The Polygamy Principle

By: Wayfarer
April 9, 2012

Today’s guest post is by Wayfarer.

Joseph Smith approached both Helen Mar Kimball (14 years old) and Nancy Rigdon (19) to join him as his celestial wife, using in both cases the promise of exaltation if complied with, and something quite onerous if not.  Neither woman/girl wanted to accept the ‘principle.’  Helen Mar received a lot of pressure from her father, but Nancy’s father Sidney was shocked, and he vigorously opposed the ‘principle.’  Consequently, Helen Mar complied, while Nancy Rigdon did not.

I find this case study fascinating and informative, but nuanced in a way that makes the lesson quite difficult to understand.  The Church teaches that if we follow the prophet, we won’t be led astray. We are also taught that we are free to choose, and that we should seek divine inspiration. In this rather complicated scenario of Nancy Rigdon and Helen Mar, neither of them personally desired it nor felt it right to comply. Nancy Rigdon chose to follow her personal feelings and rejected Joseph’s offer.  Helen Mar chose to comply with the ‘principle,’ against her own wishes, perhaps thinking this might be for the greater good of promised exaltation for herself and family.  Soon thereafter, the Rigdons were out of the mainstream church, and the Kimballs of course continued in the principle and served in the leadership of the Church.  Who was right?

  1. Can we justify Joseph Smith’s actions in this case — to use the promise of exaltation or threat of damnation to induce a young woman to become the prophet’s wife?
  2. If the prophet asked you to do something you knew was wrong, would you do it? Why or why not?
  3. Does the word of the prophet absolve you from inquiring for yourself whether something is true?  Does it absolve you from acting against your own conscience?
  4. What responsibility do you have when you are told by the spirit that the teaching you are being taught is contrary to God’s will?
  5. Is it possible for a man to be called of God as a prophet yet do some things that are completely contrary to God’s will?
  6. Does the fact that Joseph Smith had serious human failings make him less a prophet of God?

One cannot read the Bible without realizing that prophets are not portraits of perfection.  Peter had profound failings; Paul had a thorn in the flesh — some unspecified personal failing that he could not overcome.  David, the archetype of a good king in Israel, had adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed in cover-up.  Yet, the Psalms of David are among the most inspired teachings of the Bible, including and especially Psalm 51, the penitential psalm David allegedly wrote after Nathan called him on the Bathsheba/Uriah incident.

Joseph Smith seems to me to be a true prophet in the grand tradition of the Bible:  both divinely inspired and profoundly flawed at the same time.  Learning that we can fully accept a person’s prophetic authority while rejecting his human failings is necessary if we are to understand how God works through humans. We are never absolved from personal responsibility and revelation. The Lord’s version of the premortal Plan of Salvation was not based on blind obedience, but rather the need to make choices by studying out the matter, and then prayerfully seeking the spirit to guide us in the Lord’s way.

To me, the lesson of Nancy Rigdon and Helen Mar is fundamental.  Both made choices. Nancy Rigdon, to my mind, made a better informed choice, because she bravely upheld her integrity regardless of the consequences of being thrown out of the church. Helen Mar chose to follow the prophet against her own will and was blessed for it by remaining a member, but it is evident from her writings in later life (especially her poetry) that her choice did not make her truly happy.

So much can be learned and understood about freedom, choice, and responsibility, when we look at this example. Doing the right thing in some cases is very hard. The question is what process we go through to do the right thing, and whether in doing right, we’ll immediately benefit thereby. We often don’t benefit, but this doesn’t absolve us from our spiritual and moral responsibility to choose the right.  Nancy suffered censure as a result of her choice. Do we have the courage of our convictions to choose the path of integrity and authenticity even if that means censure and potential rejection by the church?

Ultimately, which of them chose the more difficult path?  It’s hard to say.  What do you learn from this comparison?

Discuss.

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51 Responses to The Polygamy Principle

  1. Mike S on April 9, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    If we look at ultimate results when trying to judge who was right – today polygamy will get you excommunicated. As described in the Mormonism 101 FAQ:

    There are more than 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not one of them is a polygamist. The practice of polygamy is strictly prohibited in the Church. The general standard of marriage in the Church has always been monogamy, as indicated in the Book of Mormon…

    This seems to vindicate Nancy Ridgon and the choice that she made. While our church leaders are often inspired, sometimes, as stated by Bruce R McConkie, they “are wrong”. Because of this, it is up to each of us to determine what God wants us to do personally.

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  2. Jeff Spector on April 9, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    A Prophet cannot take away our agency no matter what. One is responsible to make a choice and weigh the possible consequences of that choice.

    Who fared better in their choice?

    Well, Helen Mar Kimball stayed a loyal and active member of the Church until she died. Nancy Rigdon did not.

    God is the finally judge of that consequence. But, from the vantage point of the Church, it was Helen who made the correct decision.

    But, for us, it remains to be seen.

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  3. Adam T. on April 9, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    A couple of major false “traditions of our fathers” are made in this post.

