Review: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding

You have probably heard about Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Greg Kofford Books, 2015; publisher’s page) by Brian C. and Laura H. Hales. It has been getting a lot of attention, coming as it does in the wake of the recently released polygamy essays at Furthermore, the book follows the three-volume treatment of the history and theology of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, authored by Brian C. Hales and (for volumes 1 and 2) Don Bradley and also published by Kofford. Not having read the three volumes, I assume the 100 pages of narrative text in this shorter volume, along with the 75 pages of biographical sketches of the 35 women who were, in one sense or another, plural wives of Joseph Smith, are something like a summary of the material discussed at greater length in the three longer volumes. An abridgement, if you will.

The book is also a gentle apology of sorts for Joseph Smith’s polygamy, although the authors attempt to keep the discussion historical, honestly conveying facts and context, rather than apologetic, defending and justifying the events portrayed. As an active, practicing Latter-day Saint, I am rooting for the home team: I want the book to succeed in its attempt to both accurately recount Joseph Smith’s actions and also to make those actions understandable to a modern reader. I think the book is largely successful on the first count; whether it succeeds on the second is up to the judgment of individual readers. At the very least the book gives mainstream Latter-day Saints an accessible, accurate, sympathetic source for reliable information about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. I will discuss what I liked (there is a lot to like) and what I didn’t like about the book below.

What I Liked

First, the authors take a refreshingly optimistic view of learning the facts about the practice of polygamy. In the Prologue, the authors explain:

Incorporating challenging new information into existing religious convictions is not an easy process, but it may be needed. Asking questions does not necessarily equate with having a crisis or displaying a lack of faith. … Doubt is not the enemy of faith any more than faith is the remedy for doubt. The genuine antidote for doubt is more knowledge, which is gained through the continual search for truth no matter what its source ….

Second, the authors present dozens of quotations from source documents in the 100 pages of narrative discussion, as well as a terribly convenient matrix showing the 35 women married or sealed to Joseph Smith during his lifetime and, in columns, summarized data for each (at p. 103-04). The “legal husband” column, for example, shows that six of the eleven women married or sealed to Joseph Smith during 1841-42 had legal husbands, whereas only three of the seventeen listed for 1843 had legal husbands. The “involved sexuality” column shows less than half listed as either “yes” or “possible,” although a Latter-day Saint who is troubled by the sexual side of polygamy is probably not comforted to know that Joseph had sex only with plural wives Louisa Beaman, Sylvia Sessions, Flora Ann Woodworth, Emily and Eliza Partridge, Almera Johnson, Lucy Walker, Sarah and Maria Lawrence, Olive Frost, and Malissa Lott (these are the “yes” entries). There are three columns given for “probable sealing type”: time only, time and eternity, and eternity only. Some readers will object to that menu of sealing options, given the lack of authoritative statements and the variety of terms participants used in the sources to describe any particular sealing or marriage, but it is at least handy summary of the authors’ view of the range of possible sealings and which type applied to the various plural wives.

The authors also provide detailed discussion of women who declined invitations to practice polygamy, in particular Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton (declining an invitation from Brigham Young). These cases show that women could decline invitations, putting an upper bound on the degree of persuasion or coercion that accompanied invitations. As the authors note, based on Martha Brotherton’s own account, “Brigham’s proposal to Martha was offered without coercion or threats against her safety, her reputation, or her membership. … [W]hen Martha refused the proposal, no recourse against her resulted” (p. 53). The discussion of Nancy Rigdon’s refusal to Joseph Smith includes three paragraphs from a letter Joseph Smith wrote to her, including the troubling claim, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another” (p. 56). So in terms of the facts presented, the authors didn’t shy away from difficult episodes.

Third, the authors devote two full chapters to Emma Smith, who carries the dubious distinction of being the first first wife. Given the continuing popularity and relevance of Newell and Avery’s biography of Emma Smith, coupled with the prominence given to Emma — invariably a happy, smiling, faithfully supportive Emma — in LDS art depicting Joseph’s life, the coverage seems appropriate. She remains an enigma, as shown by the somewhat discordant, even jarring, comments sprinkled throughout these two chapters. “Polygamy is difficult to accept. Polygamy behind a wife’s back is even harder to understand” (p. 77). “As the first (and for most of their marriage, only) wife of the Prophet, Emma Smith’s pathway through polygamy was different from that experienced by other plural wives” (p. 89). And this: “Some of Emma’s emotions may have resembled the feelings of a woman who just learned her husband was cheating on her” (p. 89). Resemble? I think her feelings *were* the feelings of a women who just learned her husband was cheating on her, the natural wifely response to the “polygamy behind a wife’s back” acknowledged ten pages earlier. All of this Emma more or less suffered silently. As the authors remind us, “Joseph never publicly acknowledged any wife other than Emma” (p. 88). The authors absolve Emma of the alleged confrontation with Eliza R. Snow, suggesting that in this tale “folklore has supplanted actual history” (p. 84), but never deal directly with Emma’s later denials of Joseph’s practice of polygamy.

What I Didn’t Like

The trick here is to distinguish between the subject of polygamy, which is easy to criticize and dislike, and the authors’ treatment of the subject. For a faithful LDS reader, an honest treatment of Joseph’s polygamy triggers at best feelings of ambivalence. As I noted above, the authors deserve credit for tackling this tough issue and trying to provide some context for the modern reader to understand it while, at the same time, being fairly candid with difficult facts. They are, in a sense, doing work the Church should have done decades ago. The authors note, “During the last few decades the Church has issued few, if any, statements discussing the theology supporting the nineteenth century practice of plural marriage by Church members” (p. 1).

The first thing I think the authors failed to provide is a serious discussion of the fact that Joseph’s practice of polygamy was a secret not a public practice, largely unknown by the general membership at Nauvoo and entirely unknown to the Mormons living in the East or in England. In Chapter 1, “Reasons for Practicing Plural Marriage,” the authors ask, “Why did Joseph Smith establish plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints?” The correct response is that he didn’t — how can one suggest Joseph “established” plural marriage among the Saints when it was never publicly acknowledged and the vast majority of the membership of the Church was not aware of the practice? The authors instead list four reasons drawn from D&C 132, dated to July 12, 1843, why Joseph “establish[ed] plural marriage among the Saints”: to restore all things, to provide a trial for the Saints, to multiply and replenish the earth, and to give every worthy Mormon woman an eternal husband.

Let’s set aside the question of whether these four reasons, drawn from the revelation, are adequate reasons for practicing polygamy. The problem is that Joseph never published that revelation: he died in 1844 and the one manuscript carried to Utah was not published until 1852. If Joseph had given a public defense of the practice of plural marriage in a Nauvoo sermon, what would he have said? Well, who knows? The private justifications he gave (to Nancy Rigdon, situational ethics; to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, an angelic visit and command) do not even appear in the 1843 revelation, which was itself directed primarily to Emma, not to “the Latter-day Saints.” Given that Joseph’s practice of polygamy was secret, he had the luxury of saying different things to different people at different times. It appears his views of the practice evolved over time. Consequently, what he would have said publicly to justify initiating the practice of polygamy is largely speculation because he never provided *any* public teaching on the subject. The authors’ discussion along these lines is therefore a hypothetical discussion rather than a historical discussion.

Second, given that Joseph’s views on and practice of polygamy clearly evolved over time, a particularly relevant question is what Joseph thought about polygamy in June 1844. The authors address this question in the last chapter under a section titled “Did Joseph Smith Intend to Abandon Polygamy?” William Marks claimed (in 1853) that Joseph had a conversation with him in June 1844 in which Joseph acknowledged that polygamy “is wrong” and that it “will prove our destruction and overthrow” unless stopped (p. 97). The authors argue that Marks’ account of the conversation is not credible, and it is certainly reasonable to argue that if Joseph had wanted to terminate the practice he would not have needed to repudiate it publicly (because he had never acknowledged it publicly, and such a public acknowledgment would be counterproductive if the goal was to protect the Church) and he wouldn’t really have needed Marks’ help to do so. But even Brigham Young acknowledged that “Joseph was worn out with it” (with polygamy, p. 98) and the fact is that Joseph did not take any additional plural wives after November 1843. He did authorize some associates to take plural wives right up to May 1844 (the text erroneously states “into May of 1843” at p. 98; I checked the source, George D. Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy, cited by the authors), but many fewer than in 1843. I think the facts strongly suggest that if Joseph had not died in June 1844, he may have terminated the taking of additional wives or at least would have kept the practice private and limited rather than dramatically expanding it as did subsequently happen under the leadership of Brigham Young and the apostles from 1844 to 1846. The authors conclude otherwise, stating: “Joseph’s continued eternal sealing proposals, his authorization for others to enter polygamous unions, and his persistent promotion of plural marriage among his followers support that his feelings regarding polygamy did not change prior to June 1844” (p. 98).

A third point I found problematic in the book was the prominent role given to the unnamed angel of polygamy. The authors rather confidently identify three angelic visits in which Joseph was instructed to practice polygamy. “The 1834 angelic command prompted Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger, but that relationship turned into a huge debacle. Sometime during the next seven years the angel appeared again, but Joseph apparently demurred” (p. 19). Chapter 9 is titled “Changes after the Angel’s Third Visit,” which the authors assign to February 1842 (“with sword in hand,” p. 50). In the authors’ view, that angelic visit explains Joseph’s shift from primarily sealings to already married women prior to February 1842 to primarily marriage-and-sealings to single women and teens after that date. While there are a few passing references to Joseph’s encounter with the angel of polygamy (all second hand), the primary source is Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, who left several accounts. Here is from a 1902 statement:

In 1834, [Joseph] was commanded to take me for a wife. I was a thousand miles from him. He got afraid. The angel came to him three times, the last time with a drawn sword and threatened his life. I did not believe. If God told him so, why did he not come and tell me? The angel told him I should have a witness. An angel came to me — it went through me like lightning — I was afraid. Joseph Said he came with more revelation and knowledge than Joseph ever dare reveal. (p. 149)

The angel of polygamy claim merits discussion because it also appears in the recent essay on Nauvoo polygamy, as follows:

When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

So apparently the Church is fully endorsing Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner’s account as the primary explanation for Joseph’s practice of polygamy. [It has to be the primary explanation: If you provide a list of several reasons to initiate the practice of polygamy, “an angel of the Lord commanded Joseph to do it” is not going to be number 4 on the list.] My problem with this is that D&C 132, the canonized scriptural basis for the practice that comes from Joseph himself, makes no mention of an angelic visitor. Joseph certainly knew how to give credit to angelic messengers in his revelations, as for example in D&C 110 and in the accounts of priesthood restoration. And these were always named angelic visitors rather than anonymous generic angels. So I find the Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner account problematic at best. Her accounts answer the question what Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner thought about polygamy, not what you or I should think about polygamy. You can make your own determination as to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner’s credibility as a historical source. The authors provide lengthy excerpts of her various accounts at pages 149-153.


Despite the problems I note above, here’s the bottom line: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding is a badly needed treatment of Nauvoo polygamy as practiced by Joseph Smith that does an admirable job covering the facts and providing many quotations from actual sources. It is sympathetic to the LDS position while not being overtly apologetic. Coming in at less than 200 pages and carrying an endorsement from Robert L. Millet on the back cover, the book will likely be read by many mainstream LDS who would ordinarily avoid book-length treatments of difficult historical issues. As the blurb at the Deseret Book page notes, “Brian and Laura Hales provide readers with an accessible, forthright, and faithful look into this challenging topic so that we can at least come toward a better understanding.”

[Note: Let’s keep the comments relevant to the book and the review, rather than becoming an open thread on polygamy issues. If you feel a need to vent on the topic, use Facebook.]

148 comments for “Review: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding

  1. I just finished the book and enjoyed it a great deal. I agree that, regardless of whatever little issues people might disagree with, this is now the single best resource to recommend to everyday Latter-day Saints who want to learn more about Nauvoo plural marriage than could be covered in the Gospel Topics essay but who don’t have the time/money for lengthier books and who want to avoid antagonistic treatments.

  2. Can you say a bit more about what you mean by calling the book ‘gently’ but ‘not overtly’ apologetic?

    (I don’t mean to try to argue about polygamy here. I just wonder whether and how this book argues about polygamy, as opposed to simply documenting it. I don’t intend to criticize whatever the book may say along these lines. I’m just curious about what kind of things it says.)

  3. God bless Mr. Hales for trying to make sense of a nonsensical practice. Why God who apparently counts one day as a thousand of our years would institute this practice for such a short period of time in his eyes (about 1.2 hrs of his time) is beyond me. It was a test? Really? It seems to me that the obvious answer as to why this practice was instituted should carry the day. Nevertheless, bravo to Mr. Hales for attempting the apologetic.

  4. Thanks for the book review. I have always felt the best way to arrive at a rational judgement of Joseph Smith’s polygamy is to understand how the plural wives felt about the practice, as well as how they viewed Joseph Smith.

    To my knowledge some of the wives testified of powerful spiritual experiences (including angels).

    Of the 35 women, how many condemned Joseph? How many commended him?

    How about the husbands of the women who married Joseph. What did they have to say?

  5. Well, Orson Pratt was allegedly so distraught that he tried to kill himself when he found out that Joseph propositioned his wife while Orson was on his mission. So, there’s that.

  6. Thank you for the review. I was wondering on the three visits of the angel, in the historical documents, do the sources say there were three visits, or are there just three instances where people say Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angel? If the latter, then that could suggest that Joseph said he was visited by an angel more than three times, or shared the same experience with multiple people. Also, with other angelic invitations Joseph identified the angel as a historical figure, I wonder why Joseph didn’t identify this angel as well. I’d put my money on Abraham.

    I’m a bit shocked that the Hales are asserting that it is impossible that sexuality was involved in over half of Joseph’s plural marriages. That claim seems to be built on a lot of assumptions, such as lack of testimony, lack of children, assumptions about how Joseph and the early Saints would have understood the commandment in D&C 132, and extrapolating vague references to “eternity only” sealings and applying them to all of Joseph’s sealings. There are no cases that I’m aware of where one of Joseph’s plural wives claimed that sex was not involved. Is there an acknowledgement that this particular theory is controversial, or is it just presented as fact?

    I guess it is a step forward to try to “incorporate challenging new information into existing religious convictions.” What would be truly courageous would be to allow new information to challenge, inform, and even change one’s existing religious convictions.

  7. Excellent review, Dave.

    That Hales’ book is an “apology of sorts” is not surprising. Though I admire much of his work, he seems to approach these subjects more as defender than as an objective scholar. Which, I suppose, explains why Dessert Book is willing to endorse his work.

    Could you recommend another book on Nauvoo polygamy which addresses the issues that Hales chose to sidestep or gloss over? Thanks.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    James (#2), the authors were gently apologetic in the sense that they were offering context and understanding as well as admittedly difficult facts. They were not overtly apologetic in the sense that they did not filter facts to match preferred opinions, move from explanation to justification, or attack other authors or scholars with whom they disagreed.

    Joel (#6), Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner’s accounts of what Joseph related to her referred to three visits.

    FarSide (#7), I actually think the Hales did a good job of not sidestepping issues. Other books one might consult would be Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History (Signature, 1989) and B. Carmon Hardy’s Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (U. of Illinois Press, 1992). There is good material in Newell and Avery’s Mormon Enigma (biography of Emma Smith) and Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling (biography of Joseph Smith). I haven’t read Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness yet but everyone else seems to like it.

  9. Thanks for the recommendations, Dave. I’ve read Mormon Enigma and RSR, and I have In Sacred Loneliness on my bookshelf, though I haven’t read it yet (I will now). I’ll check out the other titles you recommended and I will definitely order the Hales’ “abridgment” as well. (I don’t think I could make it through his three-volume magnum opus.)

