Joseph Smith/Polygamy

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Joseph Smith and Polygamy

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Important introductory material on plural marriage available here

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THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

Charles W. Penrose,  "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era, (September 1912)


Question 18: Was Joseph Smith, Jr., a polygamist?
Answer: Joseph Smith introduced and practiced plural marriage. The proofs of this are abundant and complete.[1]


THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "LESSON 140: Doctrine and Covenants 132:1–2, 34–66," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, (2013)


Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly....Practicing plural marriage brought additional challenges. Because the practice was initially kept very quiet, rumors began to spread about Church leaders marrying additional wives. These rumors greatly distorted the truth, slandered the names of the Prophet and other Church leaders, and contributed to increased persecution against the Saints
(Click here for full article)


QUESTIONS


Joseph Smith is frequently attacked for his introduction and practice of polygamy. These attacks usually focus on arguing that:

  1. Polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical
  2. Joseph hid the truth about the practice of polygamy
  3. Polygamy was illegal, and therefore improper
  4. Polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires
  5. Joseph desired to marry young women
  6. Joseph married women who were already married to other men (polyandry).

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

CONCLUSION


Plural marriage was perhaps the greatest challenge to the early members of the Church. The choices of early members to practice polygamy are often not considered in context.

TOPICS


Joseph Smith and polygamy

Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy. From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry). (Click here for full article)



List of Joseph's plural wives, with links to critical claims related to specific plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr. (Click here for full article)







  • Works of Abraham
    Brief Summary: D&C 132 tells Joseph and others to "do the works of Abraham." What are the "works of Abraham?" (Click here for full article)
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  • Is polygamy not Biblical?
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Does the Book of Mormon condemn polygamy?
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Early Christians on plural marriage
    Brief Summary: 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.[2] (Click here for full article)
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  • Claims that polygamists are allowed to go beyond normal "bounds"
    Brief Summary: Is it true 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? (Click here for full article)
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  • Sealing brother and sister together
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Hiding the truth about polygamy
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Hiding the truth about polygamy from Emma
    Brief Summary: Joseph Smith did not always disclose his plural marriages to his first wife, Emma. How might we understand his decision? (Click here for full article)
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  • Illegal to practice polygamy?
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Did Joseph write secret "love letters" to any of his polygamous wives?
    Brief Summary: Is it true 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? (Click here for full article)
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  • Why was Joseph sealed to young women?
    Brief Summary: Critics argue that Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to young women are evidence that he was immoral, perhaps even a pedophile. (Click here for full article)
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  • Fanny Alger and William McLellin
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Women locked in a room
    Brief Summary: Were women locked in a room while Joseph attempted to persuade them? (Click here for full article)
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  • Did Joseph Smith coerce women to marry him?
    Brief Summary: Some have claimed that Joseph applied significant pressure on women to be married to him. (Click here for full article)
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  • Did women turn Joseph down?
    Brief Summary: Some 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? (Click here for full article)
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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. (Click here for full article)



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). (Click here for full article)

  • Eliza R. Snow and the stairs
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Hiding the truth about polygamy from Emma
    Brief Summary: Joseph Smith did not always disclose his plural marriages to his first wife, Emma. How might we understand his decision? (Click here for full article)
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  • Emma to be annihilated
    Brief Summary: In the revelation D&C 132 Emma was promised annihilation if she failed to 'abide this commandment.' (Click here for full article)
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  • Sealing of Emma to Joseph
    Brief Summary: 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." (Click here for full article)
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Is it possible that Joseph Smith fathered children with some of his plural wives, and that he covered up the evidence of pregnancies? Did Joseph Smith have intimate relations with other men’s wives to whom he had been sealed, and did any children result from these unions? DNA testing has so far proven these allegations to be false. (Click here for full article)




  • Divorce in the 19th century
    Brief Summary: Some members of the Church remarried without obtaining a formal legal divorce. Critics of the Church try to make this seem dishonest and adulterous, when it was in fact the norm for the period, especially on the frontier and among the poor. Critics are not honest about the legal realities faced by nineteenth century Americans. (Click here for full article)
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  • Remarrying without civil divorce
    Brief Summary: Some critics like to emphasize that some LDS members did not receive civil divorces before remarrying—either monogamously or polygamously. They either state or imply that this shows the Saints' cavalier attitude toward the law. (Click here for full article)
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  • Illegal marriages in Ohio?
    Brief Summary: Critics charge that Joseph Smith performed monogamous marriages for time of already-married members, violating Ohio law in Kirtland. Such claims are false and represent a misunderstanding about the marriage and divorce law of the day. (Click here for full article)
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Videos

Endnotes

  1. [note] Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
  2. [note] Orson Pratt and John Philip Newman, “Does the Bible Sanction Polygamy?” Deseret News, 12–14 August 1874.
  3. [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.
  4. [note]  Brigham Young, "Plurality of Wives—The Free Agency of Man," (14 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 3:266-266.
  5. [note]  Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 89.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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