Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

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Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by Beefster » 26 Jan 2018, 19:43

In the crumbling of my worldview, polygamy became very unsettling to me. The idea of polygamy doesn't so much bother me (hey, if women are okay with sharing a husband, that's their prerogative) as its practice in the early church. Joseph Smith's alleged involvement with other women did not sit right with me. Then I stumbled on this. ... ygamy.html

I haven't crosschecked any sources, but for some reason, I'm more inclined to believe this interpretation. Polygamy was really the only thing standing in my way of saying that Joseph Smith was a prophet. But maybe he wasn't a polygamist. History is written by the winners- in this case it was Brigham Young. Having a polygamist Joseph Smith favored him, so he rewrote history that way- including getting his wives and many other women lie about being married to Joseph Smith.

At this point, I can say that I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Brigham Young--and by implication, all church presidents that followed--was not. This is not to say that many of the later presidents were not good men, but that's something for another discussion.

"JS was a prophet and BY wasn't" was an idea I've felt gravitated toward since my shelf broke on tithing and polygamy. It resolves my feelings rather elegantly, as I still have favorable feelings toward the First Vision and am inclined to believe that it really happened in some sense or another.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by dande48 » 26 Jan 2018, 22:07

Good find, Beefster!

I've toyed with the idea as well. The RLDS/Community of Christ believe this whole-heartedly. Emma Smith believed this too. The BOM preaches explicitly against polygammy, and much of the time when it was said to have been practiced in JS time was in secret. Going back to the whole Fanny Alger incident, it was later claimed she was his first polygamous wife, but Emma and Oliver both seemed to deny it, and it is not on Church records. Also, I think it's very interesting how, after "marrying" 20+ women, he never fathered any children from them that we know of (and oh, how we LOOKED!).

On the other hand, the more I learn about Brigham Young the more I dislike him. Part of me is ashamed to have graduated from a school baring his name. He was a selfish, vindictive, greedy son of a gun. I've had much more of a problem with him, than I ever had with Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith, as a whole, is a hot, fascinating mess. But he always seemed like the sort of guy I could relate to, and be best buds.

I like that narrative. I'm not sure it's all true, but neither is our current "Church History". Of the two it's definitely the better option to believe in.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by Beefster » 26 Jan 2018, 23:09

I can't help but wonder how much BY slandered JS to assert his position as president of the church. I wonder if the legend that BY's voice sounded like JS when he took over is made up just to make him look good. I think I remember reading somewhere that that was just a misinterpretation of an honest record, but it could very well be pro-BY propaganda. Unfortunately, the modern church has every incentive to defend BY because it sort of depends on him being a prophet for its own legitimacy. Even when that means accepting lies (or at least unproven allegations) about Joseph Smith...

There are some gems from BY, but once you look at polygamy, the priesthood ban, and tithing politics, it honestly makes me want to have nothing to do with him and it's a shame my CS degree bears his name. OTOH, It was a legitimately good school despite all the honor code politics and the dog and pony show known as Provo culture.

I just wonder if the Community of Christ is the actual true church... Y'know. If there is such a thing.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by nibbler » 27 Jan 2018, 06:27

I read that article years ago. He makes compelling arguments.

I'll play devils advocate.
Beefster wrote:
26 Jan 2018, 19:43
Having a polygamist Joseph Smith favored him, so he rewrote history that way-
And having Joseph a non-polygamist favors others, so they write history that way. Everything has a bias. I suspect that there are many people that simply can't accept Joseph as a polygamist because they want to keep Joseph pristine, without a deal breaker issue, so they can continue to protect a belief that he restored the One True Church.

But that's the fun in all of this. You can dig up sources or make assumptions to support either conclusion. At this point you can believe what you want to believe.
Beefster wrote:
26 Jan 2018, 19:43
At this point, I can say that I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Brigham Young--and by implication, all church presidents that followed--was not.
Why? Because there has to be an unbroken chain of the priesthood, received directly from Peter, James, and John, passed from one well above average righteous person to another well above average righteous person up until today? I think that's the appeal for the Snufferites and people with a similar attitude, that Joseph did restore the One True Church, it's the modern church that is in a state of apostasy, and if we could just restore Joseph's church we'd be on the right track again.

What if you aren't chasing a One True Church?

As for the debate over who was or was not a prophet... I find the whole thing a lot easier to digest when I consider everyone a prophet. Anyone can say something truly inspiring, but that doesn't mean that everything they say is inspired. Also, when everyone is a prophet, it means that I don't automatically write off someone I don't think of as a prophet and miss out on something that could potentially be inspiring.

