Sunday, June 4, 2017

Answering Letter to A CES Director # 8

This post was written by Brian C. Hales
Pages 31 to 36 of The Letter to a CES Director (abbreviated The CES Letter) discuss Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding plural marriage. Due to the many inaccuracies and repetitions in those six pages, I will respond by giving a general overview of plural marriage and then include an appendix that provides a point-by-point response to specific claims found in The CES Letter.

Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: An Introduction

Joseph Smith may have learned that Old Testament polygamy may sometimes be an acceptable practice to the Lord as early as 1831.[i] Three years later Joseph reported that an unidentified angel appeared commanding him to practice plural marriage.[ii] What followed was the eventual unfolding of the ancient practice of patriarchal Old Testament polygamy among select Jacksonian LDS Nauvoo Saints and the eventual widespread practice among members in territorial Utah.
While the timing is uncertain, it appears Joseph Smith’s first polygamous marriage occurred in 1835 or early 1836.[iii] At that time, he wed Fanny Alger with Levi Hancock performing the ceremony using priesthood authority.[iv]  The plural union could not have turned out worse for the Prophet because both his legal wife Emma and Associate Church President Oliver Cowdery rejected the legitimacy of the marriage, and Fanny was sent away.
During the Kirtland Temple dedication proceedings, Joseph reportedly received a visitation from an angel, the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who bestowed authority to seal marriages for eternity (D&C 110:16).  Uncharacteristically, the Prophet left that authority dormant, not using it to seal any marriage, monogamous or polygamous, for five years. 
The first sealed marriage and the first Nauvoo plural union was solemnized on April 5, 1841, by Joseph B. Noble between Noble’s sister-in-law, Louisa Beaman, and the Prophet.[v]
During the next year most of Joseph Smith’s plural sealings were to legally married women in non-sexual, eternity-only sealings. These placed Joseph as the woman’s husband in the next life, but not on earth, where she remained married to her civil spouse.[vi]
It appears Joseph sought these types of celestial sealings to satisfy the angel’s command and also because they would be less bothersome to his legal wife Emma.[vii] Reportedly, the angel returned in early February of 1842, brandishing a sword and instructing Joseph to enter full plural marriages.[viii]
On April 9, 1842, Joseph proposed to a previously unmarried woman in Nauvoo, the first since his sealing to Louisa Beaman over a year earlier.[ix] Thereafter, his plural sealings included primarily previously unmarried women.
Understanding the chronology of early polygamy is complicated by the arrival of John C. Bennett to Nauvoo in the fall of 1840.[x]  Bennett, a known adulterer, continued his immoral ways and was eventually exposed and excommunicated.[xi]  Some say he was a confidante of the Prophet, but in October of 1843, over a year after leaving Nauvoo, Bennett wrote in a letter to the Iowa Hawk Eye, admitting that he never learned about “marrying for eternity,” monogamously or polygamously, while in Nauvoo.[xii]  

It is likely that Emma accepted plural marriage in early 1843 and participated in four sealings in May involving the Lawrence and Partridge sisters.[1][xiii]  Emma always struggled with polygamy and on July 12, 1843, Joseph dictated a revelation, now D&C 132, designed to convince her to accept the practice. Its message was direct, almost harsh, and Emma resisted. A few months later, she softened somewhat and served with Joseph administering temple ordinances to worthy members. During the final eight months before the Prophet’s death, their public life was completely monogamous.
Most of the men and women introduced to celestial plural marriage in Nauvoo accepted the teachings. The notable exception is William Law, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Law nearly entered into plural marriage.[xiv] But once he had decided to reject it, he became Joseph’s bitter enemy. He launched a new paper, The Nauvoo Expositor, which spoke of polygamy. Joseph and the Nauvoo City Council deemed it a “nuisance” and had it destroyed. Illinois Governor Ford believed the destruction was unlawful and summoned Joseph to Carthage, where he was killed. Polygamy wasn’t openly acknowledged as a primary factor, but it appears to have been one of the major issues that contributed to the Joseph’s demise.  
This brief history describes the introduction of polygamy among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is true that Joseph Smith practiced it and that no valid plural marriage ceremonies can be performed without the approval of the “one” man holding the sealing keys. The “one” man is President Monson today and he is not permitting such unions. Consequently, this is strictly a historical consideration for current members of the Church.
The author of The CES Letter claims he was betrayed because these details were not taught to him in Sunday School.[xv] He has taken the position they were “hidden from” him by the church. Yet, it is obvious that he still does not understand what actually happened. Whether his misunderstanding is the result of a superficial investigation or a willingness to believe highly biased antagonistic reports, is less clear. That his personal convictions concerning the church’s teachings have been swayed by these misrepresentations is unfortunate.

