In today’s episode we talk about polygamy with Brain Hales. Brian is an author of seven books about Mormon polygamy. We tried to answer as many of your questions as possible, so here are some of the questions that will be answered in the video.
What was the reason for polygamy between 1840 and 1890?
Were there more women than men at the time?
Did Joseph use his role and status to pressure women into polygamous relationships?
Why did Joseph marry sisters or women who already had husbands?
Did Joseph marry a 14 year old?
Who was Fanny Alger?
Why did Joseph keep some of the marriages from his first wife, Emma?
Did Joseph write loveletters to any other women other than Emma?
Were there any children that came from Joseph’s other wives?
How many of the wives lived with Joseph?
Will there be polygamy in heaven?
How should we respond to those who attack the church because of polygamy?
Below is the full transcript:
– Okay, guys, this is the episode that a lot of people have been waiting for, frankly.
– Two and a half years, people have been waiting for this one.
– We’re talking about polygamy. So, to talk about polygamy, we have brought in our expert on the history of polygamy within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brian Hales. Brian has researched this stuff for, how many years would you say?
– Almost 30.
– Almost 30 years. That is longer than I have been alive. He is the founder of the website josephsmithpolygamy.org.
– Yes, yes.
– Which is a fantastic resource, if you can get there to learn more about this. And?
– And, you’ve published these books: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volumes I, II, and III, to show that the information’s out there, right?
– Yeah, Don Bradley, who I hired to do some research for me back between 2007 and 2013, he was able to gather up really almost all of the known documents dealing with this topic, and in the last six years, a few other things have popped up. But the nice thing is if somebody really wants to understand the topic, they can do so. You don’t necessarily have to buy my books. Go to the library, but the documents are also uploaded to another website maybe I can mention. It’s mormonpolygamydocuments.org. And I put up almost 15 gigabytes of research material. Everything that I compiled for those six years is available there. So again, this doesn’t have to be a big mystery. We can get our heads around it, but we have to put in the time if we want to be able to do that.
– Yeah, and making sure you have the right context and good information, because a lot of times, people have this question of, is it all a secret, it’s all hidden, but.
– Is it secret? Is it safe?
– It’s all online. You don’t even have to sign in with a profile, do you? You can just go and click on it, right?
– Right, and you can do the search, and some of you may have heard my name as an apologist. I’ve been accused of that, and I don’t mind that title. But I wish people would call me a transparency-ist.
– I think we need transparency on this topic and whatever the topic that’s controversial, that people are accusing the church or Joseph about something negative, transparency allows us all to understand what’s going on and prevent spin and propaganda. So this is my attempt to get us to be transparent on the issue of plural marriage.
– So there’s a lot of information out there about polygamy and plural marriage. That’s not to say that all of our questions have answers yet, right? Or would you say there are?
– There are qualified answers to almost everything, but you have a very good point. We don’t know nearly what we wish we knew, but we can know all that there is to know, and that’s what these books and the website and Joseph Smith Papers Projects are doing some amazing things in making these documents available to us, things that weren’t available except by restricted access even just 10 or 12 years ago. So we’ve got like, three pages here of questions from our Instagram followers that we have, and we don’t have time to ask Brian about all of them, but we’ve highlighted some of the super important ones that we wanna touch on today. So, just know that most of these questions are coming from you guys.
– So hopefully you find some answers.
– Yeah, so, a lot of times, people look at the church, and they see a rather big church that has a lot of nice people. Latter-day Saints make really nice neighborhoods, have these pretty buildings, good people, okay football team right now, but good people, right? And so they hear about polygamy, and they have this idea of, did this religion start as some sex cult? But then they look at what it is and they go, it doesn’t seem like that. So people are kind of doing this.
– There’s a lot of dissonance.
– Yeah, they don’t quite get it.
– What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
– Most of our audience are people who are not members of the church, people who are looking into it. So, I guess we wanna ask, what was the reason? Can you maintain the good nature and faith of the church being of Jesus Christ, and that there’s polygamy in the history?
