Face to Face

Those of you who don’t know me may be surpirsed to learn that I’m not actually a young adult (I haven’t been one of those for decades now). But (while watching my Bears play the Packers) I decided to crash the Face to Face event this evening emanating from across from the temple in Nauvoo. Elder Cook presided and led the event; I was particularly interested to hear what historians Kate Holbrook (Sam’s favorite person on the planet) and Matt Grow would have to say. They had time to respond to nine questions. What follows are simply my raw notes, with no real attempt to try to fill them in from memory.

Elder Cook begins by describing Saints (the new book). Imperfect people (God can work through). Thousands of questions received.  Only time to answer a few. Introduses Kate and Matt.

1. Church hiding history–why not more open about controversial things?

Kate: Own experience. Only child. Learned from mother, grandmother (they were docents in the Beehive House). Learned about BY polygamy; later learned of JS polygamy. Wouldn’t learn of seerstones until an adult. Church didn’t hide, but not emphasized. Learned the main work of the Church. (There was a Friend article on seerstones, but she never saw it.)  Saints, Gospel Topics Essays should  help.

Matt: dynamic: some has available, others not, unfortunately. We know a lot more now than we used to. Information age has been challenging; information can appear on social media feeds. JSPP. Has worked for Church History Department for 8 years. Never told to hide anything, but how can we make accessible, available, understandable. Balance between questions and answers to these questions. Intent is to be as transparent as possible.

2. As Church becomes more global, how will we include other areas of the world? Missionaries went out immediately, all over the world. You’re part of our history wherever you are.

3. Information age–what are we to believe, trust? Limits of Google searches. What are good resources? Challenge is not to find answers, but to discern. Central task of the historian. So many online discussions–more heat than light. Should be based on records of people themselves, be fair to them. Easy to manipulate the past. The past is a foreign country. Need a lot of charity. 100 new online essays now available “Church History Topics.”  Including more women’s history–not just for women, but for all. Trying to tell the stories of a global church. Saints reads like a novel, but based on sources.

4. Received many questions re: polygamy.

Kate: Obviously a big Q. Talked about her own ancestors. It was not an easy life. Honored to descend from those women. Examples of faith. Jacob 2:30 (rare explanation). 1841 begins to introduce to truted associates. Shocked. Received witnesses. Practiced about 50 years. Numbers incomplete, but a minority. [I was writing very quickly and can’t read my notes.] What does it mean for afterlife? Not necessary for exaltation. Honors those who practiced. Refers to Saints for more details about practice.

Distinguish time and eternity. About creating links. Revelation to practice did not come with an instruction manual. A lot of sacrifice. Many received own revelations. We should honor those who practiced, but it served its purpose and is no longer necessary.

5. First Vision. Why different accounts?

Four from JS. Differences. Longest in 1838 to explain rise of the Church, so that’s the one we use. Became part of the PoGP. If complete uniformity, would be suspicious. Not how memory works. Hard to capture a sacred experience in language. Should celebrate that we have multiple accounts. Read the accounts; read the essays.

6. Significance of Kirtland temple. Dedication. Visions. Keys restored.

7. Translation of BoM. Did JS translate or receive by revelation? Role of urim and thummim?

Kate shows a first edition BoM they brought. (Elder Cook asks if people know how much that’s worth–reason they sent it with Kate and not him or Matt. Funny bit.) “By gift and power of God.” We’d like more detail, but that’s the gist of what we have. Know a little more from scribes and friends. At first Joseph tried a scholarly approach; studied characters, sent them to scholars for evluation. didn’t get anywhere. Moved to a revelatory approach. Seerstone. When he resumed translating, would start immediately where left off, did not need to be reminded of where they were. Orson Pratt encountered JS while doing translating JST, no seerstone, why not? Abilities had advanced, didn’t need it anymore. What matters are the lessons we learn, King Benjamin, charity, etc. Important for us to have a personal testimony of the BoM.

8. YAs face a lot of opposition. Pioneers remained strong; how can we follow their example?  Story of Emma carrying JST manuscript sewn into her dress, holding on to children, trying not to fall as she crossed the river.

[Funny blooper: Elder Cook mentioned visiting Carthage earlier in the day where the Savior (sic) was martyred. Oops! No one there seemed to let on that they had noticed the unintentional gaffe.]

JS was in Liberty Jail while this was going on. Feeling abandoned. Read D&C 121-3. Review story in Saints.

9. Final question. What event of the Restoration has most strengthened your testimony?

Kate: Lot to choose from. The Gift of the Holy Ghost. Unlike us, Joseph and Oliver had to wait to receive it. The HG is the “language of revelation.” President Nelson encourages us to learn that language, take your questions to Lord in prayer, then listen. Write your impressions down. (“It’s not a vending machine.”) Hope you will find in Church history. In many ways the early Church was a church of young adults.

Matt: For him it’s the temple. Saints finished the Nauvoo temple, even though they knew they would have to abandon it, it was that important to them.

For Elder Cook it’s three things. First, the BoM.

Second,  the ordinances of the Church, When someone becomes the Prophet, his heart turns in a more serious way to the ordinances of the temple.

And finally, the Apostolic witness of JC.