    First, “Joseph Smith approached both Helen Mar Kimball (14 years old) and Nancy Rigdon (19) to join him as his celestial wife, using in both cases the promise of exaltation if complied with, and something quite onerous if not.” This is not true.

    Second, “The Church teaches that if we follow the prophet, we won’t be led astray.” Another false tradition that is not true and not supported by scripture or the teachings of the Prophet Joseph.

    I realize that most members of the LDS Church (including the leaders of the Church) are in complete agreement with the anti-Mormon crowd on the history of polygamy in the Church. Since it’s difficult to find anyone defending Joseph, it’s assumed that the so-called documentary “evidence” “overwhelmingly” supports Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

    The anti-Mormon’s will believe and support anything that casts Joseph in a negative light (and multiple, “adulterous” relationships with young girls certainly qualifies in this regard). The members of the Church are taught to faithfully and obediently follow their leaders, and the leaders of the Church, Section 132, and the faithful history of the Church all lend support to the idea that the Prophet Joseph secretly practiced polygamy.

    Consequently, almost all members of the Church accept without any real question that polygamy was (and still is) a true doctrine. To believe otherwise requires one to consider some very uncomfortable possibilities. For example, Section 132 may not be a true revelation. The current leadership of the Church is either ignorant of the truth, or are purposely hiding the truth about polygamy from the members. All of the very real pain and heartache suffered by our ancestors due to the practice of polygamy was unnecessary.

    There’s not enough space in the comment section of a blog to provide all of the evidence that supports that the Prophet Joseph never taught, sanctioned or practiced polygamy. However, what that evidence demonstrates is that Section 132 (or at least the portion pertaining to the practice of polygamy) was not written by Joseph Smith. Section 101 of the original Doctrine and Covenants published with Joseph’s approval is consistent with scripture in the Bible and Book of Mormon supporting monogamy and condemning polygamy. All of the Prophet Joseph’s public statements, writings and actions condemning the practice of polygamy are consistent with his private actions. Emma was Joseph’s only wife, and he was faithful to her his entire life. Both Emma and Joseph testified of this until their dying days.

    Polygamy is an abomination and has been from the beginning. Believe what the Prophet Joseph said, not what others said about him.

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  4. Jessica F on April 9, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    I think sometimes we like things to be simple. I get the feeling as I study history and chuch history it is anything but simple. It frustrates me that we do not help eachother deal with the complex and the contradictions in out own lives and in dealing with the past.

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  5. Justin on April 9, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    In my experience D&C 132 divides Mormons into three groups:

    (1) those that believe all 66 verses are a revelation from God,
    (2) those that believe none of them are a revelation from God — or that all of them are a revelation from the devil,
    (3) those who pick-and-choose to believe only some of them and disbelieve the others.

    By virtue of my own study and the revelations I have received, I operate under the assumption that D&C 132 is the word of God.

    But it is only once unity over whether the revelation is entirely true, entirely false, or partially true and false [with agreement over what parts are true and what parts are false] — between people that discussions on the section can be fruitful.

    Only if we approach it as the word of God [or as the word of the devil, or as a mixture of both] and discuss what that actually means and what that conclusion implies, and what the revelation would actually look like when implemented in the real world — will discussions have any other benefit than being mental masturbation over historical claims.

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  6. prometheus on April 9, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    If the prophet asked you to do something you knew was wrong, would you do it? Why or why not?

    This is where I echo Moses – would God that all men were prophets. I would hope to be living in the Spirit enough to recognize the correct course of action, regardless of who it was that asked me to do something.

    Does the word of the prophet absolve you from inquiring for yourself whether something is true? Does it absolve you from acting against your own conscience?

    Absolutely not. We are far too eager to give up our agency to ‘follow the prophet’.

    What responsibility do you have when you are told by the spirit that the teaching you are being taught is contrary to God’s will?

    I think that to properly sustain our leaders, it is our responsibility to provide feedback (always keeping in mind D&C 121) when they have gone too far afield or have missed the mark. Living in an echo chamber filled with yes-men makes critical self-reflection difficult.

    Is it possible for a man to be called of God as a prophet yet do some things that are completely contrary to God’s will?

    Absolutely – read the OT, the NT, the BofM, the D&C….

    Does the fact that Joseph Smith had serious human failings make him less a prophet of God?

    Not in the slightest.

    I think that the obey and stay / refuse and leave dichotomy isn’t the only possible path. I have flat out refused to follow my leadership on a few occasions, but have never felt that their failures were at all connected to the Restoration and the gospel. I stay because I deeply believe the theology and the Book of Mormon – my leaders are helpful in most cases, but ultimately they are incidental to the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ alone.

    I find it somewhat ironic that we, as a people, cleave to this follow the prophet mantra, and the prophets so often keep pointing to Christ, and we keep saying, ‘Yes, yes, but we’re just going to follow you.’ Just like the children of Israel were too afraid to actually take Moses at his word and really follow him up the mountain, we too seem to want an intermediary between us and the Lord.

