Why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff?

In the wake of media attention regarding the Church essays on polygamy, one of the refrains you will hear from some members of the Church is, “why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff?”

I do not want to diminish the emotional toll that further disclosures on polygamy may be having on some members, but I would like to posit that if you are claiming you never were taught about polygamy you are a bit naïve. For several reasons.

The first is that the Church clearly has taught about polygamy in many formats: in Sunday School, in seminary, in official Church histories. In fact, if you go to lds.org and do a search for the word “polygamy” you will get literally hundreds of hits, including links to Church manuals that discuss the issue.

The Church has repeatedly encouraged you to read the scriptures (I know, I know, if you want to keep something secret, put it in the scriptures because nobody ever reads them). You may have noticed that there is a rather long section of the Doctrine & Covenants, D&C 132. That section includes this provocative excerpt:

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

So, if you have read the scriptures and were even a little bit curious, this particular section may have jumped out at you. Yes, the Church taught you things.

Now, you may ask, “well, OK, they taught about polygamy but never gave all of the lurid details.”

And yes this is true the Church did not teach ALL of the lurid details. My question would be: when in the history of the world has anybody ever been taught ALL of the lurid details about anything?

Let’s think this through logically. We belong to a church that meets for three hours on Sunday. About 1 hour and 45 minutes of that time are devoted to instruction for priesthood and Sunday School. Teenagers go to four years of seminary most mornings during the school year. So, people are spending a lot of time in church, but they are not spending enough time to study ALL of the lurid details.

The reason is of course that there is a lot to learn, but not just about polygamy. There are other controversial aspects of the history of the Church, including the whole blacks and the priesthood issue, the Danites, the Mountain Meadows Massacre and — the big kahuna — the Church’s stance on same-sex attraction. (I mention these issues because these are what critics of the Church constantly harp on).

It would seem logical that we would like our members to be educated on the scriptures and on a few of the factual aspects of Church history and perhaps even hear a few positive, faith-promoting stories. And critics need to consider that many people (probably the vast majority) do not come to Church to learn worldly stuff but instead to be spiritually uplifted. Gospel Doctrine class is about a half-hour after you dispense with prayers, introducing guests and a basic introduction. The same with priesthood. So, if you actually count instruction time, you get about an hour most Sundays, but of course there is stake conference two times a year and General Conference two times a year and occasional emergencies that will involve the cancellation of Church. So, really there are about 45 or so Sundays a year to carry out instruction for an hour each Sunday.

Given that the purpose of the Church is to help build up the Kingdom of God in these latter days, how exactly are we supposed to fit everything in in those 45 hours of instruction every year? Because of course the same people who want us to spend hours and hours studying polygamy (the lurid details!) also want us to spend all of our time concentrating on how the Church was wrong on the priesthood issue, and the Danites, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre and of course how incredibly wrong the Church is on the whole same-sex thing. If these people had their way, we would study nothing at all but lurid details. Which of course is the point.

It seems to me when you step back and consider the issue dispassionately, the Church has been handling instruction pretty darned well. And the good news for Gospel Doctrine teachers like myself is that the recent Church essays on these topics have made it much easier to refer people to the official Church position on these controversial subjects. So a good system has gotten even better.

Given the role of the Church, and indeed the history of Jehovah’s prophets in every dispensation of time, it is not at all surprising or alarming to me that the Church has recent history that is difficult to understand. This is where faith comes in. If there is something about Church history you do not understand, you are being challenged to find a faithful way to respond. Many people try to find out more information (this is what I did), but others just file away the difficult information until another time and concentrate on the joy of the Gospel. I know it is hard to believe, but some people prefer to concentrate on the eternal joy of knowing that families can be linked together forever than, say, how many wives Joseph Smith had.

I should mention that I am a convert to the Church. I studied as much of the “lurid details” as I could before joining, and I got answers that satisfied my concerns. At the end of the day, the fact that I was married in the temple and that my life has a purpose inside the Church is about a million times more important to me than the ramblings of Fawn Brodie and (lately) John Dehlin.

The Church did teach you stuff about even controversial topics. Perhaps you were distracted or didn’t pay attention or were not curious enough to explore on your own. You are ultimately responsible for your own learning, and you are responsible for how you respond to new information. That is what that whole “free agency” thing is all about.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

85 thoughts on “Why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff?

  1. My anecdotal experience. My wife was raised born and raised in the church, attended BYU in the early 80’s, graduated. It wasn’t until she was about 42 years old, teaching seminary, that she really had decent exposure to the extent of JS’s plural marriages. I think she knew he had married one or two extra wives, but not any where near 30. Admittedly, she had not done any research and still hasn’t. She weathered the new information with a shrug of the shoulders. I joined the church at 18, and didn’t really hear about JS’s plural marriages until I was around 40 or so, as it started popping up on the internet. I don’t remember, in any priesthood lesson or otherwise, any real discussion about JS’s plural marriages. I had read plenty of traditional writings, but admittedly had not dove into all the plural marriage historical stuff. I accepted BY’s plural marriages when I joined the church. It wasn’t a big leap to accept JS’s plural marriages. The only complaint, addressed in your post, is the church’s consistent effort to not talk about JS’s plural marriages. When you go to Nauvoo, you won’t hear one word about the other wives, or the struggles that were going on. It’s “Joseph and Emma” all the way. I agreed with President Hinckley that it’s behind us, that we don’t need to focus on it today. Still, sort of the way the church finally addressed the Mountain Meadows Massacre in the Ensign, you would think the church could have addressed JS’s plural marriages, and at least bring it up in Nauvoo. I don’t think we need to white wash or be ashamed of any of our history. But, I’m not in the church’s PR department, and I can certainly see why we wouldn’t want to dwell on all of JS’s plural marriages absent a lot of facts. I think the church has been more forthcoming about BY’s plural marriages because they were open and notorious, and therefore much easier to make sense of. In the end, with my own brief review of things, I don’t have a problem with JS’s plural marriages.

  2. IDIAT, actually I was just at Nauvoo this summer, and there is information about polygamy that is available if you want to find it. Yes, the Church does not broadcast it, but, again, what is anybody reasonable expecting?

    At the end of the day, it is painfully obvious if you read D&C 132 and the Church manuals that the Church is acknowledging Joseph’s polygamy. I truly think that most people choose not to think about it, which is a perfectly fine response, but you can’t go blaming the Church for that.

    My wife was raised in the Church (I was not), and she was peripherally aware of the Church’s polygamy, but it was just not something she cared about. It had no relevance to her in our times. What she cared about was understanding core doctrine, preparing for her mission, going to the temple, understanding the importance of eternal families, etc. And the fact that she concentrates on these things is one of the many reasons I love her.

    Bottom line: I understand why some people feel surprised by the polygamy issue, but I do not sympathize with the desire to blame the Church.

  3. Geoff B.,

    If you are granting that the details are in fact lurid, you may have an answer for the rupture many folks feel when confronting Joseph’s polygamy. And for those who keep positing that so few children were produced from these marriages as evidence of the sexlessness of these marriages, just how broadly do you define sexual relationships between two people? It’s how you define IT, I suppose, to hearken back to a definitional sex scandal of the 90s. In other words, for some, the mere carrying on of flirtations with women and girls not his wife but perhaps in the courting stage prior to new marriage/sealing would impinge on the concept of sexual morality of many in our faith. For others, “petting” will definitely be on the spectrum of sexual relationships and “petting” could occur a thousand times over with any number of additional wives and never result in pregnancy or offspring but undoubtedly something sexual was shared between the man and his plural wife/wives. So again, if you grant that there are lurid details, and of course there are, a good number of people are going to be devastated by them once they start thinking through them and considering the implications. Especially when our people so strenuously try to be chaste in their interactions with others and regularly experience incredible shame and sorrow when mistakes are made in this area.

  4. Oudenos, yes, this is where faith comes in, as I explain above. Please show me how anything you have written contradicts the point of my post.

    (Or is the point of your comment is simply to garner sympathy for the disaffected, then that is fine but is really not the point of this post either and can be addressed elsewhere).