  1. I can’t be the only woman moved to tears hearing Kate Holbrook, a female historian, sitting next to an apostle, describe the history of polygamy, and teach that polygamy was an exception, not the rule, and not required for exaltation. I’m only 34 but even I recognize how much progress that represents. I thought the whole thing was great. Feeling very grateful tonight.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah tapping Kate for this event was simply brilliant. To her substantive knowledge you add her genuiness, sensitivity and authenticity—a toough combination to try to replicate.

  3. “Not necessary for exaltation”?? A statement of 21c doctrine? Or descriptive of 19c teaching? If the latter I need to read on.

  4. All things considered, I thought both Kate and Matt did a phenomenal job. I agree that Kate talking about polygamy was significant, especially mentioning how two of her ancestors were not treated well as plural wives. The other thing I appreciated was sharing that she did not learn about seerstones until she was an adult (even though there was a Friend article that mentioned them when she was 2, but she missed that one).

  5. Kristin Brown says:

    I always look forward to your notes. Thank you for taking the time to write and post them for us. I had other meetings and was sad I had to miss the event. After reading your notes I will watch tomorrow for FHE. Great answers to some tough questions. Personally, I think “Saints” is the best book the church has produced in a long time. It is compelling. Does anyone know who wrote “Saints”?

  6. Mormon Heretic says:

    Thanks for your notes Kevin. I didn’t go and now you made me wish I did.

  7. Kristin Brown, the writers are listed at the front of the book. For Volume 1, they are Scott A. Hales, James Goldberg, Melissa Leilani Larson, Elizabeth Palmer Maki, Steven C. Harper, and Sherilyn Farnes.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    That was one of the smart decisions made in the production of Saints. Instead of just leaving the writing to the historians, they had actual English stylists on the team.

    (For anyone interested in my notes from the session on the production of Saints at the recent MHA, do a search in the search box for MHA Boise and scroll down.)

  9. Laura Nesbitt Lowe says:

    Hey, thanks for these notes! I enjoy your posts.

  10. Thank you for the notes! You’ve inspired me to watch the video.

  11. Sounds like a lot of revisionist history on display there. To assert that polygamy was some peripheral activity is as disingenuous (or self-deluded) as saying there is no racism in the BoM.

  12. Mike, they didn’t say it was “peripheral,” only that it was a minority of the Saints who practiced it, which is true.

  13. Last Lemming says:

    it was a minority of the Saints who practiced it, which is true.

    I’ll be interested to hear the precise wording of that claim. If it is as Kristine asserts (that is, “a minority of Saints who practiced it”), then it is a trivial claim. Even if every adult male in the Church “practiced” polygamy by having more than one wife, that would still constitute a minority of Saints.

    Did a minority of adult men have more than one wife? Probably, if only because the surplus of women was not sufficient to support more polygamy.

    Did a minority of Saints live in polygamous households? Probably not. All those wives and children add up quickly.

  14. “YAs face a lot of opposition. Pioneers remained strong; how can we follow their example? Story of Emma carrying JST manuscript sewn into her dress, holding on to children, trying not to fall as she crossed the river.”

    That’s an ironic example of enduring to the end in the face of opposition when you consider it. No harsh judgement needed, but when the opposition hit a certain point, Emma bowed out. Not sure I’d use her as an example. It doesn’t nothing to diminish her great contribution – which we might not have had the Prophet’s works without her.

    But in this case of the question, wouldn’t it be like telling someone, “When things get tough, remember the opposition Signed Rigdon faced and endure to the end like him!” Well… He certainly did his part too, for which I’m thankful.

    When the going got tough, both the former fell away; I hope the YSAs raise their sights a little.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    This is an old and issue and one subject to manipulation, which is perhaps part of why Kate didn’t go into detail. As a boy in a talk over the pulpit I cited 2-4% as the number who practiced it. I got that number from a book I found, called something like Mormonism in the Modern World, which actually turned out to be an antagonistic book, but I was just a boy at the time so what did I know. To get a number like that the numerator is men only, which is obviously not the way most people think of it and is inherently misleading. To be meaningful you’ve got to define what goes in the numerator and what goes in the denominator (and the fact there is variability in time and space also complicates things). More recent and scholarly estimates I’ve seen are more like 25%, which I think refers to persons living in polygamous households. So I think she was right not to give a specific number but to say broadly it was a minority.

  16. Thank you for these notes, Kevin. I wasn’t able to watch the broadcast but I’ve been seeing a lot of positive chatter about it on social media.

    From my acquaintance with households in 19th century Utah and the available literature last time I looked, most by Kathryn Daynes and Ben Bennion and a few others, there would have been communities and points in time where the total population living in polygamous households was higher than fifty percent, but that would have been fairly unusual for the entire ~1841 to ~1904 experience over the entire population of the Church, and would have depended on efforts like the 1856/7 Reformation or the St. George Temple dedication to get the numbers that high in any given community. Good luck compiling statistics, though, since you’d have to combine a close knowledge of the members of every household in a community, have access to temple records, and have a good understanding of the different kinds of sealings.

    But, like every part of history, it’s a complicated story. It was possible to be a full-fledged member of the Church, a temple worker even, and not be in a plural marriage. Two-thirds of a sample I did of 61 female temple workers in St. George were in plural marriages—a high number—but the other third was not, and seemed to do fine without. For those who were involved, sometimes the system worked fine, particularly in cases where the wives got along and the husband could provide for multiple families. Plural marriage could be a means to assist women who would have been left destitute or in service or living single in a relative’s home their entire lives. This way they got a home (of a sort) and children and access to what could often be a very strong social and relationship network. Of course it didn’t always work, which is why they had fairly loose divorce laws.

