Polygamy as Discussed in the Church Today

Plural marriage is in the news again thanks to the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays. National news organizations have picked up the story and the Church responded with a note of clarification from the Newsroom. The basic idea is this: some news outlets are reporting this as though the Church was somehow denying that Joseph Smith instituted or practiced polygamy. I can’t recall when I first learned that Joseph instituted and practiced polygamy, but it was sometime before my mission. As Kristine just wrote about, some church members, even life-longers, report that they never heard about it, and the new essays come as a surprise to them. It’s worth taking a look at the Church’s handling of polygamy in its official materials to get a sense of why some members never knew about Joseph’s polygamy until this week.

If you don’t have time to read the whole post, let me summarize first:

The Church has not removed all information regarding plural marriage and Joseph Smith’s involvement from its manuals. At the same time, polygamy has clearly not played a prominent role in official LDS literature, sermons, and lessons. It has been discussed much more in “unofficial” writing including Dialogue and even BYU Studies, which has published a few articles about plural marriage over the past few decades, as have other non-official LDS publications such as Sunstone, the Journal of Mormon History, Utah Historical Quarterly, etc. Many active members of the Church do not have a full grasp of polygamy, the extent to which it was practiced, how it began, the sacrifices involved, and the reasons participants themselves—actual women and men—gave for living “the principle.” The new essays are not a new “admission” by the LDS Church as to the existence of polygamy pre-Brigham Young. They are the culmination of a number of historical studies and initiatives by historians who were sometimes seen as enemies of the Church, and now a new effort on the part of the Church to be more transparent when dealing with LDS history.

Now that the conclusion is out of the way, let’s look at the details.

First, let’s back up a few years to the last time polygamy was a hot national news item. The year is 2008. The FLDS practice of polygamy has become an issue of national concern during the Warren Jeffs trial and the invasion of the YFZ Ranch in Texas. The LDS Church used its publicity arm to affirm it no longer practices plural marriage.1 The LDS Public Affairs channel on YouTube posted three videos declaring the Church no longer practices polygamy and that it is not associated with the FLDS church or any other polygamy groups. The LDS newsroom published a package of information and videos to clarify the Church’s role in the FLDS case and in polygamy in general. Included were videos of “Texas Mormons,” to differentiate them from the polygamists seen on television with floor and wrist-length dresses and dusty ranch streets. A few days later another statement declared the name “Mormon” shouldn’t be applied to the FLDS. Then a new website was launched, mormonsandpolygamy.org, with quick answers to questions on polygamy. The approach aimed to disassociate the Church from contemporary polygamy rather than to clarify polygamy’s role in the LDS past. Thus, Joseph Smith is not expressly mentioned as having practiced plural marriage, though it is implied. For example, one press release said:

As an illustration of the lack of proportion in this situation, in a 9 July article by the AP, one scholar who objected to the Church’s efforts to define itself said that Joseph Smith, were he alive today, would be excommunicated by the Church because he practiced polygamy. Hypothetical conjectures of this sort never work in serious discussions.

Another approaches it, but does not explicitly state “Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage.”

The practice began during the lifetime of Joseph Smith…In 1831, [Smith] made a prayerful inquiry about the ancient Old Testament practice of plural marriage. This resulted in the divine instruction to reinstitute the practice as a religious principle.

The common points of each statement, video, or press release includes mention that the LDS Church discontinued the practice in 1890, that it differed in many ways from current groups, that current Mormons are excommunicated if trying to practice, and that there are over 12 million Mormons around the world not practicing polygamy compared to the small splinter groups who are.

Compared with the Church’s recent Gospel Topics essays, the polygamy website and press releases did not fully address plural marriage in LDS history. In a USA Today article, Kathleen Flake said “The biggest challenge facing the LDS church is not distinguishing their present from the fundamentalist present, but getting people to understand the difference between their past and the current practice of the fundamentalist groups. This initiative, I believe, is their first attempt to do that.”

In order to truly differentiate the past from present, the past must be better clarified. Let’s look now at books and manuals that discuss plural marriage in order to get a better idea of how members of the Church might grow up in the church and still not know about Joseph’s involvement in polygamy.

A single and thorough historical book on plural marriage in the Church would greatly benefit all, not only alleviating confusion among non-Mormons, but also helping Latter-day Saints better understand the past practice of plural marriage in their religious heritage. Something like Turley, Walker, and Allen’s quasi-official book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Even Mormons who are aware of the Joseph’s practicing plural marriage still tend to perpetuate errors about the reasons for the practice, including the implication that there were more women than men at the time, or that Mormon widows simply needed help in crossing the plains. Hopefully, the new Gospel Topics essays can help more people understand that these and other assumptions are flawed (that the practiced ceased in 1890, for instance).

No contemporary official LDS book thoroughly explores plural marriage. General history books discussing plural marriage include James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (1976), and Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (1979), but they do not go into much detail nor were they given the Church’s official stamp of approval. At least three books focused specifically on polygamy have been available through Deseret Book, however, though two of them no longer are. A few are cited in the new Gospel Topics essays. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton is an example. Another book is Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Neither are currently carried by Deseret Book. A third book, Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, is not a dedicated study of plural marriage, but is a biography of Joseph Smith which explicitly deals with his instituting and practicing plural marriage. Bushman has since said there are aspects of his coverage of plural marriage he would adjust now.

Another semi-recent book discussing plural marriage is The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle by Kathleen Flake. It explores the “Mormon compromise” wherein the Church disavowed polygamy in the early 20th century. Elder Dallin H. Oaks lauded the book as the “best thing ever written” on the subject of the transition between the pre- and post-polygamy Church:

“I have to say I’ve been a lifetime student and writer of Mormon legal history, at least. I learned many, many things in her book that I didn’t know. She captured it very, very well, and was able to stress also what remained unimpaired by the compromise Other books have been published, but not in a way that would grab the awareness of the average Mormon.”2

Like the other books, this one is not sold at Deseret Book. In short: most of the more specific histories of polygamy are not for sale at the most popular LDS book outlet. Perhaps if Deseret Book expanded its offerings to include more contemporary and responsible academic scholarship on Mormonism they could help get more members up to date in Church history. There is certainly an audience demand for such books. Look at the success of the Mountain Meadows Massacre book, for instance.

A more “mainstream” (as in, sold at Deseret Book) example of a work devoted strictly to polygamy is Setting the Record Straight: Mormons and Polygamy by Jessie L. Embry. It is a brief look into plural marriage including historical data on the practice, and that Joseph Smith initiated it. I do not know if the book covers polyandry.3 Deseret Book also carries the three-volume history of polygamy in the church by Brian Hales and published by Greg Kofford Books, although it may only be available through their online catalog or by special order in most stores. Hales’s books are also cited in the new Gospel Topics essays. This is the most comprehensive work on Mormon polygamy published to date and carried by Deseret Book. As with all such books, interpretations of historical data can vary. Hales provides a good discussion of the overall story even where his interpretation is contestable. He has a website on the topic as well, http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/.

Then there is Gerald Lund’s extremely popular fictionalized history of the Church, The Work and the Glory, which discusses Joseph Smith and plural marriage. This may very well be the place I first learned about polygamy when I read the series at age 16. As the cover synopsis of volume 6 says:

…whisperings reach the ears of some of the Steeds about curious teachings and practices going on in Nauvoo — specifically it is rumored that God may have restored the ancient practice of plural marriage. How will they respond when they find out that at least some of the rumors are true? The issue becomes a trial of faith that shakes the Steed family to its very roots.

The quasi-official Encyclopedia of Mormonism published in the early 1990s has a full entry on plural marriage in addition to other references in various biographical entries. The plural marriage entry says, among other things,

Joseph Smith told Brigham Young that he was determined to press ahead though it would cost him his life, for ‘it is the work of God, and He has revealed this principle, and it is not my business to control or dictate it’ (Brigham Young Discourse, Oct. 8, 1866, Church Archives).4

So much for books.

As pertaining to official LDS publications that state Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage, I have compiled a brief list of several sources. The LDS Church hasn’t excluded information about plural marriage from all its manuals, but you have to dig. The earliest published mention of plural marriage in the Church was likely Jacob 2:27-30 in the Book of Mormon. This clearly did not “rule out” plural marriage; rather, it taught that it could happen only and if God commanded. The current Book of Mormon Sunday School manual discusses polygamy in the “Additional Teaching Ideas” section for the lesson on Jacob 1-4:

Jacob condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage…The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 324). Explain that the Lord gave such direction (see D&C 132), but He later withdrew His sanction of plural marriage when conditions changed (see Official Declaration 1). Emphasize that the law of the Lord regarding marriage today is the same as it was in Jacob’s day.5

At least since 1852 the Church has publicly stated and printed that Joseph Smith instituted and practiced plural marriage. The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants had an “Article on Marriage” that denied the Church practiced polygamy. It was taken out in the 1876 edition and replaced by Section 132. This section states that other wives had been “given” to Joseph Smith:

And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God (see D&C 132:52).

The D&C heading of the 1979 edition directed readers to the fifth volume of the History of the Church where plural marriage is clearly discussed (HC 5: 501–507). B.H. Roberts explicitly discussed plural marriage and Joseph Smith in his Comprehensive History of the Church, which was originally published between 1909 and 1915 in the periodical Americana as The History of The Mormon Church, published in 6 volumes in 1930. The new D&C heading for this section does away with the HC reference and just says the revelation teaches the “principle of plural marriage.”

The CES manual for D&C (as of 2008) clearly states Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. For example, it quotes Wilford Woodruff as follows:

“I bear record before God, angels and men that Joseph Smith received that revelation, and I bear record that Emma Smith gave her husband in marriage to several women while he was living, some of whom are to-day living in this city, and some may be present in this congregation, and who, if called upon, would confirm my words” (In Journal of Discourses, 23:131).6

The CES manual Church History In the Fulness of Times also states that JS practiced plural marriage, naming at least one of the wives, and noting the difficulty in tracking them all due to the records available:

Moreover, Joseph Smith and the Church were to accept the principle of plural marriage as part of the restoration of all things (see v. 45). Accustomed to conventional marriage patterns, the Prophet was at first understandably reluctant to engage in this new practice. Due to a lack of historical documentation, we do not know what his early attempts were to comply with the commandment in Ohio. His first recorded plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman; it was performed by Bishop Joseph B. Noble on 5 April 1841.12 During the next three years Joseph took additional plural wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands.7

In the official Sunday School D&C manual we read a short note:

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice.8

In 2008 on LDS.org, the “search” feature would yield the “Gospel Topics” section as the first result for the term “polygamy.” It also explained that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage:

After God revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Smith in 1831 and commanded him to live it, the Prophet, over a period of years, cautiously taught the doctrine to some close associates. Eventually, he and a small number of Church leaders entered into plural marriages in the early years of the Church (see LDS.org, Gospel Topics, “Polygamy“).

The new essays provide a much-expanded update.

Thus far we have seen very nondescript mentions of plural marriage, but the basic fact of it is included in many official Church publications. The Priesthood/Relief Society manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith includes a statement in the introduction hinting at one reason for the limited plural marriage material: the manual is designed for contemporary Latter-day Saints. Official curriculum materials state the primary mission of teaching principles that are relevant to the lives of modern members, thus assuming the historical practice of plural marriage is not relevant. The Joseph Smith manual explains:

This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day….This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime…The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.9

This is a slightly different approach than was used in the earlier Brigham Young volume of the series, which excised the word “wives” for “wife” in a chapter in which Brigham is discussing wives in general, not his own plural wives. Standard procedure was followed in that editors employed brackets to identify the change. Nevertheless, other than mentioning his first wife who passed away and his second wife, the Brigham book does not discuss plural marriages. This led to some publicity about the Church trying to hide the past. The next book in the series, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, contained a disclaimer:

This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Joseph F. Smith. However, in order to put the teachings in a historical framework, the following list is provided to summarize some of the milestones in his life that have most immediate relationship to his teachings. This summary omits some important events in his personal life, including his marriages (plural marriage was being practiced in the Church at that time) and the births and deaths of his children, to whom he was devoted.10

The John Taylor edition of Teachings of the Presidents of the Church talks briefly about struggles over the legality of plural marriage. The timeline offers the following:

1882- United States Congress passes the Edmunds bill, making plural marriage a felony and prohibiting polygamists from voting, holding public office, or performing jury duty.

1885- Receives word during a visit to California that federal officials have ordered his arrest for practicing polygamy.11

The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual on Wilford Woodruff contains the most information on plural marriage of the series. Woodruff issued the “manifesto” declaring an end to the practice, which is treated in his historical timeline.12 The historical overview chapter, “The Life and Ministry of Wilford Woodruff,” contains this description under the heading “Issuing the Manifesto”:

Strengthened by the Lord’s guiding hand, President Woodruff led the Latter-day Saints through one of the most turbulent times in this dispensation. In the late 1880s the Church continued to practice plural marriage in obedience to the Lord’s command to the Prophet Joseph Smith. However, the United States government had recently passed laws against the practice, with severe penalties for the violation of those laws, including confiscation of Church property and denial of Church members’ basic civil rights, such as the right to vote. These developments also opened legal channels for the prosecution of Latter-day Saints who were practicing plural marriage. The Church made legal appeals, but to no avail.

These circumstances weighed heavily on President Woodruff. He sought the will of the Lord on the matter and eventually received a revelation that Latter-day Saints should cease the practice of entering into plural marriage. Obeying the Lord’s command, he issued what came to be known as the Manifesto—an inspired statement that remains the basis of the Church’s stance on the subject of plural marriage. In this public declaration, dated September 24, 1890, he stated his intention to submit to the laws of the land. He also testified that the Church had ceased teaching the practice of plural marriage. On October 6, 1890, in a session of general conference, the Latter-day Saints sustained their prophet’s declaration, unanimously supporting a statement that he was “fully authorized by virtue of his position to issue the Manifesto.”13

From these examples it may seem surprising that someone who regularly attended Church or Institute or who has read the Doctrine and Covenants, would be unfamiliar with Joseph Smith practicing plural marriage. Still, there are examples of Church books which state that plural marriage was instituted in the Church without explicitly mentioning that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. Plural marriage does not play a large role in current LDS teachings. It’s an uncomfortable subject for many. Some teachers may choose to skip over it, and it doesn’t occur frequently or as the central focus in LDS lesson manuals as I outlined above.

The Church is more apt instead to distance itself from the contemporary groups practicing polygamy. For example, see the topic as discussed in the book Our Heritage:

The Prophet prayed for understanding and learned that at certain times, for specific purposes, following divinely given laws, plural marriage was approved and directed by God. Joseph Smith also learned that with divine approval, some Latter-day Saints would soon be chosen by priesthood authority to marry more than one wife. A number of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage in Nauvoo, but a public announcement of this doctrine and practice was not made until the August 1852 general conference in Salt Lake City.14

The small book True to the Faith does not mention polygamy, but rather presents a simple account of LDS teachings and how they apply to members today.15 Likewise with the Gospel Principles manual.16 The missionary manual Preach My Gospel only mentions plural marriage once in the section titled “Use the Book of Mormon to Respond to Objections”:

Many people will not believe everything you teach. President Ezra Taft Benson taught how the Book of Mormon can be the central resource in handling objections to the Church: “…All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation…”17

Also, in the old Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Guide it briefly says:

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the Church.18

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is silent on the issue of plural marriage. It states that “families [are to] to be united eternally,” that “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife,” and that “the family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.19 Ambiguity remains when it comes to current LDS sealing policies. A man may be sealed to more than one women (given that the first wife is deceased, or I believe, civilly divorced from the man) but a woman cannot be sealed to more than one man (or has this changed?). Technically, then, if one takes into account post-mortality marriage, polygamy still occurs in the Church in that regard. Whether these marriages will be honored (or remain unamended throughout eternity) the Church has no current official position.

General conference talks (especially as of 2008) only mention plural marriage in passing, almost invariably in the tone of forbidding or denying current practice. Three such examples come from President Spencer W. Kimball, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

President Kimball’s 1974 address stated:

We warn you against the so-called polygamy cults which would lead you astray. Remember the Lord brought an end to this program many decades ago through a prophet who proclaimed the revelation to the world.20

President Gordon B. Hinckley discussed polygamy in his 1998 General Conference address after appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live. His talk included some questions King asked, and his answers. In regards to “What is the Church’s position on polygamy?” he said:

I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter.21

Finally, and most recently, Elder M. Russell Ballard mentioned plural marriage in conference without addressing many historical details:

…simple statements are helpful to someone who is uninformed but curious about the importance we place on families…as the basic unit of the Church and of society. We have a deep commitment to marriage (defined as a union between one man and one woman). Polygamy, a limited practice in the early pioneer days of the Church, was discontinued in 1890, some 117 years ago.22


I stopped keeping track of this issue back in 2008. I’ve heard that new Seminary manuals talk more directly about plural marriage. I have not investigated the contents of the recent Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals with this subject in mind, but it seems all of the recent books deal with post-polygamy leaders. I have not covered all of the discussions of marriage or Joseph Smith or Emma Smith, etc., which do not talk about polygamy (videos, etc.) because they far outnumber the instances which do. That disparity in volume and attention helps account for the surprise felt by some members of the Church in response to the new Gospel Topics essays.

