An Informed Perspective on Polygamy

Gregory L. Smith, M.D., offers a helpful and highly informed perspective on the controversial 19th-century practice of polygamy among Latter-day Saints in his article, “Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” at FAIRLDS.org. If you’ve struggled with the issue of polygamy (struggled with it philosophically, not in practicing it, I hope!), this article helps clarify why it was kept secret for so long, why it was not about personal gratification, and why many of the anti-Mormon charges based on it are weak or even absurd. As for the charge that it was just an excuse to allow Church leaders to gain physical gratification, I find that particularly absurd. There are plenty of ways to gain the “benefits” of immorality without the insane burden of marrying one’s conquests. Polygamy in the early LDS Church was a good way to get yourself killed or jailed or in all sorts of other hot water and distress (hint: how many in-laws did Brigham Young have to deal with??), and in general just doesn’t make sense as merely an excuse for men having fun. To look at the lives and writings of the men and women involved, it’s much more plausible to see polygamy as a painful sacrifice, even something of an Abrahamic test for the virtuous Puritanical stock that dominated Church membership rather than a moral loophole for the personal pleasure of perverts.

Yes, there were problems and mistakes and even disasters for some, and I think we’re nearly all relieved to be over a century away from that practice. But it was not the sensational, demonic practice that its critics made it out to be, or that HBO will make it out to be in their “Big Love” travesty (a hideous series that will associate modern immorality with the Church, confusing people into thinking that Mormons still practice polygamy and even do it Hollywood style).

Share:

Author: Jeff Lindsay

103 thoughts on “An Informed Perspective on Polygamy

  1. The tangent I actually came here to post about was the news that S. Dakota has just passed a law banning abortion, except when the mother’s life is in danger.

    Naturally there’s a conflict with Roe vs. Wade here… Sorry to hijack the thread.

  2. Jeff, I’m getting the impression most of your commenters aren’t actually reading Dr. Smith’s 65-page article. In attempting a detailed defense and justification of polygamy, I think he’s going against the example of modern LDS leaders, who simply do their best to avoid the subject — a wiser course, in my opinion.

  3. Sarah:

    You’re long on snarky comments, but short on evidence. As Todd Compton’s chart of documented marriages shows, the average age of Joseph’s wives was 29. Their ages ranged:

    55–58: 2
    46–55: 3
    36–45: 4
    26–35: 10
    18–25: 7
    14–17: 7

    If Joseph Smith’s polygamy was all about “intercourse with teenagers,” then why were 79% of his wives legal adults (by today’s standards), 18% of them older than himself, and 9% of them old enough to be his mother?

    On top of that, please provide for me one — one — reliable first-hand source that indicates he had sexual relations with his two 14-year-old wives. (Note that they were both married by proxy to Joseph Smith.) Why no children? And if Joseph was just after a sexual conquest of Heber C. Kimball’s daughter, why did he ask Heber for Helen Mar’s hand? Why not just take her without his permission? Or even knowledge?

    Simply put, you have no evidence of Joseph Smith as lecher. You prefer to cast aspersions and make smart-alec remarks rather than deal with the evidence.

  4. I deleted a few snarky RFM blurbs that, as usual, failed to respond meaningfully to the discussion at hand.

  5. Joseph asked for Heber C. Kimball’s wife Vilate first, telling them that the union would guarantee their salvation and later settled on Helen instead:

    Joseph Smith gave Helen only 24 hours to decide on whether or not to marry him. Of this, Helen wrote:
    “[my father] left me to reflect upon it for the next twenty four hours. … I was sceptical – one minute believed, then doubted. I thought of the love and tenderness that he felt for his only daughter, and I knew that he would not cast me off, and this was the only convincing proof That I had of its being right.”
    The next morning, Joseph Smith finally appeared himself to explain the “law of Celestial Marriage” and claim his teen bride. In her memoir, Helen wrote, “After which he said to me, ‘if you take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.’ This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.”

    Helen also writes about her mother’s reaction to all of this:
    “None but God and his angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart – when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied ‘If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.”

    “She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older and who better understood the step they were taking, and to see her child, who had yet seen her fifteenth summer, following the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was hidden from me.”
    Helen thought her marriage to Joseph Smith was only dynastic. But to her surprise, it was more. Helen confided to a close friend in Nauvoo: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.” (“Mormon Polygamy: A History by LDS member Richard S. Van Wagoner, p. 53.)