The Letter to a CES Director’s treatment of Joseph Smith’s polygamy is remarkably unbalanced, redundant, and sometimes rambling. It is apparent that its author has embraced a few impressions that were mentioned over and over within the six pages. Below are responses to all of the concerns, although a few of the redundant claims (and their responses) have not been repeated. Excerpts from The CES Letter are represented in red with responses in black.
Polyandry: Of those 34 women, 11 of them were married women of other living men.
By my count, Joseph was sealed to 35 women and 14 of them may have had a legal husband.[xvi] Of the 14, two (Mary Heron and Lucinda Pendleton) are too poorly document to discern what kind of sealing occurred (if any), and Sarah Ann Whitney’s legal ceremony resulted only a “pretend marriage.”[xvii] That leaves 11, which all appear to be non-sexual, “eternity only” sealings. Several of these women could not be sealed to their civil husbands because those men were not active Latter-day Saints. The reasons the other women chose Joseph Smith for eternity is unclear. Lucy Walker remembered Joseph’s teaching:  “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.”[xviii]
Among them being Apostle Orson Hyde who was sent on his mission to dedicate Israel when Joseph secretly married his wife, Marinda Hyde.
Two sealings dates for Joseph and Marinda Hyde are available in the historical record. The earliest date is a year after Orson Hyde left on his mission to Palestine. “Apr 42,” is written by Thomas Bullock on a blank page at the back of Joseph Smith’s journal.[xix]  A second more reliable date of “May 1843” is found on an affidavit signed by Marinda, five months after Orson returned home.[xx] Of the other thirteen women, none of their legal husbands are documented as being on missions on the dates of their sealings to the Prophet.
Church historian Elder Marlin K.  Jensen and unofficial apologists like FairMormon do not dispute the polyandry. The Church now admits the polyandry in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.
This is false. There is no credible evidence that a woman in Nauvoo believed she could—have or ever did have—two genuine husbands at the same time. Church leaders have not stated or otherwise implied that true polyandrous relationships occurred or would have been sanctioned.
Out of the 34 women, 7 of them were teenage girls as young as 14-years-old.
According to available documents, Joseph Smith was sealed to four 19-year-olds, three 17-year-olds, one 16-year-old, and two 14-year-olds.[xxi]
Joseph was 37-years-old when he married 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, twenty-three years his junior.
Helen was sealed to Joseph Smith when she was fourteen, but he did not seek that union—it was arranged by her father, Heber C. Kimball.[2]  Strong evidence indicates the sealing was not consummated.[xxii] Decades later in Utah, Helen was the most prolific voice defending Joseph Smith and the practice of plural marriage.[xxiii]
Even by 19th century standards, this was shocking.