– You know, Kwaku, that is a fantastic question, and we need to realize as we deal with this, especially if we’re talking to people who don’t know our background or don’t believe as we believe that if we say to somebody, Joseph Smith introduced polygamy among the Latter-day Saints, why do you think he did it, 100% of these people are going to say he wanted sex. We just have to accept that that’s the default position for almost everyone, but we also need to recognize in our sexuality-saturated society that even Latter-day Saints, particularly the youth, but others are going to wonder, and worry, even, that libido was driving Joseph to introduce this. Now, you just asked what was the reason for it. There are two answers to that question. One is if we ask the question why did God command Joseph to practice plural marriage, the answer is we don’t know. None of our prophets have ever told us why plural marriage was commanded between 1840 and about 1890. But if we ask the question why was plural marriage permitted during that period, we certain go to Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and we actually find four reasons there to help us understand why plural marriage at least had to be permitted as part of the restoration. And the first one is that it was part of the restitution of all things. It was a practice, and God wanted it to be practiced in the latter days. Now, it’s a head scratcher a little bit, because we don’t know why God didn’t restore all of the practices, like animal sacrifice or circumcision or stuff. There are other practices that were practiced in the Old Testament that haven’t been restored, and we don’t necessarily know why God focused on that one. But verses 40 and 45 of Section 132 mention that this is part of a restitution of all things. Now, the second reason is in verse 51, and it talks about how plural marriage was a special trial for those people at that time and place, and God gives people trials to help them overcome. As they overcome them, then he blesses them with blessings that they otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to receive. So plural marriage was absolutely a trial for virtually every person, man or woman, who engaged in it in Nauvoo, and later in Utah. Now, the third reason is the one we hear about all the time. In fact, some people want it to be the only reason, and that is to multiply and replenish the earth. It’s in verse 63. And sexuality is expected in these plural marriages that Joseph Smith was practicing and that others were engaging in in Nauvoo and in Utah. And that’s the third reason. Now the fourth reason is verses 16 and 17, and this tells us that, and we heard this in our last conference, that salvation is a personal thing, but exaltation is a family thing. And what’s that referring to is that every exalted person, male or female, is married. That’s part of our theology. So, what Section 132 does is it anticipates the possibility that there would be more worthy women than men. Now, if you go into any Christian congregation in the world, you’ll find more women there than men, almost every single time. That doesn’t necessarily say that there will be more women than men, but Section 132 allows for that. It allows worthy women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have a husband in monogamy to then be sealed in a plural marriage. So, those are the four reasons that we find in Section 132 why plural marriage would be permitted, but again, we don’t know why God commanded it during that span of time.
– Is that backed up statistically, the idea that there were more women than men in these areas at the time?
– No, it’s a great question, because there have been even leaders of the church who have said, oh, the reason we did polygamy was because there were all these extra women, and they needed husbands. It’s just simply not true. The data that has been gathered by very good researchers shows that in the areas where polygamy was being practiced, there really wasn’t an excess of women, and that’s an idea that really needs to be set aside, even though it still gets repeated from time to time.
– So I know that all of these plural marriages were done willingly. Nobody was forced to do anything, which is fine. If that’s what people wanna do, cool. But one of the allegations is that Joseph Smith used his role and status as a prophet to pressure women into accepting proposals. Is there any evidence of that, or any evidence that.
– That they were coerced, yeah, there was coercion into marriage?
– There obviously would have been some social pressure when the prophet who’s charismatic and is esteemed by everybody as being a great leader, would propose anything, including marriage. So other than that little bit of a, I would call it just a social pressure, I think what you’re really referring to is a statement from John C. Bennett. John C. Bennett was a reprobate who was excommunicated from the church in 1842, but he made the accusation against Joseph that any woman who turned him down, he would ruin their reputation. And that gets repeated over and over by anti-Mormons even today. The truth of the matter is that we can document Joseph proposing to five women who turned him down, and we know about these simply because the women or their family later talked about it. In fact, in one case, Joseph told the woman, okay, I will pray for you that you don’t fall into temptation, and that was how he responded to being rebuffed. And there’s no evidence that he was going to destroy anybody’s reputation or used coercion or anything like that. In fact, Joseph taught, and Lucy Walker quoted this, that a woman would have her choice. That could not be denied her. That’s what Joseph taught about a woman being sealed to a man. Now, there are two exceptions. There’s Sarah Pratt and Nancy Rigdon. These are two women who went public, and they made accusations against Joseph, and he publicly defended himself. But those are the only cases where we find Joseph actually addressing the accusations of women or dealing with what they said was a proposal.
– Interesting. Why did Joseph Smith marry sisters or women who had husbands? Well, we’ll start there. Why did Joseph marry sisters or women who already had husbands?
