Utah Mormons incarcerated around 1885 for the practice of polygamy.

Utah Mormons incarcerated around 1885 for the practice of polygamy. (By John P. Soule [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

In the last few weeks the LDS Church has issued a series of groundbreaking statements about controversial issues in its own history, including the racist priesthood ban and controversies over Joseph Smith’s methods of translating the Book of Mormon.

Among the group of “Gospel Topics” statements is a brief but refreshingly frank discussion of the Church’s involvement in polygamy in the nineteenth century.

I’m glad this day has come, and here’s why.

I was a Relief Society teacher back in 1998, when the new Brigham Young curriculum was introduced. In the manual, polygamy, which had been such an enormous feature of Young’s life and theological teaching, was nowhere mentioned. Even the brief chronology of his life at the back of the book made it seem that Young had been a typical Victorian monogamist, losing his first wife to illness in 1832 and then remarrying in 1834—only once.

I had to figure out a way to teach historical truth using a manual that seemed to encourage me to ignore important facts about Young’s life and beliefs. Not only had he married some 55 times, but he also taught that “celestial marriage”—then defined as plural marriage—was necessary for eternal exaltation.

Polygamy was so defining a feature of nineteenth-century Mormon life and theology that the Church’s late twentieth-century approach of downplaying or even denying polygamous history was embarrassingly inadequate—and, one might argue, morally wrong.

It was also an approach with damaging missionary consequences. The advent of Google and readily accessible information in the last decade has meant that ordinary members of the Church, including new converts, can retrieve primary and secondary source material that is sometimes different from, or even contradictory to, the immaculate Sunday School lessons they’ve heard at church.

That discrepancy has caused painful cognitive dissonance for many. While ex-Mormon critics seem to have exaggerated the remarks of Elder Marlin Jensen when he spoke of a significant “apostasy” of people leaving the Church because of troubling encounters with its history, it’s certainly true that some members have left over their issues with historical polygamy, racism, and other things. According to Jensen, such defections are precisely why the Church has created these “Gospel Topics” statements online.

Here are three things the LDS Church has officially acknowledged with its new statement on polygamy :

  • That polygamy did not fully end in 1890, when the first Manifesto was announced; plural marriages continued to be contracted on a small scale, sometimes by high-ranking Church leaders. Two decades ago Mike Quinn was excommunicated for, among other things, writing that these post-Manifesto plural marriages had occurred, so this new acknowledgment paves the way for open discussion of that era of Mormon history without fear of reprisal.
  • That Saints in the nineteenth century saw plural marriage as a commandment of God at that time. This may seem obvious, but as someone who has heard contemporary Mormons try to explain away polygamy as an entirely social and non-religious phenomenon, I appreciate the clarification.
  • That polygamy was more common than previous Church leaders’ statements would lead us to expect. Plural marriage was not, as Gordon B. Hinckley once erroneously stated in an interview on Larry King Live, only practiced by a small percentage of the Mormon people. (President Hinckley said “between two and five percent of our people were involved in it”; for more on how such a mistake could occur, see this post from two years ago.) The Church’s new statement is much more accurate and nuanced, tracing how the practice of polygamy changed over the decades:

Probably half of those living in Utah Territory in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous family as a husband, wife, or child at some time during their lives. By 1870, 25 to 30 percent of the population lived in polygamous households, and it appears that the percentage continued to decrease over the next 20 years.

In other words, half of those Mormons who were around at the height of plural marriage during the Mormon Reformation of 1857-58 would have lived in a polygamous family at some point during their lives—a figure that decreased sharply as polygamists faced the harsh legal repercussions in the 1870s and especially the 1880s.

What does the new statement not say? Well, it doesn’t address the controversial issue of early Church leaders marrying women who were already married to other men, and it doesn’t delve into the theological thorny question of whether plural marriage remains the order of heaven—a question that continues to plague some Mormon women I know.

But it is a huge step forward in Mormonism’s candid acknowledgment of the reality and extent of polygamy in the nineteenth century. The Church's new statement on polygamy points to the place I hope we will address such knotty questions in the future: at church.

Covering it up is not the answer.

Pretending that the past has little or no bearing on the present is not the answer.

Hearing about controversial historical topics at church, in a safe setting, where people of faith can discuss them openly . . . that is the answer.

53 Comments

  1. Your three kicker sentences? Supreme truthiness. FWIW, I just finished binge watching 4 seasons of “Sister Wives” and applaud the Brown family for their courage, not to mention raising some of the most high functioning healthy kids I’ve observed in years.

    Over on Twitter I’ve had a rollicking conversation with someone about how I wish this program had been on TV when I was teaching Sociology of the Family. It’s a trove of valuable data about family structures, many of which were gutted by industrialization and capitalism.

    • “Gutted by Capitalism”?

      Sorry, Meredith–this “capitalism” you denigrate has been what’s elevated the human condition beyond anything else in human history.

      I submit you’ve been brainwashed into thinking the method of bringing us unprecedented wealth, education, longer life spans, and more leisure time is somehow evil.

      But I have a learning experiment for you:

      Go dig a 3,000 sq ft garden with just a shovel. (And even the shovel is a product of capitalism, but we’ll let it slide and start there). And while digging for several days, I want you to begin to appreciate the benefits of the tractor or the tiller, which are both products of “capitalism”.

      Now, after that laborious exercise, if you should gain an appreciation that every modern convenience you enjoy today is the product of capital applied to brilliant ideas to make our lives better.

      Or on the other hand, you can waste your time thinking non-capitalism is a somehow a better way to go, and continue to enjoy the miniscule fruits of your labor and the blisters on your hands.

      The ignorance–it burns!

    • @Meredith Gould –

      I agree that the traditional family structure has been under attack for some time now, but I truly am curious as to your reasoning to assiciate the gutting of the family structure to industrialization and capitalism. Could you please give me a brief summary to consider?

      Thanks.

  2. To touch on one of the very last points made at the end of your post here: What people often fail to recognize is the actual definition of polygamy. It is one person — of ANY gender — being wed to more than one spouse. Men with more than one wife practice POLYGYNY, while women with more than one husband practice POLYANDRY. Both of these fall under the broader category of polygamy. The church has simply made no distinction, and/or uses the term slightly wrong.

    However, I have often brought up the fact that, in actual practice, Mormons DID engage in polygamous marriage — that women were also married at times to more than one man, not just the other way around. So much of our church is still so unquestionably patriarchal that this fact just gets flat-out ignored. It was a male/priesthood thing and that’s that. Except it WASN’T.

    Personally, I believe that polygamy was practiced for very certain purposes, and the scriptures tell us that the overall standard of practice for God’s church is monogamy, not polygamy. However, the very fact that both sides of polygamy WERE put in practice by the church says to me that IF, for some reason, polygamy ends up being “the higher law” (which I honestly don’t believe at all), then it applies to BOTH men and women.

