Emma's role in Mormon history is as enigmatic as ever.

Emma’s role in Mormon history is as enigmatic as ever.

This weekend at the Midwest Pilgrims retreat in Nauvoo, Illinois, I had the opportunity to listen to a fascinating talk by Linda King Newell, co-biographer of Emma Smith, first wife of LDS founding prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.

In 1984, Linda wrote, with Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, which has stood for nearly three decades as the definitive biography of Emma. Until that time, Emma had been largely written out of official LDS history. When the two authors began piecing together Emma’s life, there was only one small manila folder about her in the entire LDS Archives.

One of the materials in it was a pamphlet that said Emma could be forgiven for her sins because she had lost her mind. One of the other items was a photograph of a family member that was mislabeled as being Emma.

So, what materials that existed were unfair or inaccurate. Emma had been disappeared. Why?

We all use history to suit our purposes, and Emma simply did not suit the purposes of the LDS Church in the years following her husband’s death.

  • It wasn’t just that she was the mother of a boy whom many Saints felt to be Smith’s rightful prophetic heir, rather than Brigham Young.
  • It wasn’t just that she clashed with Young so severely that he once claimed that “more hell was never wrapped up in any human being than there is in her.”
  • And it wasn’t just that she later helped her son found a rival church, coalescing the support of many former Mormons who had stayed behind in the Midwest.

It was that she hated polygamy and flatly refused to countenance its presence among the Mormon people.

Emma’s disappearance from LDS history was so total that Linda says when she and Valeen co-authored an article about her for the Ensign in 1979, it was the first writing about her to appear in any official church publication in 113 years.

It’s a beautiful article, but it’s not a fully honest one; polygamy is not mentioned once anywhere. That’s likely why its content was acceptable for the Ensign nearly a century after the Church had begun distancing itself from polygamy.

The biography Linda and Valeen published with Doubleday several years later was not so guarded, detailing Joseph’s many polygamous alliances, his repeated lies to Emma about those marriages, and her conflicts with his plural wives—including a much-debated stair-pushing catfight with Eliza R. Snow. It’s an outstanding and award-winning biography that was the product of countless hours of primary research.

The biography was an instant commercial success, selling out its first two printings. At the time of the third printing, however, Val’s bishop received a call from a higher-up in Salt Lake who said that “two girls” had written a book about Emma Smith and were not to be invited to speak about the topic in sacrament meetings. When pressed, Linda’s bishop admitted he had received a similar call. The authors were alarmed, though Linda was comforted by her stake president, who told her, “You are my parishioner, and I will see you through this no matter how long it takes.”

It turned out that such calls had gone out to bishops and stake presidents in several states. Within three weeks, the press got wind of the authors’ ecclesiastical silencing and began to report about it—thereby tripling sales of the book.

Linda requested and was granted a meeting with some general authorities, including Dallin Oaks, to discuss the ban and discover what aspects of the book had been found objectionable. When asked if he had read the biography, Elder Oaks said he had seen several excerpts from it, and found that the authors’ views of Joseph Smith were “nontraditional.”

Nontraditional. Which is another way of saying that a particular view of history does not suit institutional needs in the moment.

Emma Hale Smith (1804-1879)

Emma Hale Smith (1804-1879)

In the past three decades, there has been more published about Emma Smith in official church channels, including the new Daughters in My Kingdom manual, which mentions her very positively as the founder of the Relief Society, and the Gospel Doctrine manual for church history, which holds her up as an example—somewhat reproachfully—of how to support one’s spouse.

It’s an improvement that she’s discussed at all. But the way Emma’s story is carefully sculpted reveals as much about gender expectations and religious norms in our own era as it did when Brigham Young declared her mormona non grata. For example, in the support materials for the Joseph Smith manual, polygamy is once again nowhere mentioned. If that were the only document people used to learn about Joseph Smith and his life, they would naturally assume that he was married once, to Emma, and not to approximately three dozen other women.

The way that current materials deal with the conflict with Brigham Young is . . . to ignore it entirely. According to the official narrative, Emma stayed behind in Nauvoo rather than joining the majority of the Saints in Utah because she was a widow caring for five young children and Joseph’s aging mother, not because she believed that, as she expressed it at the time, “the Twelve have made bogus of it.”

Although she never lost her faith in the Mormon religion and in the sacred nature of the Book of Mormon, she had no testimony of Brigham Young and other polygamous LDS leaders.

What’s especially interesting to me about the unfolding historiography of Emma Smith is that she herself would have been happy with the disappearance of polygamy and Joseph’s other wives from Mormonism’s official party line. This was exactly what she had tried to institute herself as a theological agent in her own right, so much so that when the Reorganization was founded in the 1860s she declared that Joseph had never been married to anyone but herself. Emma knew better, but she also knew that a polygamous history would not serve her needs.

In a remarkable twist of irony, her version of history is increasingly the LDS Church’s as well.

 

101 Comments

  1. Jana Riess

    Forgot to add: both of the quotes here (from Brigham & Emma) are from John Turner’s outstanding bio of Brigham Young, pp. 335 & 142. http://www.amazon.com/Brigham-Young-John-G-Turner/dp/0674049675/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366750797&sr=8-1&keywords=brigham+young

  2. kitty d shrout

    Read the book years ago…enjoyed it as being real. I have heard a story that B. Young came to visit with Emma years after leaving Nauvoo and she set in the middle of the dining room table to greet him? True or not….I wish I sat with her.

    • Not true. Brigham never visited Nauvoo or Emma after the saints left. There were many bogus stories about Emma that surfaced after her sons visited Utah as missionaries for the Reorganization, many as bazaar as this one.

  3. It is true that by and large, both the LDS Church and the Community of Christ have swept this chapter of church history under the rug. However, you do everyone a huge disservice. Given your other titles, it’s not hard to see why – clearly you have an agenda to discredit the church. People who are truly interested in Church history realize that there were huge legal and real-estate issues that faced Emma and Brigham upon Joseph’s death. His estate was a tangled mess due to mingling of personal and church assets. This added extensively to the distress between Brigham and Emma. The topic of the relationship between these two deserves more than I can put into a paragraph, and certainly more than you can fit into an article like this one. Sadly, people like you front themselves as purveyors of accuracy when in fact you are really nothing more than the others who do what they can to discredit the church.

    • Pete,

      Ok quick check. Which is a “better” and “more complete” brief description of Emma, this article or anything published by the church? It has been the church that has struggled with credibility in this area of portraying its history to its members. Things are getting better as they have come to realize that it is hurting and not helping the church. Jana in no anti-Mormon. That is just silliness. Sure the mess of Joseph and church’s affairs was also a big issue in the relationship between Brigham and Emma. Joseph had a lot of personal debt that he incurred to build the church. Brigham chose to dump a good portion of that directly on Emma. Emma fought to keep enough assets to provide a living for herself and children. It was ugly all the way around, but it is completely accurate to say that polygamy and Emma’s use of her position as RSP to fight it was absolutely central to the animus between Brigham and Emma. It was central issue over which the succession battle was fought. Implying anything else is being disingenuous and a discredit to the honesty of the person arguing it.

      • You both have points, and points that Jana left out. Yes, there were abominable debts placed upon Emma upon Joseph Smith’s death that the Church (through Brigham Young) didn’t help out with. Also, why not note that the LDS Church is becoming more transparent over time, realizing that testimonies don’t come from ignorance or from the imperfect lives of all people but rather faith in unchanging doctrine? I have no doubt that the rise of the Internet has illuminated the need for transparency in the minds of LDS Church administrators. No one is perfect and LDS Church leaders have never claimed to be so.

        Also, it would be wise to note that polygamy was a difficult doctrine for most of those who practiced it, not just Emma and Joseph. They and others didn’t do it because they wanted to, but because it was commanded. It didn’t mean all liked it – far from it.

        What I mean for everyone to understand is there is more to every part of this story just as there is no person who can entirely understand and judge rightly any other human being besides God, who knows what is truly in our hearts. I think Church members likely remember our leaders’ admonitions to stop judging each other! Christ acted in love. Only in love. Always out of love. We are here to become like Him. With what measure you mete shall be measured to you again.

        • Also, may it be noted that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy, as the Church did not start practicing it till they went to Utah, which was after Joseph’s death.

    • Pete, please. To say that because Jana doesn’t go into all the facets of Emma and Brigham’s relationship (in a short blog post) she is necessarily trying to discredit the church is more than a little ridiculous.

    • You are being needlessly defensive. Every nuance is not going to be expressed in one paragraph, one column, maybe not even in one book. It is not disservice to present part of a story.

  4. When I read Mormon Enigma I knew Joseph Smith had polygamous wives, but had o idea how many or any of the personal stories of those women. I was disturbed. It changed the way I think about the founding leader of my church. But at least I’d known going into it that there were some skeletons in the closet. If I hadn’t know any of that history, those revelations would have been much harder.

