My Response appears in bold brown text after most paragraphs of this FairMormon blog:
On October 22, 2014, LDS.ORG posted three essays dealing with the practice of plural marriage by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between the 1830s and 1904. Perhaps the most controversial essay is the one dealing with the earliest period, which discusses Joseph Smith’s practices and teachings as he introduced plurality to fellow Church members. It appears that some readers’ expectations were not met by this essay.
It is true readers did not receive:
- A theological examination of plural marriage
- An apology for polygamy.
- An explanation for why polygamy was not discussed openly in the past.
- A defence of polygamy.
- A 1500-page or 350-page or 20-page treatise on plural marriage.
- A declaration labelling plural marriage as adultery.
- A portrayal of Joseph Smith as a hypocrite or libertine.
- A statement that D&C 132 was not a true revelation.
- A declaration that polygamy was an historical mistake.
- A lengthy discussion of Emma’s trials because of the practice.
- A list of injustices suffered by Joseph’s plural wives and an exhaustive detailing of their pain and suffering.
No, we had to find the above things out via the Internet (that evil instrument full of satanic falsehoods) Also, through books, journal entries and ‘official’ Church history. We discovered those parts of LDS history, which, in my life time (and before me) the Church chose not to disclose or reveal. The much lauded ‘transparency’ of the present LDS Church–like the apology for the MMM–comes only because honest historians have let the cat out of the bag. In the case of the MMM, the descendants had been trying for decades to get some form of ‘acknowledgement’ or ‘apology’ for the murders of their ancestors, but, like present day FLDS (fundamental polygamists) the Church feels too embarrassed to confess connections or associations, which they most certainly do have through Smith and history), so it either denies or distances itself. But when the publicity (including a motion picture film ‘September Dawn’) was going to spoil their shining image – low and behold, they go down to the descendants dedication service and make humble, half baked apologies for killing so many people. Half baked, because as always, they dump the blame on the members, and vindicate Brigham Young, yet he instructed it to take place – pretending to stop it by a ‘late letter’ and yet we know by his own statements he was glad it had occurred and the prejudice and authority came straight from him as well as from the temple endowment, with those nasty un-Christ-like vows of vengeance! So yes, the Church has always hid stuff, until the consequence for doing so, outweighs the benefits for keeping quiet and in no greater place do they do this than Plural Marriage.
What did readers receive?
A concise and accurate history (according to available documents) of the introduction of plural marriage by Joseph Smith. You mean the documents you want to use, not the ones that place Smith in a bad light – just the ones you want us to believe
A brief discussion of all major controversies dealing with this subject. Yes, but far too brief to discuss the ones which would disturb members.
Permission to discuss these topics in Church meetings without being viewed as an intellectual or apostate. Oh good, so it’s ok now for members in classes to ask their teacher to postpone their present lesson and thrash-out all their concerns over polygamy? I doubt that.
Another evidence of the transparency the Church is striving to achieve regarding its history. As stated above – their present forced admissions outweigh secrecy policy.
The omissions in the essay have elicited scathing criticism. However, as authors who have researched this topic exhaustively, we might offer a few observations of our own for those who criticize:
(1) Many critics seemed to have little grasp of the historical record of the period. Therefore, it is not uncommon or surprising that glaring historical errors are promoted in their assessments. To some degree, this undermines the usefulness of the discussions. Condescending indeed; the only people I know who seem to have a real grasp on the ‘historical record of the period’ seem to be ex Mormons, so who are you talking about?
(2) Many criticisms seem more focused upon the practice of polygamy than upon the essay itself. It might be said the essay has opened the pressure-release valve for venting about the practice. So you agree. There should never have been ‘pressure’ or the repression to discuss these issues in the first place. The Church has always known the truth, but has refused to communicate to investigators and members alike. Indeed, those in the past who have been excommunicated only did what these essays are now doing – writing facts about LDS history. Will you be holding a court for those anonymous members who wrote these essays, or perhaps offering an apology and reinstatement for the ‘September Six’ and many others for telling the same kind of truth?
(3) Observers who are complimentary to the essay are often labelled as “apologists,” perhaps implying their assessments could not be accurate. This argumentum ad hominem is one of the most overused logical fallacies and undermines the ability to carry on reasonable, articulate discussions. Yes, that cuts both ways, so why bother to say it?
(4) Joseph Smith’s theological teachings regarding plural marriage are universally ignored. Don’t be absurd. If you are seriously saying that D&C132 plus any related scriptural references, books, conference or magazine quotes on plural marriage were never understood, you are wrong. If you mean the ‘theological teachings regarding plural marriage are universally ignored,’ it’s because it is about the blatantly obvious – they already know the background in general and the theological reasons in particular. That is not their problem or dispute; it is what they were NOT TOLD that is their problem.