  3. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Jana, as a 64 year old lifelong Mormon, I have never seen any prohibition on discussing the realities of plural marriage in LDS meetings. I grew up in the Salt Lake area, where a tour of the Beehive House where Brigham Young lived, and the Lion House next door where some of his wives resided, makes it pretty clear that he was practicing what he preached. There are lots of descendants of the polygamous families in the modern church, including my son-in-law, who named our oldest grandchild after the polygamous colonizer of Star Valley in Wyoming, still a Mormon stronghold. If you went to junior high school in Utah, you studied the history of Utah in detail, including the polygamy persecutions that defined the relationship between the Federal government and the Mormons. The State of Utah and the Church went to a lot of trouble to relocate many original pioneer buildings to This is the Place State Park, which educates visitors about the pioneer experience. If you took an Institute of Religion class across the street from the University of Utah, you could learn lots of details about the polygamy lived by Mormons, including HeberJ. Grant, who was president until his death in 1945.

    So it is nice to have official information on the LDS.org web page that makes it easier to learn this information, but it has always been part of our common heritage if you grew up Mormon in the Intermountain West.

    • Exactly!

      That’s been my experience, too.

      Apparently if this author couldn’t bend the truth, she’d not have an article to write.

      The sensationalism writers resort to is something to behold.

      • “Apparently if this author couldn’t bend the truth, she’d not have an article to write.”

        Wow! Did you just say that? Nice ad hominem. The same could be said of Joseph Smith and the BoM.

        • Ah.. now I get it. Just your little put down on the Book of Mormon. But this of course is your opinion.. and you have nothing to substantiate your statement.

          • Perry Bulwer

            “…you have nothing to substantiate your statement.”

            It’s more than just my opinion. Historical facts substantiate my statement. Smith was a clever fraud and the BoM was his invention. He created that novelistic historical fiction by bending the ‘truth’ of the bible, which itself is an historical fiction.

          • @Perry

            It ends any chance of a civil discussion if you simply state that “It’s more than just my opinion. Historical facts substantiate my statement” – and then fail to cite to any “historical facts” to substantiate your statement. Othierwise its simply your opinion – which you are more than welcome to express – but unfair to call it facts when none are given.

          • Perry Bulwer

            If you are unaware of the historical facts I refer to its because you are purposely ignoring those facts, which are very easy to find. Smith admitted himself that he was a fraud. That’s an historical fact.

            I shouldn’t have to do your research for your, but here’s a couple sites to get you started:

            Joseph Smith’s arrest records:
            http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon430.htm

            Joseph Smith, Jr.
            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.

          • @Perry Bulwer

            Again, simply stating that historical facts substantiate your claims without actually citing to historical facts doesn’t hold much water.

            Saying – “Smith admitted himself that he was a fraud. That’s a historical fact” makes me want to demonstrate to you how unreliable such an approach is by saying something like “Perry Bulwer admitted himself that he was a fraud. That’s a historical fact.” But I don’t have any documentation of such – so I won’t say it…

          • Perry Bulwer

            Are you really a lawyer, because your reasoning seems a bit defective? You asked me to cite a source yet you ignore the information in that source. Joseph Smith’s arrest record for fraud IS historical fact, yet you disingenously ignore the fact I cited a source for that fact by continuing to claim that I am relying solely on my own opinion. He was arrested for fraud using a confidence trick, i.e., he was a con man, who went on to create a religion, just like Ron L. Hubbard and Scientology. That’s not merely my opinion.

            And your reverse example is simply silly, since I have not deluded millions of people with a fictional ‘holy’ book, so no one really cares about me.

          • Ok.. lets get some real historical data here:

            “The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted.” (Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.)

            A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

            1.The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
            2.The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph’s religious claims.
            3.There were seven witnesses.
            4.The witnesses’ testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
            5.Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight
            It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowell. Josiah Stowell was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

            Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph’s prophetic integrity.

            Here… let me copy and paste some information for you to read.. Prove it wrong if you can.

            What is the 1826 trial?In March of the next year, Stowell’s sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. “The record of the examination was torn from Neely’s docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle.”[5] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn’t appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

            William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, “In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, …were greatly incensed against Smith, …saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire… They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood.”[6]

            Whereas the Pearsall account says: “Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell’s nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter…brought before court March 20, 1826″[7]

            So, we have what has been called “The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith”, even though the records show that this wasn’t actually a trial. For many years LDS scholars Francis Kirkham, Hugh Nibley and others expressed serious doubts that such a trial had even taken place.

            Why are the 1971 discoveries important?It was easy to cast doubt on the reality of the 1826 trial until the bills from Judge Albert Neely and Constable Philip De Zeng were found in 1971. These documents were removed from their purported site of discovery by Dr. Wesley Walters, a well-known anti-Mormon author.

            Walters wrote, “Because the two 1826 bills had not only suffered from dampness, but had severe water damage as well, Mr. Poffarl hand-carried the documents to the Yale University’s Beinecke Library, which has one of the best document preservation centers in the country.”[8] The problem with this action is, once you have removed a document from a historical setting and then try to restore it to the same setting, you can’t prove that you have not altered the document.

            The actions of Walters and Poffarl compromised the documents. By having the documents removed and only returned under threat of a lawsuit by the County, it opened the possibility that they could be forged documents. They are generally considered to be authentic.

            Why do the critics use this event?Interestingly, critics of Joseph Smith’s time ignored the 1826 trial.

            1.They didn’t bring it up in another trial in the same area in 1830.
            2.It was not mentioned in any of the affidavits collected by Hurlbut in 1833, even though he was diligently looking for every piece of dirt he could find.
            3.Although the trial was briefly mentioned in 1831, it was not mentioned again in a published record for 46 years.
            The attraction of this event for a later generation of critics, however, lies in the fact that:

            Society had changed
            Seer Stones were no longer acceptable
            Treasure digging was considered abnormal
            Spiritual gifts were reinterpreted as manifestations of the occult
            Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as “magic” and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible—such as Joseph’s silver cup (see Genesis 44:2,5) in which ‘he divineth’ (which was also practiced by the surrounding pagans and referred to as hydromancy),[9] or the rod of Aaron and its divinely-driven power (Exodus 7:9-12).

            The Bible records that Jacob used rods to cause Laban’s cattle to produce spotted, and speckled offspring (see Genesis 30:37-39) — one can only imagine what the critics would say should Joseph Smith have attempted such a thing!