    I think it’s highly problematic that church publications sanitize Emma’s history so much. I watched a new film about her life on a recent trip to Utah and noticed it had no references to polygamy – watching it you’d think they had a blissful monogamous marriage. At some point, leaving out big chunks of truth becomes dishonest. I know why they leave it out – it’s just difficult stuff and not what they want to emphasize – but we need to strike a balance between what the modern church strives to be and what it’s history simply is.

    • If the film you saw was “Emma,” It was not a film put out by the church, but rather by the Smith family organization. I was invited to a special showing of the film for the family. In talking with Gracia Jones, who is a great-great-grandaughter of Emma and Joseph and the catalyst for finding their posterity and creating the Smith family organization, she said, “The film is for the family, and has a single purpose: to give Emma her proper place of honor within the Mormon Church. If anyone else takes away some understanding of her life, then that is alright, too.”

      Of course, a two hour film can’t portray the complete story of her life, and what wasn’t portrayed could fill dozens more films, but I think it accomplished what the makers wanted it to.

  5. Sabra Gosselin

    Pete, I’m curious. Have you read either book Jana mentioned or interviewed Linda Newell to understand the context for these comments? This article wasn’t strictly about the contentions between Brigham and Emma and I find it silly you imagine her attacking the church because she failed to mention Joseph’s real estate fiasco (the poor man was horrible at business!) and how it affected already heavily strained relations. How sad you malign Jana and make bogus assumptions on her motives her based on that.

    I’d like to insert some information for others who read this thread after Pete’s comments.

    Jana left a much more progressive religion (one that actually ordains women as ministers) when she felt converted to the LDS gospel, a decision that likely could have ruined her credibility in the mainstream religious publishing world and no doubt causes many women to scratch their heads in wonder that she would join such a patriarchal order. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/faith/52745310-142/riess-says-mormon-faith.html.csp I can only imagine the courage it took to make that decision and hardly find her comments an attempt to discredit anything. She merely disagrees with the churches policy of whitewashing early church history.

    In my experience, it is church leaders who have done years of disservice through sanitizing the early history of the church organization. As a lifelong member born and raised in the church I must say I was appalled when I first heard of Joseph Smith’s polygamous roots in my early 30s. Of course I knew about Brigham Young and other leaders, but never in any Sunday School lesson, Seminary class, Young Women lesson, Relief Society lesson or Institute lesson had Joseph Smith’s plural wives EVER been mentioned. Quite the omission considering some of those semesters where church history was the sole focus. Talk about a spiritual sucker-punch.

    The fact that Joseph lied on numerous occasions disturbed me as I had been raised memorizing the 13 Articles of Faith with particular emphasis on his “We believe in being honest…” statement. Bishops and Stake Presidents further taught it was church policy that both lies of commission and omission are unacceptable as true LDS disciples of Christ and I still wholeheartedly accepted this as true. Imagine my let down and disgust with Joseph’s statements professing in open court to have only one wife (Emma) while Eliza R. Snow, then a secret wife, sat observing those very proceedings.

    As more hushed topics came to the forefront (Mountain Meadow Massacre, Blood Atonement), I couldn’t help feeling maybe I had been raised in a cult.

    This kind of historical censorship is at the heart of my decades long struggle with my membership. I was counseled by several bishops to ignore polygamy altogether as it was something members were no longer living. I married in the temple under that false premise because polygamy is in fact still practiced in full eternal force; my husband could be sealed to multiple women should I die. The “new and everlasting covenant” has never been rescinded.

    Jana’s candor and unapologetic quest for truth, her courage to look the distasteful bits in the eye and report them without flinching are appealing to me. I imagine she must wince on occasion, we all do.

    I can’t help wonder that if “the truth shall set you free,” then what is the higher LDS leadership scared of? I contend their willful obstruction of facts discredits them and jeopardizes membership more than the facts themselves. I feel they not only insulted my intelligence assuming I couldn’t handle the truth, but worse they gave me no preparation or spiritual leg to stand on – same as poor Oliver Cowdery who my seminary and institute teachers classified as not having a testimony “strong enough” to explain why he “fell away.” I identify with him, he was blindsided by polygamy and that took years for him to recover from.

    So before anyone disparages my character consider what “wrestling with God in mighty prayer” (Alma 8:10) looks or sounds like. It looks and sounds messy and may seem uncomfortable to some who stumble across it. My feelings and search for answers is not an affront to the church, they are desperate attempts to make sense of damning new evidence contradicting the limited indoctrination of my youth.

    Jana’s comments are not affronts to the church, they’re attempts to present historical FACTS. We are left to ponder whether the church might have overreacted in their censure of Linda Newell and Val Avery. To wonder if either woman received official apologies for how they were treated when those judging them never read the entire book in question. We are presented with the unvarnished humanity and credited as intelligent individuals who can then further research and work to understand the time, place and mindset of these early church historical figures no matter how far removed from us they appear.

    Thank God for the Linda Newell’s and Jana Riess’s of the world!

    • Victorianspice

      Sabra, I’m sorry you’ve had such a struggle! I, too, was shocked as I learned the same things as an adult! Even now I am not sure how to think about them. So I have just filed them away as things I don’t understand. There are many things I don’t understand. I don’t let it affect my testimony of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Restoration or the Church as God’s organization here on earth. We must not let things we don’t understand pull us away from our personal testimonies. Our salvation and the salvation of our families is not dependent on the mistakes our leaders make but on our own shoulders in living up to what God expects of us.

      Whenever I feel myself starting to question or get upset, I remember that we are all just human. Even the prophet Jonah made some pretty well-known mistakes. (He thought he could hide from God? Seriously?!) The Atonement makes up for all those mistakes. Just hold to the rod and don’t get distracted by the peripherals.

      Love you! Stephanie

      • Thanks, Stephanie. There comes a time when you can only put so much “on the shelf” and mine finally broke. Uncomfortable parts of church history regarding Brigham Young were “filed away,” but I couldn’t reconcile with the man who penned the 13th article of faith and his own blatant publicly recorded lies. When such things happen it directly affects our testimonies especially if they were built on outright lies or even well intentioned inaccuracies of leaders or teachers debunked later in life (like young women leaders who assured me the first wife had to give permission for the husband to take another wife – In Sacred Loneliness blew that out of the water.) Perhaps there’s nothing but peripherals to view for awhile after a spiritual implosion…

        Knowing how negatively I feel about all of this, I have at least endeavored to find fair and balanced works to read on these subjects as opposed to anti-Mormon propaganda. I think that’s why I am offended by Pete’s inaccurate comments that Jana Riess has a clear agenda against the LDS church. If not for her and others like her, I wouldn’t have any good trustworthy sources to read.

        It finally dawned on me that if God really is a loving and perfected being, then he should have no problem with those of us searching and questioning in a calm, rational, or noisy and messy manners for truth in our quest to connect with Him. Sometimes we even might need to take a break from it all. An omnipotent personage is probably prepared for just that and can roll with it.

        • YES ASK PLENTY OF QUESTIONS…. Jesus said, “the truth shall set you free…” He was speaking of the TRUTH in God’s word setting us free from false doctrines. The context is not “telling the truth will set you free” because sometimes telling the truth will get you time in jail! LOL all kidding aside, search for the truths in the BIBLE. The book of Mormon is man-made fairytales. The Bible itself says God’s word is perfect and to it there is nothing to add-(Ecc.3:14 & Rev.22:18) The apostle Paul said it this way at Galatians 1:8: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.” Isn’t it church doctrine that “an angel out of heaven…declared something beyond” what the apostles declared? Think about that….

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      I was born in 1949 and grew up during a period when there was very little published material about Mormon history, either supportive of the Church or critical. But I certainly learned about Joseph Smith being the founder of plural marriage because (1) it is clearly asserted that Joseph received the revelation in Doctrine & Covenants Section 132, which authorizes plural marriage as well as eternal marriage, and the historical discussion of its being dictated by Joseph to Hyrum included the fact that it was in response to Emma Smith’s concern about Joseph’s creation of the practice; (2) the biography of Eliza R. Snow makes it clear that she was one of Joseph’s plural wives, and was then married as a plural wife to Brigham Young, as were some other plural marriage widows; (3) the founding of plural marriage by Joseph was for many years a contention between the LDS Church and the Reorganized LDS Church led Joseph III and his sons, with the RLDS following Emma’s lead in denying it, while the LDS were emphatic that Joseph was the founder of the doctrine and practice, which gave it clear divine authority. These are basic points in Church history, so even growing up Mormon in the 1950s and 1960s, I was well aware that Joseph had practiced plural marriage, though the number of plural wives beyond Eliza R. Snow was only gradually discovered with more research, like that which produced the Emma biography. The seminary classes I took in Utah and the University of Utah Institute of Religion taught me about Joseph’s role in founding plural marriage. They taught me about the trials of Joseph Fielding Smith, Church president in the early 1900s who practiced plural marriage and was Joseph’s nephew and son of martyr Hyrum and a direct contestant against his cousins for leadership of Joseph’s institutional heritage. He took steps to preserve that heritage by acquiring sites of historical significance, including the Smith family farm, Sacred Grove and Hill Cumorah. He was affirmative of Joseph’s role as founder of plural marriage and his akin father’s participation in the practice he himself followed.
      Basically, then, I find it difficult to understand how anyone can be surprised about Joseph’s plural marriages, since it was a basic assumption of so much of Mormon history in Utah.
      My recollection is that it was a cause of deep concern to David Smith, one of Emma’s sons, who had gone to Utah as an RLDS missionary, and was introduced to several women who claimed to have been sealed to Joseph during his life. The Emma biography describes this as deeply troubling to David, and a contributor to his clinical depression.
      Joseph’s plural marriages were not hidden by the LDS Church, but were asserted during the entire 19th Century. Any study of the Church in that period makes it unavoidable.