In other words, it seems reasonable based on this overview to say that plural marriage does not play a large part in contemporary LDS teachings or in official meetings and publications, further than explaining that it was once practiced in the Church. The Church is a world-wide organization with converts from many countries, and the Church’s familial norms no longer support polygamy (except for the big question of post-mortal polygamy, which remains largely unaddressed). This helps explain why so many Mormons say they didn’t learn about Joseph practicing polygamy until now, and there may be many who still don’t know.

It also seems reasonable that some people would like more specific Church-released materials which deal with plural marriage. Perhaps a comprehensive, academic, rigorous, and thorough study on its implementation, practice, and cessation, would do much to clear the air on the Church’s standpoint regarding plural marriage. The new Gospel Topics essays are a huge and unprecedented step in this direction.23 These essays can give average members, media personnel, Sunday school, seminary, and institute teachers a reference point to start from. We’re currently seeing a trend in Church scholarship that seems more willing than the recent past to confront this difficult issue which still flies in the face of our moral sensibilities. This doesn’t mean the Church has denied that Joseph was a polygamist in the past, but that it hasn’t been emphasized.

Finally, it seems reasonable to say that the issue for many disaffected Latter-day Saints has more to do with feeling betrayed or lied to by the Church on this issue due to the Church’s downplaying of polygamy than with being upset about the actual historical fact that Joseph Smith had more than one wife. As this post demonstrates, the Church has included information on plural marriage in many contemporary official Church publications, but on a limited scale.

1. See the USA Today article, “Mormons launch campaign to put distance between themselves and polygamists,” By Eric Gorski, Associated Press, posted 6/26/2008. This blog post is a revision of a post I wrote back in 2008 on my old blog, LifeOnGoldPlates

2. See “Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary,” LDS.org Newsroom, July 20, 2007. Possibly some of the other works that wouldn’t grab the attention of the average Mormon, and are not found in most LDS bookstores, include Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage and Doing The Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, each by B. Carmon Hardy, Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard S. Van Wagoner, and Kathryn Daynes’s, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System 1840-1910. George D. Smith of Signature Books published Nauvoo Polygamy: “…but we called it celestial marriage” in 2008, which was unfavorably reviewed by Greg Smith, “George D. Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy,” FARMS Review, 20:2, pp. 37-123. Finally, Martha Sonntag Bradley has written a very useful bibliographic essay, “Out of the Closet and Into the Fire: The New Mormon Historians Take on Polygamy,” available in Excavating Mormon Pasts: The New Historiography of the Last Half Century, from Kofford Books.

3. Polyandry involved the sealing of Joseph Smith to women who were already married to living men. It was explored in Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling as well as Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma and Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness. Polyandry is also discussed on the FAIR website, which is not officially affiliated with the LDS Church. See Sam Kaitch, “A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith,” and Allen
Wyatt’s “Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young,” (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR,
2006 FAIR Conference). The Journal of Discourses also contains declarations of Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, and even proposals to other married women. It is accessible online and on GospelLink.

4. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Plural Marriage,” p. 1093.

5. Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teachers Manual (1999), “Lesson 12: Seek Ye for the Kingdom of God,” p. 51-55.

6. The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (Religion 324-325), 1981, has references to plural marriage on pp. 327, 333-34, 361-363.

7. See Church History In the Fulness of Times (Religion 341-343), 1989, pp. 256, 424-425, 440-441.

8. Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 31: “Sealed … for Time and for All Eternity,” p.176.

9. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2007), “Introduction,” xiii.

10. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1998), “Historical Summary,” viii. A similar but more ambiguous statement was included in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant: “This book is not a history, but rather a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Heber J. Grant. The following chronology provides a brief historical framework for these teachings. It omits significant events in secular history, such as wars and worldwide economic crises. It also omits many important events in President Grant’s personal life, such as his marriages and the births and deaths of his children,” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2002), “Historical Summary,” viii).

11. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2004), “Historical Summary,” vii. The next chapter, “The Life and Ministry of John Taylor,” provides a little more information on these incidents, though Taylor’s wives and number of marriages are not listed.

12. The time line lists the passing of the Edmunds Act making plural marriage a felony. Two more dates are noted: 24 September 1890, “Having received a revelation from the Lord, issues a declaration stating that the Latter-day Saints should cease the practice of entering into plural marriage”; 6 October 1890, “Members of the Church attending general conference unanimously sustain the revelation President Woodruff received regarding plural marriage,” “Historical Summary,Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (Salt Lake City:Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2004), x.

13. “The Life and Ministry of Wilford Woodruff,” in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, xv. Post-manifesto plural marriages and the excommunication of apostles who dissented from that decision is not discussed.

14. Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,Chapter Eight: A Period of Trials and Testing,” p. 93.

15. True To the Faith contains a section on marriage, but does not discuss polygamy. It refers to D&C 132, however. See p. 97-101. [.pdf]

16. Gospel Principles, see especially “Section Eight: Family Salvation,” with no mention of plural marriage. Thus, the main training book of new converts does not delve into more difficult aspects of LDS history.

17. Preach My Gospel, p. 108. [.pdf] Directing people to the Book of Mormon regarding the issue of plural marriage might actually create confusion, as it approves of the practice if instituted by God.

18. Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Guide, p. 150. The rest of the material deals with marriage as practiced today in the Church.

19. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

20. Spencer W. Kimball, “God Will Not Be Mocked,” Ensign, Nov 1974, 4.

21. Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking about Us?,” Ensign, Nov 1998, 70. This quote has been heavily used in recent press releases.

22. M. Russell Ballard, “Faith, Family, Facts, and Fruits,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 25–27.

23. For example, the end of plural marriage was often presented as “officially” occurring in 1890 with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto. Technically, this official end is accurate, as the official Church disclaimed the practice, but historical records indicate that, just as the beginning of plural marriage was slow and roughly documented, so was the cessation. See D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904.” Dialogue 18 (1) Spring 1985: 9-105, and Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996). Also, further exploration of polyandrous marriages (being sealed to an already-married woman) would be useful. See Andrea G. Radke, Ph.D. “The Place of Mormon Women: Perceptions, Prozac, Polygamy, Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Peace,” 2004 FAIR Conference. The new Gospel Topics essays directly explain post-manifesto polygamy.


  1. This is really, really helpful. Thanks. I guess I’m curious as to next steps the Church will be taking here. I’m not holding my breath for a Turley-level review of polygamy.

  2. This is a great summary, these sources all point to the fact that Joseph instituted polygamy and the church acknowledging it. I doubt that much disaffection is due to Joseph actually being a polygamist, but finding out he lied, hid most of it from Emma, used coercion on young girls, etc.

  3. Blair,

    Solid work. However the title of the post is a misnomer. When polygamy is discussed at church, it is called polygamy—rarely plural marriage. While LDS.org continues to insist on using the word, it is strange for academics to do so (and strange for LDS.org to do so). We can’t say what was practiced is something different than polygamy, so why use an alternate (though valid but rare) term?

    Polygamy is not unique to Mormons. Further, while some features of Mormon polygamy are unique, most of the practices are quite run-of-the-mill features of polygamy as practiced historically and presently across the globe. Changing the terminology is kind of like changing the meaning of the word ‘preside’ to mean something different. Mormons aren’t special enough to need their own dictionary when describing social structure. It does the Mormon community a disservice and makes us, well, peculiar.

    I understand that early Mormons sometimes called it plural marriage, but is simply isn’t discussed that way-unless you are Mormon academic. In reading the comments after several of the prolific news stories the past couple of days, it is clear many members still don’t believe polygamy was a practice of Joseph Smith. Many Mormons were defensive in comments and said the article(s) were lies. Mixing terminology isn’t going to help mainstream members (or the general public) understand what we are talking about.

    Can we stick with the term polygamy, please?

  4. Julie M. Smith says:

    This is a great post; thank you.

    One important point: I think when some people say “I didn’t know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy” they mean “I didn’t know that JS had more than one wife,” but most of them mean “I didn’t know the gory details regarding ages, numbers, coercion, polyandry, public denial, and Emma’s lack of knowledge.” And as far as I know, none of these “gory details” has been mentioned in any official church publication until last month. And while they were mentioned in unofficial venues, there has also been a soft community norm against reading and/or believing those things.

    Which is to say that I am extremely sympathetic to people who either didn’t know the details or who had been told that they were just anti-Mormon lies. And thus the newsroom piece claiming that “well-read” members knew all of this makes me pretty rage-y, _especially_ given the number of non-English speaking saints, who may have had no access to these things in their own language.

  5. Pete Busche says:

    great article! Definitely one to archive/refer back to. I wanted to mention: I saw Mormon Enigma at the BYU Bookstore last week. not sure if that “counts” on this case.

  6. Sorry, I thought Plural Marriage was in the title, but was only in the post. Carry on.

  7. M Miles: I have no problem changing the title of the post. I’m not gonna go dig through the whole thing and replace plural marriage, though. Hope that suffices. :)

    Yes, I think the difference with the new Gospel Topics essays seems to be their level of specificity. But even still, some members still didn’t know Joseph Smith taught or practiced polygamy in general, let alone the details. I think the lack of detail in the manuals that I tried to outline here helps explain why so many members are surprised by the polygamy essays.

  8. Thank you.

  9. A Happy Hubby says:

    I agree with Julie Smith on the point that most members didn’t know the details – and if you dig deeper (just even a bit) past the essays it gets more gory quickly.

    I agree that Deseret books along with correlation play a big part as to why so many know so little of the details. Mix in a bit of leaders saying, “don’t read the lies you get outside the church/deseret books” and can anybody be surprised that at least those outside of Utah don’t (or didn’t) know the details?

  10. symphonyofdissent says:

    Great post Blair. It is nice to have all of this material in one place.

  11. Julie Smith: thank you forever and ever, why is this part so hard to understand?

    Why are we not even mentioning Elder Andersen’s recent GC talk, “don’t believe everything you read on the internet about Joseph” speech that helped most of my TBM associates not even care about the essays when they came out. There is still a strong cultural orthodoxy that distrusts anything *not* put out by the church. I find it disingenuous to claim if you don’t know the details it’s because you aren’t well-read.

  12. The Other Clark says:

    To M Miles in #2: Drawing a distinction between polygamy and plural marriage has a long tradition in official LDS publications. It allowed early church leaders to disavow practicing polygamy, while actually practicing plural marriage.

    It’s interesting, though, that the modern church still follows this distinction.

  13. The Other Clark,
    Sure. And this is why it’s all the more problematic to use the term Plural Marriage. It appears less transparent, like something is hidden, and serves only to obfuscate the practice.

  14. Blair. This is excellent, but where does Brian Hales 3 volume work fit in this? It seems that here (and elsewhere on line) that book is kind of quietly overlooked when it has more of the details than anything you’ve mentioned. I believe it is offered at Deseret Book (at least through special order). As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, (to some criticism) it has the how, when, who, what and even why questions that nearly anyone would want in a MMM type of book.

  15. A Happy Hubby says:

    Terry H – Although this blog post is about polygamy TODAY, much of the discord is about how many feel the church “hid” (or something close to it) the details in the past. Brian’s books are the most cited works in the essays, so you are seeing a lot of the book in those. It is great if Deseret Book is carrying Brian’s books TODAY, but what has led up to the large amount of noise TODAY is from issues from THE PAST.

  16. Very useful post, Blair!

    I agree with Julie that many or most Mormons are unaware of the details of the implementation of polygamy and that these details haven’t been found in official church sources until these essays. In fact, authors who published on this topic and specifically discussed these details were often hounded out of the church either by local leaders or fellow members who found these facts so disturbing that the person relating them must be lying to try to destroy the church, or even by general authorities, many of whom probably also did not know many of these details and thus thought they must be an effort to tarnish the church. Now these same facts are available on the church’s own website, so we members can no longer (or should no longer) ostracize those who assert them.

    I would also venture that the problem of not knowing about Joseph Smith’s polygamy at all, which is actually more common than Julie’s comment implies, is more prevalent on the Wasatch Front than in other areas of the country/world because members in the latter areas often face frequent criticism or mocking from peers relating to Mormon polygamy and thus were confronted with its reality earlier (this was my experience growing up in Dallas and fielding mockery about Mormon polygamy from an early age). By contrast, growing up on the Wasatch Front provides few occasions for kids to even be confronted with it (especially throughout the twentieth century and in particular the latter half of the twentieth century when we and our parents came of age) because the fact of Mormons being the majority culture meant that since general information about Joseph Smith as a practicing polygamist was not taught directly (as this post indicates) and was only buried in select manuals (especially in the period before 2008 when a little more information on it began appearing because of FLDS prevalence in the news, as noted by Blair), many kids would never need to be exposed to it or think about it.

    Having said that, you still get the occasional missionary or member from outside the Wasatch Front who teaches that polygamy was started by Brigham Young, somehow thinking that portrays the church better. But I’ve observed the phenomenon of lifelong members not knowing that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy to be more prevalent among people who grew up on the Wasatch Front (completely anecdotally, of course — simply a casual observation from my own perspective having grown up outside the Wasatch Front but also living quite a bit of time there and also knowing many, many Mormons over the course of living in many different places who were transplants from the Wasatch Front).

  17. Terry: I added Hales to the post shortly after I first published it.

  18. One thing not mentioned here is the Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration video that came out in 2005.

    Or perhaps more for this time period, the Emma Smith: My Story that came out in 2008.

    Nary a word about polygamy in either of them. Just a beautiful love story that many youth watched and internalized.

  19. The Joseph Smith manual skipped polygamy and had a lesson on good marriage built around a collection of letters to Emma from Joseph and talked about how much they loved each other and had a great marriage. None of his other wives was mentioned. As a teacher at the time, this was a incredibly difficult lesson for me to teach. I tried to add letters from Emma to Joseph from Mormon Enigma (likewise, love letters) and was pulled aside by the RS President afterwards as this book was seen as anathema.

  20. EmJen, yes. This post didn’t cover all the things about Joseph and Emma that the Church has put out that didn’t mention polygamy. But that’s an important point. I don’t know of a single video or piece of art that depicts or discusses polygamy. In other words, the references to polygamy outlined in this post are far outweighed by church materials that don’t mention polygamy.

  21. Thanks for this, Blair. I’m not persuaded by criticisms that the Church has deceitfully, deliberately misled its members on this matter, or by implications that the Church had the institutional responsibility to directly foreground the details of Joseph’s polygamy. I just spent some time on Planned Parenthood’s website. Like the Church, Planned Parenthood is a controversial institution, embattled and often villified by critics, with a charismatic and controversial founder who engaged in practices that are exceedingly distasteful by today’s norms (Margaret Sanger’s eugenic views and policies.) There is no trace of Sanger’s controversial views or statements on the website; instead, there is, as one would expect, a whitewashed history celebrating her achievements and personal qualities. What else would we expect? The current leadership of PP no doubt feels that the controversial history has no bearing on their current mission in the world, and that foregrounding Sanger’s commitment to eugenics would muddy their message and distract from the important work they feel they are accomplishing. Even though I am not a supporter of Planned Parenthood, that makes sense to me from the institution’s point of view, and I wouldn’t accuse the organization of deceit and deliberately hiding its origins. Margaret Sanger and eugenics is not a perfect analogy to Joseph Smith and polygamy, of course, but the challenges of dealing with difficult history in an embattled environment are similar.

    This is entirely separate from the sympathy I feel for individual members who were blindsided at some point and who experienced confusion and pain as a result. I certainly would not question their personal experience or condemn their struggles. But to offer acceptance and validate personal experience does not require one to somehow concede every criticism thrown at it.

  22. “thrown at the Church,” should be the end of that last sentence.

