Weinstein: A Parallel

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Harvey Weinstein attend EIF’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund Honors Melissa Etheridge at SAKS FIFTH AVENUE’s “Unforgettable Evening” at Regent Beverly Wilshire on March 1, 2006 in Beverly Hills, CA. Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Many will have heard about emerging reports that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has raped, molested, and otherwise abused females for decades. Weinstein prominence was such that he had been granted a lifetime membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, by which he had been awarded a best-picture Oscar for Shakespeare in Love in 1999.

Weinstein’s reported modus operandi was distinctive. Weinstein would claim he had an important opportunity to discuss with a female actor. When the woman arrived in his room, Weinstein, inappropriate clad (or unclad), would proceed to demand sexual favors. If the favors were not immediately forthcoming, Weinstein would threaten to destroy the woman’s career and/or take liberties by force. Any attempts made by the women to retaliate were quashed by various means.

One of those decrying Weinstein for the reported abuse is Tom Hanks, who has been a Vice President in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 2005.

Now imagine that instead of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences we were talking about the Nauvoo-era Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Instead of Tom Hanks, we have Joseph Smith as a ranking leader in the organization. Instead of Harvey Weinstein as an important member of the leadership, we have Dr. John Bennett.

Scandal Honored Leader Reprobate (per leader)
Hollywood 2017 Tom Hanks Harvey Weinstein
Mormonism 1842 Joseph Smith Dr. Bennett

Instead of decades of abuse by one man, imagine the molester has only been active for six or so months but has convinced dozens of others that molestation is “right.” And instead of the ranking leader reacting only after the newspapers publish the women’s allegations, the ranking leader responds to a private informant and takes an active role in uncovering the nature of the abuse. After an initial call for righteousness isn’t effective, the leader uses all means available, including unorthodox means, to identify of the person responsible for the continued molestation.

In today’s scandal, Weinstein has admitted to the acts, but claims they were consensual. He has checked himself into a rehabilitation center so his “sexual addiction” can be treated, as though his were a regrettable but ultimately legal and pardonable pattern of activity. Hanks is often cited as a member of the Academy in news articles reporting on the Academy’s Saturday action to strip Weinstein of his lifetime membership. While some members of the Motion Picture community claim it was common knowledge that Weinstein was an abuser, others claim this news caught them by surprise.

In Nauvoo’s scandal, Smith and others signed their names to the published notification that Bennett had been stripped of membership. The published notification affirmed that leadership had repeatedly attempted to reform Bennett, “apparently to no good effect.” Bennett didn’t have the option of claiming a sexual addiction or casting his behavior as the result of illness. His only option of avoiding public condemnation was to destroy those who condemned him. Bennett embarked on a vast campaign to “tell the truth” about Smith and others, while maintaining that he, himself, was innocent of any wrongful behavior.

In today’s scandal, the women are publishing their detailed accusations for all to read. Despite our supposed age of enlightenment, there are many who presume the women are lying.

In Nauvoo’s scandal, the women’s statements were taken and believed privately. Relatively few were recorded in writing. Redacted versions of the written statements were published during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, publicity that was intended to thwart Higbee’s effort to have Joseph killed. The exposé was insufficiently effective. Meanwhile, the published accounts utterly destroyed the reputations of almost all the women whose accounts were publicized.

No researcher has ever published an analysis of the fuller extant statements. Instead researchers consider the statements through their current lens and presume the activities the women reported as performed by Bennett, Higbee, and others reflect Joseph’s secret teachings. These researchers then publish their conclusions about how Joseph was the debauched leader, conclusions that are then retweeted hundreds if not thousands of times an hour in our modern age.

We are living the Weinstein moment, so we get that one man’s gross abuse does not damn an entire industry.

Unfortunately, we do not understand the Nauvoo moment, so many get confused about who was telling truth and who was lying. Meanwhile an entire religion is damned.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

17 thoughts on “Weinstein: A Parallel

  1. I enjoy reading your perspective, Meg. However, even with your research and the research of others (the Hales, etc) the storyes of those times are as complicated to follow as the plot of the 2004 movie, Primer.