  5. I was raised in the church in the South, my parents were converts as were a lot of members in my ward. I can’t remember when I didn’t know about polygamy. When someone found out I was Mormon, 9 times out of 10, the first question was how many wives my dad had so it seemed necessary to me to be able to offer explanations from a young age. I read the Book of Mormon on my own when I was 13 and I remember asking my parents and Sunday school teacher why Jacob seemingly condemned it and the Church practiced it. No one at church seemed surprised by any questions I had about polygamy or uninformed. I read all the church history books as a teen my parents had and polygamy wasn’t a secret in any of them. In early morning seminary, I remember very clearly learning about Joseph Smith practicing polygamy. I completely agree with Geoff’s last paragraph, it’s up to the learner to listen and pay attention and question. I can remember some of the kids my same age who had attended all the same classes at church as I did, being clueless about polygamy and it’s history in the church. They would be as surprised by my knowledge of it as I was by their ignorance.

  6. “Or is the point of your comment is simply to garner sympathy for the disaffected?”

    Please do concede to me more understanding than that. Let me try to explain my point in another way. When I was a missionary, I was taught and I believed that my success as a missionary was predicated upon obedience to the commandments and the mission specific rules. From the time of baptism at age 8 I have been taught and I believe that my ability to have the Holy Ghost influence my thinking/feeling/decision making is predicated upon my obedience to the commandments. One of the most important of these commandments is the law of chastity and when I have breached it or come close to breaching it in any way, I have suffered the loss of spirit and its guiding power in my life. So, with that mindset, when I, and I imagine many, many others, am confronted with the realities of Joseph’s polygamy, it is only logical for me to wonder whether at some point in his very human attempts to institute plural marriage, he breached moral lines that would have caused him to be deprived of the spirit. There are serious consequences here for us believers, both how we understand the early restoration, and how we see our own lives of faith. I am not a voice of or for the disaffected. I am exercising faith I have and reaching for more, but there are some very significant paradigms crashing into each other right now. This post feels to me like a barb aimed at those who most need pastoral care right now.

  7. @Geoff B If “these people had their way, we would study nothing at all but lurid details. Which of course is the point.”

    Yes, that really is the point. These questions are hostile, deliberately subversive, and one question leads to another ad infinitum.

    What’s more, this has been going on for a long time – as I discovered in an old library of which I am a member:


  8. “This post feels to me like a barb aimed at those who most need pastoral care right now.”

    Your interpretation of the post is up to you, but it is definitely not a barb. I am not one of those people who believes in our hyper-sensitive, politically correct times that it is wrong to express unpopular opinions. I believe people need to take responsibility for their own actions and feelings, including deciding whether or not to be offended by what other people have written. So, if you see it as a barb, it is on you, not on me.

    In any case, I definitely can sympathize with your point much better now that you have explained it that way. Yes, you are correct that “there are some very significant paradigms crashing into each other right now.” I think that is very well put. It seems to me that we have even more reason to either a)understand that this is a test of our faith of b)concentrate on other areas of the Gospel that are less controversial.

    My only point is: we cannot blame the Church for our own lack of understanding. We need to take responsibility for our own feelings and actions.

  9. Hi oudenos,

    I am a foreign member of the Church. I was always taught to trust the living prophets and scriptures when dealing with any questions regarding the Church. Remember Ether 12:27?

    “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

    Think of this issue you currently are wondering about (JS and his Polygamy) as one of these weaknesses we all have as part of our human nature. Search for answers, ask your Bishop and Stake President, but most importantly seek for understanding from the source itself. In the Lord’s due time, you will find this issue become a stronghold for your ever growing faith.

    My personal issue I am working on is with regard to remarriages after an eternal spouse has passed away. In my eyes an eternal commitment to purity with your eternal spouse does not end when your eternal spouse is departed from this mortal life. It is something my own mind has issues with, even though in God’s eyes it isn’t an issue. He has helped me accept it in faith, and it has increased my testimony in the power of prayer. I hope you are able to do the same with your current issue.

  10. I think there are two issues here that might be helpful to separate out: A) The way in which we come to know about polygamy; and B) How we explain polygamy. The OP focuses on A, so I think it’s best to keep B for another discussion; although I will make one quick point: as I mention in my FPR post, the feeling of betrayal is sometimes involved in A, and I might add that the feeling of disgust is sometimes involved in B. How we handle those feelings can be talked about separately.

    Regarding A, you say “if you are claiming you never were taught about polygamy you are a bit naïve.” Let me suggest that there is a spectrum of “openness” with regard to information. On one side there is the active suppression of information–burning books, locking up information for none to see, denying the existence of things, etc. On the other side is complete openness–a public repository of information easily accessible and widely disseminated by articles, book, courses, etc. There is much room between these two poles.

    We can ask ourselves two questions: where has the Church been and where is it now on this spectrum; as well as, where ought the Church to be? It’s foolish to suggest that the Church is at either pole; but I think saying that members are “taught” about polygamy is stretching it. It’s more like polygamy is mentioned , but I don’t think it’s taught. And my take is that what (sensible) people are calling for is something resembling “teaching.” This doesn’t need to go all the way to the other side of the spectrum (although the Church has moved much closer to this side of the spectrum on Mountain Meadows) where we put polygamy in the rotation for Gospel Doctrine along with the standard works, but the following would go a long way:

    1) Making factual information readily available to those interested. This need not be as grand as the JSPP, but something resembling it to a lesser degree.

    2) Integrating it into the history we tell about ourselves. This would include incorporating it into histories of the prophets in priesthood/RS manuals, media made about that time period, etc.

    3) Directly discussing it in General Conference and official church publications.

    4) Include it in parts of lessons where relevant; maybe even have a whole lesson on it during the year we discuss church history.

    In short, we need to transform it into something we can talk about rather than keeping it something like the bastard child our uncle fathered while in high school. You know, the one we send a Christmas card to, but otherwise don’t include in our family gatherings.

  11. Oudenos –

    I can see the quandary, but I think much of it goes away if one gains a testimony of the Gospel from the Holy Ghost doctrine-by-doctrine, rather than simply believing that “Joseph Smith was a legitimate [and by implication, righteous] prophet; ergo, the things he taught are all necessarily true”. In this regard, I would concede we have perhaps been ill-served by Church materials that tend to promote the latter line of thinking. Our testimonies of the Book of Mormon, or a given section of the D&C, or temple work, need not and should not be a mere outgrowth of our historical conclusions about Joseph Smith’s sex life.

    SmallAxe –

    Another problem with giving polygamy too much attention is the possibility of a collateral rise of interest in the polygamous offshoot sects and the writings of their intellectual forefathers. Denver Snuffer, for example, derives at least some of his “the-priesthood-is-independent-of-the-church-leadership” schtick from (going off memory here) either Woolley or Musser; and from what I can gather the apologetic response to Snuffer’s drivel has been absolutely dismal (with the exception of Brian Hales’ website and one or two articles by the Mormon Interpreter).

    Because most polygamous offshoots have been content to self-exile into southern Utah and don’t aggressively proselytize, the Church hasn’t had to intellectually engage with or defend against them for eighty years–stigmatization of the “plygs” has been enough. Once you’ve de-stigmatized it, there’s going to be a need for an answer to the question of “so, why not now?” that goes way beyond “it’s illegal” or “the prophet said to stop”.

  12. Geoff B.,

    I appreciate and agree with much of what you have written in this post. However, I would like to make an observation that I think has some bearing on this topic.

    It is true that church manuals and publications do contain information on this and other topics. But in my experience there are more than a few of the layman teachers in the church who, in the course of executing their callings, don’t actually teach the information in the manuals.

    Some of that tendency is just a function of natural prioritization. The manuals almost always contain more information than can be covered in the time allotted. And the members of the class can drive the focus of a lesson based upon their comments and needs (and that can be a good thing). And when prioritizing information to teach, it would seem natural for some people to under-prioritize uncomfortable or difficult topics (possibly even subconsciously) and to correctly emphasize devotional and pastoral content. This would be especially true of teachers who are not very prepared or preparing last-minute.