This is false and an example of presentism. Marriages to fourteen-year-olds were eyebrow-raising, but not “shocking.”
Among the women was a mother-daughter set and three sister sets.
Joseph was sealed to women that he already knew, that were in his immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. Benjamin F. Johnson, a close friend of the Prophet, remembered:  “In talking with my mother… he [Joseph Smith] told her that when the Lord required him to move in plural marriage, that his first thought was to come and ask her for some of her daughters; and I can now understand that the period alluded to was at Kirtland, where she had three unmarried daughters at home.”[xxiv] Joseph did not marry strangers. That these women may have been related is unremarkable.
Several of these women included Joseph's own foster daughters.
Little is known about Joseph’s sealings to Sarah and Maria Lawrence beyond the fact that Emma Smith participated in the ceremonies. Neither Sarah nor Maria neither left any negative statements concerning the unions even though Sarah later left the Church.
Some of the marriages to these women included promises by Joseph of eternal life to the girls and their families,
This is false. While Helen wrote in 1881 that Joseph said: “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred,”[xxv] two years later she admitted: "I confess that I was too young or too 'foolish' to comprehend and appreciate all” that Joseph Smith then taught.[xxvi] Other members of Helen’s “father’s household” who were present did not recall such a promise. Their lives after the sealing, demonstrates that they did not believe that Helen’s eternal marriage to Joseph had ensured their own “eternal salvation.”[xxvii]
threats of loss of salvation,
This is false. No credible reports exist that Joseph Smith threatened a woman with of a loss of salvation if she decline a plural proposal. When Sarah Granger Kimball rejected Joseph’s discussion of plural marriage, “He said, ‘I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer, you will not be led into temptation.’"[xxviii] We only know about this because Sarah later mentioned it. Joseph never spoke of it.
and threats that he (Joseph) was going to be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if the girls didn't marry him.
This is false. Joseph never told a woman that he’d be “slain” if they turned him down. Zina Huntington remembered: “He [Joseph Smith] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth, I would lose my position and my life.’”[xxix] This recollection is sometimes conflated and misrepresented.
A lot of members don’t realize that there is a set of very specific and bizarre rules outlined in Doctrine & Covenants 132 (still in LDS canon despite President Hinckley publicly stating that polygamy is not doctrinal) on how polygamy is to be practiced.
D&C 132 speaks of exaltation and eternal marriage, two of Joseph’s zenith teachings. The last two sections of the revelation address plural marriage. But I find no “set of very specific and bizarre rules” regarding polygamy there or any other doctrine.
The only form of polygamy permitted by D&C 132 is a union with a virgin after first giving the opportunity to the first wife to consent to the marriage. If the first wife doesn’t consent, the husband is exempt and may still take an additional wife, but the first wife must at least have the opportunity to consent.
This is false. D&C 132:61–63 describe one acceptable way (of several) to enter into eternal plural marriage. But claims that those verse describe the only way are in error.
In case the first wife doesn’t consent, she will be “destroyed”.
Being “destroyed” means that they will not receive exaltation. See D&C 17:4.
Also, the new wife must be a virgin before the marriage and be completely monogamous after the marriage or she will be destroyed (D&C 132: 41 & 63). It is interesting that the only prerequisite that is mentioned for the man is that he must desire another wife: “if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another...” It does not say that the man must get a specific revelation from the living prophet, although we assume today that this is what was meant.
This is false. D&C 132:61–63 does not describe the only way valid plural marriages may be contracted. For an eternal marriage to be valid, it must be performed by the authority of the “one” man holding the priesthood keys (vv. 7, 18, 19). He would not grant permission if he felt it was inappropriate to do so. Freelance marriages arising from a man’s “desires,” as stated in the CES Letter, would “not be valid, neither of force” (v.18).
D&C 132 is unequivocal on the point that polygamy is permitted only “to multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.”
This is false. D&C 132 specifies four reasons for the practice of plural marriage: 1. To multiply and replenish the earth (v. 63). 2. As part of a restoration of all things (vv. 40, 45). 3. As a specific trial (v. 51). And 4. To allow all worthy individuals to be sealed so they may become eligible for exaltation (vv. 16–17). Otherwise they “remain singly and separately, in the saved condition, to all eternity.” This is the most important.
Unions without the knowledge or consent of first wife Emma.
We do not know when Emma learned of Joseph Smith’s plural marriage teachings and polygamous wives. There is no record of him lying to her about this. Emma, who obviously knew the details of their own relationship, stayed true to Joseph throughout their lives right up to the martyrdom.
Unions without the knowledge or consent of the husband, in cases of polyandry.
This is false. “Polyandry” is multiple husbands, which was never authorized in Nauvoo. We know very little regarding the eternity-only sealings of married women to the Prophet. These were not polyandry.
A union with a newlywed and pregnant woman (Zina Huntington).
This was an eternity-only sealing. Zina later related: “I was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity. . . I was married to Mr. Jacobs, but the marriage was unhappy and we parted.”[xxx]
Dishonesty in public sermons, 1835 D&C 101:4, denials by Joseph Smith denying he was a polygamist,
This is false. Joseph was not being “dishonest” when he said: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” Outwardly, Joseph only had one wife. He never publicly acknowledged his plural wives in any way. He never introduced them in a public setting as his wives.  Legally, Joseph only had one wife. He did not commit bigamy because none of the plural marriage ceremonies invoked legal authority. So as he was openly addressing the congregation that day, only one wife was legally recognized and only one wife had ever been publicly acknowledged. And that wife was Emma.
Joseph’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor that exposed his polygamy and which printing press destruction started the chain of events that led to Joseph’s death.
This is an overstatement. Joseph was Mayor and supported the action, but the Nauvoo City Council voted to destroy the press.
Marriages to young girls living in Joseph’s home as foster daughters (Lawrence sisters, Partridge sisters, Fanny Alger, Lucy Walker).
This is false. Fanny Alger, the Partridge sisters, and Lucy Walker did live with the Smith family, but they were not “foster daughters.”
Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger was described by Oliver Cowdery as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323
The original statement was “dirty, nasty, filthy scrape.”  It is clear Oliver did not accept the plural marriage as valid, but evidence is strong that Fanny, her family, those who officiated, and others who knew the details did believe it was a valid marriage.
