New Mormon polygamy statement exposes privilege in the Church

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Salt Lake TempleSmug. Self-satisfied. Above it all.

That’s how I’d characterize the reactions of some Mormons, especially liberal ones, in the wake of Polygamygate.

I’m a liberal Mormon too, so let me hasten to add that most of my peeps have behaved themselves well in these ongoing discussions about Joseph Smith, polygamy, and the early Church.

Some, however, have  gloated:

  • “I learned about this 15 years ago,” one person messaged me on Twitter. “This is new to you?”
  • Various people have mentioned on social media that they’d been taught about polygamy by grandparents or other relatives, so the new Gospel Topics announcements are “really no big deal” to them.
  • Or this: a guy whose father-in-law is a stake president in Central America sounded almost gleeful that his FIL and other regional church leaders were shocked by the Church’s revelations that Joseph Smith had as many as 40 wives, that some of them were teenagers, and others were already married to other men. They’d had no idea. The commenter appeared to enjoy setting them straight on the more salacious details of LDS history.

But this is not the time for us to enjoy a nice cup of schadenfreude, people. This is the time to be pastors.

I can certainly understand why some liberal Mormons may be feeling vindicated right about now. After all, some of our own were ostracized or even disciplined for being a few years or decades ahead of their time, publishing the uncomfortable historical facts about polygamy before the Church was ready to officially acknowledge them.

I’m glad the Church is now on board with historical transparency, and I applaud the many efforts the Historical Department has made to help bring this about. But I’m not rejoicing that Mormons who were not previously in the know are now suffering because of these revelations.

And I’m annoyed that these cavalier commenters aren’t concerned about this too. Do they just casually assume that since they had polygamous ancestors and learned about polygamy from their own family history, this is in any way common now for the Church as a whole?

Then let’s be clear: it isn’t. Consider these facts:

In other words, if you grew up Mormon in the United States, speak English, and had polygamous family stories to teach you about history that had been banished from official curriculum, congratulations. You are now a privileged minority.

As a convert, I certainly didn’t grow up hearing stories about polygamy at my granddaddy’s knee, though as a voracious reader, I learned about it later. In books that were printed only in English, not Spanish or Filipino or Portuguese or Korean.

Privilege, again.

So, liberal Mormons, can we have a little compassion? However late the official Church was to the transparency party, it finally arrived on Mormon Standard Time.

And while its presence at the party may seem to you like it’s too little, too late, believe me when I say that for some Latter-day Saints here and abroad, even that much unvarnished history is hard to assimilate. People who didn’t know about polyandry are having a tough time imagining the prophet Joseph Smith gathering women to himself who were already married — to say nothing of his unions with teenage girls.

Instead of mocking them for being disturbed by information they may never have even had access to, maybe we can learn from them by remembering once again that it is in fact disturbing. 



  • Well said! I have known virtually all of the information in these newly published essays for about 30 years. It is a relief for me that it is now out in the open. I don’t have to feel guilty for researching info that the church historically considered “anti-Mormon literature”. I hope it does not shake the faith of others. It builds my faith and trust in church leaders. God bless them all.

  • S R

    I’m a liberal Mormon and I hope my reaction didn’t come off as gloating, though I suspect it may have.

    I really never considered that people didn’t know, and forgot that my own pain, disbelief, and confusion upon finding out as a teen is now is shared by so many others.

    Still, I’m glad for openness and I hope and pray we’ll find peace soon.

  • Danny S

    Jana, your main point is well-taken. I agree that there is some glee among the exmo’s, nevermo’s, and new order mormons on the message boards that I visit. Because so many who were out front on some of these things were vilified, ostracized, condemned, and in some extreme instances punished for stating facts that are no longer disputed, there is the understandable desire to revel in apparent validation. This “schadenfreude” is not uniform, however. Most of us who are out or on our way out can vividly remember the period when our shelves (thanks, Camilla) were crashing down. It was gut-wrenching, sickening, devastating. Our carefully ordered places in the universe were suddenly in question. And then there were the feelings of betrayal and anger at what now could be perceived as institutional hypocrisy. For instance, compare the Gospel Principles manual on honesty and then see how the church has been deceitful for decades on decades about a number of things. It rankles to the extreme to see apologists rationalize Joseph Smith’s unions with married women and young teenagers when I as a teenage male was made to feel like I was next to a murderer (thanks to Alma, Boyd Packer, Spencer Kimball [no Spencer, I didn’t turn out gay, mentally ill, or suicidal like you predicted in your horrible book Miracle of Forgiveness]), and others, because I couldn’t stop spanking the monkey, so to speak. To realize we may have poured the best years of our lives not to mention significant money into a false organization invoked feelings that are difficult to describe. Yes, there is some satisfaction at the discomfiture of the church as an institution. But I for one have only empathy for those who are troubled by these disclosures.

