Is Warren Jeffs really that different from Joseph Smith?

Jeffs, after staying quiet during his trial, opened up to the courtroom yesterday on the matter of his having raped a 12-year-old and impregnating a 15-year old. He blathered for almost an hour, like he was sermonizing. He said,

You are now touching that which is sacred.

This must cease.

If we do not live these laws we are damned here and hereafter. We believe in a marriage system of eternity called celestial marriage, wherein celestial means heavenly authorized, not to be intervened by government intervention.

Although many mainstream news outlets use words like “repudiated” when referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and polygamy, we know that the US Congress in the 1890s had to threaten to confiscate the Church’s temples in order to get the Church to end polygamy. The Church stopped because it absolutely had to, not because it came upon a kind of epiphany on the matter.

Mormons today follow the rules about who qualifies as an adult and are for marriage as the union of “one man and one woman.” But it’s not hard to imagine Jeffs as a Joseph Smith-like person caught in the 21st century.

The Church has had difficulty with the public associating it with polygamy. Perhaps church leaders are happy to see Jeffs on trial, thinking this is one more nail in the coffin of Mormon polygamy. I think, however, that Mormonism will always have to deal with polygamy, beginning within its own ranks. I have to wonder how many Mormons who bear their testimonies about Smith as a true prophet really know that much about him.

(Btw, if folks want to list all the ways that Jeffs and Smith are indeed different, then I’m all for that.)

31 thoughts on “Is Warren Jeffs really that different from Joseph Smith?

  1. Except for the fact that there are no reliable reports of him sleeping with girls that young. He never slept with the 14 year old girls. But Fanny was 16 and Joseph was 27, which would be illegal today, but that was not uncommon in Joseph’s day. But yes, Joseph Smith would be thrown in jail today. Just as Jesus was.

  2. So, the main difference is that Joseph didn’t like ’em quite as young?

    No wonder the Mormons do everything they can to cover up Joseph Smith’s “polygamy.” Praise to the Man, indeed!

  3. But Fanny was 16 and Joseph was 27, which would be illegal today

    Actually, to my knowledge, in about half of the US today, the age of consent is 16.

  4. Well, for one thing – Joseph Smith didn’t operate in a closed walled compound and prevent people from running away.

    Which points out an obvious difference – Joseph Smith didn’t even have half the coercive power over his followers that Jeffs had over his.

    The FLDS compound couldn’t be more different from mid-1800s Nauvoo. This is obvious to anyone who gives the two even a cursory glance.

  5. Also, Joseph didn’t TAKE AWAY the wives of other men. He was sealed to a few. But I’ve never seen any evidence of any of the men in question being expelled from the community, or their wives being removed from their company or influence. Even the married women Joseph married, this never happened.

    Not to mention that I’ve seen zero credible evidence of mind-control going on in Joseph’s communities (unless you count bare assertion on the DAMU).

    No, I don’t really see the examples as comparable.

    Also Joseph Smith had enough self-respect and ambition to know who his real persecutors were, and not waste his wrath on the small-time middle men – as we see in Jeffs’ rants against small time judges, and court staff.

  6. >but [underage marriage] was not uncommon in Josephs day

    There have been findings to the contrary: http://chriscarrollsmith.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html.

    From the link: “Todd observed that ten of Joseph Smith’s wives were in their teens at the time he married them. Todd asks, was this typical of the New England culture from which Smith and most of the Mormons came? He found that it was not. In Massachusetts, for example, the mean marriage age was 24, and only about 3-4% of women married in their teens. Only about .04% married at ages 14 or 15.”

    Furthermore, a lot of the stats shown on the FAIR wiki come from ridiculously small samples (1%? honestly?) or from region-specific areas (Nauvoo or Kirtland only).

    Saying “not uncommon for the day” is misleading because the day didn’t belong to just 1% of an 1850 Census report or two towns dominated by Mormons.

  7. Common or uncommon, it certainly wasn’t frowned on the way it is today. Especially if there was parental consent – which there was.

    When the mob killed Joseph Smith, not one of them gave two straws how old his wives were – only that he had more than one of them.

  8. And not a few of those missionaries apparently spent their p-days wooing away the wives of non-Mormons. Has anyone written a what-if Joseph hadn’t died in Carthage historical novel? That might be kinda fun.

  9. Question – those declarations in Utah from former wives of Joseph in Utah that people like to quote as proof of sexual activity –

    Did any of them come from the “controversial” wives (the underage ones and the already married ones)?

  10. Seth R.
    I wonder if Sarah Pratt and Nancy Johnson Hyde think the difference is pretty obvious?
    Yep, there are glaring differences. One is low down dastardly behavior and the other is exemplary moral behavior. But which belongs to which?

  11. I see I can’t write peoples names right.
    Sorry Miranda.
    There may be plenty of differences. I can see some obvious differences. But I can see similarities.
    For instance, they’re both marrying woman. Would you agree with that. And men were removed from the community.
    But using the other men as recruiters(a difference), seems more effective at enlarging your group.