Joseph was practicing polygamy before the sealing authority was given. LDS historian, Richard Bushman, states: “There is evidence that Joseph was a polygamist by 1835” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323. Plural marriages are rooted in the notion of “sealing” for both time and eternity. The “sealing” power was not restored until April 3, 1836 when Elijah appeared to Joseph in the Kirtland Temple and conferred the sealing keys upon him. So, Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger in 1833 was illegal under both the laws of the land and under any theory of divine authority; it was adultery.
This is false. We do not know when Joseph Smith married Fanny Alger as a plural wife. Joseph reported that in July of 1834 an unidentified angel commanded him to practice polygamy. Some have speculated that the marriage may have been after April 3, 1836 and could have been a sealing. What we do know is that it was not discovered until a few weeks after the Kirtland Temple dedication.[xxxi] If the plural ceremony occurred prior to April 3, priesthood authority could have ratified a time-only plural marriage that unquestionably would have been recognized by God (according to Joseph’s teachings). The Prophet and other ordained elders used priesthood authority to perform monogamous marriages recognized by the government and the Lord. The state of Ohio would not have recognized a plural marriage, but if God commanded it and priesthood authority was used, it would be fulfilling His expectations.
Also, verse 63 states that if the new wives are with another man after the polygamous marriage, they will be destroyed. Eleven of Joseph’s wives lived with their first husbands after marrying Joseph Smith. Most of them lived on to old age. Why weren’t they “destroyed”?
Being “destroyed” is not earthly destruction, but spiritual destruction. Paul gave a similar example: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
How about the consent of the first wife, which receives so much attention in D&C 132? Emma was unaware of most of Joseph’s plural marriages, at least until after the fact, which violated D&C 132.
According to available records, Joseph did not received this principle (D&C 132:61) in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835. Regardless, Emma rejected his plural marriage to Fanny Alger the following year so he would not have been required to seek Emma’s consent later in Nauvoo. As stated above, D&C 132:61–63 is not the only process through which a valid plural marriage can be contracted.
I've been asked once by an LDS apologist if I would be okay with Joseph Smith's polygamy and polyandry if I received a witness that God really did command Joseph Smith to participate in these practices. The question is not if I would “be okay with” God commanding Joseph Smith to secretly steal other men’s wives and to marry underage and teenage girls. The question is “Do I believe that God did such a thing?” The answer, based on comparing D&C 132 to what actually happened, along with my personal belief that there is no such thing as an insane polygamist god who demanded such sadistic, immoral, adulterous, despicable, and pedophilic behavior while threatening Joseph’s life with one of his angels with a an emphatic and absolute “no.”
This is a rather dramatic and inaccurate portrayal. The author of The Letter to a CES Director is entitled to his opinion, but this paragraph is very problematic. “Secretly steal other men’s wives”? I think this is the fourth reference to polyandry, a relationship that did not occur in Nauvoo and would have been condemned by Joseph Smith if anyone had tried to practice it. “Pedophilic behavior”? I’ve learned that anyone who uses the word “pedophile” to describe Joseph Smith’s behavior is either uninformed or seeking to misrepresent reality or both. A “pedophile” is someone sexually interested in children up to age 11 and has no application to Joseph Smith. “Sadistic” is defined as “Cruel, barbarous, vicious, brutal, callous, fiendish, cold-blooded, inhuman, ruthless, heartless; perverted.” This seems over-the-top and nonsensical. Does the CES Letter author apply this condemnation equally to Old Testament polygamists Abraham and Jacob? Joseph’s behavior was not “sadistic.” None of his plural wives ever accused him of any form of abuse, including the seven that left the Church. It seems that accusations like this take us far afield from transparency and accuracy.
The secrecy of the marriages and the private and public denials by Joseph Smith are not congruent with honest behavior. Emma was unaware of most of these marriages. She certainly did not consent to most of them as required by D&C 132. The Saints did not know what was going on behind the scenes as polygamy did not become common knowledge until 1852 when Brigham Young revealed it in Utah. Joseph Smith did everything he could to keep the practice in the dark. In fact, Joseph’s desire to keep this part of his life a secret is what ultimately contributed to his death when he ordered the destruction of the printing press (Nauvoo Expositor) that dared expose his behavior in June 1844. This event initiated a chain of events that led to Carthage.
The idea that Joseph Smith kept plural marriage “in the dark” is false. Secrecy was attempted regarding the actual marriage ceremonies and relationships, but teaching the principle was done cautiously. The goal was that worthy Church members were introduced to the principle in a way that did not teach gospel meat to those who needed gospel milk (D&C 19:22). For example, Cyrus Wheelock described his introduction: “We would go out in the timber to talk under the trees about the principles of the church, amongst other principles that of baptism for the dead was discussed and the building of the temple and all those things together.  It was at this time, amongst others, that he taught us the principle of plural marriage, but his teaching was not specially directed to me, but to all who were in the company.  We talked about it as we might here or any brother qualified and having authority to do so will discuss principles when he gets along with his brethren in friendly and confidential discourse.”[xxxii]
Consider the following denial made by Joseph Smith to Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo in May 1844 – a month before his death:
"...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." – History of the Church, Vol. 6, Chapter 19, p.  411
It is a matter of historical fact that Joseph had secretly taken over 30 plural wives by May 1844 when he made the above denial that he was ever a polygamist.
[Repeated from above: Joseph was not being “dishonest” when he said: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” Outwardly, Joseph only had one wife. He never publicly acknowledged his plural wives in any way. He never introduced them in a public setting as his wives.  Legally, Joseph only had one wife. He did not commit bigamy because none of the plural marriage ceremonies invoked legal authority. So as he was openly addressing the congregation that day, only one wife was legally recognized and only one wife had ever been publicly acknowledged. And that wife was Emma.]
The following 1835 edition of Doctrine & Covenants revelations bans polygamy:
1835 Doctrine & Covenants 101:4: “Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”
Other critics of the Church have observed that, due to technicalities in the verbiage of this verse, it might not require monogamy. RLDS Elder David H. Bays made this allegation in his 1897 book:
