Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/Polygamy

Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

Joseph Smith's Character: Polygamy

Is Plural Marriage "Unbiblical"?

Claim "I do believe that there are some that look to the example of Solomon and or David as an example for a biblical proof for the authorization of marrying multiple wives. When we look at their lives, they were in clear disobedience to the commandment of God. Hundreds of years before Solomon or David ever came on the scene, God had warned the nation of Israel, in Deuteronomy 17, he told them when you establish a King, make sure that your King does not gather to himself multiple wives. So we look at Solomon and we look at David we find out they were in direct disobedience." - Scott Gallatin (Pastor, Calvary Chapel)

Pastor Gallatin's reading of the scripture is incomplete. Only four chapters later, the Lord gives instructions on how to equitably treat plural wives and children. (See Deuteronomy 21:15-17.) Why does He not simply forbid plural marriage, if that is the intent of chapter 17? Why does He instruct the Israelites on how to conduct themselves in plural households, if all such households are forbidden?

What does the scripture addressed to kings in Deuteronomy say?

Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.... Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away.... (Deuteronomy 17:15,17)

So, rather than opposing plural marriage, the command to kings is that they:

  1. not multiply wives to themselves (i.e., only those who hold proper priesthood keys may approve plural marriage—see 2 Samuel 12:8, Jacob 2:30, DC 132:38-39);
  2. that these wives not be those who turn his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:3-4);
  3. not take excessive numbers of wives (see Jacob 2:24).

David and Solomon are excellent examples of violating one or more of these biblical principles, as described below.

To read more:

  • Polygamy not Biblical?
  • Orson Pratt and John Philip Newman, "Does the Bible Sanction Polygamy?" Deseret News (12–14 August 1874) [debate].

How does Deuteronomy apply to King David's behavior?

David is well-known for his sin with Bathsheba and his involvement in the death of her husband, Uriah. (See 2 Samuel 11:1-27.) Nathan the prophet arrived to condemn David's behavior, and told the king:

And Nathan said to David...Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. (2 Samuel 12:7-10)

Nathan here tells David that the Lord "gave thee...thy master's wives." And, the Lord says, through His prophet, that He would have given even more than He has already given of political power, wives, and wealth.

But, David then sinned and did evil in the matter of Uriah. If plural marriage is always a sin to God, then why did Nathan not take the opportunity to condemn David for all his plural marriages? Or, why did the prophet not come earlier, when David was righteous and hearkening to the Lord?

To read more:

How does Deuteronomy apply to King Solomon's behavior?

Solomon's problem is described:

But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;
Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love....
Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.
And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-2,7-8)

Solomon's wives turned his heart away from God, as Deuteronomy cautioned. Nothing is said against the plurality of wives, but merely of wives taken without authority that turn his heart away from the Lord.

To read more:

Are there any other Biblical examples of legitimate plural marriage?

Certainly—examples include:

If a righteous king, a righteous priest, Jacob the father of the twelve tribes, and Abraham—the pre-eminent figure of the entire Old Testament—are not condemned or corrected for legitimate plural marriages, it is untenable to claim that a biblical prohibition exists in Deuteronomy.

To read more:

Claim: "Jesus made it clear that God designed marriage for one man and one woman for life, '...a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.'" (Mark 10:7-9)

Latter-day Saints have no quarrel with this scripture. However, it says nothing at all about plural marriage—it merely indicates that a husband and wife must become one. It says absolutely nothing one way or the other about having more than one wife with which one is joined by God and commanded to "be one."

To read more:

Claim: "Furthermore the Bible repeatedly commands that a Christian leader is to be the husband of only one wife. (On screen: 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 3:12; Titus 1:6)."

There would be no reason to limit church leaders to one wife if polygamy was not found within the early church. Jews of that period allowed polygamy and this was undoubtedly brought with them as they converted to Christianity ( off-site). Latter-day Saints agree that the standard instruction to all believers is monogamy—exceptions can only be commanded by God through His prophet (see Jacob 2:30).