  6. Mike – Compton spins the data differently than you do:

    “In the group of Smith’s well-documented wives, eleven (33 percent) were 14 to 20 years old when they married him. Nine wives (27 percent) were twenty-one to thirty years old. Eight wives (24 percent) were in Smith’s own peer group, ages thirty-one to forty. In the group aged forty-one to fifty, there is a substantial drop off: two wives, or 6 percent, and three (9 percent) in the group fifty-one to sixty.

    The teenage representation is the largest,though the twenty-year and thirty-year groups are comparable, which contradicts the Mormon folk wisdom that sees the beginnings of polygamy as an attempt to care for older, unattached women. These data suggest that sexual attraction was an important part of the motivation for Smith’s polygamy. In fact, the command to multiply and replenish the earth was part of the polygamy theology, so non-sexual marriage was generally not in the polygamous program, as Smith taught it.

  7. Wendy’s last post is instructive, in that it demonstrates that she is selective with the evidence she presents and seems to accept the worst rather than the most likely.

    Joseph asked for Heber C. Kimball’s wife Vilate first, telling them that the union would guarantee their salvation and later settled on Helen instead.

    This is an egregious distortion of what really happened.

    The testimony comes from Heber C. Kimball in his own autobiography. He reported that Joseph asked for Vilate, and after much inner turmoil he agreed; Joseph “wept at this proof of devotion, and embracing Heber, told him that was all that the Lord required” (Compton, p. 495). He then and sealed Heber and Vilate on the spot. If Joseph wanted Vilate, and Heber gave her to him, why didn’t he just take her? The evidence is against you here.

    There is no evidence that Joseph “settled” for Helen. This is a distorted interpretation by someone who wishes to besmirch the character of Joseph Smith.

    Joseph Smith gave Helen only 24 hours to decide on whether or not to marry him. Of this, Helen wrote:
    “[my father] left me to reflect upon it for the next twenty four hours.”

    “Only”? Why didn’t he demand an immediate answer? Why didn’t Heber just tell his daughter to shut up and do it now? Why even bother to give her a choice?

    “… I was sceptical – one minute believed, then doubted. I thought of the love and tenderness that he felt for his only daughter, and I knew that he would not cast me off, and this was the only convincing proof That I had of its being right.”

    This clearly supports my take on the events more than it does yours. She was given a choice, considered it seriously, loved and trusted her father, and went forward on that basis.

    The next morning, Joseph Smith finally appeared himself to explain the “law of Celestial Marriage” and claim his teen bride.

    “Claim?” As if she were property!

    In her memoir, Helen wrote, “After which he said to me, ‘if you take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.’ This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.”

    This and other evidence point toward Joseph’s view of polygamy as dynastic. This is also the conclusion of Richard Bushman in his Joseph Smith biography. (Bushman is, of course, that hack apologist who just happened to become Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University.)

    Helen also writes about her mother’s reaction to all of this:
    “None but God and his angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart – when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied ‘If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.”

    If Vilate was so horrified, why didn’t she say no? Why didn’t she tell Joseph and Heber to get lost? Her statement is more one of faith than doubt.

    “She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older and who better understood the step they were taking, and to see her child, who had yet seen her fifteenth summer, following the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was hidden from me.”

    Was plural marriage easy? Was secret plural marriage to Joseph Smith easy? No one I know of has ever claimed so. I don’t know what this proves.

    Helen thought her marriage to Joseph Smith was only dynastic. But to her surprise, it was more. Helen confided to a close friend in Nauvoo: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.”

    This passage was not published by Helen herself, but by Catherine Lewis in her 1848 anti-Mormon book Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons; Giving an Account of Their Iniquities…. There are good reasons to suspect that the quote was either fabricated or distorted by Lewis:

    Based on her own actions after Joseph’s death, she seems not to have believed she was deceived. In 1884 she published a 72-page booklet entitled Why We Practice Plural Marriage, a vigorous defense of “the principle.” She traveled widely, speaking publicly in support of polygamy. Her life was horribly difficult, with poverty, disease, hunger, and death, but she remained in the faith until the end.

    Not exactly the actions of someone who thought Joseph Smith was a liar and a pervert.