I think there's also a distinction between prophet and president of the church. Anyone can be prophetic but only one person can be the president of the church. Notice how the church manuals that we used during RS/PH all those years were titled "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church," not "Teachings of the Prophets of the Church?" :think:

And to continue my role as devils advocate... I think a lot of this comes from conditioning. Lots and lots of conditioning. I too went down this route. I was conditioned in many ways. Conditioned to believe the church was True. Conditioned to believe that leaving the church would put my soul on a path to damnation. Conditioned to believe that god only operates with people when they reach an otherworldly level of righteousness. Etc.

When belief is that strong it's hard to escape the conditioning, the conditioning becomes hardwired paths in our brain. And just to throw it out there, not all conditioning is bad. For instance, I'm glad I'm conditioned to be cautious when crossing roads.

Just me playing devils advocate with you Beefster... again. :smile: It's a good thing that there are many paths to choose from. If there was only one path life would be boring... at least to me. ;)
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by Roy » 27 Jan 2018, 17:00

I believe that the Church (under BY) in the early Utah period did rewrite history in some respects to make it seem like the succession was all but obvious and the migration to Utah was foretold.

I do not believe that BY manufactured evidence of the polygamy of JS. There are just too many written records and first person remembrances. BY was a man to be feared but he had his enemies. Even when people escaped his reach and traveled around speaking ill of BY, I do not recall anyone claiming that they were forced to lie in attributing this doctrine to JS.

JS was passionate and mercurial, full of confidence and dreams. He created what became a billion-dollar self perpetuating organization from the backwoods of the American frontier.

What does it mean to be a prophet? Does it mean to have premonitions of the future? (JS was not very good at predicting the future) Does it mean producing new scripture? (JS and Mohammed are both pretty prolific in this category.) Is there a certain level of righteousness that is a prerequisite? Suppose MLK was a prophet. Would he be less of a prophet because he was unfaithful to his wife?

In some ways the very traits that made JS great also made him terrible. He refused to be trammeled and confined to the well worn traditions, creeds, institutions, and arguments of the day. Instead of just picking a side and being content with his lot in life, he created something new - a new religion was born and there was collateral damage. Similarly, JS refused to be trammeled and confined by traditional standard of marriage and monogamy and playing by someone else's rules. He looked at the ancient patriarchs and asked how they could practice polygamy and still be righteous before God. JS created something new - a new form of marriage was born and there was collateral damage.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by DarkJedi » 28 Jan 2018, 14:13

Here's the thing. Time to feel the power of the dark side. Fact is JS was a polygamist. The church admits as much. I was not one of those who did not know it prior to the essays, and in fact had been taught it at an early age relative to the church (within the first year or so of my membership in the early 80s). I did not know some of his wives were very young (almost 15!) and I didn't know about the polyandry per se. I do like the CoC and agree with much of their theology that differs from ours (including polygamy) and I might even like to be a member. But denying that JS was a polygamist just isn't plausible. It is arguable that he may not have had sex with any of those women, and he at least gave some lip service to resisting the idea of polygamy. But I sincerely question the idea he didn't have sex with Fanny Alger - what was the whole point of the "nasty affair" if he did not? And I question the angel and the flaming sword thing (although I don't question angels or flaming swords themselves :D ).

So you can choose to believe whatever you want, don't ever let facts get in the way especially when it comes to spiritual things. We all have our own ways of dealing with things we don't know the answers to or don't know the full stories behind - we see through a glass darkly. The whole of canonized scripture is really only human attempts at explaining things we don't understand and/or can't explain. And that's perfectly OK - just like it's perfectly OK for some to believe literally and some not.

This is just an aside. Today in priesthood we were discussing Jesus and the Sabbath (right on topic). This scripture popped out and resonated:
How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?
While said of Jesus, in my mind it applies to JS just as well. That's how I deal with it.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by Beefster » 28 Jan 2018, 18:16

In the end, I don't really know. I wasn't there and anyone with an agenda can fabricate a historical record. All we have to go on is history written by the church, which could very well be fabricated or embellished. There were plenty of contemporary accusations about Joseph Smith having multiple wives. Maybe he did. But if he really was secretly married to Fanny Alger and had sex with her, he did a damn good job at hiding it. OTOH, I find it highly suspicious that Section 132 didn't surface until 8 years after Joseph's death.

I suppose I don't need Joseph Smith to not be a polygamist for his teachings to be valuable. I just don't think it's all that consistent with what I know and I personally find that the narrative that "factually" ties him down as a secret polygamist is dubious, whereas the fact that Brigham Young was a polygamist is unquestionably indisputable. But I haven't looked at primary sources, so I can easily be wrong.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by Heber13 » 28 Jan 2018, 18:44

Beefster wrote:
28 Jan 2018, 18:16
I wasn't there and anyone with an agenda can fabricate a historical record. All we have to go on is history written by the church, which could very well be fabricated or embellished.
yes, that is possible. But I think it helps move past some faith crisis issues to try to find the facts as we know them.

