Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Joseph Smith's Monogamy

All my (Mormon) life, I thought Joseph Smith, the "prophet of the restoration", was a polygamist. 

When I first joined the Mormon faith (nearly 40 years ago, as a teenager), Mormons were proud of Joseph Smith's polygamous past. At the time, I didn't see much difference between polygamy and adultery. It didn't make much sense to me. But I took the Mormon Church at its word. 

After all, Abraham "did it". Jacob "did it". Moses "did it". These were righteous men in the Bible, right? They were attested to be faithful by God. Joseph Smith apparently "did it", too. He was commanded (with others) to take plural wives. He didn't want to. He had to, I was told. It was right there in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132 -- a "revelation" not published until many years after Joseph's death. 

I had received my own witness from God that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I didn't know much about polygamy, but I believed (what most Latter-day Saints were taught) that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. 

I was nonetheless befuddled as to how Joseph maintained a "loving" "faithful" relationship with his wife, Emma, while at the same time "banging" other chicks. How did Joseph enter into those relationships, anyway, without first lusting or coveting in his heart? (Or did he?) How did Joseph keep those relationships secret without also lying about them? Was Joseph Smith a liar or a prophet? Was he a saint...or a "cad" with a "get-out-of-jail-free" card?

I didn't know about the rest, but I knew Joseph was a prophet.

I was similarly baffled by the LDS Church's "official" narrative: that Emma, Joseph's wife -- the first divinely appointed President of the LDS Church's own Relief Society -- was, in fact, an "unfaithful" spouse, a rather nasty, spiteful woman, who, really, rejected the gospel (and Joseph's other wives) by not fully supporting his "priesthood", particularly his efforts to obey God by "practicing the principle". In fact, Emma lied, I was told, about her husband's own involvements with other women. She said Joseph never was a polygamist!

That just didn't make any sense to me.

Why did Brigham Young despise Emma so? Why did he speak badly of her in public? Why didn't Emma support Bro. Brigham, Joseph's "chosen" successor? Why didn't the monogamist saints back East join the polygamist saints out West?

I didn't know. I just knew Joseph Smith was a prophet.

I didn't doubt Joseph was a polygamist. I just didn't understand it. The Church leaders said he was. And the Church was true. So Joseph must have been a polygamist, right? Why would the Church lie to me?

By the end of my tenure in Mormonism, things began to unravel, however, and questions begat answers. The LDS Church's public relations arm (and "priesthood correlation") had all but scrubbed every reference to polygamy from the Church's lesson manuals and history books used by Sunday-going Saints. Talks on the subject were no longer welcome at the pulpit. Discussions about polygamy were discouraged at church. Even notorious polygamist Brigham Young was referenced in the priesthood manual bearing his name only in regard to his "wife" (never his "wives").

As far as "The Brethren" were concerned, the "doctrine" of polygamy was "dead". Anyone found practicing or promoting it was summarily disciplined and/or excommunicated from the Church. 

In modern times, Mormons aren't polygamists.

Yet Joseph Smith still was.

So the modern church has distanced itself from Joseph Smith.

Whereas Joseph's works and words were frequently cited and actively discussed in the church of my youth -- so much so that critics often claimed Mormons worshipped Joseph rather than Jesus Christ! -- today much of Joseph's teachings are seldom, if ever, mentioned in the church of my middle age.

During the interim, the name of "Jesus Christ" has been more prominently featured on all LDS Church signage and letterhead. Jesus' image (not Joseph's) has been more frequently featured in church-commissioned paintings, videos and magazines. References to Joseph Smith (and his most "outrageous" teachings) have become increasingly rare. For a while there, Mormons even became -- not "Mormons" but --  "Christians" and use of the appellation "Mormon" was officially de-sanctioned. (This was actually seen as a "good" thing by me. But it didn't last long.) 

Soon the Church reversed course and embarked on an "I'm a Mormon!" campaign. The pendulum of Mormon identity swung farther away from the "antiquated" Joseph Smith (and the restorationist movement he initiated), farther still from Jesus Christ (and His teachings of the Sermon on the Mount), all the way to a "living prophet" today (whoever that is) and his life, ministry, and message. A whole book is now dedicated to each "modern prophet" to be studied scrupulously in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, to the exclusion of the scriptures. 

By my last days in Mormonism, the Prophet Joseph Smith had become just another "prophet" in a line of modern "prophets, seers and revelators" -- despite the fact that none of these "newbies" display the same "fruits" that Joseph Smith produced. Joseph's teachings have been eschewed in favor of these new guys. The Saints have been taught that the words of these "living prophets" always trump the words of dead prophets, scripture, or even the word of the Lord Himself. Mormons are now expected to "follow the prophet". No. Matter. What. 

