Love And Marriage(s)


In response to a recent blog discussion about plural marriage, several long-time bloggernacle participants and I got involved in a lengthy and spirited email conversation. We ended up deciding that a redacted, heavily edited, and anonymized version of our exchange would make for interesting blog fodder. The conversation started out by considering whether people today are more scandalized by the plurality of Joseph Smith’s wives, or by (some of) their ages. But it shifted rather quickly in a new, more general dirction, which is where we pick up here.

Wintermute: The outrage over plural marriages is not remotely modern (if anything it’s tame compared to what it was). The scandal over bride age, though, is much stronger now than it was.

Oswald: I’m a man and I consequently believe that things have to do with sex quite a lot of the time. That may not be the only thing going on but I have to say that I am very, very skeptical of arguments that downplay sex in favor of “dynastic sealing” or some such. I don’t deny the latter but I submit there would be no polygamy without the initial desire for other women.

Wintermute: Your marriage is also about sex, Oswald. Just not primarily so. I have no doubt that JSJ slept with (most of) his wives. But I also don’t think any serious analysis of the marriages would conclude they were primarily about sex any more than his marriage to Emma was.

Oswald: Wintermute, my marriage, especially at the beginning was largely about sex, or at least it felt like that. Marriage legitimized our sexual desire. I think that polygamous marriage did the same for JSJ. It’s more than that, of course, but it is primarily that. Or at least, that’s where it began.

Wintermute: Marriage legitimated our sexual desires too. But it still does a wild disservice to say that sex was the primary motivation. It’s a rhetorical move most of us would be loathe to brook in the case of, say, claiming that same sex marriage is just legitimating gay sex.

Oswald: Wintermute, that’s still not it. Marriage legitimized my sexuality because I was a Mormon and *not able to have sex otherwise*. That’s not a problem for most people in relationships, gay or otherwise, nowadays. Joseph also needed that legitimization at the start.

My hypothesis would be something like this: the Fanny Alger affair (or perhaps something that happened earlier) got him thinking about how he could sacralize such relationships . . . what we have in the end, of course, is so much more than that, but that’s God making good what man made bad. The truth and beauty of Mormon eternal sociality has its roots in a human frailty.

Wintermute: I have no problem with the idea that plural marriages are as much about sex as monogamous marriages. I think in a society with no taboo on multiple marriages most decent men would want to marry multiply and who they tried to marry would be partly about sex but more about a wide range of human intimacy.

The list of revelations and practices that define Mormonism that were also legitimations of Joseph’s own impulses—whether in the realm of theology, social engineering, paramilitary policy, finances, etc—is almost without end.

Oswald: Well, that I can agree with.

Reverend Maclean: Oswald, I’m willing to accept much of your claim, but it does not explain his marriages to women over 65. Yes, libido was involved, but something else was also involved. I suspect Wintermute’s observation about emotional intimacy has merit.

Oswald: Reverend Maclean, Fanny wasn’t 65 and this is where I suspect it all began. Once it had begun it became something else and more than just about sex. But I humbly suggest that if by some freak of nature all of the women around JS were 65 or over, we would not be having this conversation now. That explains the ick factor, I think: the age makes this so much more likely a sex thing. If an older man marries a teenager, it probably isn’t because he is impressed by her achievements in life.

Wintermute: The role of sexuality in these motivations is hardly all or nothing, and marital intimacy involves much, much more than sex, even at the outset.

Audrey Horne: “my hypothesis would be something like this…” FWIW, that’s what I’ve always assumed, Oswald. For whatever reason, Joseph was the one with the talents to pull off something as crazy as the Restoration. He was also all about teh ladiez. God had to work with the raw materials he had in Joseph, and make good things out of them.

Oswald: Wintermute, Fanny was all about teh sex, which is my starting point.

Zelph: “To me, that is so obviously the emperor’s new clothes here. If we were talking about anyone other than the beloved founder of our own religion, it would be obvious to all.”

I am probably an outlier, but that’s not how it is for me at all. I study a lot of fringe figures with sexual reforms, and while there is certainly a spectrum, I rarely interpret any of them in such frank terms. In this instance, even though I don’t think polygamy was inspired, I think Smith’s religious cosmology and biblicism had more influence on the introduction than mere sexuality. The latter played a part, sure, but it was part of a dynamic and multifaceted monster that belies simple categories.

Also, I don’t think Alger was about sex. In short, I think that was a direct result of the JST. The cosmology of Nauvoo polygamy wasn’t there, but my reading of his biblicism in early Kirtland makes me ask not, “why did Fanny happen,” but “why didn’t it happen sooner?” I think it was pressing on him since 1831, so it is somewhat remarkable that it didn’t happen until ’35/36. Also, one point that I wish could be emphasized more, is Kirtland polygamy =/= Nauvoo polygamy. Completely separate theological structure. (Which is actually something that puts me in a different camp than Sam Brown.)

Wintermute: Yeah, he was already working through non-victorian ideas about love and marriage well before they happened to crystalize in personal form around the Alger relationship. Also, I don’t think any conversation about JSJ’s unusual relationship with women is complete without addressing his also very unusual relationship with the men closest to him. They weren’t just loyal followers. They loved him more deeply than they loved anyone. These were men who shared profound kinds of human intimacy too. They lived and worked together, sat in prison together, were sick together, faced death together, cared for each other, ritually washed each other’s bodies, and confessed their sins to each other. I understand how outlandishly anachronistic the comparison is, but I would not be the least surprised if, by the time of Joseph’s death, most of the men closest to him registered, um, higher than expected on the Kinsey scale.

Zelph: I’d never thought of that, Wintermute. Interesting.

Oswald: You guys are cute. “Part of a dynamic and multifaceted monster that belies simple categories”: I call that obfuscation at its finest.

Reverend Maclean: Zelph, the plural marriages dropped off sharply starting mid 1843. Was JS moving away from polygamy at the end of his life, or are there other reasons?

Wintermute: He was terrified of 1) Emma leaving him and 2) being killed.

Zelph: What Wintermute said. Plus, I think he felt he achieved enough kinship for himself and turned his attention to spreading polygamy to others.

Oswald: Listen, Wintermute and Zelph—if you start a new religion and then marry lots of women, some of them young, and then tell me God told you to do it, not your libido, I shall tell you to stick your “multifaceted monster” up your ass.

Wintermute: What percentage of Mormons believe with absolute sincerity that God told them to marry their spouse, overflowing and unsatisfied libido notwithstanding? If a social science undergrad tried to explain away polygamy of any kind primarily in terms of the legitimation and gratification of libido, I’d tell him/her to switch careers to tabloid journalism.

Oswald: I know it’s complex, guys, but I think apologists for polygamy make it as complex as possible in order to muddy the waters. I’m not buying it.

Wintermute: But Zelph’s analysis does account for one critical fact: JSJ was not solely or primarily about gathering plural families to himself (although he almost certainly believed that priesthood based familial ties to him would place spouses and their kin under his seal and ensure their exaltation under the everlasting covenant), but about extending plural marriage to everybody. The bulk of plural marriage developments in the last year of his life involved expanding the practice to others. That it was, in its time and place, patriarchal is no more surprising than the fact that it was heterosexual.

Zelph: I don’t think saying sexuality wasn’t the primary motivation makes one an apologist for polygamy.

Wintermute: Apologists do try to leverage the complexity of polygamy to muddy the waters. But they are complex nonetheless, and reductivism is not the solution. Serious anthropological description and evaluation grounded in suspended moral judgment and sympathetic generosity—exactly what we would expect from a serious and fair analysis of, say, New Guinean highlanders—demands more than just a “men with boners” explanation.

Zelph: But I will add, Oswald, that I agree with your critique of some apologetic approaches. But I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

Wintermute: Exactly. The worst damage that the apologists do by abusing the “it’s complicated” theme is delegitimizing that approach in critical discourse on the topic. It becomes a zero sum game. Either the relationships were purely “dynastic” and platonic, or else Joseph was an alpha male using PM as a treatment for too many 4-hour erections. If sex had anything to do with it, then it was all about sex, and if you don’t think it was all about sex, you’re discounting the role of sex altogether and treating Joseph with kid gloves because you’re incapable of/unwilling to look at him with the critical perspective you’d direct at _anyone_ else.

Oswald: If you are trying to convince me that polygamy was not solely about sex then I need no convincing. I concede that point and admit to earlier hyperbole. However, I remain of the belief that the primary motivation remains male sexual pleasure. I am a cynic like that and it goes for Guineans and Joseph Smith alike. Given that the modern church cannot countenance a sexually-driven Joseph Smith, it is the apologists’ job to make it as complex as possible. I do think you are playing that game, but I hope you won’t dislike me for saying that.

Wintermute: I agree that the modern church cannot countenance a sexually-driven Joseph, and I agree that he was sexually-driven. But I don’t think libido is the _primary_ motivation for his marriage to anyone. I think that if someone with his power and influence by 1841 had decided to use said power to maximize his sexual conquests and set for himself an endless supply of ass, and do it under the guise of revealed necessity, Nauvoo would have looked very different than it did. On the other hand, a shockingly powerful and influential man who was willing to use his position to try to expand the number of people with whom he had maximal human intimacy, including marital intimacy in all its forms, and to stabilize those relationships of intimacy with social permanence and treat the relationships as much like real marriages as possible without incurring the very real and widespread violence that their public exposure would have incurred, then you’d get something that looked virtually exactly like Nauvoo.

Oswald: Straw man, Wintermute. Even Joseph was not brazen enough to “set for himself an endless supply of ass.” My argument is not that if he wanted sex he would have ensured ready access to a harem. Come on, man.

Wintermute: Consider even the case of Alger: there’s a big difference between an illicit extramarital affair that is essentially a hook-up—easy sex with someone you have no serious feelings for—and an extramarital relationship that involves real love and commitment and emotional attachment. Both are motivated by sex, but in very different ways and to very different degrees. I don’t think even Emma thought that the relationship with Alger was just Joseph trying to score himself some (wait for it) Fanny.

Oswald: OK, sex + romance then.

Wintermute: I’m saying that if I accused a celibate gay mormon man of wanting to get married solely so that he could have legitimized gay sex, you’d call bullshit immediately. There are worlds of difference between Sex and Sex + Romance. That’s my biggest point. I’ve never argued that it wasn’t about—even primarily about human intimacy. Just that the desire for human intimacy that drove it was much, much more than libido.

Oswald: Joseph Smith’s libido really doesn’t interest me as much as I’m suggesting, I just want to tear the eyes out of people who downplay the sex. It smells of apologia. Maybe I’m overplaying the sex. I suppose I am hostile to “complexity” in this issue because I hate it when applied to things like the priesthood ban. Yes, there are complex issues surrounding birthright, believing blood, notions of the pre-existence, etc., etc., but when it comes down to it, Brigham Young was a racist.