            In Joseph Smith’s own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today’s critics would call ‘occultic.’ Quinn, for instance, observes that in “1825, a Massachusetts magazine noted with approval that a local clergyman used a forked divining rod…. Similarly, a Methodist minister wrote twenty-three years later that a fellow clergymen in New Jersey had used a divining rod up to the 1830s to locate buried treasure and the ‘spirits [that] keep guard over buried coin’….”[10]

            It is important to realize that every statement about “magic” or the “occult” by LDS authors is a negative one. Joseph and his contemporaries would likely have shocked and dismayed to be charged with practicing “magic.” For them, such beliefs were simply how the world worked. Someone might make use of a compass without understanding the principles of magnetism. This mysterious, but apparently effective, device was useful even if its underlying mechanism was not understood. In a similar way, activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked.

            But, it is a huge leap from this realization to charging that Joseph and his followers believed they were drawing power from anything but a divine or proper source.

            What does the 1826 trial tell us?What records exist?We have five records of the 1826 trial. And these were published in eight documents.

            1. Apr. 9, 1831 – A W. Benton in Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate
            2.Oct. 1835 – Oliver Cowdery in Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate
            3.1842 letter from Joel K. Noble (not published until 1977)
            4.Record torn from Judge Neely docket book by Miss Emily Pearsall (niece)

            Feb. 1873 – Charles Marshall publishes in Frazer’s Magazine (London)
            Apr. 1873 – Frazer’s article reprinted in Eclectic Magazine (N.Y.)
            1883 – Tuttle article in New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
            Jan. 1886 – Christian Advocate vol. 2, no. 13 (Salt Lake City, UT)
            5. May 3, 1877 – W. D. Purple Chenango Union

            It may be that Purple saw the publication in the Eclectic Magazine and that is why he published his account a few years later. There are no complete overlaps in the accounts; we will look at the similarities and differences.

            Finally, we have the bills by Judge Neely and Constable Da Zeng which provide some additional useful details.

            Document provenanceWe don’t have the actual record that Miss Pearsall had, but the claimed trail of events leads as follows:

            1.Miss Pearsall tears the record from the docket book of her uncle Judge Neely
            2.She takes the record with her to Utah when she went to work with Bishop Tuttle.
            3.Miss Pearsall dies in 1872.
            4.Charles Marshall copies the record and has it published in Frazer’s Magazine in 1873.
            5.Ownership falls to Tuttle after Miss Pearsall’s death
            6.Tuttle published in 1883 Schaff-Herzog encyclopedia.
            7.Tuttle gave it to the Methodists who published it in 1886
            8.Then the record was lost.
            It will be noticed with interest, that although Bishop Tuttle and others had access to the Pearsall account for several years it was not published until after her death. That combined with the fact that the torn leaves were never allowed to be examined, would cast some doubt on the completeness or accuracy of that which was published.

            Do we have a court record?We know that the supposed “court record” obtained by Miss Pearsall can’t be a court record at all.

            1.Misdemeanor trials were not recorded, only felony trials.
            2.No witness signatures—they were required in an official record.
            3.It appears to be a pretrial hearing.
            4.Pretrial hearings cannot deliver guilty verdicts.
            Why were the various records made?This is the reason that the people stated for why they were putting forth this information.

            1.Benton: more complete history of their founder
            2.Cowdery: private character of our brother
            3.Noble: explain the character of the Mormons
            4.Marshal: preserve a piece of information about the prophet
            5.Purple: as a precursor of the advent of the wonder of the age, Mormonism
            6.Tuttle: [to show] In what light he appeared to others
            7.Judge Neely: to collect fees
            Unsurprisingly, those who provided these accounts had an agenda. We are not looking at an event through the eyes of an unbiased observer, and most of that bias is directed against Joseph Smith.

            Who brought the charges?If we look at the individuals bringing the charges, we have the following: Benton (1831): The Public Cowdery (1835): very officious person Noble (1842): Civil authority Marshall (1873): Peter G. Bridgman Purple (1877): sons of Mr. Stowell Tuttle (1883): Peter G. Bridgman Judge Neely: The Public

            Note that the agreement of Marshall and Tuttle is misleading because they are essentially quoting the same source.

            Whether it was Josiah Stowell’s sons or his nephew Peter G. Bridgman, it seems to be close family members. We don’t know why Peter G. Bridgman brought the charges, but it could easily have been because he was worried that his uncle was accepting Joseph Smith in his religious claims. Josiah did join the church organized by Joseph Smith and stayed faithful his whole life. As for Peter Bridgman, “Within a month after the trial he was licensed as an exhorter by the Methodists and within three years had helped establish the West Bainbridge Methodist Church. Upon his death in 1872 his fellow ministers characterized him as ‘an ardent Methodist and any attack upon either the doctrines or the polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church, within his field of labor, was sure to be repelled by him with a vigorous hand.”[11]

            Is it possible that the trial of Joseph Smith was just one of his first attempts to apply a “vigorous hand?”

            What was the charge against Joseph Smith?The charge is listed in the various accounts as:

            1.Benton (1831): a disorderly person
            2.Cowdery (1835): a disorderly person
            3.Noble (1842): under the Vagrant act
            4.Marshall (1873): a disorderly person and an imposter
            5.Purple (1877): a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood
            6.Tuttle (1882): a disorderly person and an imposter
            7.Judge Neely: a misdemeanor
            Hugh Nibley indicated how it would be strange that he could be charged without visible means of livelihood, since he was being employed by Stowell and others.

            The portion of the statute that would seem to apply was enacted by New York in 1813.

            …all persons who not having wherewith to maintain themselves, live idle without employment, and also all persons who go about from door to door, or place themselves in the streets, highways or passages, to beg in the cities or towns where they respectively dwell, and all jugglers, and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found; … shall be deemed and adjudged disorderly persons.
            What is a juggler? It used to be that a person skilled in sleight of hand was called a juggler, whereas today we would call them a “sleight of hand magician.” Thus, a “juggler” was a con man; someone using his ‘stage magic’ talents to defraud.[12]

            But what if you weren’t pretending to discover lost goods? What if you actually had a gift where you “could discern things invisible to the natural eye” Could you then be judged guilty of this statute?

            How many witnesses testified?As far as the number of witnesses we have the following:

            1.Benton (1831): not mentioned
            2.Cowdery (1835): not mentioned
            3.Marshall (1873): Five quoted, charges for seven witnesses
            4.Tuttle (1882): Six
            5.Purple (1877): Four
            6.Constable Philip De Zeng: Twelve
            What is particularly interesting here is that Tuttle and Marshall are supposedly quoting from the same document. Marshall only quotes 5 witnesses, but at the end, the charges are listed for seven witnesses. The fee was 12-1/2 cents per witness. Eighty-seven and ½ cents divided by twelve ½ cents per witness, gives us seven witnesses. By combining the Purple and Pearsall accounts we can arrive at seven witnesses, and also a motive for not including all the witnesses or letting the record be examined. It is unknown why the constable would have listed twelve witnesses, unless that is the number he summoned to the proceedings. Seven would seem to be the correct number of those that testified.