– Joseph Smith was sealed to two sets of sisters and at least one mother-daughter, maybe two, depending upon how you wanna draw the line as far as who was actually a wife and who wasn’t, ’cause the documentation isn’t very good. And quite honestly, Joseph was sealed to the women that he knew. He didn’t reach out far and wide to try to find women to be his plural wives. He approached people that he knew, women that he knew that were close to him, if they were mothers and daughters or sisters, and some of those relations are not allowed under the law of Moses, but they were allowed under the law of Abraham. Some people criticize this, but we do know that Jacob married sisters, so it’s something that could be permitted, at least in the Old Testament. Now, you also alluded to a second topic as why was Joseph sealed to women who have legal husbands? And this is undoubtedly the most commonly offered question that we encounter. It’s called polyandry, and there have been individuals accusing Joseph of marrying other men’s wives so he could have sex with them, and then they’d go home and they’d still be the wife of the man and have a family with the man. And this simply never happened. Joseph would not have tolerated it, and it would have been adultery under the New Testament and under the teachings of Joseph Smith, including Section 132. But then that leaves us with the question, well, why is Joseph being sealed to these women, and a good example is a woman Ruth Vose Sayers. Now, her husband was not a member, and Ruth wanted to be sealed to a husband. And her husband Edward was really a nice guy who liked Joseph, didn’t believe in eternity, didn’t believe in the Mormon theology, but he said to his wife, Ruth, go ahead and go be sealed to Joseph for the next life. That’ll make you happy, but you’re gonna stay and be my wife here. And that’s what these sealings were. At no time in Nauvoo did a woman have two husbands at the same time with whom she could have conjugal relations. That never happened. But, at least up to maybe 11, 12, 13 women did have legal husbands and were sealed to Joseph Smith, but this was just for the next life, and not for this life.
– How many women did Joseph Smith marry that were already married again?
– There could be as many as 14. Two of ’em we don’t know much about, and one of ’em was a pretend marriage, so we at least have 11.
– Were any of those already sealed to Latter-day Saints husbands?
– No, no, you couldn’t have a woman sealed to two men at the same time, even in that time period.
– So in every case when he was married to a woman that already had a husbands, that husband was not a member of the church?
– No, no, they were members.
– And in fact, this is a head scratcher. And by that, I mean that several of the women were legally married to active Latter-day Saints, and you could wonder, why did Joseph allow this? Why did he allow the woman to be sealed to him instead of saying, look, your husband’s a great guy, go be sealed to him. And all we know is Lucy saying that a woman gets to have her choice, and Joseph was gonna go with that. But it’s something that again is not sinful, but it just makes me wonder a little bit why Joseph maybe didn’t just say, go be sealed to your husband. Of course, these husbands could then be sealed to other plural wives, and most of them were. So they all had a wife in eternity. But at no time did a woman have two legal husbands with whom she could have sexual relations.
– Sounds like a very strange, large, complex game of switcheroo, in a sense, right? If some of these men have wives for eternity that are not their wives, then their wives are being sealed to another person, I mean, it works, it’s just kinda, I don’t get it. But it kinda works, right?
– Well, just kinda. If people are watching this and they’re going, that’s weird, I don’t blame ’em, ’cause I think it is weird too. Part of it could be we don’t know all the details, but what we do know of these 14 husbands, not a single one of ’em left any kind of charge or complaint against Joseph Smith, and they all either knew at the time or found out later. I think virtually all of them found out that the women were sealed to Joseph, and they seemed to be okay with that. And we just don’t have enough detail beyond that to tell us exactly what the were feeling.
