Roughly 175 years after the terrible accusations of summer 1842, I got an e-mail from a friend. Various family and friends had told my friend all about why Joseph Smith and the Church were wrong. They didn’t know who to ask other than me (which is a sad commentary of some sort).
They trust me to be honest – perhaps a bit too explicit and open mic, in fact. But for this person, they didn’t want to feel like they were being “handled.”
The questions were:
Q: Did Joseph destroy public property?
Q: Did Joseph lie to Emma about Eliza snow? Who caught them in bed? Was it Emma? How old was Eliza when this happened? Why was the revelation received after the incident?
Q: Why didn’t Joseph use the urim and thummim? If those were God’s tools, why didn’t he use them?
Q: To obtain the priesthood, do you have to be a full tithe payer? Are you denied the priesthood if you don’t pay tithes? In particular, did Joseph demand money for ordaining people to the priesthood and did he demand that people pay for the Book of Mormon?
Q: Where in scripture or the Family Proclamation is it stated that those who engage in same sex marriage (or relationships) cannot hope to ever be saved. Why isn’t someone who beats their wife and children, for example, punished the way we punish those who marry someone of the same gender?
My friend, like many of us, no doubt, has someone (or a few) in their extended family who don’t identify as hetero-normal or CIS (i.e., comfortable with the gender one is born with).
My first thought was “you didn’t read my book…!” But when someone is bleeding, you don’t say, “Have you read my thousand page dissertation on transfusion?” You just whip out a bandage or tourniquet and help stop the bleeding. Then you can point them to the academic literature.
So here are a few answers I gave my friend. Posted since I suspect my friend isn’t the only one with these questions.
Question: Did Joseph destroy public property? I’ve been told he wrecked a printing press, but it’s unclear why… There are public documents that show he did. So I want to know why.
Answer: In 1844 Joseph had reason to believe there was a conspiracy of several men plotting to kill him and others (The number of conspirators was as many as several hundred within Nauvoo, if we believe the story told by Dennison Harris). At any rate, there had been open threats against Joseph’s life by those reported to be in on the conspiracy, threats which included drawn guns and explicit statements that Joseph would be shot. Joseph had routinely been attacked and the US government had denied assistance when Mormons had been raped, murdered, and burned out of their homes.
In this this setting, the Expositor was published, which accused Joseph and other leaders within the Mormon movement of a wide variety of ills, including sexual coercion and giving themselves leave to commit any action except cold-blooded murder.
The question of what should be done was debated openly for days. Eventually, the City Council was persuaded that the Expositor press should appropriately be declared a nuisance. They felt that the writings of William Blackstone 1 supported destruction of such a nuisance. 2 John Taylor would describe the matter in 1854 and assert that Governor Ford had said they were within their rights to destroy the Expositor, though John recounted that Ford said it would have been better if a unknown “mob” had been commissioned to do the deed, rather than have it be done as an open act of governance.
In modern times “freedom of speech” is so sacred that we’re allowed to burn flags, call sports teams “Redskins,” and show (even celebrate) art that explicitly depicts rape and ingesting human waste products. But in 1844 it wasn’t as clear that destroying a press threatening the safety of several individuals was so problematic that it should be avoided at all costs. However the destruction of the Expositor was a rallying cry for those wishing to put an end to Joseph Smith and the Mormon influence in western Illinois.
Question: Did Joseph lie to Emma about Eliza snow? Who caught them in bed? Was it Emma? How old was Eliza when this happened? Why was the revelation received after the incident?
Answer: This is a confusion of several different stories, and we know far less than people like to say we know.
First, the original revelation regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant was received before March 7, 1831, if we believe Erastus Snow’s account that Joseph reported receiving the revelation while Joseph was translating Genesis. This is long before any of the various events that are rumored to have occurred.
We do not know when Joseph informed Emma about the commandment Joseph reported he was under to teach and practice plural marriage. There is reason to suspect she was the one who prompted the revelation, by questioning Old Testament plural marriages. Others believe she never knew about Joseph’s covenants with other women, though Whitehead told Joseph’s sons that Whitehead had witnessed Emma participating in ceremonies where Joseph covenanted with women.
The assertion that Emma caught Joseph in the middle of having sex with another woman was implied by Oliver Cowdery in 1836. Oliver was inferring this must have been the cause of Emma’s anger at a matter that had transpired between Joseph and Fanny in a barn. Fanny was 18 or 19 at the time, and several contemporaries report they considered Fanny was married to Joseph.
