Polygamy: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith as a Self-proclaimed Prophet Hinge On This One Question

For me, there is only one assertion/question that determines whether or not the church is true and that is…..

if polygamy, especially in the way Joseph Smith practiced it,  is truly a Godly principle then the Mormon Church is true and God is a cruel and heartless God.

If in fact polygamy is simply what it seems to be, a sexist institution created by men and kings to serve their sexual desires for a variety of women while not caring at all for the feelings of the women, and God condemns it… then a loving God is still possible. Polygamy seems to be an outdated and abusive cultural practice, like slavery that is wrong and  would be condemned by a loving God who sees men and women as equal. Likewise, lying and cheating behind your wife’s back is condemned by God and by a common sense of right and wrong.

If prophets of old (Abraham, King David, Solomon) are used as a way to uphold polygamy as being fine, I would say that the Bible is a historical and cultural account of how things were back then, not how they should be. There were many practices done back then that we condemn today. Men, steeped in their culture wrote the bible and so they didn’t have a problem with it. Also fewer men today have a problem with polygamy then women, for obvious reasons.

Being married to a man with a pornography addiction, I think I have a little taste for what the women went through due to the cruelty of either man or God.  I think I can pretty much figure out how I would feel if my husband secretly had sex with a young teenage girl behind my back. 

Excerpts taken from the book: Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, starting pg. 64:

Mormons believe that polygamy got started when Joseph asked the Lord why plural wives were acceptable in the days of  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but not in his day.

Joseph’s contemporaries stated that he had received a private revelation approving plural marriage in 1831. In 1869 Orson Pratt said, “(Joseph) inquired of the Lord if the principle of taking more wives than one is a true principle”.  In 1882, Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum Smith’s son added, “The Lord showed him (Joseph) those women…and at that time some of these women were named and given to him, to become his wives when the time should come that this principle would be established.”

Joseph introduced the subject through a revelation on July 17, 1831, stating, “For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.”  William W. Phelps asked brother Joseph privately, how ‘we’ , that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the ‘natives’ as we were all married men? He replied instantly, ‘ In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah…”  This “revelation” was only given to a few men and not told to the church at large.

According to the story, the prophet Elijah himself did not appear to Joseph Smith and give him the keys to do the sealings until April 3, 1836. (D&C 110)

However Joseph was ready earlier. Emma took a teenage orphan girl, Fanny Alger into her home early in 1835.  Behind Emma’s back Joseph secretly married the girl and it is generally assumed that he had sexual relations with her. Orson Pratt called it , “A horrid affair.” Fanny Alger would have been 16 years old at the time, probably helping Emma with house work and the children. Emma threw Fanny out of the house when she learned of Joseph’s relationship with her. Later Miss Alger married another man and left the LDS church forever.

The most conservative estimates indicate that Joseph entered into plural marriages with 29–33 women, 7 of whom were under the age of 18. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball, who was 14. The rest were 16 (two) or 17 (three). One wife (Maria Winchester) about which virtually nothing is known, was either 14 or 15. Source

Here are some excerpts about plural marriage, which Richard Bushman wrote in this book, “Rough Stone Rolling”.  This is from the section “Marriage” in ch. 25, “Stories of Eternity”:

“Of all the events, the resumption of plural marriage was the most disturbing. After marrying Fanny Alger sometime before 1836, Joseph, it appears, married no one else until he wed Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841, in Nauvoo. (Historians debate the possibility of one other wife in the interim.) In the next two years, Joseph married about thirty additional women, ten of them already married to other men. What lay behind this egregious transgression of conventional morality? Was he a dominant male whose ego brooked no bounds? Joseph exercised such untrammeled authority in Nauvoo that it is possible to imagine him thinking no conquest beyond his reach. In theory, he could take what he wanted and browbeat his followers with threats of divine punishment.

“This simple reading of Joseph’s motives is implicit in descriptions of him as ‘a charismatic, handsome man.’ They suggest he was irresistible and made the most of it. Other Mormon men went along out of loyalty or in hopes of sharing the power.  