            What witness is excluded from some accounts?Purple does add a witness that hadn’t been included by Marshall or Tuttle: Joseph Smith, Sr. Maybe they didn’t want to include the testimony of Joseph’s father because his testimony was more religious in nature. He spoke of Joseph’s “wonderful triumphs as a seer”, that “both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre,” and “he trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him.” It is easy to see why this testimony wouldn’t be included in a record where you are trying to show that Joseph Smith was a person trying to acquire work as a money digger. Which might be the reason the Tuttle and Marshall omitted the Joseph Smith Sr. testimony.

            What verdict was brought against Joseph?1.Benton: tried and condemned … designedly allowed to escape
            2.Cowdery: honorably acquitted
            3.Noble: was condemned, took leg bail
            4.Marshall: guilty?
            5.Tuttle: guilty?
            6.Purple: discharged
            7.Constable De Zeng: not a trial
            Noble’s statement is hearsay, since there is no evidence that he actually attended this trial. Furthermore, his statement and Benton’s statement can’t be taken as an indication that Joseph was judged guilty. For example, in Joseph’s 1830 trial he was acquitted. The court said that they “find nothing to condemn you, and therefore you are discharged.” Then Mr Reid testifies, “They then proceeded to reprimand him severely, not because anything derogatory to his character in any shape had been proven against him by the host of witnesses that had testified during the trial.”[13]

            The verdict indicated by Marshall and Tuttle is questionable. It seems to be appended as an afterthought. Throughout the document Joseph is referred to as the “prisoner”, then after the last testimony, we have one sentence in which he is named a defendant, “And thereupon the Court finds the defendant guilty.” Here we have suddenly a declaratory statement that is completely out of character with the rest of the Pearsall document. Also, if this were actually a trial, Joseph wouldn’t have testified against himself as the first witness.

            The examination was not a trialWesley P. Walters has demonstrated that this is not a trial. The Constable’s charges of “19 cents attached to the mittimus marks it as the pre-trial ‘commitment for want of bail’ …and not the post-trial ‘warrant of commitment, on conviction, twenty-five cents.”[14]

            In the Tanners’ anti-Mormon Salt Lake City Messenger, they stated, “Wesley P. Walters had convincingly demonstrated to us that we were dealing with ‘an examination.’ In a New Conductor Generalis, 1819, page 142, we learn that in an ‘examination’ the accused is not put under oath but that the witnesses are'”[15]

            In all cases but one the witnesses were “sworn”, whereas Joseph was examined. Judge Neeley’s charges actually uses that precise terminology, “in examination of above cause”. Therefore, since this wasn’t a trial, one cannot have a guilty verdict.

            Summary of testimonyJoseph Smith, Jr.: In the Purple account he tells about finding his stone and he exhibits his stone. In the Pearsall record it talks about how Stowell came and got Joseph, “had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school;” He informed Stowell where to find treasures, and buried coins and that he did it for the previous three years. But Joseph did not solicit and declined having anything to do with the business.
            Joseph Smith Sr.: This testimony is only in the Purple account. We discussed earlier how he felt this power showed that Joseph was a seer and that Joseph Sr. was mortified by the use of the sacred power and that he hoped that eventually it would get used correctly. Since this testimony puts Joseph in a positive light it is understandable why it wasn’t included in the published versions of the Pearsall account.
            Josiah Stowell: His employer’s testimony in the Purple account has Josiah say that Joseph could see 50 feet below the surface, described many circumstances to confirm his words. He said, “do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true.”
            We go to the Pearsall record, for a slightly different account of the Josiah Stowell testimony. It tells how Joseph “looked through stone, and described Josiah Stowel’s house and out-houses while at Palmyra, at Simpson Stowel’s, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree with a man’s hand painted upon it, by means of said stone;” Josiah tells about Joseph’s being employed part time. It also contains the part that “he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.” He talked about finding something for Deacon Attelon that looked like gold ore. Josiah talked about Mr. Bacon burying some money and that Joseph described how there was a feather buried with the money. They found the feather but the money was gone. Josiah said that he “had been in company with prisoner digging for gold, and had the most implicit faith in prisoner’s skill.”
            Horace Stowell: This testimony is only found in the Neely record. It is a short testimony that describes where a chest of dollars was buried in Winchester County and that Joseph marked the size of the chest with leaves on the ground.
            Arad Stowell: This witness went to see Joseph and wanted Joseph to display his skill. He laid out a book on a cloth. While holding a white stone to a candle, he read the book. Arad said that he was disappointed and went away because to him it was obviously a deception, but he doesn’t tell us why he thought it was a deception. It would have been nice if he had told us why he thought that. Was it just that he had his mind made up before he went to see Joseph?
            There are only three testimonies that are duplicated in both the Purple and Pearsall accounts. They are Joseph Smith, Josiah Stowel and Jonathan Thompson. In the Purple account Thompson said that he could not remember finding anything of value. He stated that Joseph claimed there was a treasure protected by sacrifice and that they had to be armed by fasting and prayer. They struck the treasure with a shovel. One man placed his hand on the treasure, but it gradually sunk out of reach. Joseph believed there was a lack of faith or devotion that caused the failure. They talked about getting the blood from a lamb and sprinkling it around.

            Interestingly, the same witness in the Pearsall record says that Joseph indicated where the treasure was. He looked in the hat and told them how it was situated. An Indian had been killed and buried with the treasure. So this detail matches with the Purple account. The treasure kept settling away. Then Joseph talked about salt that could be found in Bainbridge and described money that Thompson had lost 16 years ago. Joseph described the man that had taken it and what happened to the money. There is nothing mentioned about sacrificing sheep or not having sufficient faith and so forth. The Pearsall record is supposedly a more complete written record, but it doesn’t have the bleeding sheep, or fasting and prayer that characterizes the Purple account.

            Didn’t Hugh Nibley claim that a record of this trial would be “the most damning evidence in existence” against Joseph Smith?Hugh Nibley had serious doubts as to whether or not Joseph Smith was actually brought to trial in 1826, and he felt that the only real trial was in 1830. For the most part, Nibley felt that the “court record” didn’t seem to be correct. The following quote is taken from Nibley’s book “The Myth Makers:”

            “if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith.”
            Since Wesley Walters has found some bills related to the trial, the critics now claim that the case is proven and that Nibley has proven their case for them. Nothing is further from the truth. First of all you need to look at the whole quote. Nibley was chastising Tuttle for not actually using the trial record that he had. He was questioning why he would do that if it was so important.

            “You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall’s word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn’t you immediately send he back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of I? Why didn’t you “unearth” it, as they later said you did? . . . The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: “a woman helper in our mission,” who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [speaking to Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? . . . in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever. . . yet in the final summary of his life’s experiences he never mentions the story of the court record – his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!” (Nibley “The Myth Makers”, 246)
            The Pearsall account, which has never been produced, claims that the defendant was found guilty. The real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit. A document proving such guilt has not been found.

