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.

1 thought on “Podcast: Tough Questions about Mormon Polygamy with Brian and Laura Hales

  1. I adore what Laura and Brian have done to make more information available about our early Saints.

    Alas, I am frustrated they don’t quite take the tale to its full conclusion.

    I was regaling my hairdresser with tales of dementia and such, but in conclusion I suggested that it was not going to be bad, because I write books. So he asked what I write.

    Mention of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Aquaponic Gardening didn’t do much for him, but then I started talking about being Mormon and researching what had happened with my ancestors. It was easy to continue that Joseph Smith (he thought it was John Smith) taught that there are no bastards in heaven. Every woman and her children can be with family in heaven. But since sometimes a man’s wife dies and he remarries, this meant in heaven there could be a man with more than just one wife.

    Then in a quick segue, I talked about the bad men who just wanted to have sex with any woman who was vulnerable, and how they would pressure widows and vulnerable people to have sex in exchange for food. And Joseph came in and taught people that women can hope for eternity with their loved spouse, and organized women to take care of women and covenanted with the women (none of whom had children with him, oh by the way).

    He didn’t have time to read a book, but he did jot down the name for his wife to read, saying “She’ll tell me all about it.”

    I ended, saying that if what these Mormons teach is right, marriage can last into eternity. So his wife might tell him to be nicer to her, to which he might respond that his wife should be nicer to him.

    Getting back to Laura and Brian, this discussion is good, as far as it goes. But you can’t corner-turn their narrative into a glowing endorsement of Mormon theology in the time it takes to swipe your debit card. And that’s why I get upset that they won’t follow the data to its logical conclusion.

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