A few weeks ago, here at Mormon Matters, I posted on My Perspective on Polygamy (with a longer version found on my blog.) I hinted that I wanted to talk about it some more, and this time I thought I would try a more “faithful” perspective. A commenter on my blog took exception to some “hearsay” I had been discussing. So, I wanted to see what Bushman had to say on these issues, as well as address some assertions by others regarding Joseph’s possibly nefarious motives for polygamy. Specifically, I want to address 3 controversial issues:
(1) Was Joseph’s polygamy revelation really a disguise for his real motive as a womanizer (libertine)?
(2) What is the true nature of the Fanny Alger relationship?
(3) Was Eliza Snow pushed down the stairs by Emma?
Let’s look at how does Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling sees these issues.
(1) Was Joseph a Libertine?
I have never been especially fond of this position, and neither is Bushman. I don’t think it adequately explains Joseph’s actions. From page 325,
Because plural marriage was so sexually charged, the practice has provoked endless speculation about Joseph’s motives. Was he a libertine in the guise of a prophet seducing women for his own pleasure? The question can never be answered definitively from historical sources, but the language he used to describe marriage is known. Joseph did not explain plural marriage as a love match or even a companionship. Only slight hints of romance found its way into his proposals. He understood plural marriage as a religious principle….As Joseph described the practice to [Levi] Hancock, plural marriage had the millennial purpose of fashioning a righteous generation on the eve of the Second Coming.
… page 437
Joseph exercised such untrammeled authority in Nauvoo that it is possible to imagine him thinking no conquest beyond his reach. In theory, he could take what he wanted and browbeat his followers with threats of divine punishment.
This simple reading of Joseph’s motives is implicit in descriptions of him as “a charismatic, handsome man.” They suggest he was irresistible and made the most of it. Other Mormon men went along the way out of loyalty or in hopes of sharing power. But missing from that picture is Joseph’s sense of himself. In public and private, he spoke and acted as if guided by God. All the doctrines, plans, programs, and claims were ,in his mind, the mandates of heaven. They came to him as requirements, with a kind of irresistible certainty….
The possibility of an imaginary revelation, erupting from his own heart and subconscious mind, seems not to have occurred to Joseph. To him, the words came from heaven. They required obedience even though the demand seemed contradictory or wrong. The possibility of deception did not occur to him….
Joseph never wrote his personal feelings about plural marriage. Save for the revelation given in the voice of God, everything on the subject comes from people around him. But surely he realized that plural marriage would inflict terrible damage, that he ran the risk of wrecking his marriage and alienating his followers. How could faithful Emma, to whom he pledged his love in every letter, accept additional wives?…Sexual excess was considered the all too common fruit of pretended revelation. Joseph’s enemies would delight in one more evidence of a revelator’s antinomian transgressions.
… page 440
The personal anguish caused by plural marriage did not stop Joseph Smith from marrying more women. He married three in 1841, eleven in 1842, and seventeen in 1843. Historians debate these numbers, but the total figure is most likely between twenty-eight and thirty-three. Larger numbers have been proposed based on the sealing records in the Nauvoo temple. Eight additional women were sealed to Joseph in the temple after his death, possibly implying a marriage while he was still alive. Whatever the exact number, the marriages are numerous enough to indicate an impersonal bond. Joseph did not marry women to form a warm, human companionship, but to create a network of related wives, children, and kinsmen that would endure into the eternities…. He did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin.
I found this last statement especially intriguing, because there is no DNA evidence that Joseph had any kin from wives other than Emma. Continuing on page 440,
Romance played only a slight part. In making proposals, Joseph would sometimes say God had given a woman to him, or they were meant for each other, but there was no romantic talk of adoring love. He did not court his prospective wives by first trying to win their affections. Often, he asked a relative–a father or an uncle–to propose the marriage. Sometimes one of his current wives proposed for him. When he made the proposal himself, a friend like Brigham Young was often present. The language was religious and doctrinal, stressing that a new law has been revealed. She was to seek spiritual confirmation. Once consent was given, a formal ceremony was performed before witnesses, with Joseph dictating the words to the person officiating.
Joseph himself said nothing about sex in these marriages. Other marriage experimenters in Joseph’s time focused on sexual relations. The Shakers repudiated marriage altogether, considering sex beastly and unworthy of a millenial people….
We might expect that Joseph, the kind of dominant man who is thought to have strong libidinal urges, would betray his sexual drive in his talk and manner. Bred outside the rising genteel culture, he was not inhibited by Victorian prudery. But references to sexual pleasure are infrequent. Years later, William Law, Joseph’s counselor in the First Presidency, said he was shocked to hear Joseph say one of his wives “afforded him great pleasure.” That report is one of the few, and the fact that it shocked Law suggests that such comments were infrequent. As Fawn Brodie said, “There was too much of the Puritan” in Joseph for him to be a “careless libertine.”
What was the nature of the Fanny Alger relationship?
Some people have wondered if Alger was ever pregnant. Bushman says there is no good evidence of this position. Many people often quote Oliver Cowdery (as does Bushman) as referring to the “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” First, let’s provide some background on Alger. From pages 323-327,
Alger was fourteen when her family joined the Church in Mayfield, near Kirtland, in 1830. In 1836, after a time as a serving girl in the Smith household, she left Kirtland and soon married. Between those two dates, perhaps as early as 1831, she and Joseph were reportedly involved, but conflicting accounts make it difficult to establish the facts–much less to understand Joseph’s thoughts.
… page 324
Cowdery, long Joseph’s friend and associate in visions, was a casualty of the bad times. In 1838, he was charged with “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith jr by falsly insinuating that he was guilty of adultry &c.” Fanny Alger’s name was never mentioned, but doubtless she was the woman in question.
Cowdery and Joseph aired their differences at a meeting in November 1837 where Joseph did not deny his relationship with Alger, but contended that he had never confessed to adultery. Cowdery apparently had said otherwise, but backed down at the November meeting. When the question was put to Cowdery “if he [Joseph] had ever acknowledged to him that he was guilty of such a thing…he answered No.” That was all Joseph wanted: an admission that he had not termed the Alger affair adulterous. As Cowdery told his brother, “just before leaving, he [Joseph] wanted to drop every past thing, in which had been a difficulty or difference–he called witnesses to the fact, gave me his hand in their presence, and I might have supposed of an honest man, calculated to say nothing of former matters.
These scraps of testimony recorded within a few years of the Alger business show how differently the various parties understood events…. On his part, Joseph never denied a relationship with Alger, but insisted it was not adulterous. He wanted it on record that he had never confessed to such a sin. Presumably, he felt innocent because he had married Alger.
After the Far West council excommunicated Cowdery, Alger disappears from the Mormon historical record for a quarter of a century. Her story was recorded as many as sixty years later by witnesses who had strong reason to take sides. Surprisingly, they all agree that Joseph married Fanny Alger as a plural wife.
… page 437
After marrying Fanny Alger sometime before 1836, Joseph, it appears, married no one else until he wed Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841, in Nauvoo. (Historians debate the possibility of one other wife in the interim.)
Most of the other stories about Joseph’s plural marriage in Kirtland come from one individual without confirmation from a second source. Ann Eliza, for example, included a story of Fanny being ejected by a furious Emma, one of the few scraps of information about her reaction. Ann Eliza could not have been an eyewitness because she was not yet born, but she might have heard the story from her parents who were close to the Smiths. Are such accounts to be believed? One of the few tales that appears in more than one account was of Oliver Cowdery experimenting with plural wives himself, contrary to Joseph’s counsel. That pattern of followers marrying prematurely without authorization was repeated later when some of Joseph’s followers used the doctrine of plural marriage as a license for marrying at will. Stories like these, all of them partisan, must be treated with caution.
… page 326The end of Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger is as elusive as the beginning. After leaving Kirtland in September 1836, Alger, reportedly a comely, amiable person, had no trouble remarrying. Joseph asked her uncle Hancock to take her to Missouri, but she went with her parents instead. They stopped in Indiana for a season, and while there she married Solomon Custer, a non-Mormon listed in the censuses as a grocer, baker, and merchant. When her parents moved on, Alger remained in Indiana with her husband. She bore nine children. After Joseph’s death, Alger’s brother asked her about her relationship with the Prophet. She replied: “That is all a matter of my–own. And I have nothing to Communicate.”
Was Eliza Snow pushed down the stairs?
Bushman doesn’t think so. From page 493,
One story told in Utah in the 1880s had Emma pushing one of Mormondom’s most honored women, Eliza Roxcy Snow, down the stairs upon discovering she was married to Joseph, but the evidence for the incident is shaky. Snow was a refined, intelligent woman who had been brought into the Smith household to teach their children. She joined the Mormons in 1835 along with her sister Leonora and moved to Kirtland, where she boarded with the Smiths and taught school. Slender and ramrod straight, Snow was the most intellectual of all the women converts. She wrote poetry and prepared a constitution for the Female Relief Society. Repelled at first by the practice of plural marriage, she concluded that she was “living in the dispensation of the fulness of times, embracing all the other Dispensations,” and so “surely Plural Marriage must necessarily be included.” Brigham Young performed the ceremony for Joseph and Eliza on June 29, 1842. She was thirty-eight, two years older than Joseph. She later spoke of him as “my beloved husband, the choice of my heart and the crown of my life.”