    Regardless, this is a very interesting comparisson. If Nauvoo happened during the social media era, how would the president of the Church deal with the issues? This is to say, do we have any evidence that Tom Hanks was activelly working behind the scenes to reform Harvey, before the news of his exploitation of women hit the fan?

  2. I will point out again that Joseph was proactive where Hollywood has known about Weinstein for decades and hushed it up. I don’t say that any individual person in Hollywood necessarily knew, but it is evident that many people knew about Weinstein and had known for many years. I can’t speak to whether Hollywood attempted to persuade Weinstein to reform.

    Given the recent realization by academics that Louisa Beaman’s covenant occurred in 1842 and therefore long after the Bennett mess was being investigated, Bennett’s activities pre-dated anything Joseph did in Nauvoo. Given the rumors caused by Bennett’s activities, it is not surprising that contemporaries and later generations interpreted Joseph’s covenants as necessarily sexual. Emma’s hopes of keeping covenants untainted by the scandal ended when Brigham make a command decision to allow Joseph’s covenant “widows” the opportunity to become mothers.

  3. This is batshit crazy.

    Joseph is the sick pervert here, not the wise leader.

    I hope you burn in hell for defending him.

  4. Dear “Emma” aka “megstoutisevil at gmail dot com,”

    I am amused at your “email.” If you actually went to the bother of creating that as an email address that you can receive mail at, I’m mildly impressed/flattered.

    However, you don’t appear to have read the M* comment policy. But I’m not going to delete your comment just because the rules permit me to do so.

    I’m a bit more disgruntled that you fling your batshit crazy comment without any rationale for why you believe Joseph is the sick pervert here. I have waded through hundreds of thousands of words claiming that Joseph is the bad actor, but none of the producers of those hundreds of thousands of words ever explained why my analysis of the core situation is wrong based on evidence.

    For example, with Weinstein we have numerous people coming forward with accounts of misbehavior.

    With Joseph there are any number of armchair commentators willing to fling an opinion. But none of the women who associated with Joseph ever accused him of abuse. Granted that Emily Patridge was miffed at being asked to depart the Smith household, but she was more angry with Emma. And that isn’t about sexual mistreatment, that is about being asked to move. If Emily had been angry at Joseph, she wouldn’t have proudly proclaimed to Jane Manning that she was one of “Joseph’s wives” in the months following her move out of the Smith household. Nor would she have participated in a ceremony in the Nauvoo temple that purported to unite her to Joseph for eternity a couple of years later.

    There are women who had covenanted with Joseph who failed to gather to Deseret under the leadership of Brigham Young. Emma Hales Smith is the most notable of these, but she went to her deathbed declaring Joseph to have been entirely honorable. Sarah Cleveland started west, but became disgusted with Brigham Young and returned to live near her friend, Emma.

    Agnes Coolbrith Smith ended up in San Francisco, but far from being disenchanted with Joseph, she declared “Joseph our Dear Dear Dear departed one Joseph there is none greater there is none better none more honest and upright…”

    I submit that no one would say such praises of Weinstein.

    Bennett, a debaucher decried in graphic contemporary detail by multiple women, is the author of the tale that Joseph was a sexual maniac. While Bennett clothed his slanders and libel in a skeleton of truth, there is absolutely no reason for a rational person to take Bennett at face value.

    Joseph was far more wise and compassionate that past Mormons were willing to admit, because to admit Joseph’s compassion would be to acknowledge the wrongful acts on the part of repentant persons that required the compassion.

    Brigham Young, in particular, was clearly on the path of Bennett’s heresy when he propositioned Martha Brotherton. That is the data point that has caused casual historians to suppose the abuses documented against Bennett are similar to Joseph’s behavior, because the language of the Brother proposition is so similar to what we see in the 1842 women’s statements. But a detailed look at the events of 1841-1842 show that Brigham propositioned Martha Brotherton before he ever learned of Joseph’s doctrine. Martha’s claim that Joseph was part of that proposition was solicited by Bennett and is inconsistent with the earlier documented version of the proposition, which claims a different Smith was the third man. Since the other Smith is the one who put himself in that role (in rebutting the distorted rumor), I tend to believe he knew what he was talking about.