Discussions about the nitty-gritty of the restoration --including the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, receiving the Second Comforter, becoming a prophet yourself, being personally "saved" by Jesus Christ, having your calling and election made sure, experiencing healings, entertaining angels, being caught up to heaven and the like, not to mention controversial topics in Church history or changes in Church "doctrine", ordinances and practices -- are all now eschewed in favor of talking about "doing your home teaching" and "holding family home evening". (More practical, right? I mean, who entertains angels?)

Thus a recent convert could be excused for not knowing that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. It's never mentioned. 

Still, the first time I ever heard a Mormon make the claim that Joseph wasn't a polygamist, I laughed out loud! "You've got to be kidding, right? You really don't know? Joseph Smith was a polygamist, big time!" 

I tried to straighten the guy out, but he wouldn't budge. The Church's propaganda arm had worked its magic very, very well.

Now, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but...I believe I was wrong about Joseph Smith.

Someone lied to me. I believe Joseph wasn't banging other women (or their daughters...or other men's wives). Emma wasn't lying about Joseph's involvement in polygamy. Joseph wasn't pretending to be married to only one woman while he was secretly cavorting with others.

I now believe Joseph wasn't a polygamist.

Now to be fair, the evidence is, at best, inconclusive. There is no evidence that proves Joseph Smith was a polygamist, just as there is no evidence that proves he wasn't.

The LDS Church relies almost exclusively upon the contemporaneous testimonies of apostates, shady characters and scoundrels to "prove" Joseph was a polygamist. Yet Joseph denied the charge throughout his life and there is NO DNA evidence (thus far) to support the claim that Joseph fathered any child with other than Emma. Why should I believe the testimony of apostates over that of Joseph Smith?

After all, I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.

You can see the evidence for yourself hereIt's pretty conclusive (in my mind), but it doesn't prove anything. The jury is still out.

I wish I'd read it 40 years ago, however. 

I think I owe Joseph Smith an apology.

I think the modern Mormon Church does as well.


NOTICE: The above has been edited to reflect Rob Smith's contributions to the subject, posted by him on Facebook on 12/29/16 and, later, on his blog, to wit:

History has not yet proven that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. This would require a living descendant of one of his alleged plural wives to have DNA links to Joseph Smith. Such a person has not been found, and may not exist. 
History cannot prove that he did not. Because so many of his associates were proven liars, and because men of God have been known to justifiably lie in the past (see Abraham), statements from any party are insufficient to prove that he did not practice it. 
Given these two facts, it really doesn't matter whether a person believes Joseph Smith was a polygamist or whether they believe he was not a polygamist. 
However, what does matter is: 
Whether you feel comfortable converting people to a position that cannot be shown to be right. 
Whether you feel justified in spending your time on something so frivolous. 
Whether your position is due to evidence or something more nefarious. 
I know of at least three people who have dedicated a year or more of their time trying to prove to others that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy. I can't help but wonder whether spending so much time trying to prove something so unestablished--if not unimportant--was justified given their lack of experiences with God. I wonder what experiences they would have had with God if they had spend even a quarter of that time seeking God instead. In fact, I have yet to find someone engaged in this debate who can afford to spend time on it. The time would be much better spent preaching the actual gospel (instead of their speculations) or seeking God. This seems a leisure topic that only those who are living with Enoch could argue to have the time to address. 
The exception here, of course, is those who believe their position due to something more nefarious. These fall into both sides of the issue. There are those who believe Joseph was a polygamist who do so to justify their own lust in desiring to practice their incorrect understanding of plural marriage. Then there are those who believe Joseph was not a polygamist because they don't like the idea of a God who would expect them to do such a thing. Both types of people are damned. The first for lust, the second for unbelief. It seems worthwhile to call either to repentance, though my experiences in doing so have been fruitless thus far. 
Most statements heard by the fanatics on either side are absolutely ridiculous. Some of these: 
"Plural marriage is necessary for salvation." There is absolutely no proof of this. 
"Plural marriage is an abomination." Actually, God expressed his approval and blessed several men who practiced it. In fact, he even commanded it in the Old Testament both generally (law of Moses) and on specific occasions, such as when God said he gave wives to David. Plural marriage is certainly not an abomination. 
"Plural marriage requires keys." The subject of keys is much larger than one bullet point. However, suffice it to say that it is a grossly misunderstood topic. It would be more correct to say that you need just as much keys to marry a second wife as you did to marry a first wife. Last time I checked, you don't need any keys (the way most understand them, anyway) to marry a first wife. You can do that in a courthouse, or even just with an agreement between two parties. God has given that permission to us. Now, you can't make it eternally binding without him, but that argument applies just as equally to both monogamous and polygamist relationships. 
"Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy." This statement might be true. However, it is impossible to prove. You would have to have a video recording of every moment of the man's life. No one has anything more that sparse journal entries that are known to have been doctored, written by a man who boasted about his ability to keep secrets. It would be much more credible to say, "There is no evidence that proves Joseph Smith practiced polygamy." Great, I agree, and no intelligent person can argue with you. 
"Joseph Smith was a polygamist." This statement might be true. However, with what has been made public to date, no one can prove it. It would be much more credible to say, "There is no evidence that proves Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy." Great, I agree, and no intelligent person can argue with you. 
"Plural marriage is not practiced in heaven." This may very well be true. However, the implication is that marriages that do not persist into the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom are not worth pursuing. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the vast majority of monogamous marriages--including those within "the remnant"--will not persist beyond this life. By this argument, I am not sure I know anyone who should be married. 
Here are things every honest person should admit: 
God can command anything, and whatever he commands is right. 
We should expect that our fallen sensibilities and ignorant minds are not equal with God's wisdom and knowledge. 
We should expect that a loving God would never ask us to do anything that is not in our best interest. 
We should expect that if we have broken hearts, contrite spirits, and ask with real intent, he will explain his reasons for what he asks without upbraiding us. 
Anyone who lusts after another person is sinning. This includes the married to anyone else, but also includes the married toward their spouse, the single towards their prospective spouse, the married towards their prospective plural spouse, and anyone else. 
God has commanded polygamy in the past. 
God has approved of polygamy in the past. 
God has also disallowed polygamy in the past, such as with the Nephites. 
Abraham lied about his relationship to Sarah on two occasions with God's approval and commandment to do so. 
Joseph Smith publicly preached against polygamy. His private practice or avoidance of it is not clear.
What you make of those statements is up to you, but they are true, and you ought to admit that. 
Let's stop putting forth silly arguments. Let's have open minds and avoid shutting down conversations or running like cowards when we don't like something that is said. Let's stop spreading rumors and gossiping--which are sins. 
Let's stop spending time justifying our sacred cows. 
Let's spend that time seeking God.


