Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Index/Chapter 17

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    Response to claims made in "Chapter 17: Joseph Smith"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism 101
A work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
They will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life
—Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith (1823)
∗       ∗       ∗


  • Having made regular visits to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, we have noticed a more subdued reference to Mormonism's founder by tour guides and various displays. In the public area, emphasis on Smith seems to be diminishing.



  • The authors condescendingly claim that they,

...almost feel sympathetic toward the Mormon apologist who has to defend Smith's bad social behavior...


  • Regardless of a token acknowledgment to the contrary, the authors leave the reader with the impression that not one person ever had anything good or positive to say about Joseph Smith. It is important to consider a few recorded opinions of Joseph in his day from those who knew and understood him, had the opportunity to interact with him, and ultimately finds itself in harmony with what he actually taught.
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith


  • The authors claim,

...should people accept Smith as a prophet of God when his behavior was sometimes less than what we would expect from political leaders? Should character be ignored when it comes to men who claim to be prophets of God?


Polyandry and the Prophet


  • The authors quote Richard Van Wagoner to describe Joseph's "lust for manly achievement" and his alleged "inclination toward extra-marital romantic liaisons."

Author's source(s)
  • Richard Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, 390-291, 293.
  • Todd Comption, "A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith's Thirty-three Plural Wives," Dialogue 29, no. 2 (Summer 1996), 22.
  • In the tasteless pursuit of tabloid details, the authors have merely excerpted sensational passages from the works of Richard Van Wagoner and Todd Compton in an effort to deconstruct Joseph.
  • Richard Van Wagoner, whose writings the authors make much use of, wrote what certainly applies to McKeever and Johnson's approach to Joseph's marital matters:

Contrary to popular nineteenth-century notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem, dominated by lascivious males with hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of Gentile travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage.[1]

The authors portray Joseph's plural marriages as lustful passion. This, however, is contrary to what polygamy was about.[2]


  • The authors use the terms "secret marriages" "secret plural wives" "secretly married" "amorous advances" "errant yearnings" "extra-marital romantic liaisons" "still teenagers" "affairs" "sexual relations" to describe Joseph's martial arrangements.

Author's source(s)
  • The authors' emotionally laced words of suggested deception are tactically employed to control their readers' perceptions of Joseph's marital engagements. In this case, the authors superficially gloss over Joseph's plural marriages of which Emma had limited knowledge. The authors repeatedly indicate on the one hand that Joseph's plural marriages were a secret to Emma, yet on the other hand describe her feelings as "jealously battling" something she supposedly did not know about. While there is ample evidence that shows Emma consented to at least a half-dozen wives, the authors ignore any discussion on the implications and meaning of this or her overall mixed feelings on
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Emma Smith


  • The authors note,

One misconception concerning Joseph's polyandry is that it was a practice represented in only one or two unusual marriages; however, fully one-third of Joseph's plural wives, eleven of them, were polyandrous.


  • In regard to polyandry, Daynes wrote: "Perhaps nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations."[3]
  • The authors base their shallow glimpse of this subject on what at times could be described as the historical guesswork of Compton, which carries its own subsequent set of problems. The authors merely repeat one sentence from Compton's book and fail to mention or consider any of Compton's long list of theories for reasons behind polyandry which might provide some understanding for the reader.[4]
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Polyandry


  • The authors state,

Some might argue that these relationships were strictly platonic. Compton disagrees, "Though it is possible that Joseph had some marriages in which there were no sexual relations, there is no explicit or convincing evidence for such a marriage (except, perhaps, in the cases of the older wives). And in a significant number of Joseph's marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations."


  • While the authors readily accept the insinuation that all of Joseph's relationships were sexual, they fail to consider or even recognize the speculative (and what at times has been described as the self-serving) nature of Compton's exploration of polyandrous marriages. Sources do not show nor is there any reliable evidence that the way Joseph practiced polyandry included sexual or familial relations.
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Children of polygamous marriages

  • The authors claim,

In May 1843 the thirty-seven-year-old prophet of Mormonism convinced fifteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball to be sealed as his plural wife. The daughter of Heber C. Kimball stated how Smith promised that if she would "take this step," it would insure the eternal salvation and exaltation of her father's household and kindred. Helen was led to believe that the relationship was more of a spiritual nature and claimed she would have never gone through with it had she known otherwise.


  • At this point in the authors' book, their sources are intermingled between Todd Compton and Richard Van Wagoner. While both books cover this same paragraph, the authors chose Van Wagoner's paragraph over Compton's entire chapter on the subject. This is likely because Van Wagoner provides no hint that the source of Helen's later claim of "would have never gone through with it" comes from an anti-Mormon writer whom Compton describes as displaying "extremism," "is suspect," "not credible," "unreliable," and to be "regarded with caution."[5]
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Helen Mar Kimball


  • The authors state,

For instance, would Mormons living in today's society follow as their prophet a man who was known to be a money digger and advocate of folk magic? According to Quinn, Smith and his family were well versed in such things: Joseph Smith...had unquestionably participated in treasure seeking and seer stone divination and had apparently also used divining rods, talismans, and implements of ritual magic.