            Why was Joseph fined if he wasn’t guilty?The court did not assess a fine against Joseph. There were bills made out by Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng, but these were for costs. Those bills were directed to the County for payment of witnesses, etc., not to Joseph.

  4. “The advent of Google and readily accessible information in the last decade has meant that ordinary members of the Church, including new converts, can retrieve primary and secondary source material that is sometimes different from, or even contradictory to, the immaculate Sunday School lessons they’ve heard at church.”

    As a former believer, now an atheist, I can’t resist the urge to say thank god for the internet. What you have described is pretty much the same for any religious group, from mainstream churches to small sects and cults. The internet was a game changer. Religious frauds, charlatans, exploiters and abusers are quickly running out of places to hide. For example, global crimes of Catholic clergy child abuse is not new, but exposure of that abuse greatly accelerated online after the Boston Globe began its investigative reporting for which it won a Pulitzer. http://www.boston.com/globe/spotlight/abuse/
    Shuffling pedophile priests to different dioceses or to different countries around the world was one way the Catholic hierarchy used to deal with those crimes, but the internet has helped expose that tactic and the predators it protects.

    Similarily, for groups with strong traditions of recording every word their ‘prophets’ say and using those words to inculcate dogma, like the LDS church, The Family International sect and the Scientology cult, the internet helps to expose their true nature to insiders and outsiders alike. That creates the cognitive dissonance in some members you mention, which from my point of view is a good thing. Cognitive dissonance created by discovering uncomfortable facts about not just the sect I was in, but Christianity itself, is what helped me escape the religious deception, indoctrination, exploitation and abuse I experienced and witnessed, and finally set my mind free. Thanks internet!

    And beyond exposing religious fraud and abuse, the internet is helping survivors connect with each for support, recovery and/or activism.

  5. “Not only had he (Bringham Young) married some 55 times, but he also taught that “celestial marriage”—then defined as plural marriage—was necessary for eternal exaltation.”

    Bringham Young also taught to deny polygamy was to be damned.

    “Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned,” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 266).

    Here’s the problem I see with this. If Bringham Young, the second prophet of Mormonism, was wrong on polygamy, what else was he wrong about?

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

    • Or maybe he was right and you are wrong.

      Ever consider that?

      Many of the ancient prophets also practiced polygamy.

      Were they also wrong?

      Ah, ’tis a quandary, eh?

    • Dave,
      The polygamy situation for Mormons is much like the “no preaching to Gentiles” situation was to the early Jewish Christians. Not until Peter had his “sheet” vision did he even wonder about the Jewish law which prohibited a Jew from associating with a Gentile. Peter at first refused to eat any of the “unclean” food presented to him by the Lord in the sheet that descended from heaven. But the Lord admonished him by saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common [or unclean].” Even though the vision was presented three times, Peter still had to wonder what it all meant until he was told by the Spirit to go meet with a certain group of Gentiles. Peter’s first words to them were, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
      It is God that decides what is “common and unclean”–not man.

      • It’s not the same. One has to do with the Gospel being opened up to the Gentiles. The other has to do with God telling Bringham Young that to not support polygamy meant being damned and not being allowed into the Celestial kingdom, then God said to commit polygamy meant being excommunicated from the Mormon church…when Numbers 23:19 says, God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.”

        http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

        • Some Church leaders taught that plural marriage was a requirement for those wishing to enter the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Because the Church does not currently practice plural marriage, critics claim this means that either the past leaders were wrong, or that current members are not destined for exaltation.

          The Bible gives many examples of God giving new instructions because of new circumstances, or contravening previous instructions:

          • Noah (but no other prophet) was to build an Ark (Genesis 6:14)
          • Moses implemented the Passover, which was hitherto unknown (Exodus 3:12-28)
          • Jesus revoked the celebration of Passover, and modified the ordinance and its performance at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19)
          • Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute as a sign to Israel Hosea 1:1-3
          • Jesus told his disciples only to preach to Israelites (Matthew 10:5-6, Matthew 15:24)
          • The Lord later told the prophet (Peter) to preach to all people (Acts 10:14-28)

          This shows that, while God does not change, we do. Our circumstances change over time. God gives commandments tailored to the circumstances. Was Noah’s temporal salvation dependant on obeying God and building the arc? Certainly it was. If Noah has refused to build the arc he and his family would have perished in the flood. What about Noah’s spiritual salvation? , If Noah had refused to obey God he would have been in rebellion against God, and therefore, his spiritual salvation would have been in jeopardy as well.

          However, our spiritual salvation is not dependant on building an arc. Thus, the commandment to Noah is not in force for us today. The commandment to practice plural marriage was probably necessary for the salvation of those who received it; not because they had to have plural wives, but because they had to be obedient to God.

          The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not teach that plural marriage is a requirement for obtaining the highest reward.

          Instructions to LDS seminary teachers:
          Note: Avoid sensationalism and speculation when talking about plural marriage. Sometimes teachers speculate that plural marriage will be a requirement for all who enter the celestial kingdom. We have no knowledge that plural marriage will be a requirement for exaltation. — Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Seminary Teacher Resource Manual (Intellectual Reserve, 2001, [updated 2005]).

          Joseph Smith wrote of the issue of plural marriage saying:

          This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed…in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances. (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:135.)

          In response to a letter “received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

          Question 4: Is plural or celestial marriage essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come?
          Answer: Celestial marriage is essential to a fulness of glory in the world to come, as explained in the revelation concerning it; but it is not stated that plural marriage is thus essential. . . . These questions are answered, so that it may not be truthfully claimed that we avoid them. . . (Charles W. Penrose, Improvement Era, vol. 15, no. 11, September 1912, 1042)

          God gave the authority to officiate as priests in ancient Israel to only one of the twelve tribes of Israel (Exo. 28:1-4; Num ch 17; Num. 18:6-8; Num. 27: 18-23). We see where Uzza was severely punished for an act that only the priesthood holders were authorized to carry out (1 Chr. 13:9-10). The priesthood was given to the tribe of Levi as “an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations” (Ex. 40:15) and those who could not prove their Levitical lineage were “polluted, put from the priesthood.” (Ezra 2:6-26). The other tribes were not allowed to hold this priesthood.

          After Christ came and fulfilled the Law of Moses, there were to be priests from tribes other than the tribe of Levi. Two examples are given: Christ himself, and Melchizedek who would “not be called after the order of Aaron. For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” (Heb. 7:11-12). Thus, we see in the Bible that not only does God change the rules over time but that he discriminates as to who gets to hold the priesthood and that, later, he revokes that restriction.