– Yeah, it’s like if you take a textbook and you rip out 50 pages and you leave a couple. You might be able to get, you have some facts, you have some information, but the reality is, you don’t have all the information. So you can make a judgment call with that lack of context, or you can just say, all right, maybe in the future, we’ll find out some more, and I think this is one of those cases. Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old, right? That seems to be the consensus. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
– There’s a lot of confusion about the 14-year-old that’s Helen Mar Kimball. Because people hear 14-year-old, they use words like pedophile and stuff, and of course, pedophiles are usually men seeking 11-year-olds or younger, so it doesn’t apply ever. If anybody ever calls Joseph a pedophile, they don’t understand the word, or they’re just looking to be critical. But Helen Mar Kimball was 14, and the details tell us that her father, Heber C. Kimball, he was in the first presidency, he set this marriage up, and Joseph did go along with it, and Helen was sealed to Joseph Smith, and we learn that Heber was afraid that Helen was going to get close, start dating and find a husbands on her own. Heber was worried about that, so before she really got into that dating age, he had her sealed to Joseph. It was more of a betrothal, and I wish my wife Laura was here, ’cause she’s done a lot of research on this, but what we find is there is no record of Joseph and Helen being together at all after this sealing, and in fact, we have good evidence it was not consummated, and that while the sealing did occur, it really was not a marriage in any real sense of the word as we would consider some of the other plural marriages. So the idea that Joseph is going after 14-year-olds really is not supported. Now, I will say this: there was another girl who was either 14 or 15 who was sealed to Joseph, but we don’t know anything about her. She happened to be a best friend to Helen Mar Kimball. We wonder if there was a repetition of the dynamic there, but we don’t know. There was also a 15-year-old who was sealed to Joseph, and what’s interesting is when Emma found out about that sealing, Emma approached her, and they had quite a conflict. And the next day, she goes off and is married to a non-member.
– Is this Fanny?
– Actually, this is Flora Ann Woodworth.
– And we can talk about Fanny in a minute.
– But Flora Ann, the thing that’s interesting about Flora Ann is that she, in a reaction to Emma, she goes off and is married to a non-member. And that kind of tells me that if she’d consummated the marriage to Joseph, she probably wouldn’t have done that, but that’s speculation on my part. But the interesting thing is when Joseph found out about it, he granted a divorce. Most people don’t know that Joseph was allowing some of his plural wives to divorce him. And it’s important to realize that even though these are sealings and they can last forever, we should recognize that the power to seal is also the power to loosen. And these, I think there will be a lot of adjustments of these plural marriages that will go on in the millennium so that every woman is married in a type of marriage and to a husband that she is very happy with before the resurrection and the final judgment.
– And if I’m not mistaken, Helen Mar Kimball was remarried two years later, after she was sealed to Joseph, when he was dead, correct?
– She was married to Horace Whitney, but that was a legal marriage, and then she again mentioned that she might wanna have him in eternity, and that certainly could happen. But I think the case of Marinda Hyde is interesting, because Marinda was sealed to Joseph Smith, and we have two sealing dates. And then, Joseph dies in 1844. 18 months later, the Nauvoo Temple opens up, and Marinda goes into the temple, and she’s not sealed to Joseph. She’s sealed to Orson Hyde. And then Orson Hyde and Marinda get a divorce about 20 years later, and then she’s resealed to Joseph, again, emphasizing that yes, these are eternal sealings, but God wants us to get everything right, and he honors our free agency as these marriages went forward.
– So, the more I’m listening and the more I’m reading about polygamy, it seems to me more of, there a new doctrine that is given to the people, and they’re trying to figure out how it works and less about jumping into bed with one another, right? When you describe these situations, it sounds less sexual and more, what are we doing with these covenants and with this new theology?
– Well, and I’ll just add to that, ’cause I mean, from the point of view of someone who’s not a member of the church, hearing Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old is terrible. But he also married a lady in her upper 50s?
– Fanny Young?
– What was the age of his oldest wife?
– I believe it was in her 50s, Fanny Young, yeah.
– In her 50s?
– There was no thought of sexuality there. She just said she wanted to be an angel in the next life and be single, and Joseph said, you’re talking really foolishly. Here, Brigham, seal her to me so she’ll have a husband in the next life. That’s how matter-of-fact or ceremonial this was rather than a real marriage.
– Yeah, so it’s like, take your pick. Did he like little kids or did he like older women? Which one was it? Let’s talk about Fanny Alger, ’cause I hear that name all the time. What have you got for us?
– Well, Joseph Smith was, he related how in 1834, in July, an angel came to him, no sword, just the angel, said Joseph, we want you to restore the practice of plural marriage. And about this same time, and we don’t know for sure, but Fanny Alger came into the Smith home as a domestic to help out with the family. And we don’t know when it occurred, but Joseph went to Fanny’s parents and said, look, God wants us to do polygamy. Are you okay if I am married to Fanny, your daughter? And they said, yes, if she’s okay with it, and she was. And so Fanny’s uncle, Levi Hancock, performs this ceremony. Now, I should point out, this is a priesthood ceremony. The sealing keys haven’t been.