In August 1842, Emma invited Eliza to move back into the Smith household. In December, Eliza began teaching the Smith children and ran a school for them and others until March 1843. Eliza noted in her diary that on February 11, 1843, while still teaching, she moved out of the Smiths’ house without saying why, though the reason could well be that on the same day, Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, moved in. Later gossip blamed Emma. All the versions of the Eliza story, however, were attenuated. Most of them were tales told many decades after the fact and were second- or third-hand hearsay. Some had Emma pushing Eliza, others said she beat her. None hold up under scrutiny. They have to be read skeptically because of the widespread dislike for Emma among the Utah Mormons. Brigham Young never forgave her for breaking with the Church and not coming west. She was considered a traitor to Mormonism because she remained behind and denied, in carefully worded statements that skirted the truth, that Joseph took additional wives. When her sons, then leaders of a rival branch of Mormonism, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, came to Utah on missions in the 1860s, they tried to trace and discredit every claim that Joseph had multiple wives. In response, the Utah church secured scores of affidavits from people who knew of the practice in Nauvoo. Besides proving the existence of plural marriage, the affidavits attempted to refute the hypothesis that Joseph’s relations with his plural wives were purely spiritual. Some members of the Reorganized Church accepted ceremonial marriages but thought Joseph never slept with his wives. To rebut that view, the affidavits noted the occasions when Joseph occupied the same room with a wife, facts that might have been omitted had not the Utah Mormons been determined to prove the Joseph and his plural wives were married as completely as the later polygamists under Brigham Young.
Bushman gives so much detail, that it is hard to cover every aspect in a single post. (There is more detail found here.) But, given this information, what do you make of Smith’s practice of polygamy? Are you comfortable with it?
I was just in Nauvoo a few weeks ago and I ran into Brian Hales (author of a published book on fundamentalist Mormonism and a forthcoming book on early Mormon polygamy). Brian and Lachlan Mackay (director of historic sites for the Community of Christ) were looking at the Smith family homes and comparing them to the various accounts of the stairs pushing story. One important detail is that when Eliza moved out of the Smith household in February of 1843, the Smiths had not yet moved into the Mansion House. Until August of 1843 they lived in the much smaller Homestead House. If you look at the narrow, enclosed staircase in the Homestead, it certainly cannot be the venue for the pushing stories as they are told.
Reviewing the stories, sites, and timelines, Brian and Lach and I agreed that it’s extremely unlikely this story refers to an event that actually happened.
Thanks John. That is rather interesting.
I guess people know that I’m not really a believer in polygamy, but I want to make sure that accurate information is presented. I think some of us look at the salacious aspects of polygamy, and probably give some of these rumors more credit than they deserve.
Having said that, even though Bushman gives Joseph a pretty fair hearing, I still find the issues surrounding Fanny Alger troublesome. She would have been 17-20 when she married Joseph, and there doesn’t seem to be a cancellation of the sealing. She goes off and marries a non-member. Am I the only one scratching my head here? She doesn’t really sound worthy of the Celestial Kingdom to behave like that, yet she is Joseph’s first chosen polygamist wife? Something doesn’t add up here.
Is there any evidence that Joseph married women that were still married to other men thus creating a polyandrous (women with multiple husbands) situation?
Yes, jon, that happened with a number of the women. I’m just too lazy right now (actually have almost no time) to look up the specific numbers.
Yeah, Joseph’s polygamy makes no sense to me….except in a non-revelatory, non-spiritual way. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck.
For me, it’s not only the way the relationships developed (especially Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger – as Oliver Cowdery said “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair”), but it’s impossible for me to explain the deception that Joseph used to perpetuate his expanding wifedom. The deception, in my eyes, goes to intent…..Joseph was doing something he knew he shouldn’t be doing.
I guess I look at Joseph much like I look at King David….
I like Bushman’s caution as a historian to follow up on the credibility of all accounts regarding Joseph’s plural marriages — it’s what real historians are supposed to do, after all — base history on reliable facts, not reliable innuendo.
Too much of the discussion of plural marriage, particularly from those disposed to see Joseph as a libertine, is a discussion that takes place largely “between the lines” — filling in the space between the actual facts with what “we all know” Joseph’s intentions must have been. The actual facts in this matter are actually quite scarce, and what has been established is disjointed and incomplete — there’s an awful lot of space between the “logs.” Unfortunately, critics of Joseph are quite happy to fill them in with whatever uncharitable assumption seems to fit, and members too often fill in the gaps with their worst fears.
If the critics and the fearful get to fill in the gaps, so do those of us who don’t have a particularly difficult time squaring Joseph’s behavior with the possibility of genuine revelation. Please remember that it wasn’t only Joseph who said he’d received the revelation to marry additional wives. The additional wives report powerful spiritual experiences converting them to a principle that often horrified them upon first encounter. If there were thirty wives, that’s 30 additional witnesses. My ancestors who entered into plural marriage had the same hesitancy reported by Joseph, Brigham Young and many others, and the same report of spiritual experiences.
The critics can’t so easily dismiss Joseph’s belief that he was receiving genuine revelation. He was not generally feared by his followers, nor was he a controlling personality. His life is filled with incidents that prove the members of the church anything but under a spell — there was a steady stream of believers leaving the church whenever he made a mistake taught something they did not believe. The very converts to plural marriage often leaned strongly toward disbelief that this revelation came from God before being convinced otherwise by personal spiritual manifestations.
You can’t simply explain polygamy away as Joseph’s own imaginations. Thousands of others over the years report receiving the same witness, the same witness that convinced them Wilford Woodruff was speaking for God and not himself when he said the practice was to cease.
I haven’t got a spiritual testimony of polygamy — haven’t asked for one because I’m not concerned about getting one. But I have had some powerful experiences with the doctrines and revelations that came through Joseph Smith, and I’m convinced God was their author and not Joseph. And intellectually, I’m yet to see a compelling, factually-grounded argument regarding polygamy that casts doubt on my conviction that Joseph Smith lived and died a prophet.
Thanks for this post.
So why don’t you fill the cracks for us? What are the great reasons for polygamy?
I never said I know the right way to fill in the gaps — “cracks” is too weak a word — I simply pointed out that they are there, and I refuse to definitively fill in those gaps with anything other than actual facts. I wish the critics would do likewise, rather than asking us to believe that there’s no conceivable reason for Joseph’s “revelation” other than sex. (The fact that Emma bore Joseph nine children and the other wives bore him ZERO children is a massive, gaping hole that never seems to come up in their literature.)
The point being, the gaping holes don’t necessarily work in the critics’ favor. The human mind has a powerful desire toward closure and narratives that make sense. Too many people gravitate toward the “Joseph was a libertine” narrative because it’s been presented as a tidy and plausible narrative. I’m simply pointing out that this viewpoint is anything but. It’s not only the faithful that have to sometimes acknowledge that they don’t have all the facts and “put things on the shelf.”
If you’re interested in my casual theories on what plausible wisdom there could have been behind a short-term implementation of plural marriage, I’m pretty sure I made a few comments on this thread: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/12/11/populating-worlds-joseph-smiths-legacy/#more-3331
There are some other interesting theories there as well.
Jon, I’ll try to pull out some references tomorrow from Rough Stone Rolling to give you a better taste of some of these polyandrous marriages. I have to say they have me really scratching my head, because they don’t make sense to me. I know Ray has mentioned the communal sealing aspect of polygamy, and I guess I’m fine with that concept, but I don’t really understand polyandry or polygyny’s real purpose. If we need to be sealed to a spouse–fine, but not multiple sealings to multiple spouses–that doesn’t make a lot of sense for me.
Lorin, I too think that sometimes people take some liberties with the information, and try to make Joseph just a sex-craved maniac. I’m not comfortable with that portrayal, though I think sexual urges could have played a part. Bushman relates rather well how most of these marriages were not romantic at all. The way Fanny Alger comes and goes into his life is a real mystery to me, because there is so little reliable information on that relationship. I don’t understand why she basically disappeared with Joseph’s blessing.
I do believe that Joseph sincerely believed the polygamy revelation to be godly. But I think he was mistaken.
Even if you only read Bushman, I’m not sure what gaping holes there are in the facts. You may choose to “put it on the shelf” but that Joseph had approximately 31 wives besides Emma (some of whom were already married to other men), and that he lied about it cannot be ignored. The facts are the things that aren’t charitable and I don’t see it as uncharitable to call a spade a spade….
I guess I’m a simple person. I believe in a God who tends to accomplish His will by providing revelation and direction that is not deceptive nor adultarous. I don’t understand why God would command people to not lie or commit adultary, and then insist that His chosen prophet lie and commit adultary. Old Testament comparisons will not work to convince me otherwise, as I do not think blood sacrifice was valid in 19th century America either. It’s sort of odd to me to say that God couldn’t accomplish kinship, chosen people, bloodlines, etc., through a version of the family that matches the Proclamation….especially considering how apparently eternal that document is.
For me, it’s better to take the thing off the shelf, acknowledge the facts, and try to figure out what it is I can learn from Joseph’s polygamy. For starters, I believe it has helped me realize that not even prophets are perfect, that God is much more patient than me, that while we should heed church leaders, we should maintain a healthy balance….(and occasionally a raised eyebrow), and that it’s better to deal with an unpleasant issue squarely and straightforwardly…..rather than keeping it tucked away as true, but not very useful.
