Precursors to Joseph’s Polygamy

[This is the third post in a series. To read the series from the beginning, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Protovisionary, Robert Carter III of Virginia

It is impossible to truly understand Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding plural marriage without understanding the environment in which he was operating. Medicine was primitive, histories could be hidden, weird sex was rampant, and visions abounded.

Having explored a possible doctrinal purpose for restoring the possibility of plural marriage, let me share three stories that capture the environment that existed prior to Joseph Smith that also inform my hypotheses about Nauvoo in the 1840s.

Old-Fashioned Medicine

We modern folk forget how primitive medicine was in the first half of the 1800s. Even as late as the Civil War, medical procedures were barely more advanced than the medicine practiced during Christ’s lifetime. Alleged advances included practices like injecting tobacco smoke into the orifices of an unconscious person to revive them – literally blowing smoke into their, er, large intestine.

Why Would a Loving God Demand Polygamy?

Pat Chiu, Sketch of Salt Lake Temple

Pat Chiu, Salt Lake Temple

[This is the second post in a series. To read the series from the beginning, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

This week our home teacher stopped by to cheer us. For his lesson, he told us the Christmas story from memory. Two verses stood out in particular:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 1

Joy to All People

The manner in which we are to be saved is explained in the story of Nicodemus, recorded in the Gospel of John:

Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 2

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 3

Throughout scripture, the Lord speaks of the salvation of all mankind, of whosoever believeth in God. Yet when Joseph knelt in the grove to pray, there was no theology that had a mechanism that might save all mankind. On that bright spring day in 1820, 4 all Joseph knew was that God lived and there was something about the religions of the day that was not right in God’s eyes.

I submit that it was the loss of the doctrines that would save all mankind that God mourned. Continue reading


  1. Luke 2: 10-11
  2. John 3:3
  3. John 3:16
  4. John Lefgren’s analysis of local weather patterns and the science of maple syrup place the date of this vision on Palm Sunday, 1820

A Faithful Joseph



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.
Continue reading