Laura Hales: why I write about polygamy

This is a guest post by Laura Hales.

Laura Harris Hales is a freelance copy editor and author. She received a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in Professional Writing from New England College. She has worked as both a paralegal and as an adjunct professor of English. After marrying in 2013, she found herself immersed in the study of Church history. With her husband, she is the co-author of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding and co-webmaster of JosephSmithsPolygamy.org. She is also the copy editor of Mormon Historical Studies. Laura is married to Brian C. Hales and, combined, they have nine children.

Sometimes taking the road less traveled is a conscious choice, and sometimes it’s a result of a diversion that unexpectedly appears along one’s chosen path. Over the last eighteen months, I’ve found myself making one of those course changes as a result of reading Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, written by my then fiancé, Brian C. Hales.

Soon after the wedding photos were unveiled on Facebook, I finished the 1500-page tome on the early practice of polygamy in the Church. Reading his treatment of the subject was somewhat akin to taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant. Totally drenched with new and somewhat confusing information, I found myself in unexplored territory. Inculcated from birth with an idealized image of the Prophet Joseph Smith, I now questioned whether Joseph’s marrying of thirty-five brides and other men’s wives reflected the behavior of a prophet.

Through further study, I was able to resolve my dissonance and make peace with the past. In the process, I developed a desire to present the research from Brian’s trilogy in a format accessible to the average Latter-day Saint. Less information might actually be more beneficial to those first encountering this material. My husband, though initially hesitant, agreed to the project after our publisher echoed his support of the idea.
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Review: The Persistence of Polygamy, Volume 1

Persistance of PolygamyThis intriguing volume has been available for several years now, but I only recently read it through in its entirety. This is germane at this time because Brian C. Hales and his lovely wife, Laura, will be coming out with a related book in the near future.

Besides, I always think it is germane to talk about polygamy. Especially if it means I can further explore the terrible damage John C. Bennett inflicted with his corruption of sexuality in Nauvoo.

Three volumes are planned in the Persistence of Polygamy series, with this first volume discussing the Origins of Polygamy and Joseph Smith. This is the controversial and bothersome part for so many people. The issue of how polygamy evolved after Joseph’s death isn’t particularly controversial, in my opinion. I do wish I could have been a bug on the lapel of Brigham Young in the fall of 1844, able to ask him the reasons for his actions. But after the die was cast in September, 1844, the way things evolved was understandable and a matter of history.

A third volume, which has not yet appeared, will talk about polygamy after the Manifesto, primarily (as I understand it) focusing on the fundamentalist groups who persist in practicing polygyny today.

At the very end of the collection, Jessie L. Embry asks: “Where does the study of polygamy go from here? As I read through these essays, I wondered if scholars need to come up with new questions, Maybe there are questions other than when Joseph Smith married his first plural wife? How many wives did he have? How old were they? And how did people react?” 1

Jessie continues: “While I recognize the need for new questions, I am caught in the old trap… I believe that scholars will continue to just rehash the same information unless someone comes up with new questions. Then Mormon history could be “researched” and “reinvestigated” and not just “retold,” defended, or attacked…” 2

For my part, I was continually frustrated that the impact of John C. Bennett, so obvious to me, is entirely absent from these essays. Bennett himself is nominally present, but the vast scope of what happened is clearly still being ignored in this volume, reflecting research as recent as 2010. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. The Persistence of Polygamy, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, John Whitmer Books, 2010, p. 288.
  2. ibid., p. 289.

Dissenting votes at Conference

This is a guest post by Huston.

At this weekend’s global General Conference, the annual sustaining vote for our church’s overall leaders had an unusual wrinkle. Tens of thousands of Mormons there in person–and many more watching online–said yes. But about seven people stood up to say nay.

This was a planned protest vote by a group called “Any Opposed?”. According to their web site, they seem to have wanted an audience with the Apostles so they could air their grievances. They might have been surprised when the conducting officer, President Uchtdorf, referred them to their stake presidents.

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the church has grown far too large for the old policies of the 70’s to be practical anymore. (Hopefully they then learned from Elder Cook’s talk on the subject.) Perhaps they didn’t know that this is the procedure outlined in the Church’s official Handbook of Instructions:

If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting.

If they’d really read the handbook, they’d know why dissenting votes are asked for in the first place. From the same paragraph cited above:

The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position.

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What were your favorite Gen Conf talks, and why?

There were some very poignant and pointed talks in General Conference. Some talked about overcoming doubts, while others spoke of being patient with those who struggle with doubts. Some spoke of the Sabbath and the Fast, while others spoke other commandments, prayer, and obedience.

Three new temples were announced, Ivory Coast, Haiti, and Thailand. How do you feel about temples being built in two of the poorest nations on earth?

For me, there were many very good talks.  But two stood out.

Elder Holland once told me years ago that we should be setting our pulpits ablaze. Sunday morning, he showed us how exactly to do that. Beginning with a powerful story of life and near death, he brought us in.  Then he related the story to our relationship with Christ. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve (and you’ll note he left the door open for an ancient earth), we have been in free fall. We cannot save ourselves, for there is nothing for us to grab onto along the ledge. Only a brave brother stepping forth and grabbing us could keep us from falling into the endless abyss.

Immediately afterward, Pres Uchtdorf spoke clearly and authoritatively on a topic that I’ve waited decades for an official talk on: Grace.  We cannot save ourselves. We are unprofitable servants, even if we could keep all the commandments. We are condemned to hell and death, as no unclean thing can enter God’s presence. Christ’s atonement and grace pays for everything.  And we are “saved after all we can do” does not mean we earn our salvation, but that the only thing we can do is “come unto Christ and be reconciled to Him.”  All we can do is believe and repent and love our Lord. Our obedience then becomes an outward symbol of our inner faith.  We do not believe in “cheap grace”, because Christ paid a heavy price for that grace. He opened the gates and windows of heaven. The gates are open to anyone who will believe in Christ and repent. Exaltation becomes a gift of grace to those who embrace the totality of Christ’s grace. God also sends blessings down upon all his children in this life, opening the windows of heaven and shedding forth His grace.

These two talks will change the discourse we have in our homes, families, friends, classes, and with our non-LDS friends.

Which talks moved you the most, and why?

The Spiritual Crisis

The Spiritual CrisisAn adaptation of an American History classic, for the Latter-day Saint audience.

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer disciple and the sunshine saint will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their God; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Unrighteousness and sin, like hell, are not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as SPIRITUAL FREEDOM and SALVATION should not be highly rated. Satan, with an army to enforce his tyranny, has declared that he has a right to mock the sacred things of God, and “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER – to seal us his, and to make us angels to a devil.” If being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

Adapted from, “The Crisis” by Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776.