    Jana, I disagree that the church is on board with transparency. What has been admitted by the church was forced from the outside and resulted from its inability to control the facts or message and because the church was increasingly looking ridiculous in the face of those pesky facts (think Baghdad Bob). According to respected Mormons of the past “If we have the truth it cannot be harmed by investigation. And if we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” J. Rebuen Clark. OK, LDS church, put your money where your mouth is and open the church archives and your finances. Considering the church has twice been on the verge of insolvency (late 1800s and 1959 or so), coupled with its now apparent dissembling on historical issues, I think the church has lost the right to say “trust us” when it comes to finances, or anything else.

    For the majority of those who say yeah, yeah, I knew all about polygamy, I suspect such an attitude is simply an avoidance mechanism to avoid dealing with painful realities. In a way I find it very condescending. The very fact of the church writing the essays is a tacit admission this information was NOT widely known and certainly was not disseminated in the correlated church curriculum.

  • Eric C

    This privilege of knowing the history, knowing the ins and outs of Mormonism, and knowing the depth of what Mormons really considered doctrine was driven home during my mission.

    I grew up in a home where the bookshelves were filled with the Journal of Discourses, and McKonkie’s and Nibley’s full published works. The bookshelves contained book after book from Deseret Book dealing with how to interpret and think through the scriptures from the Mormon perspective. My family had frequent conversations and discussions about Mormon issues. I listened to EFY talks on tape, attended EFY and education week, and was immersed over and over again in the Living Scripture dramatized audio versions of church history.

    From that experience, I did know about Joseph’s polygamy (including the angel and flaming sword), his financial problems, and the background behind the many times Joseph was commanded to repent in the D&C. I also knew a tiny bit about the Adam God theory and Blood Atonement. These were not new and unfamiliar topics in my home. The thing is this knowledge all came from books and resources that were written and available in English.

    The privilege of growing up that way did not come into focus until my mission. I went on a California Spanish speaking mission. At that point, I went looking for the resources to share some of this knowledge that I gained in my family with the ward members where I served, but I could not find any in Spanish. These materials had never been translated into that language and thus were locked away. I can remember quite distinctly the number of times that all I had available to share were the Liahona articles and the few church manuals that had been translated. I realized that all those members ever got were the materials that the church chose to translate. I also realized that the church translated quite a bit more for Spanish than any other non-English language. Which meant that those other languages had even less information about the church than the Spanish speaking world.

    As much as the English speaking members may be having a hard time dealing with the Church’s essays, I think that members in other countries are going to have an even harder time dealing with the information is coming out. The English speaking members at least had the potential to be well read and informed, even if they did not receive it in the normal channels. The non-English speaking member had little to no materials to read in the first place. They never even have the opportunity to be well read.

  • Eric Facer

    It isn’t just liberal Mormons who are feigning surprise that so many members were unaware of Joseph’s questionable behavior towards the opposite sex. The church’s own PR Department claims that much of what is found in these essays is already “known among long-term and well-read members.”

    This is disingenuous coming from an institution that not too long ago discouraged its members from listening to “alternate voices” like “Dialogue” and attending symposia like those sponsored by Sunstone. You combine this with the misinformation contained in CES instructional materials regarding church history and the disciplining of Mormon scholars who dared expose the man behind the curtain, it is little wonder that so many members were in the dark about these inconvenient truths.

    Hosea 8:7

  • W

    “For the majority of those who say yeah, yeah, I knew all about polygamy, I suspect such an attitude is simply an avoidance mechanism to avoid dealing with painful realities. In a way I find it very condescending.”

    If anyone might know better than to suggest avoidance or other personal failings as the reason why other people don’t see things and behave the way they do, I’d think it’d exmos…

  • Ben S

    In what sense are you connecting certain historical knowledge with “liberal”? I know the term carries large and varying amounts of baggage, but I can’t quite put my finger on one where “liberals” know facts x,y, and z that “conservatives” don’t.

  • Lance Brett Cutler

    this all much ado bout nuthin
    polygamy is an embarassmnt 4 the church cuz it was totally immoral
    xcept theyd risk losing members if they said the church prsdnts from b.young 2 heber j grant were immoral men
    notice i wrote prsdnts but not prophets cuz they most certainly were not prophets
    also notice i didnt include j.smith w these hump de chumps cuz its documntd that he n his only wife, emma both fiercely opposed polygamy
    it mattereth not that immoral men, fabricated polyamous records n abscribed smiths name 2 it cuz that aint tuff 2 do
    so the church chose 2 throw the smiths unda the bus n say it was a cmmndmnt of God n that he was a practitioner of it

    xcept i will prove it wasnt a cmmndmnt of God w the help of the very 1st vrse in sction 132, which they based their practice of vile polygamy on
    ” Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines”
    1st where in the bible does it say that isaac had mor then 1 wife, aside from rebekah?
    yeah, doesnt
    nex i kno evrybdy assumes that moses had a 2nd wife, other then zipporah, that was an ethiopian
    xcept the original bible text said a cushite woman n the word cushite was used 2 describe a few geographical areas, 2 of which were ethiopia n midian
    zipporah n her dad jethro were from midian
    the translators of the bible mistakingly assigned ethiopia 2 cushite rather than midian
    cuz wut makes mor sense?
    that moses married an ethiopian gal, a region over 1,000+ miles south of the desert they were crossin, east 2 midian?
    or that the cushite gal was zipporah, who was accompanied by her dad n their 2 sons as they met up w moses, when they came from midian jus unda 200miles away? (as stated in xodous)
    so zipporah was actually this “ethiopian” woman
    yes abram n jacob foolishly took on mor wives as surrogates but this was still immoral so they both had 2 re-covenant w God, as well as hav their names changed 2 abraham n israel, 2 distance themselves from this vile practice
    yes david n solomon had a ton of wives n concubines but the BofM xplicitly says this was abominable 2 God