    Suffice it to say that you are being irrresponsible, beyond commenting in flagrant disregard to the M* comment policy.

  5. If Helen Mar Kimball is to be believed, Joseph allowed her to “purchase” salvation for herself and her family by marrying him, despite the “thorny” nature of such an arrangement. This is enough to damn him, Meg.

    If the accounts of Joseph using the “angel with a flaming sword” to convince women to marry him are true, these are enough to damn him.

    By “damn,” I mean damn is terms of his priesthood. It is amened at either of those points. He could have done some marvelous things and uttered extraordinary words, just like Weinstein might have made some fantastic films, but if we are looking for divine truth and authority through Joseph Smith, these extreme abuses of authority prove that he did not have the divine mandate.

  6. “these extreme abuses of authority prove that he did not have the divine mandate.“

    There are three levels of knowledge: those who know nothing and thus are oblivious to the issue.

    Those who know everything there is to know about an issue and can thus see things clearly. (Few, if any besides God, reach this point).

    And finally, those who know marginal amounts about a topic (this is where most of us fall into). This is the danger zone, because by knowing just a little we pick and choose what fits best our worldview and fall into the dangerous territory of claiming we understand something enough to say “I need no more knowledge”. People in this camp tend to disregard evidence that classes with their views, and it takes a great deal of humility, introspection, and study to allow new data to update your understanding.

    Where do you fall in? As for the topic of Nauvoo, could there possibly be more you need to read and study? (You bwt there are). I am just starting to get into the primary accounts myself, and boy is there volumes and volumes of data to sift through!

  7. Hi Lucas,
    Please don’t mistake the fact that I cite two snippets of history as if that encompasses my knowledge on it. None of us can know exactly what happened, and it’s improbable that any of us can know all the available history of what happened. But I have researched quite a bit, own many original sources and have read many. But, I’ve also dealt with people who have lied continually while also invoking God to assign blame to others. I think that in the midst of the sea of information, it might be easy to skip over important instances of abuse. The ones I cited are abuse. They are examples of the use of supposed doctrine and revelation and priesthood authority to enact abuse. Look at the more general historic picture and the tide of polygamy germinated from Joseph and especially Brigham Young, and the prophet Joseph clearly led the church and subsequent presidents astray in a system of systemic abuse of power and misogyny. They did not need to do it, they were not working against a more misogynistic backdrop of their day. They digressed and led generations astray.

  8. Hi Bec, that is great. I just read today chapter 17 of the GBH manual on continual learning. I look forward to continue learning and understanding things like he and his dad did. I invite you to continue following his counsel.

    History is very complicated like that. There are no unbiased sources, for example. Churchill’s quote on history is a great one to ponder, because it shows how the one writting history will affect future reader’s view of said history. Can a single quote be enough to condemn a historical figure? Can several? Or the opposite, perhaps? Can a single (or several) quotes redeem a historical figure? Will the historical data be interpreted differently 30 yrs from now? If so, what will future people say about our ‘erroneous’ interpretation?

    Since history can never be unbiased, what can one seaking to understand history do? How can one know which ‘prophet’ of history to folow? Who has it mostly right? Who should you outright avoid? Should you ‘read it all’ or just stick to the ‘best books’? In the midts of this war of words and tumult of opinion, what is to be done?

    In matters of spirituality, I believe God can give anyone peace concerning any topic that is troubling to a person living hundreds of years from the events in question. That peace is worth a lot to me, and I have it for the Nauvoo period, as an example. Lots of spiritual answers come in that form, and it is frequently updated as I understand better the details. The problem I see with people is that they mostly seek historical and tecnical understanding but neglect their spiritual study, missing out on the quiet peace mentioned above that the HG brings. Some even dismiss it as ‘wishful thinking’ or ‘turning a blind eye to obvious contradicting data’.