Multiple early Christian writers also understood there to be no absolute prohibition against plural marriage in some circumstances.

To read more:

Misrepresenting Joseph Smith's Early History

Claim: "[In an LDS film] Joseph is even shown healing the sick in Nauvoo. Although this film is very emotional and inspiring it has no more reality to it than any other fictional story created by Hollywood. Let's now examine the historical documents about the true character of Joseph Smith."

Joseph's healing accounts are well-attested to by multiple witnesses. There are numerous "historical documents" testifying that Joseph performed healings on multiple occasions.

Critics ought to be careful when dismissing or criticizing healing by God's power: the scribes and Pharisees likewise sought to minimize or negate the miraculous healings performed by Jesus by insisting that He was, in fact, wicked. (See, for example, Matthew 9:34, Matthew 12:13-14, Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:5-6, Luke 5:17-26, Luke 6:7, Luke 14:3-4, John 7:32, John 9:13, John 11:44-50, John 12:17-19).

To read more:

Claim: "An amazing experience like [the First Vision] should radically change a person's life but by the age of 21, Joseph was arrested and brought before a judge in Bainbridge, N.Y., for deceiving Josiah Stowell, charged for glass looking and sit before the court as a disorderly person."

Joseph never claimed to be perfect, and mentioned that following his vision he made foolish errors (JS-H 1:28). However, the video attempts to deceive its viewers on numerous points, as discussed in the sections below.

To read more:

Was Joseph found guilty?

The video omits the outcome of this legal proceeding. The appearance before the judge was not a trial—as demonstrated by the Reverend Wesley Walters, a prolific anti-Mormon author. Therefore, he was not found guilty and no trial was held. The video obviously wants the viewer to conclude that Joseph was found guilty in court—after all, there is no shame in being charged with a crime if one is found not guilty. Jesus Himself was falsely condemned.

But, these facts would not serve the video's purposes, so they say nothing about the outcome.

This is one more "historical document" which the video hides from its viewers.

To read more:

Was Josiah Stowell deceived?

Despite their claims that they are trying to "Search for the Truth," the video does not tell its viewers that Josiah Stowell testified for Joseph as a defense witness and did not believe that Joseph had defrauded him at all. Stowell testified of Joseph's claims, "Do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true."

To read more:

If Stowell had no complaint, why was Joseph brought before the judge at all?

The charges were brought by Stowell's family members, who seem worried that Josiah would accept Joseph's religious claims. Stowell joined the Church founded by Joseph, and remained a faithful member to the day of his death.

Do the video's authors condemn Paul because he was brought before many courts because of religious persecution? (See Acts 23:6.)

To read more:

Claim: "The next year he falls for Emma Hale, a girl at whose home he lodged...."

The reader will by now not be surprised that the video misrepresents in both what it says and does not say. Emma Hale was not "a girl"—she was, in fact, older than Joseph Smith (she was born 10 July 1804; Joseph was born 23 December 1805).

She was an adult of twenty three at the time of their marriage (18 January 1827), but the video's goal of portraying Joseph as a rake and womanizer is made easier if they distort matters.

Joseph Smith's Practice of Plural Marriage

Claim: "...Emma will prove to be a companion of such loyalty that the thought of breaking the heart of a woman like this would be unthinkable for most men, but not for Joseph Smith."

It is no secret that plural marriage was extremely challenging for Emma. However, the authors give us no citations to demonstrate what Emma thought about plural marriage and Joseph's claim to be a prophet.

Emma asked Joseph for a blessing not long before he went to Carthage. Joseph told her to write the best blessing she could, and he would sign it upon his return. Wrote Emma:

I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side.... I desire the spirit of God to know and understand myself, I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting.

Emma was troubled by plural marriage, but this trouble arose partly from her conviction that Joseph was a prophet. When one woman asked Emma if she felt Joseph was still a prophet despite her opposition to plural marriage Emma replied, "Yes, but I wish to God I did not know it." That she continued to support Joseph's calling and remain with him, despite her feelings about plural marriage, speaks much of her convictions. As she told Parley P. Pratt years later:

I believe he [Joseph] was everything he professed to be.