  10. Thanks for the explanation, Dave. It makes ‘gently apologetic’ sound pretty decent, actually. Offering context and understanding but not undertaking justification sounds like simply mentioning those facts which tend to put Joseph Smith in a positive light, as well as those that look more sinister. If that’s basically it, then I think you could probably argue that this wasn’t even apologetic at all, but just showing all sides, objectively. On the other hand, assessing how objective someone has been always seems itself to be a subjective matter. So maybe “gently apologetic” really is the best and fairest way to describe a book like this.

    Readers will have to make of the subject what they will, but this sounds like a good book, and a good review. Thanks for writing it.

  11. Moss (5) – I’m sure you are aware that the claim of Joseph making a proposition to Sara Pratt while Orson was on his mission is a disputed one made by John C. Bennett, who others swore by affidavit had been the one to (successfully) proposition her. Just thought I would point it out in case others were not aware.

  12. It is my observation that in their quest to present more context to the practice of polygamy, the Hales have lost sight of basic sociological and relational dynamics. Though they might accuse critics of the same, it appears they are too deep in the trees to see the forest. Where they do present their opinions/conclusions, I find them truly perplexing. Armand Mauss spoke of a dwindling Church membership based on a unique and unrelatable cognitive style. The Hales would seem to be evidence of such a phenomenon.

  13. Dave, confused on your argument about the angel. It seems the evidence is that Joseph often kept things private. Further some things, such as the First Vision weren’t openly proclaimed until later. To assume that if he had encountered an angel he would relate that in a public document seems a large leap. Further it ends up being an argument from silence. The angels Joseph does mention and focus on tend to be the ones giving authority. Those not giving authority don’t tend to get mentioned much and if they are only in passing. (For instance what did Gabriel do?)

    More problematic is that, acknowledging we don’t have the original documents behind D&C 132, it’s presented as a message from God and not a defense by Joseph. So that style suggests it’s going to include declarations and directions but not a history of past events. I just don’t see anything in the style of D&C 132 that suggests the angel would be mentioned even if it did happen.

    That’s not to say everyone has to accept Lightner’s account. And often Hale does have an apologetic or at least quasi-apologetic line. But even for naturalists who think Joseph made up everything (consciously or unconsciously) I doubt they’d discount the Lightner account. They’d probably just say it was Joseph telling a story to convince Lightner and it affecting Lightner psychologically or even just a delusion on the part of Lightner. Not having read everyone on this I am curious as to how others take Lightner’s comments. (Anyone know how Dan Vogel takes the claims? I’ve kept meaning to read his more naturalistic take on events but never have had time.)

  14. Joel, I’ve not read the Hales yet (I have their books in Kindle but just haven’t got to them yet). I think though the argument for non-sexual relations is that many of the marriages were adoptive or dynastic. The dynastic argument actually comes originally from Compton in In Sacred Loneliness. While I suspect sex was involved in many I find it doubtful it was in all. Exactly figuring out which was which is probably impossible given the data. I certainly don’t have any problem with there being sex since they were married. However I also find the demand it was involved in all to be as perplexing as those trying to portray it as involved in few of them.

  15. Clark, Joseph did relate angelic visitations related to key events of the Restoration. Eternal marriage, in both its monogamous and polygamous aspects, is a key doctrine and central practice, so it is reasonable to think Joseph would have given a direct account of such a visitation had it occurd, at least assuming he intended to make polygamy a general practice in the Church (as opposed to the limited, private practice he directed during his lifetime).

    What we have are secondhand accounts, of the form “Mary said that Joseph said, “An angel appeared and told me X,” although in the accounts left by Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner she did not even purport to relate Joseph’s actual words, she merely paraphrased whatever it was he said. Given the unique and difficult to describe circumstances of any angelic visitation, even for the person who underwent the experience, getting a description from someone who did not themselves have the experience they are attempting to describe seems terribly unreliable.

  16. Dave, the issue is that he related certain functional aspects of angels grounding authority. Second while he may have related such accounts were he to make polygamy a general practice he died while it was still a secret practice so that line of argument doesn’t help here.

    I agree that the details of what Lightner believed Joseph related are unreliable. I think though that while the details are unreliable some vague notions probably can’t be discounted quite as easy as you suggest. i.e. the fact details are problematic doesn’t mean the entirety of her belief can be discounted.

  17. Clark, I basically agree with you about whether sex was involved in the marriages. What I was disagreeing with in the Hales’ approach is a chart which indicates sexual relations as “yes” or “possible” in less than half of all of the marriages. That imples that it is impossible that sex was involved in over half of the plural marriages. That’s not at all supported by the evidence. If he had used something like “probable” or “likely” and then “improbable” and “unlikely” for the rest, that would be different. But I haven’t read the book, so maybe I’m missing something.

  18. Many of the above issues are addressed in the aforementioned Hales’ “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy.” No one should feel competent in discussing plural marriage without having read those three volumes. Compton’s work is quite good, but Hales has taken the discussion to the next level. You may argue with Hales’ interpretation, but the documentation (also see his website) is quite excellent. Laura did a beautiful job of paring down her husband’s works for the general reader. But anyone interested in the history needs to read the full 3 volume set.

  19. I’m about 1/3 through the book. I appreciate your review and you bring up some really good points. I like that the Hales book brings greater light and discussion to the topic of polygamy. One part of what I’ve read that I really don’t like is the parsing of D&C 132. They have dissected that chapter to death. They compartmentalize certain verses in ways that I find difficult to follow. The verses weren’t even part of the original text, but when they claim that certain verses are meant to apply to polygamy and others are specifically not applicable, I think their interpretation doesn’t stand up.

  20. Thanks, Dave. Maybe at some point I’ll be up to reading the books.

    Clark Goble:

    While I suspect sex was involved in many I find it doubtful it was in all. Exactly figuring out which was which is probably impossible given the data. I certainly don’t have any problem with there being sex since they were married. However I also find the demand it was involved in all to be as perplexing as those trying to portray it as involved in few of them.

    With all due respect, Clark, I think the reasoning is painfully obvious.

    The reason so many try to prove JS did not have sex with anyone but Emma, is because if he did (and I agree with you thoughts) it makes a horrific mess of our history. You have a guy who is married, getting “married” to dozens of other women—often without his wife’s knowledge or consent and under threat of destruction (as relayed by the husband who wants to have more wives). It cannot be claimed to be symbolic. It cannot be claimed to be faithful. It cannot be claimed to be honest. It cannot be claimed to be loyal.

    Meg Stout wrote a post at M* where her line of reasoning is that JS’s polygamy was fine and he was, in fact, “faithful” because he didn’t consummate the marriages. As if, I suppose, emotional affairs and commitments are OK as long as they aren’t physical. Does Stout really think that constitutes “faithfulness”? Would she if it applied to her own marriage?

    Following that line of “faithful Joseph” reasoning:
    That makes a scandal of the polygamy that followed with plenty of consummation.
    That leaves a trail of married women who didn’t really have marriages.
    That leaves the first husbands of some of these subsequent wives in some kind of dynastic limbo.

    This is one of those issues where direct revelation and very clear answers would come in handy. Instead we get a formal-ish admission of what has been published for decades—with nothing to make sense of it.

  21. “Does Stout really think that constitutes “faithfulness”? Would she if it applied to her own marriage?”

    Why don’t you ask Meg Stout herself? She’s open to questions and posts frequently. I’m sure she’d have some answer for you, even if you didn’t like it. (She’s actually been pretty clear she doesn’t care if JS had sex with any or all of the wives, but your “summary” of her views indicates you haven’t actually read much of her posts).

  22. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I don’t know that posing a hypothetical to some other blogger, Meg S. or anyone else, would really further the conversation. I think Alison’s point is better taken as a rhetorical question, with the obvious response being that many married persons would regard their spouse being married or sealed to another person as some form of unfaithfulness, whether the relationship is consummated or not. Or course, Mormons have a pretty low threshold for feelings of unfaithfulness.

    The recent development that has made the claim that sex was not involved in some of the marriages more tenable is genetic testing, which (as I understand the results) has eliminated most or all of the proposed offspring of Joseph’s polygamous unions. Where that leaves us — sex with some plural wives, not with others — gives everyone something to work with.

  23. “I think Alison’s point is better taken as a rhetorical question”

    That’s being way too generous, give the inaccurate nature of the “summary” given of Meg’s views. The answer is so obvious, the only reason to drag Meg into it is to try and make Meg look either disingenuous or naive (especially trying to drag Meg’s own marriage into it – really?).

  24. Alison I recognize that’s the logic. I don’t buy that logic as reasonable.

    To be fair to Meg, she has no problem with Joseph having sex with his wives. While I don’t find her reasoning terribly plausible we should note that if he did have relations she wouldn’t be bothered. I don’t recall her discussion of faithfulness. I guess I should reread it but I’d think that if she doesn’t have a problem with it then the marriage is faithful not the sex, but maybe I’m misremembering her argument. That is sex isn’t tied with faithfulness but is orthogonal.

    I’ll admit that *personally* I find marriage without sex deeply troubling for various reasons and unfaithful – I’m fine with adoption or marriages to take care of widows but if it’s not going to be a real marriage then don’t marry them. You can support people without marrying them.

  25. Joel, if that’s the case I’d definitely agree with you although I’ll hold off total agreement until I read him. (As I said I’ve had his Kindle books waiting unread for quite some times. Perils of limited time and multiple interests.)

    Dave, I recognize some would see sealing to an other as unfaithful. I’m not sure that’s fair given how we treat marriage after someone dies combined with belief in an afterlife. I think people are just very inconsistent on the matter. But then some people would find a spouse remarrying if they die to be unfaithful too, which admittedly is consistent. (I’m not saying people are wrong to feel this mind you – we feel what we feel.)

  26. Ivan, I fully agree that dragging Meg into this seems a bit unseemly. She can defend herself. I don’t in the least recall anything in Meg’s writings that indicate she found the idea of polygamous sex problematic. (Especially since she’s fine with it in Utah) Personally I just don’t buy in the least the idea that Eliza and Joseph didn’t have relations. I think putting the burden of proof so high to describe something as likely is problematic. But I also am not terribly bothered by people who are skeptical of the assumption he did have relations just so long as they aren’t doing so because they see sex with a spouse as wrong. She explicitly said she’s not bothered by it.

    I wouldn’t actually have a problem if it were found that Joseph did, indeed, have sex with some of his plural wives. The most likely candidates for this, in my opinion, would be the Partridge sisters, Maria Lawrence, Lucy Walker, and Malissa Lott; women who Emma unambiguously gave permission to Joseph Smith to marry (versus my view that Emma was informed of all the marriages).

  27. I don’t agree with Meg’s views either, but I respect her position, and she didn’t come by it lightly or due to any knee-jerk repulsion with the idea JS had sex with other women. She’s constructed a likely (but undocumented and hightly speculative) framework for her claims, but she didn’t come about it due to a desire to save JS’s reputation, to sanitize history, or as post facto justification for an pre-rational belief.

  28. Hi guys,

    Thanks, Ivan, for alerting me to the fact that I’m being discussed.

    If I look at my ancestors (with respect to plural marriage), we have:

    Jonathan H. Holmes – agreed to marry Elvira Annie Cowles with the apparent understanding that he was to protect her. They appear not to have consummated the marriage until after Joseph’s death, possibly around the time that Jonathan H. Holmes was involved in the secret reburial of Joseph’s body, at Emma’s request. Eliza Snow’s poem “Conjugal” (often used to “date” the engagement of Jonathan H. Holmes and Elvira Annie Cowles) was clearly modified in an extreme manner. The original poem appears to have celebrated the union of two spouses “like two angels who kiss each other in the presence of the sun,” clearly a reference to two deceased spouses uniting in the resurrection, based on the definition of angel in use at the time (see D&C).

    Elvira Annie Cowles – she was married to Joseph Smith. She remained a close confidant of Emma Smith, continuing as governess to the Smith children. From the account of Elvira’s step-daughter, it is clear that Elvira was an intimate part of the household through the period of time when Jane Manning was with the Smiths, so there was no time when Emma had a problem with Elvira. According to Elvira’s daughter, Emma was aware Elvira was Joseph’s wife. I think this is one of the accounts that claims a woman was Joseph’s wife “indeed.” Which is part of why I don’t presume sex was involve merely because a woman is asserted to have been a wife in very deed.

    John Taylor – He told his beloved wife Leonora about Joseph’s request for her as a plural wife. Leonora threw a fit and ended up cutting her arm (when she interacted with a glass window in her rage). Yet John and Leonora, when they understood the New and Everlasting Covenant in more detail, were willing participants. Taylorsville was the village where Taylor’s wives lived when he was on missions (most of the time).

    Joseph Leland Heywood – He was one of the three fellows who stayed behind in Nauvoo to settle property. He came to Joseph in December 1842 demanding to know what was up with this Church that was much maligned in the press and which his sister had recently married. Heywood was baptized that same day in the frozen Mississippi (Joseph hacked the hole in the ice, someone else performed the actual baptism). Though I can’t prove that Joseph told Heywood about plural marriage at that time, it strains credulity that Joseph Leland Heywood didn’tbring it up. Heywood appears to have proposed marriage to Martha Spence, which appears to have prompted her to begin her famous journal. Heywood was so convinced of the merits of plural marriage that he willingly invited a reporter from Putnam’s Magazine to his home in Salt Lake City and granted an interview, introducing the reporter to his three wives. The resulting article appears to be why the US Government fired Heywood from his former position as US Marshall.

    Job Welling – He married Elvira Annie Cowles’ three biological daughters. The record of his marriage to the first of the three sisters (Marietta Holmes) shows her name recorded as Marietta Smith. The Smith is marked out and “Holmes” is written next to it in a different hand from that of the recorder. I suspect a global study of the endowment house marriage records would show other intances where a child of one of Joseph’s plural wives is identified as being “Smith,” even when it would not be possible for that child to have been engendered by Joseph Smith. Thus I am entirely skeptical when women who were attempting to protect polygamy against the RLDS attacks would vaguely say there were many children, but they went by other names. In the case of Marietta, the outrage apparent from the record appears to have resulted in multiple recollections regarding the Holmes family coming to grips with the apparent fact that their mother had been Joseph’s wife. This also shows up in an account the Wright family entered into evidence in the early 1900s, telling of the family “tale” as they had learned it around the tim of Marietta’s marriage.

    John W. Taylor – His earlier wives were not cool with his later plural marriages in principle, though they were amost always gracious in the face of the actual women. As for John’s feeling regarding respecting the prior claim of others, in 1909, John W. married his secretary, who had been engaged to a missionary. For better or worse, none of John W.’s widows remarried. At that time, Joseph F. Smith had demonstrated in his marriage to Annie Kimball that the former wife of a disgraced man could be taken fro that man, with her children sealed to the new husband. So while Sam Taylor liked to think of these beautiful strong women rmaining unmarried in their widowed state as a romantic testament to their love for John W., I see it as both romantic and an indication of their dogged determination to leave God no other option but John W. when the families were knit together in eternity.

    Mary Leamon – Her husband died the summer Joseph Smith was killed. She appears to have exerted coercion on her bishop to force him to stand proxy, which in 1846 meant that she ended up “married” to the man had stood proxy. Mary’s situation crystalized for me the role of husbands in some “marriages” as God Husbands or glorified home teachers, not as conjugal spouses.

    John Taylor (father to President John Taylor) – he married a couple of women, in what appears to have been more akin to the God Husband role.

    I think that summarizes the seven families in my family tree where plural marriage was involved. These familieslso demonstrated to me the ease with which women who were having sex proceeded to reproduce. This gives rise to my suspicion that the complete lack of extant children might have been associated with minimal sexual activity.

    As for how would feel if my spouse were secretly married to someone else, I suppose if it wasn’t something within my belief system, it would feel something like the kick in the gut I experienced when my first husband told me he’d been having sex with prostitutes.

    As for the assertion that my reconstruction isn’t based on documentary evidence, the fact is that most of the thing people infer about what Joseph was doing isn’t based on documentary evidence. It’s just got the nice solid feel of any so-called fact that has been swallowed whole for decades by the elite cogniscienti.