  • The authors bring up magic again,

The fact that Smith owned a Jupiter talisman shows that his fascination with the occult was not just a childish fad. At the time of his death, Smith had on his person this talisman...



  • The authors claim that "[t]here is no question that many Mormon historians have painted Smith as a man of high morals and impeccable integrity. Any reports to the contrary are often assumed to have been made by enemies of the church or disgruntled ex-Mormons. Despite what may have been written about him, it is evident that Smith had an ego and expected to be followed without question."

  • Interestingly the authors seem to have no problem citing "LDS" and "Mormon" authorities to construct an entire chapter of "contraries." Is the reader to conclude that every single "LDS" or "Mormon" historian that they cite is an enemy or apostate?
  • The authors state that despite what may have been written about Joseph, he remains an egotist that controlled his people. Do Mormon leaders control the faithful and expect to be followed without question? There are several examples that show just the opposite expectation. Brigham Young, quoting Joseph Smith, said:

The question was asked a great many times of Joseph Smith, by gentlemen who came to see him and his people, 'How is it that you can control your people so easily? It appears that they do nothing but what you say; how is it that you can govern them so easily?' Said he, 'I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days. The time is drawing near when the Lord is going to cut short his work in righteousness, and the principles which he has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.' Gentlemen, this is the great secret now in controlling this people. It is thought that I control them, but it is not so. It is as much as I can do to control myself and to keep myself straight and teach the people the principles by which they should live.[6]

The Proud Prophet


  • The authors claim Joseph was boastful when he said,

I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.

Author's source(s)


No Salvation Without Joseph Smith


  • The authors use a quote from Brigham Young and from Joseph Field Smith to "prove" that Joseph is the gateway to the Celestial Kingdom,

Young stated that entrance into the celestial kingdom was conditional on Smith's consent. "No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are-I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation-the keys to rule in the spirit world."

President Joseph Fielding Smith affirmed this, saying that nobody could reject this "testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God."



  • The authors claim that Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph will save them,

Christians throughout the centuries have pointed to Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal life, Mormon leaders have taught that Joseph Smith will apparently be a deciding factor as well"... "The Bible clearly states that every person-both believer and non-believer-will be judged by Jesus, not Joseph! There is no hint that somebody like Smith would assist in the judgment.


  • There is little doubt that through reading the Bible and rest of the Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we all will stand before the great judgment bar of God.
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Status in LDS belief

Joseph Smith as Prophet


  • The authors claim evidence of failed prophecies,

[Smith's] followers were forced to leave Missouri...It should come as no surprise that among the many excuses Mormons have raised for the failure of Smith's Missouri predictions, few admit it was due to his lack of prophetical insight.


  • It is important to understand the context in which "historians" are quoted for a proper understanding of their material. Interestingly, the authors freely called upon dead "LDS historian Andrew Jenson" for an earlier quote in their chapter that served to question the truthfulness of Joseph as a prophet. That quote had nothing to do with the context of Jenson's talk. His entire lecture was on proving that Joseph was in fact a prophet of God by describing numerous instances of fulfilled prophecies and other such witnesses to the truthfulness of his call. McKeever and Johnson ignore the fact that Jenson, in his 110-year-old Friday-evening lecture to the Student's Society, illustrated how Smith's predictions were proof of his "prophetical insight."
  • Ironically, Jenson uses Missouri as one proof of Joseph's "prophetical insight." Jenson states:

In 1831 the Saints were commanded to gather to Jackson County, Mo., which was designated as a land of inheritance for the Saints in the last days, and also as the identical spot where they should build that great city, the New Jerusalem, about which the ancient Prophets and Saints had sung, prayed and rejoiced so much. Joseph Smith had just arrived in that goodly land, together with a number of his brethren, when a revelation, containing some very strange sayings was given on the 1st of August, 1831.[7]

  • Jenson then relates D&C 58:1-5, wherein the Lord talks of the land they had just arrived in and speaks of "much tribulation" and blessings to those that remain faithful after that which is to follow. Jenson points out that if Joseph was a fraud attempting to make financial gain or seeking the vain glory and honor of men, then it would be pretty absurd to be predicting trouble when there was none immediately apparent. In less than three years after this revelation, the Saints were driven out of Jackson County and three years after that they were forced from Clay County, Missouri, then two more years later the Governor issued an extermination order driving them from the State of Missouri. If McKeever and Johnson do not think this means "much tribulation," then what, as Jenson states, does it mean?
  • For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Alleged false prophecies

The "Martyrdom" of the Prophet


  • The authors now attempt to cast doubt on Joseph's status as a martyr for his beliefs,

Knowing full well that he would be in great danger by placing himself in the hands of his enemies, Smith attempted to flee into Iowa and ultimately to the Rockies. While waiting for horses, his wife Emma sent him a message stating that the Latter-day Saints were accusing Smith of cowardice and urged him to return. Smith did so.