    so vrse 1 of sction 132 is undoubtdly false n not of God
    making all of sction 132 false n not of God by default
    making the fact that j.smith was the 1 who receivd this revelation as false
    coupld w the fact that sction 132 wasnt even pblshd til 8yrs afta j.smiths martydom, in utah no less

    the reason that b.young authorized the pblction of this false “revelation” was 2 justify these mens immoral actions as well as 2 try 2 convince others that it was a cmmndmnt of God
    so now that its been irrefutably proven that polygamy nevva evva was commanded by God, those who embrace their polygamous ancestry, r really embracing vile immorality

    the church should disavow these polygamous church prsdnts n xonerate the smiths cuz its the rite thing 2 do
    the church didnt lose the stewrdshp keys despite these skoosh la dooshes tho
    cuz if youll rememba in the BofM, king noah had disposed of all the priests 4 unrighteous priests
    yet when the priest, alma heeded the words of abinadi n repntd, he was able 2 baptize n administer cuz the priesthood keys were still passd dwn 2 him
    this is possible cuz tho the priesthood is inert in unrighteous men, it becomes active in righteous vessels
    God is not bound by how He can use His own power n thats y i believe the current lds prsdnt is deed a prophet of God
    this still dont mean that he isnt fallable n that the church still isnt in the wrong by perpetually throwin our restoration prophet n his only wife, unda the bus
    if membership is decreased cuz of this then woopty crud cuz my faith was increased in the gospel when i learnd that j.smith was innocent of polygamy
    long liv cool

  • W

    Jana, I think you’ve got the right of this — it’s neither widely known or hidden, but *unevenly* known. The knowledge wasn’t institutionally disseminated, so where it exists, it’s disseminated through non-institutional methods (a natural setup for privileged vs non-privileged distribution). So people have varying experiences, and both are real.

    I want to push back just a little bit, though, at the idea that there’s no way to be introduced to polygamy in official church materials. If nothing else, t seems to me that a moderately curious reader of the Doctrine & Covenants — which is not just curriculum, it’s canon! — is likely end up with questions about polygamy. Maybe even other things (say, why Whitmer or Cowdery or anyone would have assumed Hiram Page’s seer stone was legit in the first place).

    So that would seem to limit an introductory awareness of certain issues to… people who have a native translation of the full canon and are invested enough in the church to read/study it cover-to-cover.

    Attending to the artifacts and hints in the D&C is obviously not the same experience or education as reading broader scholarship, but it’s enough that I think it’s fair to claim that if most committed members are encouraged to read the canon they’re encouraged to at least be aware that polygamy was part of the history…

  • Brian

    Agreed. That seems weird.

  • D. Michael Martindale

    Not gloating here.

    Too busy being disgusted at the church itself for lying, covering up, deceiving, and punishing those who published the truth, only now to be putting it out themselves.

    I don’t mock people for being ignorant about this information and being disturbed by it. I shake my head at them for remaining loyal to a religion that deceived them for self-serving purposes and only came forth with the truth after having been caught, like a petulant child, with their hand in the cookie jar and had no other choice.

    Arrived on Mormon Standard Time? What a cutsie way to describe liars who were caught in their lies and only then admit the facts.

  • Reading the comments I am disappointed by all the suggestions that the church was deceptive or that this proves that Joseph Smith was a fraud. I agree with Joanna that we need to consider that few people had full access to this knowledge especially those speaking other languages. But its not like the church cuts d&c 132 out of scriptures in other languages. Its not emphasized, but not hidden. We should be loving to those who are just now learning these details, but need not and can not become apologetic. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and polygamy an inspired practice. The church is not back peddling or denying th inspired nature of Joseph’s revelation. It had not and can not apologize.

  • What troubles me most about all of the hype surrounding the lack of transparency by the Church is the fact that the doctrine of plural marriage has been part of the Doctrine and Covenants for a very, very long time. See Could it be that we are simply not teaching the doctrine in our Sunday School classes because it is uncomfortable? Also, for newer members of the Church, it is a revelation that many find disturbing, but then becomes a trial of one’s faith. It is a recorded part of our history, is no longer practiced, and can be a stumbling block for some. Yes, we need to exercise compassion and understanding to help others first gain a testimony through the Holy Spirit of the truth of the Book of Mormon, and of Joseph Smith as a prophet, and then everything else will eventually fall into its testimonial place.