Wintermute: Yes, but Brigham Young was a racist is a bad, bad historical and sociological explanation of where the ban came from or the specific form it took (excluding only non-whites of African descent). Did Brigham Young think Pacific Islanders were the social, intellectual, or spiritual equals of white Europeans? What about American Indians? Did the exclusion of blacks from Masonic lodges have anything to do with what was, in fact, a temple ban that excluded both men and women from Joseph’s gender integrated “lodge?” Was JSJ a racist? Why isn’t that the explanation? In other words, Brigham’s racism (which he shared with most around him and with his predecessor) was surely a factor. But it totally fails as a singular explanation. Virtually any explanation, no matter how complex, besides “it happened because God clearly and unambiguously REVEALED it from on high” will have to account for the racism of Church leaders. And a huge part of the reason Brigham’s racism fails as a primary explanation is that it indemnifies JSJ’s racism.

Oswald: By “Brigham Young” I mean “Brigham and the whole world of racism that preceded and surrounded him in 19th century America.” I just told my wife that if I ever leave her for a young woman, Wintermute and Zelph will have my back. “It was because he wanted to bond with someone who can do differential calculus in her sleep, so as to create the perfect field-equation crunching offspring and thereby solve the mystery of Dark Matter for the sake of science.” Your charity is going to help me out one day.

Wintermute: You seem to be begging the question here, Oswald, in the sense that your last comment simply presumes the inarguable moral wrongness of any kind of polygamous union. The fact is that if both you and your wife believed that polygamy was an arrangement that God sometimes countenanced and that you, Oswald, were God’s prophet of the restoration which included the restoration of biblical polygamy (even if it was something you could accept abstractly but were personally horrified by its implementation), then yes, the fact that you selected a plural wife (as opposed to just leaving your wife for someone else) on the basis of something more than the hiring criteria for an underwear model would, I think, make an enormous difference.

You do, though, bump up right against what I think is by far the most troubling aspect of PM (and of Joseph’s entire biography): lying to Emma about it.

Sofia Semyonovna: Wintermute, How is that worse than using the promise of salvation to marry another woman?

Wintermute: I don’t think there’s anything more intrinsically wrong with using the promise of salvation as the basis for making a marriage choice than for the choice to religiously convert, assuming the promise is made in good faith. Mormons the world over use the promise/threat of salvation or the jeopardizing thereof to influence the marital choices of their loved ones, children, friends, etc.

Sofia Semyonovna: I don’t know Wintermute, I might feel better as a woman if my husband was just doing another woman than actually in love with her. Also, I think the idea of JS trying to create intimacy and therefore marriage is pretty weak. He wasn’t around them enough to do so. He probably shared a much closer intimacy around with the men around him. Per your above comment, threatening salvation with marriage is far more problematic. Sure, lots of people do it—bishop did it to me—and I really do think a lie to hide affairs is not worse. The marriage one in my book is worse because it is coercive.

Wintermute: I don’t think it was possible for a powerful man in 1840 to purpose marriage to any woman without coercion. An awful lot turns on the question of whether the promise of an exalting bond was extended in good faith. I definitely think Joseph tried to cultivate intimacy and genuine marital bonds with his wives to the extent that it was possible to do so while keeping them secret. And I understand the one night stand affair being less painful than the emotionally committed, in-love affair, but to treat the relationships under consideration axiomatically as affairs is rather to put the morally evaluative cart before the horse, no?

Sofia Semyonovna: I agree, I cannot in any plausible context treat them as mere affairs.

Wintermute: And the threat of salvation/damnation as the basis of religious conversion, to the extent that it is extended and received seriously and sincerely, is definitely coercive.

Sofia Semyonovna: It wasn’t just the salvation, it was the begging and practically harassing sometimes to get them to consent to the marriage.

Wintermute: I absolutely agree that the proposals were coercive. I just think it would have been impossible for them not to be. I also think that there is something positive to be said for pleading with the women individually and trying to persuade them rather than simply arranging things through the men who already dominated their lives. He asked the women to marry him and worked hard to persuade them. He didn’t ask their fathers or even husbands. He didn’t treat them like they belonged to someone else or like he was entitled to them based on his position. Again, any degree of persuasive pressure was coercive, from any powerful man in that time and place but especially from him. But persistent persuasion directed solely at the women is better than an awful lot of what easily could have been. I honestly think the most important question is whether or not his claim that God wanted him to marry these women was made in good faith. Women are coerced in either case, and there’s a real mixed bag in terms of outcomes. But it really does make an enormous difference.


  1. My expectations were not unmet. Between the crunchy exterior of trying to read Joseph’s mind and the delicious chewy “coercion” filling, I’m well satisfied.

  2. Love this disucssion. Well done.

    I’m always a bit perplexed by our obsession with Joseph’s “marriages.” Not his relationships, but his marriages. We seem to split hairs over those Joseph may not have married (Alger) vs. those he certainly did. I’m perplexed because, whether approached from a 19th century perspective or a 21st century perspective, these relationships bear little resemblance to a marriage. There is no intention of these women living with Joseph. He will not be providing for them. Their property is not shared (or in 19th century reality, becomes his). The only things that seem to make these relationships a marriage is a ceremony and (possibly) sex. In most cases, Joseph’s wife Emma did not know about the relationships. Today when a man hides a relationship with another woman from his wife…we have a name for that. I’m not trying to be unkind to Joseph, but I do find the insistence on calling these relationships “marriages” to be very Joseph-centric, relying entirely on his point of view and not that of his followers, the women he “married,” and certainly not his own wife’s.

  3. Did his wives claim they weren’t wives? Did his followers monotonically claim that they weren’t either?

    This thing about excluding perspectives is a pot you shouldn’t be calling black.

  4. The Blogfodder is one of my favorite movies.

  5. I think the fact that all the relevant parties considered themselves to be in marriages and would very likely take umbrage at the suggestion that they were something else is reason enough to stick with the term.

  6. Bookmarking to re-read next time I have to go to gospel doctrine.

  7. marginalizedmormon says:

    The victors write the history. Brigham Young survived. Joseph Smith was murdered. What if Brigham Young (and his cohorts) rewrote the history? What if Joseph Smith was ‘experimenting’ with sealings and never slept with any of those women?

    How would that change this discussion?

    If I hear the usual cry of “NO, NO, NO! It cannot be so!”–

    then I will know that this is not an open-minded discussion but one that has founded itself upon assumptions.

    The fact is that it has never been proven that Joseph Smith fathered any children by any woman other than Emma. And he fathered many children by Emma, though she lost many–

    Even Fawn Brodie was intensely frustrated that she could not find one child Joseph had fathered with another woman. Not one child.

    This discussion acknowledges that Brigham Young was self-willed and a racist. What if he was even more than that? Brigham Young changed many things, so many things that the church bore little resemblance to what Joseph Smith originally organized it to be.

    Who has an open enough mind on here to consider that?

  8. marginalizedmormon says:

    Brigham Young had fertile ground in which to work, to change everything to suit himself. He was in a new territory, away from anything “Smith”, away from Emma, away from the grave of Joseph Smith–

  9. “then I will know that this is not an open-minded discussion but one that has founded itself upon assumptions.”

    One wonders how to break the news gently.

  10. It’s bright and sunny here, although crispy cold still. I wonder what the weather is like where you all are?

  11. marginalizedmormon, Brigham Young’s polygamous practice strikes me personally as dutiful and generous (in that he married a number of women simply because they asked him). He practically worshiped Joseph, even though he would rather have gone to the grave than practice polygamy. He was stuck with an impractical and destablizing commandment, but he didn’t renounce it like so many others did. He could have easily swept it under the carpet as the reorganized church did. Instead, truly believing Joseph was inspired, he managed to make it practical and workable, as can be seen by the many gables at the Lion House.

  12. Brigham Young was willing to renounce, ignore, and change plenty of Joseph Smith’s theology. He was content to merely change polygamy to suit himself. The idea that he would rather have gone to the grave is plainly false, since he did, in fact, practice polygamy rather than go to the grave.

  13. Meldrum the Less says:

    Eliza R. Snow once rebutted the idea that these were sexless marriages with the comment, ” You don’t know Joseph like I knew him.” Absence of proof is not proof of absence. Especially in this murky area. For me and most fair-minded people not of our faith, the burden of proof lies squarely with demonstrating they were not sexless relationships, otherwise it is more reasonable to presume they were.

    Personally, I take it one step further; although descended from several Mormon polygamists I seriously doubt plural marriage was ever God’s will. I can accept a deeply flawed prophet and polygamy is exhibit A. I am willing to continue to consider less extreme positions but not blindly accept them any more.

    I doubt it started with Fanny. The pattern of these relationships deemed “marriages” shouts to me of arrested development at some early adolescent stage. I speculate that something traumatic, guilt-inducing and sexual happened to young Joseph shortly before the First Vision. My seat-of-the-pants guess is that he was seduced by an older woman, perhaps one skilled in the use of seer stones and familiar with the family hobby of doing magic tricks out in the woods at night.

    What bothers me more than the young ages of Nauvoo plural wives, the anatomic details of the relationships, the sharing of other men’s wives, the dynastic potential (didn’t work so well with Cowdery, Rigdon, Pratt or Law) or anything else is the fact that some 50,000 people continue the practice of plural marriage today and justify it by reference to the teachings of Joseph Smith. I suspect it will be made legal within the decade. They grow both from internal reproduction but also by recruitment from the ranks of the ultra-orthodox among us. These are our brothers and sisters and we should do more than shun them or dismiss them with a question in a interview for a temple recommend.

  14. By 5;51 on a winter afternoon, the sun has set. It was sunny earlier, but awfully windy and cold.

  15. So much to be bothered about. Let’s see, JSJ knew of the new covenant in 1831 but didn’t include it in the 1835 edition of the D&C. He didn’t even dictate it until 1843 and the church didn’t make it public until 1852. How many untruths were told denying it, especially to converts? None of JSJ wives were as old as 65, and about 1/3 of them were already married to other men. I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation for all these problems.

  16. This was an exhausting read. Oswald seems to have massively over-baked the “it’s all about sex” line and Wintermute does the same for “complexity”. Sofia seems to be making the most interesting point; forget what polygamy was for Joseph, what was it for the women involved? There seem to be more primary sources for understanding that than in trying to get inside Joseph’s mysterious head through documentary means as some of the participants on this thread tried to do. In that sense, this conversation isn’t that impressive.

  17. The fact that all of you guys might in fact truly exist does not make any of you particularly useful.

  18. I agree with Bushman that polygamy serves as a type of spiritual rorschach test. This seems to be a good example of that.

  19. #16 – Amen.

    I can get a “conversation” like this on Fox News or MSNBC.

    I usually avoid Fox New and MSNBC.

  20. #10 Ardis … Ha Ha Ha :)

  21. Not that it adds much to the conversation, but I typically think of Joseph working out what to him were scriptural conundrums while simultaneously working out his own feelings and desires. Righteous men, patriarchs, prophets, took “handmaids”, so Joseph could also satisfy his desires within a “righteous” framework (as a servant in their home, she seems to fit the “handmaid” category well), which he continued to reflect upon and expand as his theological views expanded into the Nauvoo era.

