigate the future, but it remains to be seen what the overall effect will be.
Since the LDS.org essays came out, I have observed that there does exist a general difference between Mormons that grew up in Utah and those that grew up elsewhere on this issue. It is amazing that we can have such different experiences!
I grew up in the Bible Belt. A lot of this stuff, though certainly not every detail, was just kind of out there. Like many others, I don’t ever remember not knowing about most of it. My friends from other faiths were very eager to let me in on the details and my parents, themselves converts who were into apologetics, made no special effort either to hide what they knew about church history. Of course it wasn’t our nightly topic of discussion either. “So who wants to learn about Helen Mar Kimball tonight?”
So when some members say “how could you not know?” I think we are being genuine, but perhaps not sympathetic enough to other’s experiences. It will be interesting to see if, because of the essays, this ceases to be an issue for future generations of members.
Preach it, Allison! I knew about Joseph Smith’s polygamy for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know about all the sordid details that I’ve learned over the past few years, but I knew Emma was one of many wives. And I think a lot of church members knew. Yet I find the disdain shown by some folks towards those who didn’t know about his polygamy to be pretty unfair.
Just a few years ago, the church printed a 500+ page book about Joseph Smith and everyone in the church taught and learned out of it for two years. Yes, the focus of that book is his teachings, but it also contains a 25 page bio at the beginning. And there’s not a mention of Joseph marrying multiple wives. The book contains this disclaimer about plural marriage:
“This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. Over the next several decades, under the direction of the Church Presidents who succeeded Joseph Smith, a significant number of Church members entered into plural marriages. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which discontinued plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.”
And in the “Life and Ministry of Joseph Smith” section it also says this:
“As commanded by God, he also taught the doctrine of plural marriage.”
And that’s it. Just based on the above, I don’t know how the Daniel Petersons of the world can be utterly shocked that an average church member didn’t know about Joseph’s polygamy. This is one of the most official publications one can get about Joseph Smith and it is worded in such a way that someone could read it and reasonably assume that he taught the principle but never participated. In fact, if you only read this book about Joseph, it would be odd if you assumed he did participate.
I’m not asking anyone to call the church out for lying, but can we at least agree that the church has been pretty cagey about the whole thing for many years and acknowledge that an active member could go a long time without knowing about Joseph’s polygamy?
One way I think about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy is that it was and, to a large extent ,still is a taboo. The taboo was not strictly enforced, but was hinted at in hundreds of subtle ways. Lesson manuals used passive language about plural marriage being instituted by early church leaders, rather than directly saying that Joseph married additional wives. Lesson manuals instructed teachers to not discuss plural marriage. When Joseph’s plural marriage was discussed in magazines or lesson manuals, it was usually glossed over without naming specific women or the circumstances of his sealings. One of the better-known plural marriage stories involved Vilate Kimball, whom Joseph ended up not marrying after she and Heber passed the Abrahamic test. His marriage to Emma was presented as if she was his only wife. Art work and movies avoided the topic.
If someone in the know was asked a direct question in an appropriately reverant atmosphere, you might get an acknowledgement, but probably not many details. Sure some people were able to read between the lines of D&C 132, or stumbled across the right books or articles, or had the right teacher or parent and figured out that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. But getting past that point to the details of his marriages would also be difficult.
The gospel topic essays on polygamy provide much more detail, but still reinforce the taboo nature of the topic. The essay on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo isn’t in the list of alphabetical topics but can only be accessed through a link in the more general plural marriage article. The essays are full of warnings about how the documentary evidence is limited, we don’t know everything, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions (you don’t see such cautions in articles on, for instance, the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood). The Deseret News refused to run ads for books on polygamy that the essays themselves referenced.
So I think it’s unfair to blame people for not knowing about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. It’s a taboo topic.
I said this in the BCC thread concerning JS polygamy a while back. I’m incredulous that people didn’t know about it. I’m a 5th generation mormon, seminary and BYU grad, etc, etc. I knew that JS practiced polygamy from my early teens. I didn’t have to search it out, I didn’t have to dive into musty archives, it was just in the air. I think everyone I associated with knew it as well. No one I knew had the bifurcated understanding you explain, that BY and pioneer Utah practiced polygamy but JS didn’t. Polygamy as a practice of the early church, starting with JS, was just a given.
This is not a denial of anything you wrote above. I think, instead, it is an illustration of how the church slowly changes over time. I think I’m close to 20 years older than you. When I was growing up the contentious relationship we had with the RLDS church was still fresh in the collective church mind. A big part of that contention was the RLDS claim that only the BY led Utah church had ever practiced polygamy, they completely disowned the practice. The Utah LDS church was, in my experience, very open and vocal about proving that contention wrong by acknowledging and accepting JS polygamy. But as the RLDS church distanced itself from us that source of contention evaporated and the open topic of JS polygamy fell by the wayside, it wasn’t needed anymore as an anti RLDS argument and the whole topic, with a collective sight of relief, fell off the radar for later generations, until Compton and then the internet brought it back to life.
“What are the post-correlation, pre-internet sources that a typical, non-CES employee, non-historian member would come across?”
The following were in print and widely available when you were growing up, and they stated that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy:
_Gospel Doctrine_ by Joseph F. Smith
_The Restored Church_ by William E. Berrett
_Mormon Doctrine_ by Bruce R. McConkie
_Answers to Gospel Questions_ by Joseph Fielding Smith
_Evidences and Reconciliations_ by John A. Widtsoe
_1981 CES Institute Student Manual_
_The Ensign_ (including, e.g., Dec 78, Jun 79, Sep 79 issues)
These sorts of materials were in the home in which I grew up. Both sets of my grandparents (poor and undereducated) had these sorts of materials in their home.
I need to add, that I think it’s interesting that later LDS generations essentially adopted the RLDS argument. We read about polygamy, we’re generally horrified. One way to assuage that horror is to blame it on Brigham and pretend that Joseph was unsullied by the practice, it makes us feel better. And lacking any overt evidence, lessons, manuals, instruction to the contrary many members took that approach. I think the church committed a sin of omission and was guilty of letting that illusion grow by not actively countering it.
Shhh, N.W. Clerk, she doesn’t want to know that the information was available to anyone who bothered to spend time reading those dusty old books, she wants people to reinforce her rage that she wasn’t spoon fed the information by the Church, and she wants people to validate her embarrassment that she wasn’t one of the people who knew about this.
(At least that’s what I’m getting out of the post, but I didn’t read it carefully since it is so very long.)
(Just like those dusty old books.)
I don’t know when I learned about JS and his practice of polygamy, but I remember it always pretty much being there “in the air” as some others have said. However, I am generally sympathetic to those who didn’t know, which I recently discovered included my sisters. One has generally gone inactive and the other is still in semi-denial. I don’t begrudge them either of their responses. Heck, I’m still questioning my own response, so who am I to judge theirs?
N.W. Clerk — I grew up in a very active, normal Mormon household. I didn’t have a single one of those publications in my household. Again, I knew about Joseph’s polygamy, so this isn’t for me–but can’t we stop looking down at those who didn’t know? As an aside, do any of the publications you cite mention Fanny Alger? Because that’s the most problematic to me and the one that I hope someday we can all acknowledge was probably just an affair.
Watching — Again, why the continued arrogance on this issue? “she wasn’t spoon fed the information…” I haven’t heard any call for spoon feeding from Allison or others. You can read my previous comment for the most egregious example to me, but to sum it up, where the church has had obvious opportunities to touch on the issue (at the very least!), the choice has been made to hide it.
In the spirit of Pres. Uchtdorf’s recent “Lord, is it I?” sermon:
Let’s think back to those halcyon days when we believed Joseph Smith to be a monogamist. How many of us really wanted to believe otherwise? When we pondered the fact that Joseph Smith at least taught the practice–did we ever think to ask ourselves why Joseph would insist that others practice a difficult doctrine that he himself wouldn’t practice, or consider what other ideas Smith taught but refused to apply to his own life?
Rather than rail at the Church for not having been more proactive about disabusing us of our own dearly-held deceptions, perhaps we can take this as a reminder that a) true spiritual enlightenment comes through primarily through searching, pondering, and prayer; b) the Church curriculum will never be what we want it to be; and c) acknowledge that while we might not like “catechism”–within certain parameters, it does seem to work (see http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/).
I should probably amend my comments to Watching to say “where the church *in recent years* has had obvious opportunities.” Considering how many folks were either born into or converted to the church in the past 30 years though, the recent choices of the church are of paramount relevance in my opinion.
A very good post.
Let me add: sometimes these discussions get muddled because when we say “Joseph Smith’s polygamy,” some people mean “that Joseph Smith was married to more than one woman” while others mean “fourteen-year-olds, polyandry, public denials, Emma not knowing, angels with drawn swords, etc., etc.” The short hand use of the phrase can allow people to talk past each other and can increase confusion. I’m going to suggest that very, very few people (esp. when we define “people” as “all church members, including newish converts and non-English speakers” instead of “the small handful who read and comment on blogs”) knew all of the gory details until rather recently.
Quite a mouthful, Alison. Until a couple of years ago, I would have thought that 99% of LDS knew about Joseph’s polygamy. The wide discussion on the topic recently has convinced me otherwise: probably half of active LDS are largely clueless about Joseph’s secret practice of polygamy (and the other half are largely uninformed about the details). Correlation has done its job too well.
But the obvious if unstated conclusion to this whole episode is that Correlation, by doing its job too well, has created more problems than it solved. Yes, it’s generally nice to avoid discussions that cast Joseph Smith (or any other LDS leader) in a bad light, but if you take that to an extreme you foster ignorance in the general membership, you lay the groundwork for upset and offended members when they later learn the facts of history from some non-correlated source, and you destroy your own credibility (both of Correlation and of the LDS leaders who direct Correlation’s work).
The essays are a bold move in the right direction and, in the long run, will help to restore some of that lost credibility, but let’s be honest about what the essays represent: a move toward de-Correlation. An admission that Correlation has become the problem, not the solution. Forty years ago, LDS leaders should have listened to LDS historians instead of their own bureaucrats. Instead, they painted historians as the bad guys and went full steam ahead with a carefully filtered curriculum and, along with that, actively discouraged members from reading outside approved distribution channels (translated: if it’s not at Deseret Book, don’t buy it). We are still paying the price for those unfortunate decisions.
Great point, Julie. I’m beating a one-note drum here, but one of my biggest frustrations with all of this is that the church has been an active and intentional contributor (in my opinion) to people’s ignorance of even your first definition of Joseph Smith’s polygamy.
Walter van Beek, that is the question, isn’t it? But I think the routine cleansing of our history is fairly undeniable.
As I noted, however, when I learned about it from Enigma I lived in Boca Raton, Florida, and no one there knew it either. As for Kaimi’s poll, it showed 40% did not know by age 20 and that group isn’t remotely a “Wasatch” group, nor is it mostly a group growing up pre-internet.
There are many things about your comment, Nate, that would make great discussions on their own. I tend to agree that it’s unsolvable. At least I can’t think of a solution that won’t hurt somewhere.
As for it never returning to correlated doctrine, it’s already there. We have a huge problem in that we currently practice it with the sealing policy. (That is muddied by the inexplicable policy of sealing dead women (only) to all their previous spouses.)
I agree with intent, but do you think this was remotely achieved? To me it seemed simply to finally acknowledge all the most problematic stuff that so many were (and are!) still claiming is anti-Mormon, but leaving us without a response.
In other words, people will still grow up without being taught the truth from the official source and, likely, be surprised they didn’t hear it earlier?
That’s an interesting take. I probably disagree. Yes, I know the statements about living prophets over dead prophets, but I’ve never heard that claim made with respect to Joseph Smith. After all, if he wasn’t a prophet, none of them are. Where do we go from there?
To the coulda/shoulda folks:
I’m fine being labeled (directly or implicitly) lazy, nonintellectual, and not sufficiently curious. I’m certainly guilty of those at times. I’m sure there are others that have been guilty of those as well. But where does that leave us? Don’t we still have an unacceptably large number of people who are or were unaware of things that are important for a mature understanding of Mormonism?
Isn’t there still a problem that needs to be fixed? I’m not saying there is necessarily a problem with the church, it’s leaders, or it’s doctrine. Maybe it’s a cultural problem, a policy problem, or a problem with the members. But isn’t there is a problem somewhere? Doesn’t it need to be fixed?
Dan E., you tempt me! I would never edit your comment, but I might remove it and force you to come back in and re-enter it in the appropriate manner! ;) (For any who didn’t read his post, I was quoting Peterson and changing the context.)
[As an aside, did anyone else really like the idea of home church in many respects????]
wm, hah, thanks for catching the typo. I just copied and pasted, so I don’t know if that was originally their error or it happened in the edit, but it’s fixed in both now. That does add all sorts of possibilities. For me and hot cocoa in particular.
Wilfried, absolutely things were sanitized where I grew up, but my own parents were open to talk about anything we brought up (in spite of being a very mainstream (and conservative) Mormon family — and they did, after all, give me the book as well as a subscription to Exponent II). As a rebellious teenager, I wanted non-parental sources and, as I said, when I did hear nefarious sounding things, I was told they were anti-Mormon. I accepted that response so never felt compelled to disprove them. Dating, singing, and dancing were far more interesting to me anyway, for better or worse.
Today my kids often get weird info from youth classes, seminary, etc. We’ve made it a practice to talk about what they learned and, sometimes, to debunk weird stuff or answer questions that were brushed off (a regular occurrence), but I don’t pretend to believe that doing so could ever account for every bit of misinformation they will hear and never ask about. Mostly they know no question or topic is offensive or off-limits and we talk a lot. Hopefully that will at least help.
I grew up in Utah during the 80’s, 5th generation Mormon with polygamous ancestors. I don’t remember NOT knowing Joseph was a polygamist. I don’t really remember it being a big deal either way. It wasn’t talked about a great deal but I never got the sense that it was a forbidden topic.
It is a very interesting phenomenon that sincere people on both sides were never aware or alternatively fully aware of the history. It’s not as simple as “the church” was trying to suppress the information. It must speak in some way to the way families transmit information to children, or to the way people receive subtleties/implications or just what they either seek out or ignore based on personal interest.
I honestly don’t know if my children are fully aware, because in my home, it is neither emphasized nor concealed.
I don’t have those books lying around. I googled and found Mormon Doctrine online. Though it acknowledges that Joseph practiced polygamy, it doesn’t say a word about polyandry, angels with swords, underage goals, secrets kept from Emma, and so on. (Julie’s comment, #17, is relevant here.) Here’s all Mormon Doctrine says about Joseph’s practice of polygamy:
“In the early days of this dispensation, as part of the promised restitution of all things, the Lord revealed the principle of plural marriage to the Prophet. Later the prophet and leading brethren were commanded to enter into the practice, which they did in all virtue and purity of heart despite the consequent animosity and prejudices of worldly people.”
Outstanding post, Alison. A thousand amens.
Adding to Joel’s point in #8 — “His marriage to Emma was presented as if she was his only wife.” — I wrote a post a couple of months ago in which I looked at how often Church materials do precisely this: they present Emma as Joseph’s only wife. It’s not just that his polygamy was omitted. When Emma was presented as Joseph’s only wife, Joseph’s polygamy was being actively hidden. And all that hiding was sure trumpeted a lot more loudly than oblique references in the footnotes of manuals that kind of talk around the issue rather than saying anything right out.
Here’s my post:
I was born in 1989. My parents never made much of a distinction between teaching me things that were taught in the then-and-now-canonized scriptures and extra-canonical teachings. Polygamy didn’t actually occupy a single family discussion that I can remember. I remember only fleeting, furtive comments here and there during Church meetings. Perhaps the embarrassment I felt for Plural Marriage that carried with me into the first part of my mission was caught rather than taught, but it was real all the same and I dreaded being asked questions concerning it because I knew basically nothing other than (1) it’s somewhere in the scriptures (2) we don’t do it any more (3) it feels evil but somehow still came from God. I can’t remember if I learned about Joseph Smith practicing polygamy first on my mission or afterwards, but I distinctly remember (after coming to terms with it on some level) thinking it was very strange for members to accept that Brigham Young and other leaders in the Church practiced it but that Joseph Smith, the one to whom it was revealed, didn’t. As if that somehow raised Joseph Smith higher in their estimation; that he would ignore a practice and doctrine he taught to others as coming from God.
The fact is that since I have become aware of and understood more about polygamy, especially Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I’ve also become more aware of how others react when we approach it as a subject in a conversation. Most often, the volume of the conversation drops, as if we are talking about something either sacred or secret or both.
I think the correlation of Church history and the associated materials has done many members of the Church a great disservice. Personally, I think I should be permitted to decide what will make and break my own testimony. I ask more questions than most about historical and doctrinal matters and these questions have led me to find many answers. I unfortunately have gotten out of the habit of asking Church leaders questions because I find such a lack of familiarity with basic historical data that any answers they could provide are nominal (at best) in value.
And while much care must be taken when dealing with sources outside of Church produced materials, I have grown to realize that just as much care must be taken when dealing with Church produced materials. For me, the truth needs no disguising and, for all the claims made by members of the Church that the Church has never hid, obscured, or falsified anything, I find mistakes made by Church members and *gasp* leaders as well. I find misquoted words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. in many materials produced by the Church. Not just pre-electronic correction materials, but modern materials also. I’m very grateful the Church is putting forth so much effort to make so many documents available online for anyone to access because it tells me that the Church is less interested in hiding truth as it is promulgating more fully those truths deemed by it to be of most worth. But I have a feeling that if we were to ask Joseph Smith what the most important teachings he received from God were, his answers might not be the Articles of Faith verbatim.
The truth never consists of one statement, document, or system of teaching. Even Jesus used multiple methods of teaching. And those teachings were never designed to be comprehensive discourses on truth. Layers of meaning can be found in them, to be sure, but not everyone finds them. As long as we have no authoritative definition on whose eyes can see and whose ears can hear, there are many different takes on doctrine, especially polygamy. If polygamy was a principle the Church still espouses as being both “principle and doctrine” (D&C 132:1) which originated from the Lord, then to me it demands to be studied more as an enobling and dignified doctrine (which of necessity includes more understanding through official Church channels) and less relegated to the footnotes of lessons and old Ensign articles. The recent articles up on lds.org’s Topics page regarding plural marriage should be studied by every Latter-day Saint, in my opinion. I think it should be presented to members openly and discussed frankly so that it can become either a stepping stone or stumbling block as all truth is destined to be.
Just a closing note, the quotation of Brother Wenger saying “What adds insult to injury is the amount of what we label “education” that we give to people. Church members think that they know the important things. In fact, much of the time education is simply catechism, where a teacher asks a question and the class recites pre-approved answers” (my apologies for being unable to add the bolded typeface as in the original quotation) is incredibly spot on. The “pre-approved answers” are nauseatingly alive and well in the discourse of my congregation.
Question: did those people who knew about Joseph Smith’s polygamy also know the details about marrying women who were already married, marrying girls decades his junior, lying to Emma about his relationships, and persuading women to marry him with the promise of salvation for them and their families?
And if you were somehow privy to these details (no doubt a minuscule minority of members), why didn’t you fill in the rest of us???
ABM, thanks for the input. I heard some of it, too (per the OP), but there was a preponderance of “that’s anti-Mormon” as a response to anything that sullied the church’s and/or JS’s reputation. I also think it will be interesting to see how these essays change things.
A few years ago I looked through the then-published prophet manuals. To the best of my recollection then and since, the only one that plainly describes polygamy is Brigham Young’s bio. The others were written in a way to make subsequent marriages look consecutive. As you said, “pretty cagey.” And given Joseph’s extensive practice, the omission is appalling.
At the time I looked into this, I contacted the church and asked why that was done. My disgust wasn’t so much the lack of transparency about polygamy, but the fact that in order to avoid the topic, they erased the women who were faithful and devoted enough to do something most thought horrific (at least at some point).
Joel, spot on. I regularly encounter active members, including leaders, who have not heard of the essays.
Susan Easton Black regularly taught about everything that you mention as far back as the early 1990s, perhaps earlier. She had very popular religion classes at BYU and had hundreds of students in her classes every semester. Why did Professor Black or her hundreds of students not say anything to you? I cannot say. I do not know.
When I brought up polygamy in a lesson as an example of something that has changed in the church the RS president came up to me after my lesson and said “as soon as you said the word ‘polygamy’ the spirit left the room.”
Happened in the middle of the wasatch front, last five years.
And what do you think that means, EmJen?
Why would one assume that Joseph taught something but never practiced it himself? That seems a bit hypocritical.
“…And I didn’t realize that Joseph Smith was a polygamist…. because if I HAD known, I would have …..” What? What would you or anyone else had done or believed had you known about Joseph’s polygamy? I am sure you will say “that’s not the point. It’s the perception of cover up that’s important.” It really is the point, though, isn’t it? Your basic testimony of Joseph and the restoration of the gospel depends on whether Joseph practiced plural marriage. Because if he did, he obviously wasn’t a prophet. And if he didn’t? Well, then, he was a prophet, preached spiritual families for eternity, and that doggone Brigham Young was the one who hijacked the whole concept and turned it into something ugly and profane, and you’re still trying to come to grips with whether you can accept Brigham as a prophet, Adam – God theory and all.
KLC, I heard some of the RLDS/LDS controversy (I’m 50), but it was generally limited (usually in Sunday School and seminary) to the idea that they followed Joseph (and his descendants) because of the bloodline claim and that Brigham went astray both in taking the reins and in polygamy. It wasn’t a common conversation, however.
N. W. Clerk, yes there are sources as I’ve acknowledged. The point has never been that it’s not written anywhere except in a vault in the mountain. Rather that one could easily (as evidenced by my experience, that of many wards in various states, Kaimi’s poll, etc.) participate in all the typical LDS experiences and not come across it, due to the “cagey” dissemination of information.
For example, Mormon Doctrine appears in your list. The same Mormon Doctrine that asserts (in a volume I still own):
Given that the volume was proved to be extremely problematic by the time I was 14, this wouldn’t have been my source for true light and knowledge.
I didn’t read the Ensign when I was 14, nor was I in institute in high school. From your list I recognize most of the other volumes and we had most of them, perhaps all (when I cleaned out my parent’s house to sell when Dad moved in with us, he had thousands of books), but like I said, I didn’t spend my free time pouring over church doctrinal essays. I attended the regular, expected meetings through college (skipping Relief Society when I was a freshman/sophomore due to lack of males), completed my assignments, etc. When I read outside of assigned school reading the topics would have been business, technology, biography, and the occasional Austen, Dickens, or the like.
Very important post. We need to show love and sympathy for all those who were not lucky enough to have the sources that obliquely referred to Joseph Smith’s personal practice of polygamy to hand and an interest to do independent research. And to all those who believed what their Church leaders and seminary teachers were telling them: that “rumors” of Joseph Smith secretly marrying other women, including teenagers and other men’s wives, without Emma’s knowledge, were just anti-Mormon lies.
The last thing we need to do is criticize them, blame them for being lazy and not doing their own self-directed outside research in non-Correlated sources (against Church counsel not to consult non-Correlated sources), or mock them for being upset upon finding out about these facts from the LDS.org essays (as is being done by a number of commenters above). At least if we value their membership and want them to continue in their fellowship with us in the Church. And we should want that — we need them, every one of them; indeed, Joseph Smith taught that we can’t be saved without them.
Such an excellent comment by Dave (#18). That really sums things up nicely. Very well put. I fully agree.
A quick question for AMS arising from the post. You wrote, “When specifics were brought up—I asked questions because the whole thing bothered me so much and I wanted reassurance—the answers I always heard (from seminary teachers, religion teachers, ecclesiastical leaders) was along the lines of, ‘Joseph Smith restored it, but didn’t practice it.'” I observed this type of reaction from fellow missionaries in the field who would deny Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy (aside from revealing D&C 132) or even teach investigators that JS didn’t practice it — that was started by BY.
What did it bring you, personally, to believe that JS didn’t practice it but BY did? How was it better to spare JS from actually doing it in the face of the knowledge that BY was? They were both Presidents of the Church whom we sustain as the Prophet. So how did that make any difference whether one prophet didn’t do it though his successor did?
IDIAT, I’ll bite.
If I had known (earlier) that Joseph practiced polygamy, and especially If I had known of the dishonesty and other misdeeds that were part of his practice, I would have been a less strident defender of the man, I would have dropped all attempts to defend the practice or teach that it will return (and thus misled others, particularly as a missionary), and I would have gained a deeper testimony of God’s ability to bring about his purposes through very very flawed people. As a consequence of these realizations, I likely would have also had much more patience with myself and others who are just as flawed as Joseph. I would have spent less time stressing over the myriads of opinions offered by our leaders. I would have more quickly dropped the belief that our leaders cannot lead us astray. And I would have focused more on the true heart of the gospel.
In short, if I had known the real facts about Joseph’s polygamy, I would have been a better disciple of Christ. The Savior instructed us to judge all teachings by the fruits they bear. Those who hide the fruit of Joseph’s polygamy hamper others’ ability to judge righteous judgment. To use a phrase popular with the church newsroom, they make it much harder for us to “get is right.”
Edit – “get it right.”
Sock puppet “Watching for the DFPs”:
I’m flattered that you follow me so closely, but I have high hopes that you have a full life outside of doing so and this is just a hobby. If you’d care to make an actual contribution to the discussion, I welcome it. (See how über gracious I am?) But if you just want to (1) snark and/or (2) compliment your other pseudonyms on their brilliance I suspect I will just delete the comments.
I have no idea what you mean, Alison. What do you mean by “sock puppet”? What do you mean by follow you so closely? I don’t read T&S much anymore, used to read it more back in the day, and I actually don’t read your posts very often and don’t know much about you. Also, what do you mean by “compliment my other pseudonyms?” I’m really at a loss as to what you mean, and I’m afraid you’re entirely misreading my comments.
I should have looked up the definition of sock puppet before I replied. I have not used any pseudonym in this discussion except “Watching for the DFPs.” (“DFP” is a reference to the Dissident Free Presbyterians, an extended joke by Scottish novelist Alexander McCall Smith referring to the self-importance of religious splinter groups.) If someone else is using an IP blocker, it isn’t me.
“But why did so many I encountered give false responses? I don’t know. I trusted them and didn’t question them. These people were, in my estimation, decent and sincere (or I wouldn’t have asked them). Given that multiple “authorities” gave similar responses, the answers seemed credible. Happy to have an answer I could (mostly) deal with, I moved on.
Thinking back, today, here are a few guesses as to why I was mislead so often:
•Some thought what they said was true.
•Some felt protecting the prophet’s character was more important than defending polygamy(or God?).
•Some didn’t want to address polygamy as it challenged their belief system.
•Some didn’t know how to explain it so wanted to change the subject.
I think the answer is almost definitely “other” in your case. Unless your seminary teachers and local Church leaders were actual LDS historians, then the likely answer is that they were just as ignorant about the details of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy as you were. Some of them might have known in general that Joseph Smith personally had multiple wives, but likely they in their own minds thought that the answer was the time worn attempt to explain by saying that there were more women than men so this was a way to take care of the women and especially widows.
If, on the other hand, your seminary teachers and local Church leaders actually were LDS historians (possible since you said you grew up in Utah county), then, particularly as to local Church leaders who were LDS historians, I would have to guess that the answer to your question is “Some felt protecting the prophet’s character was more important than defending polygamy(or God)”. That rings consistent, in my experience, with the cultural impulses of Utah County (and the Wasatch Front more generally).
Something else to consider: why did Church leaders at the highest levels (as opposed to the local Church leaders that your list above focuses on) decide to allow the correlated curriculum to treat Joseph Smith’s personal involvement in polygamy as it did, with basically only oblique and ambiguous references (like those you quoted in the main post from the Institute manual and from the Gospel Doctrine lesson manual)?