  • Very well said, Jana. Your reminder that we are a global church is very welcome. At By Common Consent the other day I wrote a post asking how we as a church can be one in light of the diverse responses to the recent essays (or the topic of polygamy in general):

  • Fred M

    I get you, Daniel. I don’t think this proves that Joseph Smith was a fraud–just that he was flawed. But knowing D&C 132 and knowing that Joseph Smith married other men’s wives, teenagers, and didn’t tell Emma about many of his plural wives are two very different things. And it’s these details that the church tried to sweep under the rug for years (sometimes very aggressively, using church discipline). How anyone can deny that that was deceptive is beyond me.

    My question is: if we truly believe that plural marriage was divinely inspired, then why don’t we act like it? Why were these things not taught, even suppressed? The church currently treats it more like an embarrassing episode that they want to forget. But if it came from God, why be embarrassed or shy about it? Why not teach everyone about how beautiful and faith-promoting and inspiring it was? That’s why, despite my testimony of the truth of the gospel, I can’t say I have much of a testimony of polygamy. ‘Cause it feels like the church doesn’t either.

    Plus, it just seems yucky.

  • Lance Brett Cutler

    ok, now i see this blog is only interested in its abundantly apparent agenda n not in the truth
    the agenda of tryin 2 undermine the church over false allefations that j.smith practiced polygamy
    i sufficiently proved that the basis of polygamy, sction 132 wasnt a revelation that j.smith even received
    so any commnts posted afta my original post as well as this 1, r ppl jus ignorantly stickin their heads in the collectiv sand, unless they agree that j.smith was innocent of polygamy or can honestly refute the evidence that sction 132 is false
    based on wut i previously wrote, a few cmmnts above this 1
    this includes, jana the author of this blog

  • Brian

    You’re posts are painful to read, bud. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth using correct spelling and grammar.

  • D. Michael Martindale

    No, it’s called laziness and bad spelling and grammar. And it IS painful to read.

    But you go ahead and trivialize what you have to say by refusing to write like an educated person, since what you had to say was as absurd as your spelling and grammar.

  • Jen K.

    “it is in fact disturbing.” – yes & amen. I have been one who flippantly remarked, “Oh, I knew this stuff.” That’s only partly true. I took 2 courses at BYU in Church History & heard many questionable/disturbing things (yes, even at BYU! I heard about the treasure seeking, seer stone in a hat, many disreputable or just ‘not well known’ things), but I did not know the extent to which Joseph Smith practiced it & kept it hidden from Emma and the teens and the polyandry. I really didn’t know the most troubling parts about it.

    I differ from some opinions here, in that I find polygamy – the whole thing – not doctrinal (I took my first cue for this kind of thinking from President Hinckley in his interview with Larry King, September 1998 – Hinckley said he did not believe polygamy to be doctrinal and I now agree with him.).

    I understand that this is also disturbing – (the mixed messages – is it doctrinal or not?) – but it’s the only way for me (right now) to make sense of it – I just cannot reconcile what Joseph did (from what I’ve read) with my understanding of a just & loving God. But I can imagine that Joseph could be both a prophet and a sinner at the same time (many people are picking just one side – ‘he’s either a saint or a fraud and never the twain shall meet in one and the same person.’)

    If there’s anything to be learned (and there are probably thousands of things to be learned) it’s that putting mortals on pedestals and treating them like Gods is precarious at best, faith destroying at near-worst.

    Right now I’m just finding myself disturbed by anyone who doesn’t find it disturbing – but that’s their business, not mine, as much as I think I’d like to believe otherwise.

  • Well said, Jennifer. It’s certainly true that polygamy is sanctioned in D&C 132, but it’s also true that the Church has not presented a universal message on it. (And that polygamy as it is outlined in D&C 132 is not always how the Church actually practiced it. For example, the emphasis in 132 is that if the brides are virgins then the marriages do not constitute adultery. Obviously, not all polygamous brides were virgins — particularly the few who were already married to other men.)

  • Yes. We may all disagree on polygamy, but can we be united in believing that periods, commas, and standardized spelling are for the common good? Work a little harder, Lance.

  • Cindy

    It’s not weird if it’s understood that the definition of liberal and conservative, when used in reference to types of Mormons, has it’s own nuance. Liberal means enlightened and conservative means naive.

  • Brian

    “I took my first cue for this kind of thinking from President Hinckley in his interview with Larry King, September 1998 – Hinckley said he did not believe polygamy to be doctrinal and I now agree with him.”

    President Hinckley could have moved a lot of minds if he said this, but I don’t see how he ever did. He did day that a prophet received a revelation to discontinue polygamy, and he did say that the current practice of polygamy by apostate or unaffiliated groups was not doctrinal, but I never found anything where he said the early church practice of polygamy wasn’t doctrinal. Could you elaborate?

  • Brian

    Ouch. Where do I fit in then?

  • Jen K.

    Brian – here is a link I found to the transcript of the interview (the Hinckley statement is about 1/3 of the way down, scroll-wise.)