    So, sure, the libido is fully there, but it was Joseph’s creative responses and struggles with it that make it so fascinating. As usual, he expanded something merely human into something with a divine flavor. “Translated” it, to borrow Sam Brown’s usage.

  22. The end of Mormonism as we know it. Not kidding. Here it is.

  23. pd, I don’t think so. I think it would have been over for generations more neurotic about sex – say my grandparents, and maybe their parents. Those generations are gone or in the process of dying off. The very fact that we can even talk about Joseph having a sexual motivation puts us that much farther ahead.

  24. “I can get a “conversation” like this on Fox News or MSNBC.”

    I think that’s a pretty uncharitable reading of the conversation, Ray. Not enough nuance for you? I think Ronan’s right that this conversation, like so many like it, lacks women’s voices, though in this case, when we’re talking specifically about Joseph’s motives and drives, a frank male perspective is not unhelpful (which is why I think Ronan’s being a tad too dismissive of Oswald’s perspective).

  25. I think it’s utterly ridiculous and highly insulting to say Mormons marry to legitimate sex.

    The only reason you can get away with pigheaded statements like that is because we live in a hyper-sexualized popular culture that rewards people for making crass expositions of their own and others’ sex lives. We’ve been taught that “blunt talk” about sex wins cheap applause from the audience. So we’re eager to show off whenever we can.

    But I didn’t marry my wife to legitimate sex. Sure, I had the hots for her. But I spent an awful lot of time talking myself into marrying her because I was worried I was letting hormones color my decision too much. It was only when I calmed down and went over how excellent she was with children, her strong practicality and competence, and how much of an intellectual and emotional connection I had with her that I realized that marrying her was the only correct answer.

    If it had just been sex – believe me – I could have done without it.

    And I reject the sexist, degrading, and frankly bigoted assertion that I’m someone who can only do all his thinking between his legs. It does a huge disservice to all men whenever it’s used.

  26. what am i missing on this thread- why do the reactions seem so…weird? typed through gritted teeth. it reminds me of blithely talking to german friends about the third reich as a teenager. everything else seems fair play to grapple with and get a feel for with our modern minds but for some reason polygamy in general and jospeh’s role specifically seem like this subject that we’re supposed to be born having an informed, static view of. that’s weird, guys.

  27. Yes, Brad, it probably was too uncharitable, and it sprang from my initial hope that I might read something I hadn’t considered or that would enlighten me in some way, given how deeply I appreciate how often that happens here at BCC. It did neither.

    Fwiw, it’s not the degree of nuance or lack thereof in the post as a whole that bothered me – and I have no problem with including a “frank, male perspective”. I have a hard time with false complexity obscuring real simplicity, but I also have a hard time with false simplicity obscuring real complexity – and denying that plural marriage was an incredibly complex issue just doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

    I really don’t want to add more commentary here. I was very disappointed by the post, and I’ve expressed that disappointment. That’s enough.

  28. It seems to me that many who have talked about/obsessed over this topic in many various forums are the ones saying that there isn’t much “new” that this conversation brings to the issue. While understandable, I disagree because not everyone viewing this post has had these arguments, and I’m sure that some of the arguments made here will help said newbie coalesce their own thoughts on the subject. To me, it helped me to resist the urge to dichotomize polygamy to either sex driven or not sex driven.

  29. marginalizedmormon says:

    Most LDS believe that if Joseph didn’t sleep with the women he “married” (some believe he was sealed, not married, to them, and, yes, before Utah marriage and sealing were separate)–
    and that if Brigham Young perpetuated polygamy for his own reasons, the church can’t be ‘true’. I don’t believe that, and I don’t see any reason for believing it. The keys were carried on, even if Brigham Young was a racist, denied the priesthood to women and perpetuated the questionable practice of polygamy.

    I’ve heard the apologistic argument about polygamy being really hard for Brigham Young, and yet he had much more associate with pre-LDS polygamists than Joseph Smith did:

    LDS historical sources indicate that as early as 1832, Mormon missionaries were converting followers of polygamist religious leader Jacob Cochran, who went into hiding in 1830 to escape imprisonment for supporting polygamy. Mormons held two conferences at Saco, Maine, the center of Cochranism, on June 13, 1834,[38] and August 21, 1835. At the latter conference at least seven newly-ordained Mormon apostles were in attendance,[39][40][41] including Brigham Young. Young became acquainted with Cochran’s followers as he made several missionary journeys through Cochranite territory from Boston to Saco,[42] and later married Augusta Adams
    Cobb, a former Cochranite.[43][44] Others who spent time among the Cochranites were Orson Hyde and Joseph Smith, Jr.’s younger brother, Samuel H. Smith.[45]
    Among Cochran’s marital innovations was ‘spiritual wifery’. Ridlon wrote in 1895, “tradition assumes that [Cochran] received frequent consignments of spiritual consorts, and that such were invariably the most robust and attractive women in the community.”[46] Some new Cochranites remained polygamists, and moved from the east coast to the Mormon community of Kirtland, Ohio.[47] Rumors of polygamy associated with Mormons began to become public, enough to be denied in Mormon publications[48][49][50] and mentioned in Mormon scripture in 1835, which noted:
    “ “Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”[51]

    That’s from wikipedia, and, of course, it is prefaced by the usual disclaimer that it can be proven that Joseph Smith “married” other women.

    1–Brigham Young and Emma Smith did not get along.

    2–We only have Brigham Young’s word for it that he loved/admired/was devoted to Joseph Smith. He talked about those things after Joseph Smith was gone and not able to speak up and say, “oh, um, Brigham, about how much you love me?”

    3–The Lion House and Beehive House were built with tithing funds, and Brigham Young’s many widows and children were outraged when John Taylor asked that the buildings be given back to the church. Why do you think the church owns them today and not the descendants of Brigham Young?

    Nobody is perfect. If it’s so easy to assume that Joseph Smith was a womanizer, why can’t it be assumed that Brigham Young and his associates (including Eliza R. Snow) wanted to legitimize polygamy by “fixing” the history?

    It’s been done throughout the milennia. Those who have the power to do so change the records to suit their own purposes.

    I do not “know” these things, but I think open-minded people should consider them. Gordon B. Hinckley completely disavowed polygamy. Perhaps he knew something that the rest of us don’t know, but I think he was afraid that most LDS would leave the church if they thought that Brigham Young had gone too far. Thinking people shouldn’t be threatened by the humanity of either of those men: Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, not to mention Gordon B. Hinckley.
    Let’s face it; things were too “hot” in the midwest for the Mormons; there was no choice but to leave and go West, and Brigham Young accomplished that. But his character should be no less open to scrutiny than that of Joseph Smith’s.
    I, too, am descended from many polygamists, and I’ve never believed it was “inspired”. I had some ancestors who didn’t believe it was inspired and refused to live it, and their posterity is large and active in the church.

    I rest my case. You can laugh at me all you want. :)

  30. Sunny and cool 60s at 4:33, rain yesterday and frosty last night. Putting in the drip irrigation, getting ready to plant next week.

    It is complicated. I say that no motives are pure and Joseph was no exception. However led by the libido, he had spiritual longings. All of this morphed into our eternal marriage doctrine, I am sure. I love that concept. I like the idea of us being together as families. I love the idea of a libidinous hereafter. I enjoy the idea that along with polygamy came commensurate polyandry, and what will polyandry be in the eternities? My wife loves to speculate and keeps reminding me. I think she wants to be sealed to JSJ, too.

  31. @marginalizedmormon

    The only way Brigham could have changed/sexualized polygamy in the way you’re alleging would be if he conspired with several of Joseph’s wives to perjure themselves by testifying under oath that they had had sexual relations with Joseph.

  32. Ray, fwiw I don’t believe that you found literally nothing remotely novel or freshly insightful about the discussion. Of course I can’t read your mind, but I still don’t believe you.

  33. Thomas Parkin #23 – When the preeminent LDS blog sponsors a discussion on what was apparently the Founder’s 19th Century booty call (“He was also all about teh ladiez”) I think it’s safe to assume the old paradigm is listing to starboard and very rapidly taking on water. Not saying this is a bad thing – but having just finished Michael Coe’s effective demolition of BofM historicity on Mormon Stories Podcast, I’m beginning to wonder what’s left.

  34. Color me with crazywomancreek- I don’t get why Mormon’s get so tied in knots about this subject. It’s just weird. It’s like it’s the last taboo, the one thing we just can’t talk about constructively, but are expected to know, and fall into some invisible agreed-upon line.

  35. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Many affidavits that were taken by women who were plurally married to Joseph Smith were done because they were trying to ‘win’ the debate with the RLDS leadership as to whether Joseph Smith was actually involved in polygamy. Emma had taught her sons that it had never happened. So the result of the debate is the affidavits, but in light of the absence of modern genetic evidence that any of these women gave birth to descendents of Joseph Smith, you have to wonder if the women who gave these affidavits confirming sexual relationships with Joseph were ‘lying for the Lord’, or ‘lying for Brigham Young’ if you would rather. Even Eliza Snow’s comment of ” I thought you knew Joseph better than that” would be suspect.

    I suspect that the nature of sealings was something not distilled in Joseph’s mind for years, not unlike the line upon line genesis of the endowment. It did seem that Joseph felt a great relief when he had finally administered the endowment in the Red Brick Store and delegated the organizing of the endowment to Brigham Young. From the personal revelation that Vilate Kimball received on the subject of plural marriage, I would have to accept that the manner Heber and Vilate adopted the practice was not contary to the will of the Lord at that time. I have often felt that Joseph commanding the 12 to adopt the practice was an Abrahamic test for their loyalty to him which would ensure that the church and the sealing power survive beyond his death. If there was that much urgency for the endowment to be organized, then it would seem that Joseph would want followers who would protect the revealed doctrine of sealing and not sweep it under the rug after he was martyred.

    As to the libidos of the men, I would venture to guess that Brigham’s first intimate experience with a plural wife came with the revulsion of going to the grave that he feared. Vilate Kimball’s personal revelation came because she prayed to know the cause of Heber’s grief at the prospect of having to live that life. Sure they adapted, and left legacies of many wives, but lets not minimize the added responsibilities that they atttached themselves to by being married in ceremony and practice to the number of partners they ended up with. It must have taken a true testimony of the practice to have lived the lifestyle. Heber had children with 17 wives. At some point, quantity would rank below quality when it came to sex. After the first 4 wives, is there any further advantage to an unmet libido to have 13 more? Seems you would start to feel like one of the farm animals being trotted out to copulate in servitude.

  36. Rachel E O says:

    Amen to Jacob (28). If the presence of “new” commentary or ideas was a prerequisite for BCC posts, then I would think that BCC should probably just close up shop now… no? In addition to providing a forum for spiritually moving or thoughtful or interesting or informative or useful posts, it seems to me that BCC is principally valuable as a forum for sustained conversation on such issues as this (i.e. polygamy). Fractally repetitive though that conversation may be, it fosters a sense of community, gives individuals an opportunity to challenge and articulate their thinking, and perhaps gradually and circuitously moves the conversation forward over time. (It seems like truly new ideas take a lot more effort than a blog post, and maybe that’s why we should all subscribe to Dialogue, a la Armand Mauss’s recent suggestion.)