  23. Are those criticisms present in Blair’s post or in the comments, Rosalynde?

  24. The new Doctrine and Covenants and Church History seminary manual in use this year devotes an entire day to polygamy. The manual doesn’t cover as many details as the new Gospel Topics articles, but it does go over quite a bit:


  25. According to the Family Proclamation, “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife,” How does the Church justify the fact that the plural marriages were not legal? This practice also defies the Twelfth Article of Faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

  26. No, I’m agreeing with Blair (I thanked him for the post!) and responding to the same criticisms he is: that “the Church was somehow denying that Joseph Smith instituted or practiced polygamy.”

  27. I really appreciated Julie’s comment. “Which is to say that I am extremely sympathetic to people who either didn’t know the details or who had been told that they were just anti-Mormon lies. And thus the newsroom piece claiming that “well-read” members knew all of this makes me pretty rage-y,” I am 40 years old and raised in the church. I have been told repeatedly, and as recently as 6 months ago, that rumors of Joseph Smith’s polygamy “were just anti-Mormon lies.”

  28. The assertion that “well-read” members were aware of Joseph’s polygamy and other unsavory episodes in church history is quite disingenuous when we recall that, just 20 years ago, Mormon scholars were excommunicated for writing about such subjects. How rich is the irony: today, a church essay on polygamy cites “Mormon Enigma,” a book that was criticized by Dallin Oaks when it was first published for presenting a “nontraditional view of Joseph Smith” that could damage the testimony of members.

    The church needs to take ownership not just of its 19th Century past but of the anti-illectualism it spawned during the second half of the last century.

  29. kstarrpower says:

    I’m 41, raised in the church and I just found out about JS’s other wives 2 or 3 years ago. I learned that BY was a polygamist as a young adult when visiting the Beehive House in Salt Lake City. I got into a disagreement with an ex-mormon friend over whether or not JS was a polygamist; I vehemently denied it while she told me basically the same facts the essays contain. I believed they were just lies. I’m embarrassed by my ignorance. What I don’t understand is why did most members know about BY but not about JS? Is it the 14 year old and married women that are the problem?

  30. Count me among those RS teachers faced with the impossible task of teaching this stinker of a lesson strongly implying that the marriage between Joseph and Emma was a straightforward faithful, monogamous love story of equals with no hint of storms beyond the unwarranted persecution for his beliefs: https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-smith/chapter-20?lang=eng. The manual (as outlined in Blair’s essay) specifically forbade teachers from discussing polygamy in the Joseph Smith lessons, not that I wanted to anyway. I just refused to teach this lesson. I was already in hot water for two other teaching transgressions in that same year: mentioning the different accounts of the first vision and providing a printed copy of the actual Wentworth letter to go with that lesson. The essays on the different first visions accounts have already been published and don’t differ at all from what I said in that lesson, a very faithful rendition of them.

    We can’t have it both ways. Either we accept and deal with historical facts or we are deliberately obfuscating, because the anti-intellectualism has real consequences to those of us in the position of trying to teach a lesson based on bad history. I don’t know whether the correlation committee members who wrote that lesson were being deliberately deceitful or if they really believed and hoped that was an accurate depiction. Honestly, neither one would surprise me, and neither one is to anyone’s credit. Those lessons were like if Dolores Umbridge wrote a text book on defense against the dark arts.

  31. Just after footnote 19, you mention you don’t know if women can be sealed to more than one man. This was clarified in the conclusion of the “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” article:

    “Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married.”

    I don’t know when this was changed, or even if it was changed at all.

  32. Blair, I think you leave out a lot of really important context when it comes to the issue of how and why so many feel “betrayed” at learning of Joseph’s polygamy.

    And that is, the Church made a point of not only downplaying his polygamy in official church manuals (where the majority of rank-and-file members get their church history from, let’s be honest), but also discouraging members from going to “outside sources” to get any sort of information about church-related topics.

    When correlation is specifically designed to withhold major information about the nature and depth of Joseph’s polygamy, and is also designed to discourage members from going elsewhere to learn about Joseph’s polygamy, and also designed to discourage teachers from delving too far into the subject, you have a clear pattern of the church deliberately keeping its members ignorant about it.

    That’s what your post seems to gloss over. It’s not just a footnote. It’s the crux of the problem.

  33. Women can be sealed to more than one man. It is less common but happens. It historically has happened most often in cases where a young bride loses her husband in war and then marries again.

  34. Adding to Frank above – last I was informed by a temple president, a woman can be sealed to more than one husband so long as she was legally married to both/all of them in her lifetime and all parties are deceased. The biggest gender difference is that a woman cannot be sealed to more than one man while she is living (without having her previous sealing canceled).

  35. https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-student-study-guide/the-church-in-nauvoo-illinois/doctrine-and-covenants-135-martyrs-for-the-truth?lang=eng

    “the Prophet taught and prepared the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to lead the Church. He felt impressed that his time was short. Meanwhile, some who left the Church could not leave the Church alone. In early June 1844, some former Church members and enemies of the work printed a newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, that published lies about the Prophet and other Church leaders. This added fuel to a fire that was already burning among anti-Mormons in the area who were king for ways to remove the Saints from western Illinois.”


    “Leaders of the conspiracy were exposed in the Times and Seasons and were excommunicated from the Church. Thwarted in their plans, the dissenters decided to publish an opposition newspaper. The first and only issue of their paper, which was called the Nauvoo Expositor, appeared on 7 June 1844. Throughout the paper they accused Joseph Smith of teaching vicious principles, practicing whoredoms, advocating so-called spiritual wifery, grasping for political power, preaching that there were many gods, speaking blasphemously of God, and promoting an inquisition.”

    “Moreover, they reasoned that if nothing were done to stop the libelous paper, the anti-Mormons would be aroused to mob action.”

    These quotes are straight from student manuals on LDS.org. What are these lies in the Nauvoo expositor? What is the libelous paper talking about – mainly that Joseph smith practiced plural marriage. That is why Joseph Smith was murdered. Of course the average member is confused when the above inaccurate, I would argue dishonest, narrative is what members are being taught in the churches own manuals. .Couple this with the quote of Joseph Smith saying “when I can only find one” and a desire to belief Joseph was a prophet and a good human being and you can understand why members think that Josephs polygamy or at least the extent and details were anti-mormon lies.

  36. A Happy Hubby says:

    hawkgrrrl – I totally get why you wouldn’t teach that one lesson. But one way to at least broach the subject without going into it would be to mention, “I was instructed for this lesson to only talk about Emma and not on the dozens of other wifes that Joseph had. I just wanted to say that so we keep on-topic.” If called on it you can say, “I was trying to do what was asked. I wanted to make sure nobody took it down the plural marriage path – just like you wanted.” It might be the last time you have to give a RS lesson. :-) I guess now it is a bit different with the essays out there.

  37. Just a note. I prefer female scholars on this topic.
    Someone may have already mentioned these books:
    There’s the recently published in June 2014, “The Polygamous Wives Writing Club From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women” by Paula Kelly Harline published by Oxford University Press. She is active Mormon-I’ve met her. It is an interesting read though not the thorough analysis you called for.
    Also, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is doing a book on polygamy taking 3 or 4 men and drilling down on their practices.
    What I have come to learn from talking with these Mormon historians is that it is difficult to find general trends. I’m glad, however, that people are talking about this in more scholarly ways.

  38. “When correlation is specifically designed to withhold major information about the nature and depth of Joseph’s polygamy, and is also designed to discourage members from going elsewhere to learn about Joseph’s polygamy, and also designed to discourage teachers from delving too far into the subject, you have a clear pattern of the church deliberately keeping its members ignorant about it.”

    A thousand amens, Jay!

  39. Thanks for all the comments. I’ll respond to some with more attention soon, but let me say something real quick. In this post I have not covered all of the discussions of marriage or Joseph Smith or Emma Smith, etc., which do not talk about polygamy (videos, etc.) because they far outnumber the instances which do. This post is merely an attempt to lay out on the table all of the instances where polygamy is mentioned, always discretely, in official Church manuals and talks to the preset time. There may be a few references I missed, but I doubt, based on the consistency of what I discovered, that there is anything much different than the examples herein. I’m really glad to see the Gospel Topics essays attempting to tackle one of the most difficult aspects of our faith’s history. It is an encouraging step forward to me even if I quibble here and there. What person who is passionate about history wouldn’t have quibbles or complaints?

  40. Hook 'em Horns says:

    “When correlation is specifically designed to withhold major information about the nature and depth of Joseph’s polygamy, and is also designed to discourage members from going elsewhere to learn about Joseph’s polygamy, and also designed to discourage teachers from delving too far into the subject, you have a clear pattern of the church deliberately keeping its members ignorant about it.”

    “A thousand amens, Jay!”

    A Thousand and 1 amens Jay!!!!!
    This is cause of my angst and frustration with the whole issue.

  41. Another amen for Jay’s comment.

    Thanks to BHodges for this compilation though. It is evident how vague the subject was intended to be throughout all the sources. Sometimes the references feel as if the author assumes the audience is supposed to learn about it in more detail elsewhere, except, that elsewhere did not exist within the endorsed sources.

    Another interesting aspect about polygamy is how absolutely mute the Church is regarding the complex web of doctrinal ramifications used to justify the practice, persuade members (especially already married subjects) into it, and provide a solid frame within the official doctrines to gain salvation and different statuses in the life to come. It was secretive then thanks to the close link to the temple and it is hard to understand now as the Church seems to have made efforts to blur as much as possible the bizarre doctrines.

    I think this is in part what was most disappointing to me, the doctrinal side of it. Members were pressured, and in my opinion, sometimes cruelly compelled to live the lifestyle under what almost amounts to threats to their personal salvation and the salvation of their loved ones. This is what nobody is talking about, and what the Church continues to leave untouched. Which I find strange since it is this is the very tactic that is still employed by polygamists today to coerce their members to live the lifestyle.

  42. John Harrison says:


    The practice in the Church during my lifetime, as expressed in manuals and enforced by culture, is to discourage discussion of polygamy in Church.

    I cannot recall a single lesson that I have attended as an adult that directly addressed the question of polygamy. I can recall a few cursory mentions of the practice and then quickly moving on. If you wanted to discuss polygamy you went to an evil symposium, read publications by alternate voices, or (more recently) went online.

  43. Kristine A: You mentioned Elder Andersen’s recent talk which touched on being careful with Internet sources. It’s true that there are some really poor sources and voices online talking about JS. It’s also true that some people aren’t distinguishing between those voices and more friendly even if more straightforward voices. I recommend the article featuring Elder Snow in an issue of the Religious Educator from a little while back:


    Rosalynde: I think the comparison with Planned Parenthood is instructive. There are a few important differences (one group being more a secular movement, the other claiming religious, revelatory authority which tends to bring a higher level of scrutiny). But yes, the general thrust of it is that organizations are disinclined to emphasize embarrassing, uncomfortable aspects of the past. It’s also possible that the Church has downplayed polygamy in its efforts to distance itself from the Fundamentalist movement.

    JMS: Thanks for the link.

    FarSide: I believe the essays don’t quote from Mormon Enigma. They refer to Hales, Compton, and others. The question of excommunicating scholars has come up a few times. Who was excommunicated specifically over publication on polygamy?

    Kstarrpower: I still don’t know how common your experience is, not knowing about JS until recently. I think most people who knew JS was involved didn’t really dig into the details of it even so, so to that extent, the new essays are introducing many members to uncomfortable things they didn’t know before.

    Jay: You said I leave out a lot of really important context. The point of this post isn’t to provide all of the context, but rather to provide quick access to the hard data—what exactly the Church has been saying about polygamy in official literature—and I draw the conclusion that it seems reasonable that many members have been surprised by the content of the Gospel Topics essays. I’ll do a post soon about some interesting remarks Elder Oaks made a few years ago on the church emerging from a period of a certain kind of Church history into a new era of church history that doesn’t avoid the “unfavorable.”

    BL: You point out some lessons that speak about the Nauvoo difficulties leading up to the martyrdom that don’t mention polygamy. I added a line to my original post that speaks to your comment, and to EmJen’s and others who point out that videos and manuals talk about JS or his family, etc., without talking about polygamy: I have not covered all of the discussions of marriage or Joseph Smith or Emma Smith, etc., which do not talk about polygamy (videos, etc.) because they far outnumber the instances which do. That disparity in volume and attention helps account for the surprise felt by some members of the Church in response to the new Gospel Topics essays.

    To Manuel’s point about not discussing the theological ideas behind polygamy: That isn’t much of a surprise since LDS theology has gone through a number of different iterations since JS’s day. I see important differences between God’s truth, the truth as found in the scriptures, the truth as communicated by human vessels, and the truth as received from those vessels and reprocessed, decorated, and imagined. It’s difficult to disentangle polygamy from the eternities because we still believe in eternal marriage, and people lose spouses and get remarried and in some cases sealed again, thus tacitly assuming that some sort of post-mortal polygamy situation is possible. There are also people who simply believe the polygamy aspect was wrong, who nevertheless still see Joseph as a prophet. There are several different ways to theologically reason about plural marriage. When it comes down to it I suspect most people are simply uncomfortable with it.

    John Harrison: Even with all of the sources in Church manuals I’ve collected here, I still can’t recall a single lesson where we spoke about polygamy in Sunday School. I’ve heard it brought up in a few sacrament meeting talks here and there. I remember it being mentioned in General Conference a few times. But my experience seems to have been like yours: I don’t remember discussing it in a classroom setting. I see these essays as the first public move toward something like that happening, though. I believe Elder Snow indicated that was the idea; to help get materials out there that can eventually be integrated in church meetings, or in Seminary and Institute classes, etc.

    Thanks again for the comments, everyone. I know this is a hard topic.

  44. “In this post I have not covered all of the discussions of marriage or Joseph Smith or Emma Smith, etc., which do not talk about polygamy (videos, etc.) because they far outnumber the instances which do.”

    This is a good and important project. As near as I can tell, you’ve compiled every interesting official statement by the church about polygamy in recent memory. And it comes out to a few pages.

    So let’s make sure to keep the significance of the project in perspective.

    Against these few pages, we have a mountain of other official materials (lessons, conference talks, paintings, sculpture, movies, history museums, promotional materials, etc., etc.,) pertaining to the Nauvoo period generally and Joseph and Emma in particular that has been put out by the church over the past 50 years. When seen together from a broader perspective, it’s not terribly hard to see how someone might have missed the handful of needles for the bales of hay.

  45. I agree with Jay’s comment, but at the same time we have to recognize the special language used by the church to communicate to insiders. I would argue that the church has been teaching the principles of plural marriage all along, if not the history.

    For example, a few years back when Elder Nelson married his second wife, Wendy Watson Nelson, he gave a very detailed conference talk about celestial marriage, quietly citing both wives. If you put the pieces together, you would see he was talking about current and existing principles of spiritual polygamy. It never made it to the front page of the NYT, but “for those with ears” it was a message. I’m sure many more such messages exist that weren’t cited here.

    Most of the time when the church communicates, it is essentially is in the position of a victimized witness in a trial, facing abusers, skeptics, and the uninformed at the same time it is trying to talk to insiders- loved ones and family. Consequently over the past 200 years we’ve developed very sophisticated coded speech.

    And while I applaud steps toward complete transparency, I would also say that it is incredibly hubristic and derogatory for non-LDS persons and frankly, most LDS people to criticize beliefs and practices which just might be a few stages too advanced for them to understand. For example, I do not portend to have as developed belief systems or training in Jainism and Hinduism as Ghandi, so I take a step back when assessing his sexual practices. It’s possible, just possible, that not everyone is ready to think as he thought and understand his practices in the same way. Yet Mormon practices are rarely if ever given the same leniency.

    I’m not saying this should be an excuse for past obfuscation of information, or and explanation or defense of the practice. I’m just pointing out that critics don’t often spend as much time reflecting on themselves as they do pointing fingers.

  46. Annon,

    “And while I applaud steps toward complete transparency, I would also say that it is incredibly hubristic and derogatory for non-LDS persons and frankly, most LDS people to criticize beliefs and practices which just might be a few stages too advanced for them to understand.”

    So criticizing polygamy is simply for lack of sophistication? It’s too advanced? But more advanced people (like yourself) understand it perfectly? Where does the hubris lay?

  47. Just as a side note about church publications and polygamy, Joseph’s polygamist past is not the only one they are loathe to mention. Heber J Grant had 3 wives, and my grandmother (his youngest child, born in 1899) was his child by his third wife. By the time HJG became prophet (1918), 2 of his wives had passed away, so he only had one wife, and many members of the church assumed that he had never been a polygamist. In the 1970s, the Ensign did a very long biographical article on him, mentioning only one wife. My grandfather (over 70 at the time) called up the editors of the Ensign, and told them that they had just made his wife a bastard.

