Friday, May 1, 2015

How I See Joseph Smith in Relation to Plural Marriage

I have been asked about Joseph's practice of plural marriage many times in my life, and most people who asked wanted the answer to be simple and concise.  I have not been able to give them that kind of answer, as I believe it was complicated, evolving and impossible to stereotype or describe in simple terms.  The following is my attempt to summarize my view as succinctly as possible - acknowledging that it only scratches the surface of how I view this issue: 

1) Joseph instituted and practiced "plural marriage". The LDS Church states that openly in its manuals, and the evidence is over-whelming.

2) Joseph didn't institute or practice polygamy as it was lived under Brigham Young and as it is understood by almost everyone today when that word is used, and that also is indisputable. He didn't live with multiple women, splitting his time with them. He didn't have traditional marriages with them, in which children were born and supported. There are allegations that he might have fathered as many as three children with women other than Emma, but there is no proof of that - and some of the previous allegations have been dismissed. It's an open question still, but so is just about any other unprovable allegation, so I don't see it as a productive discussion, personally. He was sealed to already married women. He allowed women to be sealed to multiple men. At the last stages of his life, he seemed to be focused exclusively on dynastic and communal sealings, rather than the earliest moves into polygamy.

3) Joseph experimented with multiple forms of marriage / sealing arrangements. That also is indisputable. Emma denied everything until the day she died, but Joseph absolutely wasn't constrained by the social morals of his time with regard to marriage arrangements. Personally, I believe he saw the next life very differently than his followers and others and was trying to approximate his view in this life - and I also believe he was a highly physical, charismatic man who liked and was attracted to women.

4) Joseph was sealed to a very few young teenagers (only three under the age of 17), and they receive the focus of most discussions, but he also was sealed to far more older women who were not "temptations" in a physical way (with three being over 50). His "marriages" defy typical patterns, and I believe they reflect his evolving view of marriage and, even more importantly, sealing much more than anything else.

5) There is no evidence that there was a sexual component with any particular type of woman to whom he was sealed - but there is evidence that such a component was more prevalent in the earlier sealings than in the later ones. I also see that as a manifestation of his evolving views.

6) I believe Brigham Young didn't share Joseph's personality or "vision" of the next life in ways that are specific to plural marriage and community sealing, so he instituted the model he understood - the traditional structure of classic polygamy.

7) I loathe coercion of just about any variety, and that feeling is most intense when sex is part of it. I don't like the angel-with-a-sword accounts, whether Joseph believed them or not (and I'm not convinced at all that he made them up, since I can believe he believed them without believing they came from God). I don't believe all "visions" are good or of God, and I believe the issues surrounding all of this might be one major reason he was told that his name would be had for good and evil.

8) I love Joseph and admire him greatly, but I don't believe he was infallible - and I believe when he made mistakes, they tended to mirror his great achievements.

9) I believe people can love multiple spouses deeply and equally, and that simple fact alone keeps me from dismissing or rejecting the concept of some kind of plural marriage arrangements in this life and the next - for those people who would choose such arrangements. I also know enough of history to know of situations where catastrophe decimated male populations and gave rise to polygamy - and, while that is NOT the case in our modern Mormon history, those situations also keep me from condemning plural marriage arrangements in totality.

That's my short version.


Glenn Thigpen said...

I think that you are mistaken concerning Joseph's vision of the way polygamy was to be played out by the church. If Lucy Walker's quote is correct, Joseph fully anticipated having living/cohabitation arrangements with his wives eventually, He told her “Although I cannot, under existing circumstances, acknowledge you as my wife, the time is near when we will go beyond the Rocky Mountains and then you will be acknowledged and honored as my wife.” This was part of her testimony in the Temple Lot case in 1892.

Whether we like the angel with a sword story or not, we have a prophet who testified most solemnly that it was so. And the Lord has not seen fit to let us know that Joseph indeed erred in this matter, as he did so very vividly in the case of the 116 lost pages.

People keep bringing up the prophet is not infallible, as if that is/was a case for ignoring something that he has said, evidently ignoring the fact that we who are criticizing said prophet are hardly less fallible.

I have great faith in God. That He is the leader and the head of His church, and that He would have taken steps to correct Joseph and Brigham if they had erred in their doctrine and their actions.


Papa D said...

Glenn, I readily admit my fallibility and believe I am wrong about many things. I see through a glass, darkly.

I simply believe that God is not a micro-manager and that God allows us all, including prophets, to make mistakes and deal with the consequences. I don't believe anything is God's will simply because it happened and was initiated by a prophet, and I think our scriptural canon shows this quite clearly.

Again, I might be wrong about some parts of this post, but it not the result of thinking I somehow am less fallible than anyone else.

Glenn Thigpen said...

Papa D,
I agree with you that God does not appear to be a micro-manager. The world is in too great a shambles to rationally believe otherwise. But the scriptures are replete with examples of where God issued "course corrections" to his chosen prophets.
Jonah is a prime example. Another was Moses. One in the case of his uncircumzised son where an the Lord (probably an angel from the Lord) was going to kill Moses for his neglect, but was saved by Zipporah.
There was the prophet in 1 Kings 13 who was killed by a lion because he disobeyed the Lord, even though he had been deceived by another prophet.

To me, it is not rational to believe in a Church run by God with prophets whom He chooses and calls, for those prophets to be able to engage in gross misconduct, to promulgate false doctrine which would lead the church astray, and those prophets not be called to task, removed from their place, and another called to straighten things out and unambiguously enlighten the members of His church as to the errors of their erstwhile leaders.


Amanda P said...

I think Glen pretty much hits the nail right on the head for me. Where is our sure foundation - the only foundation that is safe to build on - if you take away the Lord's instituted program of divinely led prophets? Everything I have found in the scriptures supports the fact that God accounts for His prophet, either by correcting or removing them if need be. I am very proud of the teachings of Joseph Smith, and plural marriage is no exception. Who said the principle of plural marriage was only a trial to the Saints of days gone by? It certainly seems to be trying men's hearts in our day too! I suggest you do what the Prophet Joseph counseled those he taught it to in his day: ask sincerely for a testimony of it for yourself, or at least that you will have faith enough to make peace with it until you understand more.

Papa D said...

"I suggest you do what the Prophet Joseph counseled those he taught it to in his day: ask sincerely for a testimony of it for yourself, or at least that you will have faith enough to make peace with it until you understand more."

Amanda, I have done what you suggest, have faith in God and Joseph as his prophet, and am at peace. We can differ in aspects of our views and still be at peace. Please do not mistake uniformity of belief in every detail with uniformity of faith and peace.

Amanda P said...

Food for thought - grabbed this off of
What Does It Mean to Become “One in Me”?

President Brigham Young asked: “How is it that the Latter-day Saints feel and understand alike, are of one heart and one mind? … They receive that which was promised by the Savior when he was about to leave the earth, namely, the Comforter, that holy unction from on high which recognizes one God, one faith and one baptism, whose mind is the will of God the Father, in whom there dwelleth unity of faith and action, and in whom there cannot be division or confusion; when they received thus further light, it matters not whether they have seen each other or not, they at once become brothers and sisters, having been adopted into the family of Christ through the bonds of the everlasting covenant, and all can then exclaim, in the beautiful language of Ruth, ‘Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God!’ [Ruth 1:16.]” (In Journal of Discourses, 18:259.)

Shouldn't there be uniformity of belief?

Papa D said...

Sure - about the Gospel and fire tenets. You and I are unified in believing Joseph was a prophet of God.

Even the apostles (past and present) haven't and don't agree about all the details.

Papa D said...

*core tenets*