Regardless of the church re-writing history or not, what the church currently teaches is this:
The first plural marriage in Nauvoo took place when Louisa Beaman and Joseph Smith were sealed in April 1841.19 Joseph married many additional wives and authorized other Latter-day Saints to practice plural marriage. The practice spread slowly at first. By June 1844, when Joseph died, approximately 29 men and 50 women had entered into plural marriage, in addition to Joseph and his wives.
If that happened exactly like that or not is one thing, but the church is teaching these things, and that is a fact. way or another, you wrestle with if the church practiced polygamy, or if the church is wrong about saying they did. It's a problem either way.
Beefster wrote:
28 Jan 2018, 18:16
I suppose I don't need Joseph Smith to not be a polygamist for his teachings to be valuable.
I believe this is a good place to land, and to work on finding truth and finding valuable stuff that helps your life today, regardless if the church was wrong or taught problematic teachings in the past. You can adjust your views of what the church is, what prophets are, and still cling to valuable things taught in today's church by today's prophet.

I liked how the church website acknowledged the complexity of this issue, and agree with what they said about it:
Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith.
The takeaway for me from studying this issue, is that this principle of faith and church and church leaders and God's flows to all other areas of church and teachings as well. We see through the glass darkly, knowledge is received line upon is sometimes messy and riddled with mistakes. So...that is part of the journey for us to build our faith knowing this is how God works, even with the church that claims to be His, even with the church that claims to have prophets and still take personal faith to process it at some level.

For me...I'm just gonna go with...oops...polygamy was a screw up...don't believe in it...don't need to...don't ever want my daughters to fear they will be asked to believe in it in this life or the next. Simply...I reject it, and pick some other good things from the buffet.

And in that approach to church...I find freedom to practice my religion as I see it, with eyes wide open, and with faith to know I will never know all.
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by On Own Now » 28 Jan 2018, 18:49

There have been a few threads over the years that have discussed this article. Here's one:


Here's a quote from another thread that touched on whether D&C 132/Polygamy originated with JS:
On Own Now wrote:
02 Mar 2013, 07:25
Well, JS was the author of polygamy, if not of Sec 132. Nauvoo-era polygamy was very different from Utah-era polygamy, but they were both polygamy. My opinion is that it is impossible to truly understand JS's motives. It's easy to assume sex, because that's what most men would want out of it. But then there is that pesky problem with JS not having any children other than with Emma. There are plenty of other possible motives that are less uncomfortable. BY's motivation was probably to follow the doctrine with exactness; thus resulting in the institutionalization of polygamy.

132? Hard to tell, but it is certainly based on concepts from JS. That JS produced a revelation, and taught it privately, and had multiple wives was attested to by the Nauvoo Expositor. Is 132 that revelation? Possibly. Is it the original wording of that revelation? Maybe. I have my doubts, as I outlined earlier.

But here is text from the June 7, 1844 Nauvoo Expositor:

William Law: "I hereby certify that Hyrum Smith did, (in his office) read to me a certain written document, which he said was a revelation from God, he said that he was with Joseph when it was received. He afterwards gave me the document to read, and I took it to my house, and read it, and showed it to my wife, and returned it next day. The revelation (so called) authorized certain men to have more wives than one at a time, in this world and in the world to come. It said this was the law, and commanded Joseph to enter into the law.-And also that he should administer to others. Several other items were in the revelation, supporting the above doctrines."

Jane Law: "I certify that I read the revelation referred to in the above affidavit of my husband, it sustained in strong terms the doctrine of more wives that one at a time, in this world, and in the next, it authorized some to have to the number of ten, and set forth that those women who would not allow their husbands to have more wives than one should be under condemnation before God."

Austin Cowles: "In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet; that the said Hyrum Smith did essay to read the said revelation in the said Council, that according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines; 1st the sealing up of persons to eternal life, against all sins, save that of sheding innocent blood or of consenting thereto; 2nd, the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that "David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not save in the matter of Uriah." This revelation with other evidence, that the aforesaid heresies were taught and practiced in the Church; determined me to leave the office of first counselor to the president of the Church at Nauvoo [ie, first counselor to Nauvoo Stake President, William Marks], inasmuch as I dared not teach or administer such laws."
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Re: Joseph Smith wasn't actually a Polygamist...

Post by gospeltangents » 28 Jan 2018, 20:27

I know Rock, but he relies on the RLDS for his sources that Joseph wasn't a polygamist. While I know it is appealing, Rock's just plain wrong on this topic. There's simply too much evidence. Here's my interview where Brian Hales refutes Rock's points.
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