  48. ^^exactly! And I would bet dollars to donuts that this “sophistication” notion has been used many a time to convince FLDS women that it’s a great system.

  49. BL — Agreed. I’ve actually read the text of the Nauvoo Expositor (fairly easy now that it’s on the internet), and most of its allegations are true. As you’ve pointed out, the Church narrative has generally been “Church opponents published an incendiary newspaper full of untruths, and Joseph had no choice but to suppress the paper or risk disorder.”

    When I taught the martyrdom lesson in Church, I drew attention to this fact and that it was Joseph’s practice of plural marriage (and his concealment of it) that led to his murder. I framed the lesson to suggest that no person deserves to die over a religious disagreement, and that while many of Joseph’s actions don’t make sense to us–both as a modern audience and one who can rightfully be critical of his behavior–those actions should not have seen murder as a response.

    This makes discussion of Joseph’s statement that “[He went] like a lamb to the slaughter,” a little complex, but for that matter, so did his possession of a gun at the jail. It’s a worthwhile discussion to have and I’m sorry that so many times the Church has taken the easier (and dishonest) rode of sticking to the “innocent martyr burned libelous press” tale.

  50. Whoops, meant to soften the language a bit. Read last sentence as “…the easier (and perhaps dishonest) route of sticking to the ‘purely innocent man killed for burning libelous press’ tale.”

  51. ” It’s possible, just possible, that not everyone is ready to think as he thought and understand his practices in the same way.” This sounds something Warren Jeffs or Fred Collier would have said. That’s right Annon, not everyone is ready, and I think you can number the current prophet and the current quorum of the twelve in that group.

  52. In the late 80’s I attended an institute class taught by a full time CES instructor. He is now a BYU Religion professor. The topic he prepared for the class that day was a discussion on polygamy. He told us that his information showed that only a very small percentage <10% of members participated, and that it was primarily to take care of widows. He also taught that the practice was revealed to Joseph Smith, but implemented by Brigham Young. None of this was correct.

    I don't believe that he was intentionally misleading the class, so I conclude that either it was difficult for an institute teacher to get correct information on the subject, or that this was an area where research was not encouraged. The class received the same sanitized version of history commonly held by many members at the time.

    This does not demonstrate a conspiracy to hide the truth. Rather, it is an example of how reluctant our church culture is to ask questions that may have uncomfortable answers.

  53. Anon anyway says:

    I heartily agree with and thank Julie M. Smith for her words: “One important point: I think when some people say ‘I didn’t know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy’… most of them mean ‘I didn’t know the gory details regarding ages, numbers, coercion, polyandry, public denial, and Emma’s lack of knowledge.’ And as far as I know, none of these ‘gory details’ has been mentioned in any official church publication until last month. …I am extremely sympathetic to people who either didn’t know the details or who had been told that they were just anti-Mormon lies.”

    Add to that the messages we hear to this day, telling us that Joseph’s character was “unimpeachable” – well, this is where the rubber meets the road for me, and right now it’s burning and squealing and stinking and smoking and leaving a black skidmark on a pavement of pain.

    Please don’t compound or twist the knife into this with condescending/patronizing all-or-nothing “unassailable” talk about Joseph’s character. We should not be treated like small children who think one person is either all evil or all good. Please treat us like grown-ups who are capable of comprehending that one person can be both a sinner and a saint simultaneously, including those the Lord calls to be our prophets.

    One small reprieve for me – I was telling my non-member friend about all this and he said, “Well isn’t that a lot like what we were taught in school about U.S. History?” This inclination to whitewash history and make us look at ourselves in the best possible light is not uniquely LDS. I think that makes me feel better. A little. I guess.

    I also want to add another “Amen” to Jay’s comment. But I’m bothered by the reluctance I feel to do so with my name attached. One could never say such a thing in church, for fear of discipline. That this is so, is troubling to me. (You’re either for us or against us!) We are so conditioned to stay away from things like this, from thoughts like this (“we’ve been deliberately kept in the dark!”) – and yet I long for liberation – for all of us taking off all our masks and deceit and half-truths and just delving to the depths of what the truth really is (or was), as far as we can know it. My sibling works for the FBI, and when someone finally stops only half-admitting their crimes, finally gives up all pretenses and deception, they (the FBI agents) call it a “Coming to Jesus” meeting. Yes. Can we just go straight to that ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting, where we no longer write carefully worded essays with subterfuge and stratagem? I don’t think we’re there yet. Let’s just pull the thorn all the way out so healing can begin. This slow inch-by-inch technique (with contradictory General Conference talks) is killing me.

  54. Blair,

    It appears that I was mistaken when I said that “Mormon Enigma” was referenced in the new essays on polygamy. I could have sworn that I read somewhere that it was, but it seems I was wrong. My apologies.

    As to those who have been the object of church discipline for writing on the subject of polygamy, first and foremost I was thinking of D. Michael Quinn whose Dialogue article on the post-manifesto plural marriages of church leaders incurred the wrath of the church hierarchy and was among the scholarly writings that ostensibly contributed to his eventual excommunication.

    One final request and one final comment:

    My request: when you write your piece about this new era of “open church history” championed by Dallin Oaks, I would like to hear your thoughts on whether this new openness would have ever occurred if the Internet had not forced the church’s hand on the issue.

    My comment: thanks for the respectful way you have handled the divergent responses to your piece. The process, on a certain level, has been cathartic for many people.

  55. Frank Pellet – RE: Sealing a deceased woman to all husbands she’s had in mortality. It’s been in the handbook since 1998 for sure; Can’t remember if it was older sealing policy or not, but I am aware of some instances last century where, according to Family Search, living women were sealed to more than one husband. I am surprised at the number of members who don’t really know sealing policies that have been in place (and found in the help sections of FamilySearch) since at least 1998. It tells me that a whole lot of people must not be doing their family history work.

  56. “<10% of members participated, and that it was primarily to take care of widows. He also taught that the practice was revealed to Joseph Smith, but implemented by Brigham Young. None of this was correct."

    I was taught this exact same version by CES in Mexico and I was also taught this as I asked the missionaries teaching me the discussions. At least part of this version, was also uttered by President Hinckley as a response during his 60 minutes interview.

    I don't think this is the result of someone doing serious research, I think this is a carefully concocted PR answer that was perpetuated by the Church as quick and easy damage control to the polygamy question. I don't know who put it together, but I find it really hard to believe whoever did actually believed it to be true.

    This is part of the misinformation the Church has spread and one of the elements in keeping so many in ignorance about the realities of polygamy in LDS history.

  57. Anon anyway: “Add to that the messages we hear to this day, telling us that Joseph’s character was “unimpeachable” – well, this is where the rubber meets the road for me, and right now it’s burning and squealing and stinking and smoking and leaving a black skidmark on a pavement of pain.”

    You don’t have to let anyone else define Joseph Smith on your behalf. What you’re hearing about there is someone talking about their Joseph Smith, and encouraging others to adopt him as theirs. I recognize there’s a lot of cultural weight behind extolling the Prophet. I get it. I sometimes participate in it. I am repeatedly amazed, alternately confounded, puzzled, impressed, inspired, at the things Joseph Smith did and revealed and wrote. When it comes down to it, I have come to know my own Joseph Smith. I’m still coming to “know Brother Joseph again” and again and again. I learn about other people’s Joseph’s, too, and I borrow here and there and reject here and there. What I hear people really asking here are questions like this:

    To what extent is it safe for me to disagree with Joseph Smith, or any leader of the Church, on any particular issue without facing repercussions? Without alienating fellow saints, troubling weak testimonies, or even losing my own belief in the reality of Joseph Smith’s calling and its bearing on my personal life?

    I hear difficult questions like this, even unspoken, and I get it. All I can say is I hope you find truth here like I have, and I hope you find a way to make it work. You have your Joseph, I have mine, the Church has a few. But no one has to let anyone else define Joseph Smith on their behalf.

  58. FarSide: I’m not that great at counterfactual histories. Beneath your question there seems to be a condemnation that Church leaders waited too long to confront things and that their hands were forced. I think it’s natural to want to exclude the possibility of any goodwill or intent on the part of “the Church” as a complete unified entity when people feel hurt. I think people can do things from a mix of motivations and due to a number of factors. The fact that we’re becoming more forthright is a little more important to me than the particular motivations behind it. But I think for some it probably took the Internet era in order to bring such measures to pass. In part, the rise of the Internet has contributed to the sort of interest in transparency, open information, etc. that we’ve come to expect. Whether the Internet forced the hand or not (and I think it’s more complex than that), I think the impetus behind them comes from a good, noble, charitable place.

  59. Manuel: your account/description seems too simple and neat and one-sided to be persuasive to me. I know it’s a popular story, but I think things are more complex than that. I encourage you to use your imagination and play defense attorney for the Church for a little while, not leaving behind the other things you have come to believe about the circumstances per se, but suspending judgment and sitting down with the defense and seeing what you might come up with. Mitigation isn’t the same as exoneration, either.

  60. My bad, that was not 60 minutes, it was during the Larry King Live interview, and his answer included this:

    “The figures I have are from — between two percent and five percent of our people were involved in it. It was a very limited practice; carefully safeguarded. In 1890, that practice was discontinued.”

  61. Not sure the origin of that percentage, but that was the standard answer at the time.

  62. BHodges,

    I am not trying to persuade you per say. I am just sharing my point of view based on my experience. I already played too much defense attorney for the Church in my lifetime, but I am done playing. I am also no longer a member of the Church. I probably should have been clear about that from the beginning.

    When it comes to polygamy, I did a great effort to be as aware of the issue as I could before being baptized. To my surprise, most of what I was told was simply not true (to say the least, I actually feel deceived by the way they communicated some issues, they were simply put a bunch of lies, I am sorry, that is how I feel).

    Sorry, my only defense for the Church is this: it seems to me that the leadership of the Church really believes that the end justifies the means, and that is how they proceed when it comes to their history, their people and their proselytism. I just happen to disagree with this modus operandi, but it isn’t unfamiliar to me.

  63. Manuel: I am not trying to persuade you per say. I am just sharing my point of view based on my experience. I already played too much defense attorney for the Church in my lifetime, but I am done playing. I am also no longer a member of the Church. I probably should have been clear about that from the beginning.

    I recognize you’re just offering your point of view. I’m suggesting that your perspective is heavily influenced by emotion (as is mine—it’s inescapable). You say you already played too much defense attorney for the church and that you won’t do it any more. I am suggesting to you that your admitted unwillingness to offer a hint of benefit-of-the-doubt may prevent you from recognizing real factors that deserve attention.

    You offer a backhanded Machiavellian defense, of sorts, and I appreciate the effort. I don’t think “the end justifies the means” fully grapples with it. There are still underlying questions about the degree to which any single leader influenced curriculum, the particular beliefs of individual church leaders and how they are brought to bear on the matter, the global growth of the church and the desire to focus on practical basics that pertain to present-day lived Mormonism. (By the way, one counter-factual history I could offer up re: whether the Church would confront this stuff had the Internet not been invented might be a story about how people eventually became increasingly uncomfortable with post-mortal implications of sealing policies, leading to more internal questions about polygamy, combined with national media coverage in print journalism of the FLDS circumstances, etc. And given these and other factors, the chickens would come home to roost eventually, which isn’t to say the way the issue would be handled at that point would be the same.)

    Lastly, I really don’t want to be disrespectful to you or your experience. You can’t play defense attorney anymore but you still feel a pull to play the role of prosecutor. I’d appreciate it if you spoke more to why you still feel that pull, now that I’m familiar with your feeling that the church has lied to you. It’s a bit off-topic, though, so it’s probably best to stick to the subject at hand.

  64. “I am suggesting to you that your admitted unwillingness to offer a hint of benefit-of-the-doubt may prevent you from recognizing real factors that deserve attention.”

    I hope I can still recognize real factors, but you haven’t presented many. You present speculation and suggest the use of “imagination” and “playing defense attorney,” which can hardly be bring about “real” factors. Or your understanding of “real” is very different from mine.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand your point in imagination, extrapolation and considering many scenarios and possibilities to explain things. But, I find this type of exercise when it comes to Church apologetics extremely unbalanced. At the end of the day, I guess we all can come to satisfying answers by using our imagination and mending our story lines with speculation (hopefully reasonable speculation), but I find this to have been one of the enabling tools for so much false teaching in the Church, especially through CES.

  65. Blair, the motives behind the church’s retreat from anti-intellectualism—stay away from Sunstone symposia, don’t listen to “alternate voices,” intellectuals are one of the three pillars of the axis of evil—are of great importance to me and others who feel that the institution has been something less than forthcoming in its handling of difficult historical and doctrinal issues. The church’s motives have a direct bearing on my willingness to trust its future pronouncements on these subjects.

    As Krstine noted in her most recent post, the church is currently “reaping the whirlwind” spawned by its past approach to these topics. Skepticism, even cynicism, are inevitable byproducts. Though, if the leadership could bring themselves to acknowledge their past mistakes and admit that they once discouraged the membership from pursuing these subjects, I think they would be astounded at how quickly people would accept their admission and support their efforts to change. I, for one, am much more inclined to follow a leader who admits his errors than one who makes a dubious promise to never lead me astray.

  66. Blair,

    Just to add to your list I think it’s worth considering how polygamy was treated in the Ensign, especially in our more recent history.

    During the 1970’s through early 1990’s we see a very different Ensign magazine from what we see today with more scholarly articles and explorations. There are articles that reference Joseph’s polygamous marriages and some of the difficulties the women faced along with their testimonies of heartfelt connection to their husband(s).

    For instance, there are no holds barred in the June 1979 short biography of Edward Partridge which really focuses on his two daughters Eliza and Emily who were married to Joseph in 1842. Emily later married to Brigham Young and Eliza, along with their sisters Caroline and Lydia married Apostle Amasa Lyman.


    Other interesting call-outs are the articles like “The Year In Church History” from 1977 where special praise is offered to:

    For many, the most exciting work of collective authorship was Claudia L. Bushman (ed.), Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah (Cambridge, Mass.: 1976). Articles on religious activities of women; midwives; schoolteachers; feminists; and Mormon women as portrayed in fiction are combined with views of polygamy from within and without, biographical sketches, and the development of the Relief Society. This book, put together by a group of Latter-day Saint women in the Boston area (aided by some of their friends), is a remarkable enterprise.

    Another example is a fascinating biography in 1992 of Emma Hale Smith by her great great great grand daughter Gracia Jones where she explores Emma’s experiences including a brief discussion of their call to accept polygamy: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/08/my-great-great-grandmother-emma-hale-smith?lang=eng&query=Joseph+Smith+polygamy

    These are noteworthy articles because they continue to demonstrate that an official publication of the Church was exploring what is considered today a difficult and shrouded topic with very open and out in the air approaches. It probably helps that many of these articles were published by historians and for them the polygamous past was a question of fact in the context of the stories they were presenting.

  67. Thanks for the extra references, Gilliam. Rare articles like that are good finds. They’re good. They’re also rare.

    FarSide, I can certainly appreciate that.

  68. Manuel: “I hope I can still recognize real factors, but you haven’t presented many.”

    That’s in part because I don’t want to play the role of prosecutor or defense attorney in this post, though people will see shades of both depending on their own perspectives. In your comments (and most of your comments at BCC) there isn’t a similar ambiguity. It’s clear to me where you stand, I get it. It’s also because I think it would be interesting to see what sort of things you would come up with as a defense attorney. I can actually learn from you here; I’m not sitting back holding all the answers and waiting for you to catch up. I wish I could help you feel better about everything, though. I believe the amount of time you spend talking about these things signals the depth of your feelings.

  69. Thanks, Blair.

    You know, I can be angry and frustrated by how the church has handled its history and the evolution of its doctrines, but at the end of the day I have to decide whether I’m going to allow this to drive me away. I don’t think I will.

    I firmly believe that the men—and women—who lead this church are good and honest, albeit flawed, individuals who are trying their best. And I also realize that the challenges they face are herculean. If they are willing to put up with my foibles and shortcomings, the least I can do is reciprocate, especially since they are considerably more righteous than I am. As you said, even assuming the motives for their new approach to these issues are mixed, giving them the benefit of the doubt and trusting their good intentions is probably not a bad idea.

  70. Anon anyway says:

    BHodges: “What I hear people really asking here are questions like this: ‘To what extent is it safe for me to disagree with Joseph Smith, or any leader of the Church, on any particular issue without facing repercussions? Without alienating fellow saints, troubling weak testimonies, or even losing my own belief in the reality of Joseph Smith’s calling and its bearing on my personal life?'”