– Restored yet. This is probably late ’35. We don’t know, but that’s when I would place it. It certainly wasn’t super early, because Fanny hadn’t showed up there until 1834, ’35 period. So this wouldn’t have been an eternal sealing, but it would have been a priesthood marriage for time only that God recognized. The State of Ohio didn’t, but in God’s eyes and in the angel’s eyes, this would have been a plural marriage. What unfolds then is that Emma finds out about it, and of course you can criticize Joseph for doing a plural marriage without telling Emma, but she finds out about it, throws Fanny out of the house, and at that point, we find that she goes and she lives with the Webbs, and what’s interesting there is that everybody that Fanny associated with describes this as a plural marriage, her parents, her uncle, the family. It was the Webb family, Chauncey Webb. They all heard from Fanny that this was an actual plural marriage with a ceremony and everything. But, the people that Joseph told about it, this would be Emma, this would be Oliver and others on the high council that heard rumors, they all thought it was adultery. They’re gonna accuse him of being libido-driven when he’s saying, no, this is religion-driven. God is commanding this, and they’re saying, no, we don’t believe you, Joseph, and that’s a lot of the same sentiment we get today, I think, as we see how people hear about polygamy and make assumptions. Well, that’s what happened to Joseph. And so, Fanny moves out, goes with her family. She may have been pregnant. My dear friend Don Bradley, who’s a great researcher, thinks she was pregnant, and she quickly remarried to a real good guy. His name was Custer up in Indiana. She lived there, had eight kids overall. If she was pregnant, there’s no record of that child, and people have looked very hard. So I’m not sure. She’s way down the list on people who I think Joseph may have had sexual relations with, but it’s a possibility. But she never comes back to the church, but she becomes a Universalist and raises a really good family there in Indiana. So, that’s kind of the long version to Fanny Alger.
– Did she express hatred toward Joseph in her life?
– Not that we have record. In fact, Benjamin Johnson related that her brother went to her and asked her about it, and her response was simply, I have nothing to say. So, there’s not a record of her showing animosity towards Joseph.
– I think one of the things that disturbs a lot of people is the fact that Joseph kept these things from Emma, from his first wife. Why would Joseph?
– I would have done the exact same thing. I would not have known how to tell my wife that.
– Well, why would he have kept that from Emma? Why would he have done these things in secret, so to speak? A lot of times, pretty will pull out the Bible and say, God doesn’t work in secret like this. But what’s kind of going on in Joseph’s mind?
– The episode with Emma is one of the more, I think more difficult things to understand, for a couple of reasons: one, we don’t have the documentation that we would like. Plus we need to realize, Joseph wasn’t perfect, and I’m old enough to remember back when Joseph was this pristine prophet who was nearly exalted because he was so perfect. That wasn’t Joseph. In fact, Joseph tells us several times. We have several records of him saying, I never told you I was perfect, and if you expect me to be perfect, I’m gonna expect you to be perfect, and he had a temper. So, he could have handled this plural marriage and Emma better, I would say. The timeline briefly is, of course there’s this big blowup in probably 1835. Joseph doesn’t wanna do it. I believe that’s true, but he relates the angel comes again, probably 1841, and says Joseph, God really wants this practice restored. So he is sealed to a woman, Louisa Beaman, for time and eternity. There’s pretty good documentation of sexuality in that marriage, and it was April fifth, 1841. But then Joseph goes on this string of being sealed to legally married women, just for the next life. Again, a testament Joseph isn’t looking for sex here, because sex would be adultery in any of these sealings. But he might be trying to appease the angel who’s saying do this, and at the same time, not do things that are going to hurt Emma’s feelings. Well, then the angel comes again the third time, and this time, with a sword. It wasn’t a flaming sword; it was just a sword. But the angel’s saying, Joseph, God wants the same kind of practice of polygamy that the ancients did restored today, and then we see after that date, it’s February 1842, Joseph is now proposing to young women, unmarried women, who then when we look at the historical record, we actually can document sexuality in some of these. So we see a pattern here, that Emma didn’t know anything about what’s going on, and she didn’t know about it in 1842. It wasn’t ’til about the middle of 1843 that she became aware of these teachings. and that’s the same time Hiram Smith, Joseph’s brother, and William Law, second counselor in the first presidency, became aware. So Joseph was a pretty good secret-keeper, not only from Emma, but from his brother and his counselor. But about May, Emma understands what’s going on, and she accepts it. She is involved in two plural marriages, and then another two. They’re sisters, the Lawrence sisters and the Partridge sisters. This is in May of 1843. But once she’s sharing Joseph physically with plural wives, she can’t do it. She goes on the war path, and this is why we have Section 132. It was dictated July 12 of 1843, and it’s saying to Emma, forgive Joseph his trespasses. That’s one of the statements in Section 132. It tells me Joseph trespassed against Emma, and again, we need to recognize it. Joseph seems to be doing the best he could, and though I don’t defend him as being perfect, I do defend him as always being worthy. But he probably could have handled it better. And the nice thing about the story, the ending of the story, is that if we fast forward to 1844, the end of June, when Joseph is going to Carthage, and Joseph may or may not have thought this was the end, but he tells Emma, he says, Emma, I want you to come with me. Come with me to Carthage and be my comfort there, and Emma goes, I can’t, we’ve got the children, we’ve got the house obligations. So Joseph say, Emma, write a prayer, your heart’s desires, and I will sign it when I come back. And one of the lines in that is that Emma says that she asks God to grant her her place next to Joseph in all eternity, and I’m paraphrasing it. But it’s very clear at this very late day, and they’ve gone through all the polygamy, this is 1844, that Emma still loves Joseph, still sustains him as a prophet, and still wants to be by his side in eternity. It tells me that Emma forgave Joseph, and if Emma could forgive Joseph, and she knew all the details, I think the rest of us probably should be able to find a way to do that as well.