      • Duwayne Anderson

        Raymond Swenson wrote: “… I find it difficult to understand how anyone can be surprised about Joseph’s plural marriages …Joseph’s plural marriages were not hidden by the LDS Church, but were asserted during the entire 19th Century.”

        I agree with you, Raymond — to a point.

        Like you, I grew up in an earlier era — though not quite as old as you; I attended seminary during the early 70′s. I would summarize my church indoctrination (mostly after 4 years of LDS seminary) on plural marriage as follows:

        1) Polygamy is divinely instituted by god, and is practiced by Elohim and all the other gods. Polygamy — not “one man, one wife” — is the natural order in the Celestial Kingdom, exactly as explained in D&C 132. Men who become gods, like Elohim, must practice polygamy.

        2) Polygamy was part of the “restoration of all things,” ushered in by Joseph Smith, prior to the Second Coming. Again — exactly as explained in D&C 132.

        3) The Church was forced to stop practicing polygamy because of a wicked Federal Government that was bent on destroying the church. But when Jesus comes back to earth, ushering in his millennial reign, the church will resume practicing polygamy as they did under Smith and Young.

        4) In spite of being forced to discontinue the practice of polygamy, it remains core church doctrine — just as explained in D&C 132. Thus, the church continues to practice plural marriage insofar as it is legal, by continuing to seal men to multiple women as long as only one woman is alive at one time (as in the case of the polygamist apostle Dallin Oaks).

        5) Joseph Smith was commanded to practice polygamy, but Emma was a wicked woman because she never accepted the commandment. She will probably spend some time in hell, but eventually Joseph will get her out.

        6) Joseph Smith didn’t want to marry extra wives — it was a hardship placed upon him, and the extra wives he did marry were old spinster women who didn’t have a man.

        The church lied to me on point #6. In fact, Smith married cute young girls (as we would expect from a horny adulterer). The church also lied to me (by omission) about Smith’s practice of sending men on missions, and then marrying their wives.

        • DuWayne, Not sure where you got that info that we STILL practice polygamy but sealings that are done are to our parents and/or WIFE. NOT WIFES. We are in NO way connected to those who STILL break that law of the land which Joseph Smith AND THE BIBLE says not to do. If a man loses his wife who he married in the Temple and then remarries he is NOT a polygamist. Sheesh. I know of the polygamy issue and yes it is a hush hush subject among families even today.

          HISTORY Fact: Native Americans ALSO took on another wife to HELP her with survival after her husband(mate) was killed in battle. but we do not see them as being polygamist. SHAME on all for such a mess of history facts. Another good example of history facts miscontrued. the pilgrims did NOT land on that rock in Plymouth, MA. It was a joke by a journalist who was on the boat with all(according to another history blurb). there is a HUGE sign that says so. BUT our history books say that PLYMOUTH is where they landed and stepped on to THE rock.

          FACT: The bible was written from many pages by many people. Mistakes and understanding by each person can change how a book is written.
          Good example. Our 2 authors here who wrote bout Emma. Each had a different thoguht on the documents they found concerning Emma and the church history. Both present both good and BAD of how it all went down. It is not that they did bad in their research etc. It is how WE perceive that same information they are sharing. It is like a rumor. It changes soo many times til it comes back to the person who ONLY said I would like a baby.

          Point in Rant: We are all human. We all made mistakes. We all read,see, perceive information differently even though reading the same EXACT words. Even God made a mistake and that 1 child has not repented(going by the bible history). THE DEVIL. And all I see is the Devil laughing at US all for such blatant slammings of each other etc which is what he wants. Not what God(father) & Jesus(his brother), would like us to do.

    • todos necesitamos ser fortalecidos en la verdad , con el evangelio todas las cosas salen a la luz y podemos soportarlo y fortalecernos y aprender de ello , yo admiro a emma smith ,ella es mi valiente hna por siempre , nuestro Padre celestial la escogió ,y si en algún momento cayo, El la levanto y la fortaleció el nos da las debilidades para que seamos humildes y así El nos fortalece . tengo un fuerte testimonio de la restauracion del evangelio ,del libro de mormon , y se que nuestro padre celestial y jesucristo nos aman y tienen un proposito eterno para cada uno de sus hijos escogidos !!!!!! amo la obra de salvación y valoro a todos mis hnos y hnas que son parte de ella

  6. What I think is amazing about the Joseph and Emma polygamy issue is that most people believe those who state that Joseph was a polygamist and that Emma allowed it, but they do not believe Joseph and Emma themselves, who unwaveringly denied Joseph’s involvement in polygamy. Joseph and Emma, unquestionably the most beloved prophet and spouse of the Restoration Movement, have been made out to be liars by those who they trusted. And notable historians have disregarded the testimonies of Joseph and Emma in preference to the testimonies of their “friends.” But after all the literary smoke clears, the evidence against Joseph and Emma boils down to nothing more than unproved allegations which would not stand up in a court of law.

    Both Joseph and Emma consistently denied that Joseph was a polygamist. For Joseph’s stand against polygamy, see Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy at http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm. Emma’s earliest recorded statement that Joseph was not a polygamist was in 1842 when she signed an affidavit as President of the Ladies Relief Society to that effect along with many other members of that organization. To my understanding, she made several other statements beginning in about 1853 supporting the position that Joseph was not a polygamist and that the “revelation on polygamy,” which became Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, was not given by Joseph. Her last such statement was given just prior to her death. Throughout her life she was beloved by all who knew her (with the exception of Brigham) for not only her kindness, but also her truthfulness and integrity. To say she lied about Joseph not teaching or practicing polygamy is a great misrepresentation of her character.

    • JSDefender,
      The difference between Mormon history and Biblical truth is that the Bible doesn’t try to hide the sins of man. Abraham adultery (suggested and agreed upon by Sarah), Jacob having two wives and adulterous relationships with his wives maid servants. Other examples of multiple wives can be found in the Bible, none of them commanded or accepted by God. The problem with Mormon history is the Mormon church tries to white wash the history and leave out huge chunks of historical truth. Joseph Smith had multiple wives and that is a fact whether he or Emma denied it has nothing to do with it. God allowed the sins of man to be revealed and shown to us in the Bible. God didn’t white wash human beings and their sins. Don’t try to white wash Joseph and Emma Smith.

      • Cristee, guess if Abraham and many of the prophets of the OT were adulterers as you claim them to be, it must be okay for any prophet. . . as for accepted by God. . .

        “… Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things…” (2 Sam. 12:7-8).

        In 2 Samuel 12:8, God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, He would have given David even more.

        Interesting concept, that.

      • Cristee,

        My comments were not about Abraham or David or Biblical truth. My comments were about Joseph and Emma and that the evidence used against them regarding polygamy is weak at best because it is primarily based on affidavits and other statements made decades after the events, some of which contradict statements made close to the events. You state that “Joseph Smith had multiple wives and that is a fact.” With all due respect, it is not a fact, but it is an opinion. Facts are irrefutable truths and it is not irrefutable that Joseph taught or practiced polygamy and that Emma allowed it. You and others may hold that opinion, and it may even be in writing, but that does not make it a fact. There are volumes of evidence (primary source information) supporting the position that Joseph did not teach or practice polygamy. That information can be found at the above reference to Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy. Interestingly, the vast majority of that information is ignored—not disagreed with, but ignored—by all of the contemporary writings supporting the position that Joseph was a polygamist. Don’t you find that a little strange? I certainly do. This whole article has been about finding the truth. But if we only read materials giving one side of the issue, then how can we make an informed opinion?

        As far as Abraham or David or anyone practicing polygamy, I think the Lord pretty well summed up His opinion of it in Jacob 2 when He stated it was an abomination before Him.

