Episode 10: Mormon Fundamentalist Polygamy Part 2 John Dehlin August 13, 2007 LDS, mormon, Mormons, polygamy 13 Comments Part 2 of this discussion.
Regarding comments on William Marks and the alleged statements by Joseph Smith that polygamy would “destroy the church”, you should take into consideration the fact that Marks supported Emma Smith and was against Brigham Young’s group (the main LDS). A good reference is Emma Smith bio by Newell & Avery “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” or even wikipedia:
One quickly sees that President Marks became an anti-Joseph Smith and rejected polygamy altogether before Smith had died; he also supported Sidney Rigdon when Smith attempted to remove Rigdon as counselor and years later was one of the four who convinced Josephs’ son to start the RLDS. His rejection of polygamy was also noted in the council that elected Smiths’ successor (Brigham Young)
In this podcast you seem to imply that a Stake President, who normally would be someone of a significant level of respect & status in the church, was giving testimony as to Smiths’ doubts over polygamy. But even before Smiths’ death the then President Marks was opposed to the practice and eventually ended up with Emma Smith and the RLDS, today the Community of Christ, which has always rejected polygamy. He did this after wondering about in other religious groups which where spin-off’s from the LDS movement. (Today we would classify him as someone who simply ‘does not have the Spirit’). Therefore a closer look at Marks and his life both before and after the death of Joseph Smith would make one dubious as to the motives behind that statement, especially since all the apostles, and above all President Young, rejected Marks.
But today you are also probably correct in assuming that the church would still ban polygamy if it where permitted by the federal government because it can still be good sound doctrine when practiced as it is today: where a man can be sealed to several wives but not concurrently.
Also it has always being interesting to me to see that polygamy has being the determining factor as to wether people stay in the church or leave, both when the church taught to keep the practice in the 1840’s and when it banned it in the 1890’s. Several ‘top tier’ leaders where affected both times like Marks & later apostles Taylor (president Taylor’s son) & Cowley who where dropped by the twelve and then apostle Lyman who was excommunicated after a ‘polygamist’ affair that lasted some 15 years. The practice of polygamy or The Principal, has determined who truely followed the brethren: both in obeying to practice it and later in obeying to stop it.
Your podcasts are normally great so please accept this constructive criticism. Although the subject content was interesting, Ann’s demeanor detracted from the discussion. She came across in a very arrogant and condescending tone and she reminded me of much that I detest about the Church. Sorry for the negative tone but I don’t know how else to say it.
Carlos — You’re apparently approaching this from the perspective of a believing member of the LDS church. In my work, I attempt to look at the faith claims of all the branches of the Latter Day Saint movement without prejudicing any one above another. For example, I would imagine from the perspective of fundamentalist Mormons, your own rejection of the new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage today might classify you as someone who (as you say) “does not have the Spirit.” However, from my perspective, you and they and William Marks, Emma Hale Smith, John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley are/were all faithful Latter Day Saints — you have just fallen out of communion with one another.
I personally believe there’s good reason to credit William Marks’s testimony. Todd Compton has shown that in the last 6 months of his life Joseph Smith stopped taking new plural wives. Joseph allowed Emma to burn the plural marriage revelation. Joseph had always condemned polygamy in his public speeches using Clintonian code phrases (even though he was practicing plural marriage in private), but in his final months he allowed Hyrum and others to speak against the practice outright without the coded language. William Law (who did consider Joseph a fallen prophet in Joseph’s lifetime) recalled that Joseph had privately promised to give the practice up; however, for Law this wasn’t good enough; Law wanted the past practice made public and then publically renounced. Brigham Young himself stated that Joseph “did not have one particle of light in him” when he returned to Illinois to give himself up in Carthage —- which, to some readers, implies that Brigham considered Joseph a fallen prophet at the end, perhaps because Joseph had abandoned secret practices.
However, none of this evidence is conclusive. You can certainly argue it either way.