AT: “Yeah, Joseph’s polygamy makes no sense to me….except in a non-revelatory, non-spiritual way. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck.” I don’t necessarily dispute your conclusion that it doesn’t make sense as revelation, but I would just add that it doesn’t look like a duck either. Perhaps a species not yet named. Nothing so common as a duck, IMO.
“For me, it’s not only the way the relationships developed (especially Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger – as Oliver Cowdery said “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair”), but it’s impossible for me to explain the deception that Joseph used to perpetuate his expanding wifedom. The deception, in my eyes, goes to intent…..Joseph was doing something he knew he shouldn’t be doing.” Again, I agree he did use deception, and that there’s a lot of reason to wonder what he really thought the purpose of his actions was. However, deception among prophets is pretty darn common in the OT and even in the BOM. (I know you said don’t go there, but I think it’s important to the discussion, not by way of convincing that it’s OK to lie, but by way of putting it all out there on the table). Does that make it right or is it self-justification? Don’t know, but Joseph’s actions are more like prophets than King David, whose affair was the worst kept secret in the Bible (er, she got pregnant). Other prophets who obfuscated: Abraham & Sarah lied and said she was his sister so Pharoah wouldn’t kill Abraham, Moses killed an Egyptian and lied to cover it up, Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright and tricked his father into making him the heir, Nephi pretended to be Laban after he killed him and then coerced his servant to join their journey, Alma (sr.) lived in hiding with his followers (one assumes they weren’t paying taxes in the wilderness), etc., etc. Perhaps prophets, like other people, are prone to self-justification. Or maybe the stories in the Bible are embellishments. Maybe the stories about Joseph are partly misunderstood.
“For me, it’s better to take the thing off the shelf, acknowledge the facts, and try to figure out what it is I can learn from Joseph’s polygamy.” I totally agree with this approach.
To the issue of deception:
For me it is not a matter of whether or not JS was deceptive. It is that his deception regarding polygamy seems out of harmony with his basic M.O. in other areas. He seemed to have little to no qualms about making and then sticking to statements that caused him all kinds of problems and opened himself up to all kinds of abuse and persecution. But with this – mum’s the word, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more.
Why was he confindent in proclaiming other inflammatory doctrines and sheepish about this one?
HG, maybe you’re right….I don’t have all the eternal answers. I’ve examined this issue from every angle, I think. I guess, I hope, God doesn’t judge me too harshly for calling it the way I see it.
For me, I have to draw the line on whether something is prophetic, god’s will, or revelation somewhere. That point, for me, is in the realm of imagining a scenario where my wife’s hand could have been required to slip behind my back in a secret ceremony to be joined with a charismatic leader who claimed to be acting in the name of the Almighty. Oh yeah, and my wife’s hypothetical reward? Salvation for me and the rest of her loved ones.
Every non-OT example of corruption by a charismatic leader has similar elements, and for me, doesn’t pass the smell test. Joseph’s actions, especially when the element of deception is added, seem to epitomize corruption by someone with too much power….yea, the power to speak in the name of God.
What is interesting to me is not the historical “facts” as Bushman or MH present them but how people spin them. The deciding factor is either what a person interprets as a witness of the Spirit what Joseph Smith’s motives were or what other spiritual experiences he/she has had in the past that would serve to mitigate against a negative interpretation. Both of those are reasons we all make decisions about anything but are they reasonable and logical?
I can’t tell you how much this disturbs me. And I’m flabbergasted that there aren’t many more responses.
Are people disinterested or just sick to their stomachs like I am?
I think it comes down to people have decided it doesn’t matter or they don’t want to think about it. I decided a while ago that it does matter and there’s not much that can be said to justify it. Explain it but not justify it.
I too am flabbergasted.
Even in the unlikely event that JS never had sex with any of his plural wives, this is still extremely inappropriate behavior in my opinion. Church apologists seem to argue that the sex issue is overblown. Hold on a minute, even without the sex, how can this be acceptable? How would you feel if your wife came home late one night and you asked where she was and she said, oh, don’t worry, we didn’t have sex, I just promised god that I would always be true to the prophet and be his wife here and in the next life. But you don’t mind, right, because we didn’t have sex.
He married women who were already married.
He married young women who were too young to make the decision for themselves.
He said strange things that put pressure on these women like angels telling him to do it and threatening him if he did not do it.
He lied about it to his wife, and many others.
If god commanded him to act in this way, well, that’s not really a god I am concerned with trying to love and/or impress.
If god didn’t command it and JS did it on his own, then JS was not a prophet of god, and not even a good person, in my opinion.
It seems to me that when God chooses people to do His work (significant things anyway) that He expects them to do whatever He asks and He isn’t really concerned about what man thinks. Fear God and not man, He says and I believe He really means it. If you were commanded to do any one thing that God commanded some of these people to do, would you be more concerned about what God might do to you or what men could do? To me it boils down to the Lord justifying Joseph, not us. If the Lord justified Him, then we can’t really say he’s a liar can we? If we choose to do that, don’t we risk calling God a liar too? When Joseph did try to cover things up maybe he was expected to and what seems like blatant lying to us was not considered such by the Lord. Although it sounds ridiculous to some, I see a pattern in the way the Lord works with those who have had a substantial work to do in the scriptures. Lying is the least of their concerns really. They are there to accomplish what the Lord expects and the rest is well…history. Unfortunately, it is not history we can swallow very well.
I am sure that I will get some comments on this, but I don’t think it serves us well to hash over things that we can’t explain or justify. Really it is about making a personal decision to believe that the Lord does His work in ways we don’t understand. We can say Joseph was this and that, but really if the Lord has made it clear he is justified before Him then what are we going to do when we meet God? Are we going to say, “I really think you made a mistake with this Joseph guy.” It is funny to me that Joseph gets put through the ringer, but we consider Nephi a hero for chopping off someone’s head, stealing his clothes and then lying to get the plates.
I am wondering if anyone else has considered what I am suggesting, that the Lord expects his servants to do whatever he asks, (almost intentionally setting them up to look bad to men), while having them also accomplish His work in that process. I really believe there are different expectations placed on specific people in this life that aren’t placed on most of the rest of us, and that include doing whatever the Lord says period. Why would the Lord do this and risk losing people over issues like this? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that He doesn’t require the same things of all of us and some are asked to do a whole lot more than others.
But Jen, where does it end? At some point must use common sense. If we blindly follow the prophet no matter what, and assume that God must have his reasons, who am I to question God? Then what do we do if the prophet says we need to ethnically cleanse the church, or we need to hand over our daughters to the bishop. Your point leaves no room for a person to say, “HEY, HOLD ON A MINUTE, OVER MY DEAD BODY ARE YOU TAKING MY DAUGHTER!”
You might say, but the church would never do that. Well, what about the religions or cults that do do that. Don’t you think, “how could those people obey such a terrible leader.” I’ll tell you how, it’s by having an attitude of common sense doesn’t matter, I’ll follow no matter what, because god’s ways are higher than man’s ways.
I would never do something that I was asked to do unless I had a strong confirmation from the Lord that I should do it. That is where it would end for me. I am not saying follow no matter what, so in that you are misunderstanding me. I firmly believe in receiving my own confirmations and would never blindly follow anyone.
For me, Joseph’s polygamy does not automatically preclude him from potentially also being a prophet. I don’t accept polygamy as God’s will and I don’t believe in a God who would command someone to act in the way Joseph acted in re polygamy, but I’m not sure a prophetic calling demands perfection, or anything close to perfection. Indeed, his charisma and ability to draw people to him made him what he was…..seems like Bushman makes that point too.
But your comments paint a very different picture. You said:
“If you were commanded to do any one thing that God commanded some of these people to do, would you be more concerned about what God might do to you or what men could do?”
“I don’t think it serves us well to hash over things that we can’t explain or justify. Really it is about making a personal decision to believe that the Lord does His work in ways we don’t understand.”
“[T]he Lord expects his servants to do whatever he asks, (almost intentionally setting them up to look bad to men), while having them also accomplish His work in that process. I really believe there are different expectations placed on specific people in this life that aren’t placed on most of the rest of us, and that include doing whatever the Lord says period.”
Those quotes sound very scary to me. I do not want to live in a world where people’s subjective feelings about what God is telling them should be paramount to common sense and the well being of their common man. But your quotes say the opposite.
I respect that opinion. But I respectfully disagree.
If I were God, and my prophet kicked his dog I would not say a thing.
If my prophet yelled at the paper boy for throwing his paper in the sprinklers I would not say a thing.
If my prophet treated his secretary poorly and with abusive language I would not say a thing.
If my prophet got drunk one night and howled at the moon I would not say a thing.
If my prophet lied to the IRS and cheated on his taxes I would not say a thing.
If my prophet created a bank that failed and cheated many out of their money I would be tempted to say something. But maybe I wouldn’t.
But if my prophet taught that I revealed to him that plural marriage was divine and to be practiced, married a teenager, married woman who were already married, gave these woman sometimes only a day to decide, pressured them with claims that it was commanded by Me, lied to his wife about it, and denied it for years, you better believe I would put an End to that man, or the practice of polygamy, or both.