    Yes – you nailed it. That is EXACTLY the deep heart of the matter for me personally. Thank you for the safety net of understanding you’ve kindly offered.

    Included in my angst is also a residual (and a roller coaster kind of) resentment. Personal turmoil for all the fallout I’ve witnessed and tension lived in real time – people I love who’ve already decided and declared that Joseph and the whole church is one giant fraud from beginning to end, and people I love deciding to close their eyes and shut their ears while proclaiming that it’s all true, it’s all perfect, every speck, every morsel — and any word that hints otherwise is blasphemy, lies and disloyalty (with a “thou doth protest too much” insistence on both sides that bleeds like fear & defensiveness). No one seems to be feeling peace. (I’m aware this sounds like hyperbole, but it is very close – I think – to what I’m seeing & experiencing, black and white absolutes from both sides of the aisle, all smothered in pain. This is a highly charged ‘soul’s salvation’ level experience.)

    There is a tension of loyalties for sure – I feel deeply for those who feel betrayed (more sympathy for them than I do for the robotic defenders actually) – and wonder at my own ambiguity. I was taught to submit to Priesthood authority, and that criticizing the Church and its leaders is wrong. But that feels very trammeling and wrong to my soul too. I don’t quite know what to do with myself at this stage, though I do feel somewhat beholden to church authority. The freedom to define Joseph for myself almost feels frightening – that kind of “too much liberty” fright when one discovers the wonderful but terrible truth that choices are inescapable in this life, those choices we make even if only by default while trying to avoid them.

    Well BHodges, clearly I’ve gone overboard describing my plight. All I really wanted to say is thank you for defining it – putting it into words I hadn’t yet articulated myself. Thanks.

  71. M MILES, Ha! A personal insult, I love it. No, I don’t understand polygamy at all and frankly I don’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole. but, I’d rather grapple with it than dismiss it as “hokum”, which might be a correct response and might be an intellectually lazy shortcut.

    Hawkgrrl, ha, yes, the “sophistication” argument has probably been used to manipulate by the likes of the FLDS and others. But just because someone somewhere may have pulled the sophistication card in in a negative way, doesn’t mean that some concepts aren’t sophisticated. I don’t think that should deter anyone from unraveling it, but I don’t understand why most people rush to judgements about this topic after reading a few books or even news articles while philosophical savants like joseph smith and Ghandi spend years and decades in disciplined study in preparation for these behaviors. I’m asking the question, is it possible that they understand something we don’t? What am I missing?

  72. Let me rephrase that. If the FLDS have used that argument, you can bet it was used by the polygamist pre-manifesto LDS as well.

  73. My grandfather directed the Church Curriculum department for Seminaries and Institutes around the world at one point. He had to make decisions about what went into the manuals, etc. This was his answer to me. He said that when topics like the Priesthood ban and Polygamy are included in the manuals, it creates so much controversy that students weren’t able to focus on anything else. They tried it in some test cases and what they found was that students didn’t know enough of the foundation and basics to be able to communicate about more advanced topics in productive scholarly ways so they took most all of those topics out. The principle was milk before meat, a biblical teaching. No one in Curriculum ever intended for people to not learn about polygamy or other historical complexities. The Church has very deep doctrine. We focus a lot of time on the Book of Mormon/D&C and simple doctrinal principles because it is milk compared to the Old and New Testament. There are a lot of troubling stories there, too. But I ask you to imagine, as my grandpa asked me, if you were in charge of putting curriculum together for students and members who would range from the newly baptized to the life long heritage member, from a Western to an Eastern tradition and everything in between, how would you choose what goes in and what stays out? Church curriculum is only designed to be the scaffolding. After that it is a personal journey. Even in Moses’ day, God withheld the higher law when the people weren’t ready. He provided the lower law as a stepping stone to the higher law. “We like sheep have gone astray, every one.” We have to come back before he can give us more. Do we read Isaiah as Christ himself has commanded? Isaiah is meat, not milk requiring a lot of advanced historical, cultural, and linguistic knowledge. Isaiah tells us to come to the trough and eat. The trough isn’t necessarily our church meetings. That’s where we perform our devotion. The trough, the eating, happens in our own personal, spiritual, critical, scholarly journeys. This is a world religion, right, not a Western-Christian religion. We should expect some things to be familiar to us as Westerners but others to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable/foreign. These are a few of my thoughts.

  74. annon,

    Built into your comment is the idea that it is intellectually lazy if one comes to the determination that polygamy isn’t good. I personally have grappled with (and continue to grapple with) the issue for years in a number of spiritual, intellectual, academic, familial, and personal ways. It is pretty presumptuous to simply say I must not get it, assuming intellectual grappling would inevitably yield a different result; or that I am dismissing it out of hand as ‘hokum’.


    I am troubled by the idea that polygamy is an advanced topic. Since nearly the inception of the church, polygamy was foundational. So how can it be advanced? You yourself say that the D&C is milk, the only place where polygamy is actually taught. If the Old and New Test are so advanced, why did God give them to the world before the Book of Mormon and D&C?

    The milk and meat analogy is too often used to gloss over questions that make people uncomfortable. What is the trajectory of gospel knowledge that moves us from baby food to steak? Can you place gospel principles in teaching timeline that moves from milk to meat? If people in the curriculum dept intended for people to learn about it and its historical complexities, why didn’t they write a manual?

  75. M Miles,
    Polygamy, foundational????? No. Read the Book of Mormon again. I’m not convinced there will even be enough women in the Celestial Kingdom to make polygamy work there either. I know that sounds completely crazy, but…I think there are actually a lot of celestial men out there under the radar and less amazing women than we think. (I know I’m going to hell for that one.)

    Polygamy, advanced???? Yes. I think monogamy is an advanced topic as well. Do we discuss the intricacies of monogamy? No. The reality with monogamy is that it is quite troubling on a number of levels. I guess if you’re one of the very low percentage of people who are happily married into their 90s then monogamy is pretty basic but though we teach the positive part of monogamy, we don’t teach the problems which are many. Why don’t we teach it in all it’s ugly forms? It’s an advanced topic.

    I respect your opinions, though. If you were the Director of Church Curriculum, perhaps you would make a steady time line for milk to meat topics. Perhaps you could separate out those who were ready for the meat and prepare Western versus Eastern approaches while at the same time controlling for doctrinal diversions, etc.

    When we talk about what should and shouldn’t be taught at church we often focus on what is best for us personally. Perhaps it looks easy for a surgeon to cut people open, but it takes years of study to learn and there are a lot of implications with each incision. I’d say it looks easier than it is to design curriculum for the church. And, even when the surgeon has many years of experience, he or she still might make a mistake. I still wouldn’t want to be the one with the scalpel even when the surgeon makes a mistake.

    There is room for discussion and thought of course but whining about polygamy not being in the curriculum is weird. We don’t even practice it anymore. New prophet, new revelation. Study stuff that’s no longer part of church practice on my own time or never. …Darn it. I’m writing a book with polygamy in it (1852). Oh wait-I have been studying it. And, with actual scholarship, I have a new view about it. And, I would definitely say it is a PhD related topic. Meat my friend. Meat.

  76. Audrey,
    Foundational in the sense that the earliest revelations were received in 1831, and members were instructed they could not obtain salvation without it. What is more foundational that the practices of salvation?

    It is not weird to wonder why it is not in the curriculum when members were instructed they had to practice it to gain salvation; family is extremely important in narratives about the prophets livest, yet their families (wives and children) are removed from curriculum with the exception of first wives.

    New prophet, new revelation” Clearly, this is not our practice. We don’t discard past prophets teachings, hence Teachings of the Prophets manuals. Further, past practices have repercussions today. This isn’t a toddler tantrum. It isn’t whining. These are legitimate concerns. Just because you don’t share them, please don’t dismiss it as unnecessary whining.

  77. I guess I should also add that my grandfather had a PhD in Curriculum Design and had taught many years professionally before he became the Director of Curriculum over Seminaries and Institutes. He knew the Bible backwards and forwards and later directed the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. He knew every anti-Mormon attack. And he even knew all these arguments/frustrations that you pose here in this blog post. These aren’t new to Curriculum people. It’s just more easy to access because of blogs, social media, etc. They made decisions based on lots of experience. My grandpa read Journal of Mormon History and Dialogue and so much more. There’s a reason behind every decision of what to put in and what to leave out based on lots of research into how to handle certain topics, issues. Did they make mistakes? They’d be the first ones to say they did. Do I personally agree with all of their philosophies for why/how they put the curriculum together? No. However, I have respect for the process and the people who did the best they could with an incredibly difficult task. Those guys do read blog forums like this. Just make sure that in all of the complaining, we also offer some solutions that work for us because a lot of this complaining has been done before. Solutions. Let’s focus on solutions. I personally don’t want polygamy to be added to the curriculum, but that’s me.

  78. Audrey,
    For me a detailed discussion of polygamy isn’t necessary, but not purposefully removing wives and children from detail and context is. I’m not a fan of erasing people from history to change the narrative.

  79. M Miles,
    We actually do discard teachings of old prophets and apostles. I have heard it from the horse’s mouth (my grandpa). There are a number of things that were taught that are now no longer considered modern revelation and have been deliberately changed as the canonization process continues.

    Polygamy is not foundational. You can get to the Celestial Kingdom with one wife. They “were” taught but are no longer taught any more that you need more than one wife. Elder Scott is going to his grave with just one wife. Polygamy is not foundational.

    If it was foundational, we’d still be practicing.

    This is a modern church. We don’t look back to Joseph Smith like he was Mohammed or Moses. The most important prophet is Thomas S. Monson and any canonized scripture we have. If we look back to Joseph Smith we only look in an academic way to help us retrieve precedent and intent. Otherwise, anything he said, if it has been realigned or changed by more recent prophets, doesn’t matter as doctrine.

    And I do think you’re whining. You and a few other whiners on this list. Do you need the website for the Church archives? Go learn it on your own from the primary sources. Instead of criticizing, contribute. Or do you need this all spoon fed to you in secondary sources? Oh wait but you wanted the meat?….

  80. M Miles,

    Now you’re talking. Removing names of wives and children. That is also an issue I have had. However, I can also see how if you’re not going to open the can of worms with the discussion it would be hard to have the names of the wives and children.

    So my question is: How would you solve it? My guess is some Curriculum director somewhere is reading this and would really like your constructive solutions. As much as I want their names, I’m not sure exactly how to do it. If someone has a great idea, I might even put in a word. So please do share.

  81. Audrey,
    I myself don’t believe it is foundational. I said it was a foundational teaching. I think we are talking past each other. Sure, we discard past teachings, but to glibly say new prophet, it doesn’t matter–is disingenuous. And please don’t assume I haven’t explored the archives and am whining because our views differ.

  82. Wow that was a lot of work. Thank you.

    I just want to reinterate Julie’s point at the top of the thread. I think many of the more justifiable feelings of betrayal from English speaking saints have to do with what is completely elided in teh church’s official and semi-official treatment of polygamy – that is the details to how it was practices by Joseph Smith and others in Nauvoo. Those “gory” details (or “lurid details” as M* has called them) strike much more at the heart for many, many members and I think lead more to a sense of betrayal than just the fact it existed. This is important because even the new essays avoid discussing these really problematic areas (and go to great length to defend Joseph’s character in implementing polygamy). In this respect, there could be a potential double whammy where now even these much more forthright and transparent essays may cause people to feel manipulated to some degree and more on the look out for it. The hard questions for many LDS members to grapple with who have to go from “sure prophets are *perfect* but thats ok to Joseph flat out lied to Emma, sent men on missions and then wed their wives without the man’s consent etc. etc. and thats ok he still had the Spirit with him”. That is a far bigger jump to navigate across and feeling that the Church in its big bid for transparency has been forthcoming about these pretty straightforward and unconstestable facts could leave some members in the betrayal lurch.

    And of course it is compounded by the fact that 90% of modern LDS women are hoping with all their heart that polygamy was wrong or at least not the required order of heaven (and probably the vast majority of Mormon men too). And that issue is not still clearly addressed.

  83. Blair,

    The time I spend talking about these things is based on not leaving anyone hanging or with the wrong idea of what I tried to say. :)

    I don’t know what you mean by helping me feel better. I may have given a much more serious impression through text than I really mean. I don’t feel bad, I actually don’t consider myself resentful (but I can’t be full of praise nor defend things that to my own criteria are awfully amiss).

    I understand Mormons and Mormonism in their context, and I don’t regret having made the mistake of joining them. I think my life would have been much easier if I knew then what I know now, and my decisions would have been much better informed, yet regardless, I tried to make the best of it and I actually reaped many good things while there. In general I was given opportunities and was exposed to things that have made me a much better person and that I know I would not have had if it wasn’t for the Church.

    I do get involved (very sporadically) on discussions when I feel the cycle of enabling poor communication in the Church is on full fling, or when people try to justify the things that to my own criteria are awfully amiss (like in this case the dishonest handling of what seems inconvenient information in light of new PR targets).

    I did find offensive some comments (elsewhere) that blamed the members for not knowing enough about polygamy. As your compilation shows, it is not very feasible that most members were exposed to any great number of the references you bring her in any significant manner. And even if they did get significant exposure to any number of your references, it would have been very unlikely that they would understand how polygamy was actually practiced in the Church. It seems a bit ironic that they claim “well read” members knew well all along. Well, these well read members had to go beyond and most likely against what the Church recommends reading to actually be “well read.”

    This subject interests me in particular probably for the same reasons it is all over the news, because it is a huge cultural exception within its historical and demographic context. Because it is controversial, yet it tells a story of faith, devotion, belief in revelation, biblical fundamentalism, but also coercion, secrecy, legal trouble, sociocultural clashes, incredibly interesting doctrinal justifications and in general the phenomena that is generated when a group of people give a flawed man or a flawed group of men limitless credibility under the premise that they speak on behalf of God.

  84. I appreciated Gilliam’s comment (11/13 at 3:16PM) on the evolution, or devolution, of the content of the Ensign over the years. When I was first baptized in 1986, I valued the magazine and its back issues for the historical and doctrinal content they gave me. Now, I see very little value over and above that which I might get from The Friend, not even better illustrations. I think it’s probably not coincidence that the “golden era” of Ensign content corresponds with the tenure of Leonard Arrington as Church Historian. The LDS Church used to be an intellectually stimulating denomination, a religion for the thinking person. I used to actually tell people that it was one of the things that attracted me to Mormonism. Now I’m not so sure. What happened?

    I do understand Audrey’s grandpa and the problems that he faced in a church that moved from a largely American, 1-million-member movement centered in the Intermountain West to a multi-million-member, international, multicultural organization in a very short time. That’s a lot of milk, and the meat must have seemed less important. Unfortunately, we’ve been nibbled to death by bureaucratic ducks, and the meat has been deemed unnecessary or irrelevant or even faith-destroying.

    And then along comes the Internet, and rather than manage an honest (or at least positively-spun) version of some of the less-cheery aspects of our past, we blithely let our people blunder into all kinds of earth-shattering revelations that they never suspected because we were too concerned that some new branch in Taiwan might not be able to handle the idea of a seer stone.

    So now what? Hunker down behind the barricades and defend to the last man? Or open up, fess up, and try to reclaim the generation we’re fast losing because, as Kristine aptly says, the Church has lost some credibility?

  85. Mormon style polygamy in its truest form favored women over men because of 2 variables. I will compare it with Muslim style polygamy which does not have these 2 variables and therefore favors men. To favor women, polygamy depends on two factors. 1-that men can add an infinite number of wives and 2-there is both male and female initiated divorce. Islam limits the number of wives a man could have, severely limited female initiated divorce and eased male initiated divorce.

    Marriage Market. Mormon style polygamy creates a marriage market place where women have control over which man they are with. As soon as there is a limit to the number of women one man can or is willing to add to his circle, he has the upper hand because he could create an elite group of women. Women would then have to compete to be in that elite group which gave the man who chose which women to be in that elite group more control. Female initiated divorce is also important because a man who is not treating his wife the way she wants him to, would lose her more easily, thus favoring women over men.

    How might this work in practice? Let’s imagine I am living in 1840 and my husband is not holding family home evening, he swears at me from time to time, he’s not getting his work done on the farm, I see a tobacco wad on the floor, and he’s not paying the kids enough attention. So I go to Joseph Smith who already has 40 wives and tell him the situation. He says, well, perhaps a mission would shape him up and then sets up a mission for him. My husband is gone now.