If the video's producers accept Emma as an important witness, their search for truth obligates them to include her witness of Joseph's prophetic calling to the very end of her life.

To read more:

Claim: "Within a few short years, even men who were closest to Joseph like David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, William Law and William McLellin were repulsed by Joseph Smith's multiple adulteries and publicly declared Joseph an adulterer."

It is disappointing that the Christian DVD producers think that making a public accusation against someone is sufficient to prove the case against them. Many charges were made against Jesus and the apostles, even by close friends and associates with the same purpose in mind. Are we to believe the "many of [Christ's] disciples [who] went back, and walked no more with him," (John 6:66) or those who continued faithful?

That Joseph practiced plural marriage is not a matter of debate. But the video presumes that the practice is by definition immoral in all times and circumstances. To do so is circular reasoning and begging the question.

What do we know about Oliver Cowdery's witness?

Oliver Cowdery left the Church in 1838. But the video leaves out important details. Even when not a member of the Church, Oliver insisted on the truth of his testimony:

I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest.
&mdashOliver Cowdery to Phineas Young, 23 March 1846

Despite his harsh personal feelings toward Joseph Smith, Oliver continued to insist that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, and that he had seen an angel and the plates.

Oliver later returned to the Church and was rebaptized, remaining faithful to his death in a witness of Joseph's prophetic calling and the truth of the Book of Mormon.

To read more:

What do we know about David Whitmer's witness?

David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, remained out of the Church. Whitmer disagreed with Joseph about plural marriage. The producers have created another dilemma for themselves, however, because he steadfastly maintained the truth of the Book of Mormon up to his death. If the producers accept Whitmer as an important witness, their search for truth again obligates them to disclose his witness to the truth of the Book of Mormon.

Thomas B. Marsh approached Cowdery and Whitmer about their witness following their excommunication from the Church.

I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to the testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book.... I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.
—"History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh," Deseret News (24 March 1858).

To read more:

What do we know about William McLellin's witness?

McLellin was an original member of the Twelve apostles. He was eventually excommunicated. It should be no surprise that McLellin vilified the Saints since he took part in mob violence and theft against them:

He took an active part with the mob in Missouri, in robbing and driving the Saints. At the time Joseph Smith was in prison, he and others robbed Joseph's house and stable of considerable property.
—Andrew Jenson, Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888), 5:38–39.

McLellin also tried to form his own Church with himself at the head, and he admitted at his excommunication hearing that

he quit praying and keeping the commandments of God, and indulged himself in his lustful desires.
History of the Church, 3:91. Volume 3 link

If the producers are indeed searching for the truth, they are obligated to disclose McLellin's unrelenting hostility towards Joseph Smith and the Saints.

What do we know about William Law's witness?

William Law continued to insist that Joseph was a prophet, but a fallen one:

It was not until perhaps April or May 1844 that he organized his thinking in such a way as to systematically attack his enemy. Even then he was not assailing the validity of the Restoration. The vehemence with which William Law denounced the Prophet in 1844 was not due to disbelief in Mormon polity, but to his conviction that the Mormon leader had plunged into apostate practices.
— Lyndon W. Cook, "William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 1 (Fall 1982), 56. off-site

Again, if the producers are engaged in a search for truth, they are obligated to disclose that Law did not dispute the validity of the Restoration despite the dilemma this creates for them.

To read more:

Misrepresenting LDS Doctrine

Claim: "In 1843, Joseph Smith had a revelation and penned D&C 132, outlining the necessity of entering into a new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage."