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  7. Justin on April 9, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    …and I think the issue of whether or not D&C 132 is the word of God — and whether the word of God reveals a family structure based on polygynous and polyandrous marriage sealings — is the question to answer first, before we say whether Helen or Nancy made the “better” choice.

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  8. Justin on April 9, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    promethus — good point:

    If the prophet asked you to do something you knew was wrong, would you do it? Why or why not?

    I think for a believer [who possesses the spirit of prophecy and revelation] to do something they knew [by the spirit of prophecy and revelation] to be wrong — simply because another person in a leadership position who [may or may not be] a prophet and revelator says to — gives power or influence to that man by virtue of his priesthood office, instead of by virtue of the word of God in him.

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  9. Bob on April 9, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    #5: Justin,
    The ‘spirit’, ‘revelation’, ‘one’s study’, can be in error just as a Prophet can be in error.
    “my leaders are helpful in most cases, but ultimately they are incidental to the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ alone”***AFTER ALL I CAN DO.

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  10. MH on April 9, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Adam, Regarding your first point about Helen Mar Kimball and Nancy Rigdon, what evidence do you have to prove your assertion that “This is not true”?

    Why would both Nancy and Helen lie about their encounters with Joseph?

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  11. Howard on April 9, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I’m a descendant of polygamy and I have pondered it a great deal. It is popular within the bloggernacle to explain it by calling Joseph a failed prophet having given into the temptations of the flesh implying he misused his power for selfish sexual gratification. But not all of his wives were young, attractive or single so this simple explaination doesn’t fit as neatly as it should and given the lack of reliable birth control at the time where are the children from these numerous lustful flings? If you believe Joseph was a prophet I think it is fair to call him one of the great ones. He was chosen to restore the gospel and priesthood. So what could a ligitament explanation be?

    I think it could be compersion which is empathetic happiness or joy emanating from your partner’s loving evolvement with another. In order to achieve compersion one must transcend jealousy, selfishness and insecurity. Trancending those traits are also necessary to become more Christlike so this would move the participants ahead in the gospel. Learning compersion by living plural marriage wouldn’t be easy and would likely take many generations for most to learn but I think it is the only way to be happy without living in denial in such an arrangement.

    Joseph lived plural marriage before he announced it, he also facilitated polyandry by marring women who were already married to living men. Would he have added polyandry to plural marriage if he lived longer? I think it fits this scenario nicely because both genders would be challenged to mature in a way that is selfless and eventually achieves compersion.

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  12. Justin on April 9, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Bob:

    ultimately they are incidental to the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ alone

    I am not disputing that one must rely wholly upon the merits of Christ to receive the strength of the Lord unto salvation.

    I agree that following leaders or practicing “true” doctrines will not generate and engender faith unto repentance and the reception of a remission of sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost and confirmation of the Lord’s word through the ministration of angelic visions — etc.

    The ‘spirit’, ‘revelation’, ‘one’s study’, can be in error

    Are you suggesting that the spirit of prophecy and revelation leads people to err?

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  13. Nick Literski on April 9, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    There are more than 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not one of them is a polygamist.

    Personally, I can hardly believe the LDS Public Relations Department was naive or foolish enough to publish the above sentence. Do they really think that every LDS member practicing plural marriage has been discovered and excommunicated? I’d be willing to bet anything that there are polygamists currently on the membership roles of the LDS church.

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  14. Bob on April 9, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    #13: Nick,
    “..not one of them is a polygamist”.
    Then who are they going to excommunicated??

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  15. Bob on April 9, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    #12: Justin,
    “Are you suggesting that the spirit of prophecy and revelation leads people to err”?
    I am saying people all the time say “The Spirit told me it was right”. Then it turned out to be wrong.

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  16. Justin on April 9, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    …I see

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  17. prometheus on April 9, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    #9: Bob,

    Re: after all I can do.

    I think that is a misreading of both Nephi’s intent and the text itself.

    “23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

    What exactly can we do? Nothing. We cannot save ourselves by any thought, will, action, or intent. Ever. Period. The only thing we can do is accept the grace of Christ and allow Him to save us. Nothing more, nothing less.

    After everything we attempt, after the Law, the prophets, the commandments, after every program, organization and society has failed to save us, it is the grace of Christ that does so, alone and independent of anything else.

    Our input is essentially, how much salvation we are willing to accept.

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  18. Dave on April 9, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I don’t understand how anyone can say that a “prophet” could be wrong. Yes prophets are human so they will sin. Only Jesus was sinless. The Bible is clear on how one should test if someone is a true prophet. If what they prophesy about turns out to be wrong, then they are not a prophet of God. I would hope that all members of the LDS church would put this test to their own founding prophet. Doing so, I believe that alot of members would learn that Joseph Smith is or was a false prophet.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on April 9, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    Moses slew an Egyptian yet was a prophet. In fact every “prophet” of the OT had at least one major screw up.

    As for Helen and Nancy it’s a very interesting question. I don’t know if you can judge them by the actions of their posterity either. Obedience was rewarded as strongly as disobedience was punished, then even more than now.