Most scholars suppose the event in the barn was sex, but Emma and Joseph did not ever say that Oliver’s interpretation of why Emma was upset was correct. To the contrary, Joseph challenged Oliver’s account at the time and Emma insisted in later years that Joseph was completely honorable. Fanny refused to either confirm or deny that she had been Joseph’s wife, much less what that might have meant. The child she is rumored to have conceived has been demonstrated by DNA analysis to have no descendants who are related to Joseph Smith.
Oliver was not an eye witness, no matter how certain he was of his interpretation of events. My own ancestor was an eligible bachelor living in the Smith household at that time, so I hold at as plausible that Fanny had grown weary of “marriage” as a second wife where Emma wasn’t allowing Fanny to engage in activity that could result in a child. So I put forward as possible that Fanny was talking with Joseph about him either making the marriage “real” or releasing Fanny to become a true wife to some other person.
Now on to Eliza. Eliza covenanted with Joseph in June 1842. Emma never explicitly acknowledged what she knew about the covenants Joseph was entering into. Emma’s Relief Society counselor was present at the ceremony and Eliza was the Relief Society secretary, so it is certainly plausible that Emma was aware of the covenant.
There is a story that Eliza Snow became pregnant in 1842, then fell and miscarried the child. Those telling the story believed Joseph was the father and the recorded version of the story suggests an enraged Emma pushed Eliza down a flight of stairs. However there are various problems with that story.
First, if Emma was suddenly enraged at learning Eliza was pregnant with Joseph’s child, it would seem the fall should coincide with Eliza moving out of the Smith household, which occurred in February 1843. But Eliza was teaching school at that time and maintaining a daily record. It is not deemed possible that she suffered a fall so severe that it caused a miscarriage and then got up the next morning and taught her class as before. The records of the teaching do not allow for any time for recuperation in Feb 1843.
Second, if Eliza’s reported fall and miscarriage occurred at some earlier time, then Emma was not enraged enough to eject Eliza from her home. To the contrary, there is a story that George A. Smith came upon Joseph washing his hands, explaining to George A. Smith that Joseph and Emma had been assisting at the birth of a child born to one of Joseph’s plural wives Analyzing all of the ~40 women who are believed to have covenanted with Joseph, the only one that fits the George A. Smith story is Eliza Snow, if we consider she might have prematurely gave “birth” as a result of the fall. November 1842 is a possible time, based on Eliza’s poems describing death and two weeks where the poems were not dated. But Eliza’s poems speak of a vile wretch who feeds upon the blood of innocence, suggesting Joseph might not have been the father of the child Eliza is reported to have lost.
Eliza was in her late thirties when the incident is reported to have happened. For what it’s worth, a grand-daughter of Bathsheba Smith wrote in her journal that as a child she had overheard Eliza Snow and Bathsheba talking about a time when Eliza was gang-raped by eight men. That grand-daughter also indicated that Eliza was rendered barren as a result of that rape. So many female researchers discount all stories suggesting Eliza Snow was pregnant in the 1840s.
There are those who suggest Eliza asserted she had sex with Joseph in a conversation with Heber Kimball. However the record of that conversation comes from an account of a conversation Joseph Smith III had with Angus Cannon in which the Heber Kimball conversation was described. Eliza’s response to a questions was “I thought you knew Joseph better than that,” which is hardly an unambiguous assertion of anything. As Angus Cannon was still very young when Heber C. Kimball died, it is more likely the conversation was with Heber’s son, Heber Kimball. So the third-hand report of the conversation doesn’t even appear to have gotten the identity of a key participant in the conversation correct. Therefore I question putting too much weight on the interpretation of what was clearly an oblique answer related at best third hand.
So the bottom line is that there is a lot said, but little is certain when it comes to the widely touted assertions regarding sex and betrayal.
Question: Why didn’t Joseph use the urim and thummim? If those were God’s tools, why didn’t he use them?
Answer: Hyrum suggested Joseph use the “Urim and Thummim,” a term that was also used to refer to Joseph’s seer stone, which Joseph had used when he was translating the Book of Mormon and presumably when he was translating the Bible. But Joseph replied that he knew the words by heart, which makes sense if the original revelation occurred before March 7, 1831. We have many different sources attesting that Joseph repeatedly struggled against the command to take another wife in addition to Emma (there’s a quote from Mary Elizabeth Rollins in 1905 where she explains that Joseph quoted scripture to an angel, solemnly refusing what the angel was telling Joseph to do).
By 1843 Joseph was more comfortable in being a prophet without needing the crutch of the folk magic tools he had relied on so heavily circa 1830. While the seer stone was revered as a sacred artifact for many decades after Joseph’s death, it is not certain how much (or if) it was used after 1830.
Question: To obtain the priesthood, do you have to be a full tithe payer? Are you denied the priesthood if you don’t pay tithes? In particular, did Joseph demand money for ordaining people to the priesthood and did he demand that people pay for the Book of Mormon?