Several major controversies have been generated in conjunction with the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. All of these are briefly discussed in the introductory essay, which contains 35 paragraphs and 55 endnotes:
Polyandry (paragraphs 20–23, endnotes 29–30). The essay acknowledges that “Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married,” estimating the number of these sealings at 12–14 (endnote 29). Several possible explanations for this curious practice are provided including that the sealings were “for eternity alone” or that the “sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church.” Another option was that the “women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.” For those troubled about the possibility that Joseph practiced polyandry, it provides a plausible line of reasoning that he did not. The essay states, “Polyandry, the marriage of one woman to more than one man, typically involves shared financial, residential, and sexual resources, and children are often raised communally. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealings functioned in this way, and much evidence works against that view” (endnote 30). Total nonsense… consult Jim Whitefield’s Volume 1 ‘The Mormon Delusion’ on Polyandry and Polygamy + mormonthink.com. These ‘provide a plausible line of reasoning that he did!’
Fanny Alger (paragraph 9). The discussion of Fanny Alger is limited to one paragraph, reflecting the thin historical record regarding the union. “Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents.10 Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger. After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. ‘Fragmentary evidence and thin historical record’ or ‘little is known,’ are often employed by FAIR to describe any evidence which goes against Smith’s wholesome character. Funny how the Church is happy to use Oliver Cowdery’s witness that he saw the gold plates, but they reject his constant, unwavering witness throughout his life, that he saw Smith committing adultery in a barn with Fanny – even though Smith excommunicated him for refusing to withdraw his statement?
Sexuality (paragraphs 12, 17–18). Despite controversy surrounding religious discussions of sexuality, the essay recognizes: “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. Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings.” “The procreation of children and perpetuation of families,” the essay explains, “would continue into the eternities.”
Children with plural wives (endnote 25). Acknowledging the possibility of children, the essay states: “Despite claims that Joseph Smith fathered children within plural marriage, genetic testing has so far been negative, though it is possible he fathered two or three children with plural wives.” Those not satisfied with phrase “possibility of sexual relations” in the discussion of sexuality in time-and-eternity sealings can be placated by the admission of the possibility of children, which would require sexual relations. Suggesting (as FAIR usually do) that sexual union was never part of Smith’s agenda and that ‘flaming swords’ and the potential ‘destruction’ of particular women, forced him to comply, is pretty much an insult to any intelligence – unless of course that intelligence is compromised by thorough indoctrination. In which case, a professed prophet can do whatever wickedness he pleases and incredulous excuses will continue to justify him. In addition, the natural and normal pursuit of sexual relations should always be ‘assumed’ within a person (particularly a male) where the lack of any evidence occurs to prove otherwise.
Number of plural wives (paragraph 18, endnote 24). The number of women possibly sealed to Joseph is briefly mentioned: “The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.” However, the estimate of the number of wives was relegated to an endnote: “Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40.”
Emma Smith’s involvement (paragraphs 25–28). The essay explains that plural marriage was “an excruciating ordeal” for Emma. It also taught: “Joseph and Emma loved and respected each other deeply … Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Nauvoo. … In the summer of 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation on marriage, a lengthy and complex text containing both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma.” . Looking at Smith specific approaches to the women; the means by which he secured most of them and the contempt he must have had for Emma in ignoring the rules proscribed by God in Section 132 for governing polygamy; one ends up realizing what a depraved, selfish and arrogant liar he must have been. We understand that Smith ‘loved Emma deeply.’ I’m afraid it does not wash for me. REAL love is about HOW YOU TREAT ANOTHER PERSON. Smith did not merely have a moment of weakness in his life and just failed ‘once,’ he was a serial adulterer and a ruthless abuser of other peoples religious sensibilities – the women who felt obliged or pressured to conform, bringing misery and regret to many.
Young wives (paragraph 19). Exposing itself to criticism, the essay euphemistically refers to Helen Mar Kimball’s sealing as occurring “several months before her 15th birthday” rather than at age 14. But it frankly acknowledges: “Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.” Some may marry in their mid teens now. However, a 14 year old marrying in those days was not ‘normal’ nor ‘common.’ Less than 1% did so. Add to that being married to a man 22 years her senior (aged 37) and to a man who grossly pressured her and made her feel obliged to do so – or else!… was inappropriate by ANY standards in ANY era. Why don’t FAIR get honest and tell the whole truth? Why don’t also say that Plural Marriage or polygamy was ILLEGAL, so Smith was breaking the law. He did not even have a legal license to marry others monogamously.