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  20. Bob on April 9, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    #17:prometheus,
    If you grew up Mormon in the 50s & 60s,(As I did). If you use the term “Grace”, you would have been out on your ear.
    ” Faith without Works is dead”, was the mother’s milk of Mormonism. Your Salvation was dependent on your ‘Good Works’. Only other untrue churches believed you were saved by Grace alone. You were saved by following the “Plan of Salvation” which included your good deeds and service to others and your family.

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  21. Jeff Spector on April 9, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    Bob,

    “Your Salvation was dependent on your ‘Good Works’.”

    This is where you have it wrong. Your exaltation may be dependent on how you lived your life and served others. Your salvation from spiritual death is a free gift through the Atonement and the God’s grace.

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  22. Justin on April 9, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    Re: MH’s question:

    Why would both Nancy and Helen lie about their encounters with Joseph?

    … to the “Joseph Fought Polygamy” crowd — how does that book answer those testimonies?

    Is it like the reverse of “lying for the Lord”?

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  23. prometheus on April 9, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    #20: Bob

    Well, here is the thing – the works don’t save us. Faith without works is dead because true faith in Christ leads to an imitation of Him – if we are not imitating and following Him, then our faith is dead because it didn’t lead to any action. And, as Joseph Smith taught, faith is a principle of action. Nevertheless, the salvation comes only through Christ, not our works.

    In fact, I would go so far as to say that what we do is, quite frankly, irrelevant. We are failed, fallen sinners, every one of us, and our works end up being mediocre at best, and bungled most of the time. The difference between what we are and what we can become is so great that any transformation you or I can make are insignificant in the face of it. Christ makes up the difference for all of us, as is seen in the parable of the 12 workers.

    It is what we believe, what we are becoming, and what we want to become that is the key – we will receive as much glory as we desire.

    It is unfortunate that salvation by works was taught back then, I remember it too, in the 70s/80s. There seems to be a change in our rhetoric, however, which is good.

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  24. Bob on April 9, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    #21,23: Jeff,prometheus,
    “Your salvation from spiritual death is a free gift through the Atonement and the God’s grace”.
    #3: We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
    This meant somethings must be done in this life. Loving God (worshipping), loving Man ( serving them), were required the Laws of God, or the Works of Man, on which all man would be judged. ” Odinances” was a word added by Talmage.

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  25. prometheus on April 9, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    I agree that something must be done in this life. I simply disagree that the doing of it has any saving power.

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  26. Bonnie on April 9, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    The lesson, for me, is more profound as a parent. Whatever one believes about polygamy, Heber and Vilate Kimball had a profound experience embracing the principle. That they did not allow their daughter to have that same profound experience altered her feelings about a great many things. I can have a great testimony of something, but my children must have it as well before they embark, or I will have poisoned them.

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  27. Jeff Spector on April 9, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    And I agree with Promtheus on this point.

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  28. LDS Anarchist on April 10, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    From the OP:

    The Lord’s version of the premortal Plan of Salvation was not based on blind obedience, but rather the need to make choices by studying out the matter, and then prayerfully seeking the spirit to guide us in the Lord’s way.

    In the premortal existence, did we pray? Weren’t we in the presence of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost? Isn’t prayer something you do when you are not in the presence of the Father?

    Same questions for “seeking the spirit to guide us.”

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  29. Bob on April 10, 2012 at 1:08 AM

    #27:Jeff,
    What then was the reason the Earth was made and Man put on it? Only for all of God’s children to die? Does the way we live have no point at all? Do only God and Christ have a card to play? Is being a good person have no rewards?

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  30. Jeff Spector on April 10, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    Bob,

    I realize your style around here is to ask all these questions, wait for the answers and then tear them down.

    To put it simply, the ultimate goal of this existence is to be a good person. It won’t matter how many Temple names you took through, how much tithing you paid, how many meetings you attended, what callings you had, etc etc, if you are not a better person and haven given services to those in need and try to be like the Savior, it won’t matter.

    There are plenty of people in the world that emulate the type of person Jesus wants us to be who do not even know who He is. They will be rewarded for that.

    OK, now tear me down.

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  31. Bob on April 10, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    #30: Jeff,
    Your are right on my style:
    “The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, elenctic method, Socratic irony, or Socratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one participant may lead another to contradict himself in some way, thus strengthening the inquirer’s own point”.
    But I don’t just use it here and it is not personal. (I hope).

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  32. Jeff Spector on April 10, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    Well, Bob, I am not sure that is an appropriate way to handle discussions on the blog among people who share the same basic beliefs. Unless the main motivation is to be in it to win it rather than exchanging ideas.

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  33. Bob on April 10, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    #32: Jeff,
    I doubt everyone on this Blog shares the same “basic beliefs”. It’s “The philosophies of men mingled with the philosophies of women”.
    How are we to “exchange” ideas if everyone has the same ones?