    It’s very difficult to distill so many thousands of experiences—not just of men and their plural wives, but also their children and community members—and all the various purposes and difficulties of the system into a brief summary for an audience like the one last night, but from the notes here, it sounds like Dr. Holbrook did a good job.

  17. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The high dependency ratio of a polygamous society ensures that only a tiny minority of relatively wealthy men actually will be able to have multiple partners. (Think of the BCC series on the wives of Archibald Gardner, and realize that Gardner–who had a pretty austere life–was near the top of the Utah Territory’s income distribution.) In polygamous societies like pre-1948 China, only warlords or very wealthy merchants and bankers could have more than one or two concubines.

  18. Jeremiah Stone says:

    For the history buffs: When did the belief that one had to be in a plural marriage in order to qualify for exaltation change?

  19. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Jeremiah Stone: almost certainly it couldn’t have been later than the 1890 publication of the Manifesto, as the number of men entering plural marriages after it was minuscule. The number of existing plural marriages that were solemnized in the Temple, of course, was non-trivial, and certainly existing plural marriages weren’t dissolved–in many cases for decades thereafter (e.g., Heber J. Grant and his “traveling companion”).

  20. Frankly, I don’t care if it was 1% or 50% of Mormon men who were practicing polygamy. Polygamy was a dirty, dastardly affair. According to “Saints,” Joseph took Fanny Alger as his first plural wife without Emma’s knowledge and before polygamy was being taught. That’s flat out wrong. The Lord does not operate in darkness and those are not the works of God. But that’s where it started so anything that comes from it, is tainted. So, whether it was 1% or 50%, it is tainted and wrong. To attempt to dismiss concerns about polygamy by saying that it was “peripheral” (if that is the phrasing that was used) or that only a minority of saints practiced it, is intellectually dishonest and ignores the fact that polygamy was central – CENTRAL – to early Mormon theology. Teachings from Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Geoge Q. Cannon, George A. Smith, and Heber C. Kimball, that make monogamy out to be the reason for Rome’s fall, the curse of the earth, and the reason men “wither and dry up” are more than enough to make it clear that polygamy was not some obscure, fringe thing that didn’t factor much into Mormon doctrine. Hell, D&C 132, the entire basis for our belief in eternal families, is rooted in polygamy.

  21. I wonder in what sense it is believed the Saints “finished” the Nauvoo Temple. If all that is required of me to finish a task is to stop working on it and walk away, then my to-do list just got a lot easier.

  22. Kristin Brown says:

    Ah, thank you for the information about the authors of “Saints”. I know Steven C. Harper but am not aware of the other contributors. Now I know why it reads more like a novel than a history book. Our leaders have been saying we need to write history in a way the people will read it. I believe they have accomplished their goal with “Saints”. Kevin, thank you for the reminding me of your MHA, Boise notes. I will read them again.

  23. The “english stylists” are on the “Acknowledgements” page in the back, and include Ardis Parshall and Brandon Sanderson. I’m hoping keepa will get some posts on Ardis’ experience with it.

  24. Thanks for the write-up. I found it really interesting. I have a few comments and questions. When you mention that the “Challenge is not to find answers, but to discern”, than exactly what is the role of historians. I have always been under the impression that the role was to find facts, and leave discernment up to fiction writers. There is so much information we do know.

    I always find it odd when someone brings up this concept of the church being transparent, as if it is a new thing. So, before now, it seems that they were not transparent. Well, that sounds like they were being unclear, vague, and questionable.

    The 1st vision comments were the hard to follow. It does seem to make sense that the story may change in VERY slight details, but it sure seems that the main participants in the story would remain the same. Who exactly did he see during this experience, and why do those personages change between the telling’s? That sort of change is not explained by her logic.

    And the finally, “the Apostolic witness of JC”. I’m game, what witness, when, who did he see and how. In opportunity after opportunity, the apostles have never claimed a standard for what is mean here. The implication is that have received a special witness, but then there has been much documented that nothing special has ever really occurred.

  25. Thanks, Kevin. That was great account of what I thought was a phenomenal issue. I think the haters might want to actually listen to the answer Kate gave on polygamy. They very carefully avoided the 2-4% figure to include adult women in the tally and openly engaged the incredibly complexity of defining–let alone measuring in a meaningful way–the numerator and denominator. And they indicated that while it was a minority who practiced, it was among the very most committed LDS. The answer was elegant, factually correct, sensitive to the sacrifices that women made for the practice, and true to the early centrality of polygamy and the reality that the family of heaven (I’ve called it the Chain of Belonging in my historical/theological writing) was always what was necessary for heaven/exaltation–polygamy was a highly visible and complicated instance of that Chain of Belonging, but it didn’t exhaust that Chain, which I think is what Kate was getting at in more general terms. [that last is meant to engage chris kimball’s question] Matt’s comment about First Vision as an attempt to wrestle an experience beyond language into human language–a task so difficult as to give the lie to any aspiration to positivism or whatever we’re supposed to call it these days–strikes me as spot on. I’m fully aware of my special bias in this case and I’m confident that my response represents my own actual understanding of the case. The complaint about not transparent in the past strikes me as a facile false dichotomy. One can work harder to be more transparent as the cultural understanding of transparency shifts over time. And one can of course acknowledge that there were people and times when the church hierarchy was less transparent than they are now.