I don’t believe in any god who wouldn’t. We are supposed to believe that God chastised JS for losing the manuscript of the first 132 pages but that He simply turned a blind eye to polygamy?
Agency is taught as one of the key points of Mormon theology. To me it means that God commands and I chose whether or not to obey. But how does that go along with Joesph Smith’s assertion that an angel with a flaming sword gave him the choice of death or proposing marriage to another woman and then using that claim to convince the person to marry him?
I must confess that I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the idea that if God commands, then morally I’m excused since it’s not God commanding me but someone telling me that God’s commanding me. That may be a minor point to some but history in and out of the LDS church is replete with people that were convinced that God was speaking to them and commanding them and others to act.
alice – “Are people disinterested or just sick to their stomachs like I am?” I think for most of us, we’ve been the rounds on this and just don’t have a conclusive answer. Or there are some who do feel they have an answer for themselves (either positive or negative), so they’ve moved on. I think I’m with AT, but I also feel like Dexter on this one. I don’t know, and I’ve read through it all. The facts don’t make a lot of sense. And I don’t need to have a belief in polygamy as an eternal principle to follow Christ.
I don’t feel they paint a very different picture at all. I am sorry they sound scary to you, but you need to realize that I am tallking about specific people and what they were asked to do because of the work they were being called to do. God wasn’t asking the general population to chop off Laban’s head or to sacrifice their son. My point is He asked specific people (very few in fact)to do difficult things and that is a pattern that I have seen in the scriptures of those He has called, but not for the great majority of the rest of us. In other words, I don’t think most of us will ever be asked to do things like some of the prophets have been asked to do, because there is no purpose. I am suggesting that there is something more expected of those who are called to do significant things. Do you understand what I am saying?
But Jen, you can’t pick and choose people of high character to apply this rule to. Your statements could be used by anyone who feels that God communicated to them. That is why they are scary, anyone can claim God spoke to them, and if they apply your reasoning – God’s ways are higher than man’s, I must not fear man, but only God, I must do what God says, no matter what – then what do we have? We have suicide bombers.
Dexter, I hear ya…..
I hear you too, but I am trying to discuss this looking at the scriptures we have and trying to see a possible pattern there. It seems it is not something can be done though to be honest. I have to run anyway……..
“The deciding factor is either what a person interprets as a witness of the Spirit what Joseph Smith’s motives were or what other spiritual experiences he/she has had in the past that would serve to mitigate against a negative interpretation. Both of those are reasons we all make decisions about anything but are they reasonable and logical?’
The real problem is that none of us lived at that time, really understand what it was like, and have ALL the facts to make a reasoned judgment. Those who are letting Joseph off the hook, so to speak, do so because they want to based on the totality of his life and accomplishments. they may see a flawed Prophet, but a Prophet, none the less.
Those who are critical of Joseph for his polygamy can’t or don’t want to reconcile it against their own sensibilities. They don’t necessarily want to “weigh the bad with the good.” It would also be my observation that this is just one problem they have with Joseph, not the only one.
I do not accept the argument that none of lived at that time so we can’t make a reasoned judgment.
We judge Judas for what he did, and that was 2000 years ago in a far away land under a regime of government that no longer exists. We judge Laman and Lemuel constantly. We judge characters of the scriptures that were truly thousands of years, in civilizations we have no or very scant history on, and were possibly anecdotal, but we can’t judge someone who lived in the SAME county we live in now less than 200 years ago?
I have heard that “it was a different time” argument so many times and frankly, I don’t think it holds any water.
I hold to something of a “gradually falling prophet” approach, in which Joesph saw things (such as in the Book of Moses) he could not understand yet and perhaps should have left alone. Instead, a mixture of human weaknesses (the desire for the “rush” of new understanding, the importunings of sign seekers, loneliness, lust, whatever, and in whatever proportions history reveals) made him vulnerable to subtle twistings. The various branches of the Restoration are still struggling with the consequences of determining when and where the twistings occurred.
More importantly, we can’t put the genie fully back into the bottle and move on. The theology that has developed from this early framework does have serious impacts on how we in our separate Restoration churches denominationally and individually address issues of human marriage, gender, and sexuality that affect societies throughout the world today.
“Those who are critical of Joseph for his polygamy can’t or don’t want to reconcile it against their own sensibilities. They don’t necessarily want to “weigh the bad with the good.” It would also be my observation that this is just one problem they have with Joseph, not the only one.”
I agree as it speaks to my comment as to the reasons that people come to the conclusions they do about anything. Weighing the good with the bad has always been difficult for me as I tend to be more of a black and white thinker. I was raised on Joseph Smith as a mythical person rather than as a flawed human being whose choices in life I have problems with now. The business of polygamy might be easier to deal with if it would have come at another time in his life rather than at the end. Anyway my point was that reason and facts play disappearingly little in what conclusions we come to about anything. There’s just too much emotion and personality at play. The point is, given what a person finally comes to believe, how does that influence the life he/she lives?
And I agree with Hawkgrrl. It’s subject that’s been gone over so many times that there’s not much more to say. You just have to decide that that was then, now is now, and what if anything does it have with following the Saviour.
As I mentioned before, we just had a big conversation on polygamy about a month ago, so perhaps people have tired of the subject. It is something that gets talked about quite a bit, but there is always someone new who comes along and gets blindsided by the information. I know the church encourages black and white thinking: “Joseph is a prophet or fraud”, but I don’t think we need to subscribe to only those two propositions. I believe a prophet can make big mistakes–I’ve talked about Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac, Jonah refusing to preach to the Ninevites, Joshua’s genocide in Jericho, and Jacob’s stealing the birthright of Esau, as quite problematic. If we can accept these flawed beings as prophets then I think Joseph’s polygamy is not nearly as bad as Joshua’s genocide.
I think it’s a little problematic to say, well, JS wasn’t as bad as Joshua, so everything he did is ok, especially if your testimony of the bible’s truthfulness is based on your belief that the BoM is true and therefore JS is a prophet and therefore the Bible is true as far as it is translated correctly. This is classic circular reasoning.
1. BoM is true.
2. Therefore, JS is a prophet.
3. Therefore, Church is true.
4. Therefore, Bible is word of God.
5. Therefore, Joshua was a prophet, despite the genocide.
6. Therefore, since polygamy is not as bad as genocide, JS is still a prophet.
Here’s what Bushman has to say. From page 439,
The marital status of the plural wives further complicated the issue. Within fifteen months of marrying Louisa Beaman, Joseph had married eleven other women. Eight of the eleven were married to other men. All told, ten of Joseph’s plural wives were married to other men. All of them went on living with their first husbands after marrying the Prophet. The reasons for choosing married women can only be surmised. Not all were married to non-Mormon men; six of the ten husbands were active Latter-day Saints. In most cases, the husband knew of the plural marriage and approved. The practice seems inexplicable today. Why would a husband consent?
The only answer seems to be the explanation Joseph gave when he asked a woman for her consent: they and their families would benefit spiritually from a close tie to the Prophet. Joseph told a prospective wife that submitting to plural marriage would “ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household. & all your kindred.” A father who gave his daughter to the Prophet as a plural wife was assured that the marriage “shall be crowned upon your heads and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old and young.” The relationship would bear fruit in the afterlife. There is no certain evidence that Joseph had sexual relations with any of the wives who were married to other men. They married because Joseph’s kingdom grew with the size of his family, and those bonded to that family would be exalted with him.
Dexter, I have a much different definition of a prophet than you do. I am trying to place Joseph in the context of all prophets, meaning that they did imperfect things. If you reject the Bible, then there is really no good definition of a prophet. But for those who accept the Bible, then it gives context. Really, when we look at it, I reject many things of biblical and latter-day prophets. That’s probably not a typical stance among people here, so your circular reasoning does not apply, because I have a different definition than you do.
Amen is all I have to say.
I am MH’s “commenter” by the way.
“Then what do we do if the prophet says we need to ethnically cleanse the church, or we need to hand over our daughters to the bishop. Your point leaves no room for a person to say, “HEY, HOLD ON A MINUTE, OVER MY DEAD BODY ARE YOU TAKING MY DAUGHTER!””
What I think some of us don’t realize is that many of these people didn’t just obey because they had a warm, fuzzy feeling. They had truly remarkable experiences, some of which involved seeing angels. They weren’t about to place their very life on the altar (as many referred to it) and sacrifice everything they held dear for something that they had no doubt was of God.
Some of you have said that that kind of a God is not one you are concerned with pleasing, but if you were asked to do something that you believed was completely wrong or immoral, and then took that concern to the Lord rather than just saying “forget about it. Go pound sand!” you might find that the Lord would open your understanding so that it all made sense. I think that is what happened to those who accepted it in spite of how repulsed they were of it or how difficult it was for them to live. They had a vision of something divinely inspired. I know that’s what happens to me when I am touched by the Spirit. Things that didn’t make sense suddenly fell into place and my understanding is enlarged and a bigger picture is revealed. I can say that to be my experience as I studied the issue of plural marriage hoping to understand why God would command such a thing. I’ve also experienced an increased understaning with other things related to the gospel as well. I’m not saying just accept things no matter what. I’m just saying, give the Lord a chance to enlarge your understanding before you close him, or his prophets, off.