    I can conceive of the possibility that even though topics such as polygamy are covered in the manuals, that they are being under-discussed or even omitted by well meaning lay-teachers. And I can see how that might lead to a feedback loop of self-reinforcing reticence on those topics.

    There are certainly members of the church whose lack of knowledge of these subjects is the result of their own casual or superficial engagement with the church. That is undeniable.

    However, I can also conceive of others who are sincere, devout, and engaged, but simply have had very little exposure to some subjects through no fault of their own, and, I might add, through no real fault of the church– it is just a function of human nature, social psychology, and personalities.

    Just my 2 cents.

  13. Jmax, good observations. So, let’s do a thought experiment. Every Mormon in the history of the last century has had the following experience. Somebody finds out you are Mormon. They ask (inevitably if you are a man): “how many wives do you have? (hardy har har!).” Or if you are woman “How many sisters wives are in your house? (hardy har har!).”

    So, every one of these Mormons has had to consider how to answer this question. Usually, I just joke along. But the point is that it is literally impossible for an adult Mormon to avoid considering the polygamous history of the Church.

    I have no problem with your comment above, which is thoughtful and makes good points. No, the problem I have is with the many comments I have seen over the last few days that can be summed up as: “I am shocked, SHOCKED to learn that the Church used to practice polygamy! Why didn’t the Church ever teach me that!?” If you have not seen these comments, then you are leading a charmed life. Unfortunately I have seen many of them, and this post is aimed at those people, not the “sincere, devout and engaged” people you mention.

  14. Thanks, Geoff. I understand what you are saying.

    Most of the shocked comments I have seen have not been about the practice of Plural Marriage in church history in general, but specifically about Joseph Smith having been sealed to women who were already married to other men, and having been sealed to a few young women.

    Of course, part of the shock is because of the way in which that information has been framed both by liberal Mormon bloggers and the mainstream media, who tend to characterize it using shock words like “polyandry” and “child-bride”. The nuances, like the fact that the word “sealed” is not always functionally equivalent to the word “married” are ignored in favor of the most sordid characterization.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the shock is not a result of reading the actual articles published by the church, but a reaction to accepting the characterization of the articles made by the media and liberal bloggers with an agenda.

    The one thing that I can see being legitimately difficult or shocking for some members who may not have been deeply aware of the details is the fact that the commandment to practice plural marriage appears to have caused some strife between Emma and Joseph, and that in order to obey the Lord, Joseph was sealed to some women without Emma’s knowledge or consent. (Meg has provided an alternative interpretation of the historical facts in her series here on M*, but it is certainly not mainstream at this point).

    I can see how that information could be difficult for some members. That can be an understandable, normal reaction. But I think that a careful reading of the church’s actual articles on the subject, some calm circumspect contemplation, coupled with prayer and fasting, can help bring peace and a reassurance and reconfirmation that Joseph acted under the commandment of God.

  15. I’m leading a charmed life, but I live in Utah. Multiple wives is a topic often covered in lessons. It has been great to have discussions, but my issues with polygamy weren’t laid to rest until I read “A Faithful Joseph” here on M* by Meg Stout.

  16. While I don’t think the Church has intentionally hidden information in the past, it has often ignored such teachings in its manuals and teachings, or at least gave such teachings a soft brush.
    While most members should not be surprised at Joseph being a polygamist, it can bother some to find out he married teenagers and married women. Why? Because it goes against our modern sense of right and wrong.
    We have not done a very good job at inoculating our members in the past. Now that the Church is putting out discussions on tough issues, we are seeing members experiencing the high fever and aches that often come with some inoculations. A good friend of mine in a major calling in our stake recently told me that some of this stuff bothered him for a few days, until he prayed and pondered on it. The Lord reminded him of the spiritual experiences he’s had that converted him, and he knows now to just put this stuff on the shelf.
    As it is, it is a wonder that modern Christians and Jews are not shocked by their religion. Moses and Joshua did genocide. Abraham tried to sacrifice his child. Several were polygamists (and Sarah was probably a teenager when Abraham married her). Jesus used ancient Jewish folk magic to heal the blind man with clay. Judah fooled around with his daughter in law. Levi slaughtered an entire city of men. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who would be the covenant people. King David would murder and commit adultery (both worthy of death under the Law of Moses) and still be considered the covenant line of Jehovah.
    Centuries of “lurid” and terrible things done by men that God still accepted as his children, prophets, and covenant people.
    It isn’t for us to judge God’s chosen. God will do his own judging. We are to receive our own spiritual witness, and then follow what God commands through his prophets.

  17. The church mentioned polygamy. That’s not what people are shocked about. It’s the 14 year old wife, and sheer number of wives, and marrying other men’s wives. That, the church did not mention, and indeed actively made it seem to most members like such lurid insinuations were anti-mormon lies.

  18. I like what Rame says: “we are seeing members experiencing the high fever and aches that often come with some inoculations.” Some will not survive. Most will.

  19. As Geoff indicated, it’s hard to avoid knowing that polygamy has been a factor in Mormon history. However re-reading my series reminded me that even I knew that it is widely avoided in formal Church settings.

    So if you go somewhere and everyone tells you your mother is a whore, do you eventually begin to agree merely because everyone says it? You might angrily defend her without proof. Or you might quietly endure the insults and seek to know the truth yourself.

    What I did in my Faithful Joseph series is lay out the result of my years of research, which God inspired me to do against my will (lots of arguments, including at temple dedications, actually). I could not imagine how the matter could ever be something I would want to publish. And then as I spent the years contemplating the full set of events, the version of the tale I have laid out for you came to the fore.

    I would expect the Church to endorse Fawn Brodie’s view of Joseph Smith (which has been parroted with minor variations by almost all recent credible scholars) as much as I would expect you to introduce me to your mother and say “Oh, and by the way, she’s a whore.”

  20. There will always be excuses for discontent which can easily fester into apostasy. I am temporarily attending a ward where several members are professional musicians of high caliber. Opera singers in the congregation add a lovely effect to standard hymns, however I recently overheard two women decrying the way they felt drowned out by the powerful voices near at hand. Similarly I have sometimes overheard complaints about people with too much scriptural scholarship or display other talents above the norm. It is true that in earlier decades it was not as easy to seek out information about sensitive topics as it is today. To feel offended by that ‘lack of transparency’ is not unusual, but as Geoff has pointed out, the amazing fruits of the Gospel as restored by Joseph Smith should not be sacrificed to discontent.

  21. As I understand, the Church exists to teach faith and so forth, not history — it only needs to use history when it is helpful to teach faith and so forth.

    Anyway, church lesson manuals are prepared by good people trying to fulfill a difficult assignment. No doubt, others with the same assignment might produce a somewhat different product, but then still others would be upset at their effort. I am okay with the diligent effort of the church curriculum staff, even though I know I would approach some lessons somewhat differently than they did.

    I’m a convert — I learned about it all before joining — nothing was hidden from me.

  22. (and Sarah was probably a teenager when Abraham married her)

    And Mary was probably fourteen-ish when she agreed to become the mother of the Son of God.

    I wonder how old God was at that point? A mite older than thirty-seven, I’d wager.

  23. JImD, older than Edward I would imagine. Nothing more to add than what has already been said, but I that joke was begging to be said.

  24. For those who have concerns specifically with Joseph’s practice of polygamy (which I can appreciate and even relate to) I would like to ask a few questions, questions I have asked myself that help give me perspective, peace and faith regarding this admittedly confusing and potentially troubling issue.

    So to those who are troubled by the realization and fact that Joseph personally participated in plural marriage, (whether this is new to you or not is irrelevant to my questions) here is what I would ask you:

    1) have you known throughout your time in the church that plural marriage was practiced by Brigham Young along with many other early church leaders in Utah? I can’t imagine any member or even nonmember with even a vague awareness of Mormons, not knowing this, so I will assume that the answer to this question is yes, which then leads to the second question.