  8. Randy J: “Mike – Compton spins the data differently than you do.”

    Yes, he does. But then Compton also believes the plural marriage was not based on revelation but on Joseph Smith’s own ambitions. His conclusion drives his analysis at virtually every step, even to the point of constructing fictional events.

    My age groupings are standard for contemporary marketing analysis (which is what I do for a living). Separating 18 to 25-year olds from younger teenagers is the proper way to approach this subject, especially, because those 18 and older are considered emancipated adults. By including 18 to 20-year-olds with teenagers, Compton skews his statistical presentation.

    Claiming that “sexual attraction was an important part of the motivation for Smith’s polygamy” holds a lot less water when you present the data a little more accurately. But since that was one of Compton’s main theses, he went with it.

    Needless to say, I have a lot of problems with In Sacred Loneliness.

  9. By the way, I’m still waiting for one reliable first-hand source that indicates Joseph Smith had sexual relations with his two 14-year-old wives.

  10. Mike said: “I’m still waiting for one reliable first-hand source that indicates Joseph Smith had sexual relations with his two 14-year-old wives.”

    Are you arguing that he didn’t have sex with his wives? Or that he did with some of his wives but not others? Or he did with some of his teenage wives but not others?

    What do you want, a soiled bedsheet? Given Joseph’s secret letters arranging liaisons, his lying to Emma, and his seduction techniques threatening divine retribution, (from secret letters to bold-faced written revelations!) it would be surprising if he invited someone in to watch.

    “And if Joseph Smith have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore he is justified for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth.”

    Have the courage to say that you don’t believe Joseph had sex with his wives.

    I used to believe that Joseph wasn’t polygamous – this was taught to me in seminary and sunday school. The picture has become much clearer now. In Sacred Loneliness (ISL) was heartbreaking and testimony-shattering.

    From Todd Compton’s ISL:

    “Because of claims by Reorganized Latter-day Saints that Joseph was not really married polygamously in the full (i.e., sexual) sense of the term, Utah Mormons (including Joseph’s wives) affirmed repeatedly that Joseph had physical sexual relations with his plural wives-despite the Victorian conventions in nineteenth-century American religion which otherwise would have prevented mention of sexual relations in marriage.”

    Examples compiled by 14M.com that supplement ISL –

    – Faithful Mormon Melissa Lott (Smith Willes) testified that she had been Joseph’s wife “in very deed.” (Affidavit of Melissa Willes, 3 Aug. 1893, Temple Lot case, 98, 105; Foster, Religion and Sexuality, 156.)

    – In a court affidavit, faithful Mormon Joseph Noble wrote that Joseph told him he had spent the night with Louisa Beaman. (Temple Lot Case, 427)

    – Emily D. Partridge (Smith Young) said she “roomed” with Joseph the night following her marriage to him and said that she had “carnal intercourse” with him. (Temple Lot case (complete transcript), 364, 367, 384; see Foster, Religion and Sexuality, 15.)

    In total, 13 faithful latter-day saint women who were married to Joseph Smith swore court affidavits that they had sexual relations with him.

    – Joseph Smith’s personal secretary records that on May 22nd, 1843, Smith’s first wife Emma found Joseph and Eliza Partridge secluded in an upstairs bedroom at the Smith home. Emma was devastated.
    William Clayton’s journal entry for 23 May (see Smith, 105-106)

    – Smith’s secretary William Clayton also recorded a visit to young Almera Johnson on May 16, 1843: “Prest. Joseph and I went to B[enjamin] F. Johnsons to sleep.” Johnson himself later noted that on this visit Smith stayed with Almera “as man and wife” and “occupied the same room and bed with my sister, that the previous month he had occupied with the daughter of the late Bishop Partridge as his wife.” Almera Johnson also confirmed her secret marriage to Joseph Smith: “I lived with the prophet Joseph as his wife and he visited me at the home of my brother Benjamin F.” (Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 44. See also “The Origin of Plural Marriage, Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Deseret News Press, page 70-71.)

    – Faithful Mormon and Stake President Angus Cannon told Joseph Smith’s son: “Brother Heber C. Kimball, I am informed, asked [Eliza R. Snow] the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith and afterwards to Brigham Young, when she replied in a private gathering, “I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that.”” (Stake President Angus M. Cannon, statement of interview with Joseph III, 23, LDS archives.)