          • Wow, that’s really tempting, but…no thanks. Although, you might want to go ahead and get it because you never know when you’ll need a good bridge. :-)

          • I’m not sure what lessons you’re talking about, but one lesson I have learned from researching this subject and not accepting that everything which is written is true, is that many of the authors indicating that Joseph was a polygamist use the same math theory in their work as you have suggested I use. Let me give you one example. In George D. Smith’s book, Nauvoo Polygamy “…but we called it celestial marriage,” he indicates that Joseph developed his idea of polygamy early on from reading John Milton’s ideas on polygamy. Really? A farmer with less than a fourth grade education in his early 20s in 1820s upstate New York read Milton and understood it and was so impressed with it that he purposely incorporated Milton’s polygamy ideas into the formation of his basic theology? I read Milton in College and didn’t understand him and I graduated with pretty good grades. One of Emma’s testimonies about the truth of the Book of Mormon was that with Joseph’s poor education he didn’t have the skill level to write it without God’s direct intervention. And George Smith expects us to believe that Joseph received his ideas of polygamy from reading Melvin? What a reach of logic, just like 2+2=5. And unfortunately he is not the only contemporary author supporting the position that Joseph was a polygamist that makes such stretches with existing evidence. These authors start their work from the assumption that Joseph was a polygamist, and then they try to prove how much of one he was and why he was. They never ask the question, “Was he a polygamist?” As a result, they ignore any evidence that would point them away from their assumption.

            So, O’Brien, I say to you, enlighten yourself. Read Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy. By doing so, you will be exposed to evidence you probably have never before seen on this subject. Or, you can continue to be influenced by only one side of the story and be content with making smug, little quips.

    • As the book here referred to emphasizes, Joseph and Emma denied living poygamy, but they never denied living the “new and evelasting covenant of marriage” with multiple wives.
      Actually, bigamy is the proper term for multiple wives and polyandry is the proper term for multiple husbands while polygamy includes both. And history shows that Joseph DID practice polygamy.

    • Actually, the book here being discussed does a good job of showing why Joseph and Emma both denied that he live polygamy–he instead was using the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage”.
      Bigamy is the proper term for multiple wives and polyandry is the proper term for multiple husbands while polygamy is the proper term for both.

    • Is it actually possible you have never read Section 132 of the D&C? What in the world do you think that is all about?
      Forgive my presumption, but it seems there are two kinds of testimonies. The mature kind says, “Joseph was a normal, flawed human being. So What?” The immature kind insists on his being a “plaster Saint”.
      Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth (not defending the indefensible) shall set you free. If Joseph had many wives, if both he and Emma denied it, so what? How does that matter To You?

      • David,

        From your post it appears to also matter to you, else why are you so concerned with what I believe? But since you asked, I’ll explain. I too believe that “Joseph was a normal, flawed human being.” He made mistakes just like you and I do. But I believe they were the mistakes of a good man, not an evil one. Yet many of the contemporary writers about Joseph and polygamy indicate he was a pedophile, a liar, a deceiver, a whoremonger, an adulterer, lustful, power hungry, prideful, and in general just a really evil person. I don’t know you, but I don’t believe you are probably any of those things, I certainly know I’m not, and I don’t believe Joseph was. So I defend Joseph because I do not believe he deserves this ridicule and I believe that many lies were propagated about him by his “friends” to justify their actions—and one of those lies is polygamy.

        I defend Joseph because I believe in the truth of what God restored through him—the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s revelations in the D&C, the inspired corrections to the Bible, the fullness of the gospel, and the authority of the priesthood. If Joseph was the evil man that contemporary writers portray him to be, God would not have used him to accomplish these righteous things. As the Book of Mormon says, God does not dwell in unholy temples. Thus, I believe Joseph was a good man and deserves being defended from those still attacking him almost 170 years after his death. As the Lord said to Oliver Cowdery, “stand by my servant Joseph faithfully in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be, for the word’s sake.”

        Even though I’m not LDS, I have read section 132 of the LDS D&C. However, I have serious problems with it. I don’t believe this is a revelation from God and I don’t believe Joseph wrote it. First, it contradicts Jacob in the Book of Mormon and I don’t believe in disjunctive revelation. God is unchangeable and speaks the same words to one group of people as he does another. Second, while it was allegedly dictated by Joseph in 1843, it wasn’t made public until about 1852. Did Brigham really expect us to believe he had such an important document hidden in his desk for all that time? How convenient it was for him that Joseph had been dead for 8 years and couldn’t refute his allegations. Third, after it was made public, Emma denied ever having seen or heard of the document and did so several times until her death. The integrity of her life, as stated in my first post, lends credibility to her statements. Fourth, in the Temple Lot Suit in the 1890s the testimony of the transcriber of the document did not hold up under cross-examination. Fifth, some of the polygamy statements obtained by Joseph F. Smith in the 1860s through 1880s were in conflict with parts of the document. See my blog article at http://www.defendingjoseph.com/2011/01/polygamy-statements-conflict-with-lds-d.html.

        I believe that the idea of Joseph teaching and practicing polygamy is a lie which was promoted by Brigham and the other 8 apostles to lend credibility to their own practice of polygamy. Thus, the rediscovery of the “truth” that Joseph practiced polygamy by contemporary authors today is nothing more than a rediscovery of the lie taught by Brigham. If you want to learn more about this position, read the 2 ½ volumes of Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy at http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm or go to my blog at http://defendingjoseph.com.

        • D&C 132 seems to clearly state that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice akin to God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Jacob. Rather than being the normal state of affairs in heaven, such sacrifices are highly abnormal, are subject to temporal bounds, and bring damnation if practiced without commandment. Abraham is not up in heaven sacrificing Isaac. Why would we think he is up in heaven practicing polygamy?

          • Duwayne Anderson

            Good Reason wrote: “D&C 132 seems to clearly state that polygamy is an Abrahamic sacrifice…such sacrifices are highly abnormal, are subject to temporal bounds, and bring damnation if practiced without commandment.”

            It’s hard to keep track of Mormon Doctrine — it’s such a slippery, changing thing. And while you accurately describe what the Book of Mormon says, and what modern Mormon prophets would say, the D&C says the opposite — and so did early Mormon prophets.

            Here’s an example of what D&C 132 says:

            “… inasmuch as you have inquired … as touching the principle and doctrine of ..many wives and concubine … I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter … I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant…” [D&C 132 1-4]

            http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/132?lang=eng

            Hmmm. “Everlasting.” That doesn’t sound like something that’s “highly abnormal.” Nope. Not a bit. Reading further we find,

            “And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.” [D&C 132 61-62].

            Hmmm. *Law* of the priesthood — doesn’t sound very temporary. Sounds like a *law* — not the exception to the law.

            Early Mormon prophets taught that plural marriage was a *requirement* for exaltation. Take, for example the following statements by Brigham Young (second prophet of the LDS Church):

            “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.”
            - Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 11, p. 269

            “Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned; and I will go still further, and say that this revelation, or any other revelation that the Lord had given, and deny it in your feelings, and I promise that you will be damned.”
            - Prophet Brigham Young, Deseret News, November 14, 1855

            It’s also worth noting that the LDS Church has never renounced plural marriage and *still* practices it, doctrinally through “sealings” in the temple. In fact, Dallin Oaks (a General Authority in the LDS Church) has been “sealed” for “time and all eternity” to two wives. Polygamy has been discontinued only so far as the church conducting *civil* marriages between a man and multiple living wives. This was done in order to facilitate Utah’s entrance into the United States. But it has *never* been repudiated, is still doctrine, and is clearly part of the “everlasting covenant” described in D&C 132.

    • Glad to see someone mention the Price’s book, JSDefender. Even though I’m a descendant of polygamists I’ve always been somewhat agnostic about Joseph Smith instituting and practicing polygamy. It just didn’t ring true for me. Once I read ‘Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy’, however, I was inclined to give Joseph and Emma the benefit of the doubt. It reminds me of Damon Smith’s research for ‘A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon’ in which he examines how Campbellite traditions from Scotland were grafted into the new church through Sidney Rigdon and Parley Pratt.

  7. It is obvious that Emma Smith fought directly against the teachings of the church. She was an apostate, period! There have been many instances where God, through His prophets, has commanded that the members of his earthly kingdom perform acts that are contrary to previously given commandments (Abraham commanded to sacrifice Issac; King Saul to kill/destroy “all” life upon overtaking Jericho; Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. to take additional wives, …) In these situations, God does not “continually” provide revelation from second to second, but rather from time to time he provided continuous revelation to those who leads His church. No prophet in ancient or latter days was infallible, only Christ was/is perfect. Even a mortal prophet needs to work out his salvation. If something is said by a prophet that does not seem right or comport with canonized scripture, then we each need to go to our Father in Heaven and ask. Emma Smith, as much as you may want to make her more than she is, is still an individual who fought against the kingdom of God — so much that she drew others from the truth. The first commandment is to Love God, the second is to love your neighbor. If Abraham would have thought as liberally as the majority of those who comment on this blog, he would have suggested that loving his neighbor was more important that loving God (leaning toward the doctrine of man) and wouldn’t have been willing to sacrifice his son upon commandment. God makes law and when He commands to the contrary, IT IS STILL CORRECT. The Apostle Paul was not Politically Correct and had to be constantly moved by the Brethren, he spoke in Athens on Mars Hill about Christ’s resurrection. They too mocked the disciple of Christ. They too worshiped the wisdom of Men, simple things were not adequate in their minds either, and needed to be added upon. They walked in the paths of their own making, from their philosophical leanings, enamored with their own minds and just how smart they personally were — smarter than those who lead God’s kingdom on earth. …logic is needed to prevail and proof was always needed. Those who have faith is the simple word of God (so it seems, reading this blog) are superstitious, lack mature intelligence or validity, and are acceptable to be mocked. History is what it is. Feel free to focus on the inadequate shortcomings of man, while suggesting that they should be revered (i.e., Jonah hiding from God, King David’s sexual doings with another’s wife, Moses refusal to hit the rock to obtain water…) These are shameful actions and needed to be dealt with by God not glorified and then suggest that God needs to change His doctrine. Be careful, as many of you glorify things that tear down God’s kingdom. Pete, above, speaks the simple truth. His words do not run contrary to scripture, but many others here are fiddling with fire. …be careful.