    2) Do you, or have you accepted the doctrine of plural marriage as coming from the Lord and being part of the overall doctrine relating to eternal marriage? Related to this question is would you consider any doctrine of exaltation based upon eternal marriage to be completely fair and available to all without some form of eternal plural marriage? The answers to these questions are particularly important because if you accept plural marriage as a true doctrine coming from the Lord, then I see no reason to have any concerns regarding Joseph’s practice of it. If he received a genuine revelation in response to a sincere question, and then acted on it, this is in complete harmony with everything else we know about Josephs life and what we believe as a church. This would still be true even if the details of Joseph’s plural marriages are troubling because we can’t possibly know all Joseph’s reasons or circumstances, so if the doctrine is true, it is true, and there should be no issues even if details seem sketchy.

    If on the other hand you are hesitant to accept this doctrine as coming from the Lord (totally understandable) then the second half of that question is important, because if you accept eternal marriage as necessary for exaltation, (a foundational doctrine of the church and Temple practice) then does it not follow that some form of plural marriage would be necessary to make access to exaltation perfectly fair and available to all? The answer to this is important, because I am aware of individuals who don’t like the idea of plural marriage coming from the Lord, but nevertheless accept the idea and early practice of it as part of the philosophical underpinnings of an essential doctrine; Practiced as an appendage of the early leaders understanding of a core doctrine, but perhaps not in full harmony with how things will actually play out in heaven. This position also provides some level of comfort and perspective with regards to the practice beginning with Joseph.

    3) Even if you believe the doctrine and practice of plural marriage to be completely wrong and man made, yet you still believe that at least in some ways the church is divinely guided (this a difficult but not impossible position to take, and I personally don’t really care which of these positions a member chooses to take) then my final question is: do you believe that the 15 men we refer to as prophets, seers and revelators today, actually hold all the keys of salvation under the direction of president Monson. If so, then these keys had to have been passed down in an unbroken chain going back through such plural marriage participants as Joseph F. Smith, Lorenzo Snow, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor and Brigham Young, beginning with Joseph as he received them from heaven.

    The priesthood keys issue, is, I believe, the single most important question regarding the divine status of our church as well as our own individual status in relation to God. The question of the reality of these keys affects the meaning, authority and eternal significance of every ordinance and covenant we have made starting with baptism and culminating in our Temple sealings, because every ordinance is performed under the direction and authorization of one who holds the priesthood keys pertaining to salvation. The fact that I hold the priesthood doesn’t give me any authority to perform any ordinance, including the baptizing of my own children, without the authorization of the Bishop or another leader who holds the keys governing the particular ordinance. And these keys held by any Bishop, Stake, Temple or Mission president are given and used only under the direction of the first presidency. This means if these keys are not real then our individual covenants hold no eternal significance and hold no meaning other than subjective ritualistic symbols.

    But if the keys are real…! Then we are bound to Christ through a very real and personal covenant relationship to him! This provides us with constant access to the enabling grace of his atonement through the gift and power of the holy ghost! These covenants also bind us to each other through the infinite reach of his at-one-ment, especially in relation to our sealing covenants that reach beyond the veil of mortality, literally connecting heaven and earth! Binding us to our precious ancestors and allowing us to achieve exaltation with a beloved eternal companion! Allowing us to continue in the unparalleled joy of parenthood throughout the millennium and beyond! And providing us with a direct relationship to the savior of the world who will help us through every sorrow and challenge, and provide strength to overcome every weakness that currently cause pain to our loved ones. In short, total and complete individual, family and intergenerational redemption!

    These are the questions at stake regarding the legitimacy of priesthood keys from our current leaders. And if our leaders today have them, as I testify they do, then so did Joseph, Brigham and every other participant in plural marriage. With this in mind, the question of whether we accept or are troubled by plural marriage becomes moot. We may be troubled or comforted by the church’s new essays, or by research such as Meg Stouts, but the real question we must all ask ourselves is, are the priesthood keys real? And imperfection or even mistakes within ones calling does not nullify the keys they hold. If this can be true with a Bishop or stake president, it can be true for the president of the church, including Joseph and Brigham.

    So even though I personally am one who fully accepts section 132 and Meg Stouts narrative of a faithful Joseph, I don’t care whether anyone else does or not. Like I said I can fully understand why plural marriage troubles members as it has me in the past. But your acceptance or rejection of the keys of salvation will greatly affect your life and family here and hereafter.

    Thanks again to M* for providing a forum for these important discussions.

  25. I thought this post was well written and thought provoking. I can’t argue whether or not the Church provided adequate information about Joseph’s polygamy. I can only express what my experience was. I am one of those members that was unaware of this information until recently. Is that my fault? Maybe. The most concerning part for me is not so much that Joseph was a polygamist. Instead, the trouble arises when I compare the revelation in D&C 132 with what is written in the essay. The author of this post interestingly quoted verses 61 and 62 of D&C 132. Here they are again.

    61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

    62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

    These two verses clearly outline specific requirements for anyone planning to participate in God sanctioned polygamy. First, the first wife must give her consent. The essay concedes that there were some wives of Joseph that Emma did not know about. Meaning that Joseph did not even ask for Emma’s consent let alone receive it.

    Second, the new wife must be a virgin. And third, she must “have vowed to no other man”. It seems pretty clear to me that a married woman does not fulfill either of those requirements.

    If those three requirements are fulfilled, the scripture states that “then he is justified, he cannot commit adultery”. Simple logic dictates that if any of those requirements are conversely not fulfilled and a polygamous marriage still takes place, then that man is not justified and he does in fact commit adultery.

    That is the sticky part for me. Do we accept the Doctrine and Covenants as revelation from God? If so, then the problem is not that Joseph was a polygamous. The problem is that Joseph participated in polyandry. The problem is that Joseph did not follow the guidelines for being a polygamous.

  26. I have never once heard polygamy discussed in church in the 17 years I have attended church. Nor have the manuals Teachings of the Prophets mentioned it. I never attended seminary and the few institute classes I attended did not discuss it either. I had vague knowledge of the subject and any time I tried to discuss it with anyone I was told it was anti-mormon lies. I am completely at a loss how to respond to OP and others posting because your experiences are so different from mine we might as well belong to different churches.

    In case anyone is curious I am an adult convert not from Utah/Idaho. And I have never met someone who asked me if I practiced polygamy when learning I am LDS.

  27. (Note to readers: apparently this post was linked on an ex-Mormon site with an encouragement to come and comment and lie so that your comment is not deleted. All comments will be moderated from this point. Don’t even try it, ex-Mormons, I have been on to your tricks for a decade now).

  28. The critics responding to this are assuming more about the OP than what it says. No one here who is stating the Church taught in depth about Joseph Smith and polygamy. Not one of us has stated they learned about the ages, number of wives, or family relationships from the Church. All that this OP and others that agree with it are saying is that the discussion of Joseph Smith as a polygamist is not missing from Church produced materials. How much information was available or if more should be said is a different subject. I learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamy from Deseret Book produced products. The details I learned from outside mostly neutral sources. How I reconciled (I use that word loosely) all that from what I knew before is from faith that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that my understanding of “sealed” was not synonymous with marriage. Also, my understanding of the Old Testament prophets was far more Joseph Smith than Jonathan Edwards.

  29. All the information is there it just isnt read.

    1-parents that didnt care to learn didnt teach kids that want to know.

    2-asuming christianity(mormonism) is a western religion can cause a lot of stumbling blocks.

    3-judging the mormon religion by western cultural

  30. Norms causes the person passing judgement to have problems not the other way around. E.g. parts of the world are still marrying 14 year olds.

    Those that claim to be the most liberal are actually quite closed minded to a large majority of the worlds people.

  31. Hi Geoff,

    All things in moderation, eh?

    Scholars have assumed Emma didn’t know about Joseph’s wives, but these are the same scholars who completely overlooked Bennett’s impact on the introduction of polygamy after January 1842. These are the scholars who imagine that a shocked Emma hurled a pregnant Eliza Snow down the stairs and offered to allow Joseph to marry Eliza and Emily Partridge in May 1843 because she didn’t know he had already married them in March.

    But there are alternate possibilities in all these things, possibilities that make much more sense, particularly given that Emma was president of the Relief Society, which was obviously investigating Bennett’s spiritual wifery (even Bennett says that was the case). I’ll grant that Emma doesn’t appear to have been asked ahead of time about Fanny Young. But I don’t know of any serious scholar who hypothesizes that the ceremony with Fanny Young was anything more than that, a ceremony.

