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Joseph Smith and polygamy
From 1912, by a member of the First Presidency:
- Question 18: Was Joseph Smith, Jr., a polygamist?
- Answer: Joseph Smith introduced and practiced plural marriage. The proofs of this are abundant and complete.
Critics attack Joseph Smith for his introduction and practice of polygamy. These attacks usually focus on arguing that:
- Polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical
- Joseph hid the truth about the practice of polygamy
- Polygamy was illegal, and therefore improper
- Polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires
- Joseph desired to marry young women
- Joseph married women who were already married to other men (polyandry).
Plural marriage was perhaps the greatest challenge to the early members of the Church. Critics are anxious to avoid putting the choices of early members in context, in an effort to make the early members look like reprobates or dupes. In doing so, they hope to discourage those who hear their version of events from even considering whether these men were true prophets of God.
Implementation of plural marriage
- Initiation of the practice—
When and how did plural marriage begin in the Church? (Link)
- Works of Abraham—
D&C 132 tells Joseph and others to "do the works of Abraham." What are the "works of Abraham?" (Link)
- Claims that polygamy is not Biblical—
The criticism that polygamy is irreligious appeals to western sensibilities which favor monogamy, and argues that polygamy is inconsistent with biblical Christianity or (ironically) the Book of Mormon itself. (Link)
- Does the Book of Mormon condemn polygamy?—
Critics use the Book of Jacob to show that the Book of Mormon condemns the practice of polygamy, and go on to claim that Joseph Smith ignored this restriction by introducing the doctrine of plural marriage. (Link)
- Early Christians on plural marriage—
There is extensive, unequivocal evidence that polygamous relationships were condoned under various circumstances by biblical prophets, despite how uncomfortable this might make a modern Christian. Elder Orson Pratt was widely viewed as the victor in a three-day debate on this very point with Reverend John P. Newman, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in 1870. (Link)
- Claims that polygamists are allowed to go beyond normal "bounds"—
Critics claim that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young admitted that the practice of polygamy meant they were "free to go beyond the normal 'bounds'" and "the normal rules governing social interaction had not applied to" Joseph. (Link)
Critics' claimed motivations for Joseph's implementation of plural marriage
- Did Joseph have "lustful motives" for practicing polygamy?—
Neutral observers have long understood that this attack is probably the weakest of them all. One might reasonably hold the opinion that Joseph was wrong, but in the face of the documentary evidence it is laughable to argue that he and his associates were insincere or that they were practicing their religion only for power and to satisfy carnal desires. Those who insist that “sex is the answer” reveal more about their own limited perspective than they do of the minds of the early Saints. (Link)
- Critical claims that Joseph had a youthful struggle with unchastity—
Some critics charge that Joseph Smith had youthful struggles with immoral actions. They claim that these are what eventually led him to teach the doctrine of plural marriage. (Link)
- Early womanizer—
Critics charge that Joseph Smith had a long history of "womanizing" before practicing plural marriage. This chapter includes Eliza Winters and Marinda Nancy Johnson. (Link)
Keeping plural marriage a secret
- Hiding the truth about polygamy—
It is true that Joseph did not always tell others about plural marriage. He did, however, make some attempt to teach the doctrine to the Saints. It is thus important to realize that the public preaching of polygamy—or announcing it to the general Church membership, thereby informing the public by proxy—was simply not a feasible plan. Critics of Joseph's choice want their audience to ignore the danger to him and the Saints. (Link)
- Illegal to practice polygamy?—
Polygamy was certainly declared illegal during the Utah-era anti-polygamy crusade, and was arguably illegal under the Illinois anti-bigamy statutes. This is hardly new information, and Church members and their critics knew it. Modern members of the Church generally miss the significance of this fact, however: the practice of polygamy was a clear case of civil disobedience. (Link)
- Did Joseph write secret "love letters" to any of his polygamous wives?—
Critics claim that on 18 August 1842 Joseph Smith wrote a “love letter” to Sarah Ann Whitney requesting a secret rendezvous or "tryst." Joseph had been sealed to Sarah Ann three weeks prior to this time. What does this letter actually say? (Link)
Entering into plural marriage
- Plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr.—
Critical claims related to specific plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr. (Link)
- Why was Joseph sealed to young women?—
Critics argue that Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to young women are evidence that he was immoral, perhaps even a pedophile. (Link)
- Fanny Alger and William McLellin—
With a lone exception, there is no account after Joseph’s death of Emma admitting Joseph’s plural marriages in any source. The reported exception is recorded in a newspaper article and two letters written by excommunicated Latter-day Saint apostle William E. McLellin. The former apostle claimed to have visited Emma in 1847 and to have discussed Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger. McLellin also reported a tale he had heard about Joseph and Fanny Alger in which they were allegedly observed by Emma together in the barn. (Link)
- Women locked in a room—
Were women locked in a room while Joseph attempted to persuade them? (Link)
- Did women turn Joseph down?—
Some critics have claimed that significant pressure was put on women to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo. Did any of these women resist or refuse? What were the consequences of doing so? (Link)
Complex plural marriages
- Joseph Smith and polyandry—
Joseph Smith was sealed to women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church. (Link)
How Emma Smith dealt with plural marriage
- What was Emma's reaction to Joseph's practice of polygamy?—
Critics contend that Emma Hale Smith either did not approve of the Prophet Joseph Smith having plural wives or know of the revelation concerning celestial marriage(s). (Link)
- Eliza R. Snow and the stairs—Some charge that Eliza R. Snow, one of Joseph's plural wives, was pregnant by Joseph. According to the claim, a furious Emma pushed Eliza down the stairs, resulting in a miscarriage. (Link)
- Emma to be annihilated—In the revelation D&C 132 Emma was promised annihilation if she failed to 'abide this commandment.' (Link)
- Sealing of Emma to Joseph—Critics contend that although Emma Hale Smith was Joseph's first wife, that Joseph was sealed to other wives before being sealed to Emma. The assumption follows that Emma was not in a position to consent to Joseph's other marriages, since she was not longer the "first wife." (Link)
Consequences of plural marriage
- Did Joseph have any children through polygamous marriages?—
Critics claim that Joseph Smith fathered children with some of his plural wives, and that he covered up the evidence of pregnancies. They also claim that Joseph Smith had intimate relations with other men’s wives to whom he had been sealed, and that children resulted from these unions. DNA testing has so far proven these allegations to be false. (Link)
- Sealing brother and sister together—
Critics announce that Joseph "sealed" brothers and sisters together, perhaps hoping that readers will conclude that brothers and sisters were thus married and engaging in incestuous relationships. (Link)
- [note] Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
- [note] Orson Pratt and John Philip Newman, “Does the Bible Sanction Polygamy?” Deseret News, 12–14 August 1874.
- [note] Bernard Shaw, The Future of Political Science in America; an Address by Mr. Bernard Shaw to the Academy of Political Science, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on the 11th. April, 1933 (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1933) as cited in Richard Vetterli, Mormonism Americanism and Politics (Salt Lake City: Ensign Publishing, 1961), 461–462.
- [note] Brigham Young, "Plurality of Wives—The Free Agency of Man," (14 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 3:266-266.
- [note] Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 89.