You may have observed the ingenious phraseology of that part of the document [1835 D&C section 101] which is designed to convey the impression that the assembly, as well as the entire church, was opposed to polygamy, but which, as a matter of fact, leaves the way open for its introduction and practice. The language I refer to is this:
“We believe that one man shall have one wife; and one woman but one husband.” Why use the restrictive adverb in the case of the woman, and ingeniously omit it with reference to the man? Why not employ the same form of words in the one case as in the other? Of the woman it is said she shall have but one husband. Why not say of the man, he shall have “but one wife except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”67
In 1902, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith made the same observation: “The declaration … that ‘one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband,’ bears the implication that a man might possibly be permitted at some time to have more than one wife.”68
These two authors took the position that the statement in the Article on Marriage could be seen as ambiguous due to the absence of a needed qualifier “we believe that one man should have [only or at least?] one wife.” Bays condemns the lack of specificity, while President Smith implied it was an intended loophole.
Whether the precise terminology was truly deliberate is unknown because Joseph Smith apparently never referred to the technical aspects of the declaration. It is possible the language was crafted by Joseph himself, since by 1835, he knew the practice of plural marriage was one of the many things he was expected to restore.69
1835 Doctrine & Covenants 13:7: “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.”
Here we learn that a man should cleave only to a wife and never cleave to a non-wife. The issue of monogamy may be implied, but the language does not prevent polygamy.
1835 Doctrine & Covenants 65:3: “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”
If this were a declaration against polygamy, the language would have needed to be different: “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have [only] one wife.” This is similar to language in the 1835 D&C section CI.
Joseph Smith was already a polygamist when these revelations were introduced into the 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants and Joseph publicly taught that the doctrine of the Church was monogamy. Joseph continued secretly marrying multiple women as these revelations/scriptures remained in force.
The narrow interpretation found The CES Letter is unjustified.
In an attempt to influence and abate public rumors of his secret polygamy, Joseph got 31 witnesses to sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy. Pointing to the above-mentioned D&C 101:4 scripture, these witnesses claimed the following:
“...we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.”
The problem with this affidavit is that it was signed by several people who were secret polygamists or who knew that Joseph was a polygamist at the time they signed the affidavit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the signers of this affidavit, was Joseph Smith’s plural wife. Joseph and Eliza were married 3 months earlier on June 29, 1842. Two Apostles and future prophets, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, were very aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed. Another signer, Bishop Whitney, had personally married his daughter Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph as a plural wife a few months earlier on July 27, 1842; Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s mother Elizabeth (also a signer) witnessed the ceremony.
These claims are misleading. The statement signed by 31 men and women was denouncing John C. Bennett’s “spiritual wifery,” and had nothing to do with celestial plural marriage. Eliza R. Snow wrote to Joseph F. Smith explaining the intent of those that signed the statement:
At the time the sisters of the Relief Society signed our article, I was married to the prophet— we made no allusion to any other system of marriage than Bennett's— his was prostitution, and it was truly his, and he succeeded in pandering his course on the credulity of the unsuspecting by making them believe that he was thus authorized by the Prophet. In those articles there is no reference to divine plural marriage. We aimed to put down its opposite.[xxxiii]
What does it say about Joseph Smith and his character to include his plural wife and buddies – who knew about his secret polygamy/polyandry – to lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist?
On July 27, 1842, only three men (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball) had entered into plural unions. Celestial plural marriage was not a “rule or system of marriage” within the Church. They did not “lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit.” Such exaggerations are based upon uninformed interpretations.
Now, does the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry while lying to Emma, the Saints, and the world about it over the course of 10+ years prove that he was a false prophet? That the Church is false? No, it doesn't.
Polyandry for the fifth time? Is there evidence of “lying to Emma”? Emma remained devoted to Joseph. When on June 24, 1844, Joseph left for Carthage and martyrdom, he requested that Emma accompany him.  Because of the needs of their children, she was unable to comply, but she requested a blessing from him. Harried for time, he told her to “write out the best blessing [she] could think of and he would sign the same on his return.”[xxxiv] She wrote: “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.”[xxxv] Immediately after Joseph’s death, family friend John P. Greene reported seeing Emma "weepig and wailing bitterly, in a loud and unrestrained voice, her face covered with her hands." He remarked, "this affliction would be to her a crown of life."  She allegedly replied:  "My husband was my crown.[xxxvi]
What it does prove, however, is that Joseph Smith’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for a period of at least 10 years of his adult life was to keep secrets, be deceptive, and be dishonest – both privately and publicly.
It is paradoxical that individuals who know Joseph the least, like the author of The Letter to the CES Letter, claim to know things that those who knew Joseph best, apparently couldn’t see. None of Joseph Smith’s plural wives ever accused him of abuse or deception, including the seven who did not gather to Utah with the main body of the Church. Decades after their feelings had matured and their youthful perspectives expanded by additional experiences with marriage and sexual relations, none of them claimed they were victimized or beguiled by the Prophet.  None came forth to write an exposé to tell the world he was a seducing imposter.  None wrote that Joseph Smith’s polygamy was a sham or a cover-up for illicit sexual relations.  Had any of Joseph’s polygamous wives eventually decided that he had debauched them, their subsequent scorn might have easily motivated them to expose him through the pages of the anti-Mormon presses located across the expanding United States.  Numerous publishers would have been eager to print their allegations.
Similarly, none of the other 85 polygamists who had entered into plural marriage during the Prophet's lifetime wrote exposés or defaming literature accusing him of licentiousness.
For a response to the chart on page 35, click here:
For a response to the chart on page 36A, click here:

