Podcast: Tough Questions about Mormon Polygamy with Brian and Laura Hales

Few aspects of Joseph Smith’s life have been scrutinized more in recent years than his personal practice of polygamy.

Some readers’ first exposure to Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy comes from reading sensational headlines. Exaggerations and assumptions fill internet discussions, podcasts, and newspaper articles, so it is hard to know where to go for accurate information.

The temptation by some authors to fill in historical gaps often results in distortions that stir up emotions and create tantalizing soundbites that, even if largely fictional, may generate unnecessary fear and confusion.

Polygamy is part of the collective Mormon past that many struggle to understand. Current members have no cultural or religious basis to situate plural marriage. Members in pioneer Nauvoo shared that same struggle. When Benjamin Johnson first heard of it, he recalled: “If a thunderbolt had fallen at my feet I could hardly have been more shocked or amazed.”

Early Mormon polygamy is a historical puzzle that can at best be awkwardly reconstructed from fragmentary recollections. But it is apparent from reminiscences that those who practiced it were convinced it represented a religious practice instituted by God.

Church Historian Matt Grow noted that the more complicated the history, the more nuanced conclusions should be. Mormon polygamy was undoubtedly complicated, warranting provisional conclusions.

In this interview, Daniel C. Peterson of the Interpreter Foundation interviews Brian and Laura Hales about the most common questions asked about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

Join us for this candid discussion about what can and cannot be known about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

This episode is a joint production of LDS Perspectives and the Interpreter Foundation.

Access a transcript of “Tough Questions about Polygamy” at the LDS Perspectives website.

On Dementia And Traitors

A few months ago I posted about Riley, a relative I am seeking to protect.

Earlier this week Riley drove from the east coast to a western state without stopping. After at least one encounter with highway troopers, Riley eventually drove off the road into a highway median, then left their car and walked into the traffic lanes of the interstate. Riley was pulled from the road by a concerned passerby, to whom Riley’s friends and family owe a great debt of gratitude.

In two ER visits since then, Riley has been given a diagnosis of dementia, complete with pretty pictures of Riley’s brain showing evidence of the silent stroke that likely occurred in 2015. Apparently silent strokes occur 14 times more often than the strokes that manifest as physical weakness such as slurred speech. While there is no obvious outward manifestation of a silent stroke, a silent stroke can damage the portion of the brain related to impulse control, judgement, and mood regulation.


As various health problems, such as silent stroke, are associated with aging, we see one reason some are nervous about the advanced age of most Church leaders, given that death by assassination and apostasy no longer keeps the average age of the leadership relatively low. 1

Yet as I am observing in the case of Riley, it is possible for a person to continue to function with dignity when surrounded by loving friends and family. The Bible gives us the analogy, telling us of a time Noah was impaired. One group mocked him, inviting others to see the drunken nakedness of their leader. The other group covered his nakedness and allowed him to sleep off the inebriation in peace.

If the Church were led by a Q1 (as in the case of Riley with their own estate and person), I would agree there could be concern. But the Church is led by a Q15, making it unlikely that failure of any single individual could derail the Church.


But it is not the ravages of old age on Church leaders that causes most to lose faith. It is a belief that Church leadership at some point became traitors to the cause of Christ. We see this with Snuffer and his followers. For many of those losing faith over “polygamy,” their concern is that Joseph allowed carnal desire to overcome his devotion to God’s path. Continue reading


  1. Deaths (David W. Patten, Joseph Smith Jr., Parley P. Pratt) and apostasy (roughly half of the apostles and other senior leaders of the Church from 1837 to 1847) kept the average age of Church leaders relatively young in the first decades of Church history.

Podcast: Susa Young Gates and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

Lisa Olsen Tait claims that Susa Young Gates is the most important Mormon woman that most have never heard of.

Susa grew up in a time when cultural gender roles were changing and women’s opportunities were expanding in exponential ways. Susa took advantage of these opportunities and was active in civic and religious spheres as a writer, editor, educator, and LDS Church leader.  She also started both the Relief Society and Young Women’s magazines.

In the 1880s, she accompanied her husband Jacob on a mission to the Sandwich Islands. There she developed a deep and enduring friendship with Elder Joseph F. Smith.

It is perhaps because of her passion for genealogy work that the Prophet Joseph F. Smith shared with her a vision he had concerning the redemption of the dead. The doctrine was not new, but it was comforting to have it articulated in one place. Susa recorded the prophet’s dictation and the vision was first distributed in Church magazines.

Join Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast as he discusses with women’s historian Lisa Olsen Tait the reception history of Doctrine and Covenants 138.

Dear Ivanka

Dear Ivanka,

You seem like a very intelligent woman. You are a successful businesswoman, mother, and now policy wonk.

For those of us who voted #NeverHillary and #NeverTrump, but are willing to give your Father a fair shake as president, we ask for your assistance on an important issue.

Please take President Trump’s Twitter account away from him. You are his daughter. I’ve heard he listens to you and your husband.