    • Glen,
      The difference between Mormon history and Biblical truth is that the Bible doesn’t try to hide the sins of man. Abraham adultery (suggested and agreed upon by Sarah), Jacob having two wives and adulterous relationships with his wives maid servants. Other examples of multiple wives can be found in the Bible, none of them commanded or accepted by God. The problem with Mormon history is the Mormon church tries to white wash the history and leave out huge chunks of historical truth. Joseph Smith had multiple wives and that is a fact whether he or Emma denied it has nothing to do with it. God allowed the sins of man to be revealed and shown to us in the Bible. God didn’t white wash human beings and their sins. Don’t try to white wash Joseph and Emma Smith.

      • Cristee, guess if Abraham and many of the prophets of the OT were adulterers as you claim them to be, it must be okay for any prophet. . . as for accepted by God. . .

        “… Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things…” (2 Sam. 12:7-8).

        In 2 Samuel 12:8, God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, He would have given David even more.

        Interesting concept, that.

      • Cristee, It is obvious that you are not LDS, as you do not believe in the fullness of the gospel — therefore my words to you are likely as a tinkling of brass and serve no purpose to either of us. Plural marriage was in the Bible and it was in fact Commanded by God and therefore was not considered Adultry as you suggest (see D&C 132:1). Brigham Young and a number of others within the Quorum of the 12 married some of Joseph’s plural wives for “time.” There was no attempt at white-washing. Joseph had a wife (Emma) who had limited testimony of plural marriage, and was (only my male opinion) probably brow-beat and hen-pecked. He had no options. Either Joseph complied or would have been removed by God. …just as Abraham had to comply with the commandment to sacrifice his son (Issac) and to take Hagar to wife (see D&C 132:34), or he would have been likely (again my opinion) removed from his position as a Prophet. If there was any “being quiet” about all of the marriage to multiple wives, it was likely because Emma was acting, so I understand, in a fashion that did not fully support Joseph’s other wives. Joseph did not initially have a strong testimony of plural marriage either. One wife seems tough enough to keep happy, let alone 2 or more. Do you think someone would make up such an idea, knowing the problems that would fall from it? Therefore Joseph was probably not wanting to upset the cart when his first and real love was Emma. He was commanded and it is no secret, as it is published in 1843 and was in fact practiced by Joseph much earlier although he likely did not ask or tell anyone else, as he didn’t need to. It was between him, Emma, God and any of his other wives. You may think otherwise, but is was a commandment from God. The Church does not teach nor further sanction plural marriage for the purpose of one’s salvation, as it has been decided that the government of the United States is not in agreement with that doctrine as was written and would have moved upon the Church and their properties if they did not submit. But note that God’s Kingdom still moves forward, mattering not who or what tries to thwart its growth. It’s my opinion that plural marriage was just a test of faith for those in the early LDS church — both for husbands and wives. Therefore God’s willingness to allow it to no longer be practiced, has and is serving its eternal purpose.

  8. As a result of the all-too-human characteristic of wanting our heros to be perfect and exempt from the faults and failings that are part of the mortal experience, we tend to whitewash them. This is the easy way out, but only for a time. Anyone who has painted a wooden fence knows that the paint wears off. When it does, it takes a lot of work to get it looking pristine again…for a while.

    With Joseph, with Emma, with Brigham, why must we be so fearful of the things they did and the things they said that tend to rock our boat of belief in the restoration? Is it not possible, even likely, that Joseph did some things wrong? Is it not possible that the doctrine of polygamy was like getting a pound of chocolates for your birthday and you just can’t resist eating the whole bunch at once? Would it make him less of a prophet by allowing him to be more of a man? Must we always be afraid of looking at the life of Emma and the monumental struggles she faced in loving and living with Joseph, always needing to whitewash anything that disagrees with our fantasies that God can only work with perfect people?

  9. Emma Smith: A Perspective

    1) I began investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1964 at UCSB and joined in 1966. I was well aware of polygamy before I joined. By 1968, I began seriously reading Mormon history. By 1969 I began studying in some depth about polygamy, the Utah War, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I’ve always been an active member of the Church. I served as a Bishop of a local ward in southern California from 2007-2012. I’ve never had anyone tell me I shouldn’t study any aspect of Mormon History. I remember a seminary teacher training day in southern California in the early to mid-1970′s where polygamy was talked about extensively and pretty candidly by a BYU professor including Joseph’s polygamy including details of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner. (Masonic/Mormon links were also talked about at that training although it was not new to me.)

    2) I’d certainly heard about Joseph and Emma, and Emma role as 1st RS President before 1968. As I learned a little more I remember making the comment that since Emma hadn’t gone west she was obviously an apostate. I was promptly told, “You don’t understand what Emma endured. We don’t criticize Emma.” I’ve never heard any serious criticism of Emma Smith nor that she had “gone crazy.” (She obviously did NOT.)

    3) I’ve certainly read Orson Scott Card’s novel, “Saints,” published the year before “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” which deals extensively with Joseph’s and Brigham’s polygamy and Emma’s attitudes toward Joseph’s polygamy. I’ve criticized Card some myself for walking to close to the line of propriety and stepping over it at times. I’ve seen no attempt to silence Card. He remains one of my favorite authors.

    4) The 2008 movie, “Emma Smith: My Story,” certainly tells in some details of her life as she stayed behind. I find it to be pretty candid for a movie.

    5) I am well aware of a few statements by some generals authorities, especially President Packer, about the pitfalls of too much focus on negative aspects of history. I’ve been mildly bothered by some of these comments. However, I have never felt any real pressure or concerted efforts to “sanitize” Mormon history. So, while there is obviously a different level of focus and depth in discussions in Sunday School and a Graduate level History Seminar, with the publication of “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” and “Massacre at Mountain Meadows,” any suggestion that such pressures or efforts currently exist are misleading at best.

    • Wayne,

      1. How fortunate that you knew those things as an adult in the late 60s to mid 70s. Having been raised as a child in the 70s looking for official church references regarding polygamy in the mid to late 80s in the mid-west, such was not the case. I have heard Linda speak on this topic and she clearly states that her co-author was told through her Stake President and her husband that it was not her place as a woman to research Emma Smith – that she should be home with her family. That the church paid historians and that if church leaders wanted a biography about Emma then they would handle it. Val’s husband was counseled to “control his wife.” I also personally experienced bishops telling me it was not proper to educate myself nor be concerned with polygamy as we don’t live it at this time. I know plenty of other women who have received the same counsel with regard to that topic and similar statements as Val Avery endured. Perhaps there’s be a double standard applied to LDS men and women.

      2. How forward thinking of someone regarding criticism of Emma. Sadly, the “she is an eternally damned apostate” view is the most prevalent one I have ever encountered.

      3. Regarding your comparison of Orson Scott Card’s and Linda Newell’s work and experience: Card’s novel is a work of historical “fiction.” Maybe anything uncomfortable could be passed off as artistic license. Linda Newell and Val Avery spent years (9 was it?) hunting down leads all across the country and had access to many church files no longer accessible to historians even today. Some of those were files even Card did not have access to as they were previously unknown. Emma’s words were taken from newspaper clippings, journal accounts and relief society minutes (the last year in Nauvoo still is not released) documenting exactly what Emma said to the sisters. Given Emma’s sharp criticism of both polygamy and Brigham Young, I feel the church leaders perceived their work was a threat to the image of what an LDS woman should be they had been working so hard to promote. Remember this was all taking place simultaneously with the ERA amendment the church so vocally opposed. It seems to me as though Linda and Val were punished not only because their quest for truth seemed an non-traditional role for women in the church, but because Emma Smith’s words echoed feminist sentiments of the day. Were they afraid women would rise up bolstered by Emma’s opposition to aspects of the gospel? That they might question other aspects of their religion? That they might stumble across the carefully contained information that Joseph Smith once ordained women to the priesthood as well as some black men? What a different world we might be living in today a couple of decades later had they not imposed restrictions, eh?