Mary Rollins Lightner, one of his plural wives, later said Joseph told her, “The angel came to me three times between the year of ’34 and ’42 and said I was to obey that principle or he would [s]lay me.’ Others told the story with an additional detail: the angel held a drawn sword.

The written form of the revelation, recorded in 1843 (later canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 132) said bluntly, “I reveal to you a New and an Everlasting Covenant and if ye abide not that Covenant, then ye are damned.’

Surely (Joseph) realized that plural marriage would inflict terrible damage. As for the world at large, plural marriage would confirm all their worst fears. Sexual excess was considered the all too common fruit of pretended revelation.

“In approaching Joseph Bates Noble in the spring of 1841 about marrying his wife’s sister, Louisa Beaman, Joseph asked Bates, a man he had known since Kirtland, to keep quiet. ‘In revealing this to you I have placed my life in your hands, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies.’ Louisa Beaman was twenty-six when she married Joseph Smith. Alone since her mother’s death in September 1840, Beaman had moved in with Joseph and Mary Noble. To disguise the wedding, Joseph asked Noble to perform the ceremony in a grove near Main Street with Louisa in man’s clothing.

“Partly to maintain secrecy, Joseph could not have spent much time with Beaman or any of the women he married. He never gathered his wives into a household–as his Utah followers later did–or accompanied them to public events. Close relationships were further curtailed by business. Joseph had to look after Emma and the children, manage the Church, govern the city, and evade the extradition officers from Missouri. As the marriages increased, there were fewer and fewer opportunities for seeing each wife.

“Even so, nothing indicated that sexual relations were left out of plural marriages; Noble testified many years later that Joseph spent the night with Louisa after the wedding.   Only the slightest hints suggest that Joseph was in Louisa’s company after their marriage, though he may have contributed to her support.

“The marital status of the plural wives further complicated the issue. Within fifteen months of marrying Louisa Beaman, Joseph had married eleven other women. Eight of the eleven were married to other men. All told, ten of Joseph’s plural wives were married to other men. All of them went on living with their first husbands after marrying the Prophet. The reasons for choosing married women can only be surmised. Not all were married to non-Mormon men: six of the ten husbands were active Latter-day Saints. In most cases, the husband knew of the plural marriage. The practice seems inexplicable today. Why would a husband consent?

“The only answer seems to be the explanation Joseph gave when he asked a woman for her consent: they and their families would benefit spiritually from a close tie to the Prophet. Joseph told a prospective wife that submitting to plural marriage would ‘ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household. & all your kindred.’ A father who gave his daughter to the Prophet as a plural wife was assured that the marriage ‘shall be crowned upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old and young.’ The relationship would bear fruit in the afterlife. (pp. 437-39). . . .

“The personal anguish caused by plural marriage did not stop Joseph Smith from marrying more women. He married three in 1841, eleven in 1842, and seventeen in 1843. Historians debate these numbers, but the total figure is most likely between twenty-eight and thirty-three. Larger numbers have been proposed based on the sealing records in the Nauvoo temple. Eight additional women were sealed to Joseph in the temple after his death, possibly implying a marriage while he was still alive. Whatever the exact number, the marriages are numerous enough to indicate an impersonal bond. Joseph did not marry women to form a warm, human companionship.’

“Romance plays only a slight part. In making proposals, Joseph would sometimes say God had given a woman to him, or they were meant for each other, but there was no romantic talk of adoring love. He did not court his prospective wives by first trying to win their affections. Often he asked a relative–a father or an uncle–to propose the marriage. When he made the proposal himself, a friend like Brigham Young was often present. Then language was religious and doctrinal, stressing that a new law has been revealed. She was to seek spiritual confirmation. Once consent was given, a formal ceremony was performed before witnesses, with Joseph dictating the words to the person officiating.