  • Was Joseph a coward? Joseph and Hyrum returned to Carthage for reasons that the authors omit from their narration. Joseph was, and always had been, willing to die for his faith, his God, and his people. Danel Bachman, illustrating this willingness, cited an 1838 incident when Joseph and Hyrum were in the hands of their enemies and were sentenced to be executed. Did he resist? No! Joseph, speaking of his feelings at the time said:

As far as I was concerned, I felt perfectly calm, and resigned to the will of my heavenly Father.... And notwithstanding that every avenue of escape seemed to be entirely closed, and death stared me in the face, and that my destruction was determined upon, as far as man was concerned; yet, from my first entrance into the camp, I felt an assurance, that I with my brethren and our families should be delivered. Yes, that still small voice, which has so often whispered consolation to my soul, in the depth of sorrow and distress, bade me be of good cheer, and promised deliverance.

  • The authors which to emphasize that Joseph drank wine at Carthage,

After dinner, Smith and several church officials ordered some wine to be brought to the jail.


  • The fact that the History of the Church mentions the wine so matter-of-factly should warn us that circumstances were different, and neither current or later Church leaders or members saw this as something that would make Joseph look bad.[8]
  • The authors lead the reader to think that Joseph and his associates sat around drinking wine all night. Joseph's final night consisted of testimony, study, and prophecy. The record reads:

During the evening the Patriarch Hyrum Smith read and commented upon extracts from the Book of Mormon, on the imprisonments and deliverance of the servants of God for the Gospel's sake. Joseph bore a powerful testimony to the guards of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, restoration of the Gospel, the administration of angels, and that the kingdom of God was again established upon the earth, for the sake of which he was then incarcerated in that prison, and not because he had violated any law of God or man.[9]:600

  • Later that night we read:

Soon after Dr. Richards retired to the bed which Joseph had left, and when all were apparently fast asleep, Joseph whispered to Dan Jones, "are you afraid to die?" Dan said, "Has that time come, think you?" "Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors." Joseph replied, "You will yet see Wales, and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die."[9]:601

  • The authors claim that Joseph's use of a gun disqualifies him as a martyr.

Smith was visited by Cyrus H. Wheelock who, as he was about to leave, "drew a small pistol, a six-shooter from his pocket, remarking at the same time, 'Would any of you like to have this?"' The narrative states that Smith "immediately replied, 'Yes, give it to me."' He then proceeded to take the pistol and put it into his pants pocket.


  • There is no question Joseph intended to defend himself and his friends, as was his right. As to the details that shed light on his acquisition of the weapon, another narrative from the History of the Church paints a different and clearer picture than the one the authors present. The account reads:

The morning being a little rainy, [Wheelock] favored his wearing an overcoat, in the side pocket of which he was enabled to carry a six shooter, and he passed the guard unmolested. During his visit in the prison he slipped the revolver into Joseph's pocket. Joseph examined it, and asked Wheelock if he had not better retain it for his own protection... Joseph then handed the single barrel pistol which had been given him by John S. Fullmer, to his brother Hyrum, and said, 'You may have use for this.' Brother Hyrum observed, 'I hate to use such things or to see them used.' 'So do I,' said Joseph, 'but we may have to, to defend ourselves;' upon this Hyrum took the pistol.[9]:243 [10]


  • The authors repeat a popular rumor that Joseph killed two of his attackers with his gun,

John Taylor stated that before Smith was shot, he used his smuggled gun to shoot three of his attackers, killing two of them.

Author's source(s)


  • The authors attempt a comparison between the death of Joseph Smith and the death of Jesus Christ,

The differences between Jesus and Joseph Smith are obvious. On the one hand, Jesus quietly and humbly went like a lamb to the slaughter. He went peacefully and without resistance. When Peter attempted to defend his Lord from the mob by drawing his sword, he was told to put it away (John 18:11) is wrong for Mormons to draw a similarity between Smith's final actions and those of the Savior. There can be no comparison between the sacrificial death of Christ and the way Smith died!