    As for how someone can have been a Mormon for more than a decade and never been aware that polygamy was part of Mormon history, that’s pretty amazing.

  32. JimD, thank you for the link. I read it and have some concerns about the author’s response to the first question. For example, in response to the idea that any additional wife must be a virgin, the author says, “The reference to ‘virgins’ in the revelation seems to never be enforced as meaning women who had never had sexual intercourse.” In my opinion, just because it wasn’t “enforced”, doesn’t mean it was acceptable. It just means none of the men obeyed this part of the revelation.

    The author uses this type of logic fallacy a number of times. Instead of comparing the actions against the revelation to see if it is being followed, he uses the actions to then interpret the revelation so that there aren’t any contradictions.

    I do want to clarify one part of my earlier comment. As stated by others, I have known for a while that Joseph participated in polygamy. I was, however, unaware of the extent to which he participated and the way he went about it (ie polyandry).

  33. JimD said, ‘if one gains a testimony of the Gospel from the Holy Ghost doctrine-by-doctrine, rather than simply believing that “Joseph Smith was a legitimate [and by implication, righteous] prophet; ergo, the things he taught are all necessarily true” ‘

    Thank you for this. I hadn’t thought of it in this contrast.

  34. It seems to me the big question is: How many of Joseph Smith’s marriages/sealings to plural wives were in “name only?” No one really knows—it’s all speculation—but based on what we do know, the evidence strongly suggests that most if not all of his plural wives were in name only. The strongest evidence in my opinion, is the fact that there are no children known/proved to be fathered by JS—other than with Emma. You’d think with 40 wives, there’d be many children—-not zero.

  35. Frank wrote:
    [quote]These two verses clearly outline specific requirements for anyone planning to participate in God sanctioned polygamy. First, the first wife must give her consent. The essay concedes that there were some wives of Joseph that Emma did not know about. Meaning that Joseph did not even ask for Emma’s consent let alone receive it.

    Second, the new wife must be a virgin. And third, she must “have vowed to no other man”. It seems pretty clear to me that a married woman does not fulfill either of those requirements.[/quote]

    1) Consent of the first wife also has a provision to be overruled in D&C 132 with “law of Sarah” (recall that D&C 132 was written specifically at Hyrum’s request to deal with Emma’s concerns–and this was likely one of them.) See verse 65.

    2) “Virgin” is almost certainly used in the sense meaning “woman eligible for marriage,”–and not _virgo intacta_. Certainly that’s how the early Saints seem to have universally understood it. This harks back to the heavy KJV-influence on most of Joseph’s written revelations and other scripture (e.g., Book of Mormon).

    For example, see Isaiah 6, “a virgin shall conceive”–the text is referring to a young woman conceiving and bearing a son as a witness to the wicked king of Judah. We obviously play hard on the secondary messianic role of that verse, but in context it clearly doesn’t refer to a sexually-naive or inexperienced woman, because she’s conceiving and bearing a son, Hezekiah. And the queen was already married when the prophecy was given, so it wasn’t like she was a virgin soon to be deflowered.

    So, you can read it as you have if you wish, but I’m not aware of the early Saints doing so.

    3) The polyandrous sealings are an interesting case. It is probable that they weren’t consummated–a position I came to rather reluctantly, as the data grew. As such, I don’t think D&C was intended to address them at all, since Emma wasn’t concerned about them.

    Recall that the polyandrous sealings were all very early in the process. Then, the angel appeared the third time commanding Joseph to get with the program on plural marriage, with a drawn sword.

    At that point, Joseph ceased the polyandrous approach, and began the more traditional, typical “plural marriage” that caused and causes everyone so much angst. This doesn’t make much sense if the polyandrous seailngs were consummated marriages–Joseph was in essence told to quit trying to avoid the extremeties of the teaching. (Heber C. Kimball had a similar experience.)

    Much/most of what has been written on this topic has not been terribly responsible, and even ten years ago we didn’t have all the data that we have now.

  36. Frank,

    “If those three requirements are fulfilled, the scripture states that “then he is justified, he cannot commit adultery”. Simple logic dictates that if any of those requirements are conversely not fulfilled and a polygamous marriage still takes place, then that man is not justified and he does in fact commit adultery.”

    Whatever the other merits of your post may be, A->B does not imply ~A->~B. This is, in fact, the classical fallacy of the inverse.

  37. Other than Meg’s series of columns, I’ve not spent much time reading about this as it didn’t seem too pertinent to my eternal salvation. I do have a matter of curiosity. Was Joseph married to other men’s wives or sealed to other men’s wives? From past research, I know that it was very common in the early church to seal children to General Authorities. It wasn’t until somewhat later that we learned that families needed to be linked together and as has been said elsewhere, the Lord in His wisdom will work it out. If it’s a matter of Joseph being sealed to other women, but not married, it would seem consistent to me. Either way, not losing much sleep over it.

  38. Frank, if I read you correctly, you’re basically saying that when reading the D&C we should stick to the plain meaning of the words actually used. That’s a fair assertion to make if we can be sure that Joseph’s pen reflected, verbatim, the specific language God had given to him; rather than his attempt to use his own language to verbalize general ideas and concepts that the Lord put into Joseph’s mind.

    The latter perception, at least, squares a bit more with my own anecdotal experience; and if that’s really how Joseph Smith received D&C 132 then it would make sense to pay as much attention to the way he lived the revelation as we do to the way he happened to write it.

  39. Nate,

    To be fair, the church only recently really found out about so-called “polyandry” (whatever it actually is) issues. Its typical to say “well, they should have known” but frankly, I think this is a) an unrealistic attitude — most of us are NOT historians and do not have the ability to sort through all the historical record, b) they bought strongly into the Widstoe belief — which is apparently rooted in a strong tradition started by many of the “polyandrous” wives — that these were “Eternity Only” marriages. Widstoe’s Evidence and Reconcilations (a rather old and still in print LDS book) was where I first discovered about this. So naturally I bought into the idea that they were “Eternity only” marriages. Brodie claimed otherwise, but no one trust her as a resource. And based on what we now know (at least about the “polyandrous marriages”) we were right to ignore her.

    It wasn’t until Todd Compton that that had to take a harder look at the evidence. Todd’s evidence for true polyandry, at the time, seemed much much stronger. It’s since evaporated into the ether thanks to the efforts of Brian Hale. But it was never disproven either. We may never know to what degree the “polyandrous” marriages were in fact polyandrous. The evidence is too thin on both sides to make a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

    It’s hard for me to see why the Church is therefore ‘guilty’ of not bring this all up. It would have been premature until probably a year or so ago. And let’s face it, the leaders are NOT historians and probably didn’t even understand the evidence and its problems.

    I guess I have to somewhat agree with you on the younger brides issue. But even that one has changed drastically recently. Compton’s original book implied strong that the 14 year old marriages were sexual. But when confronted on this, he claimed (probably truthfully) that that had not been his intent and that he didn’t think they were sexual. But again, the real truth is that we don’t really know with any certainty in the case of Helen Mar Kimball. (We do with relative certainly on the other younger girl, can’t remember her name. She was still a virgin after JS death.) But the evidence does not favor a sexual relationship at this time. So again, it’s a little unclear how the Church, until maybe 5 or so years ago, could have even addressed this issue because the evidence wasn’t all yet in.

  40. Hi Bruce,

    The other young teenage girl was Nancy Winchester. We do not know that she was a virgin when Joseph died. We merely know that Heber C. Kimball never had sex with her, as he appears to have conveyed when he allowed her to be married to another man later in Nancy’s reproductive existence.

    I don’t think Joseph had sex with Nancy. I think Nancy was attacked by the Strikers, and since we know that at least one Striker had venereal disease (likely gonorrhea), I can completely understand Heber being unwilling to risk passing the disease to his other wives, much less himself.

    Again, when we consider the possibility that some of the women had been sexually active with diseased seducers, the injunction that a woman be a virgin in the “not diseased” sense makes a lot of sense.