– Hmm. No, I like that. A question I have is Joseph wrote love letters to Emma. Do we know of any other love letters he wrote to these other women?
– There’s a record of Joseph writing letters to Eliza Snow, and Eliza left Nauvoo because of Emma’s pressuring her and moved up to Yelrome. And so we have that record, but I don’t recall that these are the kind of love letters that he always, he always held Emma in special esteem. When he was looking for counsel on what to do about the Missourians or about the need to go to Carthage, he always just talked to Emma. We don’t have him talking to any of the plural wives. She was always special in his affections.
– And do we have any children that have come from any of Joseph’s other wives?
– This is a great question. We get asked it a lot, because there are some who say, multiply and replenish the earth is the reason for polygamy. Some people wanted to make it all, that’s the only reason. They want it to be all about sex, okay? And that’s not, that’s not the only reason. But it is a reason. And there’s good evidence of sexuality in three of the marriages. There’s moderate evidence in about five or six more. There’s a chart on our website, josephsmithspolygamy.org, and you can go there and look at it. There’s also a couple more that are kind of dubious evidences. So we maybe have 10 or 12 women that we can kind of document that the marriages were consummated. But what we also have is no documented children, and Ugo Perego, a dear friend of mine, he’s an italian geneticist, he has looked at eight of the most likely candidates to be Joseph’s children, and it’s all negative. But there’s also a big chart there if you go to the website where I’ve looked at every candidate that anybody’s suggested as being Joseph’s son or daughter, and you can look at it there. But there is also rumors of two or three children. In fact, there’s a very good, pretty reputable story of Joseph Smith cleaning his hands one night after Emma had just served as a midwife for one of his plural marriages delivering a child. But we don’t know who it is. But it would not surprise me if DNA turned up one or two children from Joseph. That was one of the reasons, and you have to think of it from the woman’s standpoint. Joseph is her only husband. If she can spend time with him and give him a son, or a daughter, that would be just the greatest thing for them. So they would have wanted to have these kinds of relationships with him, but they didn’t happen often, and certainly, I don’t think, often enough to create very many pregnancies.
– When a lot of people think about polygamy, they think of the Warren Jeffs’s break off of the church and living in compounds and the whole family’s there. But how many of Joseph Smith’s wives lived with him? ‘Cause it seems like he married a lot of people and they stayed in their own house. If they had a husband, they would stay with their other husband. And certainly in all of the video representations I’ve seen, he’s always just with Emma, but do we know if he lived with 15 other women as well?