  26. sorry, not “phenomenal issue” but “phenomenal event.”

  27. bobsonntag, they pre-defined completion as dedication and performing endowments. They achieved it, and then they fled the country. I think it’s a really heroic effort and a success. The only way they could have kept control of the Nauvoo temple (as a church body true to Smith’s legacy in my view) would have been to win a civil war.

  28. “but it served its purpose”

    What purpose? BY’s 56 kids from 55 wives didn’t really multiply and replenish as much as monogamy would have hypothetically.

    “is no longer necessary”

    Couldn’t have anything with the US government cracking down on it and the Mormons wanting to create a state and control their own politics, now could it?

    “Abilities had advanced, didn’t need it anymore.”

    Oh really?

    “What matters are the lessons we learn, King Benjamin, charity, etc.”

    Dodge. Historicity of the BOM has always been a central point. Always has been treated as direct translation.

    “Sam’s favorite person on the planet”

    Glad to hear Sam is giddy like a school girl over her.

  29. Garen,

    Re: First vision. Three of four accounts mention two personages explicitly, and all three imply that one is the Father and the other the Son. The first, sort of jumps to the point, which is the conversation with the Lord, and was for a published history. There are a ton of details left out, as it is a fairly short account. That may seem strange to you, but it doesn’t seem strange to me. I frequently leave out important details in order to avoid bringing up more questions than answers.

  30. Thank you, Kevin and smb and others. This is the first time, after some prior disappointments, I’ve been tempted to listen/watch a face-to-face broadcast. Having had far too many friends and loved ones leave our church community because of their feeling of having been betrayed/lied to by past leaders or church teachings, I appreciate every step the church takes toward becoming more transparent. There are (or should be) far better reasons for some to leave than that.

    Martin, I understand and appreciate your concerns and questions, but I wonder if you would really mean to belittle Kevin’s aside about Kate being Sam’s favorite person on the planet if you knew that Kate and Sam are married to each other. I hope not, but if so, I don’t really want to know.

  31. Not a Cougar says:

    dsc, in fairness, it was a written account, not a conversation. Joseph would have had plenty of time to write down his experience so the idea of “jumping to the point” seems a bit misplaced. Also, earlier accounts tend to be more reliable than later accounts. While I get the idea of taking time to process what happened, I’m not sure that being in a hurry to tell the story really explains the discrepancies.

    However, I can understand the difficulty of explaining a sacred experience. I think we tend to forget the First Vision was exactly that, a vision. If you or I had been standing beside him, we wouldn’t have seen anything but a 14-year old boy kneeling in the woods. I’ve never had a vision, so I wonder how straightforward the experience was. While Joseph later laid out the story in a linear fashion, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not exactly how he experienced it, which would have added to the complexity of trying to describe it. He certainly got better at describing his experiences, but I’m willing to bet most of us would have had a tough time piecing together what happened from 14-year old Joseph’s eyewitness testimony. The Book of Revelation comes to mind as another example of a man experiencing a vision and struggling to describe it, and, millennia later, we’re still arguing over what he saw.

  32. Martin, I think it’s unlikely that the late modern cynical-ironist view that’s on display in your answers will bring you much intellectual clarity, wisdom, or happiness. I don’t doubt that it arises in the setting of real disappointment and frustration. I tried it myself when I was younger, and it proved to be a self-defeating and self-deluding practice designed, in retrospect, to protect myself from the actual passion and risk of living. Kate and Kate’s intellectual/spiritual clarity were a big part of my being able to see through the gauzy haze of late-modern ideology, for which I am deeply grateful. I do wish you well, even admitting that if I knew you personally I might have been able to find gentler language to communicate my concerns about your rhetorical posturing in that comment.

  33. “Polygamy was a dirty, dastardly affair…To attempt to dismiss concerns about polygamy by saying that it was “peripheral” (if that is the phrasing that was used) or that only a minority of saints practiced it, is intellectually dishonest and ignores the fact that polygamy was central – CENTRAL – to early Mormon theology.

    Yes exactly. It also minimizes the serious damage that has been done not only to members of the Brighamite church but also to members of the other branches of Mormonism who have practiced/still practice it.

  34. And smb, I think it’s unlikely that your patronizing response to Martin’s good observations will bring him or anyone else to the enlightenment you think you have found. I don’t doubt that your comment arises in the setting of smugness and self-righteous satisfaction. I tried it myself when I was younger, and it proved to be a self-defeating and self-deluding practice designed, in retrospect, to protect myself from fully engaging with views that challenged my own. I do wish you well, etc., etc.

  35. Jack Hughes says:

    Though I appreciate the baby steps in acknowledging history, I’m still not entirely sold on these Face to Face events. These are choreographed, rehearsed discussions using carefully screened pre-approved questions. Nothing spontaneous about it. It might as well be pre-recorded, as broadcasting it live adds little to no value. It almost feels like watching one of those infomercials that pretends to be an actual TV talk show.

  36. 1. Kevin – this is great, thank you for posting.

    2. I do not disagree with Martin and Dot, but argue that their contention is incomplete. It would improve on their phrase to read: “[History] was a dirty, dastardly affair.” History is messy, which is comforting to me; perhaps my imperfect contribution to society may eventually yield some positivity, despite my perpetual errors.

