Fact: Early mormons practiced polygamy.
Fact: Yes…it sounds just as weird to me as it does to you.
Fact: If you’re a Christian, Jew, or Muslim…then you’d have to abandon your faith if you condemn periodic requirements to live in polygamous societies.
Fact: If you’re an atheist…then there is no moral law prohibiting you from practicing polygamy. Any moral laws that you live by have either been dictated by society or self. And if we’re living by societal norms…then those can change with the wind.
Let me make one thing clear. I am not defending or advocating polygamy. Just the thought of it makes me cringe…and I’m a man. Without a doubt…I don’t want another woman.
I am however defending the logic behind why polygamy might have been practiced in the early days of the church.
Over the past few days…I’ve been hit with emails, texts, private Facebook messages and every other type of message asking me about one topic; Polygamy. It appears as if every major news outlet in the world decided it would be fun to “front page” the fact that polygamy took place 150 years ago in the LDS church.
Big news right?
The media has no idea why Mormons practiced polygamy…so don’t listen to them.
The Church is making a big push to get everything aired out. They’re cleaning out their closet. They’re saying in effect…”here it is…this is who we are.” They seem to be doing this in order to set the record straight on things that detractors of the Church are otherwise presenting in a decontextualized fashion.
Mormon’s don’t live polygamy today and haven’t done so for over 120 years. So how come the media and others can’t just leave it alone.
There’s a major problem with how these topics hit the mainstream media. As they come across your Facebook or Twitter feed in the morning, you’re hit with a title that makes it seem as if no one had ever known about polygamy prior to this week. How it’s just coming out. How it’s now “Official”. They’re putting it out there for the entire world to see in a way that makes Mormons look like crazy fanatics.
In a NYTimes article this week…they quote a church member that says “Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people.”
Not sure where that came from but…Joseph was never painted as a perfect man to me. He was painted as a prophet of God…but never a perfect man. I learned about many of his weaknesses and how he…like many of the prophets and apostles of the past were fallible, sinful, and in need of the atoning blood of Christ. All you have to do is read some of the first few sections of the doctrine and covenants to watch Joseph Smith get rebuked by the Lord over and over again. He gets rebuked in those scriptures more than any other person in the church.
But for a church member to say Joseph was presented as “practically perfect” and then insinuate that polygamy was some sort of carnal secret of Joseph Smith’s that has now been revealed and has therefore tarnished his righteousness is completely illogical. According to Joseph Smith…he was commanded to take additional wives. He didn’t want to do it. He loved his wife Emma.
He said that, “an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.”
If he was just doing what he was commanded…and you believe he was a prophet…then plural marriage shouldn’t taint the “practically perfect” picture you initially had of the prophet.
If so…then we’ll need to discard almost the entirety of the Bible. Remember…Jesus was “Jehovah” of the Old Testament. That means that it was Jesus that was commanding the most well known and loved Old Testament prophets to live the law of polygamy at various times in history.
Why do people make Joseph Smith into some kind of a monster but omit the fact that Jesus commanded those Old Testament prophets and that those prophets lived that principle fully?
Joseph Smith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Moses. These men are the same. Joseph Smith happens to hit much closer to home because the time period in which he lived. Polygamy seems so weird to us because of the time period that we ourselves live in. But time periods mean nothing when it comes to defining righteousness.
If polygamy was commanded by God in the Bible…then there is no reason polygamy can’t be commanded in our day. And if it was righteous in Abraham’s day then it can be righteous in Joseph Smith’s day. Society can have no claim on what is right and wrong. Only God can!
If I lived in the days in which the principle of plural marriage was revealed I’d have probably reacted like Brigham Young or Heber C. Kimball.
Brigham Young’s first reaction was to say that “it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin…” (Journal of Discourses 3:266 (Jul. 14, 1855)
Heber C. Kimball said “I never felt more sorrowful,” speaking of the moment he learned of plural marriage in 1841. “I wept days. … I had a good wife. I was satisfied.”
That’s how I feel.
According to Helen Mar Kimball, Joseph Smith said that “the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.”
It’s interesting that he’d put it that way. “The hardest trial the saints would have to test their faith”? It seems as if it was true then…and still true today.
From June 7, 1844 with the Nauvoo Expositor to November 10, 2014 at every major news outlet in the world…the media has been publishing the fact that Joseph Smith and others had multiple wives. Those same media reporters go to their various churches on Saturday or Sunday and quote the polygamous Abraham or Moses. They get on stage and sing hymns that were published by the polygamous David, or quote proverbs from the polygamous Solomon.
Polygamy was not a cultural norm in Joseph Smith’s day. It wasn’t cool at the time and it wasn’t acceptable either. It wasn’t in Joseph Smith’s best interest to put it into place. If he was a bad guy…then there were plenty of other ways he could have found to gratify any convoluted sexual pleasures he had. He knew polygamy might cost him his life so why would he make it so public? He could have secretly used his power and influence to have sex with various women while staying under the radar. One has to ask themselves why he didn’t just head to the local bar or brothel like so many men in his day were doing and continue to do now.
It doesn’t make sense that someone would concoct an entire religion from the days of their youth and place their life on the line just so that they could be with multiple women when there were so many easier ways to go about that.
But in all of this…you’ll notice that there’s been no attempt by the Church to apologize for polygamy or write it off as “one of Joseph Smith’s carnal shortcomings.”
Why is that?
Because it wasn’t something that you can just write off as a human folly or consider him as a “fallen prophet” in his later years. Plural marriage was woven into the very beginnings of Mormonism for a very specific purpose without Joseph Smith even knowing.
But as we look back in hind sight…we can see that there is a doctrinal reasoning behind why all of it took place.
We’ll explore The Doctrinal Reasoning Behind Why Mormons Practiced Polygamy in Part II