I think the answer very likely includes the assumption that most of them (this is referring to Church leaders at the very highest levels throughout most of the twentieth century) were personally unsure of the exact details of Joseph Smith’s own practice of polygamy and believed that details such as Fanny Alger, Helen Mar Kimball, and marrying other men’s wives were anti-Mormon lies sources to the Expositor or other similar sources. With this assumption in mind, they for the most part knew that he personally entered into many polygamous marriages, more than two dozen, though the exact details were probably murky for them.
But then why would they approve of the sort of obfuscating language in the official, correlated sources about his own personal involvement in polygamy given their own knowledge of the fact of his multiple wives? Why not just state plainly and straightforwardly that he was married to at least a couple of dozen other women besides Emma? I think the answer to this is very likely a combination of two considerations:
(1) They felt that knowledge about JS’s polygamy would cause people to doubt his good character because of the sexual implications of polygamy and the thought of JS engaging in multiple sexual relationships runs afoul of most people’s understanding of sexual morality, and it implies lust or libido or at least sexual gratification (which we have made incompatible with our mental category of “prophet” due to our hagiographic portrayals of our Church leaders throughout the period of Correlation), and so in a certain sense, they didn’t trust the membership with this information, or at least possibly thought it was for the members’ own good for the official curriculum to gloss over the information as not relevant for present circumstances, in which the practice of polygamy with living spouses is firmly denounced by the Church, and
(2) They did not foresee a day only a few decades in the future in which an information highway like the internet would exist providing unprecedented (forced) transparency about history — and, in light of this, there was not a sense that they or their legacies would be held accountable for the way they decided to present this information during the period in question (beginning in the mid-twentieth century, probably from around 1945 to 2005 or even 2014, if you want to count the release of the LDS.org essays as the “end date” of this period).
Jared vdH, thanks for sharing. Interesting how even in the same family the experience is so different.
McLean, thanks. :) I don’t understand the animosity either.
I absolutely wanted to believe he was a monogamist. Primarily because:
Counsel for others is much easier to accept—and much less likely to be corrupt—than counsel that benefits the councilor. Hearing (per the example in the OP) that JS taught others that they could righteously do all sorts of things considered immoral both at the time and largely today is a far cry from hearing he taught them and indulged in them himself.
It’s the difference between a senator who leaving office noting that senators are underpaid and voting for a future raise and a senator voting for a retroactive raise for his entire tenure. (Not that I support either one…)
Except that I’m not “railing at the church.” The church published the essays because there is a problem. I’m discussing what part of the problem has been and how my “dearly-held perceptions” were supported and promoted by the “faithful history” of the past.
That said, I’m not sure I’d mind more catechism and less correlation. I don’t think they’re synonymous.
Amen Julie S & Dave K. Great points. As someone in the same boat as Allison (having discovered the DETAILS of his polygamy at age 30 four years ago) I appreciate this post. I am grateful, because it was one of the causes of my faith transitions, rebuilding my testimony of God and not men (even if they are prophets), and generally becoming a more empathetic and loving person.
I had an uncle that left the church after discovering whatever the Tanners taught back in the 80s. I still don’t know what they taught, but the family lore is that those who believe those anti-mormon lies end up where he is (lost in the depths of hell). There was a lot of family . . . atmostphere? pressure? to not read, listen to, or believe anything that wasn’t published by lds.org. I recently had a family member why I would read “Letters to a Young Mormon,” because what could I hope to learn from someone who wasn’t a GA?
What’s next? Where to go from here? Let me venture a couple thoughts:
1. Reject Polygamy as a God sanctioned practice. There is nothing virtuous, lovely, or of good report about the practice of polygamy. We should honor the early church leaders who attempted to practice what they believed was a commandment from God, but we should admit that it was a mistake. God did not command it, and it was an error.
2. Prophets make mistakes, sometimes major ones. Joseph made a big mistake. Does this make him a fallen prophet? In one sense, I think we could define all prophets as fallen, because they are all human. Adam started it, we all are fallen human beings, trying to learn and grow and making errors along the way. We need to change our expectations of prophets and what it means to be one.
Very well said, Alison. Thank you for doing the legwork to lay things out like this. And I agree completely with Julie–what do we mean when we say “Joseph Smith’s polygamy?” Like others, I found out about Joseph Smith as a polygamist in my twenties when I read “In Sacred Loneliness.” It shocked me. But now, I admit, my memory is fuzzy. Did I really not ever have any sense that Joseph was a polygamist? None whatsoever? Was I one of those “all those women were sealed to him after he died” people? Or was it just the gory details–the polyandry, the age of the women, the lying, the secrecy, the pain to Emma, that got to me? There is a broad gray area here when we talk about “Joseph’s polygamy.”
Thanks, Julie. Yes, that’s an important point. I found a similar issue in Kaimi’s poll. Often those who voted that they did know about JS’s polygamy left comments that indicated they were talking about polygamy in general, not specifically about whether JS himself practiced it.
I agree that “very, very few people knew all of the gory details until rather recently.” I also agree with Dave that “probably half of active LDS are largely clueless about Joseph’s secret practice of polygamy (and the other half are largely uninformed about the details).” That fits my experience.
Dave, your point is also excellent on correlation doing its job too well. We avoid the problematic stuff for a while, then face it full on along with the loss of credibility it caused. Well said all through.
“What did it bring you, personally, to believe that JS didn’t practice it but BY did? How was it better to spare JS from actually doing it in the face of the knowledge that BY was? They were both Presidents of the Church whom we sustain as the Prophet. So how did that make any difference whether one prophet didn’t do it though his successor did?”
I’m not AMS, but for me it was a combination of an understanding that there were more women than men after the horrors of the pioneer trail, so sacrifices were made and BY stepped up, combined with the “oh it was just Brigham” that frankly we have to do as members to account for his many actions and words that aren’t as good as we’d like.
I’d like to add that my parents certainly weren’t hiding it from my sisters. My mother went through a long period in her life a few years ago of serious questioning and doubts regarding polygamy. Yet one of my sisters told me that she wasn’t aware of the details until the past 6 months or so when we talked about it. I have no idea how I knew about this stuff as a teenager and they never learned about it until much later.
Watching for the DFPs – I take much of Susan Easton Black’s stuff with a grain of salt. She’s quite popular and has done some decent history. However when I was in her class she avoided some topics with a 10 foot pole, to the point on obfuscation. David W. Patten’s association with the Danites for example are something that I had to ask about in class and she swept away from immediately.
As for how I’ve dealt with “the knowledge” and didn’t clue anyone else in: I thought it was general knowledge in the first place. Also, I’m not bothered by the concept of polygyny or polyandry, especially amongst consenting adults. As for Helen Mar Kimball, I’m personally inclined to believe her account that her relationship with Joseph was never sexual, but can understand if others are not. If it was? Still not sure how I would respond. Perhaps I’m just too much of a libertine, but I don’t know that 18 being the age of consent is a hard and fast universal rule. It is now in modern Western culture, but it’s not like it was somehow a scientifically derived value. I wasn’t there, I didn’t know either of them personally, so I feel like I have a hard time judging either person. The reported coercion using spiritual motivations – that’s the one I’m still struggling to figure out.
This OP was well worth the time I took to read it, thank you for writing and posting it, and for not shying away from the awkward and repulsive issues. I can’t recall when I first heard that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, it seems like I always knew, just like I knew about the two polygamous families in our history. (Actually I have discovered there are four.) It was accepted without much scrutiny, which in hindsight, was not such a good idea. I do remember that I first read about secrecy from Emma and 14 year-olds in Mormon Enigma, and though it raised my eyebrows, I wasn’t so bothered that I couldn’t process it. My shelf where I parked that stuff was uncluttered and roomy at the time. I keep having a steady stream of things to park there, and it’s not so easily managed since the day I put all polygamy-related stuff there. There is no reconciliation that I can think of that makes polygamy a fair and good commandment. I am interested in seeing the future statement/essay/whatever from the church that handles that, though I am not anticipating it soon. In the meantime, I respect people who are willing to discuss it without trying to ignore or conceal the conundrums that are present.
Jared, whether or not you “take much of Susan Easton Black’s stuff with a grain of salt,” the fact remains that she was discussing every one of the troubling facets of plural marriage in public, in a Church university, without censure as far as any of us can tell, an entire generation ago.
Please do let me know how that is not relevant to this discussion, or why David W. Patten is.
An Anon Nom:
Well said. When I encountered the guy screaming at the protestors, the man quoted above blaming legal, as well as myriad other experiences in addition to my own, I came to the same conclusion. But then we come back to Nate’s “unsolvable problem.” Being aware of the issues is only the first part, and the second part hasn’t yet been produced. :/
AJ, I tend to agree:
I absolutely don’t think it’s “as simple” as the church suppressing information, but I think “they” did at least obscure it, ignore it, distract from it. As adano noted, even the “revelations” are usually sparse.
Thanks, Ziff, for the kind words and the link. Great research.
Watching for DFPs – I didn’t dispute that, nor did I say that your comment wasn’t relevant to the discussion. Honestly I thought I was participating in a conversation and all I was doing was sharing my own experience in contrast with yours.
You’re right. She has talked about JS and polygamy. However there are other things that she left out and outright avoided. Therefore – for me, I make no judgements about anyone else – she is not a completely trustworthy source of information. The same way I wouldn’t trust the internet to learn about the temple ceremony.
Incredulous about incredulity. I am continually surprised about the high esteem some seem to have for their own expansive worldview and encyclopedic knowledge. Comparatively, I always seem rather unprepossesing, at least by my own measure. Admittedly, there are lots of things I know nothing about.
So I heard all about this Joseph Smith and polygamy stuff from the time of early Sunday School classes, much longer ago than I can recall. Probably fifty years ago. Perhaps the way we were introduced to such ideas makes a difference for how we accept such things.
In any case, it has never appeared to me that polygamy was being covered up or denied, at least to those with whom I was aquainted.
I could hardly have been unaware of the practice, since one of my ancestors, Peter Barton, was married to two women at the same time, the first in 1870 and the second in 1878. Peter Barton also served time in the Federal Penitentiary in 1885.
You live in the same world. Many interesting and unlikely events have taken place, and are still happening. Believe it.
I would agree that the church contributed to obscuring the history, but it is fascinating to me that even within the same family some members would know the history and others not.
Like Jared vdH, it never would have occurred to me to alert others because I assumed everyone else was in the know.
Brent, thank you for your contribution to the discussion. Many good anecdotes and ideas.
I don’t disagree, but I’m hard pressed to encourage it when it (kind of, sort of, apologetically) lays out the “sordid details” without adding much insight or help in processing the info. Unless/until someone in authority takes the time to come up with something to make sense of it all, I think it just adds to the pile of troubling things one must deal with. :/
Mad at those who “knew,” I guess it was so they could later mock those who weren’t in on the esoteric teaching. ;)
Watching for the DFPs:
Sister Black was the stake Relief Society president when I served as a ward RS president. I had graduated from college by the time I met her (this was late 80s, early 90s, before we moved to Florida) and never had the pleasure of taking a class from her (my religion professors were all men). She was a wonderful, bright, insightful, caring person to work with. I learned more from her than almost anyone else at that time in my life, exceptions being my parents and only a handful of others. I have great respect and admiration for her for many reasons.
We didn’t hang out or spend much one-on-one time together—and when we did it was administerial in nature—so I never got the chance to have doctrinal Q&As with her. (I actually considered writing her once I moved with the questions from Enigma but kept putting it off for a face-to-face that I was too self-conscious to ever move forward with.) I did get to meet at her home with the other ward presidents and be taught by her (and eat brunch :) ). She talked about Joseph Smith all the time and used stories from his life as illustration, but she never discussed polygamy in my presence. The stories she used were faith promoting and non-controversial and almost always directed to a practical application.
Just read a book about Nauvoo she wrote to my kids over the holidays. It talks about temples, eternal families, and persecution, but not polygamy.
I have no doubt she discussed this these things in an academic classroom setting, but it wasn’t something she just brought up on a regular basis in casual or church practice settings in my experience. That to say that even fairly regular association with Sister Black didn’t bring this topic into play, so it would be unlikely to inform anyone outside a particular subset of Mormons.
Davis Bitton spent a lot of time in our home when I was a kid and I visited his in Salt Lake a few times, too. None of those conversations centered on JS’s (or anyone’s) polygamy, either. :)
EmJen, the spirit leaves my room when the word polygamy is used, too!
Trevor, I give my take on your question of hypocrisy in #43.
IDIAT, your question is a good one, but my answer is different than what you propose:
First, I think you too easily dismiss the implications of a “cover up.” It does harm credibility and does make the source suspect. The church is dealing with that fallout today.
Second, I think to say that testimony “depends” on monogamy is hyperbole for most members. There are not only many ways to explain polygamy, but many ways to explain prophetic power in flawed human beings. But an explanation one way or another would be helpful.
Dave K gave a very good response. Thank you and amen!
john f., also thanks for a very kind-hearted and generous contribution. My response to your question is inc comment #43.
I stopped reading at the personal attacks over double-spacing.
Well, queno, you made it further than some! But do note that the “personal attack” on Peterson is in his own words (from the linked post), just reworked to reflect back at him. I learn from the masters! :) Besides, people who use double spaces deserve to be personally attacked as do those who omit the Oxford comma.
Hey, all, y’all. This is a great thread. Our Stake is very progressive in its ministering programs (not politically). I (and some others) have unofficial “callings” from the Stake President to counsel with those who have “faith crisis” by some of this material. Perhaps many of you do this informally, but I suggest you approach your authorities and “volunteer”. I have found (and so have the others) that one on one ministering on these issues helps, especially when it can be discussed early.
Just a suggestion.
Maybe uncouth to say this, but my suspicion has long been that much of the obsessing about Joseph Smith and early Church polygamy is rooted in rather common salacious speculation about tittilating sexual aspects. Cheap thrills. Of the same genre as bodice-ripper fiction and mommy porn, it gets ’em hot and sweaty.
For me, the substantive religious implications of polygamy are not really all that difficult.
I didn’t learn about Joseph Smith being married to other women – let alone any of the specifics – until a couple years ago. (From the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog) I grew up far outside of Utah with a convert mom and non-member dad. I don’t know if my mom knew anything about JS’s marrying other women, either.
The thing is, polygamy was always presented as a way to take care of all those widows. There were just so many more women than men, and how could God grow the church in Utah without doubling/tripling up the women with good, righteous men? Polygamy is for raising up seed and all. Of course it turns out that the census and other historical documents don’t support that, and that women in polygamous marriages had lower birth rates than women in monogamous marriages. But that’s what I was taught in church in the 90’s. And in the pre-internet days whatever I heard on Sunday was “the church”
So it made sense to me that BY was the main polygamy guy and that subsequent prophets stuck with it until there were enough people for the church to be stable. Then the Manifesto came about and put an end to that nasty polygamy business. JS was just the fore-runner, teaching the Saints what they’d need to know to get through the tough times in Utah. Now that I know differently it has forced me to reconsider the place of polygamy in a doctrinal sense.
My first experience was as a missionary, talking with a grumpy angry man who insisted Joseph had more than one wife? He asked me with a raised voice how many wives Joseph had. I had a stupor of tongue (first I’ve ever had in my life) before stammering one ‘one!’ This was a helpful primer for subsequent exposure to more detailed info. Weird testimony builder, eh?
Trond, good insights. I suspect both your #1 and #2 are at least part of the equation.
Kristine A, may I ask how you did learn the details, when you learned of them four years ago? I’m always interested to hear other stories.
That is the real answer to IDIAT’s question, isn’t it? For many of us it is kind of starting over and rebuilding from the ground up.
hope_for_things, I would love to have the official church go down that path. At least where I am now, it seems the most logical explanation.
John Hatch, thanks for the kind words and the added questions to consider.
Allison 58 – what if Joseph was not “flawed” as mentioned by you and Dave K? Does he have to be to fit your view of prophetic authority? Joseph’s plurality is mentioned in a footnote to D&C 132 in The History of the Church by BH Roberts. I think most church members at the turn of the 19th century were well acquainted with Joseph’s plurality as there was an on going feud with the RLDS over authority. His plurality, as well as that of BY, has simply faded from everyday church experienc and discussion. It died with grandparents and great grandparents. It’s review and resurrection today will pass, too.
“For me, the substantive religious implications of polygamy are not really all that difficult.”
Probably just a matter of circumstance. If it wasn’t coming from manuals or magazines or conference talks or classes, it would be left to asking the right questions of the right person, overhearing someone else having the discussion, happening upon the issue somewhere, etc.
I’m not either, but that’s hardly what happened in the early church. “Join or be damned” isn’t much of a choice. Neither is, “Agree or I’ll do it anyway.” :/
Of course the line is fuzzy, as most are. But at some point it becomes a beard fallacy, doesn’t it? While drawing a distinct line that delineates “OK to marry” on one side and “not OK to marry” on the other will be arbitrary and arguable, there still comes a point when most people will start to converge. I think it was on Julie’s post (linked above) that we discussed evidence that indicates even in JS’s time, 14-year-olds who married were a very small minority. 14-year-olds who married those 24 years their senior was even less common. And what percentage of those did so under threat of the loss of salvation?
As you said, “The reported coercion using spiritual motivations – that’s the one I’m still struggling to figure out.”
In response to Alison Moor Smith
I understand. And I agree that there is no shortage of “troubling things one must deal with”, but there have been plenty of authoritative statements by past Presidents of the Church and members of the Quorum of the Twelve that pertain to explaining the origins and purposes of plural marriage, just like the denial of priesthood to persons of African descent. But it seems the current Church would rather distance itself from (or at least ignore) any explanations of polygamy offered by early GA’s rather than to take them head on and pick them apart like the First Presidency did with some of Orson Pratt’s doctrines (and I’m sure with the doctrines of others as well). It seems so easy to accept what GA’s say in General Conference now, but GA’s have been speaking in General Conference prior our inundation with the cut and dried doctrines of correlation. In my mind, those earlier utterances have yet to be properly reckoned with.
While I do think it will be a long wait before we get a signed message from the First Presidency explaining polygamy, I’m grateful it hasn’t been disavowed like the “theories” (apparently signed First Presidency letters fall under this category) explaining the priesthood denial to persons of African descent. Disavowing polygamy would be much more difficult.
Alison, I apologize for misspelling your name. I can’t fix it or I would.
MDearest, thank you kindly for the comment.
I can think of lots of explanations, but none of them sound very good from here.
jcobabe, being unaware of polygamy in LDS history and being unaware of Joseph Smith’s polygamy (either entirely or in detail) are different matters. We’re talking about (variations of) the latter, as is addressed in the OP.
jcobabe, there’s so much Ziff is my response that’ll I just defer. #67
I agree. But unlike you, I would rejoice with a disavowal of polygamy. Cannot think it would be more difficult at all.
P.S. No problem with the spelling. At least you got “Alison” right. Almost everyone misses that one. :)
I may have heard just a few whispers of Joseph Smith’s polygamy growing up, but they were always accompanied with words like “anti-Mormon” or “non-sexual.” It took the bloggernacle for me to learn better.
The church has released several wonderful essays over the last year or two. Unfortunately, outside of academic members and bloggernacle participants, I’m not sure many members know about them. I’d love to teach an EQ lesson on the Race and the Priesthood essay (first question for the class–when did the first African American in the latter days receive the priesthood?–because almost everyone in the class will answer–falsely–1978). I’d love to teach a lesson on the DNA and Book of Mormon essay (as a former biology teacher, I’ve always dreamed about teaching aspects of evolution at church, and I could do that without deviating one word from the church essay itself). But I’d feel extremely uncomfortable teaching about the Joseph Smith polygamy essay. Frankly, I’d be afraid that it would contribute to destroying testimonies of ward members who still don’t know about it. I think it’s potentially a much more destructive issue than any of the other essays. Several friends and family members have left the church over issues of gay rights and feminism over the past two years or so–I’m afraid that as Joseph Smith’s polygamy becomes better known, even more friends will leave. Unfortunately, it always seems to be the ones I like who leave, and never the ones I wish would leave. I’m glad the church released the essay; it had to be a hard decision to release it. I just hope the repercussions aren’t too bad.
There’s a strong theme of ethnocentrism manifest by those claiming incredulity, regarding those of us who didn’t know JS’ was a polygamist. Not everyone grew up with LDS grandparents’ bookshelves, or connection enough to SLC for JS’ polygamy to be ‘in the air’. Try growing up in a locale where the only church education you receive is from correlation, and, since you’re now in your early twenties, you’re old enough to be married with kids and in a time-consuming calling in your tiny non-USA branch, but you’re not old enough to have seen any uncorrelated church materials, nor would you have access to them at this point. Additionally, Deseret Book is expensive, to ship things to your country. And you’re still worried about looking on the internet for information because the American senior missionaries and regional authorities for your area have both warned that the internet is rife with anti-Mormonism.
Sure, there’s D&C 132 still canonized, but frankly, when you’re reading a translation of D&C and your home country’s culture is nothing like the early American one, you’re already having to take a ton of things with a grain of contextual salt. And even in English and in context, D&C 132 isn’t without cryptic moments that the church doesn’t explain officially (132:51, anyone?) so you’re not entirely sure that the missionaries were wrong in glossing over it as a overblown reference to fraternal spiritual sealings.
The church went out of their way to avoid talking about the polygamy of JS. They haven’t even translated the polygamy essays into all the different languages of church members yet. Polygamy was a huge part of the early formation of the church, yet, prior to recently, we had more official records of JS stick-pulling than we did him marrying Emma’s RS counselors. It really stings, to have tried your best to study a church that only provided you with limited information about its fundamentals in your language, only to be told that not knowing things outside that scope was practically unbelieveable, with implication that the vacuum of knowledge is one’s own fault.
I knew that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy since I was a teenager. It didn’t concern me because some of my ancestors were polygamists in the early days of the Church, including my great-grandmother, and I admired the faithfulness of those who practiced it. I did not know that Joseph Smith practiced polyandry until I had spent many years (40+) serving in the Church. I cannot find any scriptural or spiritual justification for this practice. In the Ten Commandments, God tells us not to covet a neighbour’s wife and not to commit adultery. Polyandry violates both of those commandments. I wonder how the Church can condone that part of its history when virtue and sexual morality are such an important value.
If he wasn’t monogamous, I want to make sense of why he wasn’t. And I can’t.
That’s really the elephant in the room, isn’t it? I’ve struggled with all the apologetic explanations. Restoration of all things. Provide for the widows and old maids. Women outnumber men in heaven. Abrahamic sacrifice. Raising up seed. None of them hold up to close examination.
Eventually, I thought: What if it wasn’t inspired?
And I felt *good* about that. Like fresh air blowing the cobwebs away. Or in scriptural terms, my stupor of thought was gone. Call it the Spirit, or call it Occam’s razor if you prefer, but wow, everything (including the subsequent history, which is just as messy as the beginning!) makes so much more sense looked at that way.
… As to the slightly different question of, “Why would Joseph do this if it wasn’t inspiration?” It’s clear that he took the Bible very, very literally. I don’t think it ever occurred to Joseph that Abraham marrying multiple wives might have just been a cultural artifact of his time (let alone a half-remembered folk tale passed on orally for generations before being written down), rather than a commandment from God. Hence, D&C 132.
I am 38, lifelong member. I found out about Joseph Smith’s polygamy a year ago, while reading Mormon Enigma. My husband (lifelong member) and my best friend (lifelong member) had never heard of it either. I mentioned it to my mother, a 5th generation Mormon. She was appalled and called it a bunch of anti-Mormon lies.
First, let me say thanks for this posting and discussion, in favor and opposed and in-between. It is like a feast for me to see us in this place because it seems like I’ve been here almost all of my life.
I purchased a 1972 enlarged edition of *Shadow or Reality* sometime in the 1970s. I don’t know exactly when. It has a quite extensive chapter for then on plural marriage, including some of the ugly possibilities. I don’t remember if it was before or after reading *No Man Knows My History*. Through the years I have always read pro and con, focusing a lot on whatever I thought would enlighten me (even the devil makes it into the temple narrative and we are required to listen to him). I have never deferred to correlation just as I have never deferred to the notion that God told Abraham to kill his son or that the Spirit told Nephi to chop the head of an incapacitated Laban. My conscience tells me otherwise. Verity relies upon fancy. The past involves how I fancied things happened. My recall is flawed. So is yours. The future is the same but more so. I have no memory of it. Neither do you. The present relies upon my imagination for decision making. Nonetheless, I appreciate others haven’t and don’t operate in this way. They follow and defer to others after having felt to do so.
I’m 66, Utah born, son of a disaffected Mormon mother from Central Utah of Danish descent, and a non-member father whose mother was a Dutch convert who came to America as a young teenager but also became disaffected sometime soon thereafter. By sending me and my siblings to church, my parents got some time off from us kids. There was no prolonged spiritual encouragement from either of my parents, although they always wanted us to live by the Golden Rule and never discouraged our participation in church. I served a foreign mission from ’67 to ’69 (my mother died in ’68). I married my wife in 1971 in the SLC temple. She died in 2013.
I have attended church nearly 100% most of my life (as a boy and younger teen, before the block, I didn’t go much to sacrament meeting). I have held various callings — ward clerk, eq president, gd teacher, etc. — throughout my activity, always tempered by whoever was calling me — for instance, they never allowed me to teach or be with the youth, even when I had four kids going though mutual — due to my outspokenness and the questions I posed in classes, etc.
Throughout my life in the church, I have been filled with incredulity and credulity both. I have faith that I can do better. I have faith that the church can, too. I love seeing this discussion and others I see daily as we progress. Faith crisis? That’s all there ever has been or will be for me. But I have faith. I have faith.
I attended BYU in the early 1980’s. Plural marriage was an open subject then, in history and religion classes. We talked about plural marriage in seminary in the 1970’s. Yes, the teacher informed us Brother Joseph had taken ” several wives.” I already knew that, because around 1970, a Bishop had explained that fact to me, and he was a farmer, not an academic. I distinctly remember conversations about plural marriage with my grandparents in the 1960’s.
I think it was very possible that I picked up on the history of plural marriage because I had an interest in history and picked up on the concept early on. It has never really bothered me much, even after reading some of the recent historical works. But that is because I have been able to unpack it in stages throughout my life. This issue does not have to be the traumatic experience some of you have experienced. No, I do not think we need to disavow the practice, pop the revelation out of the D&C or apologize to the world. Perhaps it is because I believe plural marriage was a huge sacrifice required of the Saints of the Victorian Age and it continues to require a sacrifice of us. Our modern ideologies and sensibilities still collapse under the strain of the knowledge that thousands of 19th century Saints, most of them women, confirmed that they received revelatory answers to prayer that the practice was of God. Will we throw their experiences into the dust bin as well?
Great post, Alison. I hope this discourages those people who say, with smug superiority, “I knew all about it. What’s wrong with you?” The Church needs to do a lot more than publish small essays buried in their website. Those essays are a good first step, but only a first step.
For myself I believe that I first learned about it during a trip to Nauvoo as a young teenager. I believe it was in the summer before it was announced that the Nauvoo temple was going to be rebuilt. I can’t remember the specifics, and I know that I was left with the understanding that it was less women than what is discussed now.
Where it went from vague to sharp was a documentary I watched my senior year in high school that dealt with early Utah history. It was mentioned as kind of a side note to explain Brigham Young’s polygamy. It certainly didn’t rock my faith, nor have I ever wondered why it isn’t regularly discussed at church.
Ha, ha, yeah right. We should have known that some lady at one of the BYUs said something about this before? What planet do you live on, Watching? The campus really is your world, isn’t it? I assure you, there was no way my fellow Michiganders knew of this unless they happened to be in one of her classes. I guess that former student (if there is one) is the person I should hold responsible for failing to inform the rest of the Great Lakes state?