Answer: Since being a tithe-payer is a standard requirement for being given a temple recommend, it makes sense that one might be asked if one was a tithe-payer to receive the priesthood. I don’t know, since I don’t conduct those interviews and haven’t ever been interviewed for worthiness to be advanced in the priesthood.
I am not aware that Joseph charged for ordaining people to the priesthood. On the other hand, William Smith was in the habit of charging folks when he would voice a patriarchal blessing. William made his living for a while from giving blessings, before he was excommunicated for various other issues. William would encourage people to get their patriarchal blessings again and again, seeing this as a renewable income stream.
The first printing of the Book of Mormon was funded by mortgaging a farm (Martin Harris’s farm, as I recall). In those early days it was hoped people would pay for the books so that the farm could be redeemed.
Question: Where in scripture or the Family Proclamation is it stated that those who engage in same sex marriage (or relationships) cannot hope to ever be saved. Why isn’t someone who beats their wife and children, for example, punished the way we punish those who marry someone of the same gender?
The case of same sex marriage is not the first case to evoke strict measures from the Church. It is likely not the last case that will evoke strict measures. This strictness is not an indication that this is the “worst” sin, but that it is the error most likely to be made or condoned by compassionate people who haven’t internalized the implications of the error.
Currently there are strong sanctions for individuals who engage in same sex marriage. It happens that these are the same sanctions that have long been in place for individuals who persist in practicing polygamy contrary to Church policy.
The work of the Church is to bring people to Christ and perform proxy ordinances for the unbaptized dead so they can accept Christ prior to Final Judgment, if they so choose. According to the 1920 vision of Heber Hale (which he was requested by the First Presidency to relate in an event associated with General Conference), the work of the faithful in the spirit world is to preach the gospel to those who did not accept it in life and perform spiritual ordinances analogous and complementary to the ordinances we perform on earth.
Thinking of children and others involved in modern plural marriage families, is there any reason to believe they are forever to be damned? Of course not! The current policy is just to emphasize that the form of family in which they grew up, by it’s very nature in opposition to the Church, is dangerously incorrect.
Similarly, is there actually a reason to believe that an individual in a same sex marriage or raised in such a family will never be permitted to accept the saving ordinances?
Of course they will be permitted to accept the saving ordinance eventually, if they so choose.
In the case of polygamy, people strongly believe they are right to perpetuate a marriage system that was practiced by some Mormon faithful during the 1800s. The Church uses these sanctions to make it very, very clear that these practices are not appropriate now (e.g., in opposition to the will of God received by the prophets, starting with Wilford Woodruff).
In the case of same sex marriage, people strongly believe they are right to embrace a marriage system that is widely accepted by the world. The Church has put in place these sanctions to make it very, very clear that these practices are not appropriate now (e.g., in opposition to the will of God received by the prophets, as no known prophet has ever revealed that same sex marriage is deemed acceptable in the eyes of God).
Kings and Presidents and Magistrates may permit a practice. And while we believe in being subject to worldly rulers, that does not mean that we abdicate leadership of the Church to embrace all practices accepted by the state.
We live in our culture, so we take it for granted that our culture is obviously good. But to those who are not inside our culture, our actions may not be so obviously meritorious.
King Manasseh was a Jewish leader who embraced worldly practices of his day, the practice of sacrificing firstborn children to the fires of Moloch. In that era, sacrificing a firstborn child was entirely legal and fashionable, as it was believed such a sacrifice would bless the family with prosperity for the rest of their lives. Though I can imagine there are some who would revile me for mentioning King Manasseh’s child sacrifices in a discussion of acting on same gender attraction, we live in a world where expectant mothers are often encouraged to consider aborting their unborn children, certainly in any situation where birthing the child might be considered anything but advantageous. At least in King Manasseh’s day they placed the ashes of the sacrificed child into exquisite urns, celebrating the life of the child for the remainder of the parents’ lives. Few aborted children in modern times are as honored in death.
But what of those who “practice” sinful behavior but are not sanctioned as harshly? In the case of beating one’s spouse and children, there is no reason for an offending party to state their abuse is widely accepted. While it is true that most abusers were themselves abused as children, abuse is not in the same category of ideology that is fiercely defended. There have been small groups who have promoted the idea that certain sorts of abuse are justified. When this has occurred, the Church has taken measures to address the abuse. For example, the Family Proclamation itself makes it clear that abuse is not acceptable. There are other changes that have been made in response to abuse, but I have these as hearsay so won’t elaborate in this venue.