  12. I have no problem with polygamy per se. It’s not my thing, but if someone can get 20 or 30 fully-informed adults to marry them, more power to them. But the manipulation and coercion that Jeffs and Joseph Smith engaged in are despicable.

    Joseph Smith and his Mormons engaged with the outside world, while the FLDS isolated themselves from it. The FLDS isolation gave Jeffs more power, so he was able apply more coercion, while Joseph stuck (mostly) to manipulation. But I see a difference of degree much more than a difference of type.

  13. Actually, it’s Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde.

    You’ve got to be careful with her story. Just about all the accounts we have of it come from hostile sources that get some of the details wrong such that their reliability has been compromised.

    I’m drawing a blank on Sarah Pratt.

  14. RE#4: Chino, I have had lunch with Richard Bushman (and others of his sort). He knows there are lots of problems with the history and with Joseph Smith. He’s hard to pin down on how important those problems are for the history of the religion and the religion itself. And I’m not sure how he reconciles things in his own mind, but it’s definitely not easy for him. Just thought I’d mention that since you asked.

  15. Similarities between Smith and Jeffs? Yeah, I can think of a few, including these (for starters, just off the top of m y head):
    1. Jeffs claims to speak to and for God; Smith claimed to speak to and for God.
    2. Jeffs claims to receive revelations; Smith claimed to have received revelations.
    3. Jeffs claims to hold the keys to the Priesthood; Smith claimed to hold the keys to the priesthood.
    4. Jeffs is sustained by members of at least one Mormon church as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator; Smith is sustained by members of at least one Mormon church as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
    5. Jeffs has engaged in illegal marriages himself; Smith engaged in illegal marriages himself;
    6. Jeffs has performed illegal marriage ceremonies for his followers; Smith performed illegal marriage ceremonies for his followers.
    7. Jeffs’ illegal marriages included some to teenage girls; Smith’s illegal marriages included some to teenage girls.
    8. Jeffs’ illegal marriages included some to women already married to someone else; Smith’s illegal marraiges included some to women already married to someone else.
    9 Jeffs claims God’s commandment to enter illegal marriage justifies breaking the law of the land; Smith claimed God’s commandment to enter illegal marriage justifies breaking the law of the land.
    10. Jeffs used his position of power in his community to secure illegal wives; Smith used his position in the community to secure illegal wives;
    11. Jeffs used his power in the community to marginalize those who refused to go along with his illegal marriage proposals; Smith used his power in the community to marginalize those who refused to go along with his illegal marriage proposals.
    12. Jeffs claims to be king of the political kingdom of God on earth; Smith claimed to be king of the political kingdom of God on earth.
    13. Jeffs is a narcissistic megalomaniac; Smith was a narcissistic megalomaniac.
    14. Jeffs lives off the tithes of members of the church he leads; Smith lived off the tithes of members of the church he led.
    15. Jeffs has had run-ins with the law; Smith had run-ins with the law.
    16. Jeffs blames his legal troubles on “persecution” fomented by Satan and evil forces; Smith blamed his legal troubles on “persecution” fomented by Satan and evil forces.
    17. Jeffs claims that the so-called persecution will lead to the judgment of a wrathful God being heaped upon America; Smith claimed that the so-called persecution will lead to the judgment of a wrathful God being heaped upon America.
    18. Jeffs cons people out of money; Smith conned people out of money.
    19. Jeffs has uttered prophetic predictions that have failed to come to pass; Smith uttered prophetic predictions that have failed to come to pass.
    20. Jeffs uses fear and intimidation and emotional manipulation to keep his followers in line; Smith used fear and intimidation and emotional manipulation to keep his followers in line.

    That’s a pretty good start.

  16. Seeing as both men would have interacted with modern society differently Hellmut, I don’t see that statement as contributing anything particularly useful.

  17. In the modern world – Jesus would have been arrested for gathering together a group of five thousand people without a permit, trespassing, destruction of private property, and catering without a license.

  18. Considering that we don’t have Jesus’ court records, we can’t really know precisely what he was charged with. Sure, his followers (writing decades after his death) claimed it was for blasphemy and claiming to be king. But if he’d been charged with some other crime (one his followers, naturally, felt he was innocent of), I doubt they would report it accurately.

  19. The only real difference I can see between the two is that Warren Jeffs had a tape recorder and Joseph Didn’t. Joseph married a 14 year old. No different than Jeffs.

  20. The definition of a destructive religious cult is like alcoholism-if alcohol controls you instead of the other way around you are an alcoholic.
    If they try to ruin your reputation and break up your family for trying to get out then they are a cult!
    Please examine the Jehovah’s Witnesses pedophiles go door to door and come on our property.
    Many court documents and news events prove that Jehovah’s Witnesses suppress evidence when a child comes forward with allegations of molestation within the congregation.Whenever you surrender your logic and reason to anyone who asks you to trust them because they know better it’s possibly a cult.
    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….

    Danny Haszard abuse victim -dannyhaszard(dot)com

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