With all due respect, as if Ms. Black’s classes constituted official church communication anyway! I wonder what new history or doctrine might have been mentioned in a random religion class at BYU today we should all know about? Seriously, Watching, you’re making me laugh.
NW Clerk (25), Mormon Doctrine contains over one full-page of information on plural marriage, under the heading of PM—far more than the two sentences you quote. Maybe the online version of MD is a shortened version.
Alison (35), Bruce R. McConkie was stating what was the standard/conventional belief of many leading brethren from the past and the present time in which he wrote MD—which was that blacks would eventually receive the priesthood, but not in this life. In the soft cover 1979 edition of MD, he re-wrote the entry on this subject stating that the new revelation on the priesthood …”has been received with joy and rejoicing throughout the Church and is one of the evidences of the divinity of the Lord’s great latter-day work.” In a speech at BYU after the revelation on the priesthood, BRM said: “Forget everything that I have said, or President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without light and knowledge that now has come into the world…It is a new day a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject.”
Allison—I don’t think it is “mental contortions” to make the very valid and important point that there is no documented or proven evidence that Joseph Smith fathered any children outside of those he had with Emma. There are rumors, second and third-hand stories passed-down, but nothing close to being reliable. DNA tests have all been negative. It is reasonable to assume that with the many plural wives JS was married to, there would be many children—not zero. To me, this shows that most if not all of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages were in name only.
I find it difficult to believe that folks didn’t know that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. I can’t remember when I learned that, but it was in my late teens or early twenties… When I was at BYU (I was 30 and it was the early 1980’s), I was privileged to sit in on one of Eugene England’s “soirees”…Donna Hill and her brother were present. She had just published her book on Joseph Smith. Just before or after that, Linda King Newell and Val Tippetts Avery had published their companion book on Emma. Both my Stake President and I read it. He read most of it in one long, long night. Both of us found nothing disturbing in the book. I recommended it to a woman in my ward in B.C., Canada, and she took great offense at it. I couldn’t understand why. She didn’t see the necessity of reading all this polygamy stuff about Joseph…in her words, she didn’t want to know about it.
I don’t know what happened between Joseph and his wives. And I don’t care. I didn’t get the sense though that polygamy was an easy principle for either Emma or Joseph. And I didn’t have any feelings at any time while I was reading the books that Joseph behaved inappropriately.
It was with great surprise when years later, I discovered that Newell and Avery had rec’d harsh criticism for the book. I don’t know what response Donna or her brother (her brother did much of the research for the book, as I understand it) rec’d.
My testimony of the gospel wasn’t affected. Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways; his ways are not his ways; his timing isn’t our timing…and I am willing to let God be God. I don’t expect to understand all things at this time. Further revelation is to come, and it will come when Heavenly Father wants to reveal it.
I am aware this post might seem a bit preachy, but I am getting weary of so many wanting all the answers to all their questions right now…wondering why the church kept so much under wraps. I don’t know the answers. Yes, I’m grateful that more info is available now, but I don’t feel cheated or deceived I didn’t know this info sooner.
Like, KLC, the way I remember it was that “Joseph never practiced polygamy” was the RLDS position, and all us “Brighamites” knew better. I’m appalled to learn that people were ever taught otherwise.
As another data point, I too did not grow up in Utah. My family pioneered in Arizona and the Mexican colonies, and my father started working for “I’ve Been Moved” when I was a year old. We were always “mission field” Mormons, and were often baffled by some of the ideas of those people from Utah.
Scott, while there is certainly more material in “Mormon Doctrine” about plural marriage, those two sentences are the only ones that touch on Joseph Smith’s own practice of it.
Incidentally, the full text of MD is available from the Internet Archive: http://archive.org/stream/MormonDoctrine/mormon_doctrine_djvu.txt
Thanks, Alison. This is great. I can’t remember when it was that I found out that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. But I know that I didn’t learn the fine details (of which were confirmed in the essays on lds.org) of it until much later. And when I did, I found them disturbing. I also remember deliberately avoiding, because of instructions that I heard from church leaders, reading too much about church history lest it negatively affect my ‘testimony.’ So saying that I should have known is simply not consistent with the instructional trend of the LDS church, which was to avoid such literature, and for teachers (be they in church, seminary, CES institute, and even BYU) to simply gloss over or completely ignore such issues. How could I have known? Even more maddening is now that I know the difficult details of polygamy (via lds.org) that I am expected to defend them and the LDS church’s explanation of them: that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy to “raise up seed,” which of course would have necessitated that he have lots children with his additional wives, which is something that the LDS church and many LDS apologists strongly deny.
“You Should Have Known”
It is disingenuous for the for church to suggest that we could have independently discovered the truth about Joseph’s polygamy and other unsavory elements of our history and the frequent changes made to supposedly immutable doctrines when its leaders haves repeatedly discouraged the members from seeking out “alternate voices.” Dallin Oakes, to name just one example, chided the authors of “Mormon Enigma” for having the temerity to write a “non-traditional” biography, and barriers were erected to prevent them discussing their work at firesides and other church-sponsored forums.
As has often been observed, the substance of the misinformation disseminated by the Church Education System is not the problem. Rather, as Terryl Givens stated: “[T]he problem is not information, the problem is betrayal. Nobody really leaves the church because there isn’t information to answer a question. And that’s one thing the church hasn’t gotten yet. People leave the church because by the time the question arises, its too late.”
Seriously, in light of what has transpired, who in their right mind would take the new essays or anything else published by the church on these subjects, at face value? Yes, I welcome the “baby steps” the church has taken in coming to grips with these inconvenient truths, but I don’t think it realizes the damage it has inflicted on its own credibility and how long it will take to repair it.
Did anyone catch Mitt Romney’s comment on this in the intro to his recent talk at BYU? He got a good laugh from the crowd with his quip that, “Things were different then: the Beatles were the only boy band, Ma Bell was the only phone company, BYU cafeteria food was the only choice at the Cougareat, and Emma Smith was Joseph Smith’s only wife.”
Which would back up Alison’s position that it was not widely known.
I joined the church in 1976 and knew about it from the beginning….not sure exactly where, must have picked it up somewhere at BYU. But as a new convert, so much new stuff is being thrown at you, that it was One More Thing to process.
Also, I am not as down on polygamy as some people are. I experienced a lot of guilt about not being able to take care of my family when I was ill during pregnancy, and I thought that if there was a sister wife and we could time our pregnancies it would not be all bad. Also, in a pre-contraceptive era, the specialization of wives on the homefront and in the workplace allowed some women to pursue outside careers while having very reliable care for their children. Having another adult around was also a safety factor for women on remote homesteads while their husband was out hunting or whatever.
I “always” knew that Joseph practiced polygamy, but assumed that it was garden-variety creepy Utah-era polygamy. I learned about the extraordinarily creepy and secretive nature of Nauvoo-era polygamy in my twenties. I have long been incredulous that people didn’t know Joseph had other wives, but I grew up in the Bible belt (as discussed above) where my neighbors were always helpfully willing to fill me in on any oddball/deeply disturbing aspects of Mormon history. Having since realized that the Mormon Corridor experience was greatly different, nothing surprises me anymore. So, my incredulity was misplaced and, should I have expressed it to any of you in the past, I apologize.
Must admit to being one of those people who feels she has always known that Joseph practiced Polygamy and has been MYSTIFIED that it is news to anyone. It’s not that I was sat down for a big old FHE on Polygamy: it’s that the principle was “revealed” to him. Wouldn’t it be more shocking for him to ignore a call to action like we see in DC 132? Do you also need someone to specifically instruct you that he took the Sacrament, practiced baptism by immersion, and read scriptures? No. He was taught to do them, he taught others to do them, and he did them. Such was polygamy, I would guess.
Naismith, you should read “The Polygamous Wives Writing Club,” by Paula Harline. It will quickly disabuse you of the notion that polygamy was viable economic model on the western frontier. With rare exception, these women lived in abject poverty, were housed at different locations to escape detection, often went months without seeing their husband (unless you were lucky enough to be wife numero uno), and frequently suffered from severe depression. They may not have been in hell, but they could see it from there.
This statement suggests yet another problem–some people see expectations where there are none, and infer explanations when there aren’t any. I’m not sure if such statements are the result of sloppy reading, or if they simply arise from a desire to find a straw man on which to focus one’s complaints.
How is anybody ok with polyandry?
Clearly both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young stole other men’s wives to make babies with them?
I was a 5th Generation Mormon for the first 40 years of my life, served a mission, sealed in the Temple, raised 4 kids in the church, whole 9 yards, and NEVER and any point would I have been ok with polyandry. I don’t care how you try to spin it, there’s no way in hell I’m buying off on wife swapping. Sounds like the followers of the Mormon church have to be as delusional as their Fundamentalist Cousins to the South who use the same lame excuses to rationalize singing the praises of their Pretend Prophet’s while he rots in jail on multiple sex crime convictions.
Last summer my wife chaperoned a stake youth conference trip to Kirtland. It troubled some of the youth to learn for the first time that the Kirtland temple is owned by the Community of Christ, which they had never heard of and she had to explain to them. She was tells me that when she was a missionary, a new member, who had been baptized several months earlier, attended tithing settlement, as he was invited to, and learned for the first time about tithing. This revelation was a severe trial, but he made it through. I once read in Spencer W. Kimball’s mission journal his entry on renting swim trunks and swimming with his companion at a public beach one Sunday, and I wondered what the heck was going on. We say we don’t like church to be boring sameness over and over, but we don’t like surprises either.
Jude49: Surely you can see how unkind it feels for someone like yourself, who had access to things like Eugene Englands soirees, to be surprised that others didn’t know what you did? Most of us don’t grow up or attend school anywhere near these epicentres of Mormon discussions, where uncorrelated sources of information that’s not discouraged are sparse.
“How is anybody ok with polyandry?”
Polyandry: a marriage system designed to benefit men by helping them understand how women feel about polygyny.
You are missing a huge aspect of this section of D&C. Not only does the chapter discuss polygamy, but it also discusses polyandry, wherein a woman can be married to a man… and then either sleep with or marry another man under a righteous context. See here..
Verse 41 says… “… if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and IF SHE BE WITH ANOTHER MAN, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.
The clear inference being that if she’s with another man, and it IS appointed unto her by the holy anointing… then that is OK.
Joseph not only married additional women in secret.. he married other men’s wives, thereby creating a situation wherein the wives had multiple husbands. Some of the other men were active Mormons, some were away on missions, etc.
He was a dog.
Saigullah (80), yes, I heard of church leaders practicing ‘plural marriage’ in the 1980s and 1990s (when I was growing up) as well. However, I never heard that Joseph Smith married a 14 year-old or other men’s wives, or that he married behind Emma’s back, or that Joseph Smith was supposedly forced by an angel with a flaming sword to practice it (suggesting God’s coercive nature), or that LDS church leaders continued to practice polygamy beyond 1890. In fact I thought these to be anti-Mormon lies. I long imagined Joseph Smith to have been like Kody Brown, the polygamist whose life with his wives is featured on the reality show Sister Wives. But when I learned of the details of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I found it harder and harder to reconcile with what LDS church leaders had taught me about morality. Now it seems that I’m expected to engage in some serious mental gymnastics to justify/explain Joseph Smith’s polygamy or simply say, “oh, that’s interesting” and then carry on as if it is not a terribly important matter. One simply cannot understand Mormon history without ‘plural marriage.’
My son came home yesterday with a history assignment that was almost impossible to fulfill due to its sheer stupidity. Luckily my husband could help him since I was bemoaning the state of history education—and this is an honors class in a well-ranked high school! It’s really no wonder that so many people are not only ignorant of history, but are ignorant of the fact that they are ignorant.
For many people, an ignorance of history, like an ignorance of trigonometry or geology or Asian languages, is unlikely to be much of an issue.
But in the case of Joseph Smith and the facts and rumors surrounding his messy, very Biblical institution of plural marriage, it did suddenly become an issue with the changing nature of information as people are confronted with both their lack of knowledge of Church history and the fact that they didn’t even understand their own ignorance.
My question for anyone who’s grappling with this disorienting experience right now is how you plan to handle it, and also how you plan to model for your children, if you have any, what they should do when they are faced with their own ignorance, since that’s an experience that we’ll all have sooner or later.
Do you find someone to blame? Get angry at teachers or Church leaders for their ignorance? Get angry at those who spent the time and effort to learn the history or who lived in an environment where the topic was known, generally if not specifically, or who have an innate sense of history? Do you claim that you knew all along or that it doesn’t really matter? Do you start dabbling in anecdote and conspiracy? Make stupid and angry comments about Joseph Smith? Look around again for someone else to blame?
I’ve seen all these reactions, and since none of them are very constructive I would kindly suggest that you can also choose positive reactions, and that they can lead to a much more interesting experience. And by positive reactions, I don’t mean concluding that plural marriage or any other disturbing facet of history was good, but by positive reactions, I mean modeling humility and the search for knowledge and truth, and a deep connection to God, and a dedication to a Christian life.
“They may not have been in hell, but they could see it from there.”
I am guessing that like any other marriage, the experience varied. Martha Hughes Cannon spoke about how the time “off” from being a wife allowed time for other worthwhile pursuits. And also the exact time period affected the impending threats of legal action, which caused some women to be hidden or abandoned.
I am not saying it was all positive, only that I could see the potential.
And tucked in with my will is a letter welcoming my husband’s next wife to the family, should I die before him.
Dear Sym 99, I knew about Joseph Smith and polygamy before I attended BYU… Yes, I was fortunate to be present at several Mormon History events because I lived with a young LDS historian. Please note that I am a first generation Mormon. I find it difficult to believe that so many LDS people who grew up in LDS families (and I didn’t) didn’t know. It’s surprising and unfortunate. And, yes, I send my compassion to those struggling with these issues. I made my allegiance to Christ. Organizations, LDS or not,unfortunately make mistakes. I have had some wonderful experiences with Church people; I have also had experiences (I suffered from depression and panic attacks) and was severely bullied in the church…so much so that my parents left the church. It’s been devastating. I have to look to the gospel, not the culture. It’s the only way I survive.
“This statement suggests yet another problem–some people see expectations where there are none”
Oh OK, I didn’t know there wasn’t any social expectation emanating both from the cultural trends in the Mormon belt and the LDS church leadership that I, as a member who is asked to perform in a variety of callings and capacities where I might be confronted by others with questions about the practice of plural marriage, defend explanations on lds.org and commonly promoted understandings and explanations of the practice in Mormondom. Alright, then. Plural marriage, in the way Joseph Smith practiced it, was morally wrong. The explanation that he did to raise up seed, as explained on lds.org, does not square with the idea that he never had any progeny resulting from the marriages and is a stupid explanation. The idea that Joseph Smith was essentially forced by an angel with a flaming sword strongly suggests that God is a coercive and thus contradicts the Mormon doctrine of agency. I’ll be sure to say that the next time someone confronts me with the issue of polygamy, especially when I’m out hometeaching, trying to do reactivation, or answering the question of a Mormon teen who is struggling with issues related to the practice of plural marriage. Thanks for helping me out there Mark B!
I think Mark B. hit on a key issue–expectations.
Hopefully we are learning that our experiences with having (or not having) important information are quite varied. So what can we expect when others gain this information that didn’t have it previously?
I would highlight two examples in particular:
1. One spouse has known this information and the other only now discovers the information. What can the first spouse reasonably expect? Can the spouse expect the same orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy, or should the spouse instead be prepared to discuss and adjust to a possible change?
2. Both spouses didn’t know the information. One spouse discovers it. Can that spouse expect that the other will discuss the information? Can the spouse expect that the other will come to the same conclusions? Or, should the spouse be prepared for the other to possibly continue the same orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy?
BTW – I would love to see an entire post dedicated to expectations, but comments here would be a good start.
I agree wholeheartedly. As much as it bugs me on a philosophical level that the essays aren’t more easily accessed and publicized, I would be hesitant to promote them as well. If the church had included some kind of reasonable explanation and/or disavowal of the practice, I would have. As it is I see the essays as a way to say, “yes, we acknowledge the stuff” without completely opening the can of worms for the masses.
Sym, thanks for adding your perspective. Very helpful.
I grew up in Utah Valley with those on my parents bookshelves (among thousands of others). But why read something titled Evidences and Reconciliations when you can read Catcher in the Rye and What to Teach Your Children About Sex (under the covers with a flashlight, of course)?
I’m not sure they do. The essays read much like, “Well, here’s what we must now admit happened, don’t really know much more about it. Thank you for your time.”
Jonathan E, I appreciate your take on this. I can’t make sense of it either. That’s why, like you, I’ve come to a place where I think it probably wasn’t inspired (is that a soft nebulous enough statement?). It makes more sense than any other explanation and—as long as we can follow Uchtdorf’s lead and just deal with imperfect leaders and all the authoritative problems with accepting that reality—still allows Joseph Smith to still provide a prophetic restoration.
newbie, you can join me in the Mormon Enigma Enlightenment Club. Let’s not forget that the authors were sanctioned for what they wrote, no matter how well documented. I’d say they were instrumental in opening a new era in transparency.
wreddyornot, sincerely thank you for sharing your story. Just loved hearing the details. I’m sad that you have been kept from youth who, IMO, could be served by candidness and some mental challenges to wrestle with while young. I’m also sorry for the loss of your wife.
I think I will cross stitch (the one and only crafty thing I’ve ever been able to master, probably due to the fact that it’s kind of like paint by numbers and hard to mess up) this on a pillow:
One issue that deserves clarifying. I don’t blame anyone for their own ignorance or misinformation about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, or any other historical details. I’m not sure there are many who do. But even in that circumstance I don’t blame the Church for perpetuating individual ignorance. As far as I know, most of this information has been available to anyone with sufficient motivation.
I do think it borders on malicious to insist that your current take on the matter is the objective honest and informed view, and everyone else that might see it differently is either duplicitous or misinformed. Many controversial subjects require extra exertion to become better informed, and even then one cannot be too sure. For example, just knowing about the secret homosexual leanings of a certain prominent writer of early LDS history informs a more understanding reading of everything he has written. Those who read his material and arrive at conclusions absent this context are likely to be mistaken.
Very often, with historical narratives, there is insufficient accurate information to support valid conclusions, and it must be posited that “I don’t know” is the best answer. There is no culpability in refraining from public discussion of such matters.
1. I completely agree with Julie in #17. Some people may have known generally about Joseph’s polygamy because it “was in the air,” but that is a lot different than knowing about 14 year-old wives, polyandry, and the rest. None of those facts have ever been “in the air.”
2. I think it is fair to say that people who did know about those facts learned them through some form of anti-Mormon teachings (for instance, an investigator learning about it from family members before being baptized), not through church sanctioned teachings. Do any of you claim that you knew the hard facts by learning them at church or through correlated materials?
3. Most importantly, if we do in fact believe that Joseph was commanded by God to practice polygamy why do we run as fast and as far away from polygamy as we can? If it is a true principle, why don’t we continue to teach it and talk about it in church and give it the respect it would otherwise be due if it were in fact an actual commandment by God. Why don’t we hear talks about it at General Conference saying this is a true and eternal principle and it is important and here is why it is important. And we still believe in it, but do not currently practice it (even though we do in the temples) for these reasons.
By running and hiding from polygamy, I can only conclude that the church is embarrassed by the practice. The church’s embarrassment in turns leads me to further question whether it was a true principle revealed by God.
Scott at comment 84 said: “I don’t think it is “mental contortions” to make the very valid and important point that there is no documented or proven evidence that Joseph Smith fathered any children outside of those he had with Emma. There are rumors, second and third-hand stories passed-down, but nothing close to being reliable. DNA tests have all been negative. It is reasonable to assume that with the many plural wives JS was married to, there would be many children—not zero. To me, this shows that most if not all of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages were in name only.”
Hold up a second. Lack of offspring in no way precludes relationships of a sexual nature. Unless you can cite evidence that folks in the first half of the 19th century only engaged in the kind of sexual congress that may result in fertilization of an ovum, you can’t deny the whole gamut of other ways that humans interact sexually. Let’s not be naive.
And my previous comment is not being salacious. The thought of Joseph engaging in the full spectrum of sexual and, at least for him, presumably pleasurable congresses with some or all of his wives is a critical reason why so many of us feel so messed up over the Nauvoo polygamy episode, whenever it was we learned about it. So please do dismount your high horses, you who have never been scorched by the issue, and consider why some of us have.
Alison, regarding your earlier comment in response to my own – I know the Joseph Smith/Helen Mar Kimball relationship was an outlier even for the time period. I guess all I was trying to express was that for whatever reason I just can’t get myself worked up about the relationship in the abstract, which being so far removed from it, it can be nothing but abstract for me. Maybe I should be able to and it’s a failing on my part, but that’s been my reaction so far.
Same for polygyny and polyandry – it just doesn’t bother me. I guess you can view it as another part of the sexual preference spectrum: I’m a cis-gendered heterosexual male who lies somewhere in the middle of the monogamy-polyamory spectrum. I don’t think I’d be able to have other relationships myself, but I’m not sure I would care if my significant other was having a relationship with someone else as long as I knew it was going on. I might even be happy for them if I knew the person. I know some irreligious people that are in polyamorous relationships and while it was weird trying to understand their relationship at first, it didn’t creep me out. I suppose that’s probably a bridge too far for most people.
The thing that bothers me most, and I don’t know if I’ll ever really get past it, is the coercion and deception that appears to have occurred in connection with Joseph’s polygamy. That will probably require some significant personal revelation to be able to understand that, if I ever will.
jcobabe — “I don’t blame the Church for perpetuating individual ignorance.”
Personally, I don’t care much about who’s to blame for people not knowing important information. It will probably be useful to eventually understand root causes, but I think there are more pressing matters now. In fact, I *might* even go further and say that right now it is unhelpful to assign blame.
But that still leaves us with two BIG problems:
1. An unacceptably large number of people still don’t know important information to have a mature understanding of Mormonism.
2. An unacceptably large number of people previously didn’t know this information but they do now, and it has caused them to reevaluate their religious convictions.
I’m not as interested in talking about how we got here but about where we go from here, what is being done, what should be done (and what should not be done), and possibly why more isn’t being done.
Superb post, Alison.
I suspect that there may also be some educational/socio-economic bias in the incredulous as well. I grew up in a solidly working-class neighborhood. You know who had an advanced college degree in my ward? Nobody. The kind and good people I grew up around weren’t intellectual or even terribly curious about the world outside of their own experience. They lived the practicalities of their religion to the best of their ability, but had neither the time nor the inclination to read history books–or any books at all, in a lot of cases. Now when I visit my folks and go to church with them in that ward, a Relief Society lesson never fails to go by that doesn’t completely blow my mind with how little knowledge most of them have about things that have now become part of my worldview and thought processes–scholarship, critical thinking, an awareness of international news and the experiences of people in different cultures. I love them dearly, but they are not well informed.
It does not surprise me at all that I did not learn about Joseph Smith’s polygamy until I was in college. And even then it scared me badly enough that I shelved it and didn’t learn about many of the worst aspects of it until I was in graduate school and finally willing to acknowledge the absurdity of the fear of non-church-approved materials that had been instilled in me.
So now I’m the one person in the room that knows about the contours of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Am I going to raise my hand in a Relief Society lesson and talk about it? Heavens no. I might as well throw a hand grenade into the room. The immediate carnage would be bad enough, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for causing those good people pain. I know what it’s like to live years in the isolation of faith crisis.
Move beyond polygamy and I bet you could make a list of 10 major doctrines of the church that are uncontroversial that many (most?) Mormons are unfamiliar with. The reality is that Mormons, like in most religions, are largely ignorant of their religion. The best we can say is that Mormons probably are less ignorant than your typical “religious” person.
Few people really study their religion. I’m constantly surprised how many simple narrative aspects of major scripture stories are relatively unknown. And of course this will be even worse among teenagers.
I recognize people focus on polygamy due to the controversies tied with it. But honestly if you’re looking for “controversies” you can find far more that aren’t even uniquely Mormon with the Bible that most Mormons will be ignorant of.
To add, I suspect polygamy is more an Utah issue just because people in Utah don’t experience anti-Mormon stuff as much. While I’ve lived in Utah far too long to know what the current status is outside of the Mormon corridor, when I was a kid you’d get enough anti-Mormon that it was impossible not to know about “controversies” like polygamy, racism of leaders, issues of Kolob, and so forth.
My only response to ahjeez is to speculate about what life might be like if the old usage “sexual congress” had won the battle against “sexual intercourse,” so that we could now talk freely without anybody snickering about “intercourse” when describing trade or business or other types of non-sexual interactions, but we couldn’t ever say “congress” without specifying whether we were talking about sex or that legislative body sitting down in the Capitol.
There was a funnier way to end that last sentence, but this is a family blog after all.
Ahjeez (111)—This is all speculation. No one knows for certain if JS did in fact have sexual relations with his plural wives. One day the Lord will “shed light out into the world on this subject.” For now, it is all conjecture. However, it seems very logical to conclude that if there were no children from plural marriages to over 30 women that there was little if any sex going on in these relationships.
The first Nauvoo polygamy discussion I can recall where I participated with any active interest was in a Church young adult Sunday School class. The teacher was very open-minded and responded to our curiosity with all kinds of information. I heard talk about it before that, but really didn’t care.
I never read any anti-Mormon literature of any kind until I was in college.
#119. Scott it is not logical to conclude that there was little if any sex going on in these relationships.
Where do you think Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and everyone else who practiced polygamy (and had sex while doing so) learned how to practice it? They took their cues on how to be a plural husband from Joseph, including that they could have sex with their plural wives. Otherwise, we are forced to accept a version of history in which Joseph Smith was the only polygamous husband not having sex with his wives. In that alternate version of history, Joseph took plural wives but was somehow to holy to have sex with them all the while teaching Brigham Young and others that they could have sex with their wives?
Why would Emma have had such a hard time if the relationships weren’t sexual?
I agree that taking things on a bit at a time over a long period can be helpful. As I noted in this post, the sexism in the temple ceremony was something I expected when I received my endowments in 1985. So it didn’t seem out of place. The first shocking experience I had in the temple was seeing women perform ordinances. It was only later that the sexism became problematic to me.
Since then I have seen younger women attend the temple coming from a world much less filled with sexism and they are rather blindsided by seeing it all at once. (Even though they are accustomed to seeing it in church, they expect the temple to be more perfect.)
So while I agree Joseph Smith’s (brand of) polygamy won’t be as “traumatic” for those who have learned of it over many years and since very young, I am hard pressed to see why it isn’t troublesome to everyone who stops to look at those things that seem normal to them but really aren’t.
No, I do not think we need to disavow the practice, pop the revelation out of the D&C or apologize to the world.
Absolutely, but sacrifice doesn’t make something good, honorable, or correct, even though it might have some positive consequences.
Do you have documentation of thousands making this claim? I’m no historian (if anyone is confused about that), but I know some such claims alongside myriad statements to the contrary. Wives exiled to the hinterlands to fend for themselves, wives vying for position, wives feeling lonely and discarded and destitute.
Even then, I’m sure some (perhaps many) still bore testimony of the practice. Otherwise what are they left with? They have “married” someone else’s husband and had children with him. Where do they go from there if it was all a big misunderstanding? Have you read some accounts of FLDS leaving? It’s horrific.
That aside, no, my ideology doesn’t collapse under the weight of testimony. History is full of atrocities perpetuated by people who were convinced they were doing something noble or at least necessary.
Will I “throw their experiences in the dustin”? If by that you mean disagree with their conclusions, absolutely. I choose to follow my own inspiration and reason.
I doubt that all of the relationships were non-sexual. But it seemsthat those that were most likely to be non-sexual (and more ceremonial), when looking at the available evidence, are those relationships that people tend to be most uncomfortable with: the sealings to married women and to Helen Mar Kimball for example.