  37. Polygamy is a tough one. I’ll admit it has brought me to tears many times and its very hard to say God loves his daughters as much as His sons when there was polygamy. However:

    1) The first six prophets lived it: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith. It didn’t stop with WW. If they were wrong, they were all committing adultery on a massive scale. I can’t believe the Lord worked through men that far off base so to me, either it was sanctioned for that time, of the Church simply isn’t true. But it can’t be both.

    2) People get exited about polygamy and in the same breath get excited that Joseph Smith married women that were already married. In essence he set up the practice so that BOTH men and women had multiple spouses. So where did we get the idea that it was limited to just men? The way he practiced it Plural Marriage was equal opportunity.

  38. Gosh, Dot, knowing smb even a little (met once/email communications) I had entirely missed the possibility of his note to Martin being seen as smug or self-righteous. I am more and more convinced that I miss a lot. But I seriously doubt the accuracy of any allegation of smugness or self-righteousness in this case.
    However,I did see the possibility of your response to smb having arisen in a setting of smugness and self-righteous satisfaction in tandem with anger about polygamy or whatever.
    I do often doubt whether perceptions (mine or others’) of smugness and self-righteousness are more grounded in reality or in the preconceptions of the perceiver. I guess I’m a doubter.

    Note: Without intending any dishonor to my polygamous ancestors who believed strongly that they were doing God’s will, I am inclined to agree that the way polygamy was introduced, and the way it was practiced by JS and some others (I know nothing of percentages), and the way it was promoted, together with a not insignificant part of D&C 132, constitute a “dirty, dastardly affair.” But please note that “peripheral” is a concept introduced here by a commenter and not by the face-to-face presentation, and “practiced by a minority” is not inconsistent with central-to-theology and may or may not be asserted dismissively.

    Now you’ve tempted me even more to listen to the face-to-face broadcast recording. You might even try it yourself.

  39. john willis says:

    F.Y.I to lilly, the first seven presidents of the church practiced polygamy. Heber J Grant had three wives though only one was living when he became president of the church. George A. Smith was the first monogamist president of the church though he grew up in a polygamous home.

  40. Kristin Brown says:

    For me, the answers to the last question and the music were the best part of the evening. Hearing the music, seeing the Nauvoo temple lit up along with the statue of Joseph and Hyrum looking back one more time brought a reverence to my heart. I can repent, I have received the saving ordinances, and I can hope all will work out because of the sacrifices made by so many. I have been abundantly blessed because of our history, not matter what it looks like.

  41. Not A Cougar,

    I like your point regarding the experience itself not necessarily happening in a linear fashion.

    To clarify my point a bit, the 1832 account was written thoughtfully with a specific audience in mind. I don’t mean to say that Joseph simply failed to recall an important detail, but that he deliberately left out a detail that would cause more questions and that did not directly support the specific theme and purpose of the account. That is, the purpose wasn’t to establish Joseph’s divine calling, but to emphasize Joseph’s spiritual preparation as it relates to sin, forgiveness, and atonement.

  42. dsc, Who was the specific audience intended for the 1832 account? I think I missed that bit.

    I have never grasped why people get so hung up on the question did JS see one or two persons. LDS don’t need the 2 person account to support a claim of separateness, there is already Stephen’s vision in the NT. The major difference, to my mind, between the 1832 account and the later accounts is that the 1832 account shows JS NOT going to prayer to find which church was right, he had, in that account, already made up his mind that none were. He was instead going to pray for forgiveness. To the extent (not much, to my way of thinking) the First Vision matters as a founding story, that difference is far more significant than the fact that the 1832 version mentions seeing only the Lord and not 2 personages. It is not the kind of thing that can be brushed aside as a detail omitted for a particular audience.

  43. Geoff - Aus says:

    I started to watch the presentation before I saw this blog. I switched off when it was said that the stone in hat was in a primary magazine 50 years ago. I am a convert from 1958, been on missions for 10 years, etc. It has never been in a lesson manual or conference talk I have come across, so I find the idea that it was not covered up problematic. I only found out recently from blogs.
    Joseph was faithfull to Emma, who at some times was more or less good, was the line until recently. I have trouble being told nothing was hidden. I may try watching again but thought it was very unreal, plastic, stage managed. Millenials are supposed to like authentic so not sure how they would see it? Perhaps it is Utah or US culture that doesnt come across as genuine?

  44. dsc, I’m also left wondering who you think the intended audience for the 1832 account was? When I read the Intro on the JSPP it seems like it was written as a general history and for general record keeping of the infant church, although I could be wrong.

    The original document specifically says the purpose as being four-fold: (1) History of JS’s marvelous experience. (2) an account of the rise of the Church of Christ, established by His hand. (3) Reception of the Holy Priesthood by the ministering of angels. (4) Confirmation of the High Priesthood.

    I’m not seeing how changing the story from JS seeing God and Jesus to JS seeing just the Lord help’s the above purposes. To be honest, I’d argue that it is the weaker approach.

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    If it’s helpful to anyone I believe this is the reference Kate had in mind from The Friend:

    “To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates “a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone.”
    —“A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974

  46. Lots of anger in these comments, which I find heartening. The Leadership owes The Membership apologies on several issues, central among them the purposeful and systematic obfuscation of history. Let us never forget, and beware. Long live the Internet!