    ISL further states:

    “The teenage (wives) representation is the largest, though the twenty-year and thirty-year groups are comparable, which contradicts the Mormon folk-wisdom that sees the beginnings of polygamy was an attempt to care for older, unattached women. These data suggest that sexual attraction was an important part of the motivation for Smith’s polygamy. In fact, the command to multiply and replenish the earth was part of the polygamy theology, so non-sexual marriage was generally not in the polygamous program, as Smith taught it.”

    At some point apologizing for polygamous behavior becomes unseemly; as the mother of a teenage daughter who can’t imagine a fourteen year old being taken by a thirty+ year old man, I’d suggest you rethink your stridency.

  11. Mike wrote: The testimony comes from Heber C. Kimball in his own autobiography. He reported that Joseph asked for Vilate, and after much inner turmoil he agreed; Joseph “wept at this proof of devotion, and embracing Heber, told him that was all that the Lord required” (Compton, p. 495). He then sealed Heber and Vilate on the spot.

    I know you are trying really hard to defend Joseph but you are doing him no favors with this one. Joseph is supposed to be a prophet of God. This just makes Joseph look like an egomaniac with a God complex playing cruel mindgames with Church members. The facts show Joseph did indeed marry the wives of other Mormon men (Zina Huntington Jacobs and Nancy Marinda Hyde to name two), so I guess Heber lucked out…except for the whole Joseph marrying his teenage daughter instead.

    All these marriages were made on the grounds of spiritual promises of salvation to them and their family members. What would Mormons do today if the Church still practiced this doctrine? How can salvation be extended to an entire family by taking one of their teen daughters? Why can’t Latter Day Saints today recognize the moral depravity in Joseph Smith’s actions towards his followers? Did angels with threatening swords really force Joseph Smith into behaving like this?

  12. Sarah: “Are you arguing that he didn’t have sex with his wives? Or that he did with some of his wives but not others? Or he did with some of his teenage wives but not others?”

    I’m not arguing that Joseph did not have a sexual relationship with at least some of his wives. The testimonies you reproduced are clear on that.

    I am arguing that there is no evidence or testimony that he slept with his two 14-year-old wives. In fact, the evidence in Helen Mar’s case indicates dynasticism.

    I was, if you’ll recall, responding to your earlier comments (since removed by the admin) accusing Joseph Smith of instituting plural marriage so he could have sex with 14-year-old girls. I responded to that, and now you’re straying from your earlier claim by providing testimony from wives who were not the two 14-year-olds.

    Again, I repeat: Where is the first-hand, reliable evidence of this?

    Sarah: “I used to believe that Joseph wasn’t polygamous – this was taught to me in seminary and sunday school. The picture has become much clearer now. In Sacred Loneliness (ISL) was heartbreaking and testimony-shattering.”

    I’m sorry that your testimony was based on information you received from uninformed teachers. I’m also sorry that you appear to have taken all of Todd Compton’s book as gospel; as I mentioned above, his research was thorough, but the lens through which he presented it is distorted.

    Wendy: “Joseph is supposed to be a prophet of God. This just makes Joseph look like an egomaniac with a God complex playing cruel mindgames with Church members.”

    If that is true, then why didn’t Heber C. Kimball — the subject of the test — think so? Why didn’t he turn on Joseph Smith? Why did he stay in Nauvoo? Why did he give his own daughter to Joseph as a plural wife? Why did he go west? Why did he become a member of the First Presidency? There are so many, many questions that cannot be answered under the “Joseph as egomanic” rubric.

    Wendy: “The facts show Joseph did indeed marry the wives of other Mormon men (Zina Huntington Jacobs and Nancy Marinda Hyde to name two), so I guess Heber lucked out…except for the whole Joseph marrying his teenage daughter instead.”

    Yes, Joseph did marry other men’s wives. But I was responding to the charge that “Joseph wanted Vilate but settled for Helen.” You haven’t even come close to demonstrating that. Heber agreed and presented his wife to Joseph; Joseph could have had at that moment, but instead broke down in tears, embraced them, and sealed them to each other on the spot. And “luck” had nothing to do with Joseph’s sealing to Helen — Heber and Vilate both gave their permission, and Helen, by her own testimony, agreed because of her faith in her father.