I had wondered for years how so many people could be completely ignorant of Joseph’s polygamy. Kibble @ #115 provides a good explanation. It is just not as “in the air” in certain wards and families. My parents both have college degrees and polygamy in their ancestry so this was a natural topic for discussion. I can see how it would not be discussed as much. The newer church manuals have certainly taken out most references to Joseph’s other wives. I still am amazed by the older members (50+ yrs old) who do not know about Joseph’s polygamy. It was discussed straight up in church in my youth classes back in the day and I am not that old yet.
I also had the opportunity to visit most major church history sites while growing up. The reasons for the LDS-RLDS split were certainly mentioned and the explanation of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s martyrdom also included references to polygamy. One more great thing that my parents did that I can thank them for after the fact.
Kind words, Alison. Thanks. Thanks for all your efforts.
Might I just say with respect to polygamy and whether s/he did or didn’t with them that fidelity in marriage has so much more to it than foreplay and intercourse. You might consider, for example, Eugene England’s article “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage” ( http://www.eugeneengland.org/on-fidelity-polygamy-and-celestial-marriage ), which I first read in the fourth issue of *Dialogue* in 1987. Also, the notions that “no DNA evidence exists” or “why worry if your spouse didn’t have a baby-making union” baffle me. Fidelity. I’ve not experienced, read, seen, heard, etc., a convincing case for polygamy that reconciles with my understanding and experience of true fidelity in marriage — and I do accept the more modern, evolving conception of, for example, gay marriage, whether the church does yet or not. Polygamy *is* sexist. In our Mormon history, polygamy was/is patriarchal, which is sexist.
I believe that God put us in a world of evolution and teaches us to supersede natural drives like survival of the fittest, which, I believe, includes sexism and polygamy, with love. Black widows could do better by their mates. So could have many restoration prophets and leaders. So could I.
In response to Shane Godis #110, as someone who learned of Joseph’s polygamy, including the “gory details,” at a younger age and from largely faithful sources I think you’re stretching when you claim that obviously we had to learn this from anti-Mormon teachings. I come from a family with roots in the Church all the way back to the beginning but I did not grow up in the Western Mormon enclaves. We lived out East in small branches of the Church.
We talked about polygamy and some of these other “unusual facts” about the Church at the dinner table and during family gatherings because I have direct family lines on both my mother and father’s sides of the family with polygamous parentage. My father was an amateur historian who loved to explore and learn so along with the 7 volume History of the Church there were shelves of books about Joseph, Brigham Young, other Church leaders, early Church historical events, and Mesoamerica history. These were sources from before and after correlation reared its head in the 1960s. I always looked at the Church manuals and materials as an interesting departure point but frequently found myself seeking out the bibliography and footnotes to find out where the actual source material might be found. And I wasn’t alone, many of my friends had parents with similar libraries and it wasn’t unusual to discuss polygamy in a very straightforward fashion. And funny thing, the spirit didn’t leave the room when we discussed it. I guess I have to admit that Richard and Claudia Bushman were in our Stake and good friends of my parents so maybe we were unusual in the grand scheme of the average Mormon experience but I didn’t realize it at the time.
I can completely appreciate why polygamy in all the little details might be a difficult topic for some but I don’t believe it needs to be and I pray it won’t be for my own daughters. I didn’t grow up believing Joseph was a perfect man or that he didn’t struggle just as we do in his efforts to understand what God was asking him to do. But I did grow up with stories of a great great grandmother who was the second wife who married at 15 to a man twice her age. We have an extensive history of her life and it is apparent that her husband took great care of both her and his first wife and the large family from both. She survived the first wife and took the other side of that large family as her own to care for along with an older daughter. They were among the families who fled to Colonia Juarez in order to avoid government persecution in the 1880s. My great great grandfather was a second generation polygamist – in that his father married 5 wives though he was the son of the first wife. But three of the “additional marriages” occurred in the Nauvoo era between 1842 and 1844. So I never saw polygamy as being a Brighamite innovation because it was clear from my own early family history that men were marrying and having children with multiple women prior to Joseph’s death in 1844. My ancestors were one of many among the hardworking Saints who followed the prophets from settlement to settlement and served as called upon but they weren’t raised to prominence if you can call it that as leaders in the Church. Just good people doing as the Lord asked and suffering and rejoicing along the way.
Contrary to the experiences that are conveyed in the Polygamous Wives Writing Club, I had the diaries and writings of my grandmothers and their personal experiences. They spoke of hardship but they also spoke of enjoyment and love.
We didn’t have Dialogue or Sunstone in the house but I was familiar with what they were and after certain GA’s called them out as inappropriate sources I examined them with greater skepticism when I did read them. But I kind of shrugged my shoulders when the call was to avoid anti-Mormon materials because it wasn’t exactly clear to me what was being referenced. Since we weren’t living in Utah I think there was enough distance that I knew who Fawn Brody, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery were but I wasn’t caught up in trying to sort out what was true and what wasn’t. I trusted my father and later my own instincts to determine the agenda of the individual who was writing and whether they were using original sources for their conclusions. I guess I was unusual because when I arrived at BYU my keen interest was to go dig into the Journal of Discourses and all the other “old Church history” that I could get my hands on in the Harold B Lee library.
My point is, it was possible to learn of Joseph’s polygamy from faithful sources and to look at other sources with an open eye to understanding history. But that open mind is something that had to be cultivated and certainly encouraged and unfortunately for many that hasn’t been the case.
#121 Shane—Yes, Brigham Young and Parley P. Pratt practiced plural marriage and they had children aplenty, unlike Joseph Smith and the zero children he had from over 30 wives—which proves my point. We do know that some of Brigham Young’s wives were in name only, so where did BY learn this from? How many of JS wives were name only? All, a few? No one knows. Not you, me, Alison or anyone. It’s all speculation and no one should be troubled by conjecture and negative theories some people have about JS and plural marriage. On this subject, I don’t believe for one second that JS did anything immoral. If he had, the Lord would have removed him immediately from his high position.
Alison, you now have me wondering how, as an investigator, I managed to be aware of Joseph’s practice of plural marriage, Helen Mar Kimball, Fanny Alger, and nearly the whole sordid lot either before or within a year of my baptism in 1986 (and my period of pre-baptism investigation was approximately one month). I’m not being smug or trying to say “anyone should have known.” I’m really wondering what I had access to that you and so many others lacked, or who told me. And I can’t recall now. It just seems like it was always there and I never thought that much of it.
I’m not saying it wasn’t wrapped in cushiony apologetics, especially as regards the underage girls, but it was all there and it bugs me that I don’t recall where I read it or heard it. It had to be between the start of my investigation (about 15 Dec 1985) and my departure for my mission 14 months later on 26 Feb 1987, so it’s a short window.
At any rate, reading Julie Smith’s comment (#17) and adano’s (#25), I see an important distinction. It occurs to me to say, pithily, that there is a world of difference between knowing that Joseph practiced plural marriage, and knowing how Joseph practiced plural marriage.
#128 Scott says, I don’t believe for one second that JS did anything immoral. If he had, the Lord would have removed him immediately from his high position.
You mean as opposed to, for example, leaving it to the Carthage Greys?
Oh, brother, did you just kick down the door of the cell.
The vast majority of faithful LDS scholars have concluded that the evidence is overwhelming that Joseph had sexual relations with about 10 of his wives. If they had been in name only, Joseph could have simply said so and thereby diffused the entire issue, though people may not have believed him since he was something less than truthful about his polygamous relationships.
And you, along with many other TBMs, proceed under the dubious assumption that any immoral conduct on Joseph’s part would have precipitated his removal by the Lord. This is nonsense. The Lord did not dispose of David and Solomon when their sexual proclivities crossed the line. Yes, the church and the people suffered as a result of their behavior, but, contrary to popular myth, the Lord will allow his leaders to lead us astray.
Incredulous Alison asks if there is documentation? Oh, for Pete’s sake!
There are enough public documents to fill a courthouse. At one time, this issue was rather thoroughly aired during Reed Smoot hearings and testimony from Joseph F. Smith, and rehashed in lawsuits from those nice Reorganized fellows. There are journals and depositions enough to keep you busy studying for years. More recently, Todd Compton’s samples are enough to populate a book. If you really care, go read them yourself. Whether the study of relevant and irrelevant documents leads to any great enlightenment about Joseph Smith and Nauvoo is another question. Judging from my read of Compton’s book, the answer would probably be no.
Most of what people “know” about polygamy seems to be an impression based on Warren Jeffs FLDS and other similar scurrilous shenanigans, as reported in the popular media. This negative picture gets superimposed over Joseph Smith and Nauvoo. Nobody is really qualified to make that connection.
My parents married when my mother was fifteen. Rare enough, but certainly not unheard of. When I hear people saying Joseph Smith consorting with teenage women disgusts them, I think they judge unfairly and without knowledge.
I also object to the continual denigration of Utah Mormons, so uninformed and indulgent, while those who happen to live elsewhere preen in their superlative attainment in learning the truth. In fact, considered as a collective, I would estimate that Church members in Utah understand more about polygamy than anyone else.
And, I do particularly enjoy spectacular exploding-head videos. Please put one up on YouTube when yours goes! Thanks! :-0
“And I didn’t realize that Joseph Smith was a polygamist…. because if I HAD known, I would have …..” What? What would you or anyone else had done or believed had you known about Joseph’s polygamy?”
I am a Mexican. Don’t forget that the glorious amount of Church membership and the amazing growth claimed by the Church leaders is mostly due to converts, foreign conservative converts. I am a convert, and this is my answer to your disingenuous question:
I would not have joined this dishonest Church.
And I believe that would have been the answer from many others. I suspect Church growth would have been much more modest in conservative countries where the Church flourished greatly in part due to their dubious and dishonest way they represented/represent themselves. And perhaps the massive number of inactive members in those same countries would be less.
And another small elephant in the Mormon living room, if we must and if this is not a thread-jack – Joseph’s lack of descendants from his other wives proves exactly nothing about his intimate relations, or lack thereof, with them. He may simply have had difficulty in fathering children, a hypothesis which is lent some credence (but not proof, Scott, please note the difference) by the fact that, of Emma’s eight pregnancies/nine genetic children (one with twins), only four children lived to adulthood. The others died, not in the “normal” vicissitudes of 19th-century life, but the day of their births, except 14-month-old Don Carlos in 1842. For those of you who are wondering, 5 of 9 is an exceptionally high mortality rate for any non-wartime period in history, but especially for the United States in the early 19th century.
Further notion that there may have been some issues with the Smith family gene pool can be considered (again, not proof) in the fact that Joseph’s youngest son, David Hyrum, suffered from intense depression all of his life, died at age 59, and despite his family’s best efforts, spent his last 27 years in an insane asylum. A troubled genius, indeed the “Sweet Singer of Zion.”
IDIAT, I intended to answer your question in #66 but neglected to.
No, I don’t require my prophets to be flawed. But they all have been, including Joseph. Do you claim otherwise?
If we take the position that JS was not flawed with respect to polygamy and he practiced it completely according to God’s will and command, we have to reexamine many things about our current policy and practice.
Todd Compton, thank you for the kind words. I doubt the post will discourage “smug superiority” (it hasn’t succeeded even in this thread, has it?), but maybe some will see the problem differently.
I agree that more should be done, but I don’t know what it would be outside of a revelatory explanation. What are your ideas on that? You are the expert!
So, jader3rd, you didn’t know about it until seven years after I did? Dude, what rock were you living under??? ;)
Scott, yes, I know McConkie wrote one of the standard explanations in MD. The point of my quote being that had I thought I had been given misinformation about Joseph Smith, I would not have looked to Mormon Doctrine as a source for correct information, since I already knew it had bad intel in the mix.
FTR, Joseph Fielding McConkie lived on my street when I was a kid and he and my dad were friendly, having served together in some stake council or other and both being BYU profs. After the priesthood revelation, I asked my dad how it could change. I had not personally read GD, but had certainly heard the explanation many times. My dad said that he’d had a conversation about that with Joseph. Joseph said that Bruce (his father — are you following me here?) was asked the same question and his answer was, “Well, I was wrong.” The inflection was, matter-of-fact, kind of a “duh” moment.
P.S. Yes, it’s a mental contortion to conclude that someone who hasn’t fathered children didn’t have sex. I only have six children and eleven pregnancies amidst thousands of possibilities — and that’s all I’m going to say about that. :)
What people don’t seem to be clear on is that Joseph lied about it to the church. He lied in print and in speeches.
I really struggle with the idea that God would go to the trouble of giving moses commandments such as thou shalt not commit adultery, or covet thy neighbours wife, or thou shalt not bear false witness, and then tell joseph to do the very acts that compromise each of those commandments.
Consider, the 1835 edition of the Book of Commandments section 101 defines polygamy as a sin. So God was giving out this little gem of a revelation to the members whilst at the same time telling Joseph about it since 1831 as a good thing and telling him to secretly practice it?
I don’t buy it. What kind of God do we end up with the lies to the members, that tells the prophet to send a man away on a mission and once he’s gone approach his wife with a tale of angels with a flaming sword and their destruction if they don’t submit to become his wife?
Seriously, i choose morality. I choose a God that is perfect, not an offence God that lies and condones and facilitates adultery.
Like you i served a mission, numerous calling, temple, full tithe payer, very highly educated. I discovered this information about a year prior to the essays. I too was called a liar or deceived when mentioning it to a few members. Yet know those same members say all is good the information was always there if only they’d looked. All is good in Zion?
So tell me, what would a manipulation look like? At what point do we look at ourselves and recognise that the goal posts keep moving further and further into territory that if any other faith did it we’d call it blatant deception and immorality?
When i reached that point where i realised that to retain a faith in Joseph Smith i needed to accept that God lies, that God supports stealing wives. For me that was too much.
I discussed this with my Stake President who reminded me that a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Restoration was a prerequisite for a Temple Recommend and for Salvation itself. At that moment the penny dropped. I could see the situation clearly. Faith in Joseph Smith is necessary for Salvation in this church, it’s the first TR question asked. If you doubt smith you can’t have a recommend, therefore you can’t go to the temple, be sealed or endowed, and therefore you can never be exalted. At that moment it dawned on me clearly that in the church, Joseph Smith is on Par with Jesus. No matter how much faith you have in Christ, if you don’t have faith in Joseph Smith you will not be saved into Exaltation. This makes Joseph critical to the salvation of all people on the earth and places him in effect as the forth member of the Godhead. No salvation without faith in Joseph Smith – i never saw it before in so stark and almost offensive a fashion. Yet there it is, in plain sight in the temple recommend interview questions.
At that point i knew i was done. I knew Joseph had lied. I knew that to place him on that level was blasphemy, and to make God a liar and co-conspirator in Adultery or wife theft was to defame and debase God. At that point i knew my whole life in Mormonism had been a giant lie.
If someone had told me years earlier i’d actually conclude that my church, the church i love/d would end up being the great satan, the real deceiver, i’d never have believed it. I’d read the BOM, i was convinced.
Boy was i sucked in with emotional manipulations.
And I learned when I was 27. Is that really so hard to believe? As someone already said, I’m incredulous about the incredulity.
I’ll see your incredulity and raise you a skepticism. You found nothing disturbing about it? To quote my favorite Mormon boy band, Everclean, “Oh, my heck, that’s frickin’, flippin’ crud.”
Seriously, that’s a post for another day, to catalog all the things from Enigma that a normal human being should find disturbing. I hope you find that “a bit preachy,” because I’m getting weary of so many wanting no answers while pretending that everything is just fine and dandy.
“But in the context of the discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, the portions of this section that actually address plural marriage are generally glossed over or skipped entirely and certainly do not include much elucidation of his still unexplained practice.”
I can’t speak for why others skip over JS’ attempts at implementing plural marriage for others, but I think a certain part of it has to do with not wanting to condemn Emma. In the early Utah period, Emma was frequently condemned, and it was frequently acknowledged that JS practiced plural marriage.
It’s hard to discuss plural marriage being the Lord’s will, while at the same time not faulting Emma’s response (especially compared to other leaders wives like Vilate, Mary Fielding, etc).
A typical discussion would go something like, “Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage.”
Question: “How did Emma respond?”
“She tore up the revelation, and maybe pushed one of the women down the stairs.”
Meanwhile, we have examples from other women, who received divine confirmation… so we tend to bypass the Joseph and Emma story in this regard because it doesn’t help advance the narrative as wished. So I see a bit of being uncomfortable with the topic, plus not wanting to tear down Emma’s legacy as part of it. She wanted nothing to do with it in life (from what it seems to me), so why should we entangle her in it in death.
BTW, I can’t remember when I learned about JS’ plural marriages. Some initial bits were probably in high school either in seminary or in church, just here in there (Joseph tried to practice it, Emma freaked out), but as far as being sealed to other women as his wives, I’m guessing the more in depth exposure was at BYU 15-20 years ago.
I think the professor introduced it something like, “You’ve all heard it said that Brigham Young and the Pioneers (Bluegrass band name anyone?) implemented polygamy for poor widows crossing the plains, that might have happened sometimes, but that’s not the reason why, we don’t know all the reasons why, but we do know of a lot of women who Joseph himself was sealed to.” And we had a list of women’s names handed to us, with a few quotes here and there. At least that’s how I remember it.
I will endeavor to answer some of your questions with amateur speculation on how Joseph might not have been in error in instituting the practice of polygamy. I personally think the practice was commanded of God for a short time. I am glad it wasn’t my time…
1) Revelation does not seem to come all at once or 100% clearly. Nor do we act on it with perfect understanding. It would not surprise me to learn that Joseph’s dynastic sealings were just his understanding of God’s will and the start of what we now know as eternal families. In other words, it is possible, that Joseph Smith and other early members were just working on the beta version, if you will, of the temple and sealings.
3,4,9 &10) I don’t think that there is a place for harem’s in eternities nor do I believe that God values women less than men. God has in other circumstances asked men and women to break a standing commandment for a period of time for his purposes. Nephi was commanded to kill Laban. Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. Surely God was not condoning murder and human sacrifice with these commands. We today are asked to abstain from alcohol when, to my knowledge, that has never been a commandment before. Does the commandment to practice plural marriage also fall into this category? Is the practice of plural marriage a temporary suspension of an eternal principle and not reflective on how God views women?
7&8) Fidelity is not just a commandment for women in a polygamous relationship; it also applies to men. But the idea of fidelity would just carry a different set of obligations and responsibilities for men than it would for women. Certainly within the context of LDS polygamy, there were “faithful” husbands who tried to do right and those that were not faithful and will probably have to answer for that in the next life.
I knew that polygamy was being practiced. The two books I referenced (Hill and Newell/Avery) documented what they discovered…It is what it is. I don’t know the purpose polygamy served, but I have faith in my Heavenly Father. He’ll reveal it when he wants to…his timing is not our timing. And, yes, that can be frustrating!
Julie Smith should do a follow on post examining what it means to “know” Joseph practiced polygamy and what it means to “know” the gory details of Joseph’s polygamy. It’s the gory details of Joseph’s “polygamy” that are disturbing. What we didn’t know were the details. Oh how we didn’t know the details.
Alison, the language of your questions seems to indicate a certain predisposition.
I’d be slightly curious to know how you prioritize your list.
As I meander through this thread, I realize how blessed I was, from a young age, to be part of a family that talked frankly about church history. Perhaps it is a consequence of being a direct descendant of John D Lee and having the baggage of Mountain Meadows chase your ancestors around–or maybe it is a result of the fact that another ancestor, a close associate of Joseph Smith (and “called” to polygamy in Nauvoo), didn’t much like Brigham Young and was consequently relegated to a lesser social circle when the saints settled the Salt Lake Valley–but in my family we talked about the less savory side of the early church. A lot. I’d read Juanita Brooks before I was 14. My grandpa, the honorary family historian, answered all my questions honestly and completely.
This latest round of truth telling from the official mouthpieces of headquarters in the form of various essays or statements is refreshing and overdue. I can truthfully say that had I grown up with only the correlated version of events, I would have gone inactive long ago. There has long been a tug of war in the higher councils of the church over how these often unconscionable things are dealt with–some have argued that truth is truth, it has been available in some form for a long time, and should be available to all. Others have held on to a belief that airing the family dirty laundry was not going to help so the good side should be focused on in the hopes of being faith-promoting and positive. The cost of keeping the “family secrets” hidden is just now really being known and I am glad that, however better late than never, it is being confronted in an official way.
I still remain uncomfortable, however, at the Joseph glorification that seems to crop up periodically. I have a hard time getting through “Praise to the Man” sometimes. His achievement and his role was and is extraordinary, but in many regards there is enough of a King David to his story that I would feel better if some of the hero worship was scaled back and we talked of him candidly, recognizing his great qualities but making him more of a man and less of a legend.
Patriarchy (aka sexism) makes fidelity different for men and for women. In a patriarchal system, fidelity for women is faithfulness to obligations, duties, or observances (i.e., the definition of it). However, fidelity for men…well, not necessarily so much so. In Mormon polygamy, it seems to have been defined however the men in power and control wanted it to be. Hence, for example, the vilification of Emma by them for raising a ruckus about Joseph relative to her understanding of his unfaithfulness to their traditional marital obligations, duties, or observances. Even in simple patriarchy people say things like “…fidelity would just carry a different set of obligations and responsibilities for men than it would for women.”
My God knows that if S/He or Her/is representative comes to me commanding that I kill a child or cut off the head of an incapacitated drunk or anything akin to it, S/He better give me a better reason than I’ve ever read in accepted scripture or even in the best exegesis I know of. I hope I would lay down my life for a child or a fellow being before killing them without clearly understanding the reasoning and acknowledging its necessity. Perhaps, even if I did understand I would have the courage to demure. Survival of the fittest *must* defer to love.
There is a question I would love answered: (How) can it be moral to engage in missionary work without disclosing these issues of polygamy to potential converts?
First person to comment on this thread, the Dutch gentleman, said something about members not knowing is a unique Utah problem. Well, we have a former Swedish 70 (Hans Mattsson) who’s been very open with his disaffection against the church, after he not too long ago learned out about JS & polygamy. In fact, several high standing members there have left the church, over what they have found out about JS recently. It’s been so bad that the church issued special instructions for the Swedish church leaders (the letter can be found online), plus sent president Jensen (the church’s head historian at the time) over a few years ago, to have a unique meeting with a group of angry, now disaffected members, to try calm things down. Don’t think it did a whole lot of good. But I guess this shows that, no, this is NOT just a secret that ignorant Utah Mormons weren’t in on!
#145 “I have a hard time getting through “Praise to the Man” sometimes.”
If it helps (as you know I’m sure), think about how the hymn was written by a person who knew him far better than you ever will. And song by many hundreds who also knew him far better. As to your King David analogy, consider how important it was to the Jews that they demonstrate Jesus was of David’s lineage.
I think it would do a great disservice to presume we can talk more candidly of Joseph than those who knew him. And those who knew him sang praises to his name.
So much offense over an issue that no one is asked to live. It’s almost as if some people are looking for an excuse to justify their defection.
Kris (148), no one is saying its an uniquely Utah phenomena just that it appears far more common here due to more anti-Mormons elsewhere. I can’t speak to Europe and anti-Mormonism there. It may well be that due to secularism there is less anti-Mormonism there. (Most anti-Mormon preaching in the US is done by Evangelicals – although to be fair I encounter it among secular atheists as well)
#149 covered my sentiments quite well. Only one thing I would add. If Joseph received the revelation on plural marriage, shared the principle only with close friends or those whom were interviewed to practice such, that no one has been authorized to practice or teach in over 100 years, how can anyone who has posted say they completely understand the principle of plural marriage?
“I think it would do a great disservice to presume we can talk more candidly of Joseph than those who knew him. And those who knew him sang praises to his name.”
William Law knew Joseph Smith quite well and didn’t seem to speak praises of his name. Philastus Hurlbut compiled affidavits of people who knew Joseph Smith and spoke ill of him. A great number of Joseph Smith closest associates, Olivery Cowdery, David Whitmer, Thomas Marsh, and many others parted ways with Joseph Smith, often times taking issue with polygamy. Cowdery called Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.”
“So much offense over an issue that no one is asked to live. It’s almost as if some people are looking for an excuse to justify their defection.”
Yet they are asked to defend Joseph Smith’s honor and not take issue with plural marriage when brought up. One need not provide an excuse or justification to discontinue participating in a voluntary organization. In fact it is quite the opposite. The LDS church is making bold claims about the the character of its founder Joseph Smith (even promoting the idea that he did more for humankind than anyone else accept Jesus), and it encourages, if not expects, its members to defend his character before other members and non-members alike. Of course the narrative that the LDS church provided the membership (prior to the essays about polygamy) has almost completely excluded references to Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage. It is absolutely unreasonable to believe that a member who relied completely on LDS church materials (and the leadership repeatedly encourages members to rely almost exclusively on the materials that it provides) to inform themselves about Joseph Smith would have known anything details about his plural marriage, let alone anything at all. It is also unreasonable to think that a member who finds out about the details of plural marriage owes the LDS church or its membership any explanation as to why they are unsettled, especially since they are still expected to defend JS’s honor. Rather, it is the church that owes an explanation to the members about plural marriage, and a much better one than they have proffered.
My mother told me that JS practiced polygamy but some people liked to think that BY started it. I thought it was strange, but at least I was aware of the fact that some people were blind to it.
I think probably one of the main reasons that Mormon meetings don’t talk about it much is that post-Manifesto the church took a few years to really crack down and they had to crack down. Too many members still believed that it was the more righteous way and wanted to keep living it. They could not longer teach about it, discuss it, preach about it because they didn’t want people to live it. They were working very hard to get it off the table.
We could say that they should still have mentioned it…..but how do you go from preaching it to just discussing it casually as a historical fact? And how awkward did the family’s who didn’t get to have Dad come home anymore feel? The church had to excommunicate people in order to get it to stop. Polygamy wasn’t a history that gave anyone happy things to discuss at church since now it was a sin.
Just difficult for everyone.
I think things progressed from that difficult transition time.
As the Dutch member you referred to, I like to answer. As Clark (150) has said: this is not a Utah problem, but a problem of a too-successful correlation (as has been pointed out also in the thread). And in “Deseret” (which is larger than Utah) that is simply a larger risk than in the church periphery. I know about Sweden, and I know personally some of the members in trouble there. In Europe anti-mormon propaganda does not come from the evangelicals, but – as Wilfried mentioned – from well-meaning kinsmen. We are not important enough to generate counterattacks.
This post raises a fundamental question on church communication policy. Untill recently the church has tried to control the information flow, to monopolize the writing of its own history. Increasingly this is not possible any longer, more books and the internet, especially. What now? In epidemics, if you cannot isolate, inoculate. That is a game change. But the quandary is, that being upfront with our history means depicting Jospeh as quite human and fallible and that goes against a long term trend. Be sure, I can live well with a fallible prophet (see earlier posts), but I think that is the main quandary for the church leadership in this shift from ‘isolation’ to ‘inoculation’ (the medical terminology is not fully apt, I know).
I hope those in power read this blog and these comments. Something more than the latest essays on polygamy needs to be done. Maybe a little contrition? Maybe admit it was wrong?
I’m 54, grew up in California, attended 4 years of seminary, served a mission, graduated from BYU, and have been active all of my life. I can’t recall a time since becoming aware of plural marriage when my understanding was that Joseph Smith just taught the doctrine, but didn’t practice it.
Dave the T&S perm here. FYI, I commented at #18 but that’s it. #155 is another Dave (we are legion).
I like Walter’s point (#154): the Church has lost control of telling its own history, and that is a game changer. I think only recently have the consequences of this situation begun to be fully realized by LDS leaders. The essays are an attempt to get back in the game. How it all plays out — that is, how successful the new approach to the reality of wide open information about LDS history being widely available to the membership will be — cannot yet be determined.