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  34. Adam T. on April 10, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    Wow! As I write this, my comments received 21 “dislike” and 0 “like” votes. I’m curious as to the reasons why the idea that the Prophet Joseph never taught, sanctioned or practiced polygamy/polyandry is so objectionable, ridiculous, unreasonable, or whatever.

    A year ago, if I had read what I posted, I too would have immediately dismissed it as silly or ignorant. After all, everyone “knows” Joseph secretly practiced polygamy, everyone “knows” it’s a doctrine of the Church as found in Section 132, and everyone “knows” the ancient patriarchs practiced polygamy. Right? We couldn’t all be deceived about something this big. What a kook to think that Joseph never taught polygamy!

    If you have spent countless hours searching, reading and researching every document and account you can find about the topic (as I have) and decided that in your opinion the evidence supports the mainstream version of polygamy, then I am content and willing to agree to disagree.

    To MH and Justin, I will try to find the time to put together a summary.

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  35. ajax on April 10, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Rock Waterman of puremormonism blog specifically discussed Nancy Rigdon and Helen Mar here(a little over half way down): http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-mormon-history-is-not-what-they-say.html

    and a general discussion of his rejection of polygamy here:
    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-im-abandoning-polygamy.html

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  36. MH on April 10, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    Adam, I’m curious if you’ve read Richard Bushman, Todd Compton, George D Smith, or Brian Hales in all of your research on polygamy. Rock has an interesting perspective, but he is far from compelling, IMO. Also, have you seen the wives of Joseph Smith listed on familysearch.org?

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  37. ajax on April 10, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy by Richard and Pamela Price is free online here: http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm

    They seem to make a compelling case taking on most of the pro-polygamy arguments. I know of no rebuttals to their arguments/evidence. Granted, if true it makes for one hell of a conspiracy against the founding prophet by those who were seemingly very loyal to him. But it is still interesting reading.

    Polygamy flourished after Joseph died and became a doctrinal requirement for exaltation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. Now it is an excommunicable offense. From required for exaltation to excommunication. Interesting shift. Maybe the Lord used the US Govt to finally reign in the overzealousness of the brethren.

    I don’t know or care one way or another and I doubt we’ll ever get to the full story. “No man knows my history” indeed.

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  38. Remlap on April 10, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Adam T. wrote: “ Wow! As I write this, my comments received 21 “dislike” and 0 “like” votes. I’m curious as to the reasons why the idea that the Prophet Joseph never taught, sanctioned or practiced polygamy/polyandry is so objectionable, ridiculous, unreasonable, or whatever.”

    If Joseph Smith truly did not condone or practice polygamy (despite the overwhelming evidence that he did) and if he was really fighting it all the way up to his death, then the Church would be in an even worse position now when it comes to the polygamy issue.

    The idea that the setting prophet was trying to stamp out polygamy and polyandry in the church while his apostles were practicing it all the way up to his death, would indicate that he was not in control of the church and all the consecutive presidents and apostles who did practice polygamy for the following 50 years or so, did so without God’s approval and therefore were false prophets and the church would have been in apostasy. The current Church would not have an unbroken line of authority and would have no claim on being the one true church.

    If polygamy did not come through Joseph Smith then Brigham Young and team were just a bunch of old horn dogs trying to get laid as much as possible.

    Whether they like it or not, the Church leadership has to own polygamy or they lose claim to being PSRs.

    Just for full disclosure, I think Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and team were just horn dogs trying to get laid as much as they could. That is the only rational I can come up with to explain why Joseph Smith would send Orson Hyde and a mission and then marry Orson’s wife while he was gone.

    BTW Adam, I did not “dislike” your comments

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  39. ethie on April 10, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    I’m sorry that this discussion has turned into a fact-check on the origins of LDS plural marriage, but I’m happy to add my two cents.

    Like Adam T., I conducted a lot of personal research into this topic after reading Rock Waterman’s post and the Price’s research on which his argument is based. It is attractive because at first blush, it seems plausible. But it also helps remove the necessary mental gymnastics one has to do to reconcile Joseph’s public teachings with his private practice.

    In my own subsequent investigation (including my delving into Bushman, Compton, Van Wagoner, Newell, and many online resources) I found that the evidence just does not support the contention that plural marriage began with Brigham. Following are what I found to be the most convincing, but by no means the most exhaustive, arguments:

    1) The Nauvoo Expositor

    In June 1844, William Law, a member of the First Presidency, and Austin Cowles, a member of the High Council, published the Nauvoo Expositor. Both Law and Cowles were disaffected from the Church, and their intention was to expose polygamy in the Church in hopes of reforming it. Both men state that Hyrum presented a revelation on polygamy to the members of the High Council in the late summer of 1843.

    The Expositor’s claims led to a Nauvoo City Council meeting held shortly thereafter where Joseph and Hyrum both admitted to the revelation but claimed its intent was misunderstood.