      4. I have not seen the movie and understand from friends it is candid, though polygamy is not mentioned.

      5. Mormon Enigma was published in 1984. The two books you reference appear to have been published in 2005 and 2011 respectively. I think Linda and Val paved the way for such candid discussions of messy aspects of church history to be presented. I heard Darius Grey and Margaret Young speak about their Standing On The Promises series (dealing with difficult topics for some LDS as Elijah Able, the first black man ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith and the infamous lynching of Sam Joe Harvey and how Dew mentioned in negotiations their books reception among LDS members would be more favorable were it published by Deseret since it’s “an official arm of the church.” My comments of the whitewashing continuing (if you were responding to my earlier comments) was more with respect to official church Sabbath curricula. For example, Jana pointed out in a previous post http://janariess.religionnews.com/2013/04/09/matthew-warrens-death-and-the-changing-tide-of-mental-health-awareness/ that George Albert Smith suffered debilitating depression for at least 3 years (interestingly, in Nauvoo, Lachlan Mackay, director of the Community of Christ historic sites, mentioned Joseph Smith III also suffered from depression – genetic link?) None of that was even mentioned in the George Albert Smith lesson manual. I know many women especially and some men who would benefit knowing that even a prophet of God struggled with depression. I remember a bishop while I was in high school counseling me to look over my life and find what I needed to repent of. Since the gospel of Christ was of truth and happiness, my feelings of depression must originate in some sin, perhaps even something unconscious (he was a therapist by profession). I wonder if he might have differently knowing about the other Prophet Smith.

      • Correction: I meant to say “Sherri Dew” in my earlier post when mentioning the Standing On The Promises trilogy.

        And at the end I meant to say I wondered if my previous bishop might have “counseled” me differently…

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I entitle my previous comment “A Prospective” because it was my experience, not every ones. I’ve never made a distinction between capacities and intellectual rights for men and women. By 1970, I’d read the masterful “Mountain Meadows Massacre” by Juanita Brooks. She was and is sort of a hero. Not all sources were open to her either, but she did the best she could, which was simply stunning. She was also a Dean of Women at then LDS-backed Dixie College, a step-mom to 4 boys and then 4 more children of her own, a Relief Society President, and life-long faithful member. She felt ostracized and went through tough times because of what she wrote, but Elder Holland speaks with great affection and respect as one of his teachers.

        As a bishop I was often acted with inspiration, but certainly not always. I suspect that is pretty typical for at least bishops and stake presidents. D&C 121:34-46 gives clear warning and counsel about the common tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion. I tried to “own” my mistakes and repent and continue to because I believe that is what we are all supposed to do. A primary responsibility of Mormon mothers is typically nurturing their family and a primary responsibility of Mormon fathers is typically earning a living for the family. Husbands and wives, mothers and father, need to counsel, make decisions, and work together as equal partners. It is up to them jointly to prioritize resources, time and talents. I wasn’t there to understand the details of the counsel you or others were given, so that is all I will say on the topic.

        I have cautioned members about getting pulled in by anti-Mormon literature. It can befuddle and confuse, irritate and anger. Anger especially lead to loss of spiritual stability. I always had access great resources when befuddled or confused. It no longer seems to confuse or anger me, but I still read it only in measured doses. However, I am not saying or implying that “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” is anti-Mormon. Just that some care is prudent with sources in “research.”

        I am personally quite familiar with depression. A good bishop got me to go to a good psychiatrist 20+ year ago when I needed it. Between meds and cognative-restructuring I do well and that background has helped me understand better especially when I served as a bishop. Further reference the possible depression of the gentle and kind George Albert Smith would be appreciated.

        • Jana Riess

          This and a couple of other readers’ questions prompted me to write an entire post today on George Albert Smith and depression, with more of his story and links to the Journal of Mormon History article about his nervous breakdown and recovery: https://janariess.religionnews.com/2013/04/25/mormons-and-depression/

          Thanks, everyone, for the invigorating discussion of Emma.

        • Duwayne Anderson

          Wayne wrote: “I have cautioned members about getting pulled in by anti-Mormon literature. It can befuddle and confuse, irritate and anger.”

          ““The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” [James A. Garfield, American President, 1831-1881]

        • Wayne,

          I am sorry not to have answered sooner – had a little trouble with my internet (and I do have a life outside of this online discussion – lol)

          First of all, thank you for your warm and friendly nature evidenced in your posts. And thanks for the other Mountain Meadows Massacre book reference. I mistakenly thought you meant the latest edition I am aware of.

          Here is a link to some information about George Albert Smith’s depression: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1056&context=mormonhistory

          The article starts on page 113 so a bit of scrolling is in order.

          I see Jana has included another blog post and apologize if this is redundant; I haven’t had time to read her post yet.

    • I concur with what you said about polygamy being discussed in the 1960′s. For heavens’ sake, most Mormons along the Wasatch Front during that time were descended from a polygamist or was close to someone who was. It was an open topic in church in Utah during the 1960′s and 1970′s when I grew up.

      When I was a history major at BYU in the mid-1980′s, I read “Mormon Enigma” and realized that there was nothing in that work that was not being discussed in history and religion classes on campus. Emma Smith was already a hero to the women of Utah when I grew up.

      • Duwayne Anderson

        Yep. Totally agree. In fact, I recall polygamy being discussed during Family Home Evening in the 60′s. Not only that (back in the 60′s) there was open anticipation/expectation that the church would once again practice polygamy at the second coming. In fact, when I got married (1978 — day after finals at BYU) my wife and I discussed the prospect of me taking on additional wives when Jesus came back. Needless to say, she didn’t think much of that idea — no more than Emma, I suspect. Also, back in the 60′s plural marriage was still equated with the idea of Celestial marriage, and the doctrine (taught by Brigham Young) that polygamy was necessary for godhood was still relatively known.

        Back then (in the 60′s) it would have been impossible to imagine a Mormon candidate for President (and a descendant of polygamist Mormons, at that) saying that polygamy is just “awful.” Or, that the church would start preaching that the natural order of things is for one man to have one wife.

  10. I read Avery and Newell’s book about Emma Smith and found it sympathetic in many parts of her life, especially her old age when she looked out the window longingly toward the West. I have read a great deal about Emma Smith and greatly admire her. Human beings are complex. We walk a tightrope between good and evil every day. Brigham said she would go to hell. Joseph said he would go to the depths of hell to be with her. As for my part, I hope a kind and gracious God is forgiving of her sins. I hope God allows her to be with Joseph. If He forgives Emma Smith, maybe there is hope of exaltation for such a weak person like me.

    • Duwayne Anderson

      Grant Hansen wrote: “As for my part, I hope a kind and gracious God is forgiving of her [Emma's] sins.”

      What sins, Grant? Emma didn’t do anything wrong! Joseph Smith was the adulterer — he’s the guy that was sneaking around with young girls behind her back. He’s the one who violated her trust, and broke their marriage vows. Lewis Bidamon was a better man than Smith and much better husband to Emma. If she has a choice in heaven, I suspect she’ll choose to be with Lewis rather than Joseph.

      • Emma’s second husband was an alcoholic who fathered a child with a mistress while he was married to Emma. Emma raised the daughter, but I don’t see much to brag about in reference to Mr. Bidamon.

        • Duwayne Anderson

          I looked and looked — can’t find reference anywhere to Lewis C. Bidamon being an alcoholic. BYU studies has an in-depth study on him here:

          https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFLibrary/19.3AveryNewellLewis-43dca773-e2a0-4db8-8422-2b539732cfba.pdf

          No mention of him being an alcoholic there. Are you sure you didn’t just make that up? Likewise on the mistress thing.

          Since you decided to bear witness against Mr. Bidamon, how about proving your accusations?

          Having said all that —- if you will go back and read with comprehension the stuff that I wrote, you’ll see that I wasn’t “bragging” about Bidamon. I only said that he was a better husband than Smith. And by all accounts (including the BYU study I cite above) Emma was quite happy with Bidamon. At least, with Bidamon, she wasn’t compelled to chase plural wives out of the house!

          • It is obvious that you haven’t read the book this article is about.
            If you will read pages 249, 276, and 303 you will see what I am talking about, even to the fact that Emma’s dying wish to Lewis was that he marry his mistress, so his illegitimate children could have a father.
            The good thing about this book is that all their info is very well documented in the footnotes.

          • Duwayne Anderson

            I don’t have the book. How about quoting the relevant passages? Quote the footnotes, too — if you don’t mind.

            Also, did you note the point I made about the nature of your strawman argument? I’m not making claims that her second husband was a great guy — only that he was better than Smith. That’s a pretty low bar, given what Smith put Emma through, over the subject of polygamy.

          • Here is a reference: http://books.google.com/books?id=dLxrq-dgYMgC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=Lewis+Crum+Bidamon+alcoholic&source=bl&ots=FpZaqVd9Pj&sig=9zUW38Ubpn7zm9vlvkXp3WmiqOQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4h96UaH0FYXWrQHK2YDAAQ&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Lewis%20Crum%20Bidamon%20alcoholic&f=false . However, I do NOT consider this statement to be reliable evidence and would NOT claim Lewis Bidamon was an alcoholic. “An adulterer.” Sure. “A wonderful husband or a poor husband.” I haven’t seen enough evidence of either to support such a generalization.