The first several essays went very well, although they were largely unknown to the general membership. The polygamy essays have not gone so well (understatement). I wonder what the next shoe to drop will be. The essays, I think, are just the first step in the new approach, although apart from incorporating them into the LDS curriculum I have not heard any comment about plans. Last thought: if incorporating accurate LDS history into the LDS curriculum is a new departure … what exactly went into the old LDS curriculum?
In my estimation, in the virtual world today, most anti-Mormon propaganda appears to come from the Bloggernacle.
From my perspective, the Church has never really “controlled” “telling its own history”, at least since I have been watching. In a tiny microcosm of carefully coordinated Church curriculum, perhaps, but in the greater sense that Incredulous Alison suggests, it never has. Years ago, the Mark Hoffman case emphasized to me how easy it was for others to manipulate the narrative. D. Michael Quinn is another example. Obviously, “historical” works incorporate their own preconceived ideas.
Today the influence of the Internet has vastly facilitated the flow and scope of information, but information such as Nauvoo polygamy was always out there, available to any who cared to go looking. I have never seen it as conspiratorial plotting of the Patriarchy to keep the masses misinformed and ignorant.
New curriculum – same as the old one. The real “departure” is simply a much broader presentation, because of adopting new media approaches.
Just one example: Official Church web resources. It changes every day.
(BTW, I am still hoping to see Incredulous Alison’s new head-exploding video posted on YouTube.)
Well said, Dave of posts #18 and #157, very well said. I find it sad that a large portion of Church membership will probably never be able to appreciate the tremendous increase in quality between the heavily amalgamated, redacted, correlation-selected portions of Church history previously offered and the unprecedented access to original documents now being made available online. But I’m grateful for the added power to choose for myself how Church history affects me and my testimony.
The inaccurate versions of history presented by the Church will likely hold sway for many years, being quoted by General Authorities and local leaders alike, especially if no formal announcement proclaims them to be inaccurate. And they will continue to be used by authors, ignorantly or not.
The “bloggernacle” thinks too much of itself. We are still an extreme minority. The rest of the church doesn’t and never will approach curriculum like we here do. They want to go to church, have a nice “spiritual” experience to help them through the next week and do it all over again. I’m okay with that for them. I need more so I try to create the nice experience for others and end up creating a nicer experience for myself when I do.
I love words. I’m 51. I am amazed at how many times in my life I have heard a word I was sure I hadn’t heard before. After looking it up and understanding it, I hear it everywhere. Later I can’t seem to remember a time when I didn’t know it. Have any of you experienced this?
If we aren’t actively searching–questing we don’t receive answers until we have questions for them, no matter how many times the answer has bounced off our eardrums.
I’m still waiting for any response whatsoever to #147. Is there no response because there is no response?
jcobabe, I believe you bear the burden of proof to show where an average member might have known extensively about Nauvoo polygamy from church resources. There is virtually nothing there. They would have had to buy Compton’s book, poke around to find find journals and depositions, and venture into the territory of ‘alternative voices’ that the LDS church leaders, both local and general, routinely cautioned them against.
“I have never seen it as conspiratorial plotting of the Patriarchy to keep the masses misinformed and ignorant.”
It has been a veritable conspiracy of silence on the details of the issue, not a cover-up. Leaders would acknowledge Joseph Smith’s plural marriage in general, but would always try to divert people away from the details as if they were trivial and didn’t matter too much. D. Michael Quinn was treated like an outcast for exposing the basic fact that polygamy continued to be practiced after 1890. And now, lo and behold, it is an acknowledged on lds.org. Yesterday’s anti-Mormon literature is now today’s basic facts, which doubters and the incredulous should have known all along and never had any issue with. This leads to the question, is reality anti-Mormon?
PP (#161) – My apologies. I didn’t realize T&S comment policy was to respond to all comments within 15 hours. I’m sure we’ll get someone right on that…
“So much offense over an issue that no one is asked to live. It’s almost as if some people are looking for an excuse to justify their defection.”
This is such a failure of empathy on your part, DQ. You figure polygamy doesn’t bother you, so if anyone else *claims* to be bothered, it’s because they’re *looking* to be offended?
Your attribution is complete rubbish, but your facts are also wrong. So long as we continue to have men sealed to multiple women, we are openly planning to have polygamy in the next life. Will there actually be polygamy there? No official answers. For most men, a vague wave of the hand and “God will work everything out” is sufficient. But for women, for whom it most matters to know if they should plan on a God who wants them to be eternally subservient, this might actually matter quite a bit. How can this be surprising to you?
PP: Why limit your question to polygamy? What is so special about polygamy that makes it THE issue that we need to tell people about? What makes you think we actually know enough about all that happened related to polygamy that we can give the full story anyway? Seems to me that there is a lot of speculation on all sides.
Do we also need to disclose potential issues and problems related to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, Old and New Testament, the latest scholarly work on the documentary hypothesis, Noah & the flood and the authors/dating of the 4 gospels before anyone gets baptized? Do we need to make sure every convert and member coming of age needs to be aware of all the the current and potentially critical scholarship related to any aspect of the scriptures and history? That is a full time job… do we need to replace all our current manuals and teachings so we can have time to keep up on the latest developments? Which facts and historical sources do we accept as truth in this scenario?
Do other Churches need to do this as well? Do Catholics need to disclose every bad thing a Pope ever did? Do they need to hear the minutes from the Nicene Council? How about non-religious organizations? Does Ford need to let every new car buyer know about its controversial actions in the 70’s related to the Pinto? After all, they might trade your life for some extra cash as they did then.
Frankly, if I believe that The God of the Entire Universe appeared to a 14 year old boy and that 14 year old boy was given golden plates from an angel, etc… then I can take it on faith that either a) polygamy was commanded by God or b) God used Joseph Smith to fulfill His will despite Joseph being a flawed man.
And really, faith is why people join and remain in the church. Not because they have a PhD level understanding of any given topic. They don’t know it all, no one does, not even the scholars.
curtispew, I just want to note that you self-described as a “mission field Mormon.” When we moved to Florida, there was a great deal of anti-Utahism and great pride in calling oneself a “mission field Mormon” in comparison. In the Bloggernacle, there has often been much reproach poured upon Utahns who make reference to “the mission field” as if it suddenly became a pejorative. Never understood that. Although it’s a fuzzy line, I think most of us understand what that means.
That said, given the obtuse language in most correlated material, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that JS re-introduced polygamy and those that followed practiced it. One of the reasons I was told was that Joseph just didn’t have time to get marry and start new families, given all the persecution and jail time and all. That easily compares to the RLDS position that Joseph’s REINTRODUCTION of polygamy was where he went off course. You don’t need JS to personally practice polygamy in order to validate this conflict.
Emma, who helped found the RLDS church, vehemently denied Joseph’s participation (as did Joseph himself). As target=”_blank”>Jana Riess points out, There was an Ensign article about Emma in 1979—the first mention of her in 113 years in a church publication—that doesn’t even mention polygamy. Over time, as both Riess and others here have noted, Emma’s version of polygamy became the LDS church’s apparent position as well.
Also note in the comments to Riess’s article some comments:
Yup. Given that everything that seemed to frame church history negatively was deemed “anti-Mormon” in my general experience, there was a lot of stuff we weren’t supposed to be reading.
In truth, there are many lies told about the church. As homeschoolers, we have received more than our fill from the evangelical crowd over last 20 years. If you don’t intend to spend your life in apologetics, sometimes there are more pressing matters than reading everything that could possibly be true about church history. Opportunity cost and all.
I don’t mind the notion that reading pieces challenging the church my not be a good idea unless you’re willing to follow through the research to the end or at least to the point of considering various solid viewpoints. I have relatives who have left the church over issues that even they have admitted aren’t thought through very well. That’s a shame, too.
PP your request at #147 is okay and actually not limited to converts. But it raises a few more questions. At which point in my instruction of my children should I introduce them to plural marriage given that the majority of us don’t live in a society that practices it? Should it come before faith in Jesus Christ? My testimony of the Book of Mormon? The principle of tithing? Honesty? Chastity? etc, etc. etc. It is just not a priority. In what way is a person who has not been asked to live the law of plural marriage edified by introducing it as a “true” principle prior to teaching them about the work for their dead? It is no longer a temporal principle.
Also, when I want to teach my children or anyone about a principle of the gospel I never ask them to research it out and decide for themselves. I challenge them to live it and see for themselves as I have done. I tell them about how it has changed me for the better and then tell them that if lived with faith they too can enjoy the blessings. I cannot do this with polygamy. The only real way to get a full testimony of polygamy would be to receive it as a command from God, then live it. I am content to accept the testimonies, especially of the women, who were asked to live it and then rose to the challenge after wrestling with God on the matter.
There’s no way I’m going to be able to catch up on this discussion (!) but I was closing browser tabs and ran across the Revelations in Context essay put up last week by the Church History Department, so here’s a link for anyone who hasn’t read it yet:
Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage: D&C 132
ABM and Joel –
Is it wrong to give alms to a single beggar, even though we cannot give alms to all beggars?
Is it wrong to attempt to be more completely honest about one thing, even if we lack time to completely discuss all aspects of church history?
Is it impossible to disclose troublesome issues to adult converts, without teaching the topics to our sunny sunbeams?
How would you feel if you bought a car, only to find out it didn’t have an engine? “Sorry, buddy, you should have asked beforehand!”
It is, indeed, discouraging to think about all of the information that might lead converts to hesitate joining the church if it were disclosed before baptism.
Much better to throw our hands up and stick with he basics.
FarSide—I don’t make this stuff up. Speaking of our dispensation, a number of prophets have stated that the Lord would never allow the President of the Church to lead us astray. Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith: “Neither the President of the Church nor the First Presidency…will ever lead the Church astray…” Harold B. Lee: “God will never permit him (Pres. of Church) to lead us astray…God would remove us out of our place…” Pres. David O. McKay: “The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” Pres. Joseph F. Smith: God…will not suffer the head of the Church…to transgress His laws…the moment he should take a course that would in time lead to it, God would take him away.”
I repeat: I don’t believe for one second that Joseph Smith did anything immoral.
The fact remains that no one knows whether JS was intimate with all, a few, or none of his plural wives. It is all speculation and all mental contortions. The fact that no children resulted from any of his plural marriages, certainly leaves wide-open the possibility that all or most of JS plural marriages were in name only. No one has the definitive answer here. Someday we will have the answers to all our questions. In the meantime, no one should be troubled by all the speculation and specious conjecture on this subject.
Scott, if Joseph Smith had no children from any of his plural marriages (and we haven’t been able to run suitable DNA tests on all of those of whom it was claimed were Joseph Smith’s children), what do you say was the purpose of Joseph Smith practicing plural marriage?
Do you agree with the claim in the essays that the purpose of plural marriage in Nauvoo was to “raise up seed” (the meaning of which is clearly stated as bringing forth “an increased number of children born to believing parents”)? Do you agree with the statement in the essay Plural Marriage in Nauvoo and Kirtland, “[d]ifficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed “raise up seed” unto God”?
Is it wrong to give alms to a single beggar, even though we cannot give alms to all beggars?
You have decided there is something nefarious and that the church is hollow and that I must be a blind idiot. Only you can fix that. But I’ll plow on anyway.
Polygamy is not troublesome to me. It is not troublesome to many. If there is one thing that most non-members have heard it is that Mormon’s were/are polygamists. It is the standard joke. It hardly needs disclosure.
To be convinced that Joseph was a philander based on historians’ conclusions or the available admissible evidences is grounds for exclusion from jury duty.
The church’s essay is actually one of the most honest documents and historical analyses I have read, because it is short, isn’t for personal profit, general notoriety, or professional plaudits, and makes no conclusions from scanty evidence. The only real answer is “we don’t know much about Joseph’s marriages,” the evidences are too few to accurately describe how he interacted with them. All guesswork. Hence, the silence. I can agree that many in the church would like to believe that Emma was Joseph’s only wife. Many of those folks put the blinders on themselves and tried to put them on others. And they are as free to do so as folks here are to castigate them for it.
Steve—Yes, of course I agree that plural marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo (and later in Utah), did indeed “raise up seed” unto God.” Many Mormons today, myself included, are direct descendants of faithful ancestors who practiced plural marriage.
We also know that “eternity alone” or “in name only” sealings were commonly practiced in plural marriage. We can only speculate why. As the essay points out: “Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown”.
Some possibilities mentioned for “eternity alone” sealings could be: Creating an eternal bond between families, and some of the women who were already married to other men when sealed to Joseph Smith—were married to non-Mormons and unhappy. Being sealed to Joseph Smith for “eternity alone” gave them blessings in the next life. Also, maybe Emma’s feelings were considered and led to most or all of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages to be for “eternity alone.”
The essay states that most of the women sealed to Joseph Smith, moved to Utah with the Saints, and remained faithful to the Church and defended plural marriage and Joseph Smith.
Scott, if the purpose of plural marriage was to raise up seed, then Joseph Smith didn’t do a very good job at fulfilling that aim if he, according to you, had no children from the plural marriages and may have not even had intercourse with the plural wives. Brigham Young also didn’t do a very good job at raising up seed. He had 55 wives and 56 children from those wives. That’s on average only one child per female. Those 55 women would have arguably been collectively more prolific had they all entered into monogamous relationships. Even Parley P. Pratt, of whom it is believed has more than 20,000 descendants today, had 12 wives, but 30 children, being an average of 2.5 children per female. Again, those women would have probably been more prolific had they been monogamous.
The fact that many LDS people are descendants of polygamous relationships doesn’t mean that the practice of plural marriage raised up seed, with the meaning of increasing the population more than it would have been through monogamy. In fact, monogamy would have probably resulted in faster population growth in the early Mormon community. That issue aside, the explanation that I constantly hear from TBMs that the purpose of plural marriage was to raise up seed just doesn’t square with the idea, which they commonly insist on, that Joseph Smith didn’t have any children with his plural wives. There has to be a better explanation for Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, then.
Also, there is plenty of evidence that Joseph Smith had intercourse with other women besides Emma, and many of the apologists acknowledge this (http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/faq/sexuality-2/). So it isn’t just baseless speculation, as you claim, to make such an assertion.
PP & JDH,
I guess the difference in our viewpoints is that you seem to view all of this as stuff that needs explaining, and that needs to be disclosed by the church, like it’s a publicly traded company that has been caught cheating. To a certain extent, I agree. We should lead and tell our story so that those not friendly to the church don’t beat us to it. We shouldn’t ignore it, we shouldn’t hide it and I think we can handle it better than we have up to this point.
On the other hand, this is religion… religion’s focus is not history, not scholarly consensus and not provable facts. The most fantastic and unbelievable thing the church teaches is also its main tenet: That 2,000 years ago, a Jewish man was miraculously conceived by God, literally suffered eternally for our sins, died and came back to life. The church offers no proof or explanation for these claims. Yet it asserts that we must change our entire lives based on these unsupported and unprovable events.
And that is why I would be against including what would essentially be a “polygamy disclaimer” in discussions with investigators as PP suggested. If you do that, you might as well include a disclaimer on everything else we teach. Because what is currently in the discussions is 100 times less probable and less acceptable to historians than any of the issues surrounding polygamy.
The following book may prove useful…Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle by Jessie L Embry published in 1987. It was one of the Publications in Mormon Studies published by the U of U Press. Jessie, as far as I know, continues to work in the Charles Redd Center, BYU.
“To be convinced that Joseph was a philander based on historians’ conclusions or the available admissible evidences is grounds for exclusion from jury duty.”
If you’re formulating an opinion based on someone else’s opinion, then yes, that would be grounds for exclusion from jury duty, but not if your formulating your own opinion based on the available admissible pieces of evidence. What else is an objective jury member supposed to do? It seems reasonable to believe that Joseph Smith was indeed a philanderer based on the following sworn statement reported in the Sangamo Journal (http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinois?a=d&d=SJO18420715&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-#):
“Personally appeared before me, Abraham Fulkerson, one of the Justices of the Peace in and for said county, Melissa Schindle, who, being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith, that in the fall of 1841, she was staying one night with the widow Fuller, who has recently been married to a Mr. Warren, in the city of Nauvoo, and that Joseph Smith came into the room where she was sleeping about 10 o’clock at night, and after making a few remarks came to her bed-side, and asked her if he could have the privilege of sleeping with her. She immediately replied NO. He, on the receipt of the above answer told her it was the will of the Lord that he should have illicit intercourse with her, and that he never proceeded to do any thing of that kind with any woman without first having the will of the Lord on the subject; and further he told her that if she would consent to let him have such intercourse with her, she could make his house her home as long as she wished to do so, and that she should never want for anything it was in his power to assist her to — but she would not consent to it. He then told her that if she would let him sleep with her that night he would give her five dollars — but she refused all his propositions. He then told her that she must never tell of his propositions to her, for he had ALL influence in that place, and if she told he would ruin her character, and she would be under the necessity of leaving. He then went to an adjoining bed where the Widow ____ was sleeping — got into bed with her and laid there until about 1 o’clock, when he got up, bid them good night, and left them, and further this deponent saith not.
“MELISSA (her X mark) SCHINDLE. Subscribed and sworn to before me, this 2d day July, 1842. A. FULKERSON, J. P. (seal).”
Some of you are putting words in my mouth. I don’t think the Church is hollow, terrible, etc. But I do think there are plenty of things we could improve. The current culture – or at least the culture promulgated by missionaries – that portrays the Church as if it’s nearly perfect, that all our prophets and apostles are simply squeeky clean choir-boys, that leaders can do no wrong – this culture is a huge problem. It’s a huge disappointment for anyone who expects these things, and then discovers the truth.
To be more specific about what I think we could teach converts: Imagine, in the old 6 lesson framework, a 7th lesson titled something like “Christ alone is our perfect example.” Besides talking about the perfection of Christ, we’d then point out the error of putting our faith in anyone else. We’d point out that prophets and apostles are generally good people – that God does indeed communicate with them about the Church as he communicates with us about our lives – but that they themselves are just like us, very imperfect.
We’d point out that ultimately, the only person who can’t disappoint us is Christ, and that he should be the overwhelming focus of our spiritual lives.
We’d point out that Joseph was an amazing man, but don’t be surprised when you find out he had some flaws – he made many mistakes while trying to institute polygamy, for example. We’d point out that current local leaders do their best, but sometimes are mistaken or act in un-Christ like ways. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Like President Hinckley, I don’t see the point of trying to convert people who are only going to leave the Church later on. Managing their expectations would help.
I’m also afraid that some of you who don’t think any of this needs explaining don’t actually know the details of what went on. Perhaps you will dismiss the details as anti-mormon propaganda. I would, at a minimum, read the sections of Rough Stone Rolling on these topics. If you guys don’t find anything disturbing about blatant lying, potential adultery, coercion, etc. – then I suppose I would recommend reading the Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew 5-7, especially).
Some of you have said we don’t need to disclose these things, because there are corporations who don’t disclose things, because the Catholic church may not disclose its history, etc. My follow-up questions are: Does the Church of Christ model itself after these other institutions? Shouldn’t the Church of Christ operate at a higher moral level than a car company?
For any of you who, like me, wonder what we should say to potential converts, I’m inclined to tell them that converting to a new religion is a huge life-step, that they should thoroughly research their decision with both their minds and their hearts, learn everything they can about the Church, and that they should not hesitate to ask members questions that arise from their research.
It is hard not to get snarky about your post re Melissa Schindle or should I say Abraham Fulkerson since we only have Ms. Schindle’s “X” and he wrote the whole thing. I did say admissible evidence. Of course I have seen this before. Again, I am supposed as an idiot.
PP Thank you for your clarification on your desires for improvement in missionary work. I have thought from time to time that more time for thoughtful review might be helpful in many instances, even counsel to wait a little longer before baptism. However, I have some other thoughts on the issue of conversion and retention. I’m sorry but it requires self-validation through experience to establish quasi-expertise.
I have served as a ward mission leader three times in three different places. Logan, UT, Fresno. CA and Los Banos, CA (60 baptisms over two years!), three other times as stake missionary, and once as secretary to a stake mission presidency when they had such a thing. About twelve years total. I served a FT mission in Japan as well.
I could never predict which investigators would be helped or hindered by the extra information members often want to volunteer. I was one of the members of course. I often volunteered information/explication beyond what the missionaries could possibly provide. I would be called in to help with the “difficult cases,” i.e., the questioning souls. Sometimes it seemed to be helpful sometimes not. I never felt I was hiding anything though I knew I knew so much more than they or the missionaries knew. Even if I tried to explain all they wouldn’t have the ears to hear it. I believe we only receive answers for which we have already posed questions. Without the question we have not created the mental space to hold the answer and it “just goes in one ear and out the other.” Part of my objection to the whole line of thinking that there is a conspiracy of silence.
One thing common to all is the “step of faith” into the unknown. This is inescapable. I could not possibly answer all their questions. God wouldn’t allow anyway–sometimes I felt truly constrained. That step is apparently vital. It is also that step which sometimes provided the strong spiritual confirmation which helped them endure the transition.
I hear you but I submit that God’s ways are not my ways, nor the brethrens’ but I believe they are making an effort to constantly improve.
Joel, a sworn statement isn’t admissible evidence? At any rate, the piece of evidence that I presented is only one of many that reveals Joseph Smith’s lifestyle in Nauvoo. The idea that there isn’t any evidence to formulate a good opinion about JS’s marriages or character vis-a-vis women is disingenuous. Holding ridiculously high evidentiary standards is typical of denialists. I can’t imagine that you apply a similarly high evidentiary standard for other issues (i.e. Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Abraham). You seem to just believe what you want to believe regardless of the evidence.
I admit to high evidence standards. So many problems with this evidence:
We cannot determine whether Ms. Schindle even made the statement.
She couldn’t write so she may not have even been able to read. If so, she would not have been able to know what Fulkerson wrote, except by what he said he wrote.
Would she testify under oath to this allegation under penalty of perjury?
Was she subject to cross-examination?
Was Fulkerson questioned under oath?
On and on. I am sure that some of our historians have vetted this Enquirer-esque expose better that I can.
This evidence doesn’t even meet a minimal legal standard so is more likely to show eagerness to accept on your part than eagerness to dismiss on mine.
I’m desperately behind in responses. I realize you aren’t all waiting with bated breath for my personal response to your comments, but I appreciate the input from so many and there are so many good points to discuss, I’d like to respond as much as possible. In any case, thank you for the conversation.
This incident always makes me look cross-eyed at people who claim the church leaders didn’t intentionally, willfully promote a misleading history. Along with all the other billions of incidents—like Joseph Smith’s bio (and that of most other prophets) that conveniently leaves out ALL other wives that would make polygamy obvious. Sincerely, who thinks that was accidental? Who thinks those who wrote and edited and vetted the manuals ALL just—WHOOPS—forgot about all those other women? (OK, not that I’m surprised that women are overlooked, but…)
From where I sit, there are valid reasons for leaving out information. I don’t introduce myself to everyone I meet by handing them my enormous list of life long failures and sins. In fact, about the only person who has that list (mostly) in it’s entirety is my husband. And he’s stuck with me (lucky for me!). But for the love of pete, let’s be honest about the omission and not pretend (1) it didn’t happen or (2) it was all just happenstance.
We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. He must come first, just as He declares in the first of His Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).
When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities. (1988 April General Conference, The Great Commandment—Love the Lord, Sat. Morning Session – Ezra Taft Benson)
I agree the other wives should be given a place of honor.
Naismith, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I did hear the Romney quote repeated. Unlike you, I am so “down on polygamy” that even though I think it was clever, I have a really hard time laughing about polygamy.
On a message board about two decades ago I referred to myself as “brain dead” after making a nonsensical comment. Someone responded, “How insensitive! You know some people actually are brain dead and so using those words is very hurtful to them.” Of course, I responded with my typical gentleness by saying, “Fortunately, they will probably never read my thoughtless comment.”
So, yes, I’m sure I’m too sensitive about it, but it’s because I believe in this church and because polygamy (as we understand it) has lasting, eternal consequences that (again, as far as I can understand) I don’t like at all. :( Even the jokes put a knot in my stomach.
I do think the polygamy dynamic can be a useful community setup. (I’ve always said that I’m happy to have a cooking wife, a laundry wife, a chauffeur wife, a gardening wife, a housekeeping wife. I’ll just set myself up as the sex wife and I’m good. (Although I’d also like to be the conversation wife, the all-around-intimacy wife, and the homeschooling wife.)) “Many hands make light work.”
But I would much prefer to have those needs filled from outside the marriage relationship! I’ve helped clean homes, care for kids, pack boxes, do laundry, and take meals without feeling the need to be part of the marriage, if you know what I mean. :) Likely we do need more coordination in meeting those needs—particularly in helping people feel comfortable receiving outside help—to be more community minded. I think that’s doable.
In addition, I think the idea might also promote multi-family units working together (united order, anyone?) rather than multi-wife units. We know historically that many polygamous husbands could not (and did not) provide for all their wives and children. Why not bring more men on board as breadwinners, back in the day?
[If you can follow this genealogy, I owe you virtual brownies.] My husband’s great grandmother, Rachel Amelia Tuttle Smith, was the fourth wife of Samuel Harrison Bailey Smith (son of Samuel Harrison Smith, JS’s brother) She was sent to the Big Horn Basin (Wyoming) with her one son (Heman, my husband’s paternal grandfather). Alone. (This is where my husband was born.) I don’t know how much (if any) monetary support may have been sent to her, but her situation wasn’t uncommon and didn’t have any kind of communal familial support. :( :(
John C., thank you for the kind comment. I think one point to note is that, as has been said, many of us in Utah did hear much of the “oddball/deeply disturbing aspects of Mormon history.” But we were told it was untrue, anti-Mormon propaganda.
The feelings of betrayal many have come about from the fact that, as Steve Smith as said, we have defended positions that we now find to be false.
I think there is a interesting dynamic in Utah (or at least there was) where we feel part of the pioneer experience. We were driven to the desert to escape persecution and we circle the wagons. We take care of and protect our own. One spouse can’t be called to testify against the other and, likewise, we will defend each other as family.
ESO, if you truly can’t read testimony from so many who did not know without at least a modicum of understanding how it could happen, I guess there’s nothing more to say.
FarSide, I definitely need to read that book. Thank you for the recommendation. If I’m not mistaken, the author of The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women, Paula Kelly Harline, is the wife of our own Craig Harline, who also has some books on my reading list. (Impressed with the writing coming out of one family!)
Joel, the problem isn’t high evidentiary standards in and of themselves, but excessively high standards on a specific issue. As I wrote before, I simply cannot imagine you to have similarly high evidentiary standards in relation to other historical questions. Furthermore, we’re merely trying to establish whether Joseph Smith, who is now dead, was a philanderer, not guilty of a heinous crime. In the latter case, a much higher evidentiary standard where people testify under oath and are cross-examined would make sense, since the living defendant would be facing punishment if proven guilty. But since philandering is not a crime and since it has no strict legal definition, only a cultural definition which varies across cultures, the evidentiary standard need not be as high a that for a heinous crime. Which leads to the question, why get so defensive about the charge that Joseph Smith was a philanderer? How do you think Joseph Smith married more than 30 women without propositioning lots of them? Also, if Joseph Smith was commanded by God to practice plural marriage, why did he marry so many? Why couldn’t have just a few single women of appropriate age sufficed to fulfill the commandment? All of this alone suggests that Joseph Smith had a deep passion for lots of women, and Melissa Schindle’s sworn statement suggests behavior on the Joseph Smith that would fit the pattern. At any rate, I merely said that it was reasonable to believe that Joseph Smith was a philanderer based on the statement. I acknowledge the possibility of some exaggeration in the statement, but the idea that Justice Fulkerson was just making this up himself (also how do you know that Melissa Schindle couldn’t read or write?) is a bit ridiculous. I doubt that even if Fulkerson were questioned under oath or if Melissa Schindle testified under penalty of perjury (did you know that people have in the past lied under oath, so that says nothing) that it would satisfy your evidence standard on this issue. You’re letting your preconceived notions of Joseph Smith as a moral heroic figure guide your beliefs. I’m letting the evidence inform my opinions about Joseph Smith. You’re a denialist.