  9. I was wondering were the trolls had gone. I was starting to think M* had dropped off their radar, because it’s been too quiet here.

    Another Weinstein parallel was Jimmy Saville of England.

    One of my Catholic friends like to say: “If God doesn’t make California sink into the ocean, He’s going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

  10. Hi Bec and Lucas (and Bookslinger),

    Have any of you studied ethnography?

    The point in ethnography is to understand what the people who are being observed (e.g., Helen Mar) understood their circumstance to be.

    I suspect that Bec is presuming that sex occurred as a result of the angel and the sword persuasions and the promises that women would receive salvation and eternal union with their families by covenanting with Joseph.

    And unfortunately, as referenced by Elder Holland during the past conference, there have been many who suffered from toxic perfectionism, which in turn creates an abusive environment.

    However the Jesus Christ of the Bible promises that all mankind would be saved. There is no theology other than Mormonism that both accepts the necessity of baptism and has a mechanism for providing that necessary baptism for those who have passed without accepting baptism in this life. The issue becomes more problematic when one considers the biblical requirement that the baptism not be administered by anyone, but by someone who has authority Christ recognizes (e.g., the matter of Simon attempting to purchase priesthood power in Acts 9 iirc).

    The generally accepted narrative sees Joseph receiving the sealing keys in 1836, a few months before Fanny Alger’s departure from Kirtland (and therefore possibly before the actual covenant with Fanny). But it appears it wasn’t until 1840 that Joseph understand the the mechanism for performing posthumous Salvific ordinances.

    The emerging narrative shows Joseph only entering into covenants linking families in October 1841, when he asked Dimick Huntington to actually approach sister Zina Huntington Jacobs to enter into covenant. According to the reports, this is after the angel and the sword incident. There is no reason to believe that Joseph was aware of Bennett’s illicit intercourse heresy as of October 1841, though one would presume that an omniscient God was aware.

    Those who find the Angel and the sword narrative abusive appear to presume that Joseph made this up as a fiction to play on the minds of the gullible. They tend not to be sophisticated in their understanding of the very localized temporal nature of use of that account to persuade. I’m traveling so my memory might be vague, but it appears the only time when the Angel and the sword narrative is used as justification for the request that a woman enter into covenant was with Zina. The other times when that narrative is mentioned, it is a thing that is related, but not a narrative that was used to require the covenant.

    With Prescendia, Dimick approached Joseph, wishing that the Huntington sister whose husband was no longer a believer could similarly be sealed into Joseph’s family.

    With Agnes Coolbrith Smith, we simply don’t have enough recorded to know how the Angel and the sword narrative might have played in her decision to accept Joseph as a spiritual levirate husband.

    With Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, the series of three angelic visits was related, but the Angel and the sword narrative is informational, not persuasive. The persuasive visit to Mary was the 1834 angelic visit, where Joseph indicated that he had initially been prompted to ask her to covenant with him. At that time she had been single. While Fanny Alger appears to have been working in the Smith household at that time, there is no reason to be certain that Fanny and Joseph had by 1834 entered into covenant or married or tumbled in the hay (whatever your paradigm). Given Mary Rollins’s enthusiasm for the restored gospel, it is fascinating to consider how she might have filled the role of extra-monogamous covenant spouse. But instead we got Fanny, who acted in a manner that caused Emma extreme concern and caused non-witness Cowdery to presume that abuse of power had occurred (e.g., the “dirty little matter” that Cowdery cast as adultery).

    While others may mention the Angel and the sword narrative, there is no indication that these others that the mention was more than informational.

    Getting to the matter of eternal salvation and union with family. That is a core Mormon believe, that covenants are required to perpetuate families into eternity. With Helen Mar Kimball and Lucy Walker, this matter of enabling an eternal linkage is a significant part of the discussion, as we see or infer in other cases.

    As the first families, this was more than a trivial consideration. As with any new practice (or product), if there are no early adopters, there will not be able to be a later and mature availability of the practice (or product).