    For example, I think this could be a reason why Emma didn’t ask Jane Manning to be Joseph’s wife, just a daughter. Jane had been raped as a teenager and came to Nauvoo with her son, Sylvester. Sylvester is left out of the narrative, but Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray have documented her more full experience in their book(s) on Jane’s life. So I can imagine that Emma and others didn’t have a problem with a woman who had been married to a faithful man, particularly if the marriage would be celibate. However if the woman had been seduced or raped by a scoundrel, this risked infecting the husband and all his other conjugal wives.

  41. Also, Bruce, the “Church” knew about Joseph marrying individuals who were married to other men. Brigham knew who was getting sealed to Joseph Smith and insisted on exercising his place as husband to Zina Diantha Huntington based on having stood proxy for Joseph in the Nauvoo temple sealing, even though Zina had been Henry Jacobs’ wife before being sealed to Joseph. As Zina was the third Relief Society president, it isn’t as though her history was hidden.

    As for other circumstances, Joseph F. Smith did extensive research in 1869, documenting who had been married to Joseph. This included interviewing many of the women, who were still living. Andrew Jensen was independently doing research as well. Andrew Jensen’s researched ended up being published at a time when it was deemed useful to explain that Joseph had practiced polygamy.

    So it is disingenuous to claim that the Church didn’t know that Joseph had “married” women who were already married to others.

    But as some of these women hinted, there were things that Joseph F. Smith (and presumably other Church leaders) didn’t know about Nauvoo. My series lays out what that could have been, that there had been seducers afoot, and that some of the women believed to be innocent had been victims of the seducers.

  42. @Meg – I get the sense that sealing in celestial families was (is?) not intended to be necessarily exclusive – that the main point was (is?) to be sealed to at-least-one family (to establish celestial families) – and a person might be sealed to a larger-than-one number of families – perhaps many families.

    Presumably the same applies to husbands and wives – they might be (indeed are) sealed to more than one.

    This would suggest that sealing is about creating celestial families/ lineages, that are non-exclusive – while celestial marriage is ultimately exclusively dyadic (because, at the highest level, there could only be dyadic, man and wife, creator gods).

    Is this correct?

  43. When I was nearing the end of my mission in Italy in 1983, a man came up to my companion and me while we were waiting for the bus. He said, ” You guys are Mormons, right?” I said, “Yes.” He handed me a copy of one of Italy’s major papers, and said, “Read this.” It was an op-ed piece that said, “I like these Mormon missionaries. They’re good-looking, clean-cut and well-mannered, out here for two years at their own expense. They dress nicely. In short, the kind of guys I’d like my daughters to date. But do they know the history of their church? Do they know about polygamy? Do they know that Joseph Smith had 27 wives, and Brigham Young had 45 wives?” The article went on to talk more about polygamy. The guy who had handed me the paper was looking at me expectantly, like he was waiting for me to say something. He was expecting me to blow up and get angry. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t raise to the bait of the fight, but it was the best possible response. I handed him back the paper, and said, “This guy’s got his facts all wrong. Joseph Smith had 45 wives and Brigham Young had 27 wives. Besides Mormons haven’t practiced polygamy in almost 100 years.” His face was blank for a moment, and then he burst out laughing. When he stopped laughing, he looked at me and said, “I like you.” We never taught him any missionary lessons, but every time he saw me after that, he said, “Hi.”

    I didn’t know all the facts of polygamy when I gave him that answer, and I don’t even know if I got the numbers correct, but the answer I gave him was perfect. And perhaps sowed a seed that was later.

    As I have learned about the some of the darker moments in Church history, I’ve done my best to understand everything that surrounded. it. I have yet to be unsatisfied by what I have learned. Orson Scott Card calls this the “A-ha! Syndrome. People discover something about church history that everyone else has known for years and come to terms with, but they spend all their energy on that one thing and miss the greater lessons of the Gospel.

    Me, I can’t remember when I didn’t know about polygamy.

    For what it’s worth, that’s my experience and opinion.

  44. My family joined the church in 1950–that’s more than a day or two ago. And I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about polygamy. I remember when I was in high school, a classmate asked me how many mothers I had. I jst calmly explained that the church didn’t practice that any more. This was in a small town in Canada. If even non-members in the 1950s knew about the church practicing polygamy, how can any member claim they didn’t? It’s appalling to me how stupid people are. Some of you may have seen the recent You Tube video of college kids in Texas who didn’t know who won the civil war or who the US got its independence from. Maybe those kids could claim the government was hiding things about their country’s history from them? Sorry. You don’t know the history of your country, that’s your fault. You don’t know the history of your church, that’s your fault.

  45. I appreciate the thoughtful and faithful comments that have been made. It helps me when we can discuss things this way…so thank you! Polygamy isn’t an easy topic and I’ve had my own struggles to figure it out, but it’s been Book of Mormon scripture that has helped me the most. There’s so much I don’t understand, but I trust that the Lord does.

    Jacob 2
    23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.

    24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

    25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.

    26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.

    27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;

    28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

    29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.

    30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

    The ‘raise up a seed unto me’ part has been reassuring for me – a purpose is given for polygamy. The incredible pioneer heritage and strength that came through many polygamous families, I think, are the fruits of what the Lord commanded in the early days of the church. These scriptures also caution how easily a practice can become an abomination to the Lord when it isn’t done under His direction. It takes faith to believe that sometimes the Lord commands things, and some times those commands change. Again, as a recurrent theme on this site, it comes back to believing that there is a living prophet who can speak God’s will.

  46. I understand your point and agree, but in my mind, it is not that simple. Certainly, the church is more forthright about topics like polygamy and the priesthood ban which do appear in the scriptures, and we are certainly culpable for not being more aware of the scriptural references. However, they are by no means all-inclusive and even the extensive teaching materials of the church do not include every nuance of the topic. (I did not learn about Danites until college, and that was not from a church class, but a history class, and that’s just one example.) You are right that they have to prioritize in curricula, which is understandable, but if they never mention these topics, how will someone know to look for them?
    Additionally, we need to recognize that we are instructed to seek good, true information, but that is not necessarily easy to find. If you have a question about seer stones or polygamy, you probably won’t get the best information from Googling it. And Church members are consistently warned against seeking information by those means. Church books, written by leaders, may also be considered unreliable to questioning readers, as honesty in those cases may appear as a conflict of interest. There are sources, definitely, but I think those of us on this site are already familiar with them and take for granted that other members of the church, especially foreign-speaking members, know how to access that information.

  47. Meg,

    You misunderstand me. First, all your examples of “the Church knowing Joseph was married to women already married” are way back in time. Flash forward a century later and the level of awareness drops off precipitously up until the archives open up (before they were ‘open’ there had never been much effort to find out what was all in them according to Leonard Arrington’s book.

    Secondly, you need to reread what I said. I said there was awareness that Joseph was sealed for eternity to women married to other men on earth. I gave the example of Evidences and Reconciliations. But this was NOT at the time perceived as at all equivalent to a marriage. That idea that they were eternity only marriages only was a tradition within the Church even for those ‘in the know’ for quite a while.

    Lastly, I’ve read older faithful LDS histories and I know for a fact that, for example, they claim that Jacob Huntington either a) left his wife, b) she divorced him because he wasn’t worthy in some way. We now know that isn’t true. But the idea of that isn’t something made up out of the ether either. She actually went around telling people that the marriage ended because it wasn’t happy. Which then got interpreted as one of the false above. And numerous other “polyandrous wives” said things that implied that their marriages were eternity only.

    Todd Compton was the first to really credibly challenge that long standing interpretation. But remember that was in 1997! Brodie wasn’t considered that credible, and was mostly ignored. Brian C. Hale points out in his books that Compton in 1997 was the first to really publish the claim that Sylvia Sessions Lyons had a child by Joseph Smith (Josephine Lyons). At the time, his evidence seemed really credible. But since then its been researched further and that interpretation seems much weaker now.

    So to recreate the history as I believe it took place:

    1840s – Joseph practice polygamy, including some form some now call “polyandry” Its mostly secret and few know about it at first.