    That said, as an interested but still under-informed student of church history (at least when compared to many of the permabloggers of the bloggernacle, including the authors of the OP), and as an infrequent dabbler in the Bloggernacle for the past few years (though more frequent as of late), I did personally find some interesting *new* angles in this conversation. Yes, there was a bit too much “frankness” (crassness) for my personal tastes. And much of the OP involved a bit too much “is not / is too / is not / is too” that didn’t really move the conversation forward. But there were moments of brilliance also that I found very illuminating / hadn’t heard of before (e.g. Zelph’s comments about the JST context of the Fanny Alger relationship/marriage, and the differences b/w Kirtland and Nauvoo polygamy — I’d actually be interested to hear more on that front).

    I also found Wintermute’s comment interesting: “I don’t think any conversation about JSJ’s unusual relationship with women is complete without addressing his also very unusual relationship with the men closest to him…” I get your point about Joseph’s homosociality, but how precisely do you (or whoever else may want to respond, since Wintermute has been anonymized) think that context is relevant to plural marriage? Just in the fact that it shows that Joseph Smith really valued emotional intimacy writ large? (He sealed men to himself too, right, in a sort of brother or father/son type relationship? Is that what you’re getting at?) Or in some other way?

  37. Rachel E O says:

    Also, what’s up with the weather references that I’ve noticed in this thread and elsewhere? Is that some sort of passive aggressive dogwhistle that tries to make perceived threadjackers or commenters that are otherwise disapproved of look stupid? It just comes across as a bit high and mighty, and not particularly useful. Wouldn’t just ignoring the perceived offense be equally effective, particularly since the weather reference seems designed to obscure meaning from the offender? It also is a bit alienating to infrequent commenters or readers (such as myself) who aren’t in on the joke. I guess such insider’s jokes are what make virtual members of a blog community feel part of the “us” though, so far be it from me to ruin the fun.

    I could also be totally wrong; it may be just some sort of attempt to lighten the mood of the discussion that I’m just not getting. In which case, sorry for my accusations of unkindness. :)

  38. I like, and agree with, the sentiment buried in the OP that discussions of polygamy are not a zero-sum game between “simple libido” and complexity, if only because, as a grad student in psychology, I think libido is anything but simple. Even male libido. In other words, even if for some reason we can completely reduce Mormon polygamy to Joseph’s libido, that does not make it a simple answer. Maybe if we were birds or canines, libido would be simple mechanics, but we are social creatures and our libidos are inextricably tied up in our social psychology. Libido is not a simple answer.

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    Rachel E O, the references to weather were actually a clever allusion to this recent BCC post:

  40. One thing I like about By Common Consent is that the permas tend to keep the discussion on topic (or at least not too far afield) and warn people when the tone gets too disrespectful or people start making personal attacks on church leaders or go all anti. I’m aware that the post was culled from a private discussion in which nobody was originally writing for public consumption. And I do see why the permas may have thought it would be interesting to others. Even Oswald made some interesting points admidst slandering various early church leaders and the male gender in general. But a lot of this was never going to be ready for public consumption, as least not branded under BCC..

    I’m glad this isn’t the first BCC post I’ve ever read. It’s not like I’m the best messenger for getting tone right, but y’all may have been too close to this to understand how it was going to come across. I wouldn’t mind if the OP took a mulligan on this one and revisited this topic at some point with all participants putting a bit more thought into whether this audience enjoys having early church leaders assigned the basest possible motives..

    Cold and clear. A lot of rain starting in the afternoon tomorrow.

  41. Rachel E O says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Kevin. I even read (and commented) on that post like two hours ago. I guess it shows how incapable I am of translating virtual humor. (It also seemed like a few of the weather references above were specifically used to respond to a certain commenter, which seemed a bit snobbish. But maybe I was misreading that.)

  42. Lorin,
    I’ve actually weighed in with a more conventional post in the subject:

  43. For my part, Rachel (and I think I started it), the weather reference was intended purely as humor to express my doubts about the conversation as a whole, and had absolutely no reference to any individual commenter. I suspect that was true of everyone who included a weather report. It may be alienating to those who are not in on the joke, but references to previous posts and personalities are what builds a sense of community among regular readers. It was inclusive humor, not intentionally exclusive.

  44. All this hand wringing is strange. It wasn’t about sexual gratification, but posterity. With some women it was probably also about companionship and direct line to the prophet. But plural marriage is justified in the revelation 132 this way and through the brethren in SLC after Joseph dies this way.

    ” Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.”

    Its about posterity. That’s the primary purpose of reproduction. That’s the end goal of the plan of salvation. That’s the first commandment given to Adam and Eve.

    Reading the drivel about sexual lust surely reveals more about the authors than Joseph. You’re obviously projecting on to him what you would imagine for yourself. You can get offended but you said as much anyway.

    I do not suggest there was no love or desire or enjoyment – that’s also part of the plan in the appropriate conditions. But a righteous posterity is what its about.

  45. Rigel Hawthorne,
    It’s interesting to note the assumption that the women are suspect and possibly lying, rather than that Joseph Smith is suspect and possibly lying.

  46. Kaphor,
    That certainly does not explain polyandry.

  47. Rachel E O says:

    Ardis, et al. I’m sorry for so abysmally misinterpreting those well-intentioned comments then. I knew I probably should have just left off that comment in the first place, since chances were good that I just didn’t get what was going on (!).

    Meanwhile… at 11:04 pm, it is apparently 28 degrees and clear (or so says my phone; I wouldn’t know firsthand, as I am still locked away in a windowless office at work, where I have been oh-so-productively spending much of my evening on BCC rather than finishing the manuscript revision I was supposed to have completed a few weeks ago. :)

  48. MMiles – a righteous posterity certainly explains it. Maybe it doesn’t for you, but it does for me.

  49. I wanted to ask Sam MB what he thought – as a physician – of the thesis laid out by Lawrence Foster and Dr. Groesbeck concerning the last three years of Joseph Smith’s life. Textbook grandiosity, poor decision making, and promiscuity coupled with a long family history of both manic depression and schizophrenia in male descendants (most notably his son David Hyrum Smith). The polygamy discussion begins on page 12.

    Click to access Dialogue_V26N04_19.pdf

  50. Then how do you explain the glaring absence of posterity from any of Joseph’s dozens of plural wives?

  51. kaphor, if it was only about posterity, then JSJ was doing it wrong.

  52. Wow, 11-minute lag. Sorry Brad.

  53. Not to mention women’s fertility at the time was higher in monogamous relationships. Lots of wives didn’t raise the fertility rate–there are only a few days a month a woman can get pregnant. And if you are sleeping with 52 wives (Brigham Young), that doesn’t add up for the best success rate. Plus, a couple of Joseph Smith’s wives were past childbearing age. Lastly, it’s been long dispelled there was a shortage of men.

  54. Seriously, Joseph was in an out of jail, traveling, running from mobs and creditors so much that I’d be surprised if he found time to have sex with EMMA, let alone the rest of them.

  55. Whew…finally made it to the end and thank you Jesus there was nothing new. We were so scared the post might reveal that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young had a black plural wife or “Sista Wives,” as we loving refer to all our black polygamist friends. Black Mormons have enough explaining to do as it is. Carry on…

  56. FTW.

  57. #54 We know some baby-Daddys that are doing exactly all of that and still find time to have sex with Emma, LaWanda, Jezarique and the rest of ’em. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    Ps: This comment has absolutely nothing to do with Joseph Smith and everything to do with the fact that we watch to much Maury Povich.

    Pps: 5 DNA test and we still don’t know who the baby’s daddy is…that’s why we can’t stop watching.

  58. Taking the view that God commanded polygamy, why would he? I an a descendant of polygamy and I have been in long term polyamorous relationships twice in my life while outside the church. I have seriously considered this question. Healthy loving polyamorous relationships only work with mature participants who have mostly worked through their selfishness, jealousy and possessiveness. I think this may be the primary reason for God to command polygamy, over time perhaps several generations it would tend to produce a much more Christlike people. The role of polyandry would be to teach selflessness to both genders. The role of sexual motivation would be to make use of this natural drive to motivate participants to start it similar to tying blessings to commandments as a behavioral motivator. I would guess it began with polygyny because given natural drives beginning with polyandry would have less chance to succeed.

  59. Brad, liar you might think I am, but you’re wrong. Now, let’s let it drop, please.

    Honestly, I only decided to comment again to say that any thread, no matter how I feel about it, that causes the Sistas to write such epic comments has been worth it. For me, the post has been redeemed.

    Will someone please flag those comments to nominate for funniest comment of the year when the next annual recap post on ZD is written?

  60. Kyle M,
    He may have been. He seemed to be both abhorred by the practice and feeling compelled to initiate it. Put another way, if what he said was true, and you were in his shoes, what could you possibly do? He’s compelled to do something he knows is viewed as wrong by everyone and even by himself, but that he can also plainely see scriptural evidence for in the past. And he also knows he must keep it a secret to preserve all involved and perhaps to guard the nature of the revelation itself (lots of precedence in scripture for revelations which were not recorded or openly taught but privately taught — not saying these were about plural marriage but the principle of line up line and witholding certain things is definitely there as we all know).

    What is difficult for me on this issue is these are human relationships we’re talking about. No one is perfect and even “ideally” practiced (if there is such a thing) it’s going to create issues. But back to the point of human relationships… we just don’t know practically anything about their relationships and here we are second guessing and judging motivations, etc. etc. I think it’s patently unfair and demeaning to all involved. There were many many women who had testimonies of what they were doing, even though they saw it as a great sacrifice (would anyone say it’s “good” how Christ suffered on the cross? Yet would anyone say it was not necessary or wrong?).

    The irony of this is, the intellectual group of church members, who are most frequently arguing for nuance and withholding judgement seem to be quick to view this in a straight black and white. Is it possible for something to be God’s will and cause temporal suffering but through the refiners fire end up a better result? (this entire life, anyone?)

    I’d just add, my personal opinion is I think the practice is inherently complex and messy and there’s not really a feasible way (that I see) it could continue through multiple generations. First of all, the people involved were human, and even in its “best case” it was no picnic to say the least. Over time, I feel pretty certain polygamy itself would have destroyed the church more so than any threats from the government. Or rather, the individual members of the church would have destroyed themselves as they continued to devolve in righteousness in expanding the practice. Think along the lines of Pres. Packer’s statement about distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced a head of distributing the power in the priesthood. He (and I) don’t connect that statement to plural marriage, but what he’s getting at is power in the priesthood only comes through personal righteousness. Plural marriage, in a situation were those involved are the epitome (as much as humanly possible) of personal righteousness is already going to carry tough side-effects (or even primary-effects). And I grant this was likely, unfortunately sometimes the case when it was practiced.