    I can see now that people can take GBH’s statement “I condemn it[polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal” to mean either ‘it’s not now, nor ever was doctrinal’, or just ‘it’s not currently doctrinal’. I took it to mean the whole thing, not ever – but perhaps that just reveals my personal preference for that interpretation. My mind is not all the way settled on this issue – and I suspect it won’t be until I see everything clearly (probably not in this life).

  • Jen K.

    Brian – one step further in elaborating my current position. The church received a revelation in 1978 giving access to the Priesthood to all men (black men were now allowed to hold the priesthood.) And now we are finding that the whole thing started basically culturally with BY, and it was never doctrinal to begin with.

    That there was a revelation to cease the practice of polygamy – to me – can be viewed exactly the same way, in that it might be that it ended something that wasn’t necessarily divinely sanctioned in the first place.

    That’s my current thinking on it for now, anyway. I know it’s messy, and we can weaponize and proof-text scripture and quotes from prophets to try to decide once and for all the whole truth about it – but there are contradictory statements abounding and we just don’t know – so my opinion is tenuous, and I think most honest people should really say, “It’s complicated, and we’re not sure.”

  • Jen’s comments are intelligent and thoughtful and she has reached a similar conclusion I have–that polygamy may not ever have been doctrinal. It is unclear whether or not polygamy is an eternal principle of some kind? We really have very little knowledge about where and how Joseph got onto this topic, and we aren’t ever going to know because there isn’t any written documentation about it beyond hearsay and second hand accounts. Very little primary information.

    I have known all the details in these statements and much more for decades. I spent hours in the BYU and Stanford libraries digging up every thing I could find on these topics shortly after my mission. The stuff all over the internet and that Richard Bushman put in his great book was all there to be found, but scattered all over the place. The internet has of course, changed all that so that anyone anywhere can find out any and all of this info and many opinions and views about it without ever digging into the stacks of massive University libraries.

    I am not troubled about my doubts as to whether or not this was really doctrine. I am skeptical that the angel and sword story–it might just be an apocryphal tale. Lots of those in the church.

    The most troubling part of it has come from my feeling that the church has been disingenuous about so many aspects of it.

    I have read comments saying, “we have been reluctant to teach it, but the info is all there”. I think this is not a correct characterization. The manual on Joseph Smith used for 2 years recently had a paragraph or two in the preface saying, more or less, “we don’t teach polygamy any longer, so we aren’t going to talk about it with respect to Joseph Smith. Please avoid discussions on this topic.” That is the only reference in 2 years worth of lessons to polygamy. And polygamy has played an enormous role in the whole evolution of the church since at least 1831 or 1832, including being the primary reason, IMO why B of M scribes Oliver Cowdery, Emma Smith, and others left the church. And the reference says, more or less, “please don’t talk about this or think about this”.

    Having said all that, I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet and a sinner at the same time. I choose to not act on the cognitive dissonance that this controversy creates in me. I choose to stay in the church and support it. And the reason I do so is that I believe the church is mostly about the business of encouraging everyone to be good people, to live moral, ethical lives, to care about and serve their neighbors and to be kind to their families. I do not like the “box checker” mentality of some in the church, who just love multiplying rules so they can prove greater righteousness than others. But I don’t think that mentality ever wins out in the long run in the LDS church. We always come back to the Savior’s teachings to love God and love our neighbor. That is what I take out of the church and why I feel that my family and I benefit from most of the meetings we attend.

    I am grateful for the newly found candor and honesty the church is showing. I believe it is going to continue and will even improve over time. I think being a critic on the outside has very little chance to influence much of anything. I am going to hang in there and try to be a voice to build the church into the Christlike institution that I want it to be.

  • David

    I have been following this story since it came out in the news. Of course, I had read things about Joseph Smith and polygamy claims. I was not totally convinced of which was truth or libel. Previous to the church’s essay regarding polygamy, I had determined through thought and prayer that polygamy was not ever ordained of God in the restoration. I rejected the conjecture taught to me growing up that God commands and then takes it away. To me, this contradicted the fact that our father is unchangeable. Polygamy is a doctrine, not a church policy. D&C 132, the new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage, is clearly LDS doctrine, not policy. So, as you can imagine the essays released on polygamy instigated for me a renewed search into a subject that I had set aside. I only wanted the truth, since my then current understanding was seemingly at odds with my own religion.