– Another really great question. The answer is that Joseph Smith cared for his wives. If you look at them, he took care of them, not in a traditional sense, but every one of them had a place to stay, a roof over their head, food in their mouths. There’s no record of Joseph having a relationship outside of a marriage covenant, a ceremony with witnesses and an officiator. That is the only way that Joseph saw these relationships as being legitimate. But, we do know that after May of 1843, see, Emma participated in these four marriages. These four women lived in the mansion, and there were others, Melissa Lott and one or two others that did live in the mansion. And what we really don’t know is how Emma regulated their access to Joseph as a wife. Was she doing like maybe modern polygamists have done, where people get different nights, or was she just putting her foot down and saying, sorry, Joseph, I’m your wife. They’re not part of the picture now. There is one quote from Lucy Walker, where she describes Emma actually holding the door and keeping uninterested parties from bothering Joseph when he’s with a plural wife, but independent of that one quote, we really just don’t know very much of what happened between about September of 1843 and his death in June of 1844. We do know Emma became pregnant in January, February with David, who was born after the martyrdom, and we also have a quote from somebody who lived right across the street from the Smiths, and this woman didn’t know that Joseph was a polygamist. So the idea that there’s this undercurrent of polygamy in Nauvoo that everybody knows about, wink, wink, that’s just not the way it was. In fact, by my research, there were only 115 polygamists in Nauvoo at the time of the martyrdom, when Joseph died, 115, and of course, 35 of those, by my count, were Joseph and his wives, so we really have less than 100 other polygamists that are there, and this is in a town of 10,000 people, give or take. So, again, polygamy was there, but it was only there for a few hundred people, maybe two or three hundred at the most. Stories of them being brothels or polygamy, places for women to go and deliver their polygamous babies and all that stuff, that’s just all fantasy and not supported.
– It’s brought up a lot, the idea of polygamy in the next life. Will people remarry and be polygamous in heaven? Do you think so?
– Another excellent question. In fact, it’s more of a question now than I think it was even 10 or 15 years ago when I started my research. People today hear about polygamy in the next life, and let’s face it, if my wife dies, Laura dies, I’m sealed to her, I could remarry and be sealed to a second wife. That would make my first wife a polygamist in heaven, even if she didn’t wanna be. And that doesn’t seem fair, and people are bothered by that. And let me make a couple of comments. There are books and authors out there telling us that women should fear this, and they’re fearmongers, because we have no idea what external marriage is. We have no idea what eternal plural marriage might be, and God has promised us happiness, eternal joy, if we are exalted. And so, these authors are saying, look, ignore what God says about eternal happiness, and let’s all be victimized or let’s all fear this eternal polygamy configuration that, at least from an ordinance standpoint, seems to be programmed into our future, and I’m just saying we can believe God that we are going to be happy if we attain that exaltation, and personally, I believe that in the eternal worlds where there’s no time and there’s eternal resource, a polygamous wife might feel exactly the same as a monogamous wife, if there is polygamy there, and we really don’t understand these dynamics. And then let me add a second thought. During the millennium, there’s going to be loosenings and bindings and sealings and unsealings of lots of marriages, and as I said earlier, I don’t think any man or woman is going to be in a relationship, whether it’s polygamous or monogamous, for eternity, against their highest desires. And there will be lots of time to get this all figured out, and it should not be something that we should fear in any way.
– Also, it’s important to note that we believe all those who die before the age of eight are heirs of the Celestial Kingdom, and they’re going to be the same age as all of us, and they’ve never been married, right? So there’s a lot of people who will need spouses as well. So there’s a lot of speculation, but the reality is, we just don’t know. But your thoughts shouldn’t be you’re in some big suburban house, and it’s a guy in a suit and then a bunch of women around, like that’s Mormon heaven. It looks like, what is it, that creepy HBO show that they had?
– That was Big Love or something like that?
– Big Love, yeah. We don’t think heaven looks like Big Love, right? So it doesn’t have to be a scary thing. It might just be a, we’ll figure it out when we get there.
– I think, was it Elder Eyring just related in the last conference, and he’s given this story again, that he was talking to his father, I think he was quoting, anyway, and they’re saying, you’re worried about the wrong things here. These are unresolvable; we cannot know. And so, why worry about it? Why write books about it? There’s books out there on this. It’s unfortunate.
– What do you say to those people who, you know, attack the church for having polygamy in its history?
– Well, the easy answer is that Abraham practiced it, Jacob practiced it. Moses was a polygamist, and so we believe in the Bible. We believe in the Old Testament. If somebody is a non-Christian or they don’t believe in the Bible, there probably isn’t an answer to it, and they’re going to assume libido is driving it, and they’re probably not gonna be opening to changing. But the easiest answer is that the ancient patriarchs did it. Joseph was a prophet restorer, and he restored it.
– Yeah, I guess my answer’s always been, if the Book of Mormon and these Latter-day scriptures are true, then God used Joseph Smith, and so he probably wasn’t a serial sexual adulterer. The questions about polygamy and this sexual stuff essentially have to be tossed up in the air in hopes that in the next life, you’ll have a greater context and understanding.