It appears clear that same sex attraction is sometimes thrust upon a person. I understand it is possible to confidently create same-sex attracted rodents by subjecting the mother to sufficient stress during gestation. 3 In a similar manner, it may be that some who report being same sex attracted are made that way by events over which they had no control. Those who advocate for those with same sex attraction argue that they should be free to love as they are inclined, much as interracial couples needed advocacy to be able to marry the one they loved. Same sex marriage is being touted as the modern equivalent to inter-racial marriage, which was illegal in most states as recently as the late 1960s. I myself was born into an interracial family where my parents’ marriage was considered “void and prohibited” in the state where I was born.
But here we get to a key difference between interracial marriage and same sex marriage. Interracial marriages can produce children that are the biologic get of both marriage partners. Same sex marriages cannot produce children that are the biologic get of both partners.
Studies repeatedly support the benefit to a child of having married parents who are the biological parents of the child. While most adopted children are loved and cared for, most adoptive parents will admit to the angst adoptive children experience because they were given up by their biological parents. To intentionally do this to a child, by design, speaks to the objectification of children, rather than seeing the proper care of children as the primary reason for the institution of marriage.
There is much debate about whether marriage is primarily procreative by nature or companionate by nature. If marriage is necessarily procreative (as it was for millennia prior to 1000 AD), then those unions that by their nature cannot produce children ought not properly be called marriage. 4 In modern times, however, marriage is seen as primarily companionate and is associated with a wide variety of benefits that, while benefiting children born into a marriage, are very desirable to those who merely share companionship.
Whether marriage ought to be restricted to those unions of a class that could be procreative (e.g., males and females) or simply unions of consenting adults primarily for companionship, Mormonism stands out among all religions in the value it puts on each individual soul, seeing every person as a child of God. The fundamental structure of Mormon belief and ordinances suggests that all will eventually be tied into the family of mankind and offered the saving ordinances.
Yet there is ample precedent in Mormon practice for sanctioning that which is seen as rebellion and error.
Some of my ancestors in their day were disobedient. The major offender (the husband, Apostle John Whitaker Taylor) was excommunicated and his marriages were considered void. The marriages were not formally acknowledged as valid until all John’s children had died, which was decades after the longest-lived of his wives had breathed her last. Members of the family had continually petitioned the Church to publicly restore John’s blessings, so the delay wasn’t for lack of asking. 5
To repeat, the case of same sex marriage is not the first case to evoke strict measures from the Church. It is likely not the last case that will evoke strict measures. This strictness is not an indication that this is the “worst” sin, but that it is the error most likely to be made or condoned by compassionate people who haven’t internalized the implications of the error.
There is an old phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” The precious “child” of the Church is the universal offering of Christ’s salvation to all peoples of the earth.
Since the beginning of the Church, there have been those who had been called of God and appointed, yet who then “putteth forth [their] hand to steady the ark of God…”
These would “fall by the shaft of [spiritual] death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightening.” 6
It isn’t that God smites such folks, but that they, by presuming to know better than God and His Church, reject God. Even bath water has its time and place in promoting the health of the baby.
All are children of God, and so all may come back, even from spiritual “death.” But it becomes dangerous when one listens too much to those whose primary wish is for the Church to accept the obvious rightness of today’s politically correct correctness.
Is the eye of these PC advocates single to the glory of God or is it single to their socio-political agenda?
Whether or not they are attempting to push an agenda, are they in possession of basic historical facts, or are they spreading rumor and innuendo?
The best path is to keep one’s eye single to God’s glory and be guided by the best available historical understanding.
- William Blackstone wrote four volumes of commentaries on English law starting in 1765. Blackstone’s synthesis of English law was very influential as the US sought to formulate its own approach to legal matters. For more on Blackstone, see the Legal Dictionary article on Blackstone, online 26 Jun 2017 at http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sir+William+Blackstone. ↩
- Dallin Oaks, writing in 1965, found that the Nauvoo City Council was justified in finding the Expositor a nuisance, but found that the law of the day did not justify the destruction (see Carthage Conspiracy, p 26 note 48). However John Taylor, in his 1854 address marking the tenth anniversary of Joseph Smith’s death is clear that he believed the destruction to be legal. Taylor and Smith did not have access to the legal advice of Oaks. ↩
- See Wikipedia regarding prenatal hormones and sexual orientation, particularly maternal stress, online 5 Jul 2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prenatal_hormones_and_sexual_orientation#Prenatal_maternal_stress. ↩
- Obviously some heterosexual marriages are unable to produce children, due to infertility or menopause. Thus even heterosexual marriage has instances where the companionate role of marriage unions was permitted. ↩
- Some report that John’s blessings were restored on his deathbed, but if this occurred, it was kept a secret from even members of John’s family. ↩
- D&C 85:8. ↩