As the introduction to section 132 states, the evidence is clear that Joseph mentioned the doctrines of plural marriage as early as 1831—the ideas were well-developed in his mind long before 1843. (DC 132:, History of the Church, 5:xxix–xxx, 501–507. 501 Volume 5 link)

Doctrine and Covenants 132 teaches of "the new and everlasting covenant," which includes marriage since celestial marriage is a gospel ordinance:

The gospel is the everlasting covenant because it is ordained by Him who is Everlasting and also because it is everlastingly the same. In all past ages salvation was gained by adherence to its terms and conditions, and that same compliance will bring the same reward in all future ages. Each time this everlasting covenant is revealed it is new to those of that dispensation. Hence the gospel is the new and everlasting covenant. All covenants between God and man are part of the new and everlasting covenant. (DC 22:, DC 132:6-7.) Thus celestial marriage is "a new and an everlasting covenant" (DC 132:4) or the new and everlasting covenant of marriage....
—Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 529–530. GL direct link

The key doctrine described in D&C 132 is not plural marriage, but eternal or celestial marriage, which may (if so commanded) include plural marriage. While plural marriage was practiced, some members of the Church interpreted D&C 132 as applying exclusively to polygamy, which is understandable given that they were under a duty to obey the commands given to them.

However, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:

Plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation.... In our day, the Lord summarized by revelation the whole doctrine of exaltation and predicated it upon the marriage of one man to one woman. (DC 132:1-28.) Thereafter he added the principles relative to plurality of wives with the express stipulation that any such marriages would be valid only if authorized by the President of the Church. (DC 132:7,29-66.)
—Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 578. GL direct link

The video misunderstands LDS doctrine, garbles the history of Joseph's revelations on plural marriage, and misrepresents LDS teaching on the matter.

To read more:

Claim: "Brigham Young, revealed that your godhood rests on the act of polygamy saying, 'The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.' (Journal of Discourses Vol. 11 pg. 269)"

Unsurprisingly, the video omits material that clarifies Brigham Young's meaning (material not included in the video is indicated by red italics; bold red italics have been added for emphasis. Material quoted by the video is in black text.):

We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us.... It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: "We will pass along in the Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character and office, etc,"—the man that has that in his heart, and will continue to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.
—Brigham Young, "Remarks by President Brigham Young, in the Bowery, in G.S.L. City," (19 August 1866) Journal of Discourses 11:268-269. (emphasis added)

Brigham Young made several points:

  • the command to practice plural marriage is from God, and it is wrong to seek to abolish a command from God.
  • to obtain the blessings of Abraham, the Saints were required to be "polygamists at least in your faith": i.e., it was not necessary that each enter into plural marriage in practice, but that they accept that God spoke to His prophets.
  • it was wrong to avoid plural marriage for worldly, selfish reasons, such as believing the Church would fail, and hoping to have political or monetary rewards afterward.
  • if one were commanded to enter into plural marriage ("had blessings offered to them"), and if one refused, God would withhold blessings later because of disobedience now.

Thus, in the context of the speech, "enter into polygamy" does not mean that all members at all times are required to be actual polygamists, but that they accept the doctrine ["polygamists at least in your faith"] and be ready to practice it if so commanded without regard for worldly pressures.

It is beyond dispute that the Saints considered plural marriage to be a command from God. Even so, it was only practiced by a minority. Thus, it is troubling that a video claiming to search for the truth removes the portions of a quote making it clear that Brigham allows for faithful members who are polygamists in faith only.

To read more:

Guilt By Association and Further Misrepresentation of History

Claim: "In 1842 he [Joseph Smith] married, in an eight month period, eleven women. Took a five month break, and then in 1843 he married fourteen women, five of which he married in the month of May alone. So when we understand the timeline in which Joseph Smith married these women, how quickly he was marrying women we see that Joseph Smith had a voracious appetite for a new sexual partner." - Brian Mackert (Former Fundamentalist Mormon)

Once again, the video treats a complex issue with superficiality. It would probably be helpful to allow the early Saints to speak for themselves. B.H. Roberts, an influential leader explained:

The Saints did not accept into their faith and practice the plural-wife system with the idea that it increased the comfort, or added to the ease of anyone. From the first it was known to involve sacrifice, to make a large demand upon the faith, patience, hope and charity of all who should attempt to carry out its requirements. Its introduction was not a call to ease or pleasure, but to religious duty; it was not an invitation to self-indulgence, but to itself-conquest; its purpose was not earth-happiness, but earth-life discipline, undertaken in the interest of special advantages for succeeding generations of men.
B.H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1991), 557.