    So I’m glad it’s gone, but I’m not regretful for the generations who came into existence on a stronger foundation as a result.

    I suppose if I’m to be faulted, its for taking the words found in scripture and of the early Apostles themselves. Modern authorities punt on the issue, because quite frankly there is nothing to be gained and relationships so complex and so far removed and foreign to us (not to mention quite frankly none of our business on the interpersonal level of those involved). It seems anything that is said on the issue is just people talking past each others assumptions and judgements about people we don’t know from Adam.

    We all agree no one was perfect and no one did everything perfectly. And we all agree we don’t see with a fulness of light (and neither did they). We all agree that even 1 on 1 relationships are really complicated, and more importantly the interpersonal details of those relationships are barely understood by those directly involved let alone outsiders, and especially not outsiders 100+ years later. So I’m content to trust the word of the Lord with regard to certain individuals, especially where this seriously does not pertain to me here and now. I’m also more than desirous to assume for the better when it comes to earlier church leaders rather than harshly question them and chalk up their actions to lust. I’m not suggesting we look at everything with rosey eyed glasses. Or say how wonderful and tender they all were in perfectly carrying for everyone in the Lords own gentle way.

    But really, it’s nuanced, ya know. Maybe it would be a good time some of you open minded nuanced thinking individuals put to practice what you so readily find in order to justify your own thinking on other various issues in this blog.

  61. #58 – Howard makes good points. But I’d just add we already know at least one way the church was supposed to learn selfishness – through the law of consecration. That didn’t really go so well, as the Lord himself stated several times in the D&C. I wouldn’t assume plural marriage was punishment or a lesser (or higher) law based on the efforts of consecration, but just wanted to point out your thoughts on selfishness immediately drew my mind to another church attempt at refining the individual by asking difficult things of them.

  62. Brad Hawkins says:

    Y’all are trying to be too clinical about Joseph. My take? He started out cheater, developed to swinger, and in the end became polyamorous. Wait, I think the last episode with the Laws might actually turn that last two. I’ll go Cheater/Poly/Swinger in that order.

  63. Kyle M – or to put it another way, Joseph is asked to put into practice a contradiction. (we shouldn’t get so huffy about that because much of life seems to be navigating through contradictions) To put on the geek hat, with Polygamy, perhaps Joseph is asked to put on a Kobayashi Maru. Maybe if Joseph, like Captain Kirk, had 3 “do-overs” in implementing it he could have gotten it right by circumventing the rules.

    But all of that being the case, the proof is in the pudding. The church is here, a strong foundation was laid, and I believe generations of LDS members have benefited from something which was definitionally impossible and unwinnable.

    And with that I bow out! :)

  64. Kaphor, your comments appear to be less nuanced and historically informed than the majority of commentators here. And more than a little self-righteous. Not that it can be entirely avoided — I think we all tend to be a bit self-righteous in our views.

    Now to pick at just one part of your preachy-long comment. (There was a ton of mind-reading going on there, framed in a tone less speculative than the OP.) You said, “And he also knows he must keep it a secret to preserve all involved”. Don’t you think there’s room to believe he was actually trying to bring it into the open in a safe way, but that possibility was shot for him around the time of the Bennett fiasco?

    Also, I think at least a few of us here are aware that many choices Joseph made in Nauvoo seem unwise in retrospect (and we love him in spite, or rather because, of his human frailties). I don’t see why his handling of polygamy should get any special treatment in this respect.

    Overcast, high of 50…

  65. Jacob, I can only assume you read a bit too deeply in to my tongue in cheek nuanced shtick. Just tweaking things slightly.

    Your question… “Don’t you think there’s room to believe he was actually trying to bring it into the open in a safe way, but that possibility was shot for him around the time of the Bennett fiasco?”

    Sure, why not. The part of my comment you quoted and saw as mind reading presumption was just a reflection of the fact that he denied it publicly quite a bit. Whether it “had” to be secret or not, I don’t know and don’t really care. That’s so tangential to the issue. I’m just trying to say he wasn’t put into an easy situation. He never was and went out of the frying pan and into the fire and I think it’s unfair to criticize him or others involved for situations we have 0 experience with and really know next to nothing about. Which seems to be why the church pretty much punts on this issue. Even if they said, “here is the truth” it not only doesn’t pertain to us, we can’t really experience and communicate effectively on it.

    “Unwise choices” is a far cry from “endless supply of ass”, “sexual conquests”, and “teh sex”.

  66. Seth R. (#25) Thank you. Sincerely and deeply thank you. I wrote an impassioned response to that assertion that I did not post because I am trying to stay away from embittered declarations, particularly online. But YOUR response gave me hope, and helped heal just a tiny bit of the hurt that I have gone through because of the majority of men—even supposedly good men—who believe that marriage is indeed primarily a road to legitimizing sex. That is one of the most damaging misapplications of the glorious law of chastity, right next to teaching young girls that their body is an object for sex that must be kept “pure” primarily so they can give it as a gift to their husbands.

    Asserting that polygamy was primarily about sex disregards the nuance and reality of the doctrine and judges the actions of past people based on the basest understanding of humanity. I am glad to see there is better out there.

  67. Like in the opening post, right? SilverRain? Is this on?

  68. Joseph F. Smith is sealed cotemporaneously to 5 wives. They all die, and in the eternities, presuming all are fully deserving, are in plural sealing relationships. Bryant S. Hinckley is sealed to 4 wives consecutively. They all die, and in the eternities, presuming all are fully deserving, are in plural sealing relationships. Two different mortal chronologies that have the same result in the eternities. Does an understanding of polygamy as practiced in mortality result in a better understanding of polygamy as practiced in the eternities?

  69. “Does an understanding of polygamy as practiced in mortality result in a better understanding of polygamy as practiced in the eternities?”

    Maybe; maybe not. It all depends on how relationships continue in the eternities. Frankly, that is one area where I’m totally fine with seeing through a glass, darkly, and relying on faith in that for which I hope.

  70. “‘Unwise choices’ is a far cry from ‘endless supply of ass,’ ‘sexual conquests,’ and ‘teh sex.'”

    Not for a lot of people.

  71. it's a series of tubes says:

    #55 is one of the greatest things ever to appear in the bloggernacle.

  72. Of course, John C. But where I agree with much of “Wintermute’s” reasoning, I was touched by Seth R’s comment.

    C’mon. I’m encouraging and supportive so VERY rarely online, please cut me some slack when I make an attempt? ;)

  73. It snowed in Phoenix yesterday. Redlined the weird weather meter. I didn’t learn much that was new from this post, but I did imagine once or twice about what might happen if any of those (OP) comments were made in Gospel Doctrine class. Also, every time kaphor posts a multi-paragraph comment, he totally proves the complexity theory posited in the OP.

    Perhaps you might cast a medal for the Sistas COTW award?

  74. it's a series of tubes says:

    COTW? COTM(il)!

  75. I’ve said it before. I think polygamy is an awesome Celestial idea (I fully acknowledge all the problems with its implementation in our mortal societal context). I applaud Joseph in expanding the bounds of what the exalted human heart can include. I have zero problems with Celestial polygyny or polyandry. My wife feels the same. I find objections to it to be small-minded in general.

    I would also point out that – taken as a whole, polygamy has been no more abusive than monogamy has been historically speaking. I can see good arguments against it in individual cases, but not as an entire marital concept. No one asks me to pick which of my children I love more. I don’t see why the rules of the heart are suddenly different when it comes to marriage (other than simply accommodation real feelings of jealousy and insecurity, not to mention likely disregard for a spouse – all of which are mortal hangups).

    I find polygamy to be a vital part of the narrative of Joseph’s attempts to build the City of Zion – where all were of one heart and one mind, and where the hearts of all were turned to each other through the sacred sealing ordinances. Personally, whatever I think of Joseph Smith’s messy implementation, I’m glad he was the means to bringing forth this necessary expansion of the human heart.

  76. SilverRain, I’m glad the comment was helpful. I feel like the de-masculinization of men in the United States and other first world settings is a massive societal problem we face, which will have unforeseen far-reaching consequences.

    I view the reduction of men to irresponsible reactive automatons driven by sexual stimulus is part of that de-masculinization.

  77. Rachel #36:

    “I get your point about Joseph’s homosociality, but how precisely do you [] think that context is relevant to plural marriage? Just in the fact that it shows that Joseph Smith really valued emotional intimacy writ large?”

    That’s pretty much it. I don’t expect that the intimacy he shared with other males extended into what we would now describe as romantic/sexual intimacy (though where exactly the line separating sexual from non sexual intimacy at any given time and place is pretty difficult to pin down with any precision). I suspect that the range of intimacy fell within the gendered expectations surrounding the word “love”. Lots of men know, even today, what it is like to love another man, without romantic overtones (or with what seem to our modern ears like vaguely romantic overtones, cf Lincoln/Speed letters), but in a nevertheless very intimate way. But those relationships among males are rare. I might have one or two such relationships in a lifetime with another man. I think the homosociality of the mission experience approximates this, at least for (many) mormon males. What’s so striking about Joseph is not just that he had intimate relationships (formally configured in kinship/matrimonial terms) with an unusual number of women (and I very much doubt that these women viewed themselves as concubines or sexual servants, but rather as genuinely loved and cared for intimate partners, to the extent that such a thing was possible with such a powerful man circa 1840s frontier America), but that he also had such profound intimate ties with an unusually high number of males. Our penchant for trying to tightly compartmentalize sexual from non-sexual, romantic from non-romantic forms of human desire and human intimacy obscures our access, I think, to the nature of the relationships under consideration. But the driving themes are clearly the extending of relationships of love (the deepening of the bonds of love) and their pluralization/multiplication. I also think that, although the ideal could not have possibly realized in the time- and culture-bound reality of Joseph’s social world, most of the scandal and sting and ick factor of polygamy comes, in fact, from the patriarchal dimensions, rather than the dimensions of plurality.

  78. #73 – if I’m not mistaken the original posters made (in aggregate) multiple paragraphs arguing for their offensive assertions around “teh ladiez”. It’s pretty easy to keep to short pithy sentences, and does satisfy a desire to state a claim without providing any supporting reason.

    So let’s just say it comes down to some of us seeking to understand with a lessor light, while following the Lord through sustaining the brethren and honoring our covenants.

  79. Please, kaphor.

    Take your contrived outrage and self-righteousness somewhere (like in front of a mirror) where it’s better appreciated.

  80. Hey Seth,


  81. Brad, is that you seeking for understanding, judging with a lessor light, following the Lord or sustaining the Brethren? Where have I misjudged? The post is offensive? The post misjudges Joseph? The post fails to sustain the prophet of the Restoration – D&C 132 was just an after thought or a surprise “ok I’ll give you this one thing Joseph” from the Lord to justify his desire for sex?

    Take your dismissive attitude and keep it to yourself.

  82. “Take your dismissive attitude and keep it to yourself.”

    This is hilarious.