– I agree. If you know the Book of Mormon is true, then it gives you a different outlook on the whole topic of polygamy. It should make you uncomfortable. You shouldn’t first hear about the history of polygamy and be like, oh, yeah, sweet, that’s awesome. You should have questions.
– And I have a ton of questions. I mean, we have three pages of questions right here.
– We’ve gotten to like, five of them or something. And so, hopefully we can have you back on the show.
– And just do a thousand of these episodes and just answer all these questions. But the last question that we want to address to kind of wrap this up is like for you personally, you know more than probably anyone about the churches history of polygamy. You know the ins and outs of it. You know everything there is to know. How have you reconciled it? How have you been able to maintain your own faith?
– Do you have a testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet?
– Great question. The answer’s kinda long.
– Oh, that’s all right.
– When my wife and I go out and we talk about plural marriage, ’cause there’s lots of questions. We do firesides and conferences and things. We never defend polygamy. Polygamy is unequal. Men can do it, women can’t. That makes it unfair. Polygamy is, it’s sexist, and I don’t mean to be critical. I’m just talking about the practice. So we don’t defend polygamy in any setting. You don’t have to like it. We can only rejoice that we don’t have to practice it now, and when Elder Cook, when he was speaking with Kate Holbrook and Matt Grow in front of the Nauvoo Temple, hopefully you’ve watched that, when Elder Cook said that the brethren think that polygamy has served its purpose, suggesting it’s not coming back, it was a time for a shout of yes, I like that idea, ’cause it’s not something I would wanna practice. But, the process that I spent, and it was six years of gathering information, putting it together into 1500 words, put me in contact with Joseph Smith’s work, his words, his actions and everything, and I didn’t really think too much about him. I never thought of him as being evil or anything, or good, even. I was just kind of like, here’s Joseph. Then one day, once we were done and it was being typeset, I went in to Desert Books, and I walked in, and I saw a picture of Joseph. It was kind of up hanging about the door there. And I felt this feeling of appreciation. I maybe could say love, but it was mostly just appreciation, because I’d studied how hard it was to do what he was asked to do, and God does that. He puts us in situations, it’s like, okay, how do I do this? Emma’s on one side, an angel’s on the other. How was he supposed to do this? So I had this overwhelming feeling of appreciation for him. So, we don’t defend polygamy, but I always defend Joseph as worthy. Not perfect, but as a worthy prophet who was tasked with one of the most difficult things, and that would be establishing this practice that was so contrary to traditional values at that time. And in fact, I think most of us recognize that had he not done that, he probably would have lived a lot longer. Plural marriage was a huge contributor to his death there on June 27th of 1844.
– You also wrote this book. It’s a paperback, and it’s a lot shorter than the three-volume series you have there. This is, you mentioned that this is just a great overview, kind of scratching the surface of polygamy, right?
– Well, actually it’s co-authored with my wife Laura. So she has taken all this stuff and given together, but mostly with her great ability to discern what is really necessary. I’ll be honest with you, it won’t make you feel good. Polygamy doesn’t make anybody feel good, really, and I should say, though, if you wanna understand polygamy and try to feel good, the only way to really do it is to see it through the eyes of the participant. Try to understand the accounts that we have of Nauvoo polygamists and what they were feeling. You’ll discover God was there. There were dreams, visions, angelic visitations of God telling the people, yeah, we really want this. We’re serious about this there. But if you just read the book, it won’t necessarily make you feel good about polygamy, but you will understand what happened and how these people were tasked with something that was very difficult.
– So if you can’t wait ’til our next episode with Brian, check out some of his work, and your stuff online is fantastic as well. I’ve been there’s several times checking it out.
– Thank you for talking about a complex subject with us. It’s very complex, and sometimes, complexity has to just be complexity, and we have to be okay with that.
– Yep. If you have questions, we have our big list right here, but if you have further questions for Brian, let us know in the comment section. We might direct you to some of his work that he’s already done on it, or hopefully we’ll be able to get to them on another episode, ’cause there’s so much more to talk about. Subscribe to the channel if you get time. Not if you get time.
– No, subscribe right now.
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– [Woman Offscreen] Oh, no, no, no, no.
– Okay, no, cut, okay.
Check out these links!
Books – Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding:
Joseph Smith’s Polygamy – Volume 1 (History), 2 (History), and 3 (Theology)