Even neutral observers have long understood that this attack on plural marriage is probably the weakest of them all. George Bernard Shaw, certainly no Mormon, declared:

Now nothing can be more idle, nothing more frivolous, than to imagine that this polygamy had anything to do with personal licentiousness. If Joseph Smith had proposed to the Latter-day Saints that they should live licentious lives, they would have rushed on him and probably anticipated their pious neighbors who presently shot him.
—Bernard Shaw, The Future of Political Science in America (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1933).

Furthermore, Joseph Smith would not permit sexual misconduct. For example, he refused to countenance John C. Bennett's serial infidelities. If Joseph was looking for easy access to sex, Bennett—mayor of Nauvoo, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and military leader—would have been the ideal confederate. Yet, Joseph publicly denounced Bennett's actions and severed him from the Church. Bennett became a vocal opponent and critic.

The critic cannot argue that Joseph felt that only he was entitled to polygamous relationships, since Joseph went to great efforts to teach the doctrine to Hyrum and the Twelve, who embraced it with much less zeal than Bennett would have. Nor do the film producers mention the women who accepted and defended the principle as God's will:

Dear Cousin . . . As you are aware by my former letter to you that I am a firm believer in and do sustain the principle of plural marriage—the celestial law or higher order of marriage, which not only unites husbands and wives for time but for all eternity, which last clause is the crowning point for all. I will explain more fully, if possible, my reason for so doing, and being a firm believer in the Bible, I will take that as my guide. I find by searching its pages where God said to Abraham the father of the faithful, (in whose bosom all good Christians are praying to repose) “I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Now this we understand is the promise pertaining to Christ the Redeemer, who should come and be crucified to atone for the sins of the world, that as many as would hearken to his word, might be brought back into the presence of God; also in Galatians, “Now to Abraham and to his seed were the promises made,” and He saith not unto seeds as of many, but as of one, and of thy seed which is Jesus Christ, and all who read the Bible know that Abraham had more than one wife. Again, I find the same promise made of Christ that he should come through the seed of Jacob; a man having four wives, and of these plural wives came the twelve patriarchs, whose names John the revelator tells us are to be written on the twelve gates of the holy city, even the new Jerusalem. In Kings I read that David was a man after God’s own heart, and through his loins a chosen seed should be raised up even Jesus Christ the Redeemer. The Apostle Paul in his day tells the people how the Lord said, I have found the son of Jesse a man after mine own heart which shall fulfill all my will, of this man’s seed hath God, according to promise, raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus. Isaiah confirms the same by telling us, in that day there shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand as an ensign for the people, to it shall the Gentiles seek and his rest shall be glorious. Now I learn from the Bible that Jesse, the father of David, was the son of Ruth the plural wife of Boaz and that David his son had many wives, yet in nothing did he displease the Lord only in the case of Uriah and his wife. In Revelations it says one of the Elders said unto me “weep not behold the lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed to open the book and loose the seven seals thereof. I am Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end; the first and the last. Again he says “I am the root and the offspring of David the bright and morning star, which makes it very plain to my understanding that God had great respect for those who believed and practised plural marriage, and indeed preferred that lineage for his holy son Jesus to come through, and as he is the root of David, who was a man after God’s own heart, it becomes a most positive proof to me that Jesus Christ, is the chief corner stone and author of this principle; therefore understanding and believing the Bible as I do, reason and my own conscience forces me not only to adopt the principle of plural marriage in my faith, but I must practise the same. I also read in John, Chapter 8, where our blessed Savior says, “if ye were Abraham’s children you would do the works of Abraham.” In Luke, he says, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and ye yourselves cast out. But this is not all, as I have previously told you by letter. God has commanded us through Joseph Smith, our martyred prophet, that we must obey this law, as did his ancient servants and handmaidens that we may become one with him, or where He dwells we cannot come. For us as a people to ignore or set aside this principle would be to incur the displeasure of an offended God.
—Nancy Arete Clark, "Letter on Plural Marriage", Woman’s Exponent (Salt Lake City: 15 Aug. 1882).