    1850s – Polygamy goes public, but the “polyandrous” wives are still not widely known.

    Late 1800s – The “polyandrous wives” (well some) start to go public that they are wives of Joseph Smith — in part to counter the claims of the RLDS that Joseph was not a polygamist. Rumors start to spread (that apparently come from the “polyandrous wives” that they are eternity only marriages or that they happened after a separation (which in Mormon culture at the time was equivalent to divorce). But they are perceived as marriages. So “the Church” now is well aware of this “polyandrous marriages”

    Early 20th Century — knowledge of the “polyandrous” marriages drops off and is largely forgotten, even by significant church leaders. The idea of “polyandrous marriages” comes to be interpreted as “women that were sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity only.” They are no longer perceived as marriages.

    1940s – Fawn Brodie publishes evidence of full sexual polyandry. The church doesn’t believe it and ignores it. Turns out most of her evidence is anti-Mormon sources and isn’t the most reliable.

    1997 – Todd Compton publishes more credible evidence that Joseph Smith actually had a child by a woman that was at the time living with her civilly married husband. Her own version of the story — that she had left her husband first — is “disproven” through dates on affidavits.

    The rumors begin to spread through the Church that Joseph Smith practiced full polyandry and people get angry that “The church didn’t teach me about this” ignoring the fact that the Church thought it was just eternity sealings that weren’t marriages at all.

    21st Century — Brian Hale uncovers that there are in fact two affidavits from Sylvia with different years all together. And neither is signed. This means her own story that she married Joseph only after her husband left the Church (though after Joseph dies he comes back) is now the best evidence, not the affidavits. This changes the balance of the discussion and the idea of full sexual polyandry starts to become one of ceremonial polyandry. It is now widely accepted that these were in fact perceived as marriages.

    Today – Researcher Meg Stout challenges whether or not even Josephine Lyons was a child of Joseph Smith and makes the argument that actually it was an eternity only sealing. 😉

  48. Very correct. It usually comes down to initial conversion & testimony. Erroneous or incomplete facts seem to erode week testimonies. Remembering those first moments and building on that foundation is the key.

  49. I am a 64 year old lifelong Mormon. Back in the 1960s growing up in Utah I was able to take LDS seminary classes during released time. I attended University of Utah and took church history classes in Institute. I also borrowed books from the libraries, including the Church’s own historical library, and read magazines and journals like Sunstone and Dialogue. In law school, I got permission to read original records in the Church Archives as research for an article on Mormon legal history published in the Utah Law Review.

    The Church was not hiding stuff from me. All sorts of information was available to me as I sought it out through added classes, books, and original documents. My opinion of people who claim they were unaware of these issues until six months ago is that they must have had no desire to learn more, because vast resources have been available, especially since the 1970s, 40 years ago.

    The fact is that, even in my ward where there are lawyers, doctors, and scientists, only a few have the curiosity to do extra reading in church history and the remarkable information we have learned about the ancient worlds from which the BoM, Book of Moses, and Book of Abraham came to us. I mention stuff during lessons, and they think it is cool, but they don’t do their own reading in those books and journals.

  50. I left the LDS Church 30 years ago, and returned just over 2 years ago. In my experience, the “reasons” one gives for leaving are merely excuses – justifications for having broken promises to God, family and other Church members. Trying to explain why Joseph Smith had 30 – 40 wives is historically interesting, but an utter waste of time if you are trying to prevent members from leaving. If someone is going to leave, they will find an excuse. Their real reason for being alienated needs to be located and handled.

  51. I do agree that the past is the past but my question about this is : why are men still today, 2014, allowed to get married to more than one wife in the temple while women are not? So does that mean plural marriage continues in the next life? If so, can you choose? Cause in d&c 132 it says that if the first wife doesn’t agree the man can still take more wifes while the first wife will be destroyed for not following the commandments!

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  53. Janita,

    I do not know the answer to your question.

    I find it interesting that Heber C. Kimball said the following in a talk published in Deseret News, 7 November 1855:

    “The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away, although some sisters have had revelations that, when this time passes away and they go through the veil, every woman will have a husband to herself. ”

    This is not doctrine. It is not an official position of the Church. But neither is its negation doctrine or an official position of the Church.

    I conclude that there are many possibilities consistent with what has been taught down the years. My faith in God is that He knows what will make us all happiest in the long run, and will see that we get it, if we don’t ask the impossible of Him.

  54. Janita, I think the short answer is that temple sealings are done according to what was revealed over a hundred years ago and it is not any different because it have not been revealed to us that it should be different.

    That does not mean that the way we understand it is in this life is how it will be in the next. Just that we don’t know that it is. That until and unless we do know different we will continue to do it as it has been revealed.

    Marrying another spouse after the previous one has died is a common practice among all peoples. I don’t think D&C 132 applies there. Whether it means that the man will have multiple wives, I is really only speculation. I am of the opinion that only those who want to remain in a polygamous (or any really) marriage after this life will continue in those relationships. The Lord respects the agency of all.

    Women get sealed to multiple men by proxy after they are dead. If there is evidence that they were in a marriage like relationship. Does that mean that there will be polyandry in the eternities? Again any answer would be speculation.

  55. Interesting article. I have to admit that the tone bothered me a bit, seeing as how I’m a life-long member of the Church (33 years) and have recently been a bit shaken up by some discoveries in Church history. I knew polygamy was practiced, but not that JS had 30-40 wives. It was my discovery of polyandry (from someone who left the Church) that forged me into the abyss of research, and, unfortunately I didn’t originally know where to go to find reputable information. So I read a lot of info written by antis, which has its own agenda. Thankfully I stumbled onto fairmormon.org and what was most helpful to me was BYU Education Week. There were a few classes on issues with early Church history. Anyway, my point is that I am completely empathetic with people who are shaken up by early Church history. There are some concerning points for which there are NO answers. Theories aside, no one knows why polyandry was practiced, or why JS’s first “wife” happened to be the young housekeeper and why that “marriage” took place before the sealing keys were restored (if it wasn’t a celestial marriage, or a civil marriage, then what was it?!), or why Joseph had no children with any of his plural wives. Does that make anyone else wonder?! One of the proported purposes of polygamy was to raise up a righteous seed, so explain that one… Anyway, to the author, I just want to say to take it easy on people who struggle with Church history. I have read and studied the scriptures thoroughly, and the issues I have are not directly addressed in them. Have you read Shaken Faith Syndrome? I loved the read, b/c Michael Ash explained and validated all the feelings I was having when I first questioned my faith. That was helpful in getting over the initial cognitive dissonance, and figuring out on what topics I needed to seek for spiritual confirmation. I’m still on my journey, but I’m hopeful, and I also have a new understanding for people who leave the Church over these issues. I think it will be helpful when some of these taboo topics are more widely known, so discussions can take place and people won’t feel alone and estranged with their doubts.

  56. “Theories aside, no one knows why polyandry was practiced, or why JS’s first “wife” happened to be the young housekeeper and why that “marriage” took place before the sealing keys were restored (if it wasn’t a celestial marriage, or a civil marriage, then what was it?!)”

    I don’t have all the answers, but I do find it interesting that Joseph Smith’s first plural wife had a very similar relationship to Emma that Hagar had to Abraham. I am inclined to think this was not accidental.

  57. Why was (and is) this information such a surprise to so many members in the first place? The information was never that hard to find, nor hidden away. Even though i am on the far side of the church in NZ, i still was able to learn for myself all this, and without the luxury of BYU, thousands of ‘learned’ members, firesides on tap etc. The Church never taught me as much as I taught myself, through faith, study and the Spirit. When I found the gospel I drank deep from the well. That led me to many unusual findings. of which I then took one by one to the Lord for clarification. It is sad that so many members spend so little time learning more than the most basics of the great restoration of all things. I can understand though, how hard it must be seeing “The Fullness of All Things” without the haze of Americana western, cultural, puritanical reformist doctrinal filters tinting a theology older than earthly civilization itself.