          The critics of the LDS Church would have us believe that the Church is false because something that seems rather major has changed. However, as I have shown, God changed some pretty major things in the Bible. My viewpoint is that God is God and he can do whatever he wants. Who am I to tell God what to do? When we take the standard the critics apply to Mormons and apply it to Bible prophets and even Jesus Himself, they don’t pass the test either.

          It is not Jesus, God, Moses, Joseph Smith, or the restored Church that is the problem. It is the false standard for judgment that is set up by the anti-Mormons. They set up a standard that is un-factual, unhistorical, un-scriptural and which, if it were true, proves the Bible and even Jesus false along with Joseph Smith and Mormonism. The truth: God can change whatever he wants to change. Seems that the God of the Bible acts the same way the God of Mormonism does. That’s because he is the same God.

          All of the anti-Mormon arguments are not the real issue. The real issue is this: Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the true church restored to the earth? Is Joseph Smith a true prophet of God? Is the Book of Mormon true? If so then it was God, and not Joseph Smith or any other man who directed the changes just as God directed Moses to withhold priesthood from the other 11 tribes, just as that restriction was changed in the New Testament, just as Jesus withheld the gospel from the Gentiles and then later gave a revelation to Peter to change that policy and take it to the Gentiles.

    • Dave, it is saddening that you have been led to believe that Brigham Young taught that anyone who was not a polygamist would be damned. This is not the case otherwise Adam would have been in big trouble :)

      If you read the multiple JofD sections referring to this topic in full context, you will see that Brigham Young never taught that every member needs to be a practicing polygamist but rather “polygamists at least in your faith.” JofD 11:269.

      He did, however, often teach that those who reject polygamy, i.e. the doctrine of polygamy, would suffer the same fate as those who reject any other of God’s principles.

      • That’s not the issue. The issue is that Joseph Smith and those with him set out to malign the Scriptures and introduce a false gospel that would lead many to hell. A gospel that at it’s very core is based on a man’s pride before God, thinking he can do better than the cross of Christ and work his way to heaven.

        That’s the issue.

        http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

        • Yes.. a 14 year old boy set out to defraud the world.. including his mother, father, sisters and brothers, his grandparents, his wife etc. I think not. I know he did not. There are too many people who have joined this church since the beginning that have their testimonies not based on the preaching of Joseph Smith.. but of the gift of the Holy Ghost… speaking spirit to spirit and testifiying to the truthfulness of what they had been told. The “true” gospel was once again being taught.. and more was given them that believed.

          The Book of Mormon is a true record of God’s dealings with a remanant of the house of Jacob.. the Jacob who was sold into Egypt. Through his posterity, the true Gospel is being preached in preparation for the 2nd coming of Christ. These are the fullness of times. This is where the foot will hit the road… this is where the preparations are being made. For the 2nd coming will be far more fantastic than the first time he came. It has been described as the Great and Dreadful Day of the Lord.

          Do you believe that? That there will be such a day?

    • Bathsheba.

      You do find characters in the Bible who had more than one wife. What you don’t find is God commanding anyone to do so. You also don’t find God condemning anyone to hell for not having more than one wife.

      • There is a difference between being damned.. and being condemed to hell. To be damned.. is to have one’s progression stopped. Like a damn that stops the flow of water… and punishment issued by God… which durning that time.. progression has also stopped moving forward.. but not for the same reason.

      • Actually God did command it in the Bible. See 2 Samuel 12:8.

        Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and he restored the doctrines and practices of the original Christians and the ancient Biblical Prophets. His restoration of the Biblical practice of plural marriage is an evidence that he was truly a prophet in the same tradition of the Biblical prophets. Righteous Abraham and Jacob had plural wives and Jesus said says that the righteous do the works of Abraham (John 8:39). Abraham’s major work was to be the father of many nations which he accomplished by practicing polygamy with God’s permission.

        Jesus said that those polygamists would be in heaven (Luke 13:29; Luke 16: 19-31) So Jesus taught that polygamists can go to heaven. So, clearly, Jesus thought that polygamists can go to heaven. We see Christ affirming this again in the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus wherein Jesus tells us that Abraham, that old polygamist, is in paradise while the Rich man is in Hell (Luke 16: 19-31).

        God told David, through the prophet Nathan, to have plural wives (2 Samuel 12:8). So God has commanded the practice of plural marriage in the past – the Bible proves that. Since God commanded the practice of polygamy through a Biblical prophet, then the fact that God commanding Joseph Smith to practice it cannot be used as evidence against Joseph Smith unless one wants to admit that it proves the bible prophets also false. In the bible a righteous king who honored the Lord had fourteen wives (2 Chronicles 13:8-12,21)

        In the Bible the Lord does not condemn polygamy but rather, gives instructions on how men are to treat their plural wives. (Deuteonomy 21:15-17)

        In the Bible we see where Abraham had plural wives – Sarai, Hagar, Keturah and others.(See Gen. 16:3, Gen 25:1,6) Abraham was righteous and God appeared to him at least twice during the time he had plural wives (Gen 17:1, Gen 18:1). Abraham is blessed and God makes His covenant with him and blesses him to be the father of many nations (Gen 17:1-6). God didn’t care that Abraham was a polygamist. Instead, God appears to him and blesses him. Here we see that God not only condoned polygamy but he blessed Abraham for it and it is the means by which Abraham fulfills God’s promise to become the father of many nations.

        Righteous Jacob was a polygamist (Genesis 29:21-30, Genesis 30:3-4,9)

        Jehoiada, priest under King Joash “took for him two wives” (2 Chronicles 24:3). Jehoiada is one who “had done good in Israel, both toward God and toward his house.” (2 Chronicles 24:16).

        Critics think that if they show us some fact that they think we don’t know, like that Joseph Smith had plural wives, that we are all going to keel over, give up, loose our testimonies, and leave the Church. In reality Joseph Smith’s wives is an evidence that Joseph was a prophet on par with the ancient righteous prophets and patriarchs who also practiced plural marriage and Joseph was telling the truth when he said that he was restoring true Biblical doctrines and practices. Jesus agrees with Joseph Smith in that the righteous who obey God’s command to practice polygamy go to heaven (Luke 13:29; Luke 16: 19-31)

    • To the question of polygamy – at Deuteronomy 17:17 God (through Moses) said that kings “should not multiply wives for themselves”. This was a command which was ignored by David and also Solomon. They both suffered because they did not listen but God did not punish them. They brought grief (punishment) upon themselves. God’s promise to bring the Christ through the line of David did not falter because of polygamy. It was not considered “wrong” AT THAT TIME. Later on, when Christianity came into being, things were updated and Jesus and his apostles preached that a man should be “husband of ONE wife”. (see Mark 10:1-12; 1 Cor.7:2) Also, 1 Timothy 3:1-2 clearly states: “That statement is faithful. If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work. 2 The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible, a husband of ONE wife, moderate in habits, sound in mind, orderly, hospitable, qualified to teach.” Clearly, Brigham Young did not fit this requirement and so, ask yourself, WHY would God choose him to “lead his people”?
      To answer Dan- Jesus came through David’s line by Solomon (who’s mother was Bathsheba) and his Ammonite wife, Na’amah. Their son, Rehoboam was an ancestor of Jesus Christ. (see 1 Kings 14:21 & Matthew 1:7)

  6. I do not understand why people find it so hard to understand the simpleness of following commandments.

    When God gives a commandment.. all are under obligation to obey that commandment at that particular point in time. If you do not obey… then the consequences follow.