Historian B. Carmon Hardy observed:

Joseph displayed an astonishingly principled commitment to the doctrine [of plural marriage]. He had to overcome opposition from his brother Hyrum and the reluctance of some of his disciples. Reflecting years later on the conflicts and dangers brought by plural marriage, some church leaders were struck with the courage Joseph displayed in persisting with it.
—B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 9.

One can read volumes of the early Saints public writings, extemporaneous sermons, and private journals. One can reflect on the hundreds or thousands of miles of travel on missionary journeys and Church business. If the writings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, George Q. Cannon, Helen Mar Kimball, Zina D. Young, Martha Q. Cannon and many others cannot persuade someone that they were honest men and women (even if mistaken) then one should sincerely question whether such a person is capable of looking charitably upon any human, let alone any Mormon.

But, the producers of Search for the Truth have already demonstrated that they will not treat Latter-day Saints or their beliefs with honesty and respect, much less charity. As a result, their conclusion is unsurprising, even though the historical record tells a different story.

To read more:

Claim: "Warren Jeffs has been wanted by the FBI, he's been profiled on America's Most Wanted, he's been in the headlines a lot lately and the Mormon Church tries real hard to distance themselves from him." [Images of Warren Jeffs and Joseph Smith side by side on screen.] - Brian Mackert (Former Fundamentalist Mormon)

It is not surprising that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not wish to be mistaken for Jeffs, since Jeffs is not a member of the Church and never has been. off-site

The video now slanders Joseph Smith through the tactic of "guilt by association" by pointing out to the viewer that Jeffs appeals to some of Joseph Smith's teachings.

Christians ought to realize the dangers of such tactics. The name and teachings of Jesus Christ Himself have been invoked for such purposes as:

  • the Crusades
  • the persecution and murder of Jews
  • the persecution, torture, and murder of "heretics" or "witches" by Catholics and such Protestant Reformers as Calvin and Zwingli
  • justifying and protecting slavery by Southern Baptists prior to the American Civil War
  • acts of political terrorism

Because these evils were done by those claiming justification in the name of Jesus, is He therefore to be condemned?

Warren Jeffs claims to follow Joseph Smith, but ignores key aspects of Joseph's teaching and doctrine. For instance, a revelation to Joseph Smith made it clear that:

it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.
DC 42:11 (emphasis added)

Jeffs claims priesthood authority gained via a 'secret' ordinantion by past Church leaders, but Joseph Smith made it clear that no such ordination would be performed or considered valid.

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The amazing thing to me is that Warren Jeffs simply is following in the footsteps of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith married underage girls...." - Brian Mackert (Former Fundamentalist Mormon)

This is a textbook example of judging a historical figure by modern cultural standards rather than the standards of the society they lived in to ensure that they will be found wanting.

The DVD wants its modern viewers to judge the age of Joseph's marriage partners by modern standards rather than the standards of the 19th century. From a 21st century perspective the reader is likely to see marriages of young women to much older men as inappropriate, since under 21st century law, for example, older men marrying younger women could be found guilty of statutory rape.

The video will not point out to its viewers that this is a modern cultural and legal framework.

The age of consent under English common law was ten. United States law did not raise the age of consent until the late 19th century. In Joseph Smith's day, most states still had declared age of consent to be ten. Some raised it to twelve, and Delaware lowered it to seven. off-site

It is significant that none of Joseph's contemporaries complained about the age differences between polygamous or monogamous marriage partners. This was simply part of their environment and culture; it is unfair to judge 19th century members by 21st century social standards.