[2] Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March 1881,” MS 744, CHL.  Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1997, 482–87.

[i] See “Council meeting minutes,” CR 100 318, Box 1, Folder 29, page 5, January 10 to March 24, 1845, CHL.
[ii] Mary E. Lightner to A. M. Chase, April 20, 1904, quoted in J. D. Stead, Doctrines and Dogmas of Brighamism Exposed, [Lamoni, Iowa]:RLDS Church, 1911, 218–19. See also “Record Book of Mary R. L. Rollins, MS 748, CHL; The Life and Testimony of Mary Lightner, n.p., n.d. [Salt Lake City: Pioneer Press?], 10.
[iii] See Don Bradley, "Mormon Polygamy before Nauvoo? The Relationship of Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger," in Newell G. Brighurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2010, 14–58. For the chronology of the angelic visits, see Mary Elizabeth Rollings Lightner, “Remarks” at Brigham Young University, April 14. 1905, vault MSS 363, fd 6. 2–3; Letter to Emmeline B. Wells, summer 1905, MS 282, CHL. Copy of holograph in Linda King Newell Collection, Ms 447, bx 9, fd 2, Marriott Library. See also “Statement” signed February 8, 1902, Vesta Crawford Papers, copy, MS 125, bx 1 fd 11, Marriott Library. Original owned by Mrs. Nell Osborne.
[iv] Levi Ward Hancock Autobiography with additions in 1896 by Mosiah Hancock, 63, CHL; cited portion written by Mosiah, (MS 570, CHL); Dean R. Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs. Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976, 37–38;
[v] Joseph B Noble, Affidavit, Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Book 1:38, 4:38; printed in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 221.
[vi] Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871–1942], MS 17956; CHL, Box 49, Folder 16, fifth document.
[viii] Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, summer 1905, MS 282, CHL. Copy of holograph in Linda King Newell Collection, Ms 447, bx 9, fd 2, Marriott Library; “Statement” signed February 8, 1902, Vesta Crawford Papers, copy, MS 125, bx 1 fd 11, Marriott Library. Original owned by Mrs. Nell Osborne. See also Juanita Brooks Papers, USHS, MSB103, bx16, fd 13.
[ix] See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 2:477–96.
[x] Ebenezer Robinson, The Return, St. Louis, vol. 1, no. 11 (November 1890) 362.
[xi] See Joseph Smith, “To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and to all the Honorable Part of Community,” Times and Seasons, 3:839–40 (July 1, 1842).
[xii] John C. Bennett, “Letter from General Bennett,” Hawk Eye, December 7, 1843, 1.
[xiii] Partridge Young, Emily Dow, undated handwritten autobiographical statement, in Andrew Jenson Collection, Box 26, Folder 3, holograph, in ink, CHL, pages 1-2.
[xiv] Lyndon W. Cook, ed., William Law: Biographical Essay, Nauvoo Diary, Correspondence, Interview, Orem, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1994, 37.
[xv] Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director, 80.
[xvi] See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 2:323–41.
[xvii] Marquardt, H. Michael. The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Joseph C. Kingsbury, and Heber C. Kimball. Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1973; rev. ed., Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1982, 18.
[xviii] Lucy Walker Kimball, “A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Lucy Walker Kimball Smith,” CHL; quoted in Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving an Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience, Logan, Utah: Utah Journal Co, 1888, 46.
[xix] See Richard E. Turley, Jr. Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, vol. 1, DVD # 20, MS155_1_6_320.jpg.; it is written in the hand of a different scribe from previous entries on an undated page after the final entry in that journal dated July 14, 1843.
[xx] Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 1:15, 4:15, CHL.
[xxii] Helen Mar Kimball was not called to testify in the 1892 Temple Lot trial. If she had been sexually involved with the Prophet in their plural marriage, her exclusion from the depositions is difficult to explain. Helen lived in Salt Lake City and had written two books defending plural marriage. In addition, Helen lived geographically closer than two of the other witnesses who were called, Malissa Lott (thirty miles south in Lehi) and Lucy Walker (eighty-two miles north in Logan). Both of these women affirmed that sexual relations were part of their plural marriages to the Prophet. Helen's diary journal for March 1892 documents that she was aware of the visit of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) contingent, but there is no indication that they or LDS Church leaders approached her to testify. (Charles M. Hatch and Todd M. Compton eds., A Widow’s Tale, the 1884–1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 494–95.) That she would have been an excellent witness to discuss and defend the fact that Joseph Smith taught and practiced plural marriage is undeniable.
[xxiii] Helen Kimball’s first book, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa “Herald” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882) was a direct response to the claims of the RLDS Church, the plaintiffs in the Temple Lot lawsuit. Her second book, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840), echoed many of the same arguments.
[xxiv] Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review, Mesa, Arizona: 21st Century Printing, 1992, reprint, 94. Historian Andrew Jenson wrote that “Johnson was one of the first to whom Joseph [taught] a knowledge of plural marriage.” (Biographical Sketch of Benjamin F. Johnson, in Andrew Jenson Collection, MS 17956; Box 8, Fd. 5.)
[xxv] Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March 1881,” MS 744, CHL. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1997, 482–87.
[xxvi] Helen Mar Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith [III], Editor of the Lamoni Iowa “Herald," 16.
[xxvii] See Helen Mar’s father, Heber C. Kimball, to Helen Mar Kimball, letter dated July 10, 1843, Heber Kimball, Journal and Letters, 39–40. On New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library. CD-ROM. Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998.
[xxviii] Andrew Jenson, "Plural Marriage," Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 232.
[xxix] Zina Huntington, et. al Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm Supplement, January 12, 1895: 212.
[xxx] Biographer Oa Jacobs Cannon wrote: “Henry signed an agreement releasing Zina to the Prophet for eternity. This agreement is on file in the Salt Lake Temple. It was found by Rega Card, Zina’s grandson.” (“A Brief History of Zina D. H. Young, unpublished, Zina D. H. Young Papers, Mss SC 2184, HBLL BYU, page 12.) If such a document actually exists in the Salt Lake Temple, it would need to have been signed in the Nauvoo period, nearly forty years prior to the Salt Lake Temple dedication.
[xxxi] See Don Bradley, "Mormon Polygamy before Nauvoo? The Relationship of Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger," in Newell G. Brighurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2010, 14–58.
[xxxii] Cyrus Wheelock, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 539, question 80. See also questions 107, 136, 139 and 142.
[xxxiii] Eliza R. Snow to Joseph F. Smith, n.d., Joseph F. Smith, papers, 1854–1912, CHL
[xxxiv] Quoted in Raymond T. Bailey, "Emma Hale: Wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith." M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1952, 112–13. 
[xxxv] Ibid.
[xxxvi] B. W. Richmond's statement quoted in "The Prophet's Death!" Deseret News Weekly, December 8, 1875, 11; reprint from the Chicago Times.