    Then I go to Joseph Smith and say, dear me. What if the mission doesn’t shape him up. Then what am I going to do? Do you mind if we got married? I’ll be wife number 41 and then for sure I’d be with a good guy in the next life. Ok sure, he says. As soon as Joseph Smith has to say, no I’m sorry, I can only marry 40 wives, is when I as a woman no longer have the power in the market place to be with a better guy.

    This creates an eternal life long chase for men. They can never be totally comfortable with the woman they love. Nor does a ring on their finger prevent them from marrying the needy girl down the street they don’t love so much. What excuse would they have for not marrying someone? Ummm, I have a dentist appointment. Sorry. Can’t marry you. Who would be praying for monogamy?? Men.

    When we look at what has been written during Mormon polygamy, for good historiography, we have to also look at what has not been written and why it wasn’t written. Reasons for some men and women to marry are written down but there are a lot of good reasons why many of them might not want to write things down, especially when they believed those reasons would be permanently recorded in heaven.

    Joseph Smith was a good looking man, had a playful sense of humor, righteous, and was definitely headed for the highest places of heaven. If you are female, and you think you belong to heaven, you might have tried to convince him to marry you rather than the other way around. Then, it would be to your advantage to make it look like he asked/required it of you because you are special and would never leave your husband. I’m not saying that’s what happened. I’m saying that just because some things aren’t written, doesn’t mean those things didn’t happen.

  86. FarSide and Anon anyway: Thanks for your comments. Improved my day.

    Audrey B: I agree with you that incorporating information on polygamy into curriculum is a very difficult prospect. Taking a more charitable view of the people who develop curriculum is a good approach. At the same time, I don’t think we should use difficulty as an excuse for doing better than we’ve done in the past. The new Gospel Topics essays make it clear, when you compare their content to what was previously published in official Church materials, that past discussions were not comprehensive enough for a lot of people. Yes, it’s a global church and yes, cultural sensitivities and differences need to be taken into account. Correlation played an important role in the twentieth century church but it seems to me that we’re approaching an era where the one-size-fits-all thing isn’t working very well. The GT essays seem a step in the direction of making simple, accessible, and more accurate material available to Church members. I wonder what the plans for translating them are.

    Manuel: It seems a bit ironic that they claim “well read” members knew well all along. Well, these well read members had to go beyond and most likely against what the Church recommends reading to actually be “well read.”

    If this is true, then score one for members who like to read other things in addition to correlated materials, and hope that we see more encouragement along those lines going forward.

  87. Audrey: I think those kinds of speculations are probably best discussed in a different thread. This one really needs to stay more on topic: the extent to which the Church included information about polygamy in its official materials over the years, primarily in the 20th century church.

  88. just want to comment today says:

    To Audrey M. A couple observations. I think you’re correct that many of us have been quick to blame Correlation/Curriculum and not think about or fully appreciate the great task they undertook – and even if we disagree with how some of the materials were presented, I don’t know of anyone who thought that it was carried out with any ill will. But I can’t ignore the scholars that tell me there was a culture war going on between freedom of inquiry and scholarly pursuits (B.H. Roberts, Liahonas) and a more dumbed-down version of doctrine with a heavy dose of “Follow the Prophet” promote-loyalty-to-the-institution-itself (Benson 14 Fundamentals, Iron Rodders) – and the arch conservatives won that culture war (the clamp-down of critical and scholarly ventures was quite evident).

    When you said, “The trough isn’t necessarily our church meetings… The trough, the eating, happens in our own personal, spiritual, critical, scholarly journeys.” Well, in the early 1990’s we were given a pretty clear picture of what happens to the critical and scholarly souls in the church – many were excommunicated or otherwise silenced/squelched in bringing forth what now seems to be just the plain truth. People were disciplined for telling the truth. It may not have been faith-promoting truth, but the message from the top was loud and clear – ”STAY AWAY from this toxic material!’

    So you said, “So my question is: How would you solve it?” Here’s what one soul thinks, who plans to keep attending church, even though the messy history troubles my soul. How about we get back to teaching about the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The scriptures emphasize following God, following the Savior much much more than following a prophet. Let’s stop using the church to whip up mindless loyalty to the institution itself, which is just the scaffolding, and let’s talk about the REAL MEAT – living Christ-like lives. Let’s spend a whole year on Christ alone, and repentance, humility, love for others. Everyone can understand love and humility, if deep doctrine is beyond their reach. [I think it was Elder Busche who told of his experience moving to Utah from Germany when he became a GA. He was quite disheartened at what he saw here – an institution filled with people rallying support for the institution. Where was Christ? Where was Faith? He wondered out loud if it was because we have so much in the way of talents and worldly goods, we forgot all about Christ and His central mission because we didn’t seem to need Him in this corporate-making venture. He even told a story about going into a curriculum room where strips of paper (hundreds of them) were all over the room. The people were writing down ideas they thought each church member needed to be exposed to in their life, from Primary on up. Strips of paper with words were plastering the walls. Elder Busche asked, “Where is Faith?” – He said he thinks they finally found it at something like #72. He was aghast. “Is not faith central to everything?” he asked.]

    And let’s stop talking about how evil the world is, and how right we are. That doesn’t bring any of us closer to Christ – that ends up being a big ‘pat ourselves on the back’ lesson, and we all go home, smug & proud to be in the one true church while the evil and wrong world swirls around us threateningly. This does not heal our souls or open us in love to all others, or lead us to the true contrition necessary for true repentance – it ends up depleting us spiritually.

  89. just want to comment today says:

    Sorry BHodges – I didn’t see your request to stick to the OP topic before posting.

  90. BHodges, Yes, having the information available on official Church channels is better. Having them incorporated into Church Curriculum, not sure. Although we often hate on correlation and I’m one of those people from time to time, my grandfather also sat in on those meetings and I think it’s not a clear cut issue as many writers on BCC and elsewhere have already pointed out. My thought, but this might have been said before, is that the church needs to leave it’s Republican Conservative preference. If we did correlation using the lens of liberal, loose, free historical sensibilities which favor the small guy and the inquisitor, we might have a different kind of correlation. Just thinking.

  91. BHodges,
    Sure. I’ll stick to the topic. It seems that some are more concerned about polygamy than they are about logistical aspects of curriculum so that’s why I pursued it here. Perhaps what I’m really saying in my comments is, it’s a PhD topic that needs to be reworked by a dozen or more researchers before anyone should worry too much about it.

    Just want to Comment Today Says,
    So you support the new church trend towards topic centered curriculum instead of scripture centric curriculum? We all learn about faith all day? You’re right that the scholars got slammed and the picnickers have had a hay day. That is why I mentioned in my comments above that I do not agree with all of the philosophies behind their curriculum decisions. They believed that by keeping it silent, they would prevent untrained historians from misreading documents or not being able to place these documents in historical context. I am more liberal and thoroughly disagree with this philosophy. With the advent of the internet, our liberal side has won because BCC and other more liberal outlets are showing them that untrained historians can learn and discuss history intelligently even if awkward at first.

  92. It appears you are conflating how marriage and divorce proscribed in Sharia to how they are practiced in Islamic countries. In Sharia, women are free to seek divorce. How this is practiced differs from place to place. It may favor women in some places, and not in others.

    “Marriage Market. Mormon style polygamy creates a marriage market place where women have control over which man they are with.” There is a lack of evidence for this, particularly when Zina JHY told a journalist marriages were arranged by parents. It is true women were free to move to another marriage, but that hardly is evidence they had control. Journalists visiting Utah kept diaries that show women were very eager for them to take them out of Utah.

    “As soon as there is a limit to the number of women one man can or is willing to add to his circle, he has the upper hand because he could create an elite group of women.” Mormon polygamy created a shortage of women because it was unlimited. This creates a problem. Women don’t have the upper hand just because they can or can’t marry an elite man. They have the lower hand. Their entire standing rests on whether they can marry an elite.

    “Women would then have to compete to be in that elite group which gave the man who chose which women to be in that elite group more control.” How does that give them more control? That gives them less and only recreates patriarchal hegemony.
    “Then I go to Joseph Smith and say, dear me. What if the mission doesn’t shape him up. Then what am I going to do? Do you mind if we got married? I’ll be wife number 41 and then for sure I’d be with a good guy in the next life. Ok sure, he says. As soon as Joseph Smith has to say, no I’m sorry, I can only marry 40 wives, is when I as a woman no longer have the power in the market place to be with a better guy.”

    I don’t fully agree with you about reasons/scenarios. What I do see is that, at least the way you describe it, all this does is create a highly elite group of men that have power in society. It also creates a situation where women feel they need to an elite man, no one else is good enough. It puts primary focus and anxiety over the next life instead of close familial relationship in this one. This isn’t giving women more power in the marketplace.

    It also creates a situation that generates sexist paradigms. Most men are not righteous, so better to be wife number 25 of one of the few good ones. This idea carries on that women are inherently more righteous—and men suck, except the church leader guys.

  93. Blair,
    Apologies. I won’t engage the topic anymore.

  94. Women aren’t inherently more righteous. They just have the power in polygamy to pick more righteous men. As BHodges has said, we should stick to curriculum and why the church is or is not sharing the topic of polygamy widely until now. My point in the comments is that polygamy is not as cut and dry as it might appear nor was it similar to modern forms of polygamy. Therefore, not teaching polygamy to the masses might be the best way to siphon it to the more doctrinal meat eaters.

  95. M Miles, I appreciate your response a lot, so no worries. Let’s get back to the matter at hand.

    Audrey, I recognize creating curriculum must be massively difficult. I get all worked up about writing a sacrament meeting talk. At the same time, I’m not buying the “Mormons, especially in other countries, are too dumb/spiritually weak/unversed and we need to give them meat” thing. The Church can make use of focus groups, pilot programs, trained educators, historians, scholars, and Church leaders to help navigate these difficult issues. The end goal in mind should be to bring people to Christ; undoubtedly. At the same time, if we improve the way we own our history, we will diminish the number of those who feel they were misled. Some of those difficult topics can lend themselves to moral/value/Christian discussion as well. The Mountain Meadows Massacre can be very instructive on the topic of violence, dishonesty, leadership over-reach, etc. for instance.

  96. BHodges,
    I completely agree. See my response to “Just Want to Comment Today”:

    “…That is why I mentioned in my comments above that I do not agree with all of the philosophies behind their curriculum decisions. They believed that by keeping it silent, they would prevent untrained historians from misreading documents or not being able to place these documents in historical context. I am more liberal and thoroughly disagree with this philosophy. With the advent of the internet, our liberal side has won because BCC and other more liberal outlets are showing them that untrained historians can learn and discuss history intelligently even if awkward at first.”

    I served my mission in Taiwan so I get the challenge. They don’t know anything about the Bible. It’s next to impossible to talk about the Bible in church because it’s foreign. However, I don’t think this is an excuse, either. I, like you Blair, believe that just because Asians don’t have a foundation in the Bible and some of them are even adverse to it because of the history of Christian colonialism, doesn’t mean we don’t try. We should also take some lessons from them and their paradigms as well-not just dump our pile on them.

    I’m writing about Mormon history in Asia for that reason. I think we need to get to know them in more liberal-minded ways.

    So, the short answer is–I agree with you 100% Blair. :)

  97. I know y’all are cursin’ my name right now. But here’s the choice we have.

    We can either protect the flock, the untrained historians, the new budding converts with carefully prepared milk to meat lessons like we do now.


    We can put all the grit and grime of history out and let a few of those untrained historians, the ones that will misread and leave the church over it, go.

    I prefer the second choice. If someone wants to leave the church over polygamy, I’ll be there holding the door open. Let’s get into the sweaty, gritty parts of life and history so we can understand ourselves better. I’m not even in charge of the flock really. The Higher Power is watching his flock. We might be the instruments but we’re not really the ones who actually keep them in the church or bring them back.

    If someone wants to walk out on the coolest most modern complicated rich religion since forever, I’ll let them and even hold a party if they want. When they want to, they’ll come back. Alright. I’ll be done. 3 Cheers for BCC and others who allow this kind of open market on history.

  98. Amen to Audrey’s post. Her approach reflects best the “the field is white ready to harvest” attitude, and the LDS idea that the ones that are ready are the ones to find, and the ones that are not simply aren’t meant to be “harvested” yet.

    I’ll scoff a little about the “coolest most modern” part, cough cough cough… :) But otherwise, I think she does reflect something that the LDS do teach (or did teach back in the days of millennial fever).

  99. Sigh. This is an interesting post, but the problem is not a simple question of whether or not the church taught that Joseph was a polygamist. The problem is he that lied, abused his power, “married” children, and “married” women who were already married. Even if you take D&C 132 to be scripture, it doesn’t add it up. The second problem is that the church has hidden all of this information for years. They’ve excommunicated people who said the same things they’ve written in the essays.

  100. And Audrey B, you seem to think that people who leave the church over this are doing so because they don’t get it and can’t handle the “grit”. I’m leaving the church because I think the least a church can do is stand up for what is right. It wasn’t on the right side of history on race, it’s not on the right side on women’s issues or homosexuality. The fact that they try to excuse marrying a 14 year old because it was culturally normal is absurd.

  101. “They’ve excommunicated people”

    I really don’t want to start any sort of tangent, but I keep seeing this claim, but when pressed, no one has come up with more than a single name, and aren’t entirely sure they can draw a straight line in that case.

  102. Fawn Brodie, Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson, D. Michael Quinn, Michael J. Barrett were all excommunicated for bringing this “grit” to light.

    Unfortunately, it’s the same grit that young girls and women have to live with today in the FLDS church. The “meat” of the doctrine doesn’t have quite the same mystique when you think of it in terms of real people enduring real abuse and hardship. But, Joseph Smith was a long time ago, so let’s give him a pass.

  103. Helen, it’s simply incorrect to say that all of those people you mention were excommunicated for saying the same things the Church is now saying in their essays. I get where you are coming from, but it doesn’t work well to exaggerate the issues on either side.

  104. Anon, for some of us who have relatively recently received threats from local leaders to be silent about things that are now found in the essays (such as polyandry and the age of some of JS wives) you appear absolutely clueless about certain aspects and tactics the Church has used to keep members and investigators ignorant (or “protected,” which ever you prefer). Bless your hearts all of you who think these essays came to light without preceding battles.

  105. Helen, it was normal to marry 14 year olds. Thank goodness for modern revelation and prophecy to adjust for our modern sensibilities. Have a nice day and I’ll hold the the door open for you on your way out.

    That kitschy phrase, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 takes new meaning in this context.

    One thing we learn from polygamy is that men are attracted to more than one woman in their life spans even after they are married. So are women. Polygamy provides an interesting experiment for us to evaluate these impulses for better or worse. Should we hide this information from the world? No. If we get serious about the scholarship on it, maybe we’ll learn some really interesting and surprising things.

    I think it’s healthy to get upset and grapple with real life for a while. Then realize that we have this history as a metaphor for our own messy lives. There are lots of marginalized groups in the church. That’s why we have BCC to help open our discussion waves and start talking about it.

    It doesn’t necessarily need to come from the main publicity arm of the church in the form of curriculum.

  106. mmiles, thanks for your words.

  107. I don’t know if it’s the information or the delivery, Manuel. I know a popular BYU professor regularly lectured in accurate detail about Joseph Smith’s polyandry more than twenty years ago. She had hundreds of students in her classes every semester and she’s still a mainstay of the Mormon lecture circuit and book publishing world.

    Yes, I realize that there were intense and bitter difficulties; but as Steve just noted, the story is more complicated than some of the comments would suggest.

  108. Audrey B, did you mean to say it was NOT normal to marry a 14 year old? Because it was not. Average marriage age in 1850 was 22. Age of menarche was 16.6 on average. While it may have been legal, that doesn’t mean it was common, and it certainly doesn’t mean it was moral. It was very uncommon.

  109. Steve, I’ve simplified the subject somewhat (because I’m writing a blog comment, not a post), but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say these people were excommunicated for trying to tell the truth about the church’s history.

    Audrey B, my argument was not that it wasn’t normal, but that it’s not right. I want my church to stand up for what is right, not make excuses for what is not. Worldwide, you could make an argument that it’s normal to marry 14 years olds TODAY. 14 year old girls getting married in Africa isn’t less wrong because it is normal in their culture.

    I’m pretty sure we don’t need polygamy to know that men & women can be attracted to more than one person. And “modern revelation” had nothing to do with figuring out that polygamy was no longer conducive to our “modern sensibilities”, it was all about self-preservation.

    I’m sure Fanny Alger, Helen Mar Kimball, and Nancy Winchester would be pleased that you can take the “messiness” of their lives & apply it as a beautiful metaphor for you to grapple with and grow.