  58. Marcus, this is the exact tone that I’m talking about that I find bothersome. You assume that members who are shaken up by Church history never “drank deep from the well.” Let’s remove judgement from this equation. I’m happy that there are many members who have known about these issues, but that does not entitle anyone to assume that those who did not are lazy, unlearned people with weak and faltering testimonies looking for for excuses to break their covenants. Perhaps I’m alone in being an exception to your assumptions, but I’m frankly tired of the judgement. (Christ himself had a few things to say about those who judge) 😉 I have recently experienced much doubt and uncertainty, but as I rebuild my testimony, I’m finding that my faith is stronger than it was before. My “belief” now is more meaningful than all the things I thought I knew before. And MY intent is to help others who have questions find answers and understanding. Not judgement and intolerance. One approach will help others navigate their way to Christ while the latter, condescending approach accomplishes nothing productive.

  59. There are two levels of “surprise” that take place over the Church’s essays. One is “I didn’t know Joseph Smith practice polygamy” and the second is “I didn’t realize all these details.”

    The first is honestly hard to believe, though I realize it sometimes happens. I mean let’s face it total non-members that no nothing much at all about the Church, when asked for the first word that comes to their mind when you say “Mormon” will most often answer “Polygamy.” How a member of the Church could be unaware that we practiced polygamy is very difficult to understand. Or perhaps they thought Brigham Young did but Joseph Smith didn’t? But if that is the case, it’s hard to see why it’s a shock that JS did as well. They’ve already to some degree accepted it was practiced. Why would it be a shock that JS was in fact the one that implemented it?

    The other, the details shock, is more understandable. Especially if, like me, you find out about it for the first time from an unfriendly source (in my case, Todd Compton’s website and parts of his book.) How the details are framed means almost everything.

    It’s interesting that J max, on his website, did a post on this same subject. One lady (who had very obviously read Todd Compton’s book for her information) made the case that it was pretty obvious that Helen Mar Kimball’s marriage to JS (at age 14) was sexual in nature. She all but quoted Compton’s book to make a connect between a poem Helen wrote and a juicy anti-Mormon rumor that claims to quote something she once said. When you read those two back to back and someone tells you they are connected, it becomes nearly impossible to not imagine that Helen Mar’s marriage was sexual.

    However, the same poem was taken by a non-LDS author (Foster, I think) and juxtaposition next to Helen’s own account of her life and marriage to Joseph Smith. He matched up the same poem to Helen’s statements (as an older woman now) remembering how angry she was that now that she was sealed to JS her father wouldn’t let her go to dances. Based on that evidence based on the same data point, but contexted differently, Foster concluded the marriage was not sexual.

    Todd Compton is a fantastic scholar, but he wrote his book specifically to make the case that polygamy did not come from God and he was quite anxious to make that point and sought out interpretations that matched his thesis (as all historians and scholars do, btw).

  60. Like most of the comments I was not suprised by the details of JSP polygamy and polyandry. Initially I was a bit annoyed at all the comments in the Associated Press article and on other blog site about being shocked about the “disclosure” from the church. However, I think overall the church’s essays are good for some members. I worked with companions on my mission that truly believed BY’s marriages were in name only and that it was to take care of the widows and extra women! They were upset when I explain my family’s polygamous past and how it was sexual. Because these are essays written by the church and published on lds.org this information, obvious to the rest of us, is now available to everyone. I have heard well-meaning members of the church teach the wrong details about polygamy in Gospel Doctrine and RS. I suspect the wrong facts are taught because they are embarrassed about the details of polygamy.

  61. Laurel, the single most important message I want to impart to you is: please do things that will build you faith in the Church, and stay at church and have faith that even though there are many imperfect people in the world (including myself), the Gospel is true even if we are imperfect messengers.

    But I have to say that your claim that Marcus is filled with condescension, intolerance and judgement is in itself filled with condescension, intolerance and judgement. He is simply giving his opinion, just as you are. He is not a perfect person (nor are you), and he may not have stated things exactly the way you would like. This is where true tolerance and charity comes in. His intentions were good. Just stick with that and move on.

    We all have choices in life. We can choose to be offended because somebody wrote something on a blog we don’t like or we can choose to just move on and ignore the things we don’t like. The truly good choice is to simply recognize that most people have good intentions and to try to sympathize with them.

  62. “I don’t have all the answers, but I do find it interesting that Joseph Smith’s first plural wife had a very similar relationship to Emma that Hagar had to Abraham”

    I meant to say that Hagar had to Sarah. Hope this clears up any puzzlement.

  63. Funny enough, it was Foster’s book that introduced me to the fact Joseph Smith was sealed to otherwise married women. The difference between him and Compton was that the former at least tried to put it into a theological context. I could tell Compton’s B.S. because his commentary didn’t match the first hand accounts he put in his own book. They said one thing and he twisted it into something backwards, but believable if you actually skipped in total what was written by the women.

  64. What delightful banter while I was on a plane.

    To elaborate on why I don’t think Josephine Lyon was engendered by Joseph, despite her mother’s dying testimony stating that Josephine was Joseph’s daughter:

    1) Josephine was born after Josephine’s grandmother, Patty Sessions, was reportedly sealed to Joseph Smith in the presence of Patty’s daughter, Sylvia. Even though there is no signed affidavit from Sylvia attesting to the actual date of her sealing to Joseph, her presence at Patty’s sealing is generally presumed to imply she herself had been sealed to Joseph. For those who haven’t read my series, I hypothesize that these sealings were not intended to include sexual relations, but were more akin to the women swearing fealty to Joseph in a quest to uncover sexual predators (Dr. Bennett and his Strikers).

    2) All Sylvia Lyon’s other children by Brother Lyons died in childhood. Therefore there would have been no reason or opportunity for them to record that they had been told about being Joseph’s children.

    3) All Sylvia Lyon’s children born to her second public husband, after Brother Lyon’s death, married initially in the temple, if they married at all. It appears that information about a child’s covenant relationship to Joseph was conveyed at the time they married in the temple, which is part of why Mormon marriages were incredibly centralized during decades after the last of these women’s children were born. Thus, if Sylvia Lyon’s other children (conceived years after Joseph’s death) had been told they were Joseph’s children, they would not have recorded the conversation (being part of the temple experience, don’t you know).

    4) Josephine Lyon married outside the temple. At the time she did get sealed to her husband in the temple, it was into the 1870s. I’m not sure if the temple records of this sealing would tell me who performed the ceremony. As a sealing of a pre-existing marriage, I suspect the sealing was considered routine and delegated to someone other than the increasingly busy Brigham Young, who may have been the only one left who knew by memory which children had been born to Joseph’s covenant wives.

    5) In 1882 Sylvia Sessions is dying. She knows Josephine is unaware of her status as daughter of Joseph Smith (whether covenant or biological is uncertain). No other of Sylvia’s children would be without the appropriate level of knowledge. And it is in this circumstance that Sylvia confides in Josephine a secret that was typically only conveyed in the temple.

    6) Patty Sessions outlives her daughter by ten years. Yet by the time Josephine has been told she was Joseph’s daughter, the dynamic has changed drastically. Polygamy is simultaneously under attack by Joseph’s sons, claiming their father never taught any such doctrine, and being prosecuted by the United States. It is also unclear whether Patty Sessions understood whether Sylvia’s relationship with Joseph was sexual or not.

    7) The investigation into the autosomal DNA for Josephine’s descendants shows some similarities to the DNA for descendants of Joseph’s known offspring by Emma Hale. However the data are sufficiently unusual that Ugo Perego seeks to understand if there is a genealogical circumstance that might explain the data even if Joseph Smith were not Josephine’s father. He finds that, indeed, Josephine’s descendants share common ancestry with Joseph Smith that is not dependent on Joseph Smith being the father of Josephine.

    As far as Joseph and sex, there is no proof that he wasn’t a randy fellow banging anyone who would stand still. We didn’t have him on constant video surveillance. He was not wearing a digital tracker. However the lack of children and the alternate possible explanations for all instances that hint or state that he was sexually active with anyone other than Emma Hale make it possible that he was actually faithful to her in a monogamous sense, even though he was party to dozens of ceremonies marrying/sealing him to women other than Emma.

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