    What I found is in my best conclusion irrefutable and sobering to say the least. I won’t go into all the details, however I will say a few. The saints in the early church who did not follow Brigham Young west, did so primarily out of the rejection of Polygamy. Emma Smith stayed in Nauvoo and claimed her husband never practiced it. Joseph Smith denounced it publicly until his death, and this wasn’t just official statements. Once he went up a large group of women performing service in the relief society and without reservation told them he knew the rumours surrounding people claiming he authorised polygamy; he said these were false and invited any alleged wife of his to come forward and denounce him. No woman ever did during his life. D&C 132 was not revealed publicly until 1852 by Brigham Young, and attributed to Joseph Smith in 1843. The original revelation on marriage in the Book of commandments/doctrine & covenants said marriage was to be between one man and one woman. It also called for marriages to be performed in a public ceremony. This section was removed from LDS D&C. Jacob chapter 2 reaffirms this in the Book of Mormon. In fact, the Lord condemned David and Solomon for polygamy in Jacob chapter 2 (go read read it). D&C 132 indicates David and Solomon were authorised to practice polygamy. This is a contradiction, and any latter day saint who reads these two scriptures will have to conclude that either God was lying (which is impossible) or D&C 132 is not of God. This is the main sticking point. When Brigham Young formulated D&C 132, he neglected to check if it was 100% plausible with the words in the Book of Mormon. Plausible deniability is therefore ruled out. The RLDS and other early breakoffs have long claimed Joseph never practiced polygamy. Historical evidence vindicates this position. The “evidence” implicating Joseph is based in hearsay testimony of those hostile to the early church and testimony of alleged plural wives given in Utah, which can be attributed to possible duress or conspiracy to conceal. Helen Mar Kimball is an often quoted in her account, however most fail to acknowledge that her alleged plural marriage to Smith conflicts with her participation in a petition of about 1000 Nauvoo women denouncing polygamy around the same time the marriage was to have taken place. These Utah testimonies came as a result of Joseph Smith III coming to Utah to preach against allegations his Father practice’s polygamy. Brigham Young sent the alleged wives of Joseph Smith to the temple to do proxy sealings to refute these claims. I could go on… But I must conclude this post.

    It is disheartening to me that my religion has reinforced the position that Joseph practiced polygamy. Although I now understand why. To not do so, would mean more serious implications. It is easier to admit a more embarrassing false history then the alternative. The alternative being that the revelation on polygamy which also happens to be the revelation on Celestial marriage is false. It also brings into question the LDS church’s claim to right of succession. That is admittedly a tougher pill to swallow. I can not refute it, although I welcome anyone who can objectively do so. The whole issue is very troubling.

  • As one who was blacklisted a bit for pointing out that our manuals were misleading on this topic, I admit to a brief sip of schadenfreude when this essay was released, but it’s not a delicious brew. I feel for those who had the rug pulled out from under them. That means they are paying attention. That means they are taking these things seriously enough to understand why it’s problematic. We need more people like that.

    What we need are fewer defenders of the indefensible, and fewer victim blamers. And let’s not fool ourselves. Polygamy has casualties, and the church’s current embracing of its polygamous roots has consequences to all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.

  • David

    Jacob Chapter 2

    “23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
    24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
    25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
    26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
    27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;”

    D&C 132

    “1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines”

    Do you see the contradiction in our cannonized scripture? Both are attributed as the words of the Lord concerning polygamy. On the one hand God says that polygamy with David and Solomon is “abominable before me”, and the other he says “justified my servants”. If the Book of Mormon is the word of God, then D&C 132 is not the of God. They cannot both be the word of God. It is irrefutable. It is the same example and two different views.

  • As with all religions, Mormonism changed over time. In addition to polygamy, there are a number of other Mormon practices that the prophet and his closest companions initiated and changed:

    1. Polygamy was initially practiced only by Smith and his immediate circle.

    2. There were black priests in the early days of the church.

    Wikipedia: “Elijah Abel (July 25, 1808 – December 25, 1884)[1] was the first black elder and seventy in the Latter Day Saint movement, and one of the few black members in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to receive the priesthood.”

    “At least two of Abel’s descendants — his son Enoch and Enoch’s son Elijah — were ordained to the priesthood: Enoch was ordained an elder on November 27, 1900; and Elijah was ordained an elder on September 29, 1935.”

    3. In the early days of the church, Joseph Smith and his cohorts drank alcoholic beverages and smoked (drank coffee and tea too, maybe). Regular Mormons were prohibited from indulging and still are.

    4. Also, in the early days of the church, women were permitted to have seer stones and to prophesy, the same as men. This was subsequently changed to “men only”.

    5. Mormons had their own militia, some of which later became Danites, otherwise known as “Destroying Angels”. They were used for internal control as well as external military activities.

    They killed mountain men and indians in and around Fort Bridger on the Oregon/California/Mormon Trails, which subsequently they confiscated.

    They led the Mountain Meadow Massacre that killed members of a wagon train traveling through Mormon territory. Mormons blamed it on indians (some of whom were enticed to participate, but was instigated and led by Mormons.)

    6. Mormons practiced “Blood Atonement”, a type of sacrifice required of individuals who shed blood or committed other serious infractions. If they didn’t spill their own blood, sometimes they were “assisted”. Supposedly, this is no longer part of the mainstream Mormon church, but is thought to continue with fundamentalist Mormons.

    There are historical books (Jon Krakauer wrote one) that provide information on the development of beliefs and practices of the Mormon religion and how and why it changed over time.

  • GP

    Fred, great point. In your response you mention that Joseph was “flawed”, then you mentioned “plural marriage was divinely inspired”, then added in the “yucky”. The problem here is that the church’s official position in the essay is that it was a commandment of God. They did not in any way characterize Joseph’s behavior as “flawed” or that it was “yucky” – quite the contrary, they offered a position to defend against people who might think of “flaws” or “yucky”.