Steve, That fact that I don’t want to hijack this post to answer all of your off-topic questions where you seem to be making a case to show I am the denialist here does not mean I don’t have well-formed and informed opinions on them. Nowhere in my comments have I even said whether I believe Joseph was a philanderer or not. I merely said the evidence presented by you to this effect is weak to the point of inadmissibility. Do you know Justice of the Peace Fulkerson? Have you ever caught a well-intentioned police officer in a lie? My training is in law so I look at “evidence” and testimony with great skepticism. I am constantly astonished at how people will fabricate and stick to a story in the face of current and concrete evidence including other testimony that fits the facts better, and that contradicts their testimony–including busy police officers. Philandering on the part of Joseph Smith would be a crime in the eyes of the members of the church and would be crime in God’s eyes. So, yes, I must view this as a criminal matter and weigh the evidence accordingly, i.e., beyond a reasonable doubt, even though I still assert you cannot prove it even based on the civil matter standard of a preponderance of admissible evidence.
My own list of high-priority questions, for an introspective examination:
Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?
Do you believe that the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Do you believe that President Monson is a prophet of God?
What does this mean to you?
This is from “Preach My Gospel”. As pointed out, it does not mention anything about polygamy.
To be fair the following was in the Ensign in the 90s and briefly goes through Emma having difficulty with it
Steve Smith (#179),
The problem is that Melissa Schindle has been dismissed by Mormon historians of various ideologies for some time. Mike Quinn rejected that document’s validity. It makes it appear as if you are dredging the gutters looking for evidence to implicate a prophet.
I completely understand those who are blindsided with the details of the historical debate surrounding plural marriage and feeling pain and even betrayal. Those who knew should have had the courage to inform others. But church culture But as with many issues, once you leave neutral ground, you must orient yourself. The only remedy for this condition is study. Serious historians question many of the assertions made in the above comments. I respectfully suggest that the author of this post should study a great deal more before she opens the issue again. And please note that “Writing Club” is a collection of documents from women who experienced the negatives of plural marriage. It is not intended to be a balanced survey of the effects of that practice.
Scott #172: “Speaking of our dispensation, a number of prophets have stated that the Lord would never allow the President of the Church to lead us astray.”
Yes, but others have suggested otherwise: Specifically, Brigham Young, while addressing a ward in SLC in 1874, told the saints that they should “live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not. Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are not of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray!”
Now, Scott, this presents us with a bit of a dilemma. Brother Brigham is clearly acknowledging that it is possible for the Lord’s prophet to lead us astray. You either accept his statement as true—which I do—or you are compelled to say that he was wrong, in which event President Young was, either wittingly or unwittingly, leading us astray. (By the way, the church, by recently blaming Brother Brigham for its policy of denying blacks the priesthood for over a century, has essentially conceded the point. Prophets can make mistakes. Sometimes really big ones.)
Is there anywhere in the scriptures where the Lord promised his people that their leaders would never lead them astray? Not to my knowledge. Then, why do we think we’re so special? Wy do we believe that our leaders are so much better than those who lead the Israelites, the early Christian church after Christ’s death, or the Nephites? Are they incapable of the same serious errors in judgment as those committed by David, Solomon, and King Noah?
Indeed, our arrogance and self-regard has led us to advance the dubious proposition that the “rising generation” is somehow better than its predecessors. Where is the scriptural support for this idea? Do we really think that it’s all about us?!? If this isn’t narcissistic, I don’t know what is.
#110 asked why we don’t give polygamy more open discussion and respect in the church. I believe #153 pointed to the answer. The church has had plenty of experience with members who set out to investigate the teachings about polygamy by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and others, and end up deciding to practice it themselves. This is exacerbated by the fact that Joseph Smith and other church leaders practiced polygamy in ways that hid it from the rest of society and even from many of the members of the church. Apostles continued to practice polygamy post-manifesto for some time covertly. This is a big enough issue that a specific question was added to the temple recommend questions to try to apprehend those who continue to try to both participate in the LDS church and also covertly live the “higher law” of polygamy. From this perspective, the less possible encouragement to investigate polygamy, the better. The alternative would be to simply repudiate polygamy altogether as a mistake, and that seems to be unacceptable because it damages the reputation of Joseph Smith, and/or because you believe it is (or might be) of divine origin. That all being said, a strategy of omission that seemed appropriate in the pre-internet world has a number of distinct negative impacts in the internet world, as amply illustrated in this and other discussions.
I like Eugene Englands take on polygamy http://eugeneengland.org/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/1987_e_001.pdf
Joel, it seems that your training in law has made you good at mental gymnastics, but not parsimony, which is an important principle to abide by when trying to figure out what is true and what isn’t. For the fact remains that I am accepting the simpler explanation that rests on fewer assumptions by accepting the likelihood that Joseph Smith was a philanderer given the fact that Joseph Smith was a married to 30+ women, many of whom were already married. I have much less reason to doubt Fulkerson and much more reason to doubt Joseph Smith’s character. I accept that some of the charges were trumped-up, but there is enough to go on to get a sense of JS’s character. You’re just throwing up superfluous and meaningless obstacles to avoid accepting an inconvenient truth. Typical lawyer behavior.
“once you leave neutral ground, you must orient yourself. The only remedy for this condition is study.”
Study is important. But how we filter what we study is even more important. Do we study for the purpose of defending a preconceived bias, or are we willing to accept facts that might go against the grain of our biases. As I said, parsimony is an extremely important principle that makes it so we can easily dismiss conspiracy theories and claims that are based on all sorts of assumptions. Let’s formulate opinions based on the evidence, and when we find new evidence, let’s reform those opinions.
1. I was taught in my home by my parents that Joseph Smith had many wives.
2. Like Alison I read “Mormon Enigma” in my 20s and was very troubled by it. As you Julie said, knowing that JS had a number of wives is very different that understanding all of the (sadly) sordid details.
3. So… how do I deal with it? I have put JS in the same part of my brain as Thomas Jefferson. As you know, Thomas Jefferson had a long, complicated and fertile relationiship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings. (Long denied by his family, they now (based on DNA evidence) accept Hemming’s descendants as Thomas’ as well.) I believe that the words that Thomas Jefferson wrote were beautiful, inspired, and inspiring. I cannot reconcile his owning of slaves, and sleeping with them (a profound abuse of his authority) with his words in “The Declaration” and elsewhere. I simply must accept his words as inspired, but his life as falling far short of his principles. Likewise, I honor JS’s words but he also seems to have fallen short on many counts.
4. Sadly, the church will never, ever, under any circumstance, be able to sweep polygamy under the carpet. For over one hundred years the “institutional” church has tried to believe that if we fail to talk about it long enough and if we continue to not practice it that we will eventually leave it behind. It will never happen. In 16,000 years, if there are still humans on the earth, there will be sort of knowledge base like Wikipedia. And on that knowledge-base there will be something about our church. In the first paragraph there will be something about polygamy.
Sorry, because of software problems on my computer, I have to break my comments up into small pieces.
So, Alison… how about a blogging wife? ;)
Steve Smith, the old “mental gymnastics” charge. Good job!
Yes, Terry, old and valid as always. Talk with a 9/11 truther, it’s the same sort of seedy defense attorney tactics.
9/11 Truther = person believing Joseph Smith was a prophet? Good job again. :)
I find it interesting that Marlin K. Jensen recently shared that even his daughter (an adult woman) did not know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy. We are not talking the average Mormon woman, we are talking about the daughter of an Apostle that served as the Church Historian. I think this example makes Allison’s points in the OP very valid.
I suspect it isn’t that she never heard about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I think there is a scenario like Allison describes in the OP of both Church members and curricula carefully cradling people into ignorance.
Taken from Reuters – http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/01/30/uk-mormonchurch-idUKTRE80T1CP20120130 :
The problem with your argument is that you accept as evidence what many scholars and historians have questioned or rejected. You have not presented any argumentation why we should accept the Schindle document as an accurate depiction of Joseph Smith’s character. Therefore we are left to wonder why you accept the document as valid, especially given the salacious nature of the document which does not fit Joseph Smith’s teachings or documented instances of his behavior.
As we attempt to take in all of the available data on Joseph Smith’s practice and beliefs about plural marriage, I can understand people arriving at different conclusions. In fact, I expect it. We have data establishing Smith’s moral character and integrity and which supports his claim to be a prophet. We have data which presents Joseph as a lecherous beast. (Sorry for the dichotomy, there are obviously other positions.) All pieces of data were created by human beings with unique perspectives and following various motivations. The historical method, which relies on argumentation to present relevant facts in support of theories, does not often or easily arrive at truth, especially on issues as complex as this.
Some have expended great energy to discover that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet and as an imperfect human being he was attempting to implement God’s will on earth. So they accept a different data set than you do. Indeed, from their perspective, they are more tolerant of data which you have rejected or neglected to learn and discover. From their perspective, your parsimony can be a cover for poor scholarship even for a layperson such as myself or the same mental gymnastics which you have accused others of. If you want to present evidence, do so with the argumentation which helps us take your ideas seriously.
I did read the whole of D&C 132 as a seminary student, so I did know Joseph Smith was a polygamist. The idea did make me feel sick in the pit of my stomach, though.
Like most members, I was unaware of the details. I didn’t learn about them until the Warren Jeffs affair.
Learning the full details has helped give me permission to express what I instinctively felt to be true all those years ago. Polygamy/polyandry was never commanded by God. Joseph made a mistake.
In a way, that realization has helped me in my faith journey. It helped me to abandon literalism and embrace what I perceive to be a richer expression of faith.
Mark B., I think it’s utterly disingenuous to say that members are not expected to defend the church and it’s current stand on a given issue. (Prop 8, anyone?)
Why the moral outrage over polyandry and not polygyny?
Oh, what Julie said.
John Mansfield, sometimes even the most basic things are left out of the discussion!
#196 FarSide—I have no problem with what BY said there, though I would like to read the entire speech. To me, he obviously was speaking hypothetically, and was emphasizing the importance for members of the Church to become spiritually strong on their own and be spiritually self-sufficient. Ultimately, we are all saved as individuals, and we can’t depend on someone else to save us. We as individuals, are responsible for our own actions and spiritual growth. That’s my interpretation of the sentence you quoted.
#201 sch—The DNA evidence does not prove Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with Sally Hemmings. It only proves that a male Jefferson family member was the father, which opens the possibility of several other descendants of TJ. Oral history of the Jefferson family says the father of the child descended from a Jefferson uncle—TJ’s brother—Randolph. A great reference on this: “In Defense of Thomas Jefferson”, by William G. Hyland Jr. So the Hemmings’ child’s father could have easily been Randolph Jefferson. No one knows for sure, one way or the other. It’s conjecture.
It is also pure conjecture when talking about how many of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages were for “eternity only” or not. We simply don’t know. It’s all speculation.
What about this discussion of Joseph Smith and polygamy has been any less conjectural?
I believe one of my first exposures to Joseph Smith’s polygamy was in the historical fiction novel “Saints” by Orson Scott Card, in junior high (early 90’s). The fictional main character is a plural wife of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. If I was scandalized about the subject of Joseph Smith I don’t remember, because I was too overwhelmed by more details than I needed of Brigham Young’s bedroom habits. Just a bit too young for that sort of thing.
I also remember my confusion at fellow students in seminary probably while studying D&C 132 going “ewww” and the like while we discussed it. The teacher made it pretty clear that plural marriage was still a viable doctrine.
I’ve had a pretty traditional lifelong church member upbringing (my dad’s a convert but his mom’s family and both sides of my mom’s family are all pioneer stock). Perhaps unlike other church members, my study of history in college exposed me to that idea of fallibility in historical records, and the importance of critical interpretation. I won’t lie that it was surprising to be exposed to multiple First Vision accounts in a Utah history class in college, but we had guidance from a history professor (who was Mormon himself) to work through the interpretation and move on. As in many areas of discussion religious or secular, I wish more people in general were given the opportunity to develop real research skills and critical thinking.
I have been a member since 1958, have lived in Australia and UK, and had never heard of JS and polygamy until I read a blog where some were claiming it and others denying it, a few years ago.
I have been on missions for more than 10 years, dedicated much of my life to the church, and all the time they didn’t trust me with the truth.
I live in a very conservative part of Australia, I tried to point out that Joseph Fielding smith (last year) was a racist, and I was howled down. My HP group do not want to know this stuff, and deny it. MY group still believe Negroes result from the curse of Cain.
We are still lying. On Sunday we had a sickly sweet version of the life and ministry of ET Benson (the one from the book). There is no mention of him receiving revelation, There is no mention that he believe that civil rights for negroes was a communist plot, that he was still advising members to read about the conspiracy of communism, in conference talks in 1972. They say he was incapable of giving conference talks, or appearing in public after 3 years of the 9 he was president, but don’t mention dementia.
I was again shouted down when I tried to mention these.
The members I know would rather accept the lies than deal with the truth.
I knew about polygamy, growing up, though that tended to be associated with BY and Utah. I’m not aware that Nauvoo polygamy was ever mentioned or discussed. As a first year university student aged 18, I was loaned a copy of Mormon Engima. That was disturbing, and really didn’t know how I was supposed to process that information. My sympathies were with Emma, and I’ve never felt quite the same about JS since.
“The fictional main character is a plural wife of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.”
That’s interesting. The character must be inspired by real life third Relief Society president Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, who was a polyandrous wife of Joseph Smith while her husband (Henry Bailey Jacobs) was sent on a mission. She was later a polyandrous wife to Brigham Young (after Simth’s death) once again while her husband was sent on a mission.
Geoff in Australia,
Sorry to hear. I had many similar experiences in Utah, where my leaders tried to silence me and I received threats about my ecclesiastical endorsement being withdrawn (I was a BYU student at the time and needed the ecclesiastical endorsement to graduate) if I kept drawing attention to truths that nobody wanted to hear.
That’s probably what Alison fails to detail in the OP. The oppressive psychological violence that anyone who wants to speak up regarding these things faces in the conservative communities where they know about these things but have taken upon themselves to be “enforcers” of diluted and dishonest correlated material taught during the services.
Incredulity is no crime – any more than disagreements about punctuation rules.
But is it now begging the question to assume that Church leaders speak with more authority than the Bloggernacle?
Agreed with your reasoning as to why we did not talk, teach, or discuss polygamy in the years immediately following the Manifesto. But what about now? Is it a true eternal principle that God restored to earth or not? If so, why can’t we/don’t we discuss it, teach it, learn it, especially since we are still practicing it in the temples.
I think it is bizarre that we still are practicing polygamy in the temples but that the practice is completely under the radar. Never discussed, mentioned, or anything else. All while the leaders publicly distance the church from polygamy as much as possible. Do we currently believe in polygamy or not? Yes or no?
Patrick, I realize the verse says this, but that can (and is by some) swept away by verse 51 that the idea of Emma (and other women) being offered other men was just an Abrahamic test. “Emma, you can sleep with other men, too! Oh, nevermind!”
Likewise, verse 52 can (and is by some) swept away with the idea that God wanted Joseph (and others) to practice, but Joseph never did because (1) Emma didn’t agree, (2) Joseph was in jail and in hiding so often, (3) Joseph was martyred, etc.
Watching the DFPs, I suspect that most people don’t understand most of their ignorance. It’s the nature of not knowing something that we are typically unsure what there is to know that we don’t know. While you (the collective you) might, for example, be aware that you are ignorant in the field of quantitative reasoning, assuming you know it’s a topic at all, you probably can’t enumerate the many things about QR that you don’t know and, thus, you have limited avenues for which to find what you could/should be looking for that you don’t know about.
In the case of church history, the problem is less in being ignorant of specifics and more of the systemic efforts to ignore/bypass/misdirect around those specifics. That kind of misinformation breeds the responses that you condemn. We shouldn’t be surprised. I learned these details over two decades ago, but as others start learning them now (from the essays, etc.) and (mostly) don’t continue to shout “anti-Mormon!” many will be (and are) grappling with these same things. We should be prepared.
Yes, we can look for positive reactions, but one of those is to recognize the potential long-term harm that comes about when we aren’t honest about our past, when we deify our leaders, when we condemn honest discourse, etc.
Should we both die, dear, I will be sending Sam’s prospective new Mrs. Smith your husband’s way. :) My letter says, “Dear Sam’s new girl. Don’t even think about it. I will haunt you into eternity. You have no idea what I can do.” :)
jude49, I’m sorry to hear about your bullying experience. I have my own if you’re interested: Bullying at Church.
Mark B, per Steve Smith’s response, I think he brings up an excellent point. Do you really present the idea that as church teachers, leaders, VTs and HTs we are not expected to speak strictly the faithful rhetoric? (Meaning the same put forth officially, even when it excludes facts.)
Al Anon Nom: very interesting questions about orthodoxy/orthopraxy among couples learning new info. Would be a great discussion.
Sufficient motivation meaning, I suppose: (1) an inherent interest in history, (2) time to do historical research when history is not the main focus of their lives, (3) and understanding that what they were being told by leaders was wrong and required further research to correct, etc.
As I’ve said (ad nauseum, I believe) I think we can “blame the church.” I think it’s inarguable that officially the church has downplayed, redirected, overlooked, ignored this issue—intentionally and systemically—for decades. And have sanctioned those who have tried to accommodate for the missing information. The info on MMM, polygamy, priesthood ban, and even the publishing of (one of) the handbook(s) (along with women praying, women’s portraits, women’s session, etc. etc. etc.) came about largely as the result of outside pressure and exposure, not as some general, typical, internal policy.
Let’s just be real about it.
I’m not sure who this is directed at. As is obvious from the OP, that’s not my position. The post was written, in fact, to counter that point and notes specifically that a majority of those in Kaimi’s poll claim to have a different experience than I had.
True, but that has little to do with this post, really, given that “the church” certainly did know that Joseph practiced polygamy and did know many of the details. Few people make an effort to conceal things they don’t know exist.
Under Utah law, a plaintiff establishes a claim for fraudulent and/or negligent misrepresentation by proving either a false statement or an omission of material fact. I am not taking the position that anyone has a legal claim against the church, but I am highlighting the fact that, as a matter of law, omissions of material facts are no different than affirmative false statements.
A claim for fraudulent misrepresentation requires a plaintiff to demonstrate (1) a legal duty to communicate, (2) undisclosed material information, and (3) that the information was known to the party who failed to disclose. See Yazd v. Woodside Homes Corp., 2006 UT 47, P10, 143 P.3d 283. Similarly, a claim for negligent misrepresentation requires a party to demonstrate that (1) a party carelessly or negligently makes a false representation “expecting the other party to rely and act thereon,” (2) the plaintiff actually relies on the statement, and (3) suffers a loss as a result of that reliance. See Smith v. Frandsen, 2004 UT 55, P9, 94 P.3d 919. “[I]n addition to affirmative misstatements, an omission may be actionable as a negligent misrepresentation where the defendant has a duty to disclose.” Id.
Shane Gosdis, your points (up in the netherworlds at #110) are good. I have found few who claim to have learned from correlated materials although some do say they learned in correlated meetings (for example, someone with a “rogue” seminary teacher).
#3 is probably the most important to me at this point. We still practice polygamy! It makes my head spin that we go to such lengths to distance ourselves from polygamy, polygamists, etc., while we still routinely seal living men to multiple women (and the fairly recent female corollary is not equivalent), both consecutively and concurrently (in the case of civil divorce).
We actively practice it, but deny it at the same time and, as you said, run and hide from most discussion or, at least, relegate it to the long past.
As to your point in #223, I like Quinn McKay’s definition of lying: intentionally giving a false impression. Not, to be clear, that I value honesty above all other values at all times (and I think many Mormons who speak as if they do are…well…lying…), but I think it’s important—at least in the name of honestly and transparency—to acknowledge that the church absolutely did engage in this deception, sometimes for good reasons and other times for reasons that are now coming back to bite “them.”
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him…
Jcobabe, can we take that to mean you won’t be commenting anymore on this thread?
This. This. This.
As noted in the OP, when I first learned of JS’s polygamy, I assumed every other Mormon must already know. It was when I made the casual mention of it peripherally in Relief Society that the following commotion made me realize I was not remotely alone. I can’t recall a time since that I have so much as mentioned it in an actual church meeting. I’ve discussed it with individuals, but even then I’m cautious about it. What do I expect them to do with it? :/
Clark Goble, I agree that there are likely many things a large percentage of Mormons don’t know, but that’s not terribly relevant for a few reasons:
Sometimes Utahns get more anti-Mormon stuff than elsewhere, because anti-Mormons know we are concentrated here. But either way, I was still exposed to enough anti-Mormon information as a pre-internet, Utahan to hear most of theses issues. But, as I said, I was told they were untrue.
Sincerely, I don’t know how to answer that question in a way that isn’t already. First, I didn’t say anyone had “access” I didn’t (although in some cases that was likely the case). There were books in my own house that had the information I speak of, had I happened to select one of them and happened to find the correct pages amongst thousands of books. But I (1) wasn’t a history buff, (2) was very busy in my own endeavors, and (3) didn’t think I had been given misinformation, so was not on some kind of quest for the truth. I thought I had it already.
And, not, I’m not confusing the knowledge of JS’s polygamy and the details. I didn’t know about either, neither did anyone in my Boca Ward RS, neither did 40% in Kaimi’s poll.
Farside to Scott:
More telling, perhaps, is the idea that Joseph’s supposedly not having sex with subsequent wives proves a moral or faithful position, but somehow Brigham Young’s obvious sexual unions don’t show immorality. Say what? Either sex with subsequent wives is OK or it’s not. (Hint: it’s not, but anyway…)
Allison, I’m confused:
So now I’m the one person in the room that knows about the contours of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Am I going to raise my hand in a Relief Society lesson and talk about it? Heavens no. I might as well throw a hand grenade into the room. The immediate carnage would be bad enough, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for causing those good people pain. I know what it’s like to live years in the isolation of faith crisis.
This. This. This.”
So you’re saying we shouldn’t throw grenades, but church leaders should drop an atom bomb on everyone?
Jumbled jcobabe, did you happen to note the particular documentation I requested? I asked for documentation that “thousands of 19th century Saints, most of them women, confirmed that they received revelatory answers to prayer that [polygamy] was of God.”
I read Compton’s book years ago (per one of your examples) and don’t recall thousands of testimonies of the truthfulness of polygamy. In the past I also skimmed the Reed Smoot hearing docs (per another of your examples) and don’t recall something like that.
To ease your concern, my thoughts of JS’s polygamy weren’t colored by Warren Jeffs, since I didn’t hear of him until over a decade after I read Enigma.
Alison, like always, your post and your comments are spot on, except for your #20 in response to Nate’s #2 where you wrote (concerning polygamy), “I tend to agree that it’s unsolvable. At least I can’t think of a solution that won’t hurt somewhere.” I haven’t been able to read all the comments yet, so forgive me if someone else has already said what I’m about to say:
Yes, the issue of polygamy IS solvable; you’re just not thinking BIG enough.
I’m going to put it out there and say that if what I’ve found is correct, the true purpose behind Joseph Smith’s polygamy is so astonishing and so amazing that the entire world owes a debt of gratitude to the prophet for doing exactly what he did at the precise time he did it.
So, what on earth could the true purpose be? I know this might exasperate you, but I don’t know any other way to do this without just telling you outright, which would then rob you of the experience of discovering it for yourself. So I’m going to give you three clues that I believe lead to the answer, but you can only ask me for the answer to one of them:
1. A Bible Story
2. A (perplexing) Restoration Scripture
3. A Metallica song title
Okay, maybe I’ll give you all the answers if you really want them, as well as the answers to your other related questions (like why our sealing practices are what they are). But finding the true purpose of polygamy is the starting point. Remember to think BIG, and perhaps you’ll come to find the same answer I did. After all, you’ve given me so much to think about over the years, it’s the least I can do to return the favor! :)
Old Man and Terry H, why not believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet and a philanderer? I keep hearing people talk about how the prophet was an imperfect human being and even chastise others for trying to hold Joseph Smith to a very high and almost unhumanly attainable standard. So why can’t some accept the idea that he was a person who had a lot of lusts that he tried to fulfill, but was still receiving revelations?
I feel the need to reiterate. This all goes back to Joel Winter’s comment in 174: “To be convinced that Joseph was a philander based on historians’ conclusions or the available admissible evidences is grounds for exclusion from jury duty.” Look, the evidence of philandering is well beyond Schindle’s sworn statement (which could be an exaggeration or a lie, but it could also very well be true, and there is nothing that completely falsifies this statement). The fact of the matter is that we have all kinds of witnesses of Joseph Smith’s social engagement with women and these strongly suggest that he went around and did lots of propositioning. As I already asked before, how else did he end up with 30+ wives behind the backs of not only Emma but many, many people in the Mormon community? The myriad marriages is evidence enough. I think it is reasonable to conclude that even if Joseph Smith was indeed commanded by God to practice plural marriage, he didn’t really seem too reluctant to practice it, but extremely eager, at least during the Nauvoo years. This idea that there is no evidence of philandering (with the meaning of going around and propositioning lots of women) is just hard to believe.
Re. #228, And, no, I’m not confusing the knowledge of JS’s polygamy and the details. I didn’t know about either, neither did anyone in my Boca Ward RS, neither did 40% in Kaimi’s poll.
No, I didn’t think you did. I was trying to pithily summarize the distinction Julie (I think) was making, and I wasn’t thinking you had them confused. You were very clear.
I am a history buff, and I’m afraid that colors a lot of what I read and do – including my assumptions about what others read and do. :) In any case, I want to clarify that I was not trying to add to the “you shoulda known” pile-on, just in case you were thinking that.
In retrospect, and after reading a lot of other comments, I think all of that must have been in Donna Hill’s book; I read it very early on and haven’t read it for years. But I’m still not sure. My Institute director must have had a lot to do with it.
As a passing thought, the wide variety of availability of info, exposure to info, and level of knowledge about this and about so many other issues makes me think that there could have been some good done by correlation, if the Church just hadn’t correlated so
So, what on earth could the true purpose be? I know this might exasperate you, but I don’t know any other way to do this without just telling you outright, which would then rob you of the experience of discovering it for yourself.
Nice, Nic. If we send you $499.99, do you send us the complete set of explanatory DVD lectures, a Study Bible, and (at no extra charge) 2 pounds of organic flaxseed, if we call before midnight tonight?
Steve Smith: I have spoken extensively with a woman who was hurt quite a bit by the idea that Joseph “created” the plural marriage “scheme” in order to cover his “affair” with Fanny Alger. (Quotes are merely her words exactly, not a perjorative.) For me, although evidence may lead to the contrary for some, the idea of a philandering prophet doesn’t hold up. Was Joseph Smith imperfect? Absolutely. Do I hold him to a “very high and almost unhumanly attainable standard”? I don’t believe so. But I do believe that the prophetic nature of the “mantle” would not permit him to commit adultery.
The nature of the sexual act is at the core of the highest of all the covenants men and women make with God. Remember, covenants (best examples come from Old Testament) consist of promises made calling God as a witness, making Him part of the promise, mutual promises from both sides AND THEN a physical act to seal the covenant such as a meal, building a monument, OR SOME KIND OF BODILY GESTURE. In our day, we do something similar. With the baptism, we GO under the water and come up, with the sacrament we EAT or DRINK. In the temple, there are other instances (which, of course, we won’t go in to). That is why the act of adultery, (or the lesser act of fornication) carry such a high ranking on the scale of sins that we commit. There are, of course, a whole host of other reasons, but in my mind, first and foremost, that act is a violation of the highest of God’s covenants, particularly the one in which life is created (sidenote: the purity laws involving menstruation and childbirth are also at a similar level). With that in mind, I don’t think the prophet can be a “prophet” and commit those actions. The penalties for such in ancient times were quite serious. A prophet is not infallible, but he is inspired.