  110. hawkgrrl,
    I said it WAS common. 22 was an average age meaning women much younger also got married. It usually occurred after the man’s first wife died in child birth. Usually it was a second wife. In those days a lot of women died, many in child birth. Some men thought that if they married younger, the woman might be stronger or be able to stay alive longer to have more children. When I say common I mean that it wasn’t unheard of or seen as outside a man’s rights like it is today. Girls weren’t expected to be educated past a certain point. What else were they going to do, thought some. If men didn’t marry 14 year olds during that time, it’s more likely because the 14 year old was too immature not because it wasn’t accepted. Women didn’t have a lot of power back then except in their bodies. To be mature enough for a man to want you when you are younger, would have been seen as positive for many. This, I think is similar to Mormon men who think it’s better to marry young 18 year olds for many of the same reasons-moldability, youth, longer youthful sex life, more children, control over the female. Mormon men who don’t marry 18 year olds usually don’t like how immature they are, not necessarily because they’re not attracted. 18 is the new 14 because of law and longer life spans of women.

    Joseph Smith didn’t do anything out of context. Like I said, he was a hot guy, great personality, and going to heaven. There are a lot of women that would sign up for that if they could. Oh wait-they did. This is not all just about Joseph’s control over women. We can’t conflate what we see in modern polygamy with Mormon polygamy in the 1850s. So what do we learn from this?

  111. Less than 1% of marriages in the 19th century involved 14 year olds… And I’d bet most of them weren’t marrying 37 year olds. I know they weren’t marrying 37 year olds with 30+ other wives.

    Joseph Smith was hot? Are you kidding me? If women were so eager to “sign up” why did he have to threaten them with their salvation and an angel with a flaming sword? Have you actually read any real accounts of polygamy?

  112. “I know a popular BYU professor regularly lectured in accurate detail about Joseph Smith’s polyandry more than twenty years ago.”

    Anon, I know a BYU professor who regularly taught racist views for decades even after those views had already been dismissed by the church. The day some of the teachings became known to the public, it all became an embarrassing PR scandal for BYU.

    Not to say the professor you are referring to is in the same situation since this is the exact opposite scenario; I am just saying, a lot goes on at BYU that at the end of the day makes me ask the question, is anyone paying attention?

    I think the issue lays more on how local leaders and some GA’s handle this type of situations.

  113. Audrey, I’m not cool with you welcoming people out of the Church if they have concerns about this stuff (“If someone wants to leave the church over polygamy, I’ll be there holding the door open.” at 11:30 a.m. and “Have a nice day and I’ll hold the the door open for you on your way out” at 1:55 p.m.).

    Some of what you’ve written is borderline. For one thing, it was NOT normal in the 1830s for a 37 year old to marry a 14 year old. It was almost as rare in the 1830s for a 14 year old to marry as it is today. That is a fact that has been born out in numerous studies of this exact question.

    The fact is that the way that the Church treated the question of Joseph Smith’s polygamy throughout much of the twentieth century, particularly the second half of the twentieth century, has led several generations of Mormons to be completely uninformed about the details of Joseph Smith’s implementation of polygamy. Since our grandparent’s time (1940s and 50s, corresponding to Fawn Brodie’s treatment), our grandparents, parents, and then our generation (and now Millennials) have stood boldly in defense of the character of Joseph Smith, defending him against what was believed to be anti-Mormon lies originating in the Nauvoo Expositor and perpetuated until today: that Joseph Smith married young girls, that he married additional women without Emma’s knowledge or against her wishes, that he married other men’s wives, sometimes when they were away on missions. The information available in correlated Church sources throughout that entire period, in particular the second half of the twentieth century, noted that Joseph Smith began and practiced polygamy (if you were among those readers who actually saw the isolated paragraph or two here or there in various and random Church manuals) but were completely silent on these details. In fact, at least two Church manuals during the period explicitly stated that the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed by the decree of the Nauvoo City Council because it was printing salacious lies about Joseph Smith and therefore was seen as a threat to public order. If you are someone who knew the substance of the material printed in the Expositor — that it was in large part these exact details though sensationalized and made even more lurid by detractors — then you would have the impression that the Church was denying that Joseph Smith did those things written in the Expositor.

    The paucity of the information available about the details in correlated Church sources was only half of the problem. The other half of the problem was that the Church very actively and vocally discouraged members from investigating outside sources of information about these and other issues, casting doubt on the veracity or trustworthiness of any unofficial source about Church history. Mormon historians who wrote about these issues and other problematic historical issues were labeled locally and sometimes at the general authority level as “apostates” or troublemakers and sometimes essentially pushed out of the Church. Now, building on the work of those very researchers, the Church has put all of these details on its own website, an official source.

    The combination of the two situations described above is what leads sincere Church members to feel betrayed by the Church on this matter. They often are people who literally argued either (1) that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy at all (and that it was instituted by Brigham Young) if they had not chanced upon the random paragraph in Church manuals mentioning Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy (or understood selections in D&C 132 that discuss it) or (2) that he absolutely DID NOT do those things that outside critics or interlocutors were accusing him of, namely marrying underaged girls, other men’s wives, many of them in secret without Emma’s knowledge or over her objections. Learning that he actually did those things can be a real blow to people who have courageously argued that he never did those things when people would attack their faith by bringing up those things.

    Even now, with these essays posted, a predominant reaction among Latter-day Saints that I’ve seen online is the tendency to argue that these extra marriages entered into by Joseph Smith did not include the sexual intimacy that is the hallmark of the marriage relationship. This reveals that these messy details about Joseph Smith’s implementation of polygamy are indeed a moral concern for even Mormons who are valiantly responding in an apologetic posture. It doesn’t make sense that a married holy man — a prophet — would be having sexual relationship with a 14 year old maid in his household, or with other men’s wives while they’re out on their missions, so elaborate arguments are being put forward that Joseph Smith did not have sexual relations with these extra wives. This shows that this information is very difficult for many Mormons to digest. That is why I am not pleased about the attitude that you are displaying in reaction to them. I think that Kristine’s empathetic reaction is more called for.

    Many of us have known about these details for quite some time, having read the historical outside treatments of the period and the issues that many or most Mormons understood implicitly to be discouraged by the Church. Those who obeyed what they believed to be the Church’s preference or even mandate to avoid such outside sources of information should not now be treated rudely for their obedience (and for their feelings of betrayal that they are now experiencing because of that obedience to avoid seeking information about these things from outside sources, which were the only places that this information could be found during the period).

    It simply will not do to say that it is these people’s own fault for not seeking out information that they had no reason to believe existed, especially while they were in the process of explicitly denying that these things were true when they were raised by people arguing against the faith.

  114. “Joseph Smith didn’t do anything out of context.” If the argument is that his actions were somehow normal in the context of his culture, well, that’s just patently absurd. Moving on.

  115. Everything about polygamy was completely out of context in the 1830s on the American frontier. It very strongly transgressed moral norms and directly led to much of the persecution suffered by the Mormons in Nauvoo and during the entire territorial period in Utah.

  116. it's a series of tubes says:

    Age of menarche was 16.6 on average.

    Might want to be careful throwing that statistic around. The Tanner study in question suffers from, shall we say, various statistical shortcomings.

    A wealth of evidence suggest that as far back as classical times, the age in question has commonly fallen in the 12-15 year period with, depending on various factors such as ethnicity, opportunity for appropriate nutrition, etc.

    It’s generally a bad idea to attempt to twist science to say “See! Icky!”

  117. I’ll only chime in briefly, but I am a history teacher in a Utah High School. In over twenty years, I’ve had several high school students who knew nothing about plural marriage. Most were familiar with the issue. The topic is brought up by students in world history and U.S. history classes and I readily address it. I am no apologist, and I feed them straight historical facts. The kids do fine. I’ve been blasted by a full-time seminary teacher or two, but that just improved my reputation with the teens. In all of these years, I’ve seen no apostasies because of that issue. Teens are more than capable of dealing with difficult issues and nuanced interpretations of those issues.

  118. “Teens are more than capable of dealing with difficult issues and nuanced interpretations of those issues.”

    Completely agree with that — I think it was a mistake for us as a culture to try to avoid having members come into contact with the facts of the implementation of polygamy. That is what has led to this feeling many have of being blindsided by this information.

  119. ““Teens are more than capable of dealing with difficult issues and nuanced interpretations of those issues.”

    I like it.

    I think Church members in general are able to handle a lot of this information. The bigger issue seems to be that of transparency, coupled with the desire to get all Mormons on the same page vis a vis the rightness/wrongness of polygamy and its implementation. For me, I think the healthiest approach would be one that allows for a range of faithful interpretations. But the thread here is getting long and I don’t have time to police it anymore. So we should probably close up shop. Any last words?

  120. Audrey,
    “Women didn’t have a lot of power back then except in their bodies.”
    Oy vey.

    It’s a Series of Tubes,
    Because she menstruates it makes it less icky???

  121. john f.
    You mistake me sir. I am actually quite liberal. I believe that an honest person who left Mormonism because they couldn’t bear the thought of a leader having sex with a 14 year old will be fine in the next life. I am sure when we meet our Creator he will understand that concern. Imagine what you could do with 3 more hours on Sunday, etc.

    I actually am a trained historian with a degree in history. I am a member of several historical associations and attend their conferences.

    I’m just not that worried that men and women want to have sex with each other and when the traditional limitations were gone, they experimented in all sorts of ways. This happens today as well.

    There’s not enough quality scholarly research, in my opinion, to get tied up in knots about it. Still quite a few avenues to explore. But the more I explore and ask questions, the less worried I am. That’s me. I’ll hold the door open because I’m just not sure why someone would want to stay if it’s really as bad as they are saying. It’s fine with me. I love people who are not Mormons.

  122. For me this has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Don’t assume that everyone who writes at or reads BCC is “liberal” in the narrow definition of contemporary American politics.

  123. “One thing we learn from polygamy is that men are attracted to more than one woman in their life spans even after they are married. So are women.”


  124. “Teens are more than capable of dealing with difficult issues and nuanced interpretations of those issues.”

    That, in a nutshell, is why open and honest and balanced teaching of our history is far better than not doing so. We all need to become adults of God, as a friend of mine once said, and not teaching our history, with all of its warts, only perpetuates childhood when childhood ought to be put away.

  125. I have a question for those whose basic assumption is that the Church has been deliberately hiding all this information. Who in Church leadership do you think knew the names and dates and numbers, and had a solid grasp of the context of plural marriage in the Nauvoo era? How did they come by this information? Certainly not by personal experience — then how? Who in Church leadership can you imagine sitting down to type, or dictate, the published essay a year or two ago? Even if you go through the essays line by line and say, “Well, this was known — see Quinn” and “This was known — see Compton” and on and on, that’s only half the job; in fairness, you have to go through all those same sources and identify points that were not included in the posted essays because they were not verifiable. Weeding out misinformation and “facts” that are not supported by the historical record can be as difficult (and require the highest research and evaluation skills) as confirming assumed facts. Why is it so hard to believe that somebody has, for the first time, scoured all available records and learned, confirmed, or disproven enough to write those essays for the first time?

    Granted, if that’s the case, we can all wish they had done that 10 or 20 or 50 years ago. We can also wish that what was reliably known — Joseph did practice plural marriage, even though we don’t know who or how many or exactly what his relationship was, etc. — had been presented more openly and more often. But it’s hard to fault people for not teaching something they didn’t understand themselves while maintaining any veneer of reasonableness yourself. Once you say “Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage” and “here are the names of a few of his wives,” then people start asking questions that couldn’t have been answered all that reliably very long ago — how many wives in all? why? when? did they have a physical relationship? does that include Fanny Alger? You think you know the answers to all those questions now, but the “answers” provided by Brodie and Quinn and Compton, et al., have not proven to be as reliable as we demand from the official Church.

    As for [not] discussing plural marriage in Sunday School, use your imagination. Who in your ward do you believe knew enough, and was well enough grounded in the gospel and early Church history, to teach such a lesson? What kind of comments — weird? distasteful? fundamentalist? ignorant? condescending? speculative? just plain wrong? — would you expect your current Sunday School class members to make? There has been more than one commenter in this thread who considers him/herself an expert that I could not have stomached as a teacher on the issue of historical plural marriage! I wasn’t competent to teach it last year, and even with the help of these essays I don’t know that I have the strong presence as a teacher to rein in the uglier and more speculative pronouncements I would expect from those who come to my class now.

    I hope you don’t find this too off-topic, BHodges. I’m trying to address — in too many words — the complaints of people who seem to think a deliberate coverup is the only possible reason for the paucity of items on your checklist.

  126. My takeaway is that you can’t conflate modem polygamy with polygamy in the 19th century because careful examination of the issues shows that Joseph Smith is way hotter than Warren Jeffs. That, and if you tell people about these issues in their teens it’ll be easier for them to put aside childish notions that coercing young girls into sexual relationships based on your position in a church is wrong. Very intellectually and morally stimulating discussion.

  127. Ardis, just to clarify, my comment s not meant to suggest such a deliberate hiding of information. Rather, it is about deemphasizing the issue more or less entirely aside from isolated references to the fact of Joseph Smith’s polygamy (though not the details) in a few manuals, probably out of a combination of discomfort with the matter and a good faith determination (miscalculation) along the way that details about the matter were not relevant to the faith lives of members. As it turns out, people do find it relevant to know about this when making decisions to devote their entire lives to the church and great personal social cost (less social cost on the Wasatch Front, obviously).

  128. Helen, if any of that last comment was directed at my comment (since you quoted from mine), it is not at all what I meant. Not. At. All. In fact, it pretty much is exactly opposite of what I meant.

  129. I am so hurt and angry. I was not told about polygamy before I become baptized (I am a convert). After I was baptized a friend told me that LDS practice polygamy. I told her it was a lie. When I found out the truth I was devastated. I attempted to discuss it with a bishop and a friend who told me it was all anti lies.

    I did not know what to think. I had not read BoM or D&C in thier entirety before I was baptized and I was so confused. I knew a little about polgamy but no one would discuss it with me. After being sealed I n the temple (another fact I was not prepared for) I spent months crying and fighting with my husband about polygamy. Iwas so suicidal.

    For years I have pretended and hid on the internet looking for information and support. I am so angry and confused. There is no difference between what warren jeffs did and joseph smith did. I would call the police if a 30 something old man tried to marry my daughter. It makes me physical ill.

    I love Jesus so much. Ihave faith in our Lord. I cannot believe he would take away our agency and compel us with the threat of violence to do something so repugnant and harmful. This is contrary to what I was taught about the war and satan’s plan.

    Anything that drives away the spirit is not of god. Polygamy drives away the spirit. It is not of god. I am so scared for my daughters and for myself right now. I do not know what to do. And when i read the contemptuous and hateful posts by so-called saints who gleefully display their disdain and impatience for converts like me who grew up outside of Utah I don’t believe I belong here anymore. What happened to mourning with those who mourn and comforting those in need of comfort. I am mourning and there is no comfort. Just isolation and pain.

    Please for the love of our savior please be kinder gentler and more understanding for people like me who are struggling and want to stay. So many people just want to show us the door and it really sucks.

  130. Ray, I apologize. Thanks for clarifying. While I don’t appreciate some of the mental gymnastics that goes on trying to make sense of all this, I appreciate that you were coming from a good place and in my frustration with the whole subject, I was too snarky (although I still can’t believe I’m the only person that called Audrey B on her comment that Joseph Smith was hot).

    MD, much love to you. I mourn with you.

  131. John f, I have no real disagreement with anything you say — yes, it is relevant, and yes, it would have been all-things-good to have learned about and talked about it consistently throughout the years. But even to say there was a “deemphasis” implies that there was a time more recently than 1890 or 1904 (pick any date you like) when teaching about plural marriage was emphasized. When was that?

    My only point is to ask who you think was qualified to teach about plural marriage in recent generations? Do you want Audrey B. to have been teaching it? Helen? Me? (I wasn’t qualified — it’s one thing to say I knew the things listed in BHodges’ post; it’s something else again to pretend I knew the names and dates, much less the why or how, or had a coherent narrative to teach). I wish we’d gone to work much, much sooner to learn what we reliably know now, and to talk openly about it. But I’m not so sure we would have solved any problem at all by talking about it the way it’s been discussed in the media or by commenters (bloggers themselves have generally done much better) in the absence of recent scholarship.

    I realize I’m a minority of 1 and will let it drop now. But I’m a *practical* minority, at least.