    I’m agnostic on whether Joseph ever consummated any of his plural marriages. Based on the lack of offspring and the situation, I challenge anyone to “prove” it. It is impossible to either prove or disprove that Joseph had sex with his plural wives.

    I’m much more fascinated by why everyone has been ignoring the well-documented rash of seductions that pervaded Nauvoo society during 1841-1842 and beyond. It is impossible, in my mind, to properly understand why Joseph was so active in finding a way to teach women about the eternal nature of marriage if you don’t understand the threat he faced.

    To reiterate here, I like many things about the Hales’ book. But any book that attempts to tell me Mary Heron was frigged by Joseph Smith based on the testimony at the 1850 Joseph Ellis Johnson trial is a book I will consider to have been written by someone who doesn’t know how to propely evaluate evidence. I am entirely grateful to Bruce N. for sharing the account of that same trial written in the journal of Joseph Kelly, who was present at the trial, apparently in the role of character witness. Ironically, this account was Brian Hales’ three-volume tomes, but I’d missed it. So he had the data and didn’t evaluate it sufficiently.

    On behalf of the numerous and faithful posterity of Joseph Kelly, I am formally offended that that testimony, which should have remained sealed, is public. For the most likely interpretation is that the “Joseph” who frigged Mary Heron was Joseph Kelly. But Joseph Kelly clearly repented if he was the frigger. Whether or not he was the frigger, he gratefully learned of the doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant, revered Hyrum enough to name his 1844 son after him, married a plural wife in 1846 (when he was likely sealed to his first, deceased wife) and went on to marry other women when he arrived in Utah.

    It’s ironic that I feel terrible about exposing Joseph Kelly as the man who frigged Mary Heron (apparently with the full knowledge of Mary’s husband, John Snider). By contrast, I don’t think any of us felt nearly as bad when we thought the “by Joseph” might refer to Joseph Smith.

  29. And now to the review of the book:

    Dave liked:

    1) The positive outlook the Hales have regarding Mormon polygamy.

    2) The numerous sources cited.

    3) The two chapters devoted to Emma.

    Dave didn’t like:

    1) Avoiding serious reflection on the fact that Joseph Smith’s actions and teachings regarding polygamy were not public.

    2) Serious consideration of Joseph’s feelings about polygamy circa 1844, when William Marks claimed Joseph wanted to abandon polygamy.

    3) The credence granted Mary Rollins Lightner’s story regarding the angel who appeared three times, lastly with sword and dire threats.

    I posted my own review of the Hales’ book. Laura was entirely gracious and lovely. I’m not sure what Brian thought.

    On Dave’s likes:

    1) The Hales have a pretty good vibe going, but I actually rather dislike how willing Brian is to assert that Joseph was sexual with certain women (particularly Mary Heron).

    2) Love the sources. Brian (and Don Bradley) have done amazing work putting together the sources and making them openly available. Brian and Don deserve a place in the highest heaven for this one fact alone.

    3) Emma rocks. The more we can understand this amazing and strong and complex woman, the better. But I don’t agree that she was so stupid that she remained ignorant of Joseph’s activities teaching the New and Everlasting Covenant. Especially when it is so clear that she absolutely must have been aware of the widespread illicit intercourse seductions being carried out, which Relief Society aggressively assisted in fighting.

    On Dave’s dislikes:

    1) The fact of Joseph’s secrecy in establishing the New and Everlasting Covenant is good to emphasize. But to criticize this as therefore raising the possibility that later polygamy was not in accordance with the basic teachings Joseph shared with dozens (or more) of his closest trusted followers is a bit like saying that a planted seed (being so quiet) really doesn’t have much to do with the plant that eventually grows in the same location. Getting back to the illicit intercourse epidemic, Joseph had compelling reasons to keep things quiet. But as Hales’ larger volumes illustrate, there were lots of conversations going on in cottage meetings around Nauvoo circa 1843/44. I particularly like the conversation Brigham Young had with a man on July 9, 1843, reasoning with the non-member about the reason for permitting a man to be sealed to more than one woman.

    2) I too look forward to a reconstruction of 1844 that honors all the reports, rather than capriciously eliminating testimony because it doesn’t fit a paradigm. I think if William Law and Austin Cowles hadn’t hastened Joseph’s death, we might well have seen Joseph reign in plural marriage. But Law and Cowles and their hundreds killed Joseph. Did I mention Cowles is also my ancestor?

    3) There are many more references to the angel with the sword than just the account from Mary Rollins Lightner. Some presume the angel with sword schtick was tantamount to a Joseph Smith pick-up line. However my analysis of the data indicates that the angel (the time with the sword) showed up during a very localized timeframe, a time when Bennett and his strikers (Expositor speak for seducing cads) were very active, yet Joseph did not yet know about the seductions.

    To reiterate Meg’s major dislike – Laura does a brilliant job of making Brian’s research and opinions accessible. Brian, for his part, fails to discuss the huge sexual scandal that rocked Nauvoo in 1841-1842. Perhaps Brian still doesn’t see it, though the most persuasive information regarding the scandal was contained in materials he sent me in 2014. Brian’s failure to understand the sex scandal affects his ability to sort the data. Specifically, this blind spot leads him to presume some reports of Emma’s opposition are directed at Joseph and some reports of inappropriate sexual behavior (e.g., frigging Mary Heron) are attributable to Joseph Smith.

  30. The problem is not that there isn’t any evidence of sexuality in Joseph Smith’s marriages, the problem is that many LDS scholars and faithfuls have set an unreasonably high evidentiary standard on the question of sexuality to the point that they can comfortably say within their own minds that there is no evidence and that therefore their speculation that the marriages were non-sexual is just as good as the alleged speculation that the marriages were sexual. My question is what sort of evidence of sexuality, besides children (and there are statements that Joseph Smith did have children with other women, although these are not substantiated with DNA evidence, and are commonly dismissed as hearsay), are people expecting of sexuality? Direct witnesses of the consummation? Widows testifying before a court of law saying, “I did have sex with that man?” Of course, I understand that if you do accept that Joseph Smith had no children from the other marriages, that it is perplexing as to why that would be the case if he did have sex with them, especially given the fact that he was perfectly capable of bearing offspring with Emma. Yet, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of pre-modern birth control methods, miscarriages, stillbirths, or even abortions. Also, it should be borne in mind that the evidence is overwhelming that the women who were married to Joseph Smith, even if they didn’t have sex with him, were expected to not seek other romantic relationships and were to be committed to Joseph Smith. Helen Mar Kimball remarked in her journal her sadness at being unable to attend a dance and mingle with other youths because she was Joseph’s wife. All scholarship on polygamy appear to be in agreement that there was an emotional and time commitment to many of the marriages.

    At any rate, I tend to agree with D. Michael Quinn on the topic of sexuality when he said in 2012, “I regard the evidence for Joseph Smith’s sexual polyandry to be diverse, widespread, and convincing when viewed as an interconnected (though fragmentary) mosaic.”, 57).

    I think too many LDS scholars and members are simply refusing to take a step back and look at the mosaic. They seem to be eager to dismiss many historical constructions of Joseph Smith’s polygamy (particularly those that seemingly cast Joseph in a negative light) as inconclusive and even evidence-lacking simply because a few pieces of the puzzle/mosaic are missing to an otherwise discernible picture. It causes me to wonder if these scholars maintain such high evidentiary standards in regard to other historical questions. What do they think of research on ancient history? Is much of ancient history actually more of a mystery simply because the pictures that we have of it are fragmentary? Or are these scholars and members displaying inconsistency in their evidentiary standards, and only raising the bar extremely high when it comes to propositions that may conflict with their traditional religious beliefs and cause them to experience cognitive dissonance? It is reminiscent of how many evangelical Christians treat the theory of evolution: demand so much evidence to the point that every puzzle piece is found, otherwise it is all just speculation.

  31. I said I wouldn’t criticize whatever this book says, but I feel I have to say something. I don’t mean to blame or condemn. I’ve never been a Mormon. I’ve studied a bit. A lot of Mormon details are eyebrow-raising, but maybe every religion is like that. I’ve tried to be sympathetic.

    The polygamy of Joseph Smith is just heartbreaking. To call it ‘polygamy’ is a euphemism, when to an outsider it just looks so clear. ‘Perplexing’ and ‘difficult’; you have to understand the New Covenant.

    Oh Lord, my God, how can they all just keep talking.

    I’m sorry. I’m a Christian, somewhere between Anglican and Lutheran, and I really thought I could look at Mormonism as something like Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, only closer. I’m not trying to win any arguments. The way I happen to know doesn’t have to be the only way.

    You must so wish that this awful issue would just go away. It just won’t. There’s just too much about the Mormon prophet that screams ‘sexual predator’. And millions of people sing his praises. And people write books, about how perplexing it is.

    I’ll understand if this just gets deleted. I don’t mean to offend anyone. But it’s all just too horrible. It just passes my limits, which are maybe too weak, for respecting a different religion.

    What on earth are you doing? How can you keep on following this man?

  32. It’s a good question, James. I can’t speak for other people, but if all I knew about Joseph Smith was surrounding his polygamy, I think I would conclude something like “sexual predator” as well.

    But through extensive personal study, I know far more about the man, his words and deeds, etc. that instead compels me to conclude that he was one of the most virtuous and upright persons who ever lived.

    Have you read the Book of Mormon? The Doctrine and Covenants? Or the teachings/sermons of Joseph Smith in the last years of his life concurrent with these things? Or have you read any biographies that clearly display virtue and nobility of character alongside his foibles? (If not, the most common recommendation these days seems to be )

    I for one am not offended by your comment, I respect any conclusion or belief that appears to be genuine and given more than cursory thought. But for me the evidence in whole leads me to conclude differently than you.

  33. Brad L–Well said.

    Frequently, the fallback position for so many apologists, and the church itself, is to find a small flaw or inconsistency in the historical record that allows them to question the large body of evidence pointing to the individual, or the institution itself, having acted in a questionable manner. They seem content to say: “Because we don’t have a smoking gun, we cannot know 100% for certain whether Joseph Smith had sex with any of his multiple wives.” Or: “Yes, there is no evidence that horses were extant in the Americas during the Book of Mormon era, but that doesn’t mean something won’t turn up in the future.” (I’ve heard GAs use this line of reasoning on multiple occasions.)

    The truth is the record regarding many past events—even some recent ones—is incomplete or based on circumstantial evidence. This does not, however, prevent scholars from forming an opinion or reaching a conclusion regarding what likely or probably transpired. Indeed, making such interpretations is a critical element of all good historiography. Yes, sometimes the evidence is so incomplete or contradictory that it is impossible to make a determination. Such, however, does not appear to be the case with respect to Joseph’s physical relations with multiple members of the opposite sex.

  34. “The problem is not that there isn’t any evidence of sexuality in Joseph Smith’s marriages, the problem is that many LDS scholars and faithfuls have set an unreasonably high evidentiary standard on the question of sexuality to the point that they can comfortably say within their own minds that there is no evidence and that therefore their speculation that the marriages were non-sexual is just as good as the alleged speculation that the marriages were sexual.”

    Actually no Brad – most of the folks I know at FairMormon, for instance are pretty OK with the idea that there is good evidence for sexuality in at least some of the plural marriages of Joseph Smith.

    But most of them also disagree that there is good evidence for sexuality in ALL of them. And in particular, there is very poor evidence of sexuality in the case of two types of marriages that Joseph Smith entered:

    1. Sealings to women already married and

    2. Sealings to underage women

    In both cases, the evidence actually seems to lean in favor of no consummation.

    Don’t accuse the apologists of saying more than they are actually saying.

  35. I won’t dispute of course, that there are some folks out there in the LDS Church who do take the extreme position you outline.

  36. Clark, I’m unsure why it’s “unseemly” when talking about a book about polygamy to refer to another public blog in the Bloggernacle that discusses the same subject. Is this some new rule of netiquette that I missed along the way?

    Ivan W.:

    She’s actually been pretty clear she doesn’t care if JS had sex with any or all of the wives, but your “summary” of her views indicates you haven’t actually read much of her posts

    I’m unsure how “care” is relevant. She “cares” enough to write about it. Still, the point isn’t whether or not she is, I supposed, emotionally invested in JS’s sexuality, but that she has asserted that she believes he did not engage in sex and she uses that as her reasoning for describing him as faithful. Her response, above, does the same thing using her own ancestors polygamous ancestors as the fertility benchmarks.

    The post is titled, “A Faithful Joseph.” Here are relevant pull quotes:

    Let me tell you about how I came to believe Joseph Smith was faithful to his beloved wife, Emma.

    I argued with Him for several years, certain that the story of Joseph’s plural marriages necessarily involved sexual relations.

    The other problem with my original (and faith-challenging) view of Joseph Smith’s sexual activities…Not a single suspected child can be proven to have been fathered by Joseph on a plural wife….

    While lack of children does not prove lack of sex, it leaves lack of sex as a potential cause for the extant data.

    Modern belief in Joseph’s sexual activities with women other than Emma is based solely on written reports, only two of which were produced under oath…In other words, they had a motive to lie.

    Stout has used such equivocation with the word “faithful” as to render it meaningless. The apologetic path doesn’t work. If no sexual relations occurred, would anyone else here still say his behavior “was faithful to his beloved wife, Emma”? (Would any of us think so if applied to our own marriages?) How do we label the non-sexual “faithful Joseph” if he was, in fact, sexual after all? How do we label all the other Mormon polygamists with openly sexual relations?

    James Anglin:

    You must so wish that this awful issue would just go away.

    Indeed, I do.

    Dave, I’ll stop commenting on comments so you can get back to the book review. Sorry.

  37. Hi Alison,

    The post you appear to have read is merely the first in a long series of posts that traces through the chronology.

    One of the reasons I doubt Joseph had as much sex as people tend to presume is that in 1841-1844 Nauvoo as a hotbed af crazy inappropriate sex. An women did come forward and testify to having had illicit intercourse with the predators, naming names, giving dates. These women talked about being given medicine to prevent conception (possibly Queen Anne’s lace), but some of them conceived anyway. Mary Clift is the most unambigious case. I assert that Eliza Snow strongly resembles a victim, with her November 1842 journal entries extremely suggestive that this is the time she lost a possible pregnancy, with one of the poems talking about a vile wretch who fed on the blood of innocence, who was side by side and face to face with the victim (pretty graphic, in my opinion). I also opine that the other men who married plural wives in 1842 may have been sheltering pregnant victims, e.g., Heber Kimball’s undated marriage to Sarah Peak Noon.

    By the way, in the case of Mary Clift, Gustavus Hills only slept with her the one time, and she was given the contraceptive medicine, and she still conceived. So this matter of people conceiving children when sex happens isn’t just something particular to my forebears.

    In D&C 132 when it talks about Emma’s concern about those who are pure, I suggest that Emma’s concern was not about some esoteric standard of spirituality but a concern that she might be asked to share her husband with women who had been sleeping with men who slept with any number of others, including the allegedly diseased whores in Warsaw. It might have been unseemly in a revelation for the language to have read “If the women have lied about being virtuous and are infected with the pox (syphilis) or the clap (gonnorrhea), then I will destroy them, saith the Lord.”

    If you look beyond the anecdotes and evasive testimony that has been used to “substantiate” Joseph’s supposed sexual predation, you will see that there are any number of other plural marriages entered into by men we have reason to suspect were “good.” If you look at the reproductive history of these men and their plural wives, there are only two children unquestionably engendered by ‘righteous’ men prior to May 1844 (engendered by William Clayton and Dimick Huntington in spring 1843). In the case of at least William Clayton, we know Joseph indicated that if anyone took Clayton to account for impregnating Margaret, Joseph would excommunicate him. Clayton’s journal could be read to indicate Joseph would only publicly sanction Clayton to save face but would quickly forgive afterwards. However it is also possible that Joseph was merely letting Clayton know that he was willing to forgive, in the way he had not publicly shamed numerous others who had been guilty of gross sin (Chauncy Higbee, Francis Higbee, Lyman O. Littlefield, Darwin Chase, etc.)