  83. “This is hilarious.”
    Humor is the first stage of denial.

  84. NO IT ISN’T!

  85. “I would also point out that – taken as a whole, polygamy has been no more abusive than monogamy has been historically speaking.”
    What hat did you pull that out of? That’s a strange assertion to make with no evidence to back it up.

  86. If anything, it seems like polygamy would be less abusive, just çause there is less time to abuse a wife if you have to split up your abuse among several. So much abusing to do, so little time. I jest, but only just. Isn’t one of the recommendations of polygamy among women the fact that she didn’t have to deal with a husband wishes all the time?

  87. “çause” Oooops. I’m so forgetful and awkward. I’m always forgetting to turn off the international keyboard. I keep it set to that because I do so much of my writing in languages other than English. #humblebrag

  88. Actually MMiles, it came from one of John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories podcasts where he interviewed one of the top anthropologists studying polygamy today. She made the statement herself on that podcast episode that polygamist unions (the vast majority of which are NOT FLDS) are no more abusive in trends than what we find in monogamy.

    And do your really want me to do a laundry list of the abuses of American monogamous relationships right now? Just head down to your local battered women shelter if you want some proof. They’ll be happy to tell you.

  89. Seth R., Was this U.S. based work? Because cross culturally, I think you’d be hard pressed to make the same case. Usually, women don’t have the option of entering or exiting polygamout unions as they do in the U.S.–and neither did all of Joseph Smith’s wives.

  90. “Usually, women don’t have the option of entering or exiting polygamout unions as they do in the U.S.”

    and that’s different than monogamous unions how?

  91. Rachel E O says:

    Wintermute #77: Thanks for the response. Picking up on this: “I also think that, although the ideal could not have possibly realized in the time- and culture-bound reality of Joseph’s social world, most of the scandal and sting and ick factor of polygamy comes, in fact, from the patriarchal dimensions, rather than the dimensions of plurality.” When I finally really engaged with the doctrine, concept, and implications of polygamy for the first time back in college, this was the basic conclusion I came to. The plurality of it basically ceased to bother me, and it was basically just the gender inequality of it that remained the rub (but even that I sort of intellectually rationalized with some hackneyed conception of spirit birth and likely celestial statistics, a justification that I now find more than a little too 4-dimensional).

    But I came to that conclusion during a stage of my life when I was deeply engaged in many rich, close, emotionally and spiritually intimate relationships with several men and especially women. So the plurality piece of it wasn’t too hard to conceptualize. In fact, the principle almost seemed sort of awesome — being sealed in a gigantic kinship network with all of these awesome people. I think some of my friends and I even jestingly promised ourselves to be sister wives. ;)

    But that started to change a few months later, when I met my EC-to-be. Partly because he was/is a soul-deep romantic and utterly opposed to the idea of polygamy, and that caused me to sort of reevaluate my expansive perspectives on marriage and intimacy and love in general. But more than that, as our relationship developed, and particularly after we were married, I have become fiercely united with and devoted to him, to such an extent that my method of relating to other people socially has completely changed. Most of the people I used to relate to so intimately, I just can’t relate to that closely anymore for a wide range of reasons. While I still maintain some external intimate connections, they are generally more distant than they were in the past. This is largely because I just don’t find those relationships anywhere as meaningful or important as the one with my husband, and so I prefer to spend my time cultivating my relationship with him.

    Anyway, as this shift has unfolded, I have found the plurality dimensions of polygamy much harder to stomach. Part of this is an emotional/romantic thing. You know, like try to imagine sharing your husband with another woman (or for men, sharing your intimacy with someone else besides your wife). And I’m like, ew (*10^23). But then of course, I realize that we all may become more mature in heaven and things may be different and blah blah blah, and so why not just say, well — it sounds icky to me, but clearly my knowledge of the eternities is about nil right now relatively speaking, so maybe I should suspend judgment, or at least be cool with the concept of other people (including my ancestors) doing their polygin’ in the eternities.

    But I actually feel my growing objection goes way deeper than the emotional/romantic level to a fundamental theological level. Basically, in a very real way, this diploidic complementary bond that I have developed with my husband, as sacralized in the temple (our sealing being probably the most genuinely spiritually transcendent experience of my life), has come to shape my whole cosmology. And it has shaped it in a direction that I understand is not necessarily aligned with Joseph Smith’s or BY’s traditional conceptualization of the sealing ordinance and eternal lives and celestial exaltation and patriarchal kinship networks. But then again, you could say the same for most contemporary LDS teachings on marriage and family–which place a much greater emphasis on neither-is-the-woman-without-the-man-nor-the-man-without-the-woman-in-the-Lord type stuff, exaltation as a husband-and-wife affair, etc. And I’m pretty happy with those teachings, because they make a whole lot of sense to me given my lived experience. (And no, my marriage ain’t perfect, and neither is my parents’ marriage for that matter. But that’s sort of the whole point.)

    Relatedly, on the whole homosociality thing, I agree with you that JSJ’s male-male relationships were basically platonic, or more precisely, that the spectrum of intimacy was more fluid back then. Which is why I found Taylor Petrey’s Dialogue Dec 2011 article so simultaneously intriguing and troubling. He calls upon these earlier traditions in an innovative (and certainly revisionist) way, to argue for the viability of same-sex relationships in LDS doctrine. But in so doing, his argument inadvertently (or perhaps advertently) once again raises (at least for me) all of the problems with that past model (of which polygamy was part and parcel). And he also quite directly and intentionally casts aspersions on the more recent dualistic conceptualizations of exaltation and husband-wife complementarity (e.g. as articulated in the Family Proclamation) that have come to resonate so deeply with me (even though I do still find the precise substance of gender complementarity a bit elusive… and certainly problematic as usually culturally articulated).

    And this comment yet again proves how incapable I am of brevity, despite valuing it in principle.

  92. Side grump – been to Nauvoo 4 times, and much is said of Joseph and Emma. Nothing is ever mentioned about the other wives. The church has no problem with the Lion House and Beehive House in SLC. We don’t run away from talking about BY and his wives. It’s mentioned in lesson material and manuals. I’ve never understood why we seem embarrassed by JSJ’s wives and relationships. I don’t think I heard anything about “the forgotten wives” until I had been a member for about 15 years. Neither had my wife, and she is a life long member. I don’t think I would have left the church had someone told me it all started with JSJ as opposed to BY. After all, I had already accepted (though not understood) BY and other church leader’s polygamous ways. Wish they would do an Ensign article like they did for the Mountain Meadows Masacre explaining JSJ’s relationships. I’m sure it would be sanitized but might go a ways in explaining some of this stuff. On the other hand, church authorities may be just as stumped as we are.

  93. Yup, US-based MMiles (and possibly Canada). Not that I think that makes any difference to the argument.

  94. MMiles, neither did the wives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. You’re not drawing much of a distinction here.

  95. Seth, I’m not sure what you mean in 94.
    Per 93, it makes a huge difference. In most of the world where plural marriage is practiced, wife abuse is commonplace. Wives being forced into marriages is too, you yourself made a distinction with FLDS versus the rest of U.S. population.

  96. No, I made a distinction between the FLDS and the rest of AMERICAN polygamy.

    The FLDS are the largest unified and cohesive faction of North American polygamists, but they are a minority of the North American polygamist population as a whole (and I’m not counting underground Muslim immigrants in New York City and whatnot in that number).

    The largest faction of polygamists is the loose confederation of the informally named “Allred Faction.” They are scattered throughout the Rocky Mountain region and tend to be fierce Libertarians and deeply suspicious of centralized authority. They are the group that split from the FLDS back in the 1950s back when a few opportunistic men in the male hierarchy staged a coup and tried to do away with parental consent for marriages as well as other strict reforms. More than half the polygamists in the FLDS left the organization in disgust at that point and left to practice polygamy and religion the way they thought it should be practiced.

    They don’t get much attention at all, but they greatly outnumber the FLDS.

    Wives being forced into marriages and being unable to leave those marriages happens equally as much under monogamous systems as under polygamous ones. Let’s take the African and Middle Eastern polygamous examples.

    Name me one of those countries where it isn’t equally difficult for a monogamous wife to leave her husband MMiles. The same was true of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. The wives of Joseph Smith had no more barriers to leaving him than the daughter of a wealthy 1800s Boston politician wedded for political convenience had in leaving hers. Or a poor Mississippi sharecropper’s wife had in leaving her husband.

    The only thing odd about Joseph Smith’s marriages was that he had more than one of them at the same time. I see little else to distinguish them in any respect. The only way you can make his marriages fantastical or repulsive is by removing them completely from their proper historical setting and forcing them to compete with our own contrived fantasies of what a modern 21st century romance and marriage ought to be.

  97. Incidentally, I’m in no mood to entertain cries of outrage about the age of some of Joseph’s wives from a culture that all but worships and glorifies wanton teenage sex.

    They can take their hypocritical outrage and shove it.

  98. Incidentally, you can shut your stupid face, Seth.

  99. Rachel,
    That’s some pretty epic commenting.

    What imagined interlocutor of yours is simultaneously glorifying wanton teenage sex and expressing outrage over the ages of some of Joseph’s wives?

  100. I’m glad to see that civility is no longer the battlecry of the Mormon liberal.

  101. Seth R,
    Certainly you don’t think people in this thread glorify and worship teenage sex–I hope not. The reason it is so disturbing about JS’s case and teenage sex is precisely the same reason teenage sex is disturbing to us now.
    You originally claimed polygamous unions were less abusive than monogamous ones. I was only arguing against that claim in cross cultural perspective. I was merely saying you don’t have cross cultural evidence that monogamous relationships are more abusive than polygamous ones.

    Again, you claim, “Wives being forced into marriages and being unable to leave those marriages happens equally as much under monogamous systems as under polygamous ones. Let’s take the African and Middle Eastern polygamous examples.” Not necessarily true. It is highly likely that monogamous unions in those places are more likely to be entered into freely (though admittedly often not freely) than polygamous ones. Unless you have some studies to show otherwise, it’s all hot air.

    “The only thing odd about Joseph Smith’s marriages was that he had more than one of them at the same time. I see little else to distinguish them in any respect. The only way you can make his marriages fantastical or repulsive is by removing them completely from their proper historical setting and forcing them to compete with our own contrived fantasies of what a modern 21st century romance and marriage ought to be.”
    I’m not sure what you mean by our own contrived fantasy of 21st century romance–could you explain?

    Lastly, OK–so women had few choices about entering and leaving relationships. I don’t disagree in principle–but Helen Mar Whitney Kimball had less choice to leave. Further, so women had fewer choices and so it was ok? I don’t follow.

  102. Steve Evans sighting! How’s the weather in my old Wisconsin? This thread is a good place for weather reports. An EXCELLENT place to talk about the weather.