  • Professional critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner would no doubt approve of the authors' conclusions about the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. Why wouldn't they? The same material can be found in a pamphlet that they sell entitled Jesus and Joseph Smith. For example:
    • Tanner: "It is interesting to compare the death of Joseph Smith with that of Jesus."
    • McKeever: "The differences between Jesus and Joseph Smith are obvious."
    • Tanner: "Jesus did go like a 'lamb to the slaughter'"
    • McKeever: "Jesus quietly and humbly went like a lamb to the slaughter"
    • Tanner: When Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword, Jesus told him: "Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11)
    • McKeever: When Peter attempted to defend his Lord from the mob by drawing his sword, he was told to put it away (John 18:11)
    • Tanner: "can be seen that the death of Joseph Smith can in no way be compared to the death of Jesus."
    • McKeever: "can be no comparison between the sacrificial death of Christ and the way Smith died!"
  • Additionally, the previously addressed narratives of Cyrus H. Wheelock's pistol, details of the "shoot-out," and the two dead men, can all be found in the Tanner's free pamphlet. The fact that this information can be had via the Tanner's Internet site, or thirty copies of the pamphlet can be had for the price of one dollar at the Tanners' store in Salt Lake City, demonstrates the stale and tired recompilation of 170+ years of asked-and-answered anti-Mormon rhetoric.
  • While both sets of critics make much of Jesus telling Peter to put his sword away, both fail to mention the instruction was preceded by Jesus telling the apostles who did not have swords to sell their garments and buy one, which was followed by Peter cutting the servants ear off, then Jesus said it was enough. (Luke 22:36-51) Why did Jesus tell his followers to equip themselves with swords if he did not want them to defend themselves? Jesus himself said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34)
  • Regardless, "Mormons" draw no such comparison between the matchless sacrifice of Christ and that of the cold-blooded murder of the Prophet. This theme of denying Joseph Smith status as a Martyr is popular in anti-Mormon publications. They conclude that his use of a gun, and attempted escape from a window (to save the lives of those in the room, no less) voids him as a martyr. While this defies definition, it is nonetheless used as a basis for denial. The question must be asked, can a martyr give resistance? There is nothing in its definition that suggests they cannot. Webster's definition of a Martyr certainly fits Joseph. The definition states that a martyr is someone "put to death for adhering to a belief, faith, or profession." The authors apparently want the definition to be re-written to exclude Joseph Smith. If the authors suggest he was put to death for some other reason, they fail to make their case. Can the authors deny Christ as the Savior because he resisted earlier attempts against His life? Paul similarly fought death through following a lengthy legal process in hopes of freedom. So are we to conclude that Paul is not a Martyr either? It is puzzling how the authors can contrast between Jesus and Joseph and arrive at the conclusion they do. We see through examples above, just how Joseph acted under due process. He was a willing sacrifice and his words and actions repeatedly confirm this.


  1. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 89.
  2. Of the non-biblical cultural abhorrence of polygamy, Stephen E. Robinson writes: "In Western culture plural marriage is generally abhorred, but the roots of this abhorrence can hardly be described as biblical, for the Old Testament explicitly sanctions polygamy and the New Testament does not forbid it. The practice could not have been abhorrent to Jesus and the first-century Jewish Christians, for their culture was not Western, and plural marriage was sanctioned in the law of Moses, the holiness of which was endorsed by both Jesus and Paul. Indeed, it is possible that some Jewish Christians of the first century continued to practice plural marriage just as they continued Sabbath observance, circumcision, and other practices related to their cultural and religious background. The cultural milieu of Judaism and early Christianity simply cannot be the source of the Western horror of plural marriage, for plural marriages were common in the environment of the earliest Christian church.

    I do not deny that polygamy is now abhorred in Western culture generally and in modern Christianity particularly. What I deny is that the source of that abhorrence is biblical. It is derived not from the biblical heritage but the classical-the abhorrence of polygamy comes from Greece and Rome. As orthodox a figure as Saint Augustine knew that the prohibition of plural marriage in the church of his day was only a matter of Roman custom: 'Again, Jacob the son of Isaac is charged with having committed a great crime because he had four wives. But here there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now, because it is no longer the custom… The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the laws forbid it.' Though pagan culture could freely tolerate multiple sexual partners, it could tolerate only one wife. In that respect Greco-Roman culture was very similar to contemporary Western culture.

    Clearly, then, the antagonism to plural marriage was not biblical in origin, for the bosom of Abraham, where most Christians long to repose, is a polygamous bosom, and the house of Israel, into which most Christians seek admission, is a polygamous house. [Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 92-93.]
  3. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.
  4. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 15-23. ( Index of claims )
  5. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 15-23.
  6. Discourses of Brigham Young, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1954), 470.
  7. Andrew Jenson, "Joseph Smith: A True Prophet," a lecture delivered by Elder Andrew Jenson, before the Students' Society, in the Social Hall, Salt Lake City, Friday evening, January 16, 1891, as found in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989).
  8. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:606. Volume 6 link
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 6 link
  10. J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1979), 243-245.

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