    2) William Marks

    The Prices recount a statement from William Marks, the Nauvoo Stake President and later a close advisor to Joseph III, claiming that the Prophet Joseph had determined three weeks before his death to put an end to the practice of polygamy in Nauvoo and bring its practitioners to justice. However they fail to disclose that William Marks and other prominent members of the RLDS Church also freely admitted that Joseph himself had taught and practiced polygamy. The reason for this omission is unclear, other than it completely refutes their entire thesis.

    3) William Clayton’s Diaries

    William Clayton acted as one of Joseph’s secretaries during 1842-1844, and his journals document both discussions of some of Joseph’s plural marriages and the recording of a revelation on the principle.

    4) Occam’s Razor

    At some point we have to conclude what is more likely: that Joseph privately taught and practiced a doctrine that was not available to the entire church (as he similarly did with the Endowment), or that there was a massive conspiracy to create every single piece of evidence, including the few pieces of undisputed extant evidence, 10 to 40 years after the fact?

    It is true that John C. Bennett’s unauthorized “spiritual wifery” in Nauvoo in 1842 muddies the water, but to me the evidence is clear that Joseph both privately taught and practiced polygamy.

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  40. Justin on April 10, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    ethie:

    I’m sorry that this discussion has turned into a fact-check on the origins of LDS plural marriage, but I’m happy to add my two cents.

    I don’t think it’s wrong for the discussion to have gone that way at all.

    As I said in #5, it is only once unity between people over whether the revelation in section 132 is entirely true, entirely false, or partially true and false [with agreement over what parts are true and what parts are false] — that discussions can be fruitful.

    Only if we approach it with the same perspective about it and discuss what that actually means and what that conclusion about the revelation [or its forgery, etc.] implies, and what the revelation would actually look like when implemented in the real world — will discussions have any other benefit than being mental masturbation over historical claims.

    And so whether or not D&C 132 is the word of God [either written by Joseph Smith or written after Joseph by Brigham Young or whatever] — and whether the word of God reveals a family structure based on polygynous and polyandrous marriage sealings — is something that would need to be tacked-down first, before we could answer the OP’s question as to whether Helen or Nancy made the “better” choice.

    If D&C 132 is the word of man or the word of the devil, then Nancy discerned it rightly and Helen “followed the prophet” to damnation. If it’s the word of God, then Helen embraced the word of God when she received it from a prophet and Nancy was unable to accept a bona-fide revelation.

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  41. Nate on April 11, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    What if both Helen Mar and Nancy were right? Everyone is different, and God may sometimes judge people differently according to their perspectives and feelings.

    Helen Mar sacrificed, like Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and I suppose it was counted to her for righteousness. Nancy stayed true to her conscience and moral integrity, and maybe she was also blessed for her integrity.

    I don’t think we necessarily have to make black and white statements about whether or not Joseph Smith was inspired in this case. Polygamy is in the Bible, and Joseph Smith was “restoring all things” and was commanded to do things “of his own free will.” Maybe there was a component of lust in his desires, but maybe God allowed that lust to be part of the expression of Joseph’s prophetic approach. Prophets do not all reveal singular words written on tablets of stone by the finger of God. Each of them has a different expression: Joseph Smith was restoring all things, including Polygamy. Maybe God gave Him license to do things that He would not have given others. Maybe God let him be imperfect to create a trial for others. Maybe God did send an angel with a drawn sword. Maybe polyandry is the true expression of sexuality in the heavens, and Joseph Smith was the ultimate sexual revolutionary. I don’t know, and I guess I’m trying to withhold judgement.

    I suppose we all must decide what to believe about Joseph Smith to satisfy the integrity of our own moral feelings and rational judgement. Perhaps God will look kindly upon both perspectives if they are an honest expression of our moral and spiritual integrity: both the orthodox belief in the angel with a drawn sword, and the belief that Joseph was mistaken in this case.

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  42. Adam T. on April 11, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    MH: I am terrible at remembering names, so without checking I can’t remember whether or not I’ve read Todd Compton, George D Smith, or Brian Hales. I have read Richard Bushman, and I liked his book a lot. I’ll have to look up the other authors. Hopefully, I haven’t read all of them. I know I haven’t read everything available (probably not possible to read everything written about Joseph Smith), and I’m always interested in more information.

    Remplap: As you stated, “The idea that the setting prophet was trying to stamp out polygamy and polyandry in the church while his apostles were practicing it all the way up to his death, would indicate that he was not in control of the church and all the consecutive presidents and apostles who did practice polygamy for the following 50 years or so, did so without God’s approval and therefore were false prophets and the church would have been in apostasy.”

    I believe that your statement is essentially true. The Church is in apostasy, as prophesied in the scriptures that it would be in the last days. However, I believe the keys to administer the affairs of the Church have been faithfully passed down from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson. The “Apostasy of the Church” is obviously a whole other issue with passionate proponents for and against.

    ethie: Thank you for your response. At least you have actually spent time and energy searching and thinking outside the box about this. I respect your position. We will have to agree to disagree.

    I am familiar with, but do not believe the arguments (#s 1-4) that you put forward. In fact, I would say that Occam’s Razor strongly supports the conclusion that Joseph Smith, as a true prophet of God, did not teach one thing publicly and practice the antithesis privately. I chose to believe the writings and teachings of Joseph that are from primary, contemporary sources.

    As the Prophet Joseph said just a few weeks before his death, “…False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones…Oh! I beseech you to go forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure; and if any man preach any other Gospel than that which I have preached, he shall be cursed; and some of you who now hear me shall see it, and know that I testify the truth concerning them.”

    The Prophet’s plea to “make your calling and your election sure” is an appeal for the saints to develop a personal relationship with the Lord, and not to rely on any man. In what I believe is a prophetic statement, the Prophet says, “…if any man preach any other Gospel than that which I have preached, he shall be cursed; and some of you who now hear me shall see it…” In other words, Joseph is saying, ‘If you hear someone preach something that you haven’t heard me preach publicly, I’m making it clear to you now that it’s not true.’ Joseph knew there were leaders in the Church who were preaching false doctrine claiming that it came from him and was something he had only told the leaders and not the saints. The Prophet continues:

    “All the lies that are now hatched up against me are of the devil, and the influence of the devil and his servants will be used against the kingdom of God. The servants of God teach nothing but principles of eternal life, by their works ye shall know them. A good man will speak good things and holy principles, and an evil man evil things. I feel, in the name of the Lord, to rebuke all such bad principles, liars, &c., and I warn all of you to look out whom you are going after. I exhort you to give heed to all the virtue and the teachings which I have given you.”

    Again, the Prophet Joseph warns the saints that some are plotting to tell lies about him or to use his name to teach evil things, and he exhorts the saints “to give heed to…all the teachings which I have given you.” It’s interesting that although there were twelve apostles at the time, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, Joseph urges the saints to only give heed to his words.

    “When did I ever teach anything wrong from this stand? When was I ever confounded? I want to triumph in Israel before I depart hence and am no more seen. I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught. Must I, then, be thrown away as a thing of naught?”

    I believe the Prophet knew his remaining time on earth was short, so he is stressing a third time that the doctrines he taught the people are true. This would necessarily be referring to all of his public teachings and not other knowledge that the Prophet had. Why does the Prophet say, “Must I, then, be thrown away as a thing of naught?” I believe he is warning the saints that his teachings will be ignored or changed some time in the future. The Prophet concludes his talk with the following:

    “I enjoin for your consideration–add to your faith, virtue, love, &c. I say, in the name of the Lord, if these things are in you, you shall be fruitful. I testify that no man has power to reveal it but myself–things in heaven, in earth, and hell; and all shut your mouths for the future. I commend you all to God, that you may inherit all things; and may God add His blessing. Amen.”

    (Joseph Smith, May 2, 1844, DHC 6:363-367.)

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  43. Cowboy on April 11, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Admittedly, the one question that no one really asks, that sort of confuses, is “where are all the babies”??

    I mean, 33 wives?? Someone had to get pregnant somewhere. I tend to agree that the historical record is overwhelming, but the lack of physical evidence certainly raises a question or two.

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  44. Justin on April 11, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    Admittedly, the one question that no one really asks, that sort of confuses, is “where are all the babies”??

    BiV did a post about that back on Mormon Matters:
    Populating worlds: Joseph Smith’s Legacy

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  45. ethie on April 12, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    I chose to believe the writings and teachings of Joseph that are from primary, contemporary sources.

    Adam T., I respect your opinion and the conclusions you’ve drawn. I agree: If one does only take Joseph’s public comments, speeches, and teachings into account, they are devoid of justification for polygamy. However, since many of Joseph’s public comments were recorded by his secretaries, it seems reasonable to me to give the same weight to what these secretaries recorded that Joseph privately taught and practiced.

    When I began my research into this issue, I approached it as a search for primary, contemporary evidence. I misspoke previously. Numbers 1-3 in my previous comment are evidence, and not arguments. In my view, these are not easily explained away. Confidantes of the Prophet who disapproved of his teaching of “celestial marriage” — Law, Marks, Cowles — left strong contemporary evidence. Bear in mind that this is not the extent of the contemporary evidence available, just a few of the most compelling and irrefutable pieces. Number 4 above is an argument of mine that we can definitely disagree on. Although I don’t know if I agree that Joseph Smith’s being a true prophet and privately teaching a doctrine that he publicly denied are necessarily mutually exclusive.

    If you are interested in probably the best scholarship on the issue, you may enjoy reading Richard S. Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History. He provides not only a good survey of the issue that includes contemporary evidence, but gives much needed context to the evidence (e.g. Oliver Cowdery’s and others’ disaffection due to Joseph’s early plural marriages in Kirtland; Joseph’s pattern of discrediting those like the Laws and Sarah Pratt who refused his teachings on the principle, etc.). This book is a good counterweight to what I eventually concluded were the one-sided arguments in Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy.

    On this issue in particular I don’t want to convince others to adopt my conclusions. But I do hope that everyone will consider and weigh all the available evidence before drawing their own.

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  46. Adam T. on April 12, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    ethie:

    Thank you for your comments. I have not read Richard S. Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History, but I will.