  103. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

  104. Rachel,

    That’s a great comment. It shows, I think, the problem that we have projecting whatever our views and feelings of the moment are on to the future. Some people in some places thought that polyamory of some kind would be the rule in heaven, and they saw that in heaven. Now we think the ideal is Mommy and Daddy and children aged one to twelve, with possibly with a couple remarkably acne and other problem free teens, sitting around the dinner table or possibly playing in the park and we see that to all eternity. The trick is to get it the other way ’round: too see into eternity and try to build a model based on that. But there isn’t anywhere near, I mean not remotely near, a critical mass of people capable of this way of doing in order to collectively do it. (And there never will be.) So, we all stumble along, saddled with bizzaro fears that eternity isn’t like the present, or that eternity IS like the present. These fears hold us immobile or whisk off into some other, often darker place.

  105. I’m gonna go out on a limb and claim that no one reading or commenting here worships or glorifies wanton teenage sex. Rather, one of the things that I question about JS’ teenage brides is the age difference. A 40-something man and a less than 21 year old girl quite naturally raises questions, for which I don’t presume to speculate on an answer, only because there is such a dearth of historical material from which to draw the evidence. The only thing I am prepared to say about Nauvoo polygamy is that it looks very, very messy and raises far more questions than it answers.

    Also, Rachel in #91, don’t feel bad about your lack of brevity. I read it, it was an engaging comment. I try to give everyone a fair read, no matter how longwinded they are, I really do. Because some people make it worth your while.

  106. MMiles, the “incidentally” was supposed to mark the comment as an aside. I was not under any impression that people here were happy about teen sex in general. But the general secular culture certainly seems to be. And that is were a lot of the fire against Joseph Smith has been coming as of late.

    Hopefully we’ll never be there.

  107. I am in the dynastic sealing camp. Let lightning from every commenter’s weather report strike me if I am wrong.

  108. Rachel: fantastic comment. While I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, it made me rethink things.

  109. Seth R: Actually, I can’t think of anything that would result in the greater “de-masculinization” of men than the practice of polyandry, where male children not only grow up without a father in the home but a father who is hardly available to them their entire lives.

  110. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Mmiles #45
    “It’s interesting to note the assumption that the women are suspect and possibly lying, rather than that Joseph Smith is suspect and possibly lying.”

    Not sure if you are implying that I am being misogynistic or just avoiding the obvious. Certainly Joseph was deceptive about the introduction of plural marriage and this led to the debate that took place between the “Brighamites” and the “Reorganites” (about whether Joseph was truly inolved)that would happen when David Hyrum Smith went on his RLDS mission to Utah. In spite of Joseph’s hidden approach to polygamy, he encouraged Hyrum to practice it in the Brighamite fashion, and it is documented that Hyrum was very resistant to the idea until Joseph won him over with promises that by doing so, he would be able to have his relationships with Jerusha and Mary Fielding sealed for eternity. Given this counsel to Hyrum, it would seem to follow that Joseph would have also practiced it in the same manner if he were able. It is apparent that Hyrum lied to protect Joseph in his secret. If Joseph allowed this to happen, then he at a minimum was guilty of lying by association. If Joseph produced no seed with these wives, I question whether they were actually non-sexual or whether he used some sort of contraceptive practice. If they were denying multiple wives because they were not considering them wives in the legaI sense, then the deception is of a different nature than embellishing details of a relationship that never happened. I honestly have not ruled out either Joseph Smith or the affidavits taken from his wives as suspect.

  111. On lack of descendants produced by JSJ’s liasons: Maybe he didn’t have sexual relations with any of them on a consistent enough basis to produce a pregnancy. It’s clear with other polygamous relationships after Joseph and Hyrum were killed that many children were produced. To be blunt – they were having lots of sex with their wives. However, those fathers weren’t ducking and dodging writs and arrests, nor were they keeping their trysts secret. Most of us know you don’t get pregant with one time sex. For most of us, it takes some planning and effort. I’ve always thought that if Joseph had not been murdered, eventually he would have generated offspring like Brigham Young and others.

  112. The point of bringing that data point up IDIAT is to point out that the entire conversation about Joseph Smith’s alleged consummations of marriage is pure speculation. The historical data goes either way.

    And yet there is this massive bias going on in favor of him having had sex with every woman he was sealed to – including the controversial sealings due to age of the woman, or her prior marital status. The argument goes that we are supposed to PRESUME that sex happened and that any burden of proof is on those who want to assert he did not have sex with those individuals.

    Can someone tell me why we are supposed to presume sex was happening and why the burden of proof is magically on those suggesting he did not?

  113. If JSJ did consummate a new marriage every few weeks in 1843 with mostly young or married women would that be a faith destroyer for you?

  114. It would not be a faith destroyer for me, but I agree with Seth here, too. You’re saying that Joseph was able to conceive several children with Emma in his 38 years, but never once demonstrably conceive with the multiple other women he was supposedly having sex with?

    I go with the evidence, and if I had to make a guess, I’d guess in favor of primarily spiritual sealings over physical relations, especially given the way he taught and approached the law of polygamy. Even Brigham Young had different levels of sexual expression with his many wives. But quite frankly, I find discussing or postulating the details of other people’s physical liaisons to be rather distasteful.

    My testimony isn’t built on the nature of other people’s relationships with each other, but on my relationship with God.

  115. “My testimony isn’t built on the nature of other people’s relationships with each other, but on my relationship with God.”

    JSJ built his cosmology around relationships with other people, linking them in a continuous chain. I don’t feel you can disregard his interpersonal relationships to the degree you’re suggesting.

  116. I think the assumption that at least most of the marriages were consummated flows from a) the fact that we know that at least some of them were and b) the decision to treat them as actual marriages and not just on-paper formalities. Once you call a relationship a marriage, sexual intimacy becomes the assumption rather that the possibly exceptional thing that requires demonstrating. Critics of Joseph (see comment #2) want to say “these weren’t even real marriages, just glorified affairs” and our immediate response as believers who respect Joseph and his wives and the basic notion of celestial marriage is to say “yes they were, they were definitely real marriages.” But then we really want to ask “well why would you just PRESUME that they were consummated?” You can’t have it both ways.

  117. What does it bring us to argue that JSJ didn’t consummate his plural marriages? How does that help?

  118. No one suggests Brigham Young didn’t consummate his marriages. Or any other prophet. Just this one.

  119. CJ Douglass says:

    If your worldview is going to be challenged by a particular proposal, then yes, the ball is in your court. That goes for all sides. (maybe not a scientific rule, but certainly an internet rule) If John Larson showed up and was in the -marriages as consummated- group, I would be just as suspicious.

  120. john f. (117), I suppose that negates the claim that plural marriage came about because of Joseph’s libido, as well as short circuiting complaints about the youthfulness of some brides, and about polyandry. I’m retaining my doubts about everything in this conversation (I was surprised by this morning’s snow; were you?), but I can understand the attraction of this notion.

  121. You’re probably right that this is the reason that some people apparently think it’s helpful to argue that JSJ didn’t have sex with his wives. But it’s an odd and contradictory position in light of the undisputedly sexual nature of Mormon polygamous marriage–and, in fact, what do they make of the fiery sermons preached by nineteenth-century Mormon leaders that polygamy was the only noble form of marriage (see, e.g., George Q. Cannon) and that monogamy was actually debauched. Aren’t those who advocate that JSJ didn’t consummate his marriages worried about looking like they are calling BY and all other Mormon polygamists who did have sex with their wives apostates?

  122. Rachel E O says:

    john f. (121): I think that is precisely the point of some of the people who most strongly argue that JSJ didn’t have sex with his wives, e.g. marginalizedmormon above. They feel that the church post-JSJ has basically been apostate, and the sexualization of polygamy (if not the creation of it) by post-JSJ leaders is used by them as their exhibit A. (And of course, that was the position held by the reorganized church for a long time.)

    Obviously, a lot of the people who make this argument are not of that opinion. Rather, they are orthodox LDS who are trying to defend what they see as the honor of Joseph Smith, or something. But it is interesting how this issue can create strange bedfellows. And possibly contradictions.

    That said, in the context of this discussion, I do think we’re setting up a bit of a straw man — it seems to me that a lot of those above that suggest that Joseph may not have consummated all of his plural marriages are not trying to argue he didn’t consummate *any* of them, just that he may not have done so with all of them, and that sex was not necessarily the primary motivation, at least for some of his marriages. I.e. it’s a rather nuanced and non-absolutist position, which IMO is needlessly obscured by this whole talk of “burden of proof” lying on one side or the other. The reality of both the extent of sexual intimacy in these marriages as well as Joseph’s motivation for entering into them was mostly likely somewhere in between all or nothing, as is true of sex-and-marriage for most people. Which makes a lot of these questions quite complicated (not to belabor the point made by Wintermute and Zelph and others in the OP and so strongly derided by Oswald), and sort of makes it irrelevant at least in my mind as to who the “burden of proof” lies upon, particularly since that burden is unlikely to ever be satisfied by anyone.

  123. Speaking of burdens of proof, would that be a mere preponderance, clear and convincing, or beyond a reasonable doubt? Who decides what burden of proof applies? Finding out that Joseph Smith consummated some or all of his marriages wouldn’t shake my faith. I’ve long assumed he did. If I find out later he didn’t, that will be fine, too. I know Brigham Young did for sure, and I still joined the church 33 years ago.

  124. As to “burden of proof,” if marriage didn’t authorize and in fact entail sex, then would the Church be advocating against gay marriage? I think Brad is right that calling it “marriage” means something in this context just the same as in the context of gay “marriage”. Choosing to use the word “marriage” means that the sexual nature of the relationship is being acknowledged.

    But, of course, your point is well taken that it is very possible that JSJ did not have sexual relations with all of his 33+ wives. I have seen a number of convincing arguments. In answer to my own question in comment #117, I think arguments that JSJ didn’t have sex with all of his wives really only provides any apologetic benefit when considering the cases of 14 year olds that he married or women who were already married to other men. Otherwise, such arguments seem, to me, fruitless and contradictory.

  125. (My #124 was addressing Rachel’s #122.)

  126. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Were you a spiritual wife?’ I certainly shall not acknowledge myself of having been a carnal one’ I am personally and intimately acquainted with several ladies now living in Utah who accepted the pure and sacred doctrine of plural marriage, and were the bona fide wives of Pres. Joseph Smith.”[

    How is one supposed to interpret this 1877 question/response put to Eliza R. Snow. There are numerous ways it could be interepreted. With her gift for words, it seems obvious she intended for it to be the subject of interpretation. She is trying to accomplish many things in a brief answer…solidify Joseph’s position as the restorationist prophet of the doctrine of plural marriage, justify the prophetic succession of Brigham Young who maintained the doctrine after the martyrdom, and she is leading others to believe that the marriages to Joseph Smith were equivalent to the marriages of Brigham Young. She is declining to say that she was a ‘carnal wife’, but that could either be due to her reluctance to apply the term ‘carnal wife’ to any wife who accepted the sacred marriage doctrine, or she could be saying that she was not intimate with him. With this kind of dancing around the answers, where should the burden of proof lie?

