Sunday in Outer Blogness: Sucked into the vortex edition!

Remember the fun we had last week with creative apologetics? Well, this week we learned that it’s only fun and games until someone actually tries to follow the footnotes and gets sucked into the vortex!

It started on a fascinating note as Runtu provided an detailed and specific analysis of the evidence (or lack thereof) behind the claims made by Meg Stout in her Faithful Joseph series. Interestingly, her own footnotes frequently make it clear that her proposed narrative is just speculation. I recommend reading all of Runtu’s “My Joseph” series, but let me tease you with some highlights.

From part 1:

Basically, then, she believes the lack of proof that Smith fathered children is evidence there was no sexuality in the marriages. This is, of course, the argumentum ex silentio, or argument from silence, a logical fallacy that states that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Setting aside the poor logic of this argument, we have testimony from multiple women who said they had sexual relations with Joseph Smith, and their testimony is corroborated by others. Also, we have testimony from multiple women who said that they believed Smith may have fathered their children or that they knew of the existence of such children. Such testimony makes no sense if there had been no sexuality in the relationships. In short, either everyone involved was lying, or at least some of the relationships were sexual.

Ms. Stout has just put up a new post explaining this argument yet again.

From part 2:

Apparently, Ms. Stout believes that, unless a third party actually watched them have sex, it’s unreasonable to believe that, when they spent the night together in a bedroom with the lights out, they didn’t actually share a bed and “the marriage between Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman likely remained unconsummated.” Indeed, Joseph Smith must have lied when he told Joseph Nobles he slept with Louisa.

From part 3:

Here we see the double-standard by which Stout applies evidence. Firsthand testimony from Joseph’s wives that they were sexually intimate with him is dismissed as “euphemisms” and outright lies. Corroboration from people who said Joseph retired to bed with a woman is dismissed because no one actually saw them having sex. But with Bennett, a secondhand report that “Sarah Pratt made a first rate go” is taken as absolute truth. Jacob Backenstos’s ambiguous statements that Bennett and Pratt seemed like husband and wife are also taken as proof of sexual intimacy, as are the clearly fabricated statements of the Goddards.


Here’s Stout’s take:

Joseph called Bennett in and tore into him. I believe it is during this discussion that Bennett confessed to his adultery with Sarah Pratt. 22

I’m leaving the footnote citation in because it’s illustrative. It reads:

22. Lorenzo Wasson, Emma Smith’s nephew, overheard the exchange but his summary doesn’t mention Sarah Pratt.

From part 4:

Similarly, Nancy Winchester, Stout tells us, “was a victim of the Bennett ring during the winter of 1841/42, when she was barely 13 years old.” Again, is there any evidence of such abuse? Apparently, just that she received a blessing for “fits” in 1845 “–plausible as a post-traumatic stress reaction if she was attacked during the winter three years earlier.” I’m sorry, Meg, but, no, that kind of grasping at straws is pathetic, not plausible. Almost as an aside, she says she believes that the intended victim had been Clarissa Marvel, not Nancy Winchester. Why? She doesn’t say.

Then, as you may imagine, Meg Stout responded in the comments of some of the above, and Runtu got sucked into the apologist vortex. He made some brave attempts to salvage some sanity, but… well, this quote from Stout is my favorite part of the whole thing:

While he roundly accuses me of fantasy and making things up, he never did respond with the supposed “facts” he claims I am ignoring (despite many calls for him to do so).

Apparently emboldened by the fact that so few bother to read her footnotes, she figures readers aren’t capable of scrolling the page to check the accuracy of her claims about it…?

In other polygamy history, Thinker of Thoughts discussed some false witnesses.

Now get set for some jowl-shaking logic! Check out this list of “4 Things Anti-Mormons Don’t Want You to Know” that’s been floating around the Internet. Perhaps you scrolled passed it (since this sort of polarizing/insulting stuff so commonplace), but the Fridge Profet posted a response.

In church-watch, some faithful women are asking the CoJCoL-dS to let women preside over women’s meetings. Steve Bloor responded to the latest Ensign article about doubts. Boyd K. Packer now has a museum exhibit about his life. Oh, and mishies now have to buy their own iPads so they don’t die of Internet exposure upon returning home from their missions. But this stuff is the most fun of all:

The ward council was having some discussion about men accompanying the sister missionaries on visits to homes of single men. They didn’t want the sisters going along because that seemed pliggy. [2] They didn’t want one man showing up with two sisters because that looked pliggy on the doorstep and seemed double-datey once inside. They didn’t want two men accompanying the sisters because that seemed double-datey on the doorstep and inches away from all-out orgy once inside. So they determined that the optimal plan would be for THREE MEN TO ACCOMPANY TWO SISTER MISSIONARIES TO VISIT ANOTHER SINGLE MAN. And they talked about this as a serious, non-crazy, viable thing to do. Until I raised my hand and said “You guys have completely lost your minds.”

Well, the memes are also funny.

FreeBYU is making a serious challenge to BYU’s accreditation — due to BYU’s policy to expel, terminate, and evict LDS students who change their faith while at BYU.

In life journeys, Susan I/S is retiring from RfM. Let’s join Donna Banta in thanking her for her work over the years. And VoilaLeDuc is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of returning from his mission.

In philosophy, do you believe in doxastic voluntarism? In other commentary, Brett Cottrell examined some golden calf methphors, and Exmo Tales has written an allegory of the CoJCoL-dS as a city isn’t like you expect it to be.

In random stuff, we have stoner bunnies, monster cookies, and — totally unrelated to anything here, but — this is pretty funny.

Happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Don’t Apologize Edition!

This past week we were treated to what is possibly the most delicious new apologetic argument since the tapir! Take it away, Meg Stout:

It all boils down to the one admission from Emily, where she responded “Yes sir.” when asked if she had engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith.


Carnal refers to meat. Intercourse refers to commerce or trade (ever visited Intercourse, PA?). Therefore “carnal intercourse” would also be a legitimate description of passing Joseph a platter of turkey or chicken or mutton or beef at a meal, an activity the young Emily had almost certainly engaged in.

Yes, that’s the same Meg Stout whose faithful Joseph series has brought us so much mirthhere‘s her latest. The above quote was posted on Runtu’s Rincon — Runtu also posted a discussion of the big picture in apologetics, a discussion of transparency, and he’ll be doing an “ask me anything” on Reddit this Wednesday!

John C made a brave attempt at creative apologetics as well, claiming “that God mixes up geology, that God hides artifacts, and that God alters the course of heavenly bodies”, hence coming to the following logical conclusion:

The more you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the more you should embrace the lack of evidence for it. Shout it from the hilltops: There is remarkably little evidence to demonstrate that the events described in the Book of Mormon took place in the Americas and therefore I, as a rational person, must embrace the Book of Mormon as being an empirically true and accurate record of events in the Americas.

Pizzafreak22 noticed that the articles in the latest Ensign are starting to look desperate. Atheists have been promoted to public enemy #1. Kate Kelly is still kicked out — maybe she’ll join the party instead.

It could be worse — if the faithful followed the Bible they’d be killing the unbelievers (thank heavens for heretics). Other scripture lessons this week include the end of Alma, abandoning foreign wives and children, and some confusing messages:

Okay, not only has Moroni had a hand in plenty of unnecessary slaughter over the last few chapters, but he’s about to follow up his condemnation of Ammoron’s murderous ways by…

…threatening to kill him (verse 10)

We also have highlights from how to see that the Sermon on the Mount was cobbled together from other sources. That lesson contains some interesting analysis of the good and bad advice in the sermon, and of how well Christians follow different parts — with a little help from the Satanists:

And when there are Ten Commandments monuments on public land, they’re there to erect a statue to the god Baphomet. Won’t this look grand?

What I love about this is that it’s surgical. The only people who will be freaked out by this are those who are the intended target; everyone else will laugh up their sleeve. I don’t care much for Satanism, but I’m happy to throw them some dough if they’ll keep up their antics.

In history, Thinker of Thoughts has started a series putting the Nauvoo Expositor in context.

How does Mormon culture deal with changes like the death of dating? Or with people who are gay:

Being gay is a big no no, obviously. Saying you’re gay is perfectly fine though. Hence why I stayed in the closet at BYU (and was so suicidal). I could have been kicked out for even the slightest of “acting on” my sexuality. Obviously, in the religion pre-marital sex is a big fat NO (whatever sexuality you are). However, heterosexual people can still have physical expressions of their love and attractions as long as they are not risqué. Homosexuals doing this is considered “immorality”. Makes sense right? I know if I were still in the church, I would love to be out and not be allowed to actually BE myself. Refusing all of my attraction and being a robot sounds incredibly exciting!

I truly believe that denying someone their right to love and express their love is simply cruel. In my sometimes-not-so-humble opinion, this is a basic human right. Nobody has the right, authority, or divine role to tell someone who to love or how to love.

The hit song “Let it Go” can be taken as an anthem of freeing yourself from harmful beliefs. But don’t get me wrong — I agree with Andrew S on this point:

I see a lot of the ills in the world as being amplified by religion (although I resist saying that they are caused by religion. I wouldn’t say homophobia or sexism are caused by religion, but that these are natural human issues. But what I would say is that it doesn’t seem that religion has a great track record on helping people rise above human nature on these issues.)

On the positive side, at least the CoCJoL-dS tells parents to get their kids vaccinated.

Here‘s an amusing interfaith interaction, and a new perspective on the CoC. In life journeys, Mormon Hurt described leaving the church as follows:

it felt like the entire world embraced me and said, “Welcome to the human race.”

In not-Mormon-related, we must sadly say goodbye to Mr. Spock. He was one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. As someone who would like to be totally logical and above it all (but isn’t really), I could relate to Spock. Of course Mr. Spock isn’t really dead because he never really existed, but Leonard Nimoy, who created this wonderful character, is gone.

In recipes, the Highchair Travelers have offered us Hamantaschen for Purim. Heather also posted some recipes I really want to try, like these Mini Spinach Quinoa Fritatas — I love spinach, and I’m always interested in finding new uses for quinoa — and these greek veggie burgers that didn’t work, put on a pita! 😀

OK, now to get back to trying to get my other computer working again, plus homework and programming projects with the kids. Have a great week!

Knowing Emma and Joseph’s History: A Response to the Speculative Essay on Early Polygamy– Alison Udall

It was really enjoyable to work my way through this. This is the first response I’ve done with these new church essays since I had read enough to be able to notice things that I recognized were missing, or implications that were being made that felt incomplete or inaccurate. As a result of this knowledge, I was surprised at how carefully this was written and what they choose to include and not. It bothered me more than I thought it would….as it was a recent example of what I feel is an attempt to portray transparency and accurate historical information….when in fact it’s missing a lot. This essay was written for a purpose, and I understand that, It was just discouraging to see how the historical narrative was massaged to fill that purpose.

After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates.

This gives the impression that the revelation on polygamy happened all at once….”a” revelation. No mention of the 1835 edition of the D&C Section 101 which stated “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” This was later removed and replaced, under the direction of Brigham Young, in 1876 with D&C Section 132.

In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.

The revelation, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, states that Joseph prayed to know why God justified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon in having many wives. The Lord responded that He had commanded them to enter into the practice.

The footnotes used here are interesting references, since there is no indication in the bible that Abraham or others were commanded to practice plural marriage or take additional wives. The Genesis 16 reference is about Abram’s wife Sarai, who is unable to conceive. Sarai asks Hagar, her handmaid, to act as surrogate. God did not command Abram to take Hagar as a plural wife. Sarai asked him to sleep with her so she could bear a child.

Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.

It’s difficult to imagine God requiring this and leaving it vague, without exact instructions. This is the God that requires specific wording for blessing the sacrament, baptism, and other ordinances. This is a god who revealed what part of a cow to burn, and how to sprinkle blood in the Old Testament. D&C 132 is quite specific and has a lot of detail in it. It specifically says in D&C 132: 8 “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.”

There are certainly lots of very specific instructions given in D&C 132. There are also parts that are ignored? Verses 61-63 say: “And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.”

We know that some of the women Joseph marries are not virgins and some were married to other men.

Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. They did not discuss their experiences publicly or in writing until after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Utah and Church leaders had publicly acknowledged the practice.

While there are many details that remain unknown about early plural marriage, there is a wealth of credible, scholarly work that supports a more complete and complex story than the essay implies[1]. The essay suggests that we can only speculate, yet it repeatedly dismisses or ignores well-documented details while cherry-picking ones that support protecting Joseph Smith’s reputation. It casts doubt on how much we can know and understand about what happened, and yet heavily engages in selective speculation that downplays or discounts the experiences of those most negatively impacted by early polygamy, including Joseph’s only legal wife, Emma Hale Smith.

The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable.

The implication being, once again, that we just don’t have enough information to understand. This time with a warning that later reminiscences may be unreliable. This is interesting since throughout the essay later reminiscences are included, but only when they suit the intended purpose. Interestingly, the church didn’t hesitate to use later reminiscences legally in court cases in 1870.

The revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843, but its early verses suggest that part of it emerged from Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament in 1831. People who knew Joseph well later stated he received the revelation about that time.

The essay suggests Joseph received the revelation in 1831 but it was not written down until 1843. It references neglects to mention one of the reasons why people later stated he received it about that time. In 1861, W.W. Phelps wrote Brigham Young about a revelation received on July 17, 1831 west of Independence for Elders who were about to commence a mission to Native Americans West of Missouri.

“For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.” 