Continuing on page 490 in “Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Bushman…

The doctrine shocked his faithful followers, while Emma vacillated between acceptance and rejection. Yet Joseph would not and probably felt that he could not stop…In the first six months of 1843, Joseph married twelve women, two of them already married to other men. Five of the woman boarded in Joseph’s household when he married them. Emma probably knew nothing of these marriages at first and then temporarily accepted them before regretting her action and demanding that all five leave.

Plural marriage was practiced secretly in 1843 and would be until well after Joseph’s death. The doctrine was not publicly announced until 1852…Before this, Joseph publicly and repeatedly denied he was advocating polygamy….He taught his complicated religious version privately to trusted individuals and small groups.

The reaction was almost invariably negative. One young woman, Lucy Walker, was struck with horror on hearing the doctrine. She was fifteen when the Prophet invited her to live in his house. Joseph told Lucy’s father he would look after the children while John Walker went on a mission. In 1842, when Lucy was fifteen or sixteen, Joseph told her, “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” Lucy was astounded. “This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me.” Do you believe me to be a Prophet of God?”  Joseph asked. “Most assuredly I do,” she reported herself as saying in her later autobiography. “He fully Explained to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage. Said this principle was again to be restored for the benefit of the human family. That it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house. And form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end.”

“What have you to say?” Joseph asked her. “Nothing” she replied.

“If you pray sincerely for light and understanding in relation thereto, you Shall receive testimony of the correctness of this principle.”

Lucy felt “tempted and tortured beyond endurance untill life was not desirable.” A few months later Joseph pressured her, “I will give you untill to-morrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.”


(This ultimatum scared her and so she gave in,  feeling God’s immense love for her so she could have the strength to make the sacrifice….)”It was not a love matter, she wrote later,”but simply giving up of myself as a sacrifice to establish that grand and glorious principle that God had revealed to the world.” After Joseph’s death, Lucy bore nine children as the plural wife of Heber C. Kimball.

Some women defended polygamy, stating something along the lines that God must know more about what should make me happy, then I know. Helen Mar’s writings, an important source of LDS history, were published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center in 1997 in a book entitled A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History. The book also includes her 1881 autobiography to her children wherein, concerning her marriage to the Prophet Joseph Smith, she wrote:

I have long since learned to leave all with [God], who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy.

This statement reminds me of a woman defending the Muslim burqa (which most people accept as oppressive)-  Ms Jamal ud-Din, a mother of five said she had been wearing the veil for 17 years. “I feel empowered by the knowledge that I am in control of displaying my beauty to whom I choose, and the fact that I can move freely throughout society without being subjected to the eyes of every Tom, Dick and Harry.”  Source

Women who wear the burqa say they are making an “independent choice,” (although many are coerced) but this choice is heavily commanded by a fundamentalist religio-cultural context, in which they are made to believe that wearing the burqa is a requirement by God. Nobody comes to these conclusions “independently”, just as nobody discovers a religion or a culture on their own. They come to it because a muslim preacher, their community, or family tells them that it is the “proper” interpretation of the Quran and God’s will. Source.

If people (women especially it seems) are told something by men who proclaim to know what is best for them because they know God’s will, or they have God’s power or they speak for God, it is often believed and defended despite the obvious and blatant abuse.

So if Joseph Smith’s polygamous behavior was completely in line with God’s will and God did not condemn or remove Him from his position as prophet for this behavior, even after lying and hiding it….if God not only did not condemn this behavior, but commanded it and looked down with approval…if God makes commands that are extremely hurtful and abusive to women….if our God is one who says to women if they don’t accept the pain and suffering of marrying a man who they don’t love, simply because he picked her and then sharing that husband with other women they will be destroyed (or if they embrace it they will go straight to the celestial kingdom)….then the LDS Church is true. If God gives commands to males that are pleasurable for them (with the exception of  hearing the anger of the women who are hurt) while being devastating to women, then the church is true. If God puts a commandment such as polygamy ahead of the tender feelings of women and girls and puts it ahead of honesty and truth, then God is not good.

To me, if this is true, our God is not a loving God, but instead a cruel and heartless one. If in fact, Joseph acted in the right than God is not a God of love. However, if instead Joseph was in the wrong perhaps God is a magnificent, loving God- that can be trusted to have my (and others) best interest at heart.