  1. Abraham lied about his relationship to Sarah on two occasions with God's approval and commandment to do so.

    Did Abraham lie, though? And did God command Abraham to lie? And, if Abraham lied, and if God commanded Abraham to lie and yet his soul shall live, does that not make God a liar, from whom it is written lies do not come, who has commanded that men shall not lie, and who also has declared that all liars shall have their part in the second death? And, if God then is a liar, then what is the essential difference between God and the devil, who is written to be the father of lies?

    Or, alternatively, is it possible that Abraham did not lie, but in every assertion spoke the truth?

    And what shall be said of men who declare lying Gods or lying prophets?

  2. It matters, if Joseph spoke the truth.

    LoF 3:22 And again, the idea that he is a God of truth and cannot lie, is equally as necessary to the exercise of faith in him, as the idea of his unchangeableness. For without the idea that he was a God of truth and could not lie, the confidence necessary to be placed in his word in order to the exercise of faith in him, could not exist. But having the idea that he is not man that he can lie, it gives power to the minds of men to exercise faith in him.

    One who declares a lying God, or lying prophets, does not know or have faith in or believe in a God of truth - for any of it can be false.

    Yes, I am aware of Micaiah (1 Kings 22) and also the unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 13, which the JST alters to have him not lie - though, I suppose, if God is given to commanding lies, everything is questionable. I have my doubts about the accounts in Kings, for I believe in a God of truth.

    If you believe in a lying God, or lying prophets, it seems it would make it quite difficult to keep the commandments of God, never being able to be sure if God wasn't merely fucking with you.

  3. My understanding is the Sarah was Abraham's sister -- not by his mother, but by his father. That means Abraham told the truth.

    However, was not Nephi "lying" when he tricked Zoram into believing he was Laban? There are COUNTLESS examples of "divinely ordained" subterfuge, deception, and the like. The commandment is not "lie", per se, (as I understand it), but to not "bear false witness AGAINST THY NEIGHBOR".

    Peter lied (about knowing Christ). Was Peter not yet a "prophet"? Was he "commanded" to lie? (I don't think so.)

    I agree, those who "love and make a lie" -- who do not repent -- are apparently destined for hell. I'll let those who lie -- and love to tell lies -- sort it out among themselves when they get there (just like we are doing now).

    (What does that tell us about where we are?)

  4. If you will kindly point out a demonstrably, unquestionably false statement made by Nephi, then I will agree Nephi lied.

    2 Nephi 26
    32 And again, the Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal; that they should not take the name of the Lord their God in vain; that they should not envy; that they should not have malice; that they should not contend one with another; that they should not commit whoredoms; and that they should do none of these things; for whoso doeth them shall perish.

    33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

    Doctrine and Covenants 63:17 Wherefore, I, the Lord, have said that the fearful, and the unbelieving, and all liars, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie, and the whoremonger, and the sorcerer, shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

  5. Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

  6. Abraham, according to Smith, can hardly repent if he has only done as he was commanded of God - and commanded by God to lie, according to Smith. And whether the lie cometh from God directly to Pharaoh, or through his servant Abraham, it is the same.

  7. I point you back at LoF 3:22 to consider the logical implications.