  127. For what it’s worth, I actually think that Helen Mar Kimball is exceptional in probably not having had the marriage consummated. It has nothing to do with any sense of scandal at her age or my not wanting it to have been consummated, but rather with the ample historical evidence (including and especially her own record) that her marriage did not, in fact, much resemble Joseph’s other marriages. It was instigated by her father, rather than by Joseph, and does actually seem to fit the “dynastic sealing” model promulgated by sexuality-scandalized apologists. The pattern for the other plural wives was that Joseph sought out the marriage with a woman he already had a longstanding relationship and friendship with (some of whom he’d known for a decade or more), and that he did demonstrate real intimate and romantic affection for them, and (at least in the case of non-polyandrous marriages) attempt to provide some material support for them (by having them live in his home or in other Church owned properties). By contrast, I think Joseph treated HMK’s marriage to him more like “on-paper” only or a formality, and that’s actually why I personally find it scandalous. In the first place, it imposed upon her more of the costs of marriage (deprived of adolescent experience, courtship with other males) with much fewer of its benefits (a real and intimate relationship with her husband). Secondly, I think an on-paper-only celestial marriage rather trivializes the “marriage” part of celestial marriage. I recognize that bearing more of the costs of marriage with fewer of the benefits was to some extent the lot of all of Joseph’s plural wives, but I really do think that HMK was highly exceptional in the degree to which such imbalance applied.

  128. Muddying the waters by saying he might not have consummated the marriages with ALL of his wives is just a defense mechanism to make you feel better about it. (See #122 It made Emma feel better about it) It gives you the privilege of pretending the more distasteful couplings didn’t happen. It’s to protect your faith. You have to go back to the question in #113. You don’t get to pick and choose the truth based on your sensibilities, which wives you’re okay with and which ones are deal breakers.

  129. Left Field says:

    C Rom:

    Beg the question much?

  130. “It gives you the privilege of pretending the more distasteful couplings didn’t happen.”


  131. It does implicate a bit of cherry picking though, doesn’t it Ray?

  132. “Muddying the waters by saying he might not have consummated the marriages with ALL of his wives is just a defense mechanism to make you feel better about it.,,, It gives you the privilege of pretending the more distasteful couplings didn’t happen.”

    It might or might not do that. There are any number of reasons why someone might think some but not other marriages were consummated (see, eg, #127). Alleging that anyone who doesn’t just ACCEPT that ALL of the marriages were consummated is engaged in wishful thinking or cognitive dissonance mitigation strikes me as wildly unproductive.

  133. “I certainly shall not acknowledge myself of having been a carnal one’

    All things are spiritual to God. I’d assume she was adequately aware about the natural/carnal man concept and was distancing herself from, “But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, ”

    It’s a pretty cute answer that is actually what you’d expect from a sophisticated modern PR perspective — she (gently) rebuffed and turned the question and questioner around on its head. But I wouldn’t read that as saying she never had sexual relations with Joseph even though “carnal relations” is employed to mean sex by some. To me, I think she was raising the sights of sex as something more spiritual and celestial and not something just don’t to gratify the natural man, so to speak.

  134. Did my great great great grandpa sleep with all his wives? yep. Did yours? Did President John Taylor? etc etc.

    If HMK only had a spiritual relationship with JSJ, why couldn’t she pursue a temporal relationship like other girls? Zina Diantha Huntington was allowed to continue her life with her husband.

    We can speculate all we want and we will never have a definitive answer. Everyone’s speculations reveal what they hope is the explanation. It’s been 170 years and our prophets seers and revelators haven’t resolved the issue. At the time they denied it, starting in 1852 they revealed it AFTER you became a member. The 1890 and 1904 Manifestos aren’t completely honest or definitive either.

    Seriously, wouldn’t we all just jump for joy at ANY announcement that would shut up those members who say in hopeful whispered tones, “when polygamy comes back”. Unless I’m wrong and polygamy is coming back. I’m pretty sure that’s my deal breaker.

    On a related note, what if Kody Brown successfully decriminalizes polygamy?

  135. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s my deal breaker…..

    We are Never Ever Ever getting back together….:)

  136. C Rom, I have no problem believing that some of the marriages were consummated. None. I also have no problem believing some of them weren’t. None.

    Why? Because that’s where the evidence I’ve seen (and I’ve seen just about all of it that is available) leads me.

    There’s no denying going on; there simply is a recognition that it appears Joseph’s marriage, in totality, where different in some ways than your great great great grandpa’s, my own great-great-great grandpa’s, John Taylor’s, Brigham Young’s, and others. Your assumption is that every marriage was exactly alike in some way – and the evidence simply doesn’t support that conclusion, in my opinion.

  137. I’m sorry,

  138. #131 – Yes, John, it does – and I probably owe C Rom an apology for not acknowledging that.

  139. C Rom, if that wasn’t clear, it actually was meant to be an apology for not acknowledging that you are correct in instances where there really is cherry-picking occurring.

  140. I’m sorry – if the topic has been taboo for 170 years, then I don’t think the info is ever coming to light. Either it never existed or it doesn’t exist anymore. (Obviously there are people who wish to portray JSJ a certain way and might make that happen.)

  141. Lamplighter says:

    C Rom #134. I can’t say when, but I’m sure Pre. Hinckley said we would never practice polygamy again. I will try and find it.

  142. President Hinckley also said that women don’t want the Priesthood, and that he doesn’t know whether The Church ever taught that God was once a man so an appeal to him is unsatisfying, imo. I doubt that polygamy will ever come back again before Jesus does, and it may not even come back after. As far as the nature of Joseph’s plural marriages, the only people who know what happened for sure didn’t leave a definitive enough record to ever solve this dispute. Because of that, I think it is unwise on all sides to take a firm position as if there is an absolute knowledge one way or the other.

  143. “President Hinckley also said that he doesn’t know whether The Church ever taught that God was once a man”

    No, he didn’t. I’ve heard and read various iterations of that claim, but it’s a perfect example of how things get twisted over time and morph into something totally different than what was said originally.

    If you care, the following post addresses exactly what he actually said:

  144. Having said that, EOR, I agree with the point you make in the rest of the comment.

  145. Lamplighter says:

    EOR, you may find an appeal to Pres. Hinckley unsatisfying, however C Rom asked “Seriously, wouldn’t we all just jump for joy at ANY announcement that would shut up those members who say in hopeful whispered tones, “when polygamy comes back”.” I felt Pres. Hinckley’s statement was “ANY announcement.” I was happy to hear it, if I did, I could not locate it so maybe I imagined it, wouldn’t be the first time.

  146. I am a heretic. I believe loyalty to the church has broken our moral compasses. I am composing my resignation.

    The church has not had a satisfactory explanation in 170 years because there isn’t one. The response has been to lie, cover up and create a taboo. When confronted with this unpleasant information the responses on this forum have run from denial (the evidence is unconvincing) to blind faith (it happened but there must be a good reason).

    I have for many years been troubled by teachings and actions that put loyalty above morality. Our church duties come before our family duties. We should pay our tithes before buying shoes for our children. The first duty of parenthood is to raise another generation for the church, not our children’s happiness. Members accuse victims of lying to protect the public face of the church. Obedience above all else.

    I have discovered in myself self-censorship. I find it really difficult to think upon things that might cause me to question. This discovery makes me question my own ability to exercise free agency. In short, do I think like a cult member?

    To my shame, I raised a child in the church.

  147. C Rom,
    The church isn’t a cult nor does it demand that you subscribe to a particular set of beliefs regarding Joseph Smith, beyond perhaps that the bringing forth of the church and the Book of Mormon were inspired of God. Certainly, the opening post indicates that it is possible to hold a variety of beliefs about Joseph and maintain membership. Obviously, you feel conflicted (and apparently disgusted) by this and I wish you well on your journey. Please don’t think too harshly of those of us who choose to stay nor consider raising a child in the church a source of shame. There are certainly worse things that you could have done.

  148. Early exposure to and understanding of our history can go a long way toward addressing situations like C Rom’s – and diligently addressing and dealing with cultish elements of our religious experience is important, as well. The LDS Church isn’t a cult in the classic sense of the word (and it really isn’t close), but there absolutely are cultish elements in it – just as there are in any organization that exists. One of the best responses I ever heard to the question of cultishness was, “Lord, is it I?” I try to keep that in mind as a self-reflection, since all of us (as natural [wo]men) are prone to it.

    C Rom, if you think the LDS Church is a cult, you haven’t experienced real cults. I mean that seriously. If you are interested in a very good article about cults from someone who has never been affiliated with the LDS Church, go to the following post on my personal blog and read the linked article:

    God bless you on your journey as you live according to the dictates of your own conscience, but, as someone who was raised in the Church and is raising children in the Church, all I ask is that you allow us the same privilege you desire and are seeking – the ability to worship according to the dictates of our own consciences without labeling us falsely as cultists.

  149. I wonder what the church’s new website “Reflections in Context” will have to say about D&C 132 and the whole polygamy issue? Re-read B.H. Roberts’ History of the Church and the introductory footnotes to D&C 132, which was Roberts’ efforts to explain to some degree 132, but concentrated mostly on it’s authorship and the fact that polygamy had been a principle revealed way back in 1831ish. However, the note does nothing to answer the “who, what, when, where and why”s of the issue, nor does it explain how in the world JSJ was able to squeeze in all that drama in and amongst all the other things he had going on in his life. Definitely doesn’t answer whether he consummated any of those other “marriages.”

  150. IDIAT, I’m curious to hear more about this “Reflections in Context” website…? I haven’t heard of it yet, but it sounds interesting. Is there any sort of article or news release about it or anything?

  151. I don’t want a testimony. Testimonies are a set of assumptions we’re supposed to internalize and no longer question, they become a part of us. It’s a form of mind control. We’re sitting around shifting the facts (and inventing a few speculations) to fit around whatever testimony was planted in our heads by the religious training we got when we were kids. What I’m seeing is that Helen Mar Kimball has an awful lot in common with Ruby Jessop.

    I don’t want my children to have a testimony. If a bishop takes a 12 year old boy into a room for a worthiness interview and quizzes him about masturbation and fills him with a bunch of harmful ideas, I don’t want that child and his parents trapped by their testimonies.

    The whole idea of testimonies is manipulative and controlling.

  152. I don’t want a testimony that tells me a bad act is somehow okay because of its association with church.

  153. C Rom,
    If that was the entirety of church experience or of things for which you could have a testimony, I might agree with you. But it isn’t. Nor is it a necessary experience in the church.

    Do people get testimonies of false ideas? Probably. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve seen enough to see it happen. Are testimonies of the Truth a good thing? Yes. How do we manage to keep the latter and avoid the first? No idea (humility, luck, and a very close relationship to the Lord is my guess), but that’s certainly not something unique to the LDS church.

    In any case, I’m sorry for your obvious pain; unfortunately, this isn’t really the place for you to express it. Which isn’t to say you can’t express yourself here, but sentiments regarding the church as the source of all evil (or as a source of only evil) aren’t welcome. Please moderate your tone accordingly.

%d bloggers like this: