Let me tell you about how I came to believe Joseph Smith was faithful to his beloved wife, Emma.
The subject of Joseph’s plural wives is not a topic casually broached in faithful Mormon circles, even among those who are aware of Joseph’s other wives. Correlated lesson materials tend to minimize discussion of important historical points relating to plural marriage in order to avoid offending those who do not have a firm grounding in the gospel.
Unfortunately, this has led to polarized versions of early Church history. One is the sanitized hagiography familiar to modern Mormons, featuring a Joseph who was monogamously devoted to his beloved Emma. The other is the bawdy and smug tale accepted by non-Mormons and some Mormons, where Joseph deceived Emma and his followers to justify slaking his sexual appetites on dozens of women.
Nightfall at Nauvoo
I was fourteen when I first came face to face with unpleasant possibilities regarding the life of Joseph Smith. My mother had just finished reading Nightfall at Nauvoo, then a newly-released novel written by her uncle, Samuel W. Taylor.
She put the thick paperback down and cocked her head. “I think Sam presents an overall positive view of Joseph Smith,” she said.
Presuming Sam’s book was therefore “safe,” I began reading. I was a child who was shocked to hear detractors had called Joseph Smith “Joe.” I was completely unequipped to deal with the salacious accusations made by John Bennett and Thomas Sharp, repeated in Sam’s book. My teenaged testimony was crushed. Though God seemed to opine that I should remain an active Mormon, I white-knuckled for two decades harboring serious doubts about Joseph and the Church.