John -yes I was approaching it from an LDS perspective since I took this as a pro-lds site; but certainly one can argue either way. And many do.
Even if I leave out the ‘not have the Spirit’ part, we can also cast doubt as to the motives behind Marks comments.
Remember that Emma had to approve of the other wives for it to be legit, as per Revelation, and even though she did at one stage approve it and Joseph married somewhat publicly (for the inner circle) Emma later rejected polygamy again, and violently so, as Joseph publicly accused her calling her an poisoner (attempted one at least). Joseph had also resorted to ‘Sealing’ only women for the next life and not marrying for mortality, probably to get around Emma’s objections, something which neither Emma nor Marks accepted anyway, nor Brigham Young for that matter.
But from all that strife and conflict going on into 1844, it is overwhelming clear that there was precisely just that -strife in the community over polygamy. The Emma’s, Marks, Law, Rigdon on one side with Brigham Young, Kimball and others on the other side. (I also wouldn’t trust writings from William Law because he clearly had a separate agenda)
Joseph Smith seems to me to have being trapped in between; between what he believed his God told him and his wife’s rejection of the practice. In that small war Marks chose Emma’s side and supported her (we agree?), so his later comments could be brought into question by this fact. Where they completely true or completely biased? We can’t know for sure but on the balance of probability I think the biased side would be the safest bet. Remember also that Emma later publicly denied that Joseph had practiced polygamy at all and called him fallen too. But in her case one can see why she would in that ‘Clintonian’ sense.
Regarding your comment on my supposed ‘rejection’ of the new & everlasting covenant as the fundamentalist would see it: I didn’t mean to suggest that, nor believe that I did. I still accept the new & everlasting covenant as it is seen today where a man is sealed to many wives but only one at a time. Typical is the widowers’ case or even the divorced after a Clearance is obtained. We still, in mainstream LDS, practice polygamy but in a more modern sense, shall I say: Many wives but none concurrent. I realize that the fundamentalist have a different view, that it should be concurrently done, but we have only moved forward one place from them.
Can you explain why you would not trust William Law simply because of his “separate agenda”? It seems to me that his agenda would be something that would be considered in weighing his testimony but not something that would cause you to distrust him outright. Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, all had “agendas.” These certainly ought to be considered when examining their statements. But if we dismiss out of hand any statements by someone with an “agenda” I am afraid there won’t be anything left to consider.
Equality: Yes, you’re correct in saying “that this agenda would be something that would be considered in weighing his testimony” That consideration leads me to conclude that his testimony should not be trusted with regards to these aspects of Joseph Smith life. This because William Law clearly, ah, ‘disliked’ Josepth, (to be mild).
I think we need to read history carefully but also see who is writing that history before determining who to listen to and who to accept fully without questioning their credibility. Because Brigham Young never formally left the church nor became an enemy to Joseph (which is seem clearly from his later comments and especially his dieing words) then Young’s comment of Joseph not having any light do need to be taken seriously. But not Laws’ nor Marks’.
With all due respect, I disagree. I do not think that simply because Law left the church and disliked Joseph Smith that his testimony should be given NO consideration. That his bias should be considered, yes, that he should be dismissed out of hand, no. Using your logic, for example, you would never consider as credible the testimony of a battered spouse against her abusive husband unless she stayed married to him. After all, if she leaves him and says bad stuff about him, isn’t she exhibiting bias? The question is not whether a particular witness has a bias but whether their bias is reasonable and the extent to which that bias might color their testimony. In some cases, a bias is unreasonable; in other cases, the bias has a rational basis. In the case of a battered spouse, for example, her bias against her husband is perfectly reasonable. Likewise, one could argue, that William Law’s bias against Joseph Smith was justified given Smith’s attempts to seduce Law’s wife (as just one example).
Re: #4. MormonMatters is definitely pro-LDS —- but it’s also pro-Latter Day Saint and pro-Mormon of all stripes.