  1. Thank you Brian and Tarik. This is very enlightening and interesting.

    I do feel like Joseph and others were walking a fine line with their public statements and I can understand people feeling like they were being deceptive. But I don't condemn them for trying to walk that fine line in a time when they were facing severe persecution for their beliefs.

  2. “The author of The CES Letter claims he was betrayed because these details were not taught to him in Sunday School. He has taken the position they were “hidden from” him by the church. Yet, it is obvious that he still does not understand what actually happened. Whether his misunderstanding is the result of a superficial investigation or a willingness to believe highly biased antagonistic reports, is less clear. That his personal convictions concerning the church’s teachings have been swayed by these misrepresentations is unfortunate.”

    Come on! I’m 46 years old and pretty well-read and I was never in many decades of Sunday School, Seminary and Institute taught in those formats about Joseph Smith’s plural wives or polyandry. I only found out about some of it for the first time by reading anti-Mormon literature at university. A friend of mine who was a bishop who left while still serving in that calling and has become a campaigning anti-Mormon exasperated me when he said he had never heard that Joseph Smith had plural wives. I thought that was impossible and argued with him, but when I checked for references to use against him he turned out to be right – there was pretty much diddlysquat except a couple of very obscure mentions in footnotes. Members who did as they were told and refused to go reading non-curriculum books and manuals and stray into anti-Mormon literature or really academic books about Mormon history were never told anything about this stuff until the recent openness forced on the Church by the internet, and more accurate historical research from within the ranks of Mormon historians like Bushman.