I also have to agree with Jeff. We just don’t have enough facts to make a fair judgement. And yes, Dexter, we judge characters in the scriptures all the time, but judgement was pretty much passed on them by the prophets who wrote about them. I haven’t seen a prophet pass judgement on Joseph Smith saying that he was deceived in instituting the doctrine of plural marriage. And I just can’t imagine that the Lord would just overlook something as serious as plural marriage if it wasn’t ordained by Him. Yes, God very jealously guards free agency, but when the prophet’s free agency leads the people severely off track, I can’t imagine that He just sits there not saying anything. That’s just does not add up to me.
Sorry, it should’ve said, “something that they doubted was of God” rather than “something that they had no doubt was of God.”
MH, I wasn’t attacking your position. I understand you have nuanced belief system. But for those who believe the Bible is true based on their belief in JS and the BoM, it is circular reasoning to say Joseph wasn’t as bad as Joshua so I can accept polygamy because it’s not as bad as things done in OT times.
Thanks Dexter, but I don’t think most people believe in the Bible because of Joseph Smith. They believe in the BoM because of the JS, but the Bible is a completely different ballgame, IMO. Perhaps we can ask others if they agree? I think they tend to compartmentalize the Bible and the Book of Mormon, since they came about soooo differently.
Finally, some girl power! 🙂
Seriously, I went to MH’s website and read your comments about polygamy and I wanted to thank you for everything you posted. I am sure it took a lot of your time to write all you did and I wanted you to know that there are people out there who appreciate it.
As you mentioned in #38 on this thread, I have had similar experiences with the Lord when I have gone to Him about things that were difficult for me to understand and I have had my mind enlightened with understanding. There is nothing to compare when your mind is opened to things you never thought of before.
Thanks again for your comments.
Well, my circular reasoning argument would not apply to anyone who has independent confirmation of the bible’s truthfulness.
BUT, many members don’t, in my opinion.
In fact, the church used to train their missionaries to teach the following method:
1) Ask them to read and pray about the BoM and whether JS was a prophet?
If they receive confirmation of that, then the church is true. If the church is true, then everything else falls into place: tithing, bible, only true church, fasting, etc., etc., etc.
So, for some, I believe they do believe in the bible based on JS. For others, no.
Girl power! I like that. Thanks for the appreciation. I’ve been feeling a little underappreciated over there, although I must say MH is a very gracious host even though he makes me want to bang my head against the wall sometimes 🙂 Love ya, MH!
I’m glad to know that you’ve had similar experiences with your understanding being enlarged. It’s an awesome feeling, isn’t it?
“I am wondering if anyone else has considered what I am suggesting, that the Lord expects his servants to do whatever he asks, (almost intentionally setting them up to look bad to men)”
That sounds so cultish to me. It’s one thing for scriptures stories to be outlandish to prove a point through overstatement, but real life is something else. If Pres Monson was “told” to kill someone because this person had some plates the church really needed, you think Pres Monson would take a gun and kill him? That’s……. Please fill in the blank yourself.
To me it is so Jonestown it’s scary.
I think JS coined the phrase, “Girl Power!”
Am I wrong?
“Am I wrong?”
It must have been Brigham Young then, my mistake.
“That sounds so cultish to me”
Well, just so you know, I am not a member of a cult.
It’s not as though I’ve never encountered these charges. It’s just that I’ve never read Bushman. And when I read MH’s excerpts, for some reason, I flashed on Jim Jones seducing some of the vulnerable women who believed in him. After all, I’m sure he played his “prophet card” and told them how they were doing something noble for a man of God.
I don’t usually shrink away from things that are tough but I guess I’ve been in a good deal of denial about this particular issue that wasn’t talked about for my first 50 years or so.
Actually by strict definition, most all churches can be considered cults. In the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first two definitions given are:
1: formal religious veneration : worship
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual
I was not attacking anyone personally. Just the comment/idea. I think we all know in common speech what is being said when someone uses the word cult.
For me personally, if God were to tell me to kill someone, my response would be “You’re God. Figure out another way.”
I can’t imagine that being a bad thing.
OK fine, I am a member of a cult (strictly speaking), but it is obvious the intention of the comment being made towards me was negative in meaning, not positive.
My frame of reference is to prophets in the scriptures to which I am familiar. I have noticed Jonestown and suicide bombers being brought up in relation to my comment, but that is not in relation to my belief system or my frame of reference. If you want to consider JS the big, bad JS or any other prophet in the scriptures, you can, but I don’t see them as scary.
“If Pres Monson was “told” to kill someone because this person had some plates the church really needed, you think Pres Monson would take a gun and kill him? That’s……. Please fill in the blank yourself.”
Well, that’s exactly what has happened many times in the gospel. Nephi killed drunk Laban to get plates. Porter Rockwell “disposed” of adversaries so that the gospel could come forth, etc.
That’s the way the Lord chooses to accomplish things sometimes. I get the feeling He doesn’t subscribe much to modern secular ethics.
I want to emphasize comment #36, quoting Bushman.
In most cases, the husband knew of the plural marriage and approved. The practice seems inexplicable today. Why would a husband consent?
The only answer seems to be the explanation Joseph gave when he asked a woman for her consent: they and their families would benefit spiritually from a close tie to the Prophet. Joseph told a prospective wife that submitting to plural marriage would “ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household. & all your kindred.”
I don’t think one can objectively look at that answer as not manipulative on Joseph’s part. To accept this premise, one is ASSURED of exaltation–to reject it could consign one do damnation. Perhaps Joseph was 100% correct, but the manipulation tactic calls the practice into great question, IMO. This is one of the reasons why I find polygamy problematic–it’s implementation seems to have been based on manipulation, rather than faith. I can kind of understand the secretiveness, but the secretiveness also is problematic too. It goes against all our cultural upbringing.
Joseph is trying to implement Old Testament standards, but I believe most of us would rather live a New Testament law, rather than an Old Testament law. Even the New Testament says a bishop should only have one wife, contrary to the practices under Brigham Young which stated a bishop must be polygamist.
All I know is I would love to be there when you told God to figure out another way! 🙂
Bruce–I don’t believe the Nephi/Laban to be literal history. The church is not proud of Rockwell’s “obedient dispositions” since you will never find them described as faithful obedience in any official, current church publication. To me, the Lord must not have “ordered the hits”.
Jen-There are many scriptural accounts such as Nephi/Laban that I don’t believe to be historical. I doubt that Ziff raised up on his hands and gasped for air after his head was cut off. That is why I differentiated scripture stories from “real life”. Many (most) members of the church believe that really happened. I would not expect most church members to think as I do.
That’s important for me to know where you are coming from, thanks for clarifying. I still want to have a post where people talk about where they are in relation to the LDS church and their beliefs. It would be very useful to reference. I still nominate Dexter to write it, but so far he is wimping out.
It was about 3 years ago that I read Bushman’s book. My reaction was very similar to yours, in that I found most of it hard to believe, and reconcile. Upon reading it again, I actually think Bushman does a pretty good job of putting Joseph in a positive light. Tara, for example, was using many of the same defenses Bushman does for Joseph Smith. However, I just find that some of these rationalizations to be weak, just as I find rationalizations for Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Joshua’s genocide, as weak too.
I know people want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when they encounter this information. I guess I’m saying it’s fine to throw out the bathwater (human sacrifice, genocide, polygamy, priesthood ban), while keeping the baby (BoM, D&C, Plan of Salvation, Temple work, Jesus Christ.) Don’t fall into the trap of “it’s all true or it’s all false.” Very few things are like that. Even heroes like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson said “all men are created equal”, yet both had slaves. If they were Mormon leaders, anti-Mormons would call them hypocrites, yet few people seem to take that position.
Leaders aren’t perfect, despite our inclination to try to make them perfect.
Jen–“All I know is I would love to be there when you told God to figure out another way!”
Wait, was that me? I thought it was Shiz! 😉
I think this issue is complex as the many individuals and cultures,tribes,
nationalities and demographics involved. All all prey to Ochim’s Razor–the tendancy of humans simpliy of humans to seek least complex explanations possible.
My ex-husband’s Grandmother was the
Grandaughter and Great Uncle were bodygua e mobs and were upriver preparing a cabin for him when the died and wept and blamed themselves for his assasination. They are long gone so
I will not sully their names by discussing them.
I think much of what people struggle so to understand is rooted in lack of understanding of the situation in Europe and the Culture of Indigenous
Americans. Converts most often know less and want to dump History as a required subject. Then others want to know everything and a friend from my ward and grade school–the cutist boy in the fifth grade.
Our Church History Sunday School teacher was the daughter of the Japanese Embassador to Brazil in WWII.
Her father wanted the Japanese to settle in Brazil rather than China/Manchuria. I don’t think he knew much about the atrocities in China.
That is why he was posted so far away.
She loved studying the History of her Religion and was so good at it that it
remained vivid in our memories. My father volunteered for the “Flying Tigers”, the WWII China Air Task Force
so I asked many questions about the
Regarding Joseph’s Sealings to Women he never had children with, there was a flap about a book tying Joseph to the Oneida Community and it seems certainly
likely that his visit with them influenced him. There was a new problem
during the Nauvoo period–a large emigration of saints from the industrial and STD ridden port cities of Europe, cheifly London’s East End.