    Wendy: “All these marriages were made on the grounds of spiritual promises of salvation to them and their family members. What would Mormons do today if the Church still practiced this doctrine? How can salvation be extended to an entire family by taking one of their teen daughters? Why can’t Latter Day Saints today recognize the moral depravity in Joseph Smith’s actions towards his followers? Did angels with threatening swords really force Joseph Smith into behaving like this?”

    These are interesting questions, and they have application in a host of scriptural circumstances. What would a modern Saint do if he was asked to sacrifice his only son of promise, as Abraham was? What would a modern Saint do if he was called to free an entire people from the most powerful nation on earth, as Moses was? What would a modern Saint do if he was called to retrieve the history of his family from a powerful, bloodthirsty man, as Nephi was? The list goes on and on.

    There are scores of scriptural examples where key people in key times were presented with trials of their faith. Modern scripture indicates that all of us must go through our own personal trial of faith, or we cannot be sanctified (e.g., D&C 58:4; 95:1; 98:12; 101:4–5; 136:31, 51). Perhaps the trial for some people is to learn that Church history is more complicated than what they learned in seminary.

    Casting Joseph as an egomaniacal pervert does not explain the Book of Mormon; the revelations; the miracles; the communities and temples in Ohio, Missouri, and Nauvoo; and all the other incredible things he accomplished. You’ve simply traded one overly-simplistic view of him (perfect prophet) for another (egomaniacal pervert). A more balanced view presents him as an imperfect man called to do God’s will and carrying it out with mixed results — sometimes he was successful, and great things took place; other times things were difficult and complicated, and we are left with an incomplete understanding of how to deal with them in light of our present understanding of the gospel.

    But just because I don’t understand all of Joseph’s actions doesn’t mean I should reject the gospel in toto:

    From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. (John 6:66–68.)

    Having reviewed much of the evidence, I have decided to give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt.

  13. Sarah: “Are you arguing that he didn’t have sex with his wives? Or that he did with some of his wives but not others? Or he did with some of his teenage wives but not others?”

    For the record, this is a good example of where Compton’s ISL is confusing, and your argument here (apparently) even distorts what Compton thinks.

    He writes:

    [S]ome conclude that Helen Mar Kimball, who married Smith when she was fourteen, did not have marital relations with him. This is possible, as there are cases of Mormons in Utah marrying young girls and refraining from sexuality until they were older. But the evidence for Helen Mar is entirely ambiguous in my view. (emphasis added). (ISL, p. 14)

    Like Sarah, when I read this I assumed that Compton was arguing for there being evidence both ways.

    Compton’s later remarks on this point, though, suggest that his intent was different:

    The Tanners made great mileage out of Joseph Smith’s marriage to his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball. However, they failed to mention that I wrote that there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. (p. 638) All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage. – Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. http://www.lds-mormon.com/compton.shtml (15 May 2005).

    So, this sounds a bit different when Compton explains how the Tanners have misread him. Personally, I suspect that the editorial hand of Signature Books may rest more heavily on this passage than others.

    Compton also writes:

    …there is no good evidence that Joseph Smith did not have sexual relations with any wife, previously single or polyandrous. (ISL, p. 21)

    One is tempted, of course, to ask just what such negative evidence would look like. There is, after all, no evidence that Compton did not beat his wife—are we therefore justified in concluding that he did?

    I am not so much concerned about whether there was sexuality in the marriages—since I hold they were legitimate marriages, then a sexual dimension neither surprises nor alarms me. But, I am troubled by Compton’s evidentiary standard here (or lack of clarity), especially when he later disclaims it when the Tanners call him on it.

    Indeed, Compton’s approach to this issue is often inconsistent. Of Zina Huntingon, he writes “Nothing specific is known about sexuality in their marriage, though judging from Smith’s other marriages, sexuality was probably included.” (p. 82) Once again, we have him arguing from negative evidence—we don’t know anything here, so we should judge based on other relationships. Yet, in another place, we read that “it is probable that Smith did not have sexual relations with his older wives.” (p. 281)

    It is not clear to me how this squares with Compton’s claims that there is no evidence that sexuality was not involved with any wife; his treatment of this (like many others) is depressingly confused when it comes to interpretive issues.