    Of course we have every right to feel betrayed! We were taught all kinds of rubbish, like plural marriages only ever happened with the permission and participation of existing wives. Joseph broke that rule repeatedly, as everyone including the Church historians acknowledges now. When the RLDS taught that Joseph had not taught or practiced polygamy the LDS leadership went to town getting affidavits from Joseph’s surviving plural wives that they had been married and that the relationships had indeed involved sexual intercourse, so why are you playing down the sexual dimension of his marriages in this article? You seem to be ignoring several elephants in the room and doing rather a lot of mental gymnastics to avoid actually addressing the points the CES letter makes.

    I find D & C 132 really fascinating to read now we know this history about it. It is basically appalling in its sexism and total disregard for the free will of the women asked to me or tolerate plural wives and threatens them with ‘destruction’ for not cooperating. How on earth you can say above that being threatened by someone you believe is God’s mouthpiece with spiritual destruction is fine because at least it wasn’t physical death is beyond me – if you are a believer, the destruction of the soul is FAR worse than death of the body.

    I find the general tone of your apologetics to veer towards propaganda rather than neutral and reasonable because in your specific responses to specific lines of the CES Letter you often slip into distracting ‘clever Dick’ responses like that which intentionally ignore the real issue or meaning of the points made. Semantics over substance. There seems to be a habit among LDS apologists responding to it, particularly in Fairmormon, of assuming Jeremy is an idiot or a Machiavellian and fiendish conspirator and littering the responses with little personal digs at him instead of recognising that, whatever his motivations, the reason the CES letter speaks so deeply to so many people is that it simply recognises that the general membership have been lied to repeatedly in our curriculum, information has been intentionally covered up or misrepresented for propaganda rather than truth, and now we know what the contradictions and problems are both in the narrative and the associated policies and beliefs, we have a right to some straight answers and explanations. Not more of the same propaganda.….continued…..

    1. I didn't write this one, but I don't think Brian will see this. I am shocked at how little members know, but that is there fault not the Churches. If non-members could find this information before joining the Church, then members could to. There are many sources out there.

  3. ……I would be more impressed if you allowed yourself to acknowledge, as the Gospel Topics Essays do repeatedly, that not all was perfect or defensible in how Joseph behaved. It seems that isn’t a place you are willing to go to in any of your responses, and where it is unavoidable you just ignore the point being made. For example, “...we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.” How does that definition not include plural marriage as Joseph and Eliza Snow and the others understood it to mean? Whatever Eliza may have said about it afterwards to spin it, they were clearly not just denying or condemning Bennet’s system of adultery. They were lying about what they were doing in their polygamous practices and beliefs and the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed because it was about to reveal that they lied. Personally I can understand why they might do that in the context of persecution as you say, but why do you feel the need to insist they were not technically and factually and knowingly lying? This is why Fairmormon has lost so much credibitlity – the inability to acknowledge that anything was ever wrong ever in how Joseph behaved. Always a get-out clause even if it involves the most nonsensical mental gymnastics with tapirs and semantics.

    Fairmormon did at least have Patrick Mason give his brilliant talk in which he acknowledged we have thrown too much onto the ‘truth cart’ that cannot be defended with integrity. What are your thoughts about what he said? I’m basically objecting to you doing the same.

    I also find D and C 132:49-56 fascinating and revealing because it basically acknowledges that Joseph had sinned against Emma by adulterously having relationships or marriages behind her back, and backtracks fast on the offer he had, according to historians, made to Emma that she could have some male lovers as compensation for his. So even though he has sinned against his wife he gets promised exaltation because he has had a difficult time, poor wee lamb, but she gets threatened with destruction if she doesn’t shut up and cooperate with his polygamy while she must be monogamous to him. And that’s in the scriptures! What a mess. You can’t spin that as all being absolutely fine and say people like Jeremy (and thousands of other faithful members) are being silly to be alarmed by it because we have just misunderstood. I think that’s really patronising and doesn’t encourage members with these concerns to trust that apologists and the leaders who rely on and imitate them understand what their concerns really are or that they are able to communicate respectfully or reliably about them. The all guns blazing approach to LDS apologetics has served its purpose but it seems to me it has no gone way too far and it is time for something more realistic and sensitive, if only because it isn’t working any more. I have seen more ex members than I can count online, and dear friends of mine, say very clearly that the extreme mental gymnastics of apologists like Fairmormon who they turned to for help with their questions were so ridiculous that they gave up trying to stay if that was the best we could do to address the problems. They could see straight away just how illogical a lot of the defensive arguments attempted were. This is tragic because it wasn’t like that in the 1990’s when I relied heavily on them at university in intense discussions with Christians armed with all the anti-Mormon propaganda. A lot of it has turned out to be more accurate than what I was being taught in Institute and we all need to get real about that truth as Patrick Mason has urged us to. As I work through the posts in this blog it is feeling like those lesson have not been learned yet here.

    1. Um, that is not what Section 132 says at all. No idea where you are getting that from.