    If you don’t understand the extensive and vile sexual misbehavior others were engaging in circa 1841-1842, it is not possible to comprehend why Joseph and Emma would do what they did. But once you understand the entire milieu, Joseph can be seen as protecting women from predators, and Emma can be seen as working with Joseph to protect women, albeit at times becoming extremely concerned that the whole situation would lead to Joseph’s death.

  38. Alison, “unseemly” might have been too strong. If so I apologize. I’m not sure what the best choice of word might be. What bothered me was bringing someone into the discussion, misrepresenting them, and then putting words into there mouth. I fully admit I’ve unfortunately done that unthinkingly at times myself. So I’m trying not to be the hypocrite but just to suggest that bringing someone in requires treating them less as a strawman to be demolished. Also not reading into their intents or hidden beliefs when they’re able to express themselves on such points. But I didn’t put it well and again for that I apologize.

    To the second point, is a wife unfaithful if they remarry after being widowed and have sexual relations? It seems this is the key point if human souls are immortal. Again, as I said, I don’t think so. Of course with a “’til death do we part” view of marriage then the calculus is quite different. Dealing with the history of people who are trying to deal both intellectually but more importantly socially with the implications of marriage after death I think we need to be a bit charitable. Both to those who continue with existing social norms and those who think they ought change.

    The problem with the term “faithful” is that of course how each individual understands it, how a distant less emotionally involved scholar still involved with a certain social genealogy understands it, and how people might understand it centuries later on the other side of the veil all probably differ.

    I’m not trying to draw conclusions here, beyond suggesting that things don’t appear simple no matter how one looks at it. If there is life after death then dealing with relationships is going to be a huge difficulty. I think far too many Christians brush it away by assuming everyone will be asexual beings just focused on harp music.

  39. I used the term faithful because I do think that Joseph, if sexually involved with any of his plural wives, kept such sexual behavior within the bounds Emma permitted. Given the lack of children, it is also possible that he was entirely physically faithful to Emma.

    As to whether entering into covenants with additional wives constituted betrayal, one must make a decision regarding Emma’s knowledge of and acceptance of the additional wives. Many of those asserting they were “wives in very deed” were trying to make the point that Emma was aware of their relationship (covenant or otherwise) with Joseph. Most of those women continued to associate happily with Emma until they left Nauvoo, long after Joseph’s death. I know my own ancestor who was in this situation continued to honor Emma, naming one of her children (Emma Lucinda) after her friend.

    The time in Nauvoo when Emma evicted women from Joseph’s circle (Flora Woodworth, Emily and Eliza Partridge, Eliza Snow) was a temporally localized event, and we know that at least one individual who had been taught about spiritual wivery knew these exact four women were Joseph’s wives (Orange Wight) and conveyed that knowledge to a member of Joseph’s circle (Flora’s mother).

    I do indeed see Joseph as willing to first do what the Lord commanded. But within that overarching constraint, I see a man willing to do whatever his wife wished. That included leaving Nauvoo in June 1843 with Emma, which I think was an unusual event, since other trips away from the Mormon base were usually not with Emma. When the sheriff’s apprehended him, Joseph replied something along the lines of “Kill me if you will, my life is of no worth to me.” Which is very interesting if you think about the fact that Emma had apparently been so concerned that she had threatened divorce (attested to by at least two sources, including a retroactive hint in recorded conversation between Joseph and William Clayton from Aug 43).

    As for unseemly, Allison, it isn’t as though anyone came to M* and apologized for your behavior (as happened in the recent past with an exmo apologizing for the way another exmo had been slamming me), though someone did come to M* and comment on a completely unrelated post to let me know I was being discussed.

  40. It feels totally unreal to even be reading all of this. I’ve been in the church for 45 years and first heard of Joseph Smith’s polygamy/polyandry/14-year old girls/etc. last fall in The New York Times. Still just can’t believe it! Salacious, repulsive, disgusting. Is this really happening? Are we really defending this? Steve Smith, please come back and comment!

  41. I’ve been in the church 40 years and I find it hard to believe you could miss the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. It’s flatly stated in D&C 132, the LDS Church hasn’t really tried to hide the fact. I knew he was a polygamist by the time I hit 6th grade. But I guess people really do spend that long in the LDS Church and never encounter this.


    As for polygamy, per se – I have no real problem with it. As has been alluded to – you basically have to allow for Celestial polygamy for the doctrine of eternal families to make any sense.

    Otherwise you’re asking people to choose which of their spouses they love more and want to be sealed eternally to – which is a nonsense result.

  42. My read on Emma is that she had a real split personality reaction when it came to polygamy. One day she’d support it and even be present at the sealing ceremony between Joseph and the new wife, the next day she’d be opposed to it and trying to throw the new wife out of the house. Then she’d have a change of heart and assent to it again, then change her mind again and…

    It must have given Joseph emotional whiplash. Eventually, being commanded by God to go ahead with the marriages, as he understood it, and getting sporadic support from Emma and then flat refusal, he eventually started going ahead with it without her consent.

    Later in life, Emma tried to mentally block the whole thing and deny her husband ever practiced polygamy at all, in spite of pretty clear evidence to the contrary.

    I don’t know, emotionally it appears to have been too much for both Joseph Smith and Emma. But if you believe that God actually commanded it (and keep in mind – God has commanded pretty outrageous things before), I don’t really know how the couple was supposed to have handled it better than they did.

  43. To Anne – there is no reason to seriously believe Joseph had sex with either of the very young girls who are believed to have been his plural wives (Helen Mar Kimball and Nancy Winchester). I think Joseph’s sexuality with his plural wives was extremely limited and possibly non-existent, not because I’m ignoring data, but in fact because I’ve looked long and hard at all the data, including data that most researchers ignore in their hyperfocus on Joseph.

    To Seth R. – If you consider that Emma wanted to obey but she also wanted to keep Joseph from getting killed, her actions make perfect sense. You also aren’t allowing for the possibility that several instances of her strenuous objections aren’t to polygamy, per se, but to unvirtuous behavior, aka spiritual wifery aka illicit intercourse aka men sharing women amongst themselves like trading cards. When you study that portion of the history, Emma’s actions are perfectly rational.

  44. Seth, don’t marginalize Anne’s experience. She wasn’t taught about Joseph’s polygamy. I believe her because I wasn’t either. My D&C 132 lessons focused entirely on eternal marriage and absolutely nothing on polygamy. And instead of reading the entire D&C word for word like you did in 6th grade, I played basketball with my friends and went fishing sometimes. Shocking I know – what a rebel I was.

    She’s hurting and confused. She’s not weird. There are many and will be many just like her.

  45. Greg, I realize this, but… there is still an element of exasperation I can’t help but feel at never studying the Gospel and Church history outside a Sunday School or Seminary classroom and then being shocked when you learn stuff about it that wasn’t a part of the limited classroom curriculum. Especially when we keep being told to conduct such personal study.

    I also just don’t get the feelings of upset. I guess I just never felt like the Church, the prophet, my parents, or anyone else for that matter OWED it to me to tell me all this stuff. This sense of betrayal I encounter seems to imply that the victim had a right to the truth or something.

    Says who? Who says you have a right to be handed such things without making any effort to learn them? That’s how I felt about all the new things I discovered on the bloggernacle back in 2004 when I started. It was like “cool, I know stuff a lot of people probably don’t.” It wasn’t like “I can’t believe no one told me this!”

  46. It’s easy to not have any real problem with polygamy if a) by “polygamy” we really mean “polygyny only” and b) you happen to be male.

    If we want to start allowing women to be sealed for eternity to multiple men as well as the reverse–that is, allowing for eternal polygamy and not just eternal polygyny–then I agree that because of our vision of eternal families polygamy shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is often made out to be. But as it stands, a woman’s earthly family only gets to be an eternal family if her current beloved husband is her first beloved husband. I doubt that it will always be taught so, but that’s how it stands now.

  47. “Otherwise you’re asking people to choose which of their spouses they love more and want to be sealed eternally to – which is a nonsense result.”

    This is exactly what the church has asked of LDS women since the conception of the sealing practice. I don’t this this problem goes away until we address the hierarchy of God at the top, then men, then women. It’s no triangle relationship like we sometimes like to say (though I think it should be). The way polygamy was handled makes this abundantly clear. The Old Testament (which was used to justify it all) is even worse.

    And I sympathize with you Anne. You are nowhere near alone on this, even if others find it hard to believe. Access to information was much more controlled pre-internet and many people didn’t have family, ward members, or seminary teachers who shared details outside of the correlated lessons plans, (which always seen to omit the trickier verses of scripture).

  48. Marie, I am male. And I believe in BOTH polygyny and polyandry in the afterlife. I have no trouble with my wife being sealed to another man if I die tomorrow and sharing her for the eternities.

    None whatsoever.

    And incidentally, my wife and I have chatted about this topic extensively as part of our church history studies, and she is just as fine with the concept as I am.

    If anything, she has even less patience for anti-polygamy complaints than I do.

  49. And, in case it wasn’t obvious, I believe that both polygyny and polyandry will be a part of the Celestial Kingdom.

    I get the feeling the LDS Church policy is moving that direction as well – seeing as how deceased women are being sealed to more than one husband already in the temple.

  50. I picked up that Joseph Smith was a polygamist somewhere as a young man in the church, though I don’t remember now where I did. That said, I completely understand how many church members, if not most, would not have learned about it. Joseph, in all of the church artwork, movies, and historical narrative, is presented as a monogamist. The lesson manuals, if they touch upon it at all, usually only imply that Joseph entered into it (Joseph taught the practice, and some early members entered into it). If you’re not really looking for it, you may not even pick it up when you read D&C 132. It’s a long, confusing section.

    Yet once you know that Joseph had 30+ wives, it seems like a fact that should be a vital part of his biography. The church uses a variety of media to tell Joseph’s life story, so as a member growing up you feel like you at least know all the important parts. He translated the Book of Mormon, organized the church, gathered the Saints to Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo, and was killed by a mob at Carthage. You know the names of his parents, brothers, and wife Emma. The regular omission of polygamy from his life story, because it’s too complicated or irrelevant or not faith promoting, feels like a betrayal. It’s a bit like finding out your father has another family on the other side of the country. Sure, he never denied having that other family, and he took lots of trips out East, and there were even a few pictures of him with his other family in the back of the scrapbook. But it still feels like he was lying to you, even if you were naive to never piece it all together.

    If the church leaders wanted all of the members to know that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, all of the church members would know he was a polygamist. They have instead decided to relegate it to the “personal study” pile of historical facts, signaling that they do not view it as all that important to know. But clearly much of the membership disagrees about its importance, as evidenced by their astonishment and anger when they find out. This appears to be changing, though, with the gospel topics essays and changes to CES curriculum.

  51. I grew up in the rural south. My parents were college educated, but very simple southerners. I was the only Mormon in my high school. Yes I feel completely stupid (thanks for reiterating that, Seth R) and yes I feel completely duped. I went to early-morning seminary (with one other student), Institute (not at BYU), served a mission, married in the temple. I’m even an attorney! Never knew any of this. Just living my life in the south… I have 4 children. What am I supposed to tell them? Sex or not — it’s okay to marry 14-year old girls and other men’s wives — and lie about it? Really?! Honestly I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this information. It screams “WRONG!” on all levels (and yet the church essays never state that what Joseph Smith did was wrong — why?!). I have zero institutional trust. The south is full of anti-Mormon venom. I feel so embarrassed and humiliated that it’s all true. And that I and my family have defended the lies.

  52. Why would you feel stupid Anne?

    I don’t feel stupid when I learn new things about American history. I doubt either of us felt stupid just because we were learning new things about torts in our first year in law school (we might have felt stupid about how tough it was to learn about some of it). There’s stuff you don’t know – and when you learn about it, there’s no automatic reason to feel stupid.

    You see what bugs me isn’t that you didn’t know this so much, just to clarify.

    What bugs me is that you feel stupid about it.

    That’s pride talking. Not knowing some church history data isn’t a problem. People are busy and they don’t can’t cover everything. That’s not the problem. But feeling resentful about it, and feeling stupid, and humiliated and embarrassed, and claiming that as a lawyer you should have known this (as opposed to the car mechanic in your ward, I guess)… now that’s pride and ego talking.

    And that kind of festering wound can and will lead you to some really negative places if you let it.

    Ignorance can be easily cured.

    Prideful resentment is much more difficult to deal with.

  53. I feel stupid because the spouse I have LOVED for 45 years — and shaped ALL my dreams around — has been cheating. And I didn’t know it. HOW did I not see it? When clearly EVERYONE around me did? And now I’m hearing that I might be to blame… when I’ve been nothing but loyal and faithful.

  54. I also feel stupid because I cannot come up with a smart, tidy answer to tell my children.

  55. There isn’t a smart and tidy answer. You tell them the truth. That’s what I did with my children 12, 10 and 8. And surprisingly, there wasn’t any drama. They took it in stride pretty well.

  56. And why do you care what everyone around you saw?

    Again, that’s comparison to others – pride. What everyone else knew or didn’t know compared to you has little relevance to what you do or do not know. Nor should it get in the way of learning.

    Of course, I disagree that what the LDS Church has done rises to the level of sexual cheating in marriage.

  57. “That’s pride and ego talking”

    No it’s not Seth. You are not being helpful. You are making it worse and coming across as smug.

    Anne- I went through something similar. I tried talking to my Mom about it and she had no idea. I tried talking to the Bishop and he hadn’t heard of these things (only the basic fact of JS’s polygamy was known in both cases but NO details). These experiences were post 2014 essay. I don’t think there is a smart tidy answer for our kids. My child just got a seminary lesson saying that God commanded it and Joseph was virtuous and only obeying the angel.

  58. Anne,

    You are hurting. Now is not the time to wrestle with this issue. But when you heal, read Brian and Laura’s book. It is not tidy, but it is about as good as we can get from current documentation.


    How much you learned about plural marriage and when has nothing to do with anything. I’ve known for longer than Anne has been in the Church, but that means absolutely nothing. I don’t look down on people who were unaware. We simply need to do a better job of introducing these issues and this book does a beautiful job of that. It is about as good as we can expect at this time.

    The majority of the comments here were written by individuals who have not read the book. I strongly encourage everyone here to eventually read ALL of Brian’s books, the essays on, and keep reading. History is not tidy. Map things out in your own minds. Plural marriage does not have to be as faith-shaking as it has been for some.

  59. Kaimi, when a person is speaking from a place of resentment, I’m not sure what exactly would be helpful, except maybe to shut up and hope they somehow sort it out on their own and magically come out the other end of the tunnel with their testimony still intact.

    Smug? Well, perhaps you’re right. My tone usually could use some work.

    But resentment is an emotion born from ego. That’s just the blunt fact of the matter. Not everyone feels it, but many seem to. And among those who do, I’ve rarely ever seen the testimony survive it once that emotion takes over.

  60. And I do think there needs to be a better Church education effort on polygamy and other topics.

    Not because they are more important than what the Church has been teaching the last 40 years – they aren’t.

    But because the outside world has decided to make them into wedge issues to damage faith. Therefore a better official LDS response is absolutely necessary.

  61. I find it hard to believe you could miss the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. It’s flatly stated in D&C 132, the LDS Church hasn’t really tried to hide the fact.

    Could you please point to where exactly in D&C 132 it is specifically stated that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy? It gives justifications for the OT prophets’ practice of polygamy and lays down the rules for plural marriage, but it never states outright that Joseph Smith actually practiced polygamy.