To read more:

Joseph Smith went to other women and said that their salvation was dependent upon them entering into plural marriage. - Brian Mackert (Former Fundamentalist Mormon)

The video's producers do not want viewers to know that Joseph generally approached a close male relative before approaching a woman about plural marriage—a strange choice for a seducer, since men zealously guarded the virtue and reputation of the female relatives. Joseph also promised those involved that God would tell them what He wanted them to do.

The video does not want its viewers to read the many first-person testimonies available from those who entered plural marriage.

The video also neglects the fact that Joseph Smith did not simply begin teaching plural marriage in a vacuum. Joseph had already produced many witnesses of his prophetic calling:

  • the translation of the Book of Mormon
  • divine and physical confirmation of the Book of Mormon's reality with the Three and Eight witnesses
  • multiple revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants
  • restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood, with Oliver Cowdery
  • numerous miraculous healings by the restored priesthood
  • other visions shared by others (e.g., the three degrees of glory in DC :76 with Sidney Rigdon)
  • the pentecostal experiences and visions associated with the Kirtland temple

Besides claiming authority from a secret ordination—something precluded by Joseph in DC 42:11—Warren Jeffs has no such record supporting his prophetic bona fides.

To read more:

Joseph Smith went to other men's wives and said that God had revealed to him that they were supposed to be his spiritual wives. - Brian Mackert (Former Fundamentalist Mormon)

As noted above, the critics neglect to mention that those who were taught plural marriage bore witness that they had been told by God to obey regardless of how difficult it was for them to comply.

The video does not want viewers to know that faithful husbands of these women were also aware of the sealings, and often stood as witnesses.

The video also does not wish its viewers to understand that Joseph's plural marriages were motivated by the doctrine of sealing rather than carnal motives.

Members of the Church believed then, as now, that the entire human family must be sealed together in order to return to God's presence. Rather than deferring such sealing until family history work is completed during the Millennium, they would seal families to each other, and then seal a family member to Joseph Smith—given that those so sealed to Joseph were usually close friends, this might be called a kind of "adoptive friendship."

Members do not seem to have understood this process as one of abandoning an earthly spouse for Joseph, but rather a desire to be with Joseph and his close friends, by having them all sealed together by the Melchezidek priesthood, the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God (DC 76:57, DC 107:3-4, Alma 13:1-9).

The point was that by sealing together through Joseph (holder of the dispensational keys) into the family of Christ, the entire family was confident of being together in the eternities, not only with each other, but with their dear friend and prophet Joseph Smith.

Members have, since the administration of Wilford Woodruff, refrained from sealing their family lines to Church leaders, and await more family history information—during the Millennium, if need be—to complete the sealing of the human family back to Adam, who will then present his posterity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Concluding Observations

Plural marriage as practiced by 19th century Latter-day Saints is an uncomfortable topic for many because it is easier to revile it than to understand it. Understanding plural marriage requires the compilation and mastery of a great deal of historical information. Many credible historians and scholars are attempting to do this but the film producers do not use them. They have relied on accusations and innuendo designed to shock rather than inform the viewer. Helen Mar Kimball, a plural wife of Joseph Smith, expresses the sentiments of those men and women who suffered the censure of others who so freely judged them:

If those not of our faith, who visit our cities, came with a determination to lay aside their prejudices, to learn the facts concerning us, or our religion, nothing would give more pleasure than to tell it them; but too many who have come here, after being treated with every politeness and escorted to seats in our tabernacle which are reserved for the stranger, sit there, under the very altar of the Lord's Supper, in the hearing of Saints who assemble to worship God, and spit out their venom, or make ridicule of everything that we hold sacred.
But the most despicable characters are the overly righteous souls, who are filled with such holy horror at the mention of "Mormon" polygamy, and are the ones whom we look upon with suspicion, and set them down as among the most corrupt of hypocrites."
—Helen Mar Kimball, Woman's Exponent 10 no. 13 (1 December 1881), 97–99.

The FAIR website has extensive resources on the issue of polygamy, and interested readers are encouraged to follow the links provided below for a more in-depth view of polygamy.

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