    Again, the objection to this appears to come from the quarter that does not believe in the doctrine of eternal families and those who presume that the covenants were associated with sexuality.

    We need to remind folks that no otherwise single woman who covenanted with Joseph became pregnant during Joseph’s lifetime. Emily Partridge would agree decades later that “carnal intercourse” had occurred, but this was after decades of plural marriage being openly accepted in LDS communities and in the context of the Temple Lot being subject to forfeiture if the lower court ruling was allowed to stand. While I don’t have a problem were the covenant with Emily to have included marital relations, I certainly don’t accept her 1894 testimony as “proof” that sex actually occurred. Aside from Emily’s lack of becoming pregnant, we have the 1843 entry in William Clayton’s journal where Joseph appears to not yet have consummated the covenants with the Eliza and Emily Partridge because he knew that if he did so Emma would “pitch” on him. There is one other antagonistic second hand account asserting that Malissa Lott laid with Joseph one time for the express purpose of producing a child that would prove that he practiced what he preached. But this comes via an RLDS apostate who was using the tale to attack the RLDS Church (which at the time claimed Joseph had only ever been married to Emma Hales). The provenance of the tale doesn’t eliminate the possibility that it could be true, but it does call the tale into question because of the motivation associated with the telling.

    Many of the married women who covenanted with Joseph fail to conceive children between the time of their covenant and Joseph’s death. In those cases where children were conceived, all cases that have been tested show that the children were the biological offspring of the legal husband, not Joseph.

    So what we have persisting is:

    1) the modern crowd who continues to believe Bennett, rejected by the faithful of 1842-1854 as a vile wretch.

    2) those following the latest studies, which are increasingly showing a Joseph who rarely, if ever, consummated the covenants with women other than Emma, a Joseph who was attempting to put in place a structure whereby all families could be united despite death, with initial practice being to seal individuals to himself. This is the “larval” stage of modern Mormon temple practices, practices that didn’t achieve their penultimate manifestation until 1894 under Wilford Woodruff (modern practice has evolved slightly since Woodruff’s time).

    I don’t expect that most who believe in a libidinous and abusive Joseph will change their belief any more than I would have expected Typhoid Mary to understand bacterial infection or Bible Belt Christians to accept the possibility of evolution. But I do expect those who have “felt to sing the song of redeeming love” to try to understand the historical milieu that created the lurid accusations against Joseph Smith so they can reconcile what they’ve known with a history that seems damning (when told by those who have abandoned any pretense of trying to believe).

    Since Toxic Perfectionism is a thing, I also find that a detailed understanding of Nauvoo allows us to see how many fell but were allowed to repent. Alas, the strength of toxic perfectionism is such that many won’t allow Brigham and Hyrum and Eliza Snow to have erred, because they fundamentally don’t believe that such errors can be overcome. Or at least, that’s what I infer when I am told, “but… I just don’t think that could have happened…”

    Anyway, thank you, Bec, for not being an utter troll, though you are clearly in violation of the comment policy.

  11. Meg, I did mistakenly assume by the scholarly tone of your writing that this blog was not intellectually bound by an axiomatic loyalty to Mormonism.

    I did not read your comments policy. Of course, that is my fault, and I will depart at that.

  12. Meg, I appreciate you allowing those who disagree, even uncharitably disagree, to voice their thoughts. Theirs and your responses are the kinds of interactions that make the bloggernacle interesting.

  13. Meg’s book on Nauvoo polygamy and the “spiritual wifery” mess is essential reading to understand where she’s coming from:


    Meg connects the dots of generally-accepted Nauvoo events in a way that paints a picture that NO ONE, even historians with “axiomatic loyalty” to the church have considered.

    Bec, unless you have axiomatic loyalty to anti-mormonism, you owe it to yourself to read Meg’s book. You seem to know the documentary history, but I guarantee you that you have never seen Meg’s unique interpretation/connections before. The connections she makes are astounding, and logical at the same time. I was amazed that other historians, both pro, con, and luke-warm never made the same connections!

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