    While it is within reason to expect that an LDS person born since 1920, who has faithfully listened to all conference talks, served in callings, served a mission, done seminary and institute, and read all church manuals, the standard works, and literature that church leaders have encouraged members to read, should know that at some point in history plural marriage was practiced by the LDS community in Utah, it is unreasonable to expect them to know many key details of the practice. I found out about polygamy at an early age, and it never bothered me, but I had only a vague concept of it. I thought that its purpose was to help widows and increase the LDS population at a faster rate. I used to think that Brigham Young started the practice when he crossed the plains. The LDS leaders barely mentioned polygamy, before the essays. This made it seem as if it was an insignificant blip in history overshadowed by all of the miracles of the restoration. So while it can’t be said that the LDS leaders were trying to completely hide polygamy, there is so little mention of it in official church talks and publications, and so much downplaying of its significance in early Mormon history, that it practically feels like they’ve been hiding it. And even after the publication of essays, there is still silence about polygamy among the leadership and at church. In fact, it is even reasonable to expect to be reprimanded by local leaders for bringing up the essays in a lesson:

  62. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Anne, sorry for your difficult situation. As the author of the post, I feel like I ought to respond directly to your difficulties. Your experience of growing up in the Church but getting no information via the LDS curriculum (Sunday School, Institute, RS, and all the other classes) about polygamy is what the gospel topics essays and eventually an updated and more historically candid curriculum is supposed to address and remedy. In the meantime, for the current generation of adults like you who were set up for a big disappointment by the actions of LDS Correlation, the best cure is learning now what you should have received years earlier.

    In fairness, teens and youth are not always the best learners or listeners. Just try getting a Mormon teen to read The Story of the Latter-day Saints or The Mormon People or Rough Stone Rolling. I know that plural marriage is now in the seminary curriculum — the D&C 132 lesson was just taught to early morning students in my ward. But even with a better curriculum, there are teens and youth who will miss it all anyway. Remember, there are teens who go through four years of high school math and can’t add two fractions.

    Also in fairness, other institutions and other churches don’t do any better teaching the warts in their history. Evangelicals in particular seem to think that anything bad in religious history is the fault of the Catholic Church or newer religious movements like the LDS Church but never, never any Protestant, and if any Protestant did anything bad, well you can’t expect any born again Evangelical in the 21st century to be responsible for something some other Protestant leader did a hundred years ago! But of course they think Mormons and Catholics and everyone else should own up to every error or institutional sin of the last two millennia. So give the Church some credit — it is at least trying to come to terms with these difficult episodes. Self-criticism is a measure of maturity. The Church is farther along than most other denominations in doing historical self-criticism. That’s something we as Mormons should be proud of, even if there is still a ways to go.

  63. Well, that’s true Brad. 132 doesn’t explicitly say that Joseph was to practice it.

    But as a youth, I guess I just assumed that since the commandment was happening under Joseph’s watch, that Joseph would have practiced it. It didn’t make much sense to me to read the revelation as saying – “Brigham Young must practice it, but not Joseph Smith.”

    You’re right of course about the lack of knowledge of this. And at the end of the day, I don’t look down on anyone for not knowing about it. There are a lot of people in my ward who probably don’t know or care much about this issue – but who are hands-down superior to me in other important attributes that will probably mean a lot more in the eternities.

  64. I’m having a hard time taking Meg Stout’s hypothesis on here as credible. I’m no historian and have only read a few books on Mormon polygamy. I don’t agree with many of the positions that the Hales take in their book and I’m open to Meg disagreeing with the Hales as well. The challenge for me is it sounds like Meg is trying to reconstruct the entire polygamy narrative in a way that no professional academic historian has previously interpreted the data.

    Her approach sounds similar to the “Joseph Fought Polygamy” selective evidence taking of the Richard and Pamela Price than actual rigorous history telling. Maybe she’s adding some value to the process that I’m just not seeing?

  65. For those who are interested in Meg Stout’s hypothesis and the data behind it, you can check out the Faithful Joseph Digest post at Millennial Star, which summarizes the 100,000 words of a year worth of posts in one post.

    As long as we’re talking about embarrassing lapses of understanding, I didn’t realize that the weekly sacrament was supposed to serve as a “mini-baptism” to cleanse one of sin until a temple trip (which by definition meant I was 12). I was so happy to realize I could repent of being a typical older sister to my younger brother (I don’t recall actually being sinfully mean to any of the younger ones prior to age 12). One of my daughters was in young women’s before she understood that families persisted into eternity (she’d always hated the idea of eternity until that realization).

    Sometimes things are taught and we just miss it. As for D&C 132, it may not talk about Joseph being a polygamyist per se, but it definitely goes on about how Emma is to give Joseph wives.

    The Prices disagree that Joseph taught plural marriage in the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant. That position is indefensible.

    The problem with reconstructing the history of the Church from bare data, rather than allowing oneself to simply build on the hypotheses of prior researchers, is that one is forced to face the disbelief of all the folks who have merely read the summary of the incomplete histories.

    As an example of what I bring to the table, no one has previously identified who Catherine Fuller was. That’s basic genealogy. She was in the 1840 Nauvoo census. Catherine was a much-bedded woman, a favorite of the circle of seducers (she enumerates how many times she had sex with each of the ones she agreed to be intimate with and names the other half dozen who tried to convince her to be intimate). The initial seduction was carried out by John C. Bennett prior to mid-July 1841. It was her testimony that proved the key to identifying Bennett as the ring-leader (William Smith had apparently been believed to be the ring-leader before Catherine testified).

    Why has no work to date included Catherine’s entire testimony? It is available in Dr. Avery’s papers. Yet no one talks about the fact that she was bedded not only by multiple Mormon men, but also a non-Mormon. And no one other than me has ever identified her as Catherine Laur, widow of one of the martyrs of Haun’s Mill (if someone can point me to another researcher who has so identified Catherine, I’m happy to be corrected).

    So if you want to accuse me of not adding value, please first actually read what I’ve written. Feel free to entirely discard all the stuff I explicitly identify as midrash, though realize that the stories you tell yourselves in the place of my “midrash” is not founded in fact, but founded in speculation, just as is my reconstruction where it isn’t explicitly founded in documentation.

    Having identified Catherine and assessing the other victims who confessed to the Nauvoo High Council in 1842, it was possible to develop a profile for the kind of woman the seducers predated upon. The original documents are entirely consistent, and I continually stumble across new information that is entirely consistent with “Meg Stout’s hypothesis.” For example, Orson Whitney was sent on a mission circa 1842-3 precisely because it was feared that he would be turned against Joseph by Francis Higbee. If you don’t realize why that is significant, you haven’t made yourself familiar with the 30,000 foot facts of the sexual scene in 1840s Nauvoo.

    I can’t help it that no prior researcher has fully explored these matters. I have a hypothesis about why they have been blind to data that they clearly had access to (see inattentional blindness). But Mormons, of all people, shouldn’t criticize careful research merely because it doesn’t resemble the extant paradigms.

  66. it definitely goes on about how Emma is to give Joseph wives

    Emma is to “receive all those that have been given unto…Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before [God]” (D&C 132: 52), not directly give Joseph wives. And you still have to interpret “give” and “given” as “given by God in marriage,” which would make sense since verse 51 says, “Emma, your wife, whom I have given unto you.” It is still somewhat discreet language and the section does not make it entirely clear that Joseph Smith had other wives at that time or even intended to or was commanded by God to take other wives.

  67. Could you please point to where exactly in D&C 132 it is specifically stated that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy? It gives justifications for the OT prophets’ practice of polygamy and lays down the rules for plural marriage, but it never states outright that Joseph Smith actually practiced polygamy.

    It doesn’t say Joseph practiced it but it seems pretty hard to read D&C 132 without coming away with the assumption that he did. I mean part of the revelation is to his wife. It’s explicitly discussed in the student manual and quotes Wilford Woodruff, saying

    “I bear record before God, angels and men that Joseph Smith received that revelation, and I bear record that Emma Smith gave her husband in marriage to several women while he was living, some of whom are to-day living in this city, and some may be present in this congregation, and who, if called upon, would confirm my words.”

    The D&C Sunday School student manual (extremely short but given out each winter) says little though and appears to largely avoid the topic. (Unfortunately) The teacher’s manual says,

    In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. 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. Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood.

    The Seminary manual actual has quite a lot on it. Surprisingly so.

    Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey (see “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record, May 1887, 222). Because of a lack of historical documentation, we know very little about his early efforts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet obeyed the commandment, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly.

    The “Chuch History in the Fulness of Times” student manual obviously discusses it a great deal.

    Note I’m not criticizing those who seem surprised. Although I think reading the D&C makes it hard to come away with not knowing it was going on. (And why would it be worse for Joseph to have done it than Brigham?) I think though anyone doing much personal study on D&C 132 would quickly know the basics. Especially if they just use the search on but also if they use the online study aids.

  68. I used to think that Brigham Young started the practice when he crossed the plains. The LDS leaders barely mentioned polygamy, before the essays.

    Again I find that hard to believe if one reads D&C 132. But also Joseph’s connection is pretty frequently mentioned. If you do a search on and limit it to magazines you’ll see it comes up as a topic in the Ensign and even New Era rather frequently.

  69. Brad (68) And you still have to interpret “give” and “given” as “given by God in marriage,”

    What other interpretation would someone give that verse? (Honest question – I can’t think of how someone would read it differently)

  70. Clark, do you happen to know what the seminary manuals pre 2000 said on the subject? The ones you linked to are newer. The 2nd one is 2013.

  71. Also, where does it state that Joseph married 14-year old girls and other men’s wives? That’s my biggest hang up. Polygamy is one thing; pedophilia and polyandry are other things.

  72. These are a couple of quotes I found from last November maybe? (I think they are from a blog post at By Common Consent, sorry I didn’t write the source down or who said them) But I wrote them in my journal because I thought they were so good:

    “When correlation is specifically designed to withhold major information about the nature and depth of Joseph’s polygamy, and is also designed to discourage members from going elsewhere to learn about Joseph’s polygamy, and also designed to discourage teachers from delving too far into the subject, you have a clear pattern of the church deliberately keeping its members ignorant about it.”

    “I think when some people say “I didn’t know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy” they mean “I didn’t know that JS had more than one wife,” but most of them mean “I didn’t know the gory details regarding ages, numbers, coercion, polyandry, public denial, and Emma’s lack of knowledge.” And as far as I know, none of these “gory details” has been mentioned in any official church publication until last month [Oct 2014]. And while they were mentioned in unofficial venues, there has also been a soft community norm against reading and/or believing those things.”

  73. I grant you that one Anne. Those two issues are tough issues to work around, and I don’t blame anyone in modern society for being disturbed by either.

    As I alluded to above, I believe that the evidence of actual sex in the case of the underage and already-married women is nonexistent (depending how you define “underage”), and even in favor of non-consummated marriage.

    But I don’t pretend that issue isn’t tough.

  74. “I can’t help it that no prior researcher has fully explored these matters.”

    And this is why so few people (outside of those who already want to believe you) tend to listen to you. Your hubris is stunning. I’ve heard ideas essentially identical to yours back in 1996 by Sister Susan Easton Black. You might as well be writing another “The Work and the Glory” series for all the spiritual importance or groundbreaking research in what you say.

    I am no historian, and I couldn’t care less if Joseph had sex with his wives or not. It makes no difference theologically, because other ancient and modern prophets certainly have. Historically, I personally don’t see the point of trying to ferret it out of the highly suspect and sketchy contemporary accounts, though I understand that such obvious guesswork floats some people’s boat.

    My biggest concern is that you’re giving people reason to put faith in your ego and your layman’s research rather in Christ. That being said, I’m glad to hear you admitting how much of your story is “midrash”: made up and barely corroborated. I think you’d find far fewer people derisive of your ideas if you practiced a lot less narcissism masked as confidence when you presented them.

    I get that your reception hasn’t been good or polite, and i imagine you think that your style lends strength. But to me, a relatively uninformed average member, your style of speech undermines anything good you might actually have to say.

  75. The Institute manuals definitely go through it. Unfortunately I just gave my to Pioneer Books a week ago so I can’t check them. I wish the older manuals were available online easily. I know BYU has copies of all the old ones but that’s kind of a hassle to go lookup.

  76. Seth R., would you consider the marriages themselves as evidence of sex? I’ve always thought that should be the default position, absent some kind of contradictory evidence. For instance, if someone said there was no sex in certain types of marriages despite the marriage, that would pretty well establish that it was a non-sexual union. But if all you have is silence, the marriage ceremony itself suggests sex was involved.

  77. One scenario that so many TBMs find unpalatable, but that I have no difficulty embracing, is that Joseph’s marital activities (or at least some of them) were not sanctioned by the Lord, but that he nevertheless was not removed as prophet, seer and revelator. The Lord did not discharge King David or Solomon even though they engaged in adultery (David) and promoted idolatry (Solomon) and had multiple concubines (both).

    The evidence that Joseph was COMMANDED to practice polygamy is unpersuasive—David touches upon this briefly in his review where he questions the credibility of the “angel with the sword theory”—and there is nothing in the scriptures to suggest that God ever ordered anybody to take more than one wife. But the church is not likely to retreat from that position since so many members cannot get their minds around the notion that the Lord could keep in place a prophet who wandered so far off the reservation.

  78. Joel I think that opens up a bag of worms most Mormons just disagree with. Beyond that as I said I think the whole nature of immortality requires that marriage relations be addressed in the hereafter at a minimum. So trying to make it all Joseph’s fault ultimately doesn’t resolve the fundamental issues that raise it as a problem. (IMO)

    I do agree that contrary to what many Mormons assert Hagar in Gen 16 isn’t commanded by God. One could also always interpret the Law of Moses as simply codifying social practices even though the Levirate Law is codified in the laws given by God in the Torah.

    While one could argue “God commanded no one” (although I find the evidence he did far more persuasive than you do) I think it’s reasonable to read Jacob 2:30 as strongly suggesting he may do just that at certain times.

    Regarding evidence of sex, I think the default position is that we should presuppose sex. However it’s fairly common around the world to have people promised in marriage with the marriage not consummated for some years until the people become old enough. Likewise while there’s not positive evidence Joseph never had relations in his marriages I think there is compelling evidence that in some cases (ditto for Brigham) the marriages were in name only. Now it’s that which I personally find troubling but I can understand those who aren’t bothered by celebrate marriages but are bothered by non-celibate ones.

  79. Whoops. That opening should read “FarSide” not Joel. The response to Joel is the last paragraph. Sorry for the typo of misattribution.

  80. Medically, women who are younger than 16 when first impregnated run a higher risk of maternal death. But you will see that in no case did any of the women Joseph was married to have a child in her teens while Joseph was alive, with the possible exception of women who were married to other men. And in all those cases that can be assessed using DNA, Joseph is unlikely to be the father (proven to not be the father in cases where DNA of the legal father is available for comparison, see Ugo Perego’s article in Persistence of Polygamy Vol I).

    LDS leaders typically discourage folks from using sources other than approved manuals and the spirit. Thiis isn’t just to “hide” polygamy, but because there are those who like to chase after the learning of the world and set themselves up as the sole arbiters of what is “right.” I resemble that description, for example. Except that I’m mainly just trying to get people to read the actual documents and consider the full range of possible alternatives. Anyway, there is significant theological dilution occuring simply due to media influence, with the importance of the atonement as necessary to salvation one of the major casualties.

    This goes back to Joseph Smith himself, being told as a 14 year old boy to avoid the extant churches. It coontinued with Brigham Young, being told (in relation to his query about the “law of adoption”) that he should teach the people to seek the spirit

    Go to God in sincere prayer. If you’re me, the answer is to “write about those women” and a journey of years to find a fascinating possible history. If you’re Lavina Fielding Anderson, the answer is “Joseph is in my hands” and a feeling of peace. You are unique, so I don’t predict God’s answer to you. But I do know He is to be trusted, and He will guide you in a way that will lead you back to Christ and heaven.

    Guys have real trouble with the idea of marriage without sex. Women don’t appear to have nearly as much problem with that idea.

    In the case of Ruth Vose Sayers, it’s pretty clear that the ceremony was all there was to the “relationship” – for Ruth, the prize was being sealed. She would have preferred being sealed to her husband, but since he didn’t believe, he was OK with Joseph being sealed to her, to make his wife happy.