There was a pamphlet written by a British Doctor, possibly with some tie
to India that described a sexual method
that seemed to make pregnancy and transmission of disease less likely. By marrying women in polygamy he could teach it to his spouses. I don’t think
he wanted babies born until all was ready in the West.
His bodyguards ran the details of his life–Cherokees praticed polygamy and the government was more brutal to them
than to us. The first Indians were driven along the trail of tears in 1838–the same year as the Missouri Mormon Extermination Order signed by
Governor Boggs. This was needed because
we were largely white. There were some
light skinned Cherokees because of a regiment of Highland Scots that married into indian tribes because Britain was
conducting a clearance of the Highlands
and could do it more easily without these men.
Both Indians and Highlanders practiced
forms of polygamy before the majority
of Scotts became Catholic. I think that in the Nauvoo period and afterwards the saints were so reliant on Indian Scouts and alliances with the Indians that without an acceptance of polygamy the Saints would not have survived.
James Guyman married a 16 year old second wife. She was in a ragged band of orphans who were driven out of Missouri without parents or real clothing.
The matter of the paternity
of her baby was never discussed. James’
first wife was ill from what she had suffered and it was suggested that James marry her. His first wife never regained her health.
I found a number for the family organization and read what I could,
studied various accounts, then got
xeroxed copies of family accounts by
getting suggestions from a series of
elderly relatives. I also was able to see primary material kept by various granddaughters–this was 1977.
Can’t write much more now.
That was a little messy–sorry. I’ve been in Iran for the last couple of
days and feel rather exhausted and stretched out. Got a lot of primary material, but need to sleep after doing
another search. I tweet on Twitter.
“I do not accept the argument that none of lived at that time so we can’t make a reasoned judgment.’
That’s fine. It’s an argument that goes on in the historically community all the time. History is all a matter of interpretation. Sometimes the records seem very clear and there is less interpretation. Sometimes, it is not, so more interpretation is necessary.In the end, much is the Historian’s opinion of the facts.
“We judge Judas for what he did, and that was 2000 years ago in a far away land under a regime of government that no longer exists. We judge Laman and Lemuel constantly. We judge characters of the scriptures that were truly thousands of years, in civilizations we have no or very scant history on, and were possibly anecdotal, but we can’t judge someone who lived in the SAME county we live in now less than 200 years ago?”
We generally do take those things at face value because we have no more information than what is provided. But I’ve not really seen a significant amount of speculation and extrapolation to try to explain away the behaviors of Laman and Lemuel and Judas. Or, even try to assign a more sinister explanation to their actions.
“I have heard that “it was a different time” argument so many times and frankly, I don’t think it holds any water.”
Really, I find that kind of interesting. That is a typical generational explanation as to why people see things so differently at different stages of their life and especially when comparing the behavior of the generations before and after.
It’s not to say that times aren’t different. They are. But I find this argument to be overblown. The 1800s weren’t that long ago. And we have a lot of information that can help us ascertain what was acceptable behavior in that time and what wasn’t.
“And we have a lot of information that can help us ascertain what was acceptable behavior in that time and what wasn’t.”
I am going to have to say that I find that quite a naive statement to make. I am not sure any other way of saying it.
He did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin.
I found this last statement especially intriguing, because there is no DNA evidence that Joseph had any kin from wives other than Emma.
I think that this is a misunderstanding of what “kin” means. Kin is not children, but family relationships. By acquiring wives, Joseph is acquiring kin.
So… where are the children?
check out the link provided by Lorin above (i think comment 7.) BiV did an interesting analysis of these claims.
thanks in 68. perhaps I did misunderstand there.
Oh really, Jeff? It’s naive to think that we have TONS of history about the 1800s? We are not talking about the men on the moon and what rules they may or may not have had or followed. We are not talking about people who lived in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. We are talking about less than 200 years ago right here in the USA. We have access to the laws that were in place, transcripts of trials that took place, countless sworn affidavits from witnesses, are you out of your mind? You act like the 1800s were the middle ages. It wasn’t that long ago, and I hate to break it to you, but most people frowned upon the idea of plural marriage, and most people frowned upon the idea of JS marrying their daughters, and most people frowned upon the idea of JS asking married women to be his wife. It doesn’t take rocket science. It doesn’t take revelation from God. We know what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Just ask the guys who established the Nauvoo Expositor. I’m sure you, in your never naive way, believe satan influenced these men. Guess what? They thought it was unacceptable that JS was trying to solicit their wives to be his wives. This is one of a million examples of contemporaries of JS finding his way of living unacceptable. As it turns out, people in the 1800s didn’t like getting ripped off either. The bank failure was interesting. What a coincidence that people back in those crazy times didn’t like having their money taken from them either, JUST LIKE TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!
And nice post, by the way. You just call my belief “naive” and then, in an effort to not sound insulting, you say “I am not sure any other way of saying it.” How about presenting some argument as to why it is naive? How about that? I could easily say what I think of you and your posts, but I do not resort to cheap insults and then say, “I don’t know how else to say it.” Because I am capable of attacking arguments with arguments, not cheaply labeling them as naive.
Gee, bud, I didn’t mean for you to blow a tire over it.
“but most people frowned upon the idea of plural marriage….’
Most of those people frowned on Mormonism itself. They frowned on freed black slaves, they frowned on Jews and other non-Christians, they frowned on foreigners, they frowned on any rights for women.
What does that prove? Do you know exactly why they frowned on those things, do you know what was in their thoughts and hearts? Do you know what they taught their children? I suspect you don’t. Which is my point. You can’t really know everything because it was 200 years again.
To those people who frowned on Plural marriage as you see it, they frowned on the Prophet and it would not have mattered to them if it came from God or not, they didn’t like it and they didn’t like him. But, then again, they didn’t like Mormons either. most of whom didn’t nothing to them but have a religion.
“It’s not to say that times aren’t different. They are. But I find this argument to be overblown. The 1800s weren’t that long ago. And we have a lot of information that can help us ascertain what was acceptable behavior in that time and what wasn’t.”
This is what prompted my post. There is no evidence here just some opinion, which I think are a bit naive, if you really believe that.
It’s common sense. We have a lot of information on the 1800s. I don’t think I need to supply evidence of that fact.
And I think it is a straw man argument to point out that we don’t know their hearts and minds and we don’t know “everything” about their time. So what? We know enough to make reasonable judgments.
We don’t know “everything” about the unabomber, we don’t know everything about Jeffrey Dahmer, we don’t know everything about Ted Bundy, but we know enough to want them behind bars or dead.
Similarly, we don’t know everything about the hearts and minds of the people in the 1800s but we know enough to know what a spade is when we read about one. So we ought to call it one.
It’s naive to disagree with me on this. Whether you like Joseph or not, fine. But to act like we have no clue what the 1800s were like so we can’t judge anyone is naive, in my opinion. We have mountains of evidence. Right and wrong don’t change that much in 200 years, do they? I don’t think right and wrong change much in 2 million years.
Look, for those of you who think JS was a great guy, that’s fine. There is evidence to support this view.
For those of you who think JS was a scoundrel, that is an acceptable view as well. One can disagree, but it is hard to say that is an unreasonable position to take. There is evidence to support this view as well.
For those of you who aren’t sure if he was good or bad, and you label him as an interesting fellow with some wonderful traits, and some vices, that is probably most accurate and certainly has plenty of evidence behind it.
I simply disagree with and dislike the following theory: one cannot have an opinion on JS because the times were so different then. That is just not true, and it’s lazy. First, the times weren’t that different from now that you can’t use your current standards of judgment to some degree. Second, learning about what times were like then is readily accessible. Read a few books.
That is all I am trying to say. That’s all I’m driving at, really.
“one cannot have an opinion on JS because the times were so different then.
I never said that and I don’t think anyone has. All I was saying is that we don’t have all the facts and so we make value judgments based on what we do know. Some choose to interpret things one way and others another way. Since everyone is entitled to his or her view on things, there will be discussion on what the information we do have really means.
“That is just not true, and it’s lazy. First, the times weren’t that different from now that you can’t use your current standards of judgment to some degree. Second, learning about what times were like then is readily accessible. Read a few books.”
Again, I would disagree with you wholeheartedly. The times WERE very, very different. And I got that from reading a few books.
Two people see a car crash at the same time, yet they have two difference versions of what happened. Why?
Jeff, I hear what you are saying, but by that rationale, we can’t make intelligent judgments about anyone. If we extend your view, then we can’t know anything about anyone so what is the point of even trying to discuss any of these issues?
And the stories about JS doing good things don’t seem to have the same caveats. Why is that? Why are we so ready to label his good deeds as good? Shouldn’t we say we don’t know if they were good because the times were so different?
jjackson, it is always interesting to look at a person and then interpret their life in a way that fits their character rather than one that does not.
I found this last statement especially intriguing, because there is no DNA evidence that Joseph had any kin from wives other than Emma — that is Joseph, who was apparently very fertile, only had children with Emma. But, as pointed out in 68, he gained a large number of kin this way.
But, even more importantly, he created kinship webs. The LDS/Mormon people became an ethnic group hundreds of years faster than it usually takes and remained one into the 1970s.
The church is not proud of Rockwell’s “obedient dispositions” since when Brigham Young put him in charge of defending against Johnson’s Army he made Rockwell sign every order with the phrase “shed no blood” — an interesting catch phrase for a guerrilla action.