          • Duwayne Anderson

            Thanks for the link, Wayne. I read it — interestingly, the conclusion drawn is the *opposite* of what Laverl is claiming. Let me quote:

            “In writing and reading about Joseph’s and Emma’s family life … it has caused me to think more deeply about things I *thought* I knew — but am *not* so sure of anymore. I *thought* I knew Emma and had judged her too harshly — I *thought* I had known Lewis Crum Bidamon and had written him off as an immoral drunk….” [Emphasis added]

            This whole thing about Bidamon being a jerk appears to be nothing more than a Mormon smear campaign that the author ends up disagreeing with, or at least questioning.

            Having said that, I need to ad my usual qualifier. I’m not saying Bidamon was a great guy — only that he was better than Smith. Bidamon may have had a mistress or two, but Smith had about thirty. And a lot of the women that Smith was messing around with were already married to other men.

      • “If she has a choice in heaven, I suspect she’ll choose to be with Lewis rather than Joseph.”

        Or maybe she will choose both. Wouldn’t that be an ironic turn of events?!?!

    • Hi Grant,

      I don’t remember this part from the book and would love a reference. “her old age when she looked out the window longingly toward the West.” I am wondering why that would make Emma simpathetic? Could it be because it might hint that she felt that she had made a mistake?

      I too hope for a kind and gracious God that forgives the foibles of Emma and Joseph and far less incendiary characters like myself?

  11. I love this post, Jana.

    I read Emma Enigma for the first time this last year in a “Women in American Religions” course taught by Patrick Mason at CGU. Then, the very next week I read Turner’s “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet,” for a different class by Patrick Mason. It was quite the experience, to say the least.

    Caroline Kline, one of the founders of the Exponent blog gave a great presentation on the reappearance of Emma Young in official Church History and usage, touching upon many of the same things you mentioned. She also had us look at the way Emma is visually portrayed now in paintings and Church films. While they are now quite favorable, they also show limited sides of Emma–Emma as mother, Emma as mourner, etc., generally not Emma as exhorter, Emma as President (though some of the pictures in Daughters of My Kingdom may cross that).

    • I made it a bit of a hobby to read about Emma. I especially like to read historical fiction about her because how the author chooses to frame/present the story can vary so wildly and tells me about the author’s perspective (and the perspective of the society that the author represents). My initial question was why Emma was treated so differently than Lucy Mack (who also remained in Nauvoo).

      Some of the earlier books written about Emma (1950′s-60′s) from the LDS perspective do write her off as an apostate that (after giving and suffering so much) failed in the biggest test of her life. I have also read it theorized that she just went a little crazy.

      I have an RLDS historical fiction novel from about the same time that paints Emma as a heroin and completely shifts the responsibility for polygamy onto BY.

      I watched the more recent “Emma-my story” and the Anita Stansfield historical fiction novel and again I am intrigued by what does and doesn’t get presented.

      I’m not sure it is possible to show a full and complex person in a movie or short book (though I am sure we could do a better job at that than we have.) In telling a story we make choices, those choices say alot about US and not so much about the subject/character being portrayed. I completely agree that there has been an evolution of LDS perspectives on Emma.

  12. I think Emma has been unfairly maligned for decades. She basically eloped with Joseph against her father’s wishes, and married this guy who had no money, no education, no job, no prospects. She stood by him through all sorts of trials, she never had a decent home to call her own until Nauvoo. She was badly mistreated by Joseph when it came to polygamy. And if she did not accept BY as heir apparent, she was not alone. We should have cut her some slack many, many years ago.

  13. If Joseph Smith had so many wives, how come the only children he fathered were with Emma? There is no real evidence to the contrary. Maybe it’s because most, if not all of Joseph’s polygamus wives were in “name only.”

    In my opinion, giving a pass to Emma for leaving the Church is an injustice to the other great women of the Church, who remained faithful, such as Mary Fielding Smith. Like Emma, her life was full of great trials. Her husband was also brutally murdered at Carthage Jail, yet Mary Fielding remained true to the Church, and followed the Prophet Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley. Because of Mary Fielding’s faithfulness through hardships, Hyrum’s children stayed true to the faith and became great leaders in the Church. Because of Emma, all of Joseph Smith’s children left the Church–including the adopted daughter Julia Murdock, much to the chagrin of her father John Murdock.

    • Duwayne Anderson

      According to the Book of Mormon, god hates polygamy and only allows it to “raise up seed.”

      “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none…..For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” [Jacob 2:27-30].

      Also, according to D&C 132, polygamy is only allowed if the first wife gives her permission:

      “And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.” [D&C 132:61]

      As you pointed out, Smith didn’t have kids by those polygamous marriages. And, since he didn’t get Emma’s permission either (Smith “married” Fanny in secret, and when Emma caught Smith with Fanny she was furious, and kicked her out of the house), it would seem that Smith didn’t follow his own protocols, as established in his “revelations” for plural marriage.

      http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/02-FannyAlger.htm

      • The marriage of Joseph Smith to Fanny Alger and Emma catching them together is pure conjecture. Second and third-hand accounts, written many years later, and often by apostates, can accurately be referred to as hearsay or gossip. It is certainly not reliable evidence, to say the least.

        At the time, perhaps Emma did approve the plural marriages. Who knows? Especially if the marriages were in “name only.”

        • Duwayne Anderson

          There are historical accounts that are far more reliable than other historical events that Mormons regularly believe (like the restoration of the priesthood, and the first vision). It’s understandable that Mormons would react angrily at news that their vaunted prophet was an adulterer, but the historical evidence is pretty solid.

          • The marriages of Joseph Smith to married women were Temple marriages only. It was for dynastic purposes. Just about evey one wanted to be “sealed” to Jos. Smith. Even grown men were sealed to men and sealed to JS and Brig. Young and other leaders. Men being “married” or sealed to men must have made them secretly practicing homosexuals. Right? Not. The sealings of married to Jos. Smith were no more than a sealing. There was no physical relationship and the women had their husbands permission.

          • Duwayne Anderson

            If it was for “dynastic” purposes then Smith was in direct violation of the Book of Mormon, which specifically states that plural marriage is *only* for the purpose of raising up “seed.”

            Dynasty was certainly part of it. But so was the sex/adultery.

            http://www.i4m.com/think/history/joseph_smith_sex.htm

      • You admitted that you have not read this book because you don’t have a copy. I would recomment that you buy one. It will provide you with a lot of juicy morsels for your negative nitpicking habit.

        • Duwayne Anderson

          I never claimed I had the book. You asserted that the book made certain claims, but you refused to actually quote the book.

          Wayne was considerate enough to provide a link to an on-line readable copy. I read it — interestingly, the conclusion drawn is the *opposite* of what you said. Let me quote:

          “In writing and reading about Joseph’s and Emma’s family life … it has caused me to think more deeply about things I *thought* I knew — but am *not* so sure of anymore. I *thought* I knew Emma and had judged her too harshly — I *thought* I had known Lewis Crum Bidamon and had written him off as an immoral drunk….” [Emphasis added]

          This whole thing about Bidamon being a jerk appears to be nothing more than a Mormon smear campaign that the author ends up disagreeing with, or at least questioning.

          Having said that, I need to ad my usual qualifier. I’m not saying Bidamon was a great guy — only that he was better than Smith. Bidamon may have had a mistress or two, but Smith had about thirty. And a lot of the women that Smith was messing around with were already married to other men.

          • You know, Dooowayne,
            You seem to be bold in your writings as though you feel you know what you are talking about. First of all Joseph Smith, Jr was a prophet of God, and secondly when he was commanded by God and married under the authority and power of the Priesthood of God, any relationship was then sanctioned, ratified and sealed by God. You can opine regarding the validity of Emma’s statement suggesting that she knew nothing about polygamy and therefore had no personal participation in it, but that is false. She knew it and gave her permission in at least several instances. This has been recorded by another prophet of God in the records of the church. Your opinion, along with Emma’s doesn’t hold much water when contending with the words of even one Prophet, let alone two. Sorry, but you have little credibility when quoting an ancient prophet’s words against a modern prophet. A Book of Mormon Prophet’s words, if contrary to new prophesy/revelation, then the new wins out. It is simple, otherwise why have Prophets. You sound like you desire to make your own church — you can also be the leader, as you have no (or little) regard nor respect for those who are called of God and are preparing this world for the Savior’s 2nd coming. You’d better hedge your bet and figure out if you on on God’s side or on the Devil’s. By your fruits, it seems you are not assisting in ushering in of Christ’s reign, therefore you are likely against him, but maybe you are just so impressed with yourself, you don’t know how to listen to the Spirit. Good luck with trying to bring others down and away from the truth. You can’t prove spiritual things except by the Spirit. And, without the Spirit, you personally have no ability to understand the truth. So again, good luck with your attempts at deceiving others. Please consider this nothing other than conversation about spiritual truth — which will make you free.