  81. No Joel, I wouldn’t consider the brute fact of marriage as warranting an assumption of sex until proved otherwise (an impossible burden of proof to meet, by the way).

    Normally, in an ordinary marriage I would. But the more I learn about mid to late 19th century polygamy, the less and less they look like normal marriages. Theologically, polygamy seems to have been regarded primarily as a vehicle for securing eternal blessings for the family, and only secondarily as a vehicle for affection or children and so forth.

    There have been plenty of marriages for political convenience before in history, and given the Victorian scruples of the day, polygamy would have been easier to justify if looked at as a way to secure blessings for the families involved and not necessarily as a right to the bedroom.

    My own great grandmother told us a story about her getting pneumonia at age 10 and begging her mother “if I die, don’t let them marry me to the bishop!”

    Apparently in late 1800s rural Utah, it was common practice when a girl died before marriageable age, to marry her to the standing bishop so she’d be assured of Celestial blessings. Obviously such posthumous marriages weren’t sexual in the slightest. So the attitude of sex being about something besides marriage was definitely floating around the culture at the time.

    Also, keep in mind that our modern Hollywood culture has hyper-sexualized marriage. These days, it seems that the only reason to even get married is because you found someone you want to have sex with.

    It’s important to keep in mind how that cultural assumption might be skewing your ideas.

  82. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Remember, this thread concerns a review of the Hales’ book, not Meg Stout’s posts at M*. Since she was sort of called out by another commenter earlier in the thread, it’s okay that she responded here. The LDS temple recommend questions do not require an active Latter-day Saint to express an opinion about how many of Joseph’s 33 (or thereabouts) plural wives he had sex with, so it is not a question that really needs to be resolved quantitatively.

    Even the Hales, who defend Joseph to the extent the data permits, allow that he had sex with about a third of the plural wives. Joseph B. Noble, who performed the first of Joseph’s Nauvoo sealings in April 1841 (to his sister-in-law Louisa Beaman), later gave deposition testimony that the couple consummated the marriage in a room at his home two or three nights later (see p. 45-46 of the Hales book). And of course the Book of Mormon rationale for the allowance of polygamy at Jacob 2 presupposes intercourse as part of the package: “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. … For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (v. 24, 30).

    It’s not the sex-or-no-sex question that the official Church finds relevant, but the Joseph-got-a-revelation-to-take-plural-wives question (a “yes, he certainly did” seems to be required), coupled with a no-of-course-I-don’t-practice-it position. Those two points are highlighted in the opening paragraphs of the Plural Marriage in Nauvoo and Kirtland essay. First line of second paragraph: “After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates.” First line of next paragraph: “Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.” The essay even quietly acknowledges sexual relations in some of the plural marriages:

    During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.

  83. To be fair the distinction between “for time”, “for time and all eternity”, and “for just eternity” was often confusing and not everyone agreed with it. Consider Zina who thought she was just sealed for eternity only to have Brigham feel otherwise. (Personally of all the marriages I think Zina’s story is the most problematic, yet we should also keep in mind how she viewed it and how she stayed faithful and became one of the leading ladies of the Church in the 19th century)

  84. You’re right, Dave. The relevant question is whether Joseph was commanded to practice polygamy—a question the church feels it must answer in the affirmative. But the evidence in support of that answer is a thin reed, at best.

  85. The discussion of sex in Joseph’s plural “marriages” is essential both to understand celestial plural marriage and also to understand Joseph Smith historically. Those who claim that “modern LDS” set an “impossibly high standard” I believe are just uninformed. The burden of proof has shifted because: (1) the DNA evidence shows that prior claims of offspring through Joseph are clearly erroneous (with only one possible exception where it is still very doubtful based on extent DNA evidence); (2) the historical documents are clear that several of “brides” went home with their parents or legal husband right after the ceremony and there is no evidence that they ever consummated the relationship; (3) D&C 132 makes a distinction between those marriages where a husband desires to take a wife (espouse a virgin) and those in which God commands a wife to be taken.

    The term “marriage” is also misleading in most cases. Given modern Mormon parlance “sealing” would be more accurate. In fact, the sources almost always refer to a “sealing” and not a “marriage” and the understanding was often that the ordinance was merely a sealing and had nothing to do with living as husband and wife or enjoying conjugal privileged.

    Joseph included both parents and prior spouses in the ceremonies — and after Emma consented he included her. I am working on a paper explaining that prior to Emma’s consent it appears that there was one understanding of what the sealing ordinance represented when God commanded a man to take a wife and when a man desired to “spouse a virgin.” After Emma consented the nature of celestial plural marriage changed. In fact, it is doubtful in my view that Joseph had sexual relations before Emma consented (and then later changed her mind several times). After her consent, it seems rather clear to me that sexual relations were involved.

    Further, I second Meg Stout’s skepticism about Hale’s easy acceptance of some later statements regarding conjugal relations because many of them are demonstrably unreliable or just downright impossible and it can be shown in a few cases that the declarants were not present. Hats off to Hales for raising the standard of proof regarding questionable claims that are too easily made and too easily accepted in the absence of supporting evidence.

    It is pretty hard to avoid the fact in that Joseph was commanded to practice celestial plural given vss. 4-5 and 30-31: “4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
    5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world. . . 30 Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them. 31 THIS PROMISE IS YOURS ALSO, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself. 32 Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved. 33 But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham. 34 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. . . ” Anyone who suggests that this does not teach that JS was commanded to practice celestial plural marriage is tilting at windmills.

    Unlike many here I have actually read all 3 volumes of the Hales’ works and also Understanding Polygamy and, quite frankly, anyone who deals with Mormon polygamy in the future (or even in responding to this post) without reading these works carefully is failing to address the most competent works on polygamy written to date — not to mention engaging in a dialogue irresponsibly.

  86. Just an aside – I find it literally impossible to believe that between being hounded by creditors, building settlements, preaching sermons, publishing revelation, running for president, jail time, and running from mobbers – that Joseph Smith even had time to have sex with all the women he married.

  87. Hi meekmildmagnificient,

    Thank you – and I look forward to reading your paper –

    People prior to now have supposed that if a woman ever indicated her marriage to Joseph was for “time and all eternity” that adding “time” to the phrase meant sex had occurred for sure (aside from the many who presumed that any marriage was necessarily consummated. This would lead to a presumption that Patty Session’s indication in the 1860s that she’d been sealed to Joseph meant sex had occurred.

    But I think that is imputing to the documentation meanings that the original writers never intended.

    As for whether or not it is possible to believe Joseph had sex with all his wives, there are many attested instances where men have proceeded to have prodigious amounts of sex with a wide range of females. So the “he was too busy” defense doesn’t work. Besides, most of the “he was too busy” factors were present for Brigham Young after Joseph’s death, and he and Heber Kimball managed not only to have sex with many women, but actually get them pregnant.

    While I agree that it seems most likely that Joseph consummated some marriages after Emma agreed to be sealed to him (so from May 1843 through June 1844), we are still left with the intriguing fact that only Emma conceives during this period of time. Melissa Lott, who appears to have been a dynastic sealing, like Helen Mar Kimball and Sarah Whitney, was in and around the Smith home from her sealing through the end of Joseph’s life. Her family, asking whether or not she’d been intimate with Joseph, was never given the satisfaction of an answer, which was related directly by one family member who had questioned Melissa to my HT (grandson of a granddaughter of Melissa) to me. A fairly short oral chain. My own oral and documentary chain for my ancestor (Elvira Annie Cowles) who similarly married Joseph after Emma’s acceptance and whose marriage to Jonathan Holmes was clearly a pretend marriage during Joseph’s life, indicates that she affirmed she was married to Joseph and that Emma knew about it. But Elvira was demonstrably fertile, demonstrable able to conceive easily (bearing her daughter Marietta 9.5 months after her husband’s return from the Mormon Battalion, for example). But Elvira didn’t become pregnant until months after Joseph’s death.

    Those who hint that sex occurred with Joseph are vague. In contrast, contemporaries who had been seduced by Bennett or his strikers give much more precise indications. Mary Clift indicates such things as the fact that it was a windy night. Catherine Fuller talked about the exact number of times she’d been bedded, giving not exact dates, but ranges of time when the different men had approached her. Sarah Searcy Miller and the Nyman sisters are explicit about where they were coerced, the language used, and social events they were participating in when approached by the seducers.

    It’s frustrating, having spent years reading all the original documents and research, and finding my “Joseph might not have had sex but there were sexual predators in Nauvoo” hypothesis consistent with all the documentation Brian Hales and Don Bradley have assembled, to run into people who have done none of this research and merely assert “Joseph was a wanker. Emma was a loon.”

  88. My husband wishes I had used scholarly terms instead of “wanker” and “loon.” So please pretend I said instead “It’s frustrating… to run into people who have done none of the research and merely assert “Joseph had sex with everyone. Emma was psychologically traumatized and/or bipolar.”

    Hi SilverRain – I missed your earlier comment about how my style and hubris is offputting. This may be because I was raised in the east and work in a man’s profession, and was raised in a family where the IQs tend to hover above 150 (my sister was tested as having an IQ of 192, my brother 170). I have colleagues who (once discussing a computational fluid dynamics solution) will say “I am so impressed that your solution converged, because your grid was shitty.”

    Which is to say that I live in an intellectually edgy world where people don’t suffer mediocrity well. I deal with physics, where good intentions don’t mean a thing if the product doesn’t work. It’s a world where women don’t speak in high squeaky voices, do interrupt others (the way men do), and would never be accused of being Molly Mormon types, aside from the works we perform. Not that you are necessarily a Molly Mormon, but you may be finding me offputting in part because I am failing to conform to a standard for female seemlyness that you have in mind.

    I appreciate the extensive work Susan Easton Black has done, though I don’t recall that she has overtly written about Joseph and polygamy. At least in my years of google searches, I haven’t frequently come across her work, though I see much of her research in the biographies of Saints generally.

    As to Work and the Glory, I am given to understand that he entirely avoids the matter of polygamy. I myself could never read beyond page two, since he routinely ignores various rules of good fiction writing. And I object to the fact that he made up a fake family to explore the history when there are perfectly valid actual people he could have focused on (as, for example, Elvira Cowles and Jonathan Holmes).

    Brian Hales and Don Bradley have done an amazing thing, making such a vast number of documents available – pretty much everthing that isn’t restricted for some reason. That extensive documentation frees all of us from the carefully curated opinions of the elite few, as we can do our own research now, rather than having to settle for the learned pronouncement of scholar A or scholar B.

    Laura Hales has done a wonder in making Brian’s work now accessible to folks who would never have attempted to read his three volume oeuvre.

    Starting in 2006 I did begin approaching the story of my ancestors as midrash/fiction. But as I held myself to a standard of threading my fictional account in a manner that didn’t contradict any historic fact, that means I have had to examine the history in more detail. In multiple instances, I have found that I have no freedom to invent, as in the case of Catherine Laur Fuller Warren. As recently as 2013, I was planning to have Catherine be an older woman who effectively became a Madame facilitating spiritual wifery/illicit intercourse because it was a practice she had known and believed in as a Cochranite. And so I looked into whether that was plausible. It isn’t. So that isn’t going to be in any future fictional treatment I write about this time period.

    Getting back to Brian Hales, I had gotten to a point where my research had shown me that the old presumptions about polygamy were not possible. I had a rocking good story, but I realized that my story line would contradict the standard assumptions in so many different ways, that it was necessary for me to write the history first. Which was daunting. So I was thrilled when I learned of Brian Hales’ work, because he has the vast majority of the data in his books and on his website. I don’t agree with his interpretation in some cases, but now I was freed of the burden of chasing up all the documents (from Virginia).

    For those who don’t care about polygamy, but do care about women’s issues, it is impossible to effectively addess how the modern Church deals with women without addressing the latent understanding of the role of women as taught in Nauvoo. That is the root, the true rudder, that if properly understood can be used to shift the vast ship of the Church to a place that is more true to God’s purpose. If we attempt to shift the ship of the Chuch based merely on the winds of modern sensibilities, we will not be true to God’s purpose. But (having studied as I have) I do think there is room for significant improvement, in a Church were many men presume that Joseph was sexual with his dozens of covenant wives and where they presume that it would be wrong for Joseph to not have been thusly sexual. The old view of polygamy presumes women were mere collectibles rather than precious daughters of God to be protected from evil men. The old view of polygamy forces us to avoid discussing our history, because it is too alien and foreign, too hard to explain to our children. In this old view, the fabulous women of our past cannot be discussed, because discussing them necessarily leads back to the fact that almost all of them were plural wives.

    So, SilverRain, I hear you that you find me offputting, full of hubris, obnoxious, etc. I would only suggest that such a characterization says something about you as well as saying something about me. I will only assert that I have faith that I loved you once, in the eternity we have left, and will love you fully again in the eternity for which we are destined. And so in this mortality, I love you as well.

  89. Clark, it takes a careful reading of D&C 132 to figure out that Joseph Smith is allowed to take plural wives, and again, there is no indication that he actually did in the section. The wording is discreet. I should mention that my earlier beliefs about polygamy came from hearsay in the Mormon wards, not a reading of D&C 132.

    If you do a search on and limit it to magazines you’ll see it comes up as a topic in the Ensign and even New Era rather frequently.

    The word polygamy is mentioned in 67 articles since 1970 (at least that is what the search counts). However, rarely is it an actual topic on which there is much expounded. In fact, a great number of the articles are about how there are a lot of false rumors about polygamy and how to sidestep the issue if brought up.

    M. Russell Ballard said in 2010: “If people ask you about polygamy, just acknowledge that it was once a practice but not now and that people shouldn’t confuse any polygamists with our church.” I think that fairly well sums up how leaders have historically wanted members to engage the issue.

    A number of articles bring up the 1890 Manifesto and how it supposedly ended polygamy.

    In fact, the April 1980 Liahona was the only article which actually gave significant information about polygamy. It mentioned that it began in 1841, its practice was first publicly announced in 1852, people in the US government tried to criminalize the practice of plural marriage between 1851 and 1890, that Wilford Woodroof put an end to the practice in 1890, and that Grover Cleveland restored the rights of those affected by anti-polygamy laws in 1894.

    I went ahead and also typed in plural marriage. That word search lead me to articles that were more informative about the practice than articles that mentioned the word polygamy. But still, all I learned is that some early Mormons practiced it, how many wives some of them took on, that they were persecuted by the US government for practicing it, and that Wilford Woodruff ended it in 1890.

  90. The Seminary manual actual has quite a lot on it. Surprisingly so.

    Not really. It mentions that God commanded plural marriage, Joseph Smith was reluctant to practice it but began doing so in 1841, earlier OT prophets practiced it, God commanded it, it was part of the restoration of all things, and it is only valid when God commands it.

    The “Chuch History in the Fulness of Times” student manual obviously discusses it a great deal

    Not its origins and its practice in Nauvoo. It mentions how Joseph Smith may have first received revelation on this in 1831, was reluctant to practice it, took his first plural marriage in 1841 to Louisa Beaman, took several other wives between 1841 and 1844, that John C. Bennett perverted the doctrine and instituted immoral conduct, some Mormons dissented over plural marriage, and that Joseph Smith taught the doctrine first to the Twelve. A great portion of the discourse on plural marriage is spent on how the Mormon community in Utah was persecuted by the government for it, how the end to the practice was announced in 1890, how the Mormon community was accused of continuing to practice it after 1890, and how Lorenzo Snow reiterated the LDS leadership’s resolve to end the practice with the second manifesto in 1904.

    So while it cannot be said that the LDS church had been hiding mention of the doctrine of plural marriage and polygamy, they had omitted many key details of the early practice before the essays, such as the number of Joseph Smith’s wives, the fact that he married girls as young as just months before their 15th birthday, and the fact that he married women who were already married to other living men. To inform oneself about these details, one would have had to have consulted the “alternate voices,” which leaders repeatedly counseled members to approach with caution and distrust, if not avoid altogether, especially if you felt that these were “damaging your testimony.”