    Therein lies the problem. The church has doubled-down on it being a “commandment”. According to the church, the details of the polygamy/polyandry are NOT “mistakes”. This places the burden upon members to reconcile this with their testimony. Maybe for New Order Mormons this can work… but devout believers (and the position that the church culture demands), this is either a problem for them, they have some roundabout good way to reconcile it (that I have yet to hear), or they are perverse.

  • GP

    Kelly, polygamy is not part of the missionary lessons. If it comes up, it’s because the investigator has a question because they heard about it or missionaries may cover it in some way. But it is not part of the core lesson material.

    As for gospel doctrine, we certainly know about D&C 132 and of course knew that there was a polygamous past from those lessons. But the point here is that nowhere in the curriculum is it mentioned that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy… let alone the details of marrying teenage girls and other living men’s wives (polyandry). Those who deviated from the materials to teach these details were disciplined. The DETAILS are the premise for the recent essay, the news coverage, and this blog posting… along with the PUNISHMENT for those who taught the details. Perhaps there are rouge individuals who taught this and somehow remained under the radar, but they were definitely going “off road” from the material and I know of several high-profile cases where excommunication was the result of simply discussing history. Does this make sense or are you still troubled?

    On another note, does it trouble you that Joseph Smith married teenage girls (many of which lived in his home as a helper or daughter) and the wives of other living men? What troubles me is to meet individuals who know of this and still consider Joseph Smith a prophet… and act like others who have problems with it are the ones who are in the wrong. It’s amazing how members of the church can claim to be so virtuous yet try to explain this… it just boggles my mind. See Elder Andersen’s GC talk last month as an example…

  • GP

    Very well-said Jen. I’m in a very similar position as you… I’m disturbed by anyone who doesn’t find it disturbing. I have found myself in a faith that was not the faith of my childhood, and as much as I’d love to stay, I simply cannot remain because of some of your points above and other problems in church history. It has been a devastating journey to say the least, but at least I’m happy to live authentically. At the very least, I hope that my true-believing friends will at least understand and accept me instead of labeling me as “anti” or possessed of the devil.

  • And this is the definition of cognitive dissonance.

  • GP

    Jana – great topic, thanks for starting the discussion. I believe that the church missed an opportunity to characterize (at least some of) Joseph Smith’s polygamous behaviors as “mistakes”. This would allow members to categorize his behaviors within the umbrella of “nobody’s perfect”. However, now members are forced into a corner to accept this as a commandment of God (not a mistake). I have yet to find any “mistake” of Joseph Smith that I have a problem with. The problems that I have with Joseph Smith are all-or-nothing DIVINE positions from the church like the BoM/BoA historicity, treasure hunting, polygamy/polyandry, etc. I simply cannot rationalize this to myself or others… and I feel sorry for members who try to explain it.

    Another thing to consider is that just because the polygamy essay was released, I don’t think that talking about these issues is automatically acceptable to discuss. I’m willing to bet that bishops and stake presidents have not been given clear and unified direction in this area… and we may yet see more disciplinary issues arise depending on the bishop or stake president. Time will tell… but I wouldn’t claim victory at this point.

  • nope

    How can you say it is not docternal…. they allow men that have wives that die to be sealed to a second wife in the temple and so forth. This is still happening in and permitted today. So it is doctrine

  • Merc8es

    This is a snarky quote on a friend’s facebook thread, a good example of what Ms Riess is writing about:
    “I grew up in the same church, with the same teachings and I knew all of these things. There was nothing that surprised me or bothered me (gasp!) in this new release by the church. I’m sorry you didn’t have the same experience April.”
    Another quote from the same discussion:
    “Admitting you’ve been duped and that you come from a long line of dupes, is probably one of the most difficult things for a person to admit. It was for me.”

  • AHJ

    GP et al,

    I was taught long ago that when the sealing ordinances were first revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith, it was accepted by the church with open arms, but many misunderstood its use or proper application. For example, many people were sealed to Joseph Smith in an extended-family-like approach. As additional information was received fro the Lord, this practice of sealing people to Joseph Smith ceased. I have no doubt in my mind that those women who were “already married” to living men, mentioned in this article, were married to Joseph Smith as part of this misunderstood sealing practice.

    The prophet and the general membership of the church back then did their best to practice what was revealed to them from the Lord, line upon line, but we see that many times there were misunderstandings in its proper execution. The practice of polygamy was no different. Joseph Smith indeed did marry many plural wives, but very few were consummated and continued under normal marital conditions (ex: Brigham Young). Most, as I indicated above, were spiritual marriages – sealings only. And those of a temporal nature were known by Emma, though she was never truly thrilled about them. For that matter, neither was the Prophet – it was a practice that he admitted was hateful to him but practiced out of obedience.

    When I read this article I was shocked that there were still people on the planet that were unaware of the practice of polygamy in the church – it seemed that for most people this was the ONLY thing they knew about the church through hearsay. So to read an article which made it sound like the church was “coming out” about some perceived evil practice long-hidden from the world was preposterous and laughable to me. And now to read all of these comments from others about how they “just knew” that the church would fess up someday about this, I am simply dumbfounded.