I have read just about everything there is to read: Brian Hales, George Smith, Todd Compton, Mike Quinn, and a host of others (including the MT — not the Masoretic Text unfortunately) and have personally spoken to many of them. Some of their opinions on various polygamy and polyandry issues are constantly changing and some of those conclusions might surprise you. For me, the evidence is that Joseph was called to do what he did. For you and others, perhaps not. It is an issue of faith. Are my explanations plausible? Yes. Does that mean others can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions? Yes. But the decision to exercise faith in those plausible conclusions (to a certain extent) is a matter of choice. The evidence isn’t conclusive either way. Was he given specific directions on how to do it? NO! Could it have been done better? Probably. Was it how I (or you) would have done it? Who can fairly say. Did it go out imperfectly under Wilford Woodruff and his successors? For sure. Could you or I have done better? who knows. It is unfair for any of us to put our 21st Century paradigms and cultural foundations upon Joseph and the people of his time. I believe they were trying to get back to God in the ways they understood would be best. It is here that Sam Brown’s work becomes very helpful to me. The adoption theory plays into this, although Hales and Brown (both of whom I would term “faithful” and “believing” have slightly different interpretations of it.
Have I made this a matter of prayer? Probably not as much as some since the evidence has not disturbed me to that point. I am personally satisfied. The overall message of all of the scriptures (and what I call the “internal” parallels and proofs) remains true and helpful for me and overwhelms any of what I call these “external” problems like polygamy, translation, Book of Abraham, etc.). Your insightful question deserves a deeper response than I’ve been able to give here, but that’s all I have time for at the moment.
An answer to the “unsolvable” question that’s been plaguing TBM’s since the Restoration? That’s worth a whole lot more than just $499.99. And I’m offering it to Alison, for free. Because she asked.
New Iconoclast: And if you order now, you get a copy of “An Insider’s Guide . . .” ABSOLUTELY FREE!!! Don’t wait, this is a limited offer!!! Too bad this isn’t a sound track. I could do my best radio/TV sales voice.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am not confused at all about this. Serving you with whatever documentation you care to demand is NOT my responsibility. I accept no “burden of proof” other than satisfying my own mind. Convincing the incredulous is not part of my contract.
Incredulous Alison, when you assert your own incredulity as the title of this discussion, I take you at your word. If it talks like a duck, and walks like a duck…
Thanks for playing.
#174, 179, and 184. “To be convinced that Joseph was a philander based on historians’ conclusions or the available admissible evidences is grounds for exclusion from jury duty.”
Not really. Lay opinion evidence is generally inadmissible unless based on the lay witness’s own perception. On the other hand, expert witnesses are free to testify regarding their opinions. So any historian who researches/teaches Mormon history could easily testify regarding Joseph’s polygamy, as could anyone else who could testify regarding their first hand observations regarding Joseph’s polygamy (‘based on the witness’s perception”).
#235. “I believe they were trying to get back to God in the ways they understood would be best.” But isn’t that the problem? I am not interested in what they thought was best. I am interested in whether God commanded it. And if He did command Joseph to do it, why would He do it in such a damaging way? Why authorize Joseph do these things behind his wife’s back and then mislead the church and the public about the true nature of what was happening? Why authorize Parley P. Pratt and others likewise mislead the church and the public regarding the practice? Why authorize post-Manifesto deception? And why let this continue to be murky water to this day where our current prophet and apostles cannot receive any light or truth on the matter and are forced to say “we don’t know.” It is hard for me to visualize a God in heaven saying “yes, this is exactly how I wanted this to play out.” This is His plan after all and it should go according to plan.
And if it wasn’t supposed to play out in this manner, why not correct it? Remember, we believe that Joseph regularly received angelic ministrations; that he could receive revelations through the Urim and Thummim and his stone virtually at will; and that he regularly received specific revelations pertaining to members of the church on relatively mundane matters. Given the flow of ongoing revelation and guidance, doesn’t it make sense that God would have stepped in at some point and said, “hey, you have to do this right because it is going to affect the way that billions of people think about my church and my gospel into the eternities. I don’t have a lot of room for error here. We are going to get this right and here is how _____.” The way polygamy was deployed, practiced, and revoked (and continues to be practiced) are of eternal importance not only for the people who were directly involved, but for all of us who are stuck trying to understand what it all means.
I guess I just do not understand why God would have given us polygamy the way he has when his purpose is to get as many of us back to him as possible? Simply to “raise up seed” (the only reason given in scripture)?
Interesting thought to consider:
The entire point of the restoration of polygamy was to drive the church into isolation. If this had not happened, it would have been reassimilated into mainstream society and dwindled away like the CoC. It’s kind of like certain types of trees that cannot grow up in the shade of other trees, but require an empty field. Once the church had grown and become doctrinally distinct enough that there was no risk of that happening, it no longer needed polygamy. Just as we no longer need to gather to Zion, but are supposed to build up the church where we are. We are a tall enough tree now that we can grow among the forest.
Comment 240 shows how we can create lyrical explanations around literally anything, whether it be murder, adultery or any kind of perversion…
Dee, you have provided yet another testimonial of someone who is a long-time active participant who only learned of these things recently.
Yes, he did. But, as I referenced above, I don’t place honesty as the primary value and don’t believe anyone else really does either. :) When there is a values conflict, honesty may not be the best choice. So I don’t necessarily have a huge issue with lying. That is not to say that I would condone all lying, by any means, just that I think we elevate honesty in rhetoric far beyond where we elevate it in practice. In fact, I don’t necessarily even have a moral problem with God lying for the same reasons.
It depends on how you define “faith in Joseph Smith,” doesn’t it? I absolutely do NOT have faith that his every word was honest and his every action in line with God’s will. (Although many in the church do think that’s what such faith must entail, I just think they are dead wrong.) Given that, I can still have selected faith in some things he did and said. It’s more work for me, and far less certain, but infinitely more reasonable, IMO.
If your SP implied that you must believe the former in order to enter the temple and receive salvation, I think he’s bonkers. The temple recommend interview doesn’t even mention Joseph Smith. The closest question is #3, which says:
This doesn’t remotely require one to believe JS was perfect, completely honest, or even faithful to his wife.
DQ, while I agree that some may have wanted to protect Emma’s memory, I don’t think that was much of a consideration in my encounters as a youth. Emma was generally portrayed as lacking faith for arguing with JS, for refusing to accept polygamy, for refusing to leave Nauvoo, etc.
AMB (#141 for anyone who’s counting), your number one seems like a counterargument. If JS was working on a “beta version” of the sealing revelation, it implies that his understanding wasn’t ready for prime time. If the dynastic sealing model was a misunderstanding of the final version, it was in error, correct?
If you “don’t think that there is a place for harem’s in eternities,” then what do you do with the extra wives? Perhaps more to the point, how do you reconcile eternal sealings with a “temporary suspencion of an eternal principle”?
Exactly. Meaning polygamous men get married but may continue to behave as a moral single person. They may continue to pursue, date, court, etc. Just how does that work out well for the committed woman when the man’s commitment means so little compared to hers?
jcobabe (#144), I assume you are asking about the list in #135? Or is it the list of possible reasons for the misinformation in the OP? Or something else?
Anon for this, I think you are right about the tug-of-war. As much as I crave truth, I can see both arguments as having some validity. I agree that Joseph (or other prophetic) glorification helps no one.
wreddyornot, thanks for #146. Appreciate what you wrote. I don’t have the moral problem with Laban’s killing that I see come up fairly often lately, but that’s another post entirely. :)
As I work through this (20 years and counting) I’m seeing it as less of an issue because I am coming to the conclusion that it was probably wrong or at least really messed up. If that is the case then the only real disclosure needed would be something like, “prophets aren’t perfect and all their actions are not representative of God’s will or his gospel.”
I have long held the idea that it was (at least in part) to force the saints into isolation as a means of cohesion and survival (similar to VeritasLiverat’s comment at #240), but ultimately I find that explanation unsatisfying. In part that is because of the extreme sexism and harm to women involved, which mirrored and magnified the current cultural sexism. (If you really wanted to shake up mid 19th century sensibilities, why not have female and minority leaders with subordinate white men?)
Kris, yes. As I noted in the OP, my Boca Raton ward wasn’t Utah. :)
Wow, that was like, 100 comments ago… haha
On the “beta version”, my point is that it was the first step in a revelatory process and that like many things in our lives, it takes practice and time to get it right. You could call it error sure but I tend to view it is step 1 in a long process.
On the idea of harem’s and “extra wives” and such… I do not know. Honestly, I think we start to get a little silly when we speculate on the conditions of life in heaven.. something that we can’t possibly comprehend in a meaningful way right now. In the end, if there is a God, and this is His church, I have faith that all of us will be OK, perhaps even overjoyed, with what eternity ends up being like. If there is no God and no heaven, well, this won’t be an issue. :)
Are you truly that unaware of current sealing policy? And people are incredulous about my ignorance! ;)
Read that: yes, women are asked to “live” it, in the past and currently.
Interesting that this would be your question, given that I have explicitly noted that one of the problems with the new essays is that they do not explain JS’s practices.
jks, I think the “crack down” you speak of was necessary, in part, because many of those at the highest levels still furthered the practice and the first manifesto was largely a legal device. I do, however, agree that the transition back to monogamy was messy. Not many ways to avoid that, I think.
Walter van Beek, this was such a great insight that I think it bears repeating (parentheticals removed):
I thought the medical analogy was very good. This shift is (and likely will continue to be) painful. No one like inoculation although they might like the end result. :) And amen to Dave (the perm).
Um…a “faithful history”? :/
Incredulous Alison seems much more credulous than she lets on, as she asserts that “faith in Joseph Smith” is not explicit in the Temple recommend interview.
This is problematic, since the term “faith in Joseph Smith” is not subject to arbitrary interpretation, at least as I see it used in the Church. The term means something quite specific. And though it is not explicitly used in the Temple recommend interview, it is an integral part of the baptism interview. In any case, it seems difficult to reconcile a vote of no confidence in Joseph Smith, prophet of the restoration, with membership in the restored Church. If Joseph Smith lied, the Church is no more than another social club, with peculiar rules. Certainly, enough commenters on this discussion have concluded that Joseph Smith was a liar. Based on their perception of the “spin” of “faithful history”.
What this seems to indicate to me in particular is that everyone who presumes to speculate about the Joseph Smith and polygamy issue qualifies as “liar”, depending on how you decide to define the term. Nobody can possibly disclose every detail of the narrative, mostly because of the minor consideration that not all the details are known by any living person. Therefore under this definition, we must all be liars. With that understanding, I don’t feel all that culpable. I certainly don’t hold the Church responsible for neglecting to publish “The Truth” to satisfy my arbitrary demand. The most that can be justified in this circumstance is to reserve judgement. And the only correct answer to a question for which we lack sufficient knowledge is not “you must be lying”. Rather, it is “I don’t know”.
Alison at #244:
So, you think that polygamy was “probably wrong or at least really messed up,” but see no need to disclose it to potential converts (other than through banal generalities)?
That makes perfect sense! Just kidding there. I don’t see how you find that a tenable solution, especially given the thrust of your OP about how devastating it was to have polygamy hidden from you. Or would you have been kosher with people just telling you that prophets sometimes make mistakes, and not saying a peep about polygamy?
Jumping Johoshaphat jcobabe, you claim the church has “never really ‘controlled’ ‘telling its own story'” in the same paragraph you use Quinn as an example of those who strayed from the “faithful history.” You neglect to note the he was excommunicated for his efforts (that is not “control”?), even though much of what he said is confirmed in the essays.
Brent, I’m grateful access to more accurate materials, too. Let’s hope it continues!
Joel Winter (#160), I’m inclined to agree with you that many (most?) members want a feel good church experience, not a controversial discussion. I suppose it depends on the specifics of each ward.
In my current ward (we (mostly) lovingly call it a “white shirt ward”), I would say that is mostly true, except I’d also note that my husband is the current GD teacher in our ward. He doesn’t give radical lessons, but they are definitely not run-of-the-mill lessons with “Primary answers.” He pulls in lots of historical context and tough questions. And every single week I have a dozen or more people rave to me about how much they love them because they learn so much. So while they don’t necessarily want controversy or anything that could challenge their testimonies, I think most crave expanding their understanding and ways of thinking.
That said, I find Relief Society to include a lot more head nodding than what I hear (second hand) happens in high priest’s group, where there seems to be more thoughtful, intellectual discussion. That’s discouraging and makes me a bit jealous. Sometimes.
But what do you mean by a “fallible prophet?” I understand that prophets are human like the rest of us and don’t live perfect lives. If that is what you mean by fallible, I am on board.
Or do you mean fallible in his very role as prophet, i.e. that he wasn’t authorized to role out polygamy or that he rolled it out in a manner that is contrary to the will of the Lord? If that is what you mean, I have a hard time understanding that position. If a prophet is “fallible” in the manner in which he leads the church; in the revelations he receives; or the promptings he receives; then what is the point of having a prophet? You would think that no matter what else happens on earth that the Lord would make sure that his prophets get it right when they are acting in their capacity as prophets, especially because all of mankind’s salvation literally depends on understanding and accepting the gospel as delivered by prophets and by conforming to church standards, beliefs, etc. as promulgated by the prophets.
If we can’t expect infallibility in that sense, again what is the point?
Maybe I should just hunker down and wade through the last hundred comments all at once…
Ziff, kindred spirit.
ABM, since you respond to PP, I will work with that response (#165) to respond to his (#249):
Do we need to disclose all of polygamy and any other historic problems? Probably not. I think the issues are much less problematic IF we aren’t (1) hiding them, (2) perpetuating false narratives about them, (3) promoting deification and hero-worship of church leaders, (4) refusing to recognize problems that become apparent (generally based on #3, etc.).
In other words, I agree with ABM that we can’t possibly cover every jot and tittle of every topic. But we can move forward understanding that truth matters, everyone is fallible, the mysteries of the eternities are things we can (AND SHOULD) continue to grapple with (and doing so is not subversive, apostate, evil, wicked, faithless, etc.), use reason to evaluate things as more is known and understood, etc., etc., etc. Those things, I think, would make a healthier, more educated, more converted membership.
Sincerely, we must stop perpetuating the myth that polygamy is only some one-time, bygone exception. It’s CURRENT policy/practice. People wonder how I didn’t know JS practiced polygamy until my 20s (pre-internet) but they demand that polygamy is “no longer a temporal principle”? Who’s ignorant?
That said, your question about priorities is valid, but there are easy ways to make this info more obvious without having endless Sunday School lessons about them. For example, how about we change the RS/PH manuals so that the bios accurately reflect the true marital histories of our prophets? How about we include this info when we have Ensign stories about those involved? How about we stop celebrating the men involved in polygamy while erasing the same men’s wives out of embarrassment? Isn’t that the ultimate disrespect???
Incredulous Alison, displaying a spectacularly selective credulity. My impression is that the excommunication of D. Michael Quinn was a result of nothing even remotely related to controlling the publication of historical matters, but rather other more “personal” issues relating to the law of chastity. In any case, Quinn published Church history related material long after he lost his membership. It does not make any difference to me if you were not aware of this either, but goes toward yet another example of your willful and selective credulousness about certain issues, given circumstances that just might tend to favor your argument.
Unfamiliar with the epithet “Jumping Johoshaphat” – maybe just misspelled? ;-)
Do I believe God really wanted Saul to commit genocide of the Amalekites in his name? Why did Samuel condemn Saul for refusing to kill every living man, woman, and child? Was Samuel acting as a prophet when he killed Agag?
If he was, was that ethical? Do you believe in a God that commands genocide?
Steve Smith to Joel Winters:
Probably so. Here’s what Joel said in #168:
But he doesn’t believe the testimonies to the contrary.
Joel, dear, when did you become the arbiter for Bloggernacle discussion?
The fact that you are commenting repeatedly on this post would indicate that you are interested in questions far beyond those you posted. Given that, let’s not suppose others can’t also be interested in such discussion and (!) even conclusions drawn by them.
To be fair to whom? The Ensign article you linked to was published after I read Mormon Enigma.
That said, let’s again parse the carefully worded portion of the article that references polygamy (though not even by name):
Understand, yet again, that this paragraph could be explained by the explanations I got. Joseph had a revelation. Joseph taught it to some (including Emma) as the correct way to live. Emma opposed it. Emma says it did not happen in her marriage. Notice that it says they would be required to live it. It doesn’t say they did. It doesn’t give any specifics, even though in the context of an article about Emma and recognizing how it impacted her, that’s a mind-blowing omission.
Old Man, given that this post is about things that occurred over two decades ago, I’m unsure how much further study will change what happened in the past. Note, too, that the post has nothing to do with how much I’ve studied since. It is, in fact, the study since then that has made it apparent how carefully this topic has been avoided until this year.
Interesting take on the fact that we have elevated our prophets so. Perhaps that is another manifestation of a Saturday’s Warrior Complex. :) (There’s a post somewhere in that psychosis…)
Joseph Stanfodr, honestly it’s bizarre to me, not that men might try to legitimize polygamy, but that women would go for it. But, yes, the omission strategy isn’t working out so well in the long run.
sch, I tend to agree that the polygamy issue will not go gentle into that good night. A blogging wife? No, that’s included in the sex wife’s obligations during down time.
Manuel Villalobos, thanks for sharing the Jensen quote. I had not heard that before.
Moving away from literalism, leader glorification, and very dichotomous thinking can be helpful to many of us.
Unbelievable. You took the time to respond to those who don’t have the answer to your question (including a person who addressed you as “Incredulous Alison”) and ignored the only person who said they did. Obviously you are content to remain in the dark on this issue.
For those who are interested in discovering the true purpose of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I’ll give you the three clues to figure it out:
1. The Bible story is the story of Samson.
2. The (perplexing) Restoration scripture is D&C 130:15 (12-16).
3. The Metallica song title is: “Fight Fire With Fire.”
These clues point to a purpose much, much bigger than most LDS have considered so far (if they’ve taken the time to even consider a purpose in the first place).
Good heavens, Nic the Knowledgeable. You might notice that I’m trying to respond to as many as I can chronologically. My last response was to #209. You chimed in at #231. You can either wait your freaking turn like a polite Mormon boy or you can just post the comment you’re dying to share. You choose.
Terry H (235), “It is unfair for any of us to put our 21st Century paradigms and cultural foundations upon Joseph and the people of his time. I believe they were trying to get back to God in the ways they understood would be best. It is here that Sam Brown’s work becomes very helpful to me. The adoption theory plays into this, although Hales and Brown (both of whom I would term “faithful” and “believing” have slightly different interpretations of it.”
A couple of things. Viewing the issue through a lot of paradigms of the people in Joseph Smith’s time and environment (as best as we can understand them) makes things even worse. There was no trend of plural marriage that emerged around Joseph Smith’s time and environment. It was not commonly accepted for a man to take another wife if he was already happily married. In fact, many of our 21 century cultural paradigms are much more generous to Joseph Smith than the 19th century ones. One of the reasons that people were so hostile to Joseph Smith, to the point of eventually killing him, was their intolerance for the practice of plural marriage.
If Joseph Smith was trying to get back to God in the way that he knew best, then he seemed to have a very confused understanding of the nature of God. For he preached of a God who strongly condemned adultery and allowed people their agency, but seemingly committed adultery himself and claimed that he was compelled by an angel with a flaming sword to institute plural marriage. He claimed that he was restoring the earlier practice of plural marriage when in fact there appears to be no known precedent in the OT or anything that we know about Hebrew culture in OT times of marrying other men’s wives and having a plurality of wives on the scale that Joseph Smith did.
I took the time to read Sam Brown’s early Mormon adoption theology. Joseph Smith does root his practice of plural marriage in the idea of adopting people into heaven. But there appeared to be no order or system in how he practiced plural marriage, and it was indeed quite arbitrary. And as I mentioned, the way in which JS practiced plural marriage has no precedent in the OT, so the idea of restoring all things takes us only so far. The fact of the matter is that JS practice of plural marriage wasn’t just symbolic and it wasn’t just for purposes of the afterlife. It had real-world effects. Helen Mar Kimball recalls in her journal her despair at being barred from attending a social activity, where she would have the chance to dance and mingle, because she was Joseph Smith’s wife.
JS had 30 wives. That’s a lot of women. We have every reason to believe that he spent a significant amount of time thinking about and planning how to approach these women, their families, their husbands, and their friends, if he had to, which of course he did. Why so many, why other men’s wives, why so young, and how did he actually accomplish this are important questions to ask for which I don’t think we get very satisfactory answers from the LDS church and many of its apologists. To answer these questions we have to explore human psychology and we have to greatly entertain the role of lust and sexual appetite.
I just want to add a special thanks to Alison for keeping this discussion open for so long. This has been a great discussion so far, and it is just beginning to get interesting.
Nic (258&tc) – It seems, with your “hints”, that you’re trying to say the intent was to hasten the end of the world, or at least to increase persecution (cause there wasn’t already enough), doing bad things for an ultimately good purpose. I’m glad it works for you, but it really doesn’t ring at all for me. The Samson story itself is so embellished to be beyond belief.
And a lot of people would be much happier if you just said what you mean, rather than throwing out cryptic “hints”. Course, it could be worse, you could have tried to give us a parable.
Hmm, maybe if I listened to “Fight Fire with Fire” backwards, it would have told me your secrets.
I actually thought the discussion had gone on so long that it was probably over for you. Kudos to you for your persistence, though at some point it would become impossible for you.
I would never consider myself the arbiter for bloggernacle discussion. We each must be the arbiter for our own selves. My comment was of course directed at Steve, and the regurgitated evidence he put forward. Since the evidence put forward in places like this by regurgitaters of historians thoughts are conclusory rather than freshly analytical (no time and space here right?), others might appreciate that the toolset I use–and is available to all through study of the rules of evidence to evaluate evidence–can expose common things put forward–the Sangamo thing–as weak and without doubt inadmissible in court as presented. If you or any would like to make an argument that it would be admissible please make your argument, but we gotta play by the rules of evidence if you do. (The newspaper article claims it to be a reproduction of an actual affidavit–an affidavit which we don’t have so can’t even test that. For all we know the whole thing was created by “general” whosit.) If someone has lost or loses faith based on that or even the great accumulation of things like that then it is tragic. I would rather help try to inform folks that shocking things are sometimes just that and only that–shocking, but not “true.”
We all make emphatic statements, if mine was too emphatic for your likes, I apologize, again, time and space.
I have not disagreed with your premise that we need more than one type of Sunday School class and curriculum, with the purpose of even introducing and discussing topics otherwise uncomfortable to many if not most. I would likely enjoy your husband’s class. I usually stay in gospel doctrine because I feel I can do the most good there. I think the current GD classes we have should be intermediate and we should have an advanced class. When our ward was selected to pilot a new method of teaching that was based off very little lesson material, i.e., more free discussion to be led by the spirit, I included in my commentary that more than one gospel doctrine level class would be helpful. Best regards.
Wow, Frank. It seems as though you didn’t even care enough to look up the hints. You didn’t study the story of Samson. You didn’t try to do the math on the Restoration scripture. You couldn’t even fathom what the phrase ‘fight fire with fire’ could possibly mean in this instance. You don’t want to think, you don’t want to search, you don’t want to ask, it seems.
The reason I am “throwing out cryptic hints” is precisely because Joseph Smith’s polygamy was so utterly scandalous. It was so scandalous that even faithful, believing Saints today are driven to such madness that they pound out 3500 word+ blog posts about how “incredulous” they are. The Saints back then most likely didn’t even know why they were asked to make this sacrifice, so that means only one thing: To know the true purpose of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo polygamy, you must see into the mind of God. You must know the mind of God.
Since it seems nobody wants to come to know the mind of God and discover for themselves one of His greatest, most frustrating and perplexing mysteries, I guess I’ll just go ahead and “make you happy” by stating what has become so obvious to me. The purpose of Joseph Smith’s polygamy was to SCANDALIZE THIS NATION. God’s people He had brought to the land of promise and freed from enslavement to the British crown had turned their hearts again, like the Israelites, back to slavery – only this time to the enslavement of blacks (and, of course, women and others). God first used the scandal of slavery to get the leaders of this country to put a stop to the slave trade – Thomas Jefferson only made it illegal after being scandalized by the enslavement of Americans off the North African Coast by the Barbary pirates.
Stopping the slave trade, however, did not stop the practice of slavery in this country. For that, God needed a whole different scandal. He needed a way to get Americans talking about human behavior and deciding as a whole that slavery was evil and wrong. And what better way than to get the whole nation in an uproar about the “barbarism” of Mormon polygamy, how they were enslaving teenage girls in marriage and degrading women. Of course if you want to bash the Mormons for their “barbarism” you have to disavow the entire notion of slavery itself, and with this fire Joseph Smith was able to tear down the “twin pillars of barbarism, slavery and polygamy” that would eventually crush the slavery-loving Baal worshippers gaining power in this country. (Notice the dates on polygamy and how it set the much-needed fire that led up to the Civil War.) After this country was rid of the institution of slavery, the Lord then had the Church give up the institution of polygamy and agree to come under the authority of United States government. Here is where Joseph would have seen “The face of the Son of Man” had he lived. He would have lived exactly long enough to see the polygamy he started abolished and the State and Church united under God, which means God had planned to abolish it from the beginning.
Of course, the point Alison makes in her post about polygamy continuing in our sealing practices is a whole different story. For the answer to that, you need to understand the priesthood itself. I’d love to give you a clue on how to discover what the priesthood really is, but judging by your comment, I’m not sure it would do any good to cast those pearls to you.
Joel, Joel, Joel.
I already told you that the evidence would be admissible through expert testimony. In particular, Rule 703 allows any facts or data into evidence which an expert relies upon in forming his or her opinion (so long as it is the type of evidence that experts in the field would reasonably rely on in forming an opinion on the subject). Accordingly, we could easily get the affidavit into evidence by calling a Mormon history expert as a witness and allowing him to testify regarding the affidavit.
Moreover, Rule 804 allows into evidence prior testimony of a declarant who is unavailable as a witness (through death or for the other enumerated reasons), including testimony that “was given as a witness at a trial, hearing, or lawful deposition, whether given during the current proceeding or a different one.” The only other requirement under Rule 804 is that the evidence is “now offered against a party who had – or in a civil case, whose predecessor in interest had – an opportunity and similar motive to develop it by direct, cross-, or redirect examination.” As a result, if you tried to offer the prior testimony against the church today, you would be required to establish that the church knew about the affidavit when it was made and had an opportunity to develop the testimony by cross-examination. I do not know the history well enough but would not be surprised if Joseph/church was not every aware of the affidavit when it was made.
Joel, you’re still treating history as if it is a trial, and you simply can’t treat it that way. The evidentiary standard for historical research has to be much lower than the evidentiary standard for a trial for a couple of reasons: 1) We can’t dig up people from their graves and have them appear before the stand. 2) We not trying to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, but simply conclude that something is reasonable to believe. In a court, we’re dealing with living individuals who face punishment and the prosecution bears the burden of proving something beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury, which is a very high standard indeed. I haven’t tried to conclude that JS was a philanderer beyond a reasonable doubt. Too much time has passed for me to be able to do that, plus philandering technically isn’t a crime (well I guess adultery was a crime under Illinois law, and plural marriage certainly wasn’t legal), so I wouldn’t have any power of subpoena anyway. Yes, the Sangamo journal was sensationalist and anti-Mormon and yes, Joseph Smith had lots of enemies. But the pattern of Joseph Smith’s behavior gives us reason to take Melissa Schindle’s sworn statement into consideration.