  132. MD, I was feeling the same and then I read that Heber C. Kimball told one of the wive’s husbands that his wife was not his but Joseph’s and had always been his before this life in the pre-mortal world. We don’t remember here what happened there. We lived for ages and surely relationships were already in place prior to this life. JS married certain females of varying ages from 14-57. That suggests they were certain specific females–not all women or all teenagers. No, JS married them
    in the few years before his death because he knew they were his familal relationships from before this world –he recognized them spiritually–and he had a short time span to get his eternal family sealed before he died. It does not matter how young or old they were in this life –this is an eternal thing and we are all probably a billion years old no matter what our current age happens to be in 2014. Sometimes we someone in life and we know we knew them before this life. And once you’ve experienced that type of connection, it makes this easier to comprehend.

  133. Let’s begin, Ardis, with my qualifications to talk about polygamy. Because I am writing a non-fiction book about Mormons in Asia between 1852-1856, I have made it my business to study polygamy. I have read primary documents including the 1852 Special Conference in Aug which announced polygamy, all the main players’ in my book journals both from their own hand and second hand witnesses. I have toured the homes of polygamists with the Mormon History Association and spoken with some of the foremost researchers in the field about statistics and stories, some of whose work is not yet published but in the works. I have my own family’s history of polygamy to draw from.

    I work weekly with an agnostic non-Christian originated author who is working on a book about polyandry and is a licensed psychiatrist studying the dynamics of polyandry and love, etc.

    I have attended lectures by an Imam about Islamic polygamy. I speak Arabic and lived in the Middle East three times in two different countries where polygamy is normal.

    I have studied briefly Chinese polygamy and speak Mandarin.

    Because I am doing the book I have also looked into other culture’s polygamy such as Burmese and Indian practices of polygamy, though I am still working on this part of the research.

    In this thread I have mostly kept my knowledge and where it originates to myself, instead focusing on the fact that from my vantage point and the work I have done with polygamy, I can safely say that there is not enough research and quality research to make any determinations or get worried about Mormon polygamy in the 1840s-1890s, I did make one comparative analysis further up in this thread which is a hypothesis and based on what I know from both Asian polygamy and Mormon polygamy, I think it’s definitely worth looking at. I personally am not interested in distinguishing myself as a writer on polygamy, though I do need to have the concept and practice solid in my head to be able to write intelligently about it in my book.

  134. MD,
    I am sorry to have caused some pain for you on this thread. I think we all, especially us women, have a moment of pure fear, frustration and anger when we find out more about polygamy within the church. I have experienced it and seen others experience it. I have passed through that and feel comfortable on the other side but many others are still walking the scary road in deciding where they want to go with this knowledge.

    We all play roles in this. It looks like john f may be a better person to reach out in love and succor those who are not sure whether to stay or not. Kristine has written a wonderful post on tolerance and love as well. I think we all care about you and we need you in our church so I hope you and Helen and all the others will stay.

    I would like to leave the hugging and the consoling words to others who perhaps are more apt at understanding and consoling at this time. I would like to propose instead a vision of how cool this church and its doctrine really is which means that those who reject the church or my vision are welcome to do so (and leave out the door). That doesn’t mean I don’t hope you stay.

    Our Heavenly Parents rule the entire earth not just the Western hemisphere. We should expect that our conceptions about what is right and wrong are molded from our childhoods and may not be as expansive as a being in charge of the entire universe. He not only speaks English. He speaks Mandarin and Arabic and the hundreds of dialects in India and Africa etc. He knows them even better than they know them. Do you think he’s just left them all these centuries? I love them too much to believe that could possibly be true.

    Which leads me to believe and easily accept that some of their practices may come from him but have become distorted through apostasy just like our Christian doctrines were distorted through apostasy. I am excited about Heavenly Parents who challenge the very foundation of my thinking about right and wrong. Monogamy is very messy. Polygamy, to some people, solves problems that arise from monogamy and creates others. There is much abuse in monogamy and there is no denying there is abuse in polygamy. The very existence of polygamy and the thought that our Heavenly Parents might have sanctioned it in ancient times as well as modern to me is an acknowledgement by heaven that attraction and sex is not limited to one person and that it is very complicated who we love and who we mate with in this life. This is a being who understands our inner cores not just a Christian church who makes us feel better about what we already believe.

    I think it might be important to tell all members and converts that although polygamy may have been a revelation to many after they were baptized, we all should fully expect that in a living breathing church which believes in modern revelation, we may continue to receive bomb shells in the future. The question still comes down to the basics. Did Joseph Smith actually see what he said he saw because that is even more of a bomb shell than polygamy in my estimation. If he did see what he saw and he was a prophet then we should expect information and knowledge that is beyond our comprehensions from him and from our current prophet. “My ways are not your ways, etc”

    But we should also see Joseph Smith as a working class farmer with low education. If a divine being tells him to do something but gives little instructions, we should expect him to act like a working class farmer with little education in the historical context in which he found himself would in carrying out that instruction.

    I love being Mormon. I love the richness of the religion. I am pretty liberal–I’m not assuming anyone else on this thread is liberal or hasn’t read primary sources or is going to hell if they still feel that what Joseph Smith is so wrong they can’t stay, etc. I like being elastic and not getting stuck on any one point but instead trying to open my mind to take in new ideas. There’s nothing to cry about if someone leaves. That may be their own journey. Perhaps someone needs to take a breather for a while before they are ready to come back. Ok. I’m all about space and breathers so I’ll hold the door open but I’ll also open the door wide if or when you come back.

  135. Audrey B., my comment concerned teaching about plural marriage (not teaching, but teaching about) in a devotional setting. That you think a knowledge of Burmese polygamy, an MHA post-conference tour, and the possession of Mandarin-speaking skills is relevant to such a calling is remarkable.

    I wish you well, but I would run like hell from your Gospel Doctrine class.

  136. it's a series of tubes says:

    It’s a Series of Tubes,
    Because she menstruates it makes it less icky???

    No. My post was simply to show that it is NOT this: “Because a flawed study claimed she was unlikely to menstruate, it was icky”.

    There’s plenty of reasons for modern sensibilities to find ick, but no reason to use data or make claims that are simply wrong. It’s unhelpful in any discussion, regardless of topic.

  137. it's a series of tubes says:

    Also, seeing Ardis post here at BCC again makes my freaking day.

  138. Since the OP is about church resources, I don’t think this is too much of a tangent. As I mentioned briefly on Juvenile Instructor the other day, sometime in the 1980s my husband’s great uncle decided to practice plural marriage. In the process he broke up several families and created great hardship for a number of innocent women and children.

    Is it really possible that we could have extended discussions about plural marriage at church and not create collateral damage?

    So, there’s the sadness expressed by MD over not knowing enough about plural marriage (sorry about that) but what problems might arise if we discussed plural marriage more in a church setting? Don’t people in the Bloggernacle tend to complain regularly about the problems that arise from discussing pornography too much? Is it possible that the more the Church talked about polygamy, the more situations would arise like the great uncle’s?

    How does an institution balance the needs of the new convert, the member with fundamentalist tendencies, the teenager in the information age, the black-and-white thinker who can’t deal with nuance, or as we’ve seen here, the person who would try to solve the problem by turning on a fire hose of information?

  139. “What kind of comments — weird? distasteful? fundamentalist? ignorant? condescending? speculative? just plain wrong? — would you expect your current Sunday School class members to make?” I agree with Ardis’ comments here. Most wards can’t talk about Goliath or Noah or Job or the Proclamation without devolving into something weird, ignorant or speculative. Any ward discussion on polygamy would be a complete train wreck, partly because polygamy itself is inherently problematic. On the flipside, though, we shouldn’t be presenting a monogamous devoted family portrait of Joseph & Emma that just ain’t so. Let’s at least agree that they had a rocky relationship and not portray it at all if we can’t be truthful (and it is incredibly complex, so truthful is a high bar).

  140. Kevin Barney says:

    I love the paintings at the Nauvoo Family Inn and Suites of Joseph tenderly brushing Emma’s hair.

  141. MD—P.S. The word sealing is not synomous with marriage. All marriages are sealings but not all sealings are marriages. We are sealed to our children, aunts, uncles, etc. and there is no sex.
    JS may have “remembered” certain females from the pre mortal world and that they already had a familial relationship formed there that needed to be made eternal here in this life. Being sealed to those females, he also would be sealed to their parents and husbands if they were eternally sealed as well. He seems to have been sealing people to him as his eternal family.

  142. MD, I was born and raised in Utah and I feel hurt and angry too, not because the facts were hidden from me, but because they were presented with incredibly heavy indoctrination from the time I was a very small child. I knew Joseph was a polygamist, but I was taught that it just showed how righteous and faithful he had to have been to do something so foreign and painful for him. I was taught that Emma was much less faithful and that is why she rejected the polygamy and, ultimately, the Church (no one felt it necessary to talk about the fact that so much of it happened behind her back). I was told the story of Vilate Kimball over and over, how she had a vision of glory given to her, but the story of Helen Mar was rarely spoken about. It took me a long time to be able to work through that indoctrination and see things for what they were. I absolutely do not believe that polygamy is of God and I am repulsed by the way it is defended. I just want you to know that you are not alone and I am so sorry that this doctrine was not disclosed to you before your baptism.

  143. WestBerkeleyFlats says:

    The LDS church is merely experiencing some blowback from choosing for several decades to present to its members a very sanitized version of its history that resembles something out of Disney film. Members can’t have an honest discussion about Smith’s polygamy in church, not because they aren’t equipped to have such a discussion, but because the church isn’t prepared to allow honest and open consideration that Smith was not commanded to do so in the same way that the church is not prepared for discussion that the Book of Mormon is not a history of ancient peoples. The Community of Christ took a more honest path, but it probably cost them in terms of membership and growth.

  144. Disappointed TBM says:

    A succinct way I’ve explained to my family and friends my frustration with the LDS Church’s treatment of polygamy is that I’ve know since childhood that JS and BY practiced polygamy, but I didn’t know that their practice of it was significantly different (in a perverse and bad way) from the doctrine outlined in D&C 132. It is incorrect for church manuals to claim that our doctrine of plural marriage is found in D&C 132 because our church did not follow key principles in D&C 132 (for example, polygamous wives should be virgins, the first wife must consent). That, along with the dishonestly by early church leaders in deceiving members and nonmembers regarding the practice, are what bother me most about polygamy.

  145. You might like this blog-post on Polygamy vs the Book of Mormon: http://gregstocks.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/polygamy-vs-the-book-of-mormon/

  146. The fundamental problem is the church’s need to withhold information and truth, and–at best–obfuscate and hedge about the history and origins of the church. It began with me as I studied the revisions changes of important revelations by Joseph Smith as they transitioned from the Book of Commandments to the Doctrine and Covenants. Some of the dates had not jibed with the stories, causing people to scratch their heads over them. When the D&C was published, these dates were merely changed to jibe with the stories. This research led me to see that, indeed, the need to revise flawed history, as well as to change the narrative and important facts was endemic and systematic in the church. For instance, we all believed (because it was published as such) that polygamy was discontinued in 1890. But then I found that Wilford Woodruff married another polygamous wife in 1897, and that in 1904 the church was forced to acknowledge that, no, it had not discontinued polygamy but had only hoped they would not be found out.

    What one knows about polygamy is largely related to when they grew up. I’m 65. I grew up during a time when we were not allowed to talk about or otherwise acknowledge Emma Smith. We all knew that story about Smith saying he would go to the depths of hell for Emma, but if we asked about what was up with that, we were hushed; we were not to speak about Emma. She was a mystery, and like any other LDS mystery, it was to be “sorted out in the hereafter. But then the team of Avery and Newell came along and published a nice historical essay of Emma Smith, and it proved wildly popular, so the church had to create a new narrative about Emma. A couple of years later she was recast as the Holy Mother of Mormonism. I also grew up in the LDS world where Smith was NOT a polygamist, but BY was. I grew up in the world where polygamy was somehow “necessary” to populate Mormonism, and “only practiced by 2% of the male population,” and that “the first wife had to consent.” Like anything else Mormon, the church was only able to get about 30% participation, but Young was wanted all to participate. When anyone refused, they stood in real danger that the Law of Consecration would be imposed and that the church would confiscate their property.

    So it’s not unusual for a person not to know these things, but is more related to just when an LDS person was coming of age. Joseph Smith being polygamous is a real surprise for someone in my day. Joseph Smith marrying other men’s wives and young girls is a surprise to anyone. Joseph Smith taking polygamist and polyandrist wives before issuance of Sec. 132 would actually pit him against the very laws of the LDS church. In short, Smith would meet the rules of excommunication in today’s church.

  147. Brother Hodges, I am hoping you see this in the long list of comments. But could you email me? I would like to ask you a question.

  148. You can contact me at blairdhodges at gmail dot com.

  149. I was born in the covenant to a bishop/stake president/mission president family. We read scriptures every morning before school, and then finished four years of seminary. I went on a mission, married in the temple, was an EQP, and then one day read the book “In Sacred Lonilenss.” I then rereread D&C 132 and Jacob 2. I talked to my bishop, and Stake Pres about what I read. I was told: 1. anyone saying Joseph Smith married teens, other men’s wives, etc was an anti–mormon liar; and 2. if I talked to anyone else about this I would be asking for church discipline.

    As I sit here now, I am watching people in the church say “its no big deal, we always knew this.” That is a total lie. We weren’t told this. It was hidden from us by design.

    How is the church to be trusted? How are they any different from the government in Orwell’s 1984, who went back and changed facts in newspapers? Will the church tell us that we have always sent missionaries to Eastasia next? (before you read the BoM, read 1984. Its worth the time).

  150. “As I sit here now, I am watching people in the church say “its no big deal, we always knew this.” That is a total lie. We weren’t told this. It was hidden from us by design.”

    Correction. You weren’t told this. I was. Many were. The church may have not done a good job emphasizing this, causing some leaders to say the things your leaders did. But universalizing your experience, saying that it was hidden by design from everyone, is just as inaccurate as saying that the church was completely open about every detail of polygamy. The truth is, the church did not emphasize every detail, far from it, and some local leaders who were lazy and/or dishonest in their approach to these issues, denied the most unpleasant truths. But the fact that Joseph Smith had many wives was never covered up at the church-wide level. It was in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, for example. It sucks that your leaders approached this in such a lazy way, but don’t pretend your experience is the only one.

  151. I have not made a comment on this site for a while; the reason I am not part of the LDS church. But I really enjoy this site, the thoughtfulness and spirit. I particularly enjoy Blair’s reviews and thoughts. From my point of view we must be careful not to judge others in the past by our standards. Who of us would accept a military General telling us “God told me to kill everyone and everything.” as Joshua claimed? Of course contemporaries of Joseph both within and out of the movement judged him as wrong, but those who followed his teachings to Utah did not.
    When I look at Mormonism: I see quite an amazing series of GOOD FRUIT. You have a positive view of humanity if I understand it correctly. We were all once on the same side against Satan, we wanted to come here and we are in some family! We are encouraged to seek and learn all levels of truth, look at the highly educated persons you have among you. Salvation is possible for all, and some goodness for those who haven’t embraced the total faith.
    Joseph is complicated and out right disappointing at times, but name one person besides Jesus who isn’t when we really learn about them? I have no doubt like others that Joseph got caught up in his own legend so to speak. Yet I find what he produced is no way small or corrupt, and I stand quite amazed.
    Finally if I understand the faith correctly prophets of LDS have now proclaimed it is no longer a part of your faith and not to be taught or practiced. So why waste you curriculum material on something that is no longer taught? Do you still teach how to kill everyone in the city you conquer? Not hardly. I hurt for all the self hurt that I seem to read. Is Joseph perfect, hardly, but leaving good fruit, well amazing.

  152. Tom, thanks for that. It’s good to hear your thoughtful perspective.

  153. Tom, we do continue to practice polygamy in the temple. Men who are widowed or divorced may be sealed to more than one woman, living or deceased. If a divorced or widowed woman desires to be sealed in the temple for a new marriage, she must cancel her previous sealing. Men do not have to take that step. They have to obtain a clearance for the additional sealing, but they don’t have to cancel prior sealings.

  154. Thank you for that clarification I suspected that. Just a quick story My wife and I visited Palmyra NY and did the LDS sites. When it was known that we were not members, the conversation that ensued was interesting. We were shown a emotionally charged movie of the possibility of the loved one dying in an accident and asked directly if we believed in eternal families. I said I felt we were ok for eternity and that was that. But afterward I said to my wife if we believed that then it must be possible for persons be married to more than one person in eternity. As you know I am not LDS and I don’t wont taken wrong’ but eternal families is the least appealing teaching that I have encountered. Im hoping we are so different that we wont see or treat each other as these earthly relationships. Thanks again!

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