    For the record the church has never hidden anything about the topic of polygamy from the world, nor from its members. The fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy has also been widely known and unapologetically made available to the world, as desired. The exact extent to which the Prophet practiced polygamy – meaning specific numbers and individuals – was never (and is still not) known, nor does it matter. For if the commandment comes from God, who are we to question it? And if it doesn’t, what do you care that others believe it? Are you harmed by it?

    Go your way in peace.

  • GP

    AHJ, to be clear, I respect your right to believe what you want to believe. I never advise people on what to believe. I have no agenda other than to ensure that historical facts are available and people make educated decisions. Surely you can allow for healthy debate and understand that there will be others who will have a position that is different than your own?

    You have made several statements in your reply, a few of which are incorrect. I am curious to what extent you have researched this topic. Have you read Todd Compton’s “In Sacred Loneliness” or other books that go into the details of Joseph’s polygamy? The historical record provides evidence that Joseph Smith DID have “time and eternity” polyandrous marriages which would have allowed for consummation. Even the LDS apologist Brian Hales and FAIR Mormon acknowledge at least three such instances (Sylvia Sessions, Mary Heron, Sarah Whitney). In the case of Sylvia Sessions, she stated that her daughter Josephine was fathered by Joseph. A careful look at the record beyond the narrative from Hales/FARMS reveals more evidence of “time and eternity” marriages (e.g. Mary Elizabeth Lightner); however, Hales/FAIR reject the evidence behind these cases because it does not fit their narrative (which becomes a point of criticism from historians because they elevate their agenda to the same level as collecting historical data). So you’re sidestepping the permission of sexual polyandry by attempting to juxtapose it with other unrelated sealing ordinances. When it comes to Joseph’s polygamy/polyandry, there is no “eternity only” phrase used in the historical record – ZERO. This phrase and concept was recently manufactured by apologists in an attempt to reconcile unsavory history. Furthermore, the historical record shows that Emma was not aware of many of Joseph’s plural marriages… at least until he was found out… then he revealed a few of his marriages to her and repeated the ordinances (re-married) in her presence (see Partridge sisters).

    As for your comment about polygamy, of course people know that Mormons practice polygamy – just about everybody knows that. And within the church, we have D&C 132. But you’re missing the point… the DETAILS of Joseph Smith’s polygamy have been absent from official church curriculum for the past 100+ years. The recent PH/RS manual on Joseph didn’t even mention that he practiced polygamy, let alone the details. Additionally, there are several instances of Joseph Smith publicly denouncing and denying the practice of polygamy; while in private he embraced and practiced it. If this does not fall within your definition of “hiding”, then I’m not sure there is much to discuss… it sounds like in the case of Joseph, you permit exceptions to commonly well-understood definitions.

    In short, you seem to be arguing about the wrong thing (polygamy in general) for which there is no disagreement… yes, people knew that Mormons practiced polygamy. As it turns out, many people in the church did not know that Joseph practiced polygamy – anecdotally, I didn’t know until later in life and I know of many others I’ve talked to who also did not know. But probably the most newsworthy point is that the church has finally made an official stance on this topic which can finally be referred to.

    Best wishes on your spiritual journey.

  • WI_Member

    From the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith manual…
    “This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. Over the next several decades, under the direction of the Church Presidents who succeeded Joseph Smith, a significant number of Church members entered into plural marriages. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which discontinued plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1).”

    While it mentions that plural marriages were performed, it does not say that Joseph Smith, himself, participated.

    Also, this timeline does not mention Joseph’s other marriages at all.

    And this…”Do not set this book aside or prepare lessons from other materials.”

    So if people were looking for more in-depth (and accurate) information, please provide examples of where the church suggested they go to obtain it.

  • Jeff P

    Jen K:

    You mention things to learn.
    To me as an outsider, it strikes me that one a very important thing to be learned is that we really need to treat each other with every bit as much forgiveness and grace as we are asked to show to our flawed religious leaders. If we should forgive and overlook a leader’s very serious sins (even serious sins like serial adultery,lying, breaking-up of others marriages, and gross abuse of position-of-trust), doesn’t Christ ask us to be every bit as forgiving with living people whose failures are far lesser, or whose ‘sins’ may be disagreeing with us about something, or who are daring to be honest in expressing doubts?

  • GP

    Jeff, this is a good thought. I had held out hope that I could associate Joseph Smith’s polygamy as a mistake that could be forgiven – although I think we could all agree that multiple relationships is more than a small mistake. Regardless, unfortunately the church has doubled-down in their latest essay by calling all of Joseph Smith’s polygamy a commandment of God, and not a mistake. This clear position is untenable for me and many other members. It’s a shame, because I think that this could have been a more lasting position in the long-run. I’m certain that at some point in the future, the church will ultimately call Joseph Smith’s polygamy as a mistake while somehow continue to characterize it as a commandment for those who fiercely hold onto it as such. That will be a tricky balance, but it will somehow be managed and gradually introduced across generational boundaries to soften the move (like many other changes in the church’s past).