Denials (paragraph 16, endnote 23). Public denials, reflecting special verbal gymnastics, is conceded: “The rumors [of seductions] prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage.22 The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.” George A. Smith is also quoted: “Any one who will read carefully the denials, as they are termed, of plurality of wives in connection with the circumstances will see clearly that they denounce adultery, fornication, brutal lust and the teaching of plurality of wives by those who were not commanded to do so.” What total rubbish. Once again, FAIR insult intelligence. Unfortunately for the Church, we have the documented stories and testimonies of those who were lied to. The denials come from those men who have wished to hide their lust and keep their grasp on power. Secrecy and denial is the method the so-called prophets of professed righteousness used to retain control and increase conversion rates across Europe. Smith’s dirty life style got him murdered. I find it personally sickening, that apologists tell us that even the ‘denials’ were upheld by righteous men (as if God would sanction such gross deceptions). How absurd.
In lauding the Church’s effort to explain this difficult topic, some may assume that in defending the essay we are in fact defending polygamy. We are not. On earth, polygamy expands a man’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a husband as it simultaneously fragments a woman’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a wife. The practice is difficult to defend as anything but unfair and at times emotionally cruel. At last an admission that Polygamy (at least the Mormon kind) was appalling and awful!
However, within the context of Joseph Smith’s teachings, a few eternal polygamists are needed. This reality is routinely ignored by almost all critics who often declare or imply that libido drove the process. That is, they allege the implementation of plural marriage occurred because Joseph wanted to expand his sexual opportunities. Those authors seem confident that any of the Prophet’s associated teachings were simply a cover up, so there was no need to take them seriously and it seems none of the critics of the essay do either.’ However, within the context of Joseph Smith’s teachings, a few eternal polygamists are needed.’ Sorry, you’ve lost me?
Yet, this may be the greatest weakness of most of the critics’ arguments—they are simply incomplete. Joseph Smith taught that couples who are sealed in eternal marriage, not plural marriage, “shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths … and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:19–20). A plurality of wives allows all worthy women to be sealed to a husband on earth and become eligible for these blessings in heaven. Any woman who is not sealed will: “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever” (v. 17). Yes, we know this applies to any couple getting sealed in a temple, but why do you trample over the grave of the dead prophet Brigham? I mean, he is fare game for us to attack… but you? You totally deny all his ‘revelations’… what Hinckley defined as ‘perceptions in the mind.’ So according to Brigham’s ‘perception,’ Polygamy was ESSENTIAL for the kind of exaltation all LDS covet? Why do you ignore your own prophets? It seems to be when their teachings, revelations and doctrines become embarrassing and no longer ‘decent.’
It is easy to denounce polygamy on earth, but for believers, the discussions should also include the importance of plurality in eternity. As described in section 132, it allows all of God’s children to receive His promised blessings by making eternal marriage available to everyone who seeks it. As the essay explains: “Joseph Smith’s revelation on marriage declared the “continuation of the seeds forever and ever” helped to fulfil God’s purposes for His children. This promise was given to all couples who were married by priesthood authority and were faithful to their covenants” (paragraph 12). It appears that readers of the essay may only be able to appreciate its value if they are able to appreciate Joseph Smith’s teachings about eternal marriage. Without that understanding, they will see only an unjust earthly practice that is easily condemned. The fact that the eternal contributions of plurality have not been addressed by virtually any critic suggests that additional study on the topic might result in different critiques of this watershed essay. For heaven’s sake, stop going on about Heaven as if we who have left the faith never learnt a thing about our theology. We were fed it night and day for years on end. We are sick of being told we do not understand Smith’s teachings or his eternal perspective on the doctrine. We had it, lived it, loved it and now we have dumped it! In fact, the more deeply I have looked at Smith’s ‘eternal jam,’ the more I see the sheer obnoxious manipulation and the terrorism of binding down a blasphemous use of God in both creating and milking a people – who have a fear (as most of us do) of death and an innate longing to preserve love beyond the grave. The other thing is; we are not really bothered about your carrots of eternal kingdoms and the glories to come, nor your so-called hell. We don’t believe in them anymore. We are only concerned about what has happened and what is happening on Earth. The rest is merely conjecture.
One of Joseph’s plural wives, Helen Mar Kimball, remembered: “The Prophet said that the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.” Ironically, simply trusting that God commanded them to do so in the past is a test of faith for some Saints today. She also said: “…no girl liked dancing better than I did…and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself an abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur. 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.” (Van Wagoner 1989:53 c: Lewis 1848:19). Helen, like myself and all other members, suffered and supported the Church and it’s teaching – not because everything was true, but because we were deluded.