    I suspect that because Compton is trying to draw broad conclusions from limited evidence, and because he is treating the marriages as if they were ‘cookie-cutter’ versions of each other in which the happenings in one may be used to describe another, his approach is inevitably muddled. I wonder too if the hand of his editor can be detected in this area more than others.

    In fact, he tells us elsewhere that:

    My position, actually, is that there is no evidence, pro or con, for sexual relations. You cannot prove that there were sexual relations; you cannot prove that there were no sexual relations. Notice that I do not simply say “ambiguous”; I say “entirely ambiguous.”

    But, the reader may ask, what is my best guess? I remember talking with my publisher Gary Bergera on the phone once during the editorial process and I restated the cautious “no evidence either way” position. But Gary pressed: “But what do you think? What is your best guess?” And I answered that my best guess was that there were no sexual relations, based on parallels from some marriages to underage women in Utah polygamy.
    See: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/7207/revhmk5.html, 19 March 2006)

    To me “ambiguous,” does not mean “no evidence either way.” I, like Sarah apparently, read this as “some evidence both ways.” I think this is, as least, an example of poor editing, since surely they knew this would be an important/controversial point, and yet there seems to have been both an effort to get Compton to commit more heavily than the data would permit, and a choice of words which many (including me) have misread versus what Compton says he meant.

    ==

    Readers wishing to appreciate the wide variety of arrangements (each with different duties, obligations, and privileges) in Utah plural marriage should read Kathryn Daynes “More Wives Than One” (in my view, the best single volume on plural marriage.)

    Deciding whether such things applied in Nauvoo would be a type of “regression analysis,” if you will, that must remain speculative in the absence of other data.

    Kind regards,

    Greg Smith

  14. Helen Mar certainly is the most abused woman in Mormonism…abused by the antiMormons, that is. They stuff a sock in her mouth and search out a few negative statements in a LIFETIME of her writings in defense of her lifestyle. I don’t think much of polygamy…but I think even less of people who demonize women as being dumb or brainwashed or oppressed for making their own choices. It has gotten to the point where it begins to look a little too much like misogyny for my comfort. I always refer to these really “smart” people who crawl out to defend dead women by smearing them and demeaning their life choices the Defenders of Dead and Dumb Women. Let’s remove the sock from Helen’s mouth and let her speak for herself:

    Helen Mar Kimball, Woman’s Exponent 1 December 1881:
    If those not of our faith, who visit our cities, came with a determination to lay aside their prejudices, to learn the facts concerning us, or our religion, nothing would give more pleasure than to tell it them; but too many who have come here, after being treated with every politeness and escorted to seats in our tabernacle which are reserved for the stranger, sit there, under the very altar of the Lord’s Supper, in the hearing of Saints who assemble to worship God, and spit out their venom, or make ridicule of everything that we hold sacred.

    But the most despicable characters are the overly righteous souls, who are filled with such holy horror at the mention of “Mormon” polygamy, and are the ones whom we look upon with suspicion, and set them down as among the most corrupt of hypocrites.

    Juliann

  15. I don’t think much of polygamy…but I think even less of people who demonize women as being dumb or brainwashed or oppressed for making their own choices.

    Juliann,

    I am not demonizing women. I am talking about the actions of *Joseph Smith*, a man. When there is a power imbalance, such as the case with Joseph, THE PROPHET, and fourteen year old Helen Mar Kimball, then yes, I have a problem with it.

  16. I’m getting the impression most of your commenters aren’t actually reading Dr. Smith’s 65-page article.

    Sorry for the tangent. The thread wasn’t exactly hopping when I posted it. I actually did read the article, last time Jeff linked it. Took nearly 4 hours!

    I had an interesting thought while reading, though I don’t think the authors really made a point of it: maybe one reason the Church had to stop the practice was because the nation had shown it was prepared to dismantle the Constitution and abandon rule of law in order to prosecute Church members.

    This was a surprise: one court even “upheld the right of a U.S. Marshal to shoot and kill rather than arrest” a polygamist “who was in no way resisting arrest.” All this despite the fact that polygamy was only a misdemeanor, and never classed as a felony.

    Imagine today if a police officer shot and killed a shoplifter *after* putting on the handcuffs, especially if the victim were a member of some persecuted minority!

  17. Wendy:

    “When there is a power imbalance,…”

    Ooh, there’s a red flag or code-word if there ever was one.