How do you know that Emma rejected the practice? As a woman, there was nothing for her to practice once the spouse she was eternally sealed to had died. She married a second husband for time (“until death did they part”), but as a woman the principle certainly did not require her to take additional celestial husbands; in fact, it forbade her from doing so.
The second aspect of the practice, as taught by Joseph Smith in his personal example and explicitly by command and counsel was that the principle was to be kept a strict secret. Rather than expose it to profane ears, you were to deny its existance. You were to lie about it publically as Joseph lied about it publically. Emma followed this second practice faithfully all her life. She followed Joseph’s example of never admitting the practice publically, just as he never did.
In the various branches of Mormonism that emerged after Joseph’s martyrdom, several leaders rejected Joseph’s teachings and began to teach polygamy openly — these leaders included James J. Strang, William Smith and Brigham Young.
Equality: I’m afraid that your logic is too extreme; I don’t mean to offend or make it personal but I’d call it Pseudo-logic or pseudo-maths. Because, would you ask Kim Basinger what Alec Baldwin is like? No, off course not. But that doesn’t mean that one ignores a battered wife who is making an allegation of criminality, nor Basinger’s accusations in the divorce proceedings. But you’d only say in Baldwins’ biography that they had a very messy and long divorce but it wouldn’t be prima-facie evidence as to what Baldwin is like as a person –nor would Reagan’s first wife define him. One would try to see the big picture regarding Baldwin and Kim would only be one of his critics and enemies.
With Law, who was an associate of Smith only and not an intimate friend or relative I’d also doubt his version of events in the “seduction of Mrs Smith” incident. He could’ve also made that up to justify some of his actions. What about John C Bennett and his acusations?
I really think we read too much in between the lines here and in histories pages. Sure Joseph would’ve made mistakes, like the Bank, but those didn’t define him as it wouldn’t define any 30 something year old today. Dallin Oaks’ comments on this issue are perfect, interviewed by Helen Whitney; the full transcript because they kind off put his words out of context in the documentary: http://lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=f11cb868474e3110VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=9ae411154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD
John: “How do you know that Emma rejected the practice?” For that statement I went by “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” Newell & Avery 1984, which specifically gives that point of view, that she went from acceptance to rejection and back again but ending up rejecting it outright before Josephs’ death. But I also see this suggested by several other authors.
I would, indeed, ask Kim Basinger’s opinion of Alec Baldwin if I was trying to find out as much as I could about the man. I would consider the fact that she had gone through a messy divorce with him as I weighed how much credibility to give her statements, but I would not reject them out of hand. I guess that’s all I am trying to say about Law–his biases should be considered but should not be dispositive of his testimony entirely. You mention Bennett. He was certainly a very close confidante of Smith’s. Does that mean you give Bennett more credence than Law? What about where Bennett and Law are in agreement?
On Smith and his banking “mistakes.” Are you saying it was a mistake for him to load the deposit boxes with sand and put coins on top and show them to potential investors to make them think the bank had more reserves than it really did? That was just a “mistake”?
Smith “mistake” : never heard of that one before, the sand in boxes bit. If it happened: yeap, certainly a mistake by an uneducated non-banker (what) 31 year old? Today off course that mistake would send someone to jail, but in frontier america, well… probably not.
Interesting to me is that in the 1800’s the US went though many similar cases; even the States issued bonds which rapidly decreased in value; recession & high inflation where common place; until the greenback stabilized things all the way through to 1930. But we don’t remember the other financial scandals of 1800’s frontier America?
Also interesting to me is the fact that the church practically ran out of money, forcing Snow to preach about tithing; was deeply affected by the depression; then the church nearly went bankrupt under McKay and the building program! But today we only hear about how much money and assets the church has; the billions in tithing income, bi$$ions in real estate…………..interesting because it appears to me that for Mormons, when it comes to money……ya just can’t win!
I think the church could “win” a nod from critics if it simply maintained a policy of openness and honesty. In Smith’s case, the problem was one of honesty. Today, with the church’s vast financial holdings, it is one of openness.
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