  91. Sorry Meg. The “too busy for sex” remark was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than serious.

  92. Meg:

    Why is it so important to you that Joseph Smith didn’t have sex with his wives? It just seems so obvious from the historical accounts and basic common sense that sex was a part of it as it usually is in marriage. Why would he hide it from Emma if he didn’t have sex with them? Also, Brigham Young and the rest certainly had sex with their teenage brides. So, where does the Joseph Smith didn’t have sex defense get you? Was the Community of Christ right all along?

  93. Joseph Smith’s “polygamy” is a cancer. Manipulation, coercion, threats of violence, twisting people’s genuine faith … it’s wrong. And everyone (or nearly everyone) commenting on this thread knows it.

    For example, if you read a story tomorrow that ISIS published a text that was the Arabic equivalent of D&C 132:51-66 would we hear all the intellectual humility we see above? Not a chance. Ninety-eight percent of the LDS community has the moral sense to flat out reject Joseph’s sexual practices. It’s not a “difficult” issue. The primary issue being debated above is the LDS understanding of “prophets” and LDS attitudes about authority. A secondary issue being debated above is a “faith of my fathers” sentiment.

    I see so much of good in the LDS church: community building, genuine involvement in the lives of people who society ignores, genuine purposeful living, engagement with the world–good heavens, my having been LDS has enabled me to travel and see all kinds of places in the world. I look at my family and I cannot deny that so much of the good in my family comes from being LDS. And I see it in the lives of others as well. LDS life has so much goodness in it.

    On the other hand, I cannot persuade myself to believe 95% of LDS truth claims. Really. I literally cannot persuade my mind to believe 95% of the doctrines. I’ve been LDS since I was 8. At some point as a missionary my faith peaked, and since that point I’ve been completely unable to believe things I believed so easily as a child. For many years I interpreted this faith-decline as a personal character flaw. Now I don’t see it as a personal failing.

    What to do? What to teach one’s children? My own personal position is to dilute LDS truth claims. I go to one hour of church and then I do other things. Three weeks ago I went to a Unitarian meeting with some friends celebrating Earth Day. Two weeks ago I went to a beautiful hand bell choir at the Methodist church. Yesterday my family and I skipped church all together and went to Yellowstone. Those experiences have spoken to my soul much more than LDS theology. (I could go on with my “relaxed” Mormoness, but you probably get the idea.)

    I try not to debate LDS theology with others. There are people in my life who are sincere in their faith. I support them. I take them at their word, and I don’t debate their faith. I have debated faith claims in the past, and now I feel bad for having done it. If someone you love believes something, good heavens don’t debate it with them.

    So, my advice to anyone reading this, trust your moral judgment; trust your conscience. If anyone tells you that you personally must feel obliged to defend Joseph Smith’s sexual practices, that person is wrong. You don’t need to defend him. I’m not obliged to defend it. I reject it completely and without reservation. I don’t stand for that type of behavior. I certainly don’t believe in a God who commands it. The world is a better place when that type of perversion is snuffed out–preferably with rule of law, but I’m not strictly opposed to self-help remedies on a case-by-case basis.

  94. Hi Fred,

    Josh’s comment pretty much illustrates why it is important to establish the possibility that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with his plural wives. Certainly there is no proof he engendered children by plural wives, despite the hopes of those who like to think they are related to him.

    Once one has established the possibility that plural marriages for Joseph Smith did not involve sex, people stop jumping at every rumor that potentially places Joseph in the same locale as a woman (e.g., the claims that Hannah Dubois was one of Joseph’s wives).

    Also, Fred, you presume that Joseph hid his activities from Emma. Most of that comese from 20th century reconstructions rather than contemporaries. Emily Partridge thought that was the purpose for the May sealings, but Emily Partridge was clearly less informed about the larger picture.

    “Common sense” leads people to exact vigilante justice without benefit of judicial process. I am simply asking that people go to the raw data and examine the facts without falling back on the decades of hypotheses and guesses.

  95. “Common sense” leads people to exact vigilante justice without benefit of judicial process. I am simply asking that people go to the raw data and examine the facts without falling back on the decades of hypotheses and guesses.

    History isn’t a court of law, Meg. We’re not convicting a living person and imposing a sentence upon him or her. In the judicial process, if the prosecution can’t put enough of the pieces of mosaic back together to convince the jury of the picture, no matter how apparent the full picture is, the accused cannot be convicted and punished. According to the judicial process, OJ Simpson is not guilty of murdering his wife. But in history, we never expect to put the mosaic back together all the way. Just enough so that we can make reasoned sense out of what the full picture most likely looked like. The retreat to the territory of “I don’t know” because there is not enough data (data that you are extremely selective with, and much of which you ignore) about an issue that deeply inconveniences you is a cop-out.

  96. Meg,

    My conclusion is based on D&C 132:51-66. I feel no compulsion to dig into any “raw data.” … Actually, when I just typed “raw data” in this context it kind of gave me the willies. Let me see if I can describe the feeling. It’s like …

    Okay, bear with me. I watched a 1970s science fiction movie with my father when I was a wee lad, “Soylent Green.” Simultaneously talking about Joseph’s sexual exploits and using the term “raw data” reminds of the scene in Soylent Green where Charlton Heston reveals “Soylent Green is people!”

    The “raw data” is women and girls!

    And of course we need the clip:

  97. Ok, so either 1) Joseph Smith used polygamy as an excuse to have sex with women, or 2) he was experimenting with polygamy to address some theological issue (possibly an attempt to restore ancient tribal kinship bonds.)

    Since Smith didn’t really explain what he was doing, we have to apply occam’s razor–which is the simpler explanation? It might seem like #1; but there are actually two big problems with the “holy roller” theory.

    First, of course, there is the notable lack of proven offspring from the plural marriages. Smith was obviously not impotent, so if he was having sex with the wives, were are the babies? Someone above suggested birth control or abortion–but why? Surely having the baby of the Prophet would be a great honor. Unless Smith was trying to hide the sex thing from the husbands. But that brings up the second problem with the “playboy” argument–given Joseph’s position of power, he really didn’t have to go to all the effort of designing “plural marriages” if all he wanted was to sleep with other men’s wives. He was the prophet, baby! You didn’t see Jim Bakker or Falwell making up a system of polygamy in order to sleep around.

    No, simple logic suggests that Smith had more in mind with plural marriage than just sex–and that, in fact, sex might not have been a major component at all. Unfortunately, he was murdered before he had a chance to elaborate on his plans.

    I’m not a Mormon, but that doesn’t mean I can”t give Smith the benefit of the doubt–the evidence that plural marriage was just a way for him to be a sleazy philanderer just isn’t there.

  98. The retreat to the territory of “I don’t know” because there is not enough data . . . about an issue that deeply inconveniences you is a cop-out.

    This is the most wrong-headed thing I’ve read all day.

  99. Joseph Smith’s “polygamy” is a cancer. Manipulation, coercion, threats of violence, twisting people’s genuine faith … it’s wrong. And everyone (or nearly everyone) commenting on this thread knows it.

    Count me as one who doesn’t “know” this.

    But glad to see that you have found a place that better aligns with your intellectual leanings.

  100. Since Smith didn’t really explain what he was doing, we have to apply occam’s razor–which is the simpler explanation? It might seem like #1; but there are actually two big problems with the “holy roller” theory.

    The use of Occam’s razor in a historical analysis – especially one involving a religious leader – is problematic, as the assumptions made are usually subjective and vary among investigators. At best, all we can say is what “probably” happened, but even this will be colored by our own background.

  101. JT, it is probably the case that we weren’t all created three minutes ago with a memory of a distant past. But then again, I don’t know, maybe we were.

  102. Meg:

    Doesn’t sexless polygamy still look strange? Why even do it if not for sexual relations and to build up seed as the BofM claims? I know some want to lift Joseph Smith to the level of a superhero, but that simply isn’t healthy. He wasn’t one, plain and simple. Isn’t hero worship the reason why you seem to be wasting all this energy dealing with your historical fictions? Also, doesn’t the fact that Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, etc. all practice sexual polygamy tend to show that sexual polygamy was the intent of the practice all along?

  103. Brad – Not quite sure that recognizing uncertainty in the historical record is on par with the question of whether or not we live in the matrix.

    My point is that we should be open about uncertainties, have the courage to say we don’t know when, in fact, we don’t know, and avoid hanging heavy weights from thin threads. And I’m speaking generally here with no direct reference to the nature of Joseph Smith’s polygamous relationships (on which I probably agree with you).

  104. Josh, you can count me as someone who doesn’t “know it” either. If you want the reason why – you can read my earlier comments.

    As far as Occam’s Razor goes, I don’t find the eternal bonds vs. for-sex hypotheses any more complicated or any more simple than each other. I think sometimes people substitute familiarity for simplicity when applying the Occam’s Razor test. It’s familiar to our popular culture to assume that everyone is getting married primarily because they want to have sexual access to someone. So that distorts what we consider likely or a “simple explanation.”

    Also, minor side point – Occam’s Razor is usually a really lousy analytical tool in ideological debate, and I tend to automatically get skeptical any time someone uses it.

  105. Brad (90) Clark, it takes a careful reading of D&C 132 to figure out that Joseph Smith is allowed to take plural wives

    Umm. I don’t think it takes a careful reading at all. It’s pretty straightforward. Don’t get me wrong I’m not surprised that people read it and miss it. But it’s not a complex text the way say Isaiah is.

    The word polygamy is mentioned in 67 articles since 1970

    Yes. That’s quite a few. Throw in all the recent publicity on Mormonism due to Romney’s Presidential run and it’s hard to imagine people haven’t encountered it. If they’ve encountered it and do a search on there are tons of stuff on it. Maybe not as much as I’d like but more than enough to learn Joseph revealed it.

    However, rarely is it an actual topic on which there is much expounded.

    But most of the articles do mention Joseph as a polygamist, which was my only point. I’m not saying they get into the minutiae or more controversial topics. That is just reading the Ensign it’s hard to come away ignorant of Joseph practicing polygamy. And in recent years they were pushing using the online resources to look up topics like polygamy (2006).

    Again I’m not saying I’m surprised people don’t know about polygamy. Let’s be honest. You could pick 20 key doctrines or parts of our history and I bet you’d find at least 20% if not more of active Mormons being largely ignorant of them.

    For those who engage in personal study though there’s absolutely no shortage of information including those from faithful sources.

  106. JT,

    (105) I probably understand. No explanation is needed, probably.

    (100) I have one other comment on this: “glad to see that you have found a place that better aligns with your intellectual leanings.”

    I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve found a replacement for the faith of my youth. I have not. I went to the Unitarian church because I was invited and it was an Earth Day celebration. I like Earth Day. I went to the Methodist church because I’d never heard a hand bell chorale. It was beautiful. I went to Yellowstone because … well, because I think God lives in Yellowstone. :-)

    It’s been my experience that less LDS doctrine is a good thing, when replaced by other things that I find enriching. That’s all I’m saying.

    I’ll say this too … at the Unitarian Church “Reverend Lyn” led the congregation. At the Trinity United Methodist Church it was “Reverend Ruth.” For those of you out there raising daughters in the LDS faith, it is worth one Sunday of your life to show your daughters that a woman can in fact lead a congregation of believers. I would encourage people to do that. Take your daughters to a congregation led by a woman. That’s a worthwhile activity in life.

    (Seth R., I read some of your comments above. I don’t trust your judgment.)

  107. Why would Joseph refrain from sexual activity in his covenant relationships with other women?

    First might be the fact that such relationships were not legal. This didn’t stop Brigham Young, but it does appear that only two men engendered children with plural wives (if you follow my reasoning for considering the children conceived by Sarah Peak Noon, Mary Clift, and allegedly conceived by Eliza Snow to have been engendered by Bennett or one of his strikers). So even though there were ~30 men who had married plural wives prior to Joseph’s death, a shockingly small subset had engendered children (if you thing the marriages were supposed to be sexual at that time).

    Second would be the fact that Emma didn’t agree that plural marriages should be consummated… yet.

    Third would be Joseph’s own feelings regarding the plural marriage aspect of the New and Everlasting Covenant, presuming he was as puritanical about this as his brothers (excepting William).

    Fourth would be the ickiness of having sex with women when sexual predators had been permeating the community. It would be emotionally problematic, make it difficult to differentiate between illicit intercourse (aka spiritual wifery) and plural marriage, and sexually-transmitted disease would be a real concern (in light of the extensive illicit sexuality being practiced in the community).

    Fifth would be knowledge that engaging in such a sexual relationship (extralegal and/or illegal) as the leader of his people would put Joseph at high risk of being killed. Not so much that the sexuality would be used as a basis for killing him, but that such behavior would remove the sympathy of his followers, which had been protecting him from being extradicted to Missouri (where certain death was believed to be the likely outcome). Regarding this fifth option, I suspect this is the reason we see four women (Durfee, Whitney, Snow & Cowles [Holmes]) visit Cornelius Lott in June 1843. Cornelius was head of Joseph’s bodyguard, and Joseph was being extradicted to Missouri at the time. I think it is telling that Cornelius had been chilling at home able to receive the women given the imminent threat to Joseph’s life.

    For what it’s worth, I think it was a problem that Joseph was not as sexual in his covenant relationships as one would presume a marriage partner should be. It was definitely a transgression of what the God of D&C 132 appears to have intended. I’m willing to forgive Joseph for being unwilling to be physically unfaithful to Emma. I’m less happy that he came allowed women to covenant with him so easily, as the sheer number of covenant wives set an unrealistic standard after Joseph’s death.

  108. BTW, Soylent green in the original story was soy and lentils. The movie made soylent green people for shock value.

  109. meekmildmagnificent (#87) wrote: “Unlike many here I have actually read all 3 volumes of the Hales’ works and also Understanding Polygamy and, quite frankly, anyone who deals with Mormon polygamy in the future (or even in responding to this post) without reading these works carefully is failing to address the most competent works on polygamy written to date — not to mention engaging in a dialogue irresponsibly.”

    Amen. In many cases this is glaringly apparent.

  110. That’s fine by me Josh. I’ve typically found the people who don’t trust my judgment are people ideologically opposed to me, so… ce la vie.

  111. Josh Smith, thank you for chiming in. Your voice on threads like these has been a lifesaver to me. Your reasoning makes me feel less crazy, less mental. Since discovering the sordid details of Joseph’s polygamy last fall, I’ve been in a tailspin. I foresee my husband and I following a path similar to yours — being part of the community but not the belief, and exploring the goodness of other religions and nature. I never thought I’d say those words. Old Man advised me to take my time, but I don’t have time. My oldest is supposed to start seminary next year — and I have a family to protect!

  112. Anne, you’re saying that you will protect your children from polygamy by stepping away from a church that is currently anti-polygamy and excommunicates polygamists and adulterers? Non mormons are actually moving in the other direction these days. =)

  113. I’m saying that my conscience will not allow me to teach them that it’s okay to marry 14-year old girls and other men’s wives. I simply cannot teach them that God was behind Joseph’s polygamy ideas.

  114. Anne (114): It certainly is a relief to have someone else say “that is frickin’ nuts!” instead of rationalizing, excusing, and justifying. Agreed. I think almost all LDS people would condemn Joseph’s polygamy, if it were not wed to their understanding of authority and their understanding of what makes a *good* Joseph Smith. You’re not crazy. Neither are most LDS people. At least as far as I can tell.

    (Meg, #110, is probably crazy. Holy moly!)

    I’m not sure where my current path will take me, but in all honesty I feel better emotionally and psychologically. Above all I don’t want religious beliefs to be a cause contention in my immediate family. I wish there were a support group, or at least a book: “Gentle Mormoness: How to enjoy an iced coffee, attend only one hour of church, not go crazy listening to crazy-ass authoritative truth claims, and still enjoy the good things about organized religion.”