    Polygamy was so ordered by God.. until at some point.. it was not. Just as the Law of Moses was so ordered by God.. and now it’s not. If you were living at the time the Law of Moses was in effect.. then you are held accountable to that law. If you were not living.. then you are not. Polygamy for those who were living at the time are accountable for living it. Today.. we are not accountable to live it. My point here is this. Those who were required to live it at the time.. It was definitely part of being exalted and was a requirement. So Brigham was right when he said: “Polygamy was necessary for eternal exaltation.” For the people of that time.. under that law.. it was a requirement. Today.. you must have one spouse to be exalted. But for those that think the earthly law of only one spouse is an eternal concept.. they are thinking with an earthly mind.

    Look.. in the Book of Mormon.. polygamy was not required for that group of people for that period of time. The Lord knew how the human woman dealt with this law.. and he did not need to build up a righteous group of people in the midst of many other groups. Lehi and his posterity lived upon an island and were not influenced by outside sources of nations. Most all that lived upon that island were related in some way. He had his group.

    But it was required of the LDS for a period of time. And when it was required.. then those under that law had an obligation to live it… just as we now have an obligation NOT to live it. And if the time comes.. when it does become “legal” again upon this land.. It won’t be for the LDS until God says it is. Just because the law of the land might make it now alright.. it is God’s law that we live.. whatever law that may be at the time.

    • During that time when Bringham Young had the revelation from God that Mormons were to have more than one wife, where is it written in Mormon doctrine that they were also to marry other mens wives while the men were still alive, and where does it say in Mormon doctrine that Mormons were to marry young girls?

      • Where oh where does it say they can’t? Geez. In some states the marrying age of girls was 11 years old. Where does it say in the Bible or anywhere else does it say that is wrong? It doesn’t. Quit trying to put the standards and laws of today upon those in the past.

      • Were there really polyandrous marriages?

        Critics have charged that Joseph Smith was married to some women during the same time that these same women were married to another man. That would be polyandry. However, the best first-hand historic evidence indicates otherwise. It would be polyandry only if the marriages were concurrent or active at the same time. Recent research by historians Dr. Brian Hales, Don Bradley and others, using historic first-hand sources indicates that these women were married to their husbands for “time” only or civilly only and that Joseph married them for “eternity” only; the civil marriage was active during mortality and the “eternity” marriage with Joseph was not active until after death The two marriages did not overlap in time; therefore, no polyandry. The marriages were consecutive but not concurrent and there is no credible evidence for sexuality between Joseph and these women. Many of the wives wives said that their marriages to Joseph were for “eternity” or “eternity only” and there has been no credible evidence that there was any conjugality between them and Joseph.

        A number of examples could be given. One, for example is this: “Sister Ruth Sayers was married in her youth to Mr. Edward Sayers… and though he was not a member of the Church, yet he willingly joined his fortune with her and they reached Nauvoo together some time in the year 1841;

        “While there the strongest affection sprang up between the Prophet Joseph and Mr. Sayers. . [Note that this is a friendship between Joseph and Mr. Sayers not Mrs. Sayers] The latter [Mr. Sayers] not attaching much importance to the theory of a future life insisted that his wife Ruth should be sealed to the Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim her in this life. She was accordingly sealed to the Prophet in Emma Smith’s presence and thus became numbered among the Prophets plural wives. She however though she continued to live with Mr. Sayers remained with her husband until his death.” (Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871-1942], LDS Archives.)

        A number of other wives stated that they were married to Joseph for eternity while remaining with their original husbands. The marriages to Joseph were not active and no conjugal privileges were allowed except with their civil or time-only husbands. There is no historic evidence that Joseph was intimate with these women.

      • The most reasonable estimates indicate that Joseph entered into plural marriages with 29–33 women, only 7 of whom were under the age of 18. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball, who was 14. The rest were 16 (two) or 17 (three). One wife (Maria Winchester) about which virtually nothing is known, was either 14 or 15. Historic sources indicate that there was no physical intimacy between Joseph and the youngest wives. The most likely age at which Mary, the mother of Jesus, was married and pregnant is somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years. I haven’t seen anybody complain about that. I haven’t seen anybody accuse God of being a pedophile or a pervert.

        The 21st century reader is likely to see marriages of young women to much older men as inappropriate, though it is still not uncommon. In the U.S. today, in most states, the “age of consent” – the age in which women can marry and have sex without parental permission – is set by statute to be 18. Joseph Smith’s marriage to Helen Mar Kimball, having been done with her parents’ permission, would be legal in California, New York, Alabama, North Carolina and others even today, except for the polygamous aspect of it. New Hampshire still allows marriage for girls at age 13.

        However, even today, the minimum age at which a person may marry with parental permission or with a judge’s permission, is 16 in most states. In California, there is no minimum marriageable age; a child of ANY AGE may marry with parental consent. (Marriage Laws of the Fifty States, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico,” a Cornell Law School web site)

        When judging the past we sometimes commit the error historians call presentism which is judging people of the past by present norms. However, people in past times often operated under a different norm which seemed perfectly acceptable to them even though it does not to us.

        Modern age limits in most states represent only the modern attitude. The age of consent under English common law was TEN. United States law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century. In Joseph Smith’s day, most states still had the declared age of consent to be TEN! Some had raised it to TWELVE, and Delaware had lowered it to SEVEN! (See Melina McTigue, “Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change,” (2002), accessed 5 Feb 2005)

        in 1880 (nearly 40 years after Joseph Smith’s death), the minimal age of female consent in Illinois was age 10. The following U. S. states (and territories) identified their minimal age of female consent at age 10 in 1880: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. (Source 1)

        The following states identified their ages of female consent at 12 in 1880: Arizona, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. (Source 1)

        Outside the U. S., Denmark’s minimum age for female consent was 12 in 1880–and still 12 in 1920. Same ages and dates for Portugal, Scotland, and Spain. By 1880 England had advanced the minimal age from 12 to 13. The age of consent in Canada and Australia in 1880 was also 12. By 1920 Canada had advanced the age to 14. In Russia the minimum age in 1880 was 10. It advanced to 14 by 1920. (Source 1)

        Studies show that marriage of teen age women, often to men significantly older, was normal among the general population in the early and mid 1800’s. Teens made up 36.0% of married women, and only 2.3% of men; the average age of marriage was 22.5 for women and 27.8 for men. (Data from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007.)