          • Duwayne Anderson

            Glen wrote: “…when he was commanded by God and married under the authority and power of the Priesthood of God, any relationship was then sanctioned, ratified and sealed by God.”

            Since the origin of our species, Men have invented all sorts of excuses for cheating on their wives, but Smith’s explanation that god told him to do it takes the cake for brass.

            Setting aside your bald-faced assertions, the only thing we can say for certain is that Joseph Smith promised Emma (when they were married) that he would be true to her — and that Joseph Smith later *violated* that promise when he decided to go chasing skirts and “marrying” other women.

            It takes the indoctrination of a cult to venerate a common adulterer as a “prophet.” Thanks for the demonstration, Glen.

  14. The thesis of the article is very strange. I’m over 60, grew up in California, have lived all over the US, and have never heard anything negative about Emma Smith in church. When I was growing up, most people excused her staying behind in Nauvoo as a result of just being worn out from all the troubles she’d been through.

    As to the rest, last I read (some years ago), there was documentary proof for 28 wives, and reasonable evidence for another four or five, but there is no evidence for any children except for those he had with Emma. Every claiment for whom DNA testing was possible has turned out not to be descended from him.

    There were a few claiments who died in childhood for which no testing was possible, but it seems pretty clear, given Joseph’s obvious fertility (i.e., the large number of children he had with Emma), that he was not having much sex with his polygamous wives.

    Here’s a list of supposed children. Two are possible from Joseph Smith, although there is no other evidence besides hearsay. It is also not possible to test daughters.

    http://www.josephsmithspolygamy.com/images/ChartJSPossibleChildren.html

  15. An interesting essay by a man who did much of the genetic testing:

    http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2008-fair-conference/2008-joseph-smith-dna-revealed-new-clues-from-the-prophets-genes

  16. Love your work Jana.
    Being now in my early 40s and being raised in the Church (albeit here in Australia) I can confirm that I never heard anything bad said about Emma (or, more accurately, if something bad was said it was quickly excused by all that she went through). I can also say that although Joseph Smith’s polygamy was not exactly a regular lesson topic it was certainly not a secret.
    I think I have some indebtedness to my slightly unorthodox seminary teacher who believed (as I do) that presenting the truth – even when somewhat unpleasant – is a greater protection against disbelief than a more palatable falsehood which, when discovered later in life can cause serious dissonance and perhaps apostasy.
    This is certainly the way I taught my lessons, both in SS and Institute. My research indicated Joseph Smith had in the high 20s to low 30s wives and when my institute students asked about it that’s what I told them. We talked about some of the likely wives and the lack of any verifiable offspring. I would much rather we have that discussion in a class setting then discovering that they had been kept in the dark all those years.
    Finally, debt/property issues were definitely part of the problem between BY and Emma Hale Smith Bidamon however, there has been some rapprochement between the family societies in recent years which has been encouraging. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705312649/Healing-the-rift-between-Brigham-and-Emma.html?pg=all

    • Jana Riess

      “I think I have some indebtedness to my slightly unorthodox seminary teacher who believed (as I do) that presenting the truth – even when somewhat unpleasant – is a greater protection against disbelief than a more palatable falsehood which, when discovered later in life can cause serious dissonance and perhaps apostasy.”

      Amen and amen! Well said, bdc.

  17. Interesting comments and remiinds one that historians always look at same material and can come to different conclusiions. I am 75, raised in the midwest, raised in the Church and as a youth and adult visited Nauvoo many many times including before it was prettied up. None of this material is new to me nor as a young adult where Newell(truly a little later), Juanita Brooks, Susan Easton Black and many others were read avidly. In talking many with times with the Reorganized Church representatives in Nauvoo, Kirtland and my home in Michigan, I heard the story again and again about polygamy and then even before becoming the Community of Christ the final acceptance they developed of polygamy. I’m not proud of it or bullying tactics of Church leaders long ago or now. I am not envious of Brigham’s job of organization and helping so many go to a land where they finally could establish homes. Emma stands as a monument to me of what individuals under so much duress can accomplish. She is a beacon by any standard. I do not know full story of polygamy and will probably not on earth
    I held out against receiving the Melch. Priesthood because I had grown up in a community of hard working black citizens. And then Hugh B. Brown shared his feelings with me and I saw that I could work inside or outside of the Church to accomplish. I found out that in my time away, the Church had progressed, changed, became more internationally focused, but I spiritually hadn’t progressed and laziness had replaced and was really my “natural man”. Like DuWayne I since have served as a Bishop and Stake President and found (with the help of Pres. Kimball in 1978) that I had made the right choice.
    I suspect that these blogs are like talk shows and only reinforce your own opinion, but how lucky we are to be able to share them.

  18. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I recall that one focus of controversy in the first edition of the Emma biography was an extended footnote about an alleged letter from Joseph to one of his plural wives talking about escaping persecution in Nauvoo and taking er with him. It turned out to have been based on one of the many forged documents created by confessed murderer Mark Hofmann. Just as he killed people with bombs, he left many bombs in the body of documentary evidence on Mormon history that now require careful attention to the date of publication of secondary sources. I understand that false nformation was redacted in later editions of the biography.

    The whole Hofmann episode demostrated how people interested in Mormon history, especially who prided themselves on their skepticism about the “official” history, could be sucked in by fake documents that fulfilled their expectations about polygamy and the alleged influence of folk magic traditions on Joseph Smith or the alleged ordination of Joseph III to succeed him. It turned out that the official LDS Church history was closer to reality than that of many critics. Yet the critics claimed that they were somehow vindicated by the initial acceptance by the Church of those documents, even when they raised issues about the official history.

    Just because something is published by the Church does not make it false, just as things published outside Church.endorsement are not always true. If the Church has some blind spots about including controversial issues into its curriculum that could “threadjack” the manuals outside their purpose, its critics also have a blind spot in their refusal to accept the reality of the encounters of Joseph and others with “supernatural” beings., no matter how many witnesses attested to them.

    The testimony of the many people who shared visionary experiences with Smith present a challenge to the critics who attempt to explain Mormonism in terms of human ambition. I have never seen even an attempt at a naturalist explanation for those many witnesses, not only their initial affirmations but also their reaffirmations even when they could have profited by renouncing them. The rational explanation is that those experiences were as real as any other part of life. And that challenges us to consider our own prejudices and limited knowledge as compared to that reality. If we can cut the Church some slack, just as we do for our own imperfections, we can forgive it for not living up to our own expectations of perfection.

    • Duwayne Anderson

      Raymond wrote: “The whole Hofmann episode demostrated how people … could be sucked in by fake documents….”

      One of the people “sucked in” was none other than Gordon Hinckley, then “prophet, seer, and revelator” of the LDS Church. He used church resources to acquire one of those faked documents. Too bad he didn’t have the holy ghosts as his constant companion, to tell him that the documents were indeed fakes.

      Raymond wrote: “Yet the critics claimed that they were somehow vindicated by the initial acceptance by the Church of those documents, even when they raised issues about the official history.”

      Let the critics speak for themselves, Raymond. As a critic, I’ll be happy to do that. The argument goes something like this:

      1) Mormon prophets claim to have direct revelation with god. They also claim to have the “gift of the holy ghost.” These claims, made by Mormon prophets (not the critics), establish certain expectations. And getting bamboozled by a con man is *not* one of those expectations.

      2) Mormon leaders, and Gordon Hinckley in particular, were sucked into the fraud perpetrated by Hoffman. The fact that Hinckley would be sucked into the fraud, and that he would use church resources to acquire fake historical documents calls into doubt his high falutin claims of being a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” It also calls into question his vanity over having the “gift of the holy ghost.” Hinckley’s actions are consistent with him being a regular Jo, and inconsistent with the expectations for a “prophet, seer, and revelator.”

      See? The argument isn’t about history at all — it’s about testing the claims of a vain/presumptuous man who is sustained by Mormons as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.”

  19. Great article. I was also surprised to see the ad for Joanne Hanks’ book (“It’s Not About the Sex My A**”) right next to it. I’ve read it — it’s a hilariously sarcastic yet insightful exposé. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a look at modern Mormon polygamy as opposed to mainstream Mormonism.

  20. Edward Bailey

    What does it mean in section 132, ” partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all,”

    What offer was this? I have read by Brian Hales that there were division of assets discussions before a possible divorce. Did Joseph and Emma nearly divorce there at the end in 1844?

    • Duwayne Anderson

      It appears to have been a “revelation” for adultery, tit-for tat. It relates to an offer that Smith made to Emma, for her to enjoy sexual liaisons with other men, in return for Smith’s adulterous relationships with his numerous “wives.” The offer was made to William and Jane Law, who refused. There’s a good discussion of the whole sordid affair here:

      http://mormonthink.com/grant7.htm

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