    I am ultimately interested in finding the truth, so I will continue to search, read and ponder, and I am willing to change my opinion based on the information available.

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  47. hawkgrrrl on April 13, 2012 at 5:10 AM

    I too thought Nate’s suggestion that both Nancy and Helen may have been right is a compelling thought. Perhaps the personal answers we get are more important than the organizational norms.

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  48. ajax on April 13, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    Nate/Hawkgrrrl – this brings to mind what some of the German saints were faced with during WWII:

    On one hand we have Hubener and friends resisting the Nazis, which we naturally find heroic in hindsight.

    On the other hand we have Arthur Naujoks, a Prussian saint who felt he was doing his duty(AoF 12) to serve in the German army(he was conscripted of course). His interesting memoir is titled Shades of Gray.

    Now with two seemingly opposed paths that these men took, who was right? I suggest both were right and that God “is more liberal in His views and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to beleive or receive”(Joseph Smith)

    Interestinly enough, back in the day, the church discouraged the actions of Hubener and encouraged AoF 12 citizenship. We now see him as heroic and wish more had followed his path. Naujoks did his duty. His country called him and he fought on the eastern front. Most LDS then and now take this route. They both acted on the light and knowledge they possesed. They were both right IMHO.

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  49. wayfarer on April 13, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    interesting comments. i believe that the factchecking on JS and Polygamy is a bit off-topic, and misses the point.

    #41 Nate has captured the ambiguity of the situation very well. there are no easy answers to the question of following the prophet when you believe in your heart he is wrong. from what I can tell, both Nancy R and Helen Mar at some level felt the prophet’s request was wrong and inappropriate, and they made choices with clear and distinct consequences.

    In another case, Levi Savage was a voice of knowledgeable dissent when Franklin Richards insisted that the Willy handcart company leave too late in the season and the pioneers would be protected by the Lord. 200 people died in the fiasco, yet the survivors experienced powerful miracles that strengthened their testimonies to the end of their lives and beyond by their sacrifice. i bless and honor these pioneers with all my heart, but the leaders were wrong in their choices.

    Levi Savage was known as the one who dissented, and carried that like a scarlet D to the end of his life. that is a shame, for although he dissented, he spoke the truth, and he went anyway. his experience prior to the trek doubtless saved lives.

    i wish life were as easy as following the prophet and everything will be ok. it isn’t. free agency requires the exercise of personal revelation, and then to make choices based upon the spirit that will have consequences.

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  50. RHR on August 2, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    I know I am commenting late on this thread, but I have to state my feeling that both sides of the argument here are probably right to some degree. Joseph might have taught and practiced polygamy to some degree, and he might not have. What we know for certain is, that Brigham and others did. Even if Joseph did practice it, he (and certainly Emma) was resistant to it at various times and to various degrees.

    Could it be that the Lord allowed the practice to take hold as part of His plan–even if Joseph himself did not initiate it? After all, we do sustain Brigham as a prophet, do we not? Could he not have advanced the practice in the context of his initial priesthood role as senior apostle and eventually as prophet, seer, and revelator? Could it be that the Lord allowed Joseph to seal his mission with his blood, because it was time for a new chapter in the growth of the Church to play out?

    I personally believe that the practice of plural marriage in the years of the western migration and in the generation that followed, allowed the church to establish a toehold in the mountain west that may not have been possible in any other way. It may have literally saved the Church. Remember, Jacob’s statement in the BofM gives the Lord latitude to use the practice to “raise up seed” unto himself. Just as the ancient patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob practiced plural marriage to build up an ancient people, Brigham used it to build up a modern one.

    And I am not just talking physical procreation here. My wife’s progenitor, Anson Call, for example, was a polygamist who left a legacy of faith and commitment among his many, many descendants in the church today. Despite its many challenged, those who practiced plural marriage were faithful saints who left a legacy of gospel strength that has, in large part, greatly strengthened the church. Collectively, I do not think that we even come close to recognizing the net positive impact that it had.

    With this perspective, it is easy to reconcile not only the ambiguity surrounding Joseph and the early practice of plural marriage, but the ending of the practice through the manifesto as well. The Lord commanded, the Church obeyed. The Lord rescinded, the Church obeyed. It is all as it was meant to be.

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  51. wayfarer on August 2, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    @RHR,

    Thankyou for your post…never too late.

    I had polygamous ancestors, and it was messy. i personally do not think polygamy was an inspired principle, but as you indicate, it had the effect of separating and isolating the saints to establish the unique organzation the church is today.

    Was that god’s will? not sure…I will leave that in god’s hands. certainly polyandry is completely against all commandments, and i find it impossible to accept it as inspired.

    You mention that polygamy was recinded… it technically wasn’t, and D&C 132 is still on the books.

    But whether or not polygamy was/is inspired isn’t the point of my original post. The more interesting question is how an individual decides what is or is not inspired and normative, especially when counsel goes against the received Word. Are there any easy answers?

    I think not.

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