    You’re trying to impose late 20th century femininism onto a situation in the 1840’s.

    Sarah:

    I’m sorry you were lied to in Seminary and Sunday School. I joined the church as an adult, and I figured out Joseph Smith practiced polygamy just by reading D&C section 132, especially verse 52.

    But I was lied to by other members of the church, so I know it hurts when you find out some people have lied, especially sometimes when leaders have lied.

    And it hurts even when they don’t actually lie, but just let you believe something that isn’t true, and they don’t take steps to clarify things.

    The church is still true.

  18. Ya know, I wanted to start this whole comment with a tangent, but then I would have said some naughty word, and Jeff would have deleted my post, and then what would have been the point?

    Still not sure there is a point, because if you DISAGREE with the Mormons, you are an “anti” and everything you say gets dismissed out of hand.

    But has it occurred to ANY of you Mormons defending Joseph’s choice to marry 14-year-olds while he was married to someone else that he was marrying 14-YEAR-OLDS?? Who really gives a rat’s…. er…butt, whether or not he was having SEX with them. Are you REALLY that deluded? They were barely in their teens, you stupid….er….um….well, they were YOUNG TEENS. Perhaps some of you have daughters their age. How would you feel?

    I just don’t get this desire to defend the indefensible. Can’t you get by your overwhelming, heart-burning belief to realize you are so crazed to defend your faith that you don’t even realize you have gone over the edge? There is no explaining this stuff away. It won’t work, and Mormons are beginning to look more and more stupid.

    I know you WANT to believe it. I know you WANT to defend it. I understand that, because your entire being is invested in it, but sooner or later you have to accept that you have been duped.

    There IS no informed perspective on polygamy, except it was a convenient way for Joseph to get…er, happy.

    I don’t think Joseph Smith was entirely evil. I do believe he was a young charismatic, but uneducated con man who, once he realized what he could get away with (can you say PROPHET) got caught up in his own fervor.

    As for the last poster on this thread, YOU need to get a life. The CHURCH IS TRUE, na na na na na na? Just because you SAY it is so, doesn’t make it true.

    The hardest part of all of this, for me, is the desire to say, YOU ARE AN IDIOT, to these posters, because the truth is, they are not. They aren’t idiots. And one day the realization that all of this crap they have been defending for so long is absolutely without defense. That’s where the hard part comes in. They will reach it.

    Of course, some will not. Cover your head in the sand. Go ahead. Spin in circles. Convince yourself you are living the good life that will lead you into the Celestial Kingdom. I guess that’s okay, too, but I truly believe the apologists know there is something wrong. Or they wouldn’t be so busy spinning circles around the truth that they are left dizzy with their own brilliance. Or stupidity. You pick.

    I have no doubt that Jeff Lindsay, and most of the people that post on his blog, are good people. I really don’t. I do find it sad that you are so busy defending your “truth” that you have lost sight of reality.

    14-year-olds. FOURTEEN. Early teens. EARLY teens. Got a young daughter? Think about that. Even in those days, TOO YOUNG TO MARRY, especially when you were married to someone else. If you keep defending this away, you are as depraved as he.

  19. Natalie,

    I don’t know if you were thinking you’d reach any of us stupid mormons with that last post, but I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you aren’t a horrible person and that your intentions were pure. I have a couple pointers for you so that next time your out-stretched arm of love can be more successful.

    1) As much as you hate it, name calling is a great way to get yourself dismissed in people’s minds right off the bat. It has nothing to do with us eagerly writing people off that disagree as it does with people earning it for themselves through open hostility. Suppose someone came up to you and said, “Shut up and sit down. Listen to this, moron,” would you listen to what they had to say next very carefully?

    I personally take offense to your comment, “Still not sure there is a point, because if you DISAGREE with the Mormons, you are an ‘anti’ and everything you say gets dismissed out of hand.” If you’ve read this blog with any kind of regularity, you’d know that diverging opinions are common and that room is given for all opinions to be expressed fully. Balanced, civil discussions are the norm here, so spare us the martyr act.

    2) Eliminate the rhetoric. It doesn’t work.

    3) Be respectful.

    We stupid Mormons will be far more likely to take something you have to say seriously if you can abide these few principles.