  47. “History is messy, which is comforting to me”

    Yes, but more often than not I hear this from LDS believers as an excuse not to acknowledge inconvenient truths and their implications. Too many believers seem to seek excuses, loopholes, and ad hoc explanations in order to justify preexisting absolutist beliefs about the past (and rose-colored ones at that) rather than the most plausible and parsimonious explanations to the past. Joseph Smith married over 30 women, many of whom were 14 and already married to other men. And this isn’t supposed to raise eyebrows? We’re supposed to just accept that this was part of God’s plan and that JS was merely carrying out orders? If that’s the case, the God that JS was following seems insane.

  48. For a more informed explanation of the different versions of the First Vision, see Steven Harper’s essay in “A Reason for Faith.”

  49. Not a Cougar says:

    Martin, to me, part of accepting that history is messy is to accept that God calls flawed people as prophets. While you might hear a GA say something like that, I don’t think they really mean it as anything more than “Ok, I can’t explain away some of Joseph’s behavior, but that was an aberration, and probably the fault of the record keeper – Joseph was a righteous man through and through.” I do, however take seriously that Joseph was a deeply flawed man – a genius and a very kind man, but one who committed serious sins which I condemn – but none of that meant he wasn’t a prophet. And yes, I understand the weirdness of accepting that a prophet of God could be what we consider to be a wicked man.

    My personal view of Joseph’s polygamy is that yes, he was very interested in sealing the family of mankind together (I’ve heard it described on this blog as trying to physically build heaven here on earth), but I also believe Joseph was trying to deal with his sex drive in a way that felt, to him (if not Emma, Oliver, and many, many others), moral and in keeping with God’s commandments. I don’t pretend to know how much of his libido drove his actions versus what God actually commanded (I tend to think Fanny Alger was almost all libido, but what do I know?), but he did a rather awful job of executing the polygamy plan, no matter whether you believe it was inspired or not.

  50. Not a Cougar – re: sex drive.

    I find it rather astounding that Joseph supposedly instituted polygamy to in an attempt to satisfy an insatiable sex drive. If that was true, where are all the verified descendants of Joseph Smith through anyone other than Emma? Where are the accounts of any of these wives getting pregnant by Joseph? Or accounts of abortions he encouraged them to have? Was it just luck that having sex with 35+ women produced no children whatsoever? Did he have access to the kind of prophylactics that are not available in 2018?

  51. Thank you for this Kevin! Regarding various theories of polygamy: I remember reading that there have not been found any children/descendants that were born to Joseph’s polygamous wives while he was living and married to them—this group seems like a good one to set me straight or point me in the right direction toward answering that. Anyone know more about this?

  52. Google John C. Bennett, Sarah Pratt, and abortion.

  53. I should have refreshed the page before leaving my comment—Mike yes this is exactly what I am wondering about. The chances of no known pregnancies/children happening with that many wives, considering Emma and Joseph’s ability to conceive children… and of course that leads to so many unanswerable questions.

  54. Kevin Barney says:

    Gen, we can’t know for sure about progeny of JS. Five proposed descendants turned out not to be–there we could test because down the male line and we know Joseh[s Y chromosome. Ugo Perego has several articles about these cases.

    The one person pretty much everyone, including me, believed had been sired by Joseph was Josephine Lyon. Since she was a girl Y chromosome analysis is obviously not possible. for a long time the technology didn’t exist. But eventually Ugo was able to do a statistical approach, and concluded her father was Windsor Lyon, not Joseph Smith.

    For details go to my notes here and scroll down to June 11 at 9:50:


  55. Dot – you imply that Joseph Smith would have had many children with his polygamous wives, but for the multitude of abortions he had performed, and your evidence is John Bennett and Sarah Pratt??!! You would be laughed out of court with that kind of evidence. The absence of such evidence is much more convincing than the spurious claims of Ms. Pratt.

  56. Kevin: Fantastic, thanks!

    Dot: I had not read that theory before. Thank you for that. I don’t know of anything in Joseph’s history suggests he would have encouraged or demanded abortion, so I am not inclined to believe it based on that evidence. I also feel that while one or two women may have been impressionable enough to go along with such a plan, implementing it en masse would have caused the ladies to form their very own Not Even Once Club.

  57. Mike–I have no idea what happened with Joseph’s Smith’s potential children (and you’re right, maybe there never were any), and I’m not an expert on abortion. However, abortion was common in the U.S. in the 1800s and was legal, for example, in Illinois until 1867. Women have been using herbal remedies (and other more drastic remedies) to prevent or end pregnancy for thousands of years. There are many rumors about John Bennett, and I’m not sure on what basis you dismiss Ms. Pratt’s claims so easily. It seems worthwhile, if you are serious about church history, to consider all the possibilities. It’s very difficult to find the truth of something like this because anything that puts Joseph in a bad light is labeled anti-Mormon and automatically discounted, and apologetic sources don’t want to contemplate such a likelihood at all.

    Gen–Again, I have no idea what happened, but IF a woman got pregnant with Joseph’s child, she would perhaps have had her own motivation to end the pregnancy, so he may not have needed to encourage or demand it. Especially if it was common and not illegal (and yes, it’s also possible that these women would never have done this; I’m just pointing out that it’s not an absurd possibility).

  58. Dot – The problem is that the evidence is so scant and not of great weight that it’s difficult to give the idea any serious credence. It would be different if there were lots of written accounts of individuals who had either witnessed such events or heard a number of people talk about them. As it is, there just isn’t enough evidence to give the theory anything more than a passing thought.