Anyway, an interesting thread.
Let me add that it is interesting to read the Old Testament, and how circumcision was an eternal covenant (at least until the Book of Acts), etc. God has done a number of things to create people who are separated from the environment and resistant to assimilation.
Was the law of Moses something that brought the Jews to Christ or was Paul just mistaken when he thought so?
Do we have our own equivalents?
There are tens of thousands (quite likely hundreds of thousands or more) of descendants of those who were sealed to Joseph Smith. I expect that most of them may indeed find themselves in his family in eternity. I say “may” because there was (and is) choice involved as to who is sealed to whom. I do not think that we really understand all the reasons behind polygamy, but I am sure that it was to bless individuals and families.
“We are supposed to believe that God chastised JS for losing the manuscript of the first 132 pages”
The chastisement was that he “should not have feared man more than God” D&C 3:7
“Why was he confident in proclaiming other inflammatory doctrines and sheepish about this one?”
Any difficult doctrine would be more successfully established if a key number of influential leaders already developed a testimony of the principle. A doctrine THAT inflammatory announced over the pulpit would have been immediately opposed vocally by a majority, and overwhelmingly rejected. It was hard enough for the key leaders to hear it and come to some sort of acceptance. Heber C Kimball’s biography indicates that he couldn’t find a way tell his wife about it, but that she went on her own and prayed to know what was troubling him and the cause of his consternation and a testimony of the principle was given to her by revelation. Also, the furor created within the public at large would have been felt immediately, rather than trickling out to the Salt Lake Valley over years.
If you believe Brigham Young’s account, the doctrine of the endowment ceremony was given in a similar manner in the upper rooms of the red brick store to key influential leaders.
As to the issue of no DNA matches suggesting posterity with women other than Emma, there was something I read, and I don’t have the source, that a woman in Utah in her deathbed told her ?daughter that the man she knew as her father was not her father and that Joseph Smith WAS her father. I don’t know if she had descendents that were tested that ruled this out or if the opportunity to check for genetic lineage was lost.
“the desire for the “rush” of new understanding”
I like this description by Firetag, because the restorationist principle seems to engender this human weakness. This may have lead to error in application of the principle in a number of links in the chain. There are certainly many good reasons cited to apply this error to Joseph’s mind being darkened regarding receipt of revelation. Going back to the lost manuscript, D&C 10 relates that the consequence was the Lord told Joseph was, “lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened.” But the desire for the “rush” of new understanding could have also been errant in marriages to women already in marriages to expand kinship.
I have seen no reason to doubt Joseph’s version of events. An angel told him to take plural wives. Any speculation to the contrary is simple speculation. We know polygamy was practiced of old, we know that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are gods and had plural marriages. We know it was preached from the pulpit in no uncertain terms that celestial marriage is blessed of God. We also know that when Joseph prophesied it came to pass. The man was a prophet. He told us the truth. We can ponder till the cows come home but get no further enlightenment than we have today.
Yes its very simple to take a flatland view of the situation and claim that the practice is equivalent to adultery or fornication or just lust. Joseph will have his detractors. I think that each man must search his own soul and find therein whether the practice would be (for him) lust fulfilled or fulfillment of a heavenly command. For Joseph, I have no doubt it was the latter.
Here’s what I’m wondering: is there any other case of the first authorities taking plural wives and being celibate with them?
Because they would have known the basics of JS’ plural marriages and his intent with respect to them. Especially if it was a new principle that had the crucial nature that it had to be delivered by an angel with a flaming sword, they, no doubt, questioned him extensively when he was asking them to act as go betweens with their daughters (and sisters?). So they would have been clear, I think, at least in their own minds, what Joseph said the angel’s instructions were. No?
So, did they consummate their plural marriages? Or did they remain only spiritually married with their subsequent wives? Seems their actions tell us a lot.
Not that this makes me feel any better… But it’s an inescapable question for me.
I don’t understand it completely by any stretch, but some of my own ancestors and those of my wife wrote of incredibly powerful spiritual experiences convincing them that it was of God – even some who never practiced it themselves because they didn’t like it and wanted to avoid being asked. I just can’t get past that simple fact – that many members reported independently obtained manifestations that they should accept it, both those who lived it and those who didn’t. I don’t like to call them duped idiots, so I just can’t reject it out of hand.
I also can see OBVIOUS benefits, but I’ve written about it so much that I really don’t care to do so again. All I will say is that the bad reasons and the benefits are there for the interpreting – and that I don’t believe it was EVER practiced as intended or that it was understood fully by anyone, except perhaps Joseph near the very end of his life. It certainly took a sharp change with Brigham, the practical, non-visionary prophet – but I think it was an unavoidable (perhaps even necessary) change, given the general lack of understanding.
Mike, would you be comfortable having your wife sealed to Pres Monson?
“As to the issue of no DNA matches suggesting posterity with women other than Emma, there was something I read, and I don’t have the source, that a woman in Utah in her deathbed told her ?daughter that the man she knew as her father was not her father and that Joseph Smith WAS her father. I don’t know if she had descendents that were tested that ruled this out or if the opportunity to check for genetic lineage was lost.”
Rigel, I’m one of them. 🙂 Well, it’s not certain–Mighty DNA has not ruled either way though. We’ll see…
“I don’t understand it completely by any stretch, but some of my own ancestors and those of my wife wrote of incredibly powerful spiritual experiences convincing them that it was of God – even some who never practiced it themselves because they didn’t like it and wanted to avoid being asked. I just can’t get past that simple fact – that many members reported independently obtained manifestations that they should accept it, both those who lived it and those who didn’t. I don’t like to call them duped idiots, so I just can’t reject it out of hand.”
Do we accept the same argument today while watching the FLDS, etc., women interviewed that claim the same? Whether inspired, or not, people can be convinced to do many things within an authoritarian religious environment that are outside accepted social norms. If the Church had stayed back East, I think polygamy would have died out far earlier than it did in the isolation of Utah.
AH: “If the Church had stayed back East, I think polygamy would have died out far earlier than it did in the isolation of Utah.” Interestingly, a rival sect of Mormons led by James Strang (after the succession crisis) had almost as many members as the sect led by Brigham Young. Their foundation was that JS had told Strang he was the successor, and Strang rejected polygamy. Saints who rejected polygamy followed Strang to Wisconsin. There were over 40K saints who followed him (compared to the 55K who followed BY). However, several years later, Strang changed his position on polygamy and introduced it. As a result, that sect substantially lost followers and there are currently only about one thousand followers of that sect.
If we extend your view, then we can’t know anything about anyone so what is the point of even trying to discuss any of these issues?
Well, we can discuss them in some level of context, but we can’t really know for sure. You can’t know someone real thoughts. Even if they write down and say “these are my thoughts,” they may or maybe not be. they may not be able to fully express their true thoughts or emotions on paper. Perhaps their writing skills were not good. Not everyone was literate back then.
And the stories about JS doing good things don’t seem to have the same caveats. Why is that? Why are we so ready to label his good deeds as good? Shouldn’t we say we don’t know if they were good because the times were so different?
Not sure exactly what you are getting at. Perhaps his real motives for doing good were not always pure. That might be the case. Again, we can take it at face value and examine the available evidence and make a judgment. But, you and some others are not willing, at least it appears so, to accept the fact that Joseph’s Polygamy might have been ordained of God and that those who participated were mostly OK with it.
You’ve chosen to reject it, because it appears, you don’t like it or the idea of it. But, that is not really a good argument for rejecting it. It was clearly NOT the norm of the day but neither was associating with people not of the same race.
Jeff, I think Dexter’s frustration is that you can’t except his list of the things that to him that speak against Joseph Smith being a prophet and in spite of what he sees as incontrovertable evidence continue to be a believer. The issue to me is not the “facts”, such as they are, how we spin them and what part they play in our decisions. It can be very hard to the know the truth or falsity of something and have people not believe you. He’s bearing his testimony to you of the untruthfullness of Joseph Smith as a prophet and expects the Spirit to bear an unwitness to you but that’s obviously not going to happen. Polygamy is a hard thing to discuss because it brings up so much emotion that we try to cloak in reason. Probably better to discuss something simple like “Does God continue to progress” or whatever.
By the way I thought your “Gee, bud, I didn’t mean for you to blow a tire over it” was a classic.
So, according Daynes “More Wives Than One”, Josephine Fischer signed a statement in 1915 that she was told Joseph Smith was her father in 1882 just before her mother, Sylvia Sessions, passed away.
So, AdamF, the “F” wouldn’t stand for “Fischer” would it? 😉
Daynes also said that among BY and the 12 Apostles at the time of Joseph’s death, nine had “received the fulness of the priesthood ordinances” and seven “had already taken plural wives.” “A majority of the apostles remained loyal so that these legacies from the founding prophet would continue after his death.”
What is fascinating to me is precisely the point 89 makes: we see the facts so differently whether we depend on personal revelation or rational logic.
My grandparents and parents told me with passion of spiritual experiences, some of which were angelic in nature, that led them into CofChrist. I’ve confirmed them with experiences of my own, and then had the internal logic of those experiences lead me in unexpected directions.
Other people have equally passionate experiences that lead them to Protestantism, Catholicism, or non-Christian religions.