    Now to cut through your nonsense to the single point you brought up–

    The situation was not as simple or evil as your caricature. From your post, I assume you didn’t bother to read the link in its entirety, or even in part for that matter, so rather than waste time writing what’s already been written, I will advise you to read the article. I also admonish you to exercise your superbly open mind while reading. Make an effort to understand the situation from the other perspective. Understanding has nothing to do with condoning or believing, so doing this wont pollute your mind or faith with our stupidity. What it will do, however, is allow you to pull your head out of the sands of ignorance, over-simplification, and intolerance to reveal a world of multi-faceted issues. Do it slowly–it may just blow your mind.

  20. I had a roommate in school who was from India.

    His parents got married, it was an arranged marriage, when his mother was 14, and his father was 25.

    Before she turned 15, she gave birth to my roomie. Then the family came to the US, and they had 2 more children. The father was a scientist for a big national or world-wide corporation, then went into business for himself.

    My former roomie is now a cardiovascular surgeon, and his parents are still married last I heard.

    Marriage at age 14 is unusual in our day and age, except for certain countries. It may have been unusual for the American frontier in the early 1800’s, but not all that unusual.

    And yes, it is a big deal whether or not Joseph Smith had sexual relations with his 14 year old wife or wives. And the fact that Helen Kimball is later on record as defending polygamy speaks volumes.

    What’s really wrong here is trying to use late 20th century attitudes to judge early 19th century people. Doing so might give you a nice sense of moral superiority to those “depraved Mormons.” But you’re also attempting to rewrite history, or at least showing that your analysis of history is lacking.

    If arranged marriages are so horrible to you, be thankful that you were born in a time and place where it’s no longer practiced.

    And no, repeating “the church is true” is not burying one’s head in the sand. It’s a statement of truth which I received via divine revelation, something I trust much more than things written by strangers on the Internet.

    The apostle Paul nailed it in one of his letters to the Corinthians, spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Without revelation, spiritual truth cannot be known.

    Aside from your illogic of trying to use late 20th century attitudes to judge early 19th century people, your incredulity of Joseph Smith is logical. Without a spiritual witness or confirmation (revelation) I wouldn’t have believed it either.

    I fully realize the “God told me so” testimony of believers fails to satisfy unbelievers who seek concrete evidence. That is a big stumbling block. The best that believers can do, as Jeff often points out, is offer “evidence of plausibility.” There will never be evidence that rises to the level of proof. There are many places in the New Testament, in both the gospels and in the epistles, that address the concept of faith and not having proof.

  21. Wendy and Sarah: Are you two Bible-believing Christians? If you don’t want us to be believe in Mormonism, what do you want us to believe? What is your replacement? Atheism, agnosticism, some other Christian religion, or what?

    You’re debating from a history and sociology perspective, not from a religious perspective. If one rejects the divinity of Jesus as the Christ, then debating the historical perspective is a moot point. Both on your end and our end.

    If you’re agnostic/atheist, then no one (including JS) could be a prophet, so it’s pointless to continue. And it would likewise be pointless for us to encourage you to believe that he was a prophet, if you reject a priori the divinity of Jesus.

  22. John,

    I didn’t call anyone a name. I did use some names, but they were NOT directed at one person. If you CAREFULLY read my post, you will see that. You seem to think that all I need to do is slow down and reexamine this polygamy stuff and it will BLOW MY MIND. Sorry, it already did that. And I am appalled that any self-respecting human being can defend it.

    As for the way I address things, I am frank and to the point. I leave the spinning and circling to others.

    Rhetoric? Look in your own back yard.

  23. People keep saying you can’t apply today’s standards to those in the 1800s. Yes, you can. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

    I am LDS. I don’t believe in everything the church teaches. I let my own conscience, heart and mind be my guide. Joseph being forced by an angry angel with a sword into deceiving and betraying his faithful wife Emma by taking multiple wives sets off every internal alarm I have. It is not just my 21st century self speaking. It was as wrong back then as it is now. The Proclamation on the Family and it’s “one man one woman” rhetoric rings especially shallow in comparison.

    The Manifesto repealing polygamy was as much influenced by outside sources as it was from God. One starts to wonder if Joseph’s true legacy isn’t the border towns of Hildale and Colorado City and all their contemporaries.

    The Church stands in judgement of me everyday. I will also hold the Church to the same standard.