    I’m not ruling out the possibility, but at this point it’s just speculation.

  59. Not a Cougar says:

    Mike, maybe this gets too far outside the spirit of the post, but as I understand it, there are several people thought to be children of Joseph born to wives other than Emma. Several of those were later shown by DNA evidence to not be Joseph’s children. For the others, the DNA is unavailable for various reasons. Perhaps those tests will be done and we’ll find out if they are indeed Joseph’s children. Also, Sarah Pratt accused John C. Bennett of performing abortions on Joseph’s behalf. I don’t know that I find her testimony completely credible on that count, but it is at least some evidence to explain the lack of offspring.

    Aside from that, I never said Joseph had sex with 35 or more women. It’s possible he never consumated a majority of his marriages or sealings and/or did so rarely. It’s also possible that Meg Stout’s “Faithful Joseph” hypothesis is completely accurate and he only ever had sex with Emma.

    We certainly don’t have a minute by minute account of his sex life and I don’t assert that my opinion is absolute. I also didn’t assert that sex was the only driving factor nor that it was always a driving factor. Certainly, sex didn’t seem to come into play in many of his sealings; however, I do believe that the evidence suggests Joseph had sex with at least several of his wives (the amateur historian and polygamy apologist Brian Hales agrees with me on this point). My explanation for that is that, at least in part, Joseph was dealing with his desires to have sex with multiple women but do so in a manner pleasing to God (or at least Joseph thought so). Whether that desire preceded or followed his ponderings and later revelation on plural marriage, I have no idea (the Church seems to suggest he received some revelation on that point at least by 1832 to help explain his marriage to Fanny Alger but I think that’s a bit a retconning of the situation). Ultimately, if Joseph’s sole goal was merely to have sex with a lot of women, his plan to do so was needlesspy complex and unsatisfying, hence my belief that polgamy was not only and not always primarily (and maybe never primarily) about sex.

  60. Not a Cougar says:

    Sorry for repeating others’ arguments. I typed my response up over several hours without refreshing the page (trying to type on a cell phone in between chores is a bad setup).

  61. I accept that he probably had sex with 2 or 3 of his other wives. And it’s not crazy to think that perhaps he enjoyed it. I just don’t buy that he made up a revelation to cover what for him was just a plan to satisfy his lust (and I recognize you weren’t saying that, but it is claimed by people). Could he have made it up? Sure, but the evidence isn’t there.

  62. Benjamin Johnson, who was a prominent member of the early church, wrote in his journal about his sister Almira and Joseph Smith “retiring” to a bedroom in Benjamin Johnson’s home immediately after they were married.

    I understand the desire many members of the church have to believe the “Faithful Joseph” narrative. In seminary, when my CES-educated seminary teacher was asked about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, we were told that there was a lot of anti-Mormon stuff out there about that issue and that we shouldn’t believe any of it. Many in my generation, then, certainly feels more comfortable believing Joseph wasn’t actually a practicing polygamist.

  63. Polygamy is a complicated issue. I would recommend reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s recent volume that is really fair. It got me to reevaluate some longstanding positions about sexuality in JS’s sealings. She is uses evidence judiciously, which is important considering that folks like Benjamin F. Johnson’s statements were decades after the fact and intent on supporting Utah church practice.

  64. “Martin, to me, part of accepting that history is messy is to accept that God calls flawed people as prophets.”

    Another tired trope that while technically true (no one is perfect) is said as an excuse for continued absolutist belief in set core teachings of the LDS Church. What I find interesting is that the believers who say ad nauseum “the prophets make mistakes” don’t ever let on to the question behind the statement, which is: how do I continue to justify belief in the prophets as divinely called when they have said racist things in the past (which we now regard as categorically wrong) and practiced polygamy (which is a morally questionable practice now completely rejected in the mainstream LDS church)? It is a way for people who already have preexisting absolutist beliefs to keep believing rather absolutely while accepting some gray area and times when the prophets were wrong. Nevermind the fact that the predominant attitude in the LDS church is that when the prophet speaks the debate is over and that it is wrong to criticize the leaders, even if that criticism is true (from Dallin H. Oaks).

    The “prophets aren’t perfect” trope is also a strawman to attack critics of the LDS church with the aim of making them look like unintellectual black-and-white thinkers who overreacted to perhaps a racist comment by one of the leaders in the past and decided to throw out the baby with the bathwater. “You expect them to be perfect” goes a common follow-up strawman attack on critics.
    Where this is intellectually dishonest is that it refuses to acknowledge the perspective of the critic and the main questions that they are asking, which are: what is the purpose of the prophets and what exactly have they done or said that is so remarkable? Have they ever actually predicted the future with accuracy beyond general statements (“hard times will come” doesn’t count)? Have they revealed remarkable things about the past that they couldn’t have known except through some awe-inspiring supernatural means that can now be widely corroborated by outside sources? The leaders and their followers have appeared to struggle to provide any evidence of this. What’s more is that the believers and leaders claim that the prophets have been pointing a way to a god that they have not been able to consistently define, all while claiming to receive special revelation from this god. A god who was Trinitarian when Joseph Smith brought us the Book of Mormon, then became three distinct and separate personages, then became an exalted man, and then even became Adam for a brief period of time under Brigham Young, a doctrine that was repudiated by subsequent leaders.

