Review: The Persistence of Polygamy, Volume 2

Persistance of PolygamyIIThis second volume of the Persistence of Polygamy series deals with polygamy following the death of Joseph Smith. And yet it includes a surprising amount of content that those wishing to understand polygamy during Joseph’s life ought to know.

Thus I didn’t find this volume boring, contrary to my expectation.

I did find that this volume is much more eclectic that the first volume. Not only are the topics included eclectic, the individual articles themselves often wander away from what appeared to be “the point” into strange historical nooks and crannies. Reasonably, since these are all original essays, there isn’t a sense that the different essayists benefited from academic discussion with the other writers. Thus we learn graphic details of William Smith’s misbehavior in one article, while other articles portray William as merely a former polygamist who eventually relinquished plural marriage for monogamy within the RLDS faith tradition.

With my perspective that there were two distinct forms of “polygamy” practiced in Nauvoo during Joseph’s lifetime, I would have arranged the essays differently. In an introduction, I would have distinguished between the secretive covenant marriages Joseph and select followers entered into and the not-so-secretive instances of illicit intercourse (termed spiritual wifery) that occurred under the direction of Dr. John C. Bennett. I then would have listed all the individuals who were named in association with the 1842 High Council investigation in the introduction, noting where in the subsequent history these same names re-emerge.

I would have divided the book into three sections:

  1. Legacy of Smith’s Polygamy among the Mountain Saints
  2. The Factions who Didn’t Gather to Utah
  3. Forces of Change

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D&C 76 and the Telestial Kingdom, a Different Reading.

On Facebook, I’ve been in a discussion with several in regards to Pres Uchtdorf’s talk on Grace.  The discussion evolved into a disagreement on those who receive the Telestial Kingdom, whether they inherit salvation, are forgiven for their sins, etc.  I was surprised at the wide variety of views given regarding it.

So, I went back to D&C 76 to do a hard look at what it says, and to question our basic interpretation.  Here are some of my thoughts and questions. I hope you will share your additional thoughts in the comments Continue reading

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 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


  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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