Yes, we need a president who will drain the swamp. However, we do not need a president that will refill the swamp with his own swill. While some of his tweets are mildly entertaining, most are making the important office of POTUS look like the “Cash me outside” girl episode from Dr Phil.

I see your father do competent things, like reducing regulations and nominating conservative judges, and I applaud him for these things. But when he threatens Comey or tweets some of his other outrageous and off the wall things he does, I wonder what are we doing with this kind of guy in the White House? How can I sleep at night, knowing he has his finger on the pulse of the entire world. Will he tweet something about some world leader that leads to war?

So, Ivanka, please do us all a favor and take away your Dad’s Twitter account. Our country hired him to do a job. No one hired him to be a crazy, senile old man that writes insane things while sitting on the toilet at 5 in the morning.



Book Review: Witness to the Martyrdom by Mark H. Taylor

Witness to the Martyrdom, by Mark H. Taylor (2nd Edition). Published  by Deseret Book.

Taylor, a great grandson of President John Taylor, shares the background to this book. He notes that a portion of John Taylor’s account of Joseph Smith’s murder floated around the family for generations. When a young family member was ready, a copy would be made for that person. Unfortunately, no one he knew had the complete version of the story of the martyrdom.

Taylor searched for years, and finally found a full version of his ancestor’s account. John Taylor wrote about the martyrdom in the mid 1850s while working for the Church in the Northeast United States. Willard Richards, the only other eye witness, had recently died. The Church Historian requested John Taylor to provide the account for the official record, which he complied with the help of others who were at Carthage at the time.

Fast forward a few years, John Taylor is back in Utah. The great British explorer and author, Sir Richard F. Burton, traveled to Utah in 1860 to get material to write his 1862 book, “City of the Saints.” He was eager to meet with John Taylor, knowing he was with Joseph Smith at the time of his death. On arriving at Salt Lake City, Burton spoke with some gentlemen about the Church and its history. Only after several minutes of discussion did Burton realize he was speaking with John Taylor.  Taylor spoke frequently with Burton during his stay, and offered to him a copy of his account of the martyrdom. Burton readily accepted this gift, and put it in the appendix of his finished book.

Mark H. Taylor was able to use this information to extract the full account and share it with his readers.

It is a very interesting account from John Taylor’s viewpoint. He begins by describing the political landscape of Illinois:

The political party were those who were of opposite politics to us. There were always two parties, the whigs and democrats, and we could not vote for one without offending the other, and it not unfrequently happened that candidates for office would place the issue of their election upon opposition to the “Mormons”, in order to gain political influence from religious prejudice.” (pg 26)

In some areas, anti-Mormons were so ubiquitous that Taylor quotes Governor Ford’s history of Illinois, noting, “In the county of Ogle they (anti-Mormons) were so numerous, strong, and well organized, that they could not be convicted for their crimes.”

John Taylor frequently referenced Ford’s writings to support his claims for the Mormons in Nauvoo and against those who opposed them. Still, Taylor exposes Governor Ford as either an idiot, who could not see the dangers awaiting Joseph Smith in Carthage, or as a willing shill for the enemies of the Church.

Taylor was involved as an intermediary between Governor Ford and the prisoners Joseph and Hyrum Smith. He notes the various vile people that frequented the meetings, including several excommunicated members, such as William Law. As one case was dismissed, Joseph and Hyrum were brought up immediately on charges of treason. Taylor notes that Ford promised to protect the Prophet and take him to Nauvoo with him, but let him anyway.

Two issues brought up that I was not aware of is that of the three companies of state militia in Carthage, Governor Ford took two with him to Nauvoo, leaving the murderous Carthage Greys behind to “protect” Joseph and Hyrum.  Second, after the murders were completed, a cannon was fired to notify the people in the area that the murders were completed. When Ford heard the cannon fire, he immediately left Nauvoo and returned to the  capitol. Either he knew what was going to happen, or one of his aides did.

Taylor writes with an indignant style towards those who were involved in the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, yet supports many of his statements from other sources, primarily Ford.

Living just a few hours away from Nauvoo and Carthage, I have the opportunity to visit frequently. To sit in the upstairs room of Carthage jail, see the door where John Taylor used a cane to bat down guns being shoved through the doorway, the floor upon which Hyrum fell silent, the bed that Taylor hid underneath when he was seriously wounded, and the window that Joseph fell out, are all made alive by reading John Taylor’s account.

Some may argue with John Taylor’s views regarding the rightness of destroying the printing press or other actions of Joseph Smith. But it is all semantics, when one considers a mob of hundreds, with the quiet support of a governor, had murder in their hearts and blood on their hands.

This volume makes the Martyrdom alive again. It is real. It is a story of heroes and villains, and we are blessed with an eye witness account of it. If you struggle with your testimony of modern prophets, this book will help you regain that burning in your bosom. You will find a friend in the apostle John Taylor, and pause again at the great work that was sealed with the blood of prophets.