    Seriously, if anyone has a book or a group or blog, please post.

    (Meg, I’m just kidding about you being crazy. After I read #110 I googled your name. On your blog you state you’re an engineer. Meh. Engineers refer to everyone and everything as “raw data.” Now if you go about digging up corpses looking for STDs, even engineers don’t do that. So don’t do anything with dead bodies.)

  115. Anne (and Josh!), I would love to chat if you want to. I’m not sure how to get you my contact info.

  116. I want to also express my appreciation for Josh’s comments on this and related threads. My feelings are similar to Anne’s, and my husband and I have in large measure stepped away from the church in furtherance of our protective role as parents. During the last decade, I have personally (and sadly) worked on at least 50 cases involving middle aged men preying on pubescent girls (ages 12 to 15). Not surprisingly, those cases often involve coercion and threats. I cannot in good conscience as a mother teach that grooming behavior and the evil that follows is sometimes a godly work. Faith is a choice, and I choose to believe (and teach as a mother) that God is benevolent and loves all His children.

  117. Fine, but I’ll thank you not to imply that I am “grooming” my own young daughters to accept such things simply because I don’t buy into the hysterics about Joseph Smith being a pedophile.

  118. Seth, as I believe is clear from my post, I believe (and consistent with the position of my state) that using coercion and threats to gain access to children is “grooming” behavior. I made no assertion about what goes on in your home. I do consider claims by a religious authority figure that a child’s salvation (and even that of the child’s family) is dependent on the marriage of the young child to be grooming behavior. And, yes, I have worked cases that involved just that, all three FLDS.

  119. Well, the LDS Church ain’t the FLDS.

    And for that matter – mid 1800s Nauvoo wasn’t the FLDS either.

    The FLDS are a freak closed social experiment that does not replicate at all the open societies of 1800s Nauvoo or Salt Lake City.

  120. No, but threats that a child’s salvation was tied to marrying an older authority figure did not originate with the FLDS either.

  121. I think that the fact that the woman (not child – woman) Joseph Smith did this to told him to stuff it, and suffered no adverse consequences from Joseph Smith whatsoever speaks volumes about that particular relationship.

  122. I’ve read the FLDS case studies and tactics, and the level of pressure in those compounds is orders of magnitude greater than anything Joseph Smith every brought to bear.

    Oh and there was no isolating of the woman he proposed to either.

  123. According to Helen Mar Kimball’s own writing, Joseph Smith approached her for marriage when she was 14 years old and instructed her that: “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.” According to the Hales website, this coercion can be explained away as a misunderstanding because immature Helen was simply unable to comprehend what Joseph Smith was teaching her. And yet, as a child too young to apparently grasp concepts of such magnitude, she was nonetheless competent to consent to entering marriage?

  124. A couple of years ago I went to one of the stake youth standard’s night with my son. Part of the stake president’s talk was addressed specifically to the girls, letting them know that if ever a boy (or man) approached them with the story that he had a “revelation” she was to be his wife to not take it seriously. He empowered the girls with the idea that God would only give each of us inspiration for ourselves in this matter and they should never feel pressured to fulfill someone else’s idea of revelation. I remember thinking, “who the heck would ever claim such a revelation?? ” Ironic. I wonder if he knew.

  125. Those of you who think Joseph was a coercing pederast and adulterer, you haven’t absorbed a thing I’ve said.

    If you know there are men out there seducing women, possibly seducing girls as young as 13 (Nancy Winchester circa 12 Jan 1842 when her brother gets excommunicated), then a bit of warning is not out of order.

    Do you risk inventing trauma by telling the young people about the evil? Joseph clearly felt that it was best to keep the evil secret, so secret that even some of his plural wives clearly didn’t know what was going on (as far as the seductions being carried out by Bennett and the Strikers).

    As for young men having revelations that a certain woman is to be his wife, that is fairly common (or was). I have a friend – blonde, strikingly beautiful, with a sister who had been a beauty queen (she could have been as well, but she leaned more towards concert pianist). Before she was married, when she was engaged, after returning from her mission, she would have guys, complete strangers, walk up to her in the temple and assure her they’d had a revelation that she was to be their spouse. She’d coolly tell them she had had no such revelation and walk away.

    My mother had a revelation that she should dance with a certain young man at a singles dance, shortly after we had both gotten divorced. That man ended up being my husband. He, in his time, was given a strong impression that it was time to ask me to marry him.

    Here’s the thing. If Mormons are right about the general nature of the afterlife, there will be a period of time when you can, if you are willing, learn things that cannot be known in this life. Things like whether or not what you thought happened in Nauvoo was what actually happened. Things like whether or not the truth claims were true. I like to hope that this will be a time when many who thought they didn’t believe will have a chance to return to the faith they had when the decided to come to this mortality.

    Inasmuch as there is also gross evil in the world, I also like to imagine that God is omniscient and will hold individuals to account for their sins, able to demonstrate to them with power and absolute authority how their wrongs harmed others.

    One quick note – I adore having women preside. But it is a proven fact that those denominations that have granted women the priesthood have not seen the promised revitalization of their congregations. In fact, their congregations have dwindled consistently over the years. Mormons can simply look to these other denominations to observe this fact (there’s a nice 50 year study of the Church of England since granting priesthood to women, which now only has 2% of their members attending services, complete with cute graph showing the quarterly attendance estimates, with a sharp negative correction each year when they actually measured attendance – surely can be googled by you as easily as refound by me, or you could search up my M* post that talked about such things).

    Since I want all people to learn of Christ, I’m content to allow the structure of the Church to align with whatever idiosyncrasies are consistent with higher membership and retention. Based on all the data from Christian denominations, reserving priesthood authority to men appears to be one such idiosyncrasy.

  126. Actually from what I’ve read of her writings – at age 14, Helen was more mature and realistic than most female American college sophmores are today.

    And Cari, one thing about Joseph Smith – he didn’t just say “I had a revelation” – he always told them to go get the revelation for themselves, and he didn’t proceed until they got it.

    Besides, Helen’s father was fully involved in the situation. And after the ceremony – Helen went home to live with her dad – the end.

    Later, she became a passionate defender of polygamy, and one of Mormonism’s first female apologists you might say.

    She doesn’t fit your narrative.

  127. No. 129 – Based on your rejection of the Hales’ argument, we are left with Helen’s account that Joseph Smith instructed that her salvation and that of her entire family was tied to her entering the marriage. From your response it appears you view Heber C. Kimball’s involvement as a mitigating factor. To the contrary, that Helen’s own father was urging her, as a self-described child, to marry a man in his late 30’s, and given a single day deadline to make her decision, further demonstrates the level of coercion she was placed under. As Helen described it, she was the ewe lamb her father was placing on the altar to be sacrificed. It is true that Helen did not reside with Joseph Smith. Neither did most of the women he married. The evidence of sexual relations is mixed and reasonable minds can draw different conclusions on that point.

  128. You act like a daughter being pressured to marry a man was an odd thing in the 1800s.

  129. While I think its understandable to be uncomfortable with these things with our perspective from the 21st century we should be careful not to read back our own understanding. These people came from a culture quite unlike ours. That’s largely why they were racist to a degree we find horrible. Even famous people helping the plight of the slaves like Lincoln were horrible racists by our standards.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think our views of race, development, and gender are far healthier than most of those in the 19th century let alone early 19th rural America. But let’s be careful here in assuming they understood all those things when trying to apply the light God gave them. It’s fine to say God should have given them 21st century ethical understanding. But he didn’t. Were we to go to 1st century Palestine we’d have been even more shocked since that culture made 19th century America seem like Utopia.

    The reality is that in the 19th century marriage was rarely the romantic ideal of love we have today. (Which is not to say people didn’t love each other – just that things were more complex) Most people lived short brutish lives. Death in childbirth was common.

    Do I wish Joseph and Brigham had placed big limits on marriage? Heck yeah. It would have been much healthier. I wish they had adopted a thoroughgoing egalitarianism on race too. For that matter I wish God had revealed most of the major scientific developments, especially regarding health, that came over the next 100 years. Would have made people’s lives far better.

    But if we’re going to criticize a bunch of people in their ignorance trying to make the best of a difficult situation that’s fine. But let’s at least criticize them in terms of the era. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all a difficult situation to me as well. I find most of the 19th century figures problematic. But then I find most of the NT figures even more problematic. I’m glad we’ve progressed to where we are. Ultimately what counts is finding out if Joseph was a prophet and if the Book of Mormon is true. Difficult challenges in history make it so we can’t take our religion for granted. If we want to know if we should stay, it requires finding out directly from God. On my mission most of my investigators got antied with all this stuff by the 3rd discussion. Yet if they were praying the challenges of the history led to a much deeper and better testimony.

  130. To add, in the 19th century frontier most 14 year olds were far, far more mature than the typical 22 year old today. A lot was demanded of them. Again, I don’t think making teenagers grow up so quickly was healthy. I much prefer our society for all its own warts. (We’ve pushed a de facto adolescence into the late 20’s now) But often people were having to survive in hard circumstances at 14 or 15. Contrary some apologists that didn’t mean marriage. A lot of people didn’t marry until much later precisely because they didn’t have enough to afford a home. Career meant a lot more then than now. Then you or your family might just plain starve.

  131. Meg, (128) your comment sounds completely insane. I’m not trying to be mean. You’re off.

    Seth R., (129) Bull. Just read the text, D&C 132:51-66.

    “then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her”

    Women are “given.” Women “belong” to a man. If a man is bad (i.e. David), women are “given” to another man. The text is written as though it were the voice of God himself promising salvation and threatening destruction, contingent on a woman complying to marry a man. The man allegedly conveying the voice of God has an immediate interest in women complying. In particular, the man is threatening his own wife for much of the passages.

    There is no salvation for these verses. There is no amount of apologetics that makes it a “better” idea. Anyone who gives a damn about how women are treated cannot defend these ideas.

    These passages and ideas have a shelf life of over 180 years! Think about what that means. It festers and metastisizes and there’s apparently no way to excise this idea–for 180 years.

    Now consider what the 21st century will look like. Ideas are not allowed to fester in the 21st century for 180 hours, let alone 180 years. Do you see any future for an organization that cannot clean up 15 verses in 180 years?

    That’s a rhetorical question. I’m done commenting on this thread.

  132. Josh, early 19th century culture was sexist. No argument. Ditto to a far, far, far more egregious degree the culture of the Bible. (Most scholars assume Mary, Jesus’ mother, was between 12 – 14 at the time of conception given the traditions of the era) It’s horrible. I’m glad we’ve progressed. But if we’re going to apply the standard consistently then all of Christianity suffers the same issue multiplied numerous times.

    Seriously, you’re attacking someone for an arranged marriage where the person in question was free to leave and was given a choice in which in appears there were no relations at all when the founding story of Christianity is about a girl younger given no choice who was pregnant in the situation.

  133. If problematic verses were a fatal flaw, Christianity and Islam and all the rest would have died out long ago. They’re still going strong despite repeated predictions of their demise.

    My guess is Mormonism will outlast Unitarianism by a good country mile. It’s more disciplined, and it matters more.

  134. We know Helen was at the very least miffed about not being allowed to go socialize at the dances.

    What we don’t know is what was going on at those dances.

    We do know that women who were innocently participating in a Church choir were followed and pressured into sex (Sarah Searcy Miller and I think Mary Clift). Not a possibly sexless covenant, but into reproductive sex wth a morning after “medicine” of some sort with men who didn’t bother making any promises or covenants. And as mentioned, the morning after medicine didn’t work for Mary Clift. Two other sisters (Matilda and Margaret Nyman) were on their way to a school gathering when they were “escorted” by a man who proceeded to coerce them into yielding up their virginity. Again, no marriage or covenant. There are other seductions we know about, but these four demonstrate the peril involved in innocent social events in Nauvoo at the time.

    We know that teenage sons of High Church leaders were being swayed to be involved in or at least accepting of illicit intercourse. Orange Wight (son of Lyman Wight, an apostle) reported that he’d been fully initiated in 1841. Sarah Whitney and her parents didn’t tell Horace about the New and Everlasting Covenant, because they were terribly afraid that he would be swayed by Francis Higbee (see Brian Hales website and look at the information regarding Sarah Whitney). These are exactly the “teenage” beaux Helen mght have wished to dance with. In fact, she would later marry Horace, who appeared to have been saved from involvement in the illicit intercourse mess by his mission. Orange Wight doesn’t appear to have been as fortunate.

    We are informed that hundreds of men were poised to rise up and murder Joseph Smith in 1844, and that most of the leaders of this conspiracy were men who had been named as seducers in 1842. How did they know which men in Nauvoo would be willing to murderously rebel against Joseph? I assert the possibility that these were the same men who had been involved in the seductions. We don’t have a roster of the hundreds of men, any more than the Gadianton robbers held roll call and published membership lists. But it is telling that the two members of the group who turned double agent for Joseph were 19 and 20 in 1844. In 1841-1842, when the ring of seduction was being investigated, these two individuals were both teenagers.

    So again, Joseph and fathers of teenage girls had very good reason to be afraid of their daughters dating their age-peers in 1842-1843 Nauvoo. I do believe that when Joseph spoke of salvation, he meant it. But sometimes it is a salvation to be prevented from marrying a corrupt man. And far too many of the possible teenage beaux were still deeply involved in corruption in the days when Joseph was asking them to covenant with him in righteousness for the salvation of their souls.

  135. This thread is disturbing. “[A] man who proceeded to coerce them into yielding up their virginity,” so rape?Girls were more mature because life was hard? You are using the exact same arguments that are used in Syria, and elsewhere, to marry off young teenage girls.

    So girls in Syria are more mature and it’s ok to marry them young (surely their lives are hard and thus they grow up fast)? They are protected and better off married because of rape? Or protecting them from losing their virginity before marriage? Just_like_Syria. Meg Stout, you’ve even argued in the case of Lorenzo Snow that he was good in taking teenage girls at Winter Quarters because at least they had rice–just like Syrian mothers argue it’s ok because these girls have a house. Icky.

    The historical treatment of Mormon polygamy needs too look at these young marriages, coerced marriages, polygamous marriages–and see that when this happens now. It is almost always in times of violence, displacement, and scarcity. The same applies here. Mormons were driven out, there was violence, there was scarcity. But there is absolutely nothing sacred about it. It is just as sad and tragic and abusive as the Syrian situation.

  136. I feel like the church is asking us to believe in a God who prefers the Old Testament view of women (polygamy MUST be restored D&C132-style, with an angel of destruction there to ensure it!) over the more egalitarian view of women we embrace today. I don’t think we can underestimate how deeply this whole issue could push women away from wanting a relationship with God at all. At least, with the God that has emerged from the defense of Joseph Smith’s polygamy- the God who’s voice in 132 makes us all so uncomfortable that nobody dares read the whole thing aloud in church or in front of their daughters.

    It’s not the actions of Joseph that ultimately matter in this discussion. It’s the very nature of God.

  137. The very nature of God? No. It’s more about man’s ability to justify and rationalize in the face of violence, scarcity and displacement, and call it from God.

  138. “Seduction” is not a word applied to coerced sex, or sex with minors. The word you’re looking for is “rape.”

  139. Fwiw – both of my wife’s non-member grandmothers married at 14 in the early 1900’s. And unlike Helen Mar Kimball, they definitely consummated those marriages and proceeded to have sex and produce children. That certainly isn’t what I would have wanted for my own daughters, but those were different times. My mother was a junior high school teacher and there were many of her female students who got pregnant in the ’60’s and ’70’s and not by rape.

  140. IDIAT, I interviewed two women last week who were married at 13 and 14 (not in the US). That is normal for their culture. But no surprise, they don’t want their daughters to get married until they are at least 24. Cultural relativism is stupid. It doesn’t matter if it was ‘normal’ then. It was still very much icky.

  141. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I think I will close comments at this point, but I have a review of another book on polygamy planned in a couple of weeks.

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