Dexter, apparently a rationalist, probably argues that the very unreliably of having consistent experiences among people argues against their reality. Yet that doesn’t even exhaust the rationalist probabilities. For example, just as the first eyes were pretty unreliable in evolutionary models of the development of life, theists who believe in evolution (or Mormons who believe in progression) can simply argue that our sense of the spirit is still pretty primitive, allowing even prophets to misperceive. There was physical light before we developed the senses to perceive it, so one can argue that there is spiritual “light” before we develop the senses to perceive it without that being an “irrational” argument.
Perhaps the more interesting discussion is not whether our individual interpretations of the external facts are correct, but what is it about us individually that leads us to interpret the external facts one way or another.
Rigel – nope! It’s without the C. 🙂 It’s between W.P. Lyon or JS.
I should have you autograph my copy of Daynes. You’re a protopolygamy celebrity.
I like Bushman’s caution as a historian to follow up on the credibility of all accounts regarding Joseph’s plural marriages — it’s what real historians are supposed to do, after all — base history on reliable facts, not reliable innuendo.
I’d like it better if Bushman followed up on credibility for both sides of the issue, rather than just following up on the credibility of those who made potentially negative statements about Joseph’s plural marriages. Bushman even seems ready to accept the word of William Law without question, so long as it can be used to Joseph’s favor, despite the fact that William Law was one of the men who directly precipitated Joseph’s murder.
But to act like we have no clue what the 1800s were like so we can’t judge anyone is naive, in my opinion. We have mountains of evidence. Right and wrong don’t change that much in 200 years, do they?
I have no trouble with those who make the presentism argument–that we can’t judge Joseph’s actions negatively because they took place 160 years ago, so long as they ALSO agree that we can’t judge Joseph’s actions positively because they took place 160 years ago! If we don’t know enough about the 1840s to condemn Joseph, we certainly don’t know enough about the 1840s to praise Joseph!
#86 – I understand it’s a very fine line, but I just can’t write off other people’s spiritual experiences with impunity – explicitly because I have had others do that to me and my own experiences. I won’t accept it from others, so I won’t do it to others.
Of course, there are certain things that I won’t end up believing are inspired, but that’s what creates the fine line – the difficulty of different people creating different lines. It’s called humanity; it’s called mortality; and doing away with it actually would blow mental gaskets in the brains of EVERY person here who is the most vocal about how this issue is purely black and white. It’s a two-edged sword, and VERY few people stop and think about the logical extension of denying any degree of validity to personal, experiential, subjective beliefs – and VERY few who take that position realize how personal, experiential and subjective their own beliefs are.
That’s worth considering – deeply and at length.
I like Bushman’s non-emotionally-charged presentation of it all.
In all my studies, the biggest thing to me has been that Joseph only ever did what he “thought” the Lord required of him. He made mistakes, but he was always striving to know God’s will and live it. There is not very many indications, IMO, Joseph ever tried to act for his own power or satisfaction (no money or anything like that).
I think the Encyclopedia of Mormonism explanation is well worth reading on the subject:
There are plenty of gaps one can fill with your own guesses of what makes sense, but we will never really know for sure why Joseph felt he needed to live it, only that he did and whenever he did, it was done carefully (asking permission, Brigham Young witnessing, striving to make it acceptable to Emma, official ceremonies, etc).
Bottom line, Jacob 2 states marriage is one man and one woman only. There are other evidences the Lord “allows” it under specific authority, but only rarely. Why does the Lord sometimes allow it and not others??? His ways are higher than ours. Others (including Oliver Cowdery) who tried to live it unauthorized were doing it wrong. Today it is strictly forbidden, so I don’t think I’ll ever get a spiritual witness about something that isn’t necessary for me to know(D&C 88:64-65).
“If we don’t know enough about the 1840s to condemn Joseph, we certainly don’t know enough about the 1840s to praise Joseph!”
I remember my institute teacher being a bit miffed that Tippetts and Avery would put some second hand report of a sarcastic comment about being Joseph and a young woman “sealed on the hay mow” in Mormon Enigma. It seemed fair enough to me, in a book about Emma, to know what kind of gossip–credible or non-credible that she was forced to endure.
I tend to draw a line though about who’s retelling of these events I read, avoiding unbalance that favors obvious axes to grind.
Bushman would benefit from a little social science. Charismatic religious leaders usually have sex with their followers. That even applies to mainline protestant charismatic preachers.
Unlike other preachers, Smith codified his sex life, which provided him with a theological basis to retain control over his ministry. A baptist minister who would have been caught having sex with his congregants would have simply been tarred and feathered and driven out of town.
A comparative perspective beyond the narrow confines of Mormonism might have provided Bushman useful perspective about religion, status, and sex.
Hellmut: “Bushman would benefit from a little social science. Charismatic religious leaders usually have sex with their followers.” Bushman actually does point that out in Rough Stone Rolling, stating that others at the time were expectant (and constantly on the lookout for evidence) that a sexually open society would natural evolve from a charismatic religion like Mormonism. He also lists several other contemporary sects as examples of religions that followed that pattern.
A couple of thoughts….just because Joseph believed polygamy came from God, doesn’t mean it did.
Second, if we argue that polygamy was instituted, in part, to “raise up a righteous seed” (or some derivation thereof), we can’t well argue that Joseph’s relationships were meant to be celibate.
Well, could circumcision have been right for Abraham and wrong for Clement?
What about pork? Wrong for Moses and right for Paul?
Thanks for catching my mistake, Hawkgrrrl!
“There is not very many indications, IMO, Joseph ever tried to act for his own power or satisfaction (no money or anything like that).”
Well, being prophet beats working on a marginal farm. His dad got to charge for blessings. His brothers were employed. Joseph’s mother got to display the mummies, which had been procured with the members’ donations.
When Joseph was lynched, he owned a farm and several homes. Smith did not make as much money as Brigham Young but his ministry certainly worked better than his father’s farm.
#100 “just because Joseph believed polygamy came from God, doesn’t mean it did. ”
No, it doesn’t mean that it came from God, but it does establish a motive from Joseph and what his nature was, seeking God’s will instead of explaining it as Joseph was seeking his own pleasures.
#103. “Well, being prophet beats working on a marginal farm.”
Hellmut, are you suggesting Joseph and Emma were well off…better than most people of the day?
“Well, being prophet beats working on a marginal farm….When Joseph was lynched, he owned a farm and several homes.”
So, being attacked by mobs, being tarred and feathered, imprisoned, and eventually being killed along with one or more family members is what most consider better than working on a marginal farm? If that’s so, I don’t want to ever get NEAR a marginal farm. I’m not even sure a farm and several homes would be worth the cost in the end. Do you?
#104, kinda, but not really. You still must account for things like self deception. If a person can believe their own “lie” (i.e., their presentation that is biased toward their own self-interest), the theory goes, they will consequently be better able to persuade others of its “truth.”
I guess it’s also fair to ask whether this was a case of confabulation, delisions, or megalomania. I’ve met a lot of people who simply rationalize their behavior to the point of believing it themselves….but that doesn’t take away their intent. Deception of others is a better indicator of intent, in my view.
For those wanting to know more about Joseph’s kin, BiV did a great post documenting some of these alleged children.
Hellmut, Bushman did talk about other religious leaders sexual beliefs, but I didn’t focus on that in the excerpts I listed, though I did briefly talk about the Shakers on page 440. At that point Bushman goes into other religious practices. Perhaps I should have included it, but my post was already pretty long, and I wanted to focus on Joseph, not other religious practices.
I like FireTag’s position in 91 that we don’t have all the tools to perceive godly thoughts.
SteveM, circumcision is a real head scratcher for me. I’ve seen medical literature both for and against the medical needs. Circumcision does seem to inhibit the transmission of AIDS and other STD’s, but most people in western cultures seem to act like it’s completely worthless. Either way, I think we all agree that female circumcision is a barbaric practice, and I don’t really understand why God wants anything sharp near my genitals. Circumcision in the time of Abraham was an extremely common pagan practice, so it seems to me that God didn’t inspire it. Perhaps God put a stamp of approval on it, but circumcision pre-dates Abraham. See my post for more info on this and other topics on Abraham.
As for pork, it’s a head scratcher for me to. If it was dietary, and kept people from eating diseased meat, then fine, I’ll accept it as a godly thing like the Word of Wisdom. Perhaps God will then show us it’s ok to drink alcohol in moderation in the future?
It’s over 100 comments, so threadjack continuation alert:
MH, fwiw, I think D&C 89 makes it crystal clear that drinking alcohol in moderation is just fine – at the individual level. It’s just that so many people can’t establish the proper line separating “moderation” from “abuse” that the proper line for “the weakest of the weak” was enforced for the collective group – all totally abstaining.
I’m fine with that. I don’t want to drink in moderation enough to fight over it – and I know enough families that have been wrecked by alcoholism that I am thankful none of my extended famliy or I have had to find out our limits the hard way.
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I find nothing offensive about Jen’s comments. Her posts exhibit the smart way to approach this subject.
There is much we don’t understand and doubting God would do anything like allow plural marriage is not very open minded. To doubt he forbids it and has in the past is not very open minded. Did Joseph do it right…like there is a right way and a wrong way to doing many things…I don’t know. I for one am not playing judge to a Prophet. I personally could not see it happening for me and its not a scripture based requirement to get to heaven, so I am satisfied.