So basically how I see it is either God commanded men to abuse women or the Mormon Church is not true.

Which is it?

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11 Responses to Polygamy: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith as a Self-proclaimed Prophet Hinge On This One Question

  1. BOMC says:

    If polygamy were tied to salvation (Christian) / exaltation (Mormon) in the Bible or Book of Mormon it would be a possibility, but they are not.

    The issue is not whether it occurred, or in what circumstances it was allowed, but whether it was ever a requirement of salvation (Christian) / exaltation (Mormon).

    • sarah says:

      The concern has nothing to do with whether or not polygamy is tied to salvation in the modern church teachings today. It is the fact that Joseph Smith’s character is tied to his polygamous behavior. Either he was a prophet receiving divine revelation, or he was a selfish fraud. Everything hinges on that. He either was a liar and a scam artist, or a prophet. He told all his wives-to-be at that time that it was tied to their salvation to be one of his wives. It sounds to me that he was using his power and influence in a very abusive manner.

  2. livethewordofwisdom says:

    Now you know the fallible side of Joseph are you going to toss out the Book of Mormon?

  3. faith says:

    what things did brigham young do to challenge the authority of the LDS church to try and prevent the idea of polygamy from being outlawed???

  4. TAO says:

    Ya’ know, I think it’d be good for you first of all, to read the section of D&C where it talks of WHY and WHEN the Lord commands us to practice polygamy.

    It’s this verse… D&C 132:63… start by reading that, and THEN I’ll go into explaining what it means… the Lord has three excellently just reasons for asking us to practice polygamy at times.

    And no, your husband would not be the sort of person the Lord would ask to perform it. He expects the person to be much more dedicated, loyal, faithful, and serving than that, indeed.

    So read the verse, and get back to me, and I’ll point to some stuff that is rather important – and that these critiques of polygamy virtually ignore.

    • sarah says:

      I am very familiar with D&C 132:63 as I used to be a Gospel Doctrine Teacher and taught the year we were discussing the D&C. In fact that was the real beginning of all my questions concerning the church. When I read D&C 132:62-63 I see many problems. One being that the men were commanded to take virgins and Joseph married many women who were not virgins. He pretty much just approached any woman he was interested in. Next, it is extremely sexist to say that one man gets 10 virgins and they BELONG TO HIM. And he is not guilty of adultery, but if a woman has another man then she does commit adultery. This is further confusing in that Joseph married women who already were married so he CAUSED them to commit adultery? Next problem, the point and purpose of polygamy is to multiply and replenish the earth? This would only make sense if polygamy created more children per woman, which is not so. It would be a lot more likely for a woman to have more children if she had a regular sex partner, and physical and financial support from one man. If you want to argue that polygamy was created to take care of women, then you don’t understand the nature of polygamy which is a destroyer of women’s happiness. It creates single parenthood, it doesn’t prevent it. Nothing good comes out of polygamy as is clear in the well-researched book written by an active Mormon called: In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton.

  5. TAO says:

    Oh also, btw, you have looked at many negative quotes… but why don’t you look at the positive ones for a change… ever taken a look at FAIR?

    • sarah says:

      I do not think any quotes here are negative. They are simply statements quoted from verified sources. They are not anti-mormon literature or written by enemies of the church. I only quoted from valid sources. In fact one of my sources about polygamy was from FAIR. I am very familiar with FAIR and I read it all of the time. Despite my husband’s issues with pornography he is a very strong believer in the LDS church and if I ever bring up a concern to him he pulls up FAIR. So I have read FAIR’s response to every concern I have, but have never been satisfied with any of their answers. Consequently, I decided to start a blog to get other people’s opinions and thoughts. Also, my husband has no problem whatsoever with polygamy or Joseph Smith with several young girls.

  6. Pingback: Now That You Know the Fallible Side of Joseph Smith Will You Toss Out The Book of Mormon? | Help! Questions for Mormons ( LDS )

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