        Even when the men in Joseph’s age range (34–38 years) in the U.S. Census are extracted, Joseph Smith still has a lower percentage of younger wives and more older wives than do non-Mormon marriages. Marriage of older men to teen-age women was entirely normal for this era.

        One hundred and eighty Nauvoo-era civil marriages have husbands and wives with known ages and marriage dates. The data shows that wives were generally younger than their husbands. Almost all brides younger than twenty married men between five and twenty years older. (The data is from Susan Easton Black, “Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839–1845,” op. cit. as originally extracted by David Keller)

        It is significant that none of Joseph’s contemporaries complained about the age differences between polygamous or monogamous marriage partners. This was simply part of their environment and culture; it is unfair to judge nineteenth century members by twenty-first century social standards. As one non-LDS scholar of teenage life in American history noted:

        Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man’s work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn’t perform as a man, he wasn’t one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being ready for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age….
        The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually.{{ref|hine.16}

        In past centuries, women would often die in childbirth, and men often remarried younger women afterwards. Women often married older men, because these were more financially established and able to support them than men their own age.

        SOURCE1 (Sources of information: Stephen Robertson, “Age of Consent Laws,” in Children and Youth in History, Item, #230, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teachi… Martin Killias, “The Emergence of a New Taboo: The Desexualization of Youth in Western Societies Since 1800,” European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 8 (2000); and Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Policing and Protecting Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.)

    • But this “command” you say Brigham Young “received”…. where did he get that? From “the angel” he saw? Look, in the final book of the Bible, Revelation 22:18-19, God’s word says that anyone who “adds to the words of this scroll, God will add to him the plagues written therein”. The Apostle Paul expressly said, “6 I marvel that YOU are being so quickly removed from the One who called YOU with Christ’s undeserved kindness over to another sort of good news. 7 But it is not another; only there are certain ones who are causing YOU trouble and wanting to pervert the good news about the Christ. 8 However, 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. 9 As we have said above, I also now say again, Whoever it is that is declaring to YOU as good news something beyond what YOU accepted, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9… Does this sound familiar? We were WARNED not to be fooled by this….

      • Anyone who understands how the Bible was put together.. knows that what was written in Revelation… was only for that book… and not for the entire Bible. John.. the Author of Revelation, knew that scribes would be making copies of his book and the warning was to them. The same type of warning was also given in Deuteronomy. But to think that God can not add to the revelations that he has given to previous prophets is ridiculous. But there are still people today who did not get the message and still erroneously make the statement you did saying God is not allowed to make new scripture. This is the problem when man decides to close the cannon and not to receive any new revelation.

        And the Apostle Paul was talking about those who had received the teachings of the Gospel and were already making changes to it. Don’t take what Paul said and then limit God as to what he can add to his scriptures.

        • There is nothing in the Book of Revelations, or in the Bible anywhere, which says that it is the end of prophecy. In fact, the Book of Revelations itself says that there would be future revelation from angels and future prophets. See Revelations chapter 11 and chapter 14. Revelations 22:18-19 says do not add to or take from the words of “this book.” “This Book” means the book that John was writing. The Bible, including the NT was not yet assembled.

          Even if John were referring to the future New Testament, which was not yet assembled, his warning is an injunction that man is not to change Gods word, and not a statement which binds God so that God Himself cannot add more.

          In Deuteronomy 4:2 God says don’t add or diminish from his word. But God gave most of the Bible after Deuteronomy. Clearly, man is not to add or subtract from God’s word once it is given. But it is equally clear that God can give more whenever He wants to. And he always does so by revelation to prophets.

          Nowhere does it say in the Bible that God has finished his work or that there will be no more revelation or that the cannon of scripture is complete

      • Sadly, many Christians believe in the extra-Biblical creeds that the Apostle Paul warned about.

        The Apostle Paul warned Christians of his day about adopting creeds of another gospel (See Galatians 1:6-9). The Prophets and Apostles predicted an apostasy or falling away from the truth (See II Thessalonians 2:1-3; Acts 20:28-30; Isaiah 24:1,5; Amos 8:11-12; 2 Timothy 4:3-4)

        Well, they did adopt extra-Biblical creeds not taught by Jesus or his apostles. There was a prophesied falling away and Joseph Smith fulfils the Biblical prophecies of a subsequent restoration of Christianity to the earth (See Acts 3:19-21; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6; Rev. 14:6-7; Matt. 24:31)

        Christianity became messed up by deletions and additions to the original in the form of creeds and so forth. For example: In the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is a non-Biblical creed, we read that “there is but one God, a most holy spirit, without body, parts or passions,” thus denying the resurrected Christ, for, as the Bible says, if Christ is not risen and we do not believe him when he tells us that he has an immortal body, we can then have no hope of a resurrection (Phil 3:21.)

        Contrary to the creed Jesus taught after his resurrection: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and ones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:39)

        From this passage we know that Jesus had his physical body after the resurrection. We also know that when Christ comes again, he will still have his physical body. (Zech. 14:4; 12:10; 13:6; John 20:24-28, Acts 1:9-11; Rev 1:7; 1 Cor. 15:3-8, 12-20, 35-42; D&C 93:33).

        The Bible prophesies of an apostasy or falling away from the truth. Of course, then, Christianity became convoluted. But the Bible also prophesies of a subsequent restoration in the last days. (See Acts 3:19-21; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6; Rev. 14:6-7; Matt. 24:31)

        That restoration has occurred. God did restore Christianity in its original form through a new prophet for the Latter-days.

  7. @Jana,

    I may disagree on how much polygamy was downplayed by the church in the past – but I completely agree on your observation of how many members recently try to explain away our polygamist past.

    I for one, embrace our polygamist past since I believe it was divinely inspired (which is impossible to deny if one subscribes to the D&C). I am no more ashamed of it than mainstream Christianity should be ashamed of its Old Testament polygamist roots. Just as the Lord, through his Prophet Nathan, declared that He himself gave David his multiple wives (2 Samuel 12:7-9), I believe the Lord similarly authorized plural marriage in the early days of the Church (D&C 132).

    Interesting take on the topic. :)

    • You’re right in saying in that passage God says through the Prophet Nathan that He had given these wives to King David. What it doesn’t say in this passage is that God commanded King David to have many wives.

      As far as the Mormon doctrine of polygamy being inspired. My understanding is that back in the beginning of Mormonism one group of Mormons (I guess what we would call mainstream Mormonism today) believed the teaching was inspired. Another group (what we call today the Church of Christ) believed the teaching wasn’t inspired.

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