At any rate, you’re still hung up on Melissa Schindle’s statement and haven’t considered the other questions and perspectives that I have brought forward. Why so many wives, why marriage to other men’s wives, why so young, why such an arbitrary pattern, how did he actually accomplish marriage to 30 plus women? I simply can’t see any way to explain those questions except through lust and lots of propositioning. Of course, if Joseph Smith was fallible and had weaknesses, as many LDS insist he did, then why not accept the idea that he had a huge weakness for women and was both a philanderer and a prophet?
Nic, please, please keep your pearls to yourself. You’ve obviously worked very hard to get them, and of course you should keep your precious to yourself. I paid the price to get the first hint, I really don’t care to shell out more for yet another.
I’m surprised I didn’t even get credit for your “doing bad to bring about good”. I just don’t believe God works like that. Letting His people be stupid if they insist, sure, but introducing polygamy to stop slavery? Nope. Thanks. Have fun with your conspiracy theory world.
I missed your earlier post. Condescension. How rare a trait. A historian is an expert only if history is the subject matter. The subject matter in the courtroom is whether or not Joseph Smith solicited marriage and then sex from a prostitute. No expert necessary to establish this as a fact. Quoting the actual rule is a nice touch though. Gosh, it made me sit up and listen.
We don’t have a declarant. We have a newspaper op ed piece that claims to rely on an affidavit. Show me the affidavit and I’ll let you introduce under Rule 804.
Okay, I’m done with snarkiness. It doesn’t really suit me anyway.
Hey! I read this book under the original title Woman of Destiny (I know, it sounds like a creepy romance novel, but it’s typical OSC Mormon-infused historical fiction. That was the first OSC book I read and became a fan.) Oddly, I enjoyed the book as it humanized the players, but was unnerved by the lack of fidelity with primary spouses. (The protagonist is Dinah, a Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young-like character—heh—one of JSs and BYs polyandrous marriages.)
I don’t recall the book delving into BY’s bedroom habits. Did it? My (apparently failing) memory is that it ends as JS goes off to Carthage and waves goodbye to Dinah after a brief farewell. Don’t quote me on that…
While I think this is something needed in society in general, I don’t think this lack is the central problem in Mormondom. IMO, the bigger issues is that even with research and critical thinking skills, we are not allowed to employ them in the public church experience. You may have some really important, challenging questions about doctrine, but often as not you will be castigated, sanctioned, or at least looked at askance for bringing them up in a church forum. We simply don’t foster critical thinking about the church or the gospel in the church. And that’s a shame.
Joel, my snarkiness is only in jest.
You are wrong on expert testimony though. The question is most certainly one of history. The how’s and why’s of Joseph polygamy are topics regularly addressed by historians. I could easily get a historian admitted as an expert and have him or her testify regarding the affidavit.
I do not know if the original affidavit exists, but in any event, Rule 804 does not require the original. I would have a decent shot getting it admitted.
And just for fun, even though nobody cares about the rules of evidence, we could also probably get it in through Rule 803(13) (statements in learned treatises, periodicals) or Rule 803(16) (statements in ancient documents).
Shane and Steve, bear with me.
Joseph Smith on trial in 1830.
Counsel for the prosecution says, we have evidence to prove Joseph Smith a philanderer. The Judge says let me see it. You hand the judge a newspaper clipping purporting to faithfully reconstruct an affidavit. The judge says, “this is a newspaper clipping.” That’s right your honor it is admissible under Rule 804.
“Oh, so the deponent is dead?”
“Well, no your honor.”
This is inadmissible.
“But it is admissible under rule 703 as well.”
“Yes, an expert in historical documents has verified that this is a trustworthy historical document.”
“Excuse me? Wasn’t this published last week?”
Historians are not on trial here. Joseph Smith is. If you want to be judged for your character by historians from whatever is left of the record in 200+ years you are welcome, since the Lord has already said “with what measure ye mete.” I do not. I am not in denial. I look at each piece of evidence in isolation. I simply do not believe that historians add any level of trustworthiness to evidence I wouldn’t want to allow in to convict myself today, and I hope no one is ever subjected to such a thing either.
Steve, I did not address your other points because each one must be dealt with specifically. But I do assert that if each piece of evidence is scrutinized for it’s admissibility to prove what is at issue, i.e., not whether historians are good at what they do and can be trusted to draw objective conclusions about the historical importance of a body of evidence, but whether or not Joseph Smith was a philanderer, then they still fail. Too many other possibilities exist even if others think them improbable. Using the preponderance of the evidence standard as you seem to be putting forward, there seeming to be nothing about Joseph Smith’s life that is probable, I believe that even the improbable may be true in his case.
I grant that in toto there are many historical documents which accuse Joseph of just such a thing. Though historians have a great capacity to prove whether the document is authentic and can place it in context, (thank you historians) they cannot prove that what is claimed by the contents is true. That has ever been the purview of the courts. Joseph Smith is on trial, and is innocent until proven guilty because it is his very character that is receiving the death penalty.
Yes, Frank, I can see how much better it is to wallow in your “Joseph Smith was lustful, Joseph was a fallen prophet, Joseph and the Saints were stupid, Joseph had a thing for other men’s wives and teenage girls because I can’t see any other reason for Nauvoo polygamy” mire.
You are changing the hypothetical. We started talking about whether MODERN readers could/should be convinced that “Joseph was a philander based on historians’ conclusions” or whether “the available admissible evidences is grounds for exclusion from jury.”
You said that they should not because the evidence is inadmissible under the rules of evidence. Like I said, if there were a trial TODAY regarding Joseph’s polygamy, the affidavit would certainly be admissible under the rules outlined above. Isn’t that what we are talking about? Whether MODERN readers can trust the historical documents based on whether or not they would be admissible under modern rules of evidence?
If instead you are talking about whether the affidavit would have been admissible in a criminal trial in 1841 that is a different question. First, I don’t think there would have been a criminal trial because there was no crime. According to the affidavit, he asked to sleep with her and she said no. Second, if there were a criminal trial, Schindle would have been called to testify as a live witness and there would have been no need for her affidavit.
With all due respect, your polygamy theory does not hold up. If God were that concerned about stopping the barbarism of slavery, why hasn’t he intervened to stop other tragedies from occurring throughout history (for one example, the holocaust)?
Geoff – Aus, thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve seen what you refer to all my life and do not understand it. I actually think an intellectual approach can lead to greater faith, but not unless we stop beating people up for taking one.
[P.S. Yes, I wish they’d left in the bit about communism. I do think it’s a scourge. :)]
My sentiments exactly. And here’s the rub, with the new essays, I still don’t know what to do with the information. I can move on from trying to convince people stop making false claims, but…then there’s still that crazy polygamy thing. CRAZY.
Ah, Manuel Villalobos, you beat me to the Saints punch. Zina is an ancestor of OSC. :)
This wasn’t an issue for me growing up. I wasn’t trying to educate people with my knowledge because I didn’t have it. And those who did were, obviously, anti-Mormon. But, as I said, the first time I did bring it up publicly, the RS collectively blew a gasket. We have been trained to take out the antis. And, really, for good reason.
jcobabe, you missed the point again. Check the comments for the punctuation issue. It was not a serious critique as I already noted. Either try to understand it or move on. It’s getting tedious.
As for church leaders speaking with more authority, tell me where they explain JS’s polygamy (not it’s existence, it’s actual practice) doctrinally and then we can have a discussion. Until then, the Bloggernacle wins because “the church” isn’t explaining it.
Well, Idiscuss it, but yeah. Makes no sense. (And while we’re at it, the women’s sealing practice is right up their in the WTH file.)
Bring the hypothetical case forward then.
“We would like to introduce evidence that Joseph Smith committed murder (just to make it relevant to a theoretical modern case) in 1840ish to obtain some Egyptian papyri. We need to prove it so that we can show that Joseph Smith and therefore none of his descendants can profit from his crime. “
“Show me the evidence.” Judge examines document. “This is a newspaper article.”
“Yes, but it is an affidavit.”
“No, it is a newspaper article claiming that there is an original affidavit.”
“But it should still be admissible because under rule 804 “prior testimony of a declarant who is unavailable as a witness (through death or for the other enumerated reasons), including testimony that ‘was given as a witness at a trial, hearing, or lawful deposition, whether given during the current proceeding or a different one.’”
“As I said, it is a newspaper article claiming that there is an original affidavit. You must first demonstrate that it is indeed “prior testimony.” We won’t get into the problems with the “affidavit” itself.”
“But, Rule 703 ‘allows any facts or data into evidence which an expert relies upon in forming his or her opinion.’”
“Oh. And what does your historian have to say about this document.”
“My historian is prepared to testify that this is an actual newspaper article from 1840ish.”
“That’s nice. Can she produce the actual affidavit?”
“No, but she is prepared to state under oath that, in her expert opinion, this document can be trusted, because we have gobs and gobs of similar evidence and it can’t all be wrong.”
“The evidence is excluded.”
“Is there any other evidence.”
“Gobs, your honor.”
Queue Steve’s list. Bring it on. But, in courtesy to Alison, make it another post. Come to think of it, there are lots of such treatises out there.
We may feel really yucky about polygamy, but let’s keep to that and don’t trot out the Sangamo Journal again.
Nic says to Frank, For the answer to that, you need to understand the priesthood itself. I’d love to give you a clue on how to discover what the priesthood really is, but judging by your comment, I’m not sure it would do any good to cast those pearls to you.
Besides, Frank, that’s an additional $299.99. But he’ll throw in a Sham-Wow and a ThighMaster as a bonus for readers of T&S.
Joel, you do see the difference between some historical dead figure’s character being on trial and someone actually being on trial, right? (And the fact that you are so, so defensive and sensitive about Joseph Smith’s character is very telling about you. It is as if you cannot even entertain the possibility that JS was a philanderer). You keep harping about admissibility of evidence as if it matters at all. In history, there is no admissible and inadmissible, those are only terms that are used in trials for living people. In history we ask questions far beyond guilty and not guilty (contrasted with the courtroom, in which the question of the prosecution proving the defendant guilty of x charges beyond reasonable doubt is all that really matters) and we try to supply strong chains of reason based on evidence to answer those questions. In lots of cases of history we can really only get to ‘likely,’ ‘plausible,’ and ‘reasonable,’ but rarely ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ I hate to bring up Hitler and the holocaust (because it is usually very tacky), but in this case it actually applies, because, you see, we don’t actually have solid evidence, in the form of a signed document, of any extermination order for the Jews from Hitler himself. Yet, given his myriad hate speeches and the fact that the holocaust was so well organized, we have every reason to believe that Hitler was behind it. It is the same thing with other brutal dictators who allegedly committed mass murder and genocide. We often cannot find slam dunk proof that they ordered it, but it is really, really hard to believe otherwise. And so it goes with JS and his 30+ wives. Just take a step back and try to see the forest through the trees and his lust for women becomes quite obvious. (I wonder how you view other males in history and the present time who have lots and lots of wives. Are you willing to suspend any sort of judgment about them as regards to their motivations and methods as well?).
If we treat history as if it is a court case, we risk greatly warping it. Heck, the high demand of the law for the prosecution to provide enough evidence to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt (as important as that standard is) has warped enough trials in recent history (i.e. OJ Simpson). But I mentioned the vast difference between prosecuting and doing history in my last comment, and you completely ignored it. We’re doing history here, not trying a living, breathing person for a crime.
Nic, you obviously have no idea what mire I’m in, though you do give an awfully vivid description. Did you really just expect that every commenter on here absolutely agreed? My answer to your assertions; no, no, no, and no. Course, I don’t hold with your interpretation either.
Me, I just wish I’d stop being surprised at how quickly and easily humans can screw things up. What lead to the Isrealites needing a list of exactly which familial relationships counted as incest? What were the churches up to that needed such clarifying epistles from Paul? What were the saints doing that made God go, “ok, you’ve had enough, you can stop trying to do polygamy in life”?
And there’s one of the problems with your theory; when the good is accomplished, your “bad”, polygamy, didn’t stop. It also absolutely did nothing for the oppressive attitudes of the people who did things to those of colour very nearly worse than how they lived under slavery. I want to hear you explain that the ban on blacks from any appearances of power was for the betterment of something larger.
I must be in a weird mood to even continue with this. Must be how people feel when they decide to engage howard or winifred. ;)
This is awesome!!! I can leave the thread, go for hours (or days now) and come back and we’re all still “slugging” it out. Poor Alison is trying to keep up and have a life (good luck with that!). Post of the year! I’m sure I owe someone some responses, but the neurons in my brain are tired at the moment. If its still here later, I’ll probably chip in again.
I will say that for more on the Samson Story (Attention Nic), see my review (still on the front page of T&S of Early Prophets). Better yet, read the portions of that story from Robert Alter (Ancient Israel) and Everett Fox (The Early Prophets: Schocken Bible Vol. 2). Also (Sampson, Hero or Fool?: The Sampson Narrative (Themes in Biblical Narrative Vol. 17, Brill 2014. Eds. Eynickel & Nicklas.
It is easy for me to concede that I am defensive and sensitive. It’s because I care. Such feelings are natural and unavoidable. That doesn’t help your position.
“It seems reasonable to believe that Joseph Smith was indeed a philanderer based on the following sworn statement reported in the Sangamo Journal.” (statement in a newspaper article follows)
You believe that this newspaper article,
actually represents, or may actually represent, a sworn statement by a woman who signed her “x” to a document
a document which would necessarily have been written by someone else,
and “likely” (since you have permitted this) read back to her,
that she herself did not have motivation to lie
that she wouldn’t recant if required to swear to it under cross examination
attested to by a justice of the peace,
and not subsequently altered in any way by the editor of the paper
or by the type setter
and not fabricated beforehand by John Bennet
and finally, (better attorneys could find more)
that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have even been present on the night in question.
Of course I harp on the evidence. I realize you conglomerate lots of other evidence to create your picture of Joseph but you didn’t do that here. You based it on “the following sworn statement,” and I called you on it.
At least we should argue about better evidence, though I am loathe to do so. My apologies to all Jews that suffer from such attempts to undermine valid arguments, namely:
Logical Fallacy: Reductio ad Hitlerum (look it up, I did)
“In his personal diary, Joseph Goebbels writes:
“ February 14, 1942: The Führer once again expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them. Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies. We must hasten this process with cold ruthlessness.” (Hastily copied from Wikipedia.)
The law of hearsay is complex so let’s just assume this passes the tests for hearsay exclusion.
I would still require:
an expert to testify that it is written in Goebbels hand,
that it is unaltered,
that Goebbels is likely to have been present when this was purportedly said,
that the said destruction actually occurred.
Receiving such would overcome my reticence to convict and I would then gladly pronounce the Fuhrer a monster and mass murderer.
You say I can’t “entertain the possibility.” I say that a willingness to put forward evidence that is absurdly weak demonstrates an eagerness that overcomes reason. And though I may never reach you, others might be enlightened by this exchange.
I also feel like I’m sitting in a courtroom somewhere watching attorney’s argue legal technicalities. Why can’t we wrap this up like an episode of CSI (or better yet, Perry Mason) where the witness admits their guilt?
OK, I think I’m finally done, but thanks for the discussion everyone. I live for this kind of stuff. Joel, you’re still not acknowledging the huge difference between doing history and trying a person before a court of law, so until you do that, there is no point in engaging your points. You’re still caught up with the Schindle statement, which I acknowledged as a possible exaggeration and lie long ago. And now you’re angry that I even mentioned Hitler. OK, well then I’ll go with Talaat Pasha to make the same point. So I concede. I can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt (at least as that is meant in today’s courtroom) that Joseph Smith was a philanderer. But then again, I was never going for that. This debate has made me wonder if law school and your career blunted your ability to do objective historical research, especially when it comes to your own religion.
Cameron N. #229:
Yes. :) Kibble’s statement expresses well my own hesitance to bring up the things that have been painful for me. What good does it do when coming from me? I have neither the information nor the authority to explain all the weird stuff. It’s like (poor analogy alert) telling someone their wedding dress is hideous just as they are about to walk down the aisle and while having no alternatives to offer.
As I’ve said, I’m glad the fact that the freaky stuff happened is no longer lumped in with the “apostate” and “anti-Mormon” pile of ideas. But I have no better wait to make it work, to make sense of it, to make it seem remotely reasonable or acceptable than I did before. Only the general leaders can do that. Until they do, as someone else said, “I don’t know how to process that information.”
Incredulous Alison asserts “I don’t know how to process that information” in rather credulous fashion, in 50,000 words or less. Underwhelmed…
Nic, you’ll be thrilled to note that I have finally made it to comment #231. After in depth research, here is your answer:
Steve Smith (#232):
This is a problem more of equivocation than anything else. Steve keeps claiming JS was a philanderer and others disavow the claim, mostly based on the idea that, “Philandering is bad and Joseph Smith was a prophet so he couldn’t be bad (and, therefore, couldn’t be a philanderer). Also, it’s not cheating to have sex with your wife, even if you have another wife. Because angels with flaming swords!”
If you look at the dynamics of Mormon polygamy objectively, it’s almost impossible to claim there was no philandering (have affairs, flirt, play around, carry on, play the field, fool around) given that there wasn’t any formal system to arrange the subsequent marriages other than to continue to do the things the things singles do to attract spouses (have affairs, flirt, play around, carry on, play the field, fool around). So married men were often behaving as single men in that they were still scamming for new wives, trying to attract and encourage further relationships, etc.
In the case of JS, it’s even more problematic because of the position of authority. “Marry me or be damned.” Well…um… Who really finds this acceptable? (But it might explain the weirdness at BYU back in my day when it wasn’t uncommon for a guy to have a “revelation” or “vision” about whom he was to marry and proudly declaring God’s will in the matter to the unsuspecting woman. Ick.)
Jouncy Jimmy jcobabe (all over the place and then some):
Except that I didn’t. Don’t let the facts hit you on your way out.
Given that JS lied repeatedly, publicly about the teaching and practice of polygamy and you, Jim, believe he’s a prophet, you’re going to have to reconcile that nonsense for yourself. But you’re starting to sound like that guy who blames legal.
Just one of many examples:
From (the original) Times & Seasons, in 1844, when Joseph had already married umpteen other women…ahem…in which he defames “fiendish” Sidney Rigdon for claiming JS was teaching plural marriage.
As I’ve said, I don’t always have the same problem with all lying that others claim to—and I don’t think it precludes someone from being a prophet—but the double talk about it just nonsense.
I’m with you there, Shane. None of the reasons fit the practice.
AMB, if it’s silly to speculate, then Preach My Gospel is the silly of all sillies. The entire “sell” for religion is speculation on an afterlife. And our church is kind of tippy top of afterlife claims.
I see lots of “need” to disclose it, just no mechanism to relay such ideas in a reasonable information bundle.
If we say, “Yes, Joseph Smith had dozens of wives, some were young, some already married, many were coerced with threats of destruction” and couple that, as we do, with a near deification of prophets and other leaders, we are hosed. (And that’s kind of where we are sitting right now.)
If we start from the point of, “Yea, prophets are totally human and may do all sorts of dumb, bad, sinful stuff,” then we have somewhere to go with this. (Either that or explain how it’s not dumb or bad or sinful, which I don’t see forthcoming.) Then hearing even very problematic behavior more readily falls under the umbrella of “bad human behavior” rather than the umbrella of “that means the church can’t be true.”
“If we start from the point of, “Yea, prophets are totally human and may do all sorts of dumb, bad, sinful stuff,” then we have somewhere to go with this. (Either that or explain how it’s not dumb or bad or sinful, which I don’t see forthcoming.) ”
But that’s the rub right – the polygamy essay, reviewed and approved by the top 15, makes it clear that Joseph was simply following the orders of a sword-wielding angel. If there was ever a time to excuse bad behavior as a mistake this was it. And that didn’t happen.
Look, I’m up to #251!
That’s the golden question, isn’t it? My answer would be a fuzzy combination of questions:
We differ in that idea, although I think I would have agreed a couple of decades ago. I don’t think “all of mankind’s salvation literally depends on understanding and accepting the gospel as delivered by prophets…”
Our church, of all Christian churches, seems to give enormous leeway in extending second chances and do overs. I’m something of a Mormon Transhumanist Deist. :) I suspect that we are largely put here on earth to muddle through the best we can, including prophets and other leaders. I suspect that we will be judged on our behaviors and choices given the circumstances we found ourselves in, considering our strengths, weaknesses, and all that.
So, for example, if the prophet totally bungles something to the point where it takes it out of the realm of spiritual possibility for an individual, God will understand that and accommodate for it. That fits, to me, with all that we believe about individual judgment.
As an example, my maternal grandfather (Claudius Empey) was a member of the church but inactive all of my mother’s life to the best of my knowledge. My grandparents were not married in the temple. Yet just a year after he died, he was endowed and sealed to both my grandma (Mabel Taylor) and his first wife (Cora Lee, who had died), with my grandma standing in for herself and the first wife (brave woman!) and my uncle standing in for my grandpa.
My grandparents lived in Price, Utah. He was baptized in 1901, lived around Mormons, raised his kids Mormon, etc. Still he chose not to be endowed or sealed to his family. So why would the church bother to do the work for someone who openly, knowingly rejected such things? Unless we have a rather tolerant view of progression and growth and understanding? (I suspect doing it just to make survivors feel good would fall under the deception category, no?)
More succinctly, I suspect God can (and will) accommodate for all sorts of human foibles, yours, mine, and even those of prophets and leaders. Otherwise, what’s the point of having an atonement? :)
Actually, the “incredulous” adjective was suggested by Alison, as a personal characterization, not anything of my invention.
I have no objection if Incredulous Alison wishes to back away from it now, but it seems rather silly to be in denial about the title you provided for your own post. I thought it was rather ill-considered from the start.
Alison and others continue to confirm through their incredulous comments that it is totally unnecessary to consult anything but the Bloggernacle for anti-Mormon spin.
I get the impression that Alison routinely leads such discussions in her Sunday School class. It must be fun for her, but perhaps confusing and distressing for any of those who don’t already know everything, especially those who entertain the such condemnation of their own Church.
Alas, the poor flawed Church. How would they survive without such dedicated support?
jcobabe, I realize that responding to you will most assuredly cause another response from you–none of which I have found to be very helpful to this discussion–but your characterizations of both Alison and others who comment here are grossly flawed. That you cannot see that is distressing. I’m not sure what you find to be “anti-Mormon spin” here, but your tone can be read as very arrogant, combatative, and downright obnoxious; ergo, you are not really helpping your cause as far as I can tell.
Actually, Jolly Jimbob jcobabe, it wasn’t ever my incredulity. If you read the post (more) carefully you might figure out whose it is. The fact that you can’t just deal with that and move on is your problem.
Yes, we’re leaving the Bloggernacle in droves…
Juicy Jimbob jcobabe, if you’re going to speculate about the reasons for others’ church disciplinary action, just don’t. The church has a history of sanctioning those who have published/discussed historical truths that they now admit publicly. Fact.
I know you weren’t talking to me, Jared, but I certainly believe in one that could command genocide—and do so ethically. I mean, what are ethics outside of God’s definition? What about earth life is so meaningful that it’s value couldn’t be trumped?
Joel Winter, I’m not making the argument that any particular piece of data is admissible, I’m arguing that it’s irrelevant because this isn’t court. It’s a discussion. And only a discussion arbiter (which, in this case is me) can dismiss items presented for consideration. You probably noticed I almost never delete comments, even really lame ones. :)
Hahah can you even imagine? Pardon my crassness, but I think this is rather like sizing condoms. “Hmmm. Should I get the large, x-large, or massive?”
Of course, we’d end up with most women self-selected into the intermediate class and most men in advanced—along with most pompous backsides or either gender—actual scriptural knowledge notwithstanding. I just can’t go there. :)
While you’re busy railing on Frank Pellet for not being willing enough to indulge in your riddle, you’re not willing to think carefully about the post you chose to comment on (repeatedly). There simply is no where in the post that I express incredulity about JS’s polygamy. I say I didn’t know about it, then I did (over two decades ago).
But, yes, I suspect your pearls are far too precious for the swine here. And the general authority swine. And the swine of the rest of humanity. In fact, given how high up you are on that rameumptom you probably couldn’t throw that far anyway. We all suffer in that loss.
Don’t forget the Slap Chop, a favorite toy for all men who believe manipulation of women is just a means to an end.
Agreed, this would have been a good time.
My thoughts, very briefly, are that (1) major revelation comes in bursts and has more to do with community preservation than individual need and (2) our current leaders are loathe to declare revelation of the “we talked to God” type that JS claimed regularly. In other words (on #2), it may take them a generation or more to “overturn” what seems to have been part of a God-commanded action (as with the black/priesthood/temple ban).
Brian Larsen, spot on, brother.
And with that, I have actually caught up on the responses. :) I will leave the thread open for another day or two. If anyone feels compelled (by conscience, desire, or an angel with a flaming sword) to chime in, do so now or forever hold your peace. :) Thanks to all!
…our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
For my dear Jackback Jellybelly jcobabe.
Congrats on making it to 300 comments! Also, now that the comments are tapering off, I do hope you’ll have the time to address in more detail why you don’t think we have any obligation to “warn” investigators about polygamy (or other topics) before they join the Church.
As I re-read your post, it seems that you’re not too happy that the topic of polygamy was avoided/white-washed from Church, and that you don’t like the argument that you “could” or “should” have known. This all sounds great.
What I don’t understand is how you can hold this position, but also not blink an eye in saying we have no responsibility to tell investigators about these problematic issues beforehand, so they can better judge whether joining the church is the right thing for them.
Don’t you see the inconsistency in your position?
Given how much hurt exists among lifelong members who felt like the truth (about polygamy) was hidden from them, don’t you think investigators or new converts feel the same hurt, knowing that the church, its missionaries, and the numerous members they met before their bapitism ALL kep this information from them?
PP, thank you for topping it out. You should get a prize or something.
The reason the inconsistency doesn’t exist is because I do not hold the position you are claiming. I responded in #288:
Right now the church essays are all we have from an authoritative view, and they don’t make sense of the facts at all. What is there to say? “Yup, tons of crazy historical stuff…that looks pretty damning…on the surface…but really…I’m sure it’s fine…because…PROPHET!”
As I said in that comment, if we can finally start from the position that prophets are regular people with extraordinary callings in the spiritual realm (which I believe is the correct position), then we can much more easily work with bad behavior and/or behavior we can’t explain. We don’t have to claim all their behavior is acceptable to God. We can even go so far as to say, “No way, no how, was that from God.”
My point is that now that no one can deny the historical information (except that one guy who still blames legal…) and we have deified our leaders and relied on their (near) infallibility, members are between a rock and a hard place.
Logically I think we have to give up one or the other—or get an inspired explanation. Either the facts go back in the anti-Mormon denial pile or we stop putting our human leaders on the right-smack-dab-next-to-God pedestal or we have someone in authority explain how all this mess isn’t really a mess.
The prize is the special theme from Nic (somewhere back in this string).
Yes, Terry H.
PP, you have won an all expense paid mind meld with Nic the Knowledgable to have the meaning of life, explanations of the universe’s most complex mysteries, and all understanding presented to personally on a gilded platter.
You have no idea how excited I was to be #300. I had been waiting as the comment # inched up…and finally, I’ve accomplished something worthwhile with my life :)
And thank you for explaining your rationale again – I now get what you’re saying, which makes sense.
If there’s any way to string this conversation along for another 96 comments, I’m totally game!
The theme music as Alison announced our award was playing backwards :)
PS: Nic, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Thanks to all for the engaging conversation. Until next time!