  65. On polygamy and sex, again, the believers continue to seek loopholes rather than weigh out competing explanation on the basis of their plausibility. Why couldn’t Joseph Smith just fulfill God’s command to practice polygamy by just taking another wife or two who was of age and whom Emma knew about? Why did it have to be the complex process of taking on 30+ wives in secret?

    On sex (I agree that there is no evidence of offspring other than from Emma), he pulled out early seems a more plausible and likely explanation than having some zany theology or God having this incomprehensible commands for Joseph Smith that appeared to violate common morality, let alone the puritanical sexual mores of the LDS church today. Plus, marriage implies sex. The burden of proof therefore rests upon the doubter of sex to show that JS didn’t have sex with anyone other than Emma.

    Even then, Joseph Smith set the precedent for decades of polygamy after him and all of its accompanying abuses, evidenced not only by Ann Eliza Young’s Wife Number 19, but by the patterns of abuse that we see among polygamists today (i.e., the Kingston Clan).

  66. Kristin Brown says:

    Kevin, I read and appreciate your notes. Now I am wondering your thoughts and hope for your review of the book “Saints”.

  67. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristin, I’ve just read maybe the first ten chapters so far, but based on that small sample size I like it. I see it as geared to younger people (which this Face to Face event would seem to support); if one wants something with more academic substance, one might prefer The Story of the Latter-day Saints by James Allen (though a bit dated). But I’m guessing most of our young people will prefer Saints, partly because it reads like a novel and partly because it has official sanction from the Church. I also like that it matter of factly incorporates hard issues. (True, this is the most generous version of those hard issues, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from an official publication like this.) While I personally will continue to focus more on academic history, I think the Church has done an excellent job with this innovative production.

  68. The question I would like to have heard and seen answered comes from the verse in Section 132. Why does the response of women to a request for her husband to practice polygamy have no actual weight? Why are women treated as if they have a voice but no vote in their own marriage? And their voice, if they give the wrong answer, used to damn them.
    I feel this verse was used as justification for the scathing criticism Brigham Young used toward Emma Smith, the limiting of the power of the Relief Society and continues today to harm marriages in the Church. I have known women who are frightened by their husband’s power to be sealed again should they die before him. I have known many single women who refuse to marry either divorced or widowed men for fear they will be trapped in polygamous unions in the eternities. They feel powerless because this verse makes clear to them that they are. What do we know about the history of this verse? Is it true Joseph Smith would not allow Emma to have her children sealed to her until she agreed to his polygamy? I believe the book dealt with many questions but left many unanswered.

  69. Martin, canaries in religious coal mines are generally ignored (20+year and intensifying RCC sexual abuse disaster) or heeded only at the 11th hour (Blacks & priesthood). Current LDS leadership seems to want to address a full spectrum of historica/verisimilitude problems (aforementioned JS/polygamy, BoM, BoA, etc.) with emphasis on individual members’ subjective experience: [notwithstanding a complete absence of physical evidence I nonetheless KNOW] BoM is … “true.” And so on.

    Is this long-term tenable, esp in an age increasingly awash in information? Don’t think so. We seem to be losing our best & brightest as a result. Optimum response may be a general church-wide re-defining of what some of these terms mean in a religio-spiritual context. We are far from the only church facing such challenges.

  70. This “face to face” event was the final nail for me. I’m resigning. I’ve been holding out hope that the church would steer the ship in an honest direction, but it’s apparent at this point that isn’t going to happen. This is Leonard Arrington all over again, but much worse. Calculated, premeditated deception. I can’t in good conscience defend this any longer.

  71. Ryan Mullen says:

    Emma asks “Why does the response of women to a request for her husband to practice polygamy have no actual weight? Why are women treated as if they have a voice but no vote in their own marriage?”

    Let me be up front that there is no doctrinal justification for this treatment of women in our scripture. To the question “Should the response of women to a request … have no actual weight?”, my answer is a resounding “No!” I fully believe that any decision of this magnitude should have the full, informed, and unpressured consent of both partners in a marriage.

    From a purely historical perspective, I think we can tease apart the “Why” part of Emma’s question–as in “Why does the revelation look this way?” My tentative answers to these questions are rooted in the circumstances surrounding the dictation of D&C 132, which Saints does address albeit in what Kevin Barney called “the most generous version” of those circumstances. Emma was never fully on board with plural marriage (understandably!) and it’s clear from Saints that Joseph delayed telling Hyrum about any of this. When he finally did, Hyrum (naively?) thought that a written revelation could convince her. To me, these verses are a direct response to Emma’s resistance. I also find it hilarious that some combination of Joseph/God thought that would convince her, and I celebrate that Emma reportedly burned her copy of D&C 132 in the fireplace.

  72. I am coming to expect that the Church leaders either have not received answers to the many questions I have about gender inequities in the Church doctrine and culture or have not seen the value in seeking until God reveals why things are the way they are or that they need to be changed. Unfortunately, I have been waiting over 50 years now and even if things change, it is too late to affect my life. Good luck to the younger men and women. May you live in the world I dreamt of but will probably not live to see.

  73. Ryan Mullen: why, if we as a people believe women have power in their own marriages or should have, is this verse in the D & C never discussed? I understand it was one of the questions Joseph F. Smith was closely questioned about during the Reed Smoot hearings. Do we as a people accept it as inspired?

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