In 1834, Phelps asked Joseph Smith “how ‘we,’ that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the “natives”—as we were all married men? He replied instantly ‘In th[e] same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah [Keturah]; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.'”

Why wasn’t this included this in the essay or the footnotes? Perhaps it’s because it’s completely racist and uncomfortable[2].

Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

The essay suggests God sent an angel to force Joseph to do something he didn’t want to do. Do we have other indications where this type of situation occurred in the scriptures? What about Joseph’s free agency? According to Todd Compton by April of 1842 Joseph had married 10 women. Two of those were single, 7 were married and one was widowed. Between June – August of 1842 he married 6 additional women. Two of those were married, two were widowed and two were single[3]. Why was the angel threatening him in 1842? Was he just not marrying women fast enough? What did the angel mean when he told Joseph he needed to obey the commandment fully? Later in the essay, it implies one possible explanation for polyandry. Joseph “may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships.” This seems to imply that normal marriage relationships meant that they would have included sexual relations. Then it goes on to say “this could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.” Is it implying the angel was threatening Joseph on that third visit because he was not having “normal marriage relationships (sex)? Perhaps the angel reminded him of the purpose for polygamy….raise up seed unto God”[4]. Interestingly, during 1843 he married 17 additional women. Fourteen of those were single, one was widowed and two were married[5].

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

There is no mention that Fanny was 17 years old. There is real disagreement about whether a marriage occurred between Joseph and Fanny. “The fullest description of the Joseph Smith-Fanny Alger marriage is in the Mosiah Hancock autobiography. Mosiah, born on April 9, 1834, did not have first-hand knowledge of the marriage. But while writing his autobiography, apparently in 1896, he reported the story as told to him by his father, Levi Hancock.[6] One scholar notes “However, his narrative is not without its problems. Mosiah was born in 1834 and consequently could not have been an eye witness or participant. Furthermore, he recounted the story decades later in 1896[7]. So this is one of those later reminiscences that’s included. What’s left out is that Oliver Cowdery described it as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair”[8]. “The sources written before 1839 indicate that most Church leaders knew nothing of a possible marriage. What they did know is suggested by the minutes of Oliver Cowdery’s excommunication trial before the Far West High Council in April 1838….whee he was charged with “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith jr by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery & c.” Fanny Alger’s name was never mentioned, but doubtless she was the woman in question.[9]”

Brian Hales notes that “both Emma and Fanny were traumatized and Oliver Cowdery alienated.” “In addition, rumors of “adultery” quietly spread among the Saints. While they were never loud enough to reach the local media, they required specific damage control efforts by the Prophet. Chauncy Webb suggested that Emma learned about Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger when the girl became pregnant. According to Wilhelm Wyl, who interviewed “Mr. W.”: “In Kirtland, [Joseph] was sealed there secretly to Fanny Alger. Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house[10].”

Todd Compton writes that Fanny married Culver (the man she married after Joseph) in 1836[11], as recorded by the clerk for Justice Levi Eastridge. He says this marriage to Joseph happened in 1833, which is interesting since they just said the angel’s first visit occurred sometime in 1834. It’s also important to note that the sealing power was not given to Joseph until April 3, 1836[12]. Under what authority was this marriage performed?

Eliza Snow said she “was well acquainted with her [Fanny Alger] as she [Eliza] lived with the Prophet at the time” that “Emma made such a fuss about” her.”[13] “Thus, it appears Eliza was an eye witness to the “fuss” associated with the discovery of the relationship[14].” The essay also fails to mention Levi Hancock was “rewarded” by Joseph for setting this up this marriage with a marriage to Clarissa Reed. One scholar has noted that “Nauvoo plural marriages would show a similar pattern of “rewards” for those who helped solemnize Smith’s marriages”[15].

The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage. The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.

What about this quote from Joseph “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.[16]”

The essay actually tries to justify the bizarre way that Joseph, and other leaders, stretched and changed definitions for words. They practiced no marital law other than monogamy? Here is what footnote 22 says: “In the denials, “polygamy” was understood to mean the marriage of one man to more than one woman but without Church sanction.” So we have this made up definition for the word polygamy. The argument that they were being completely forthright, because they were using their own specially made up phrase “celestial” plural marriage, is troublesome. It justifies dishonest, illegal behavior under the prophet’s direction and yet nowhere in this essay do they say anything about this being unacceptable or dishonest.

The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.

There is a fascinating omission here about the number of wives in the body of the essay. It gives exact numbers for other people, but not for Joseph. They do note the range in footnote 24: “Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40.” The essay doesn’t mention these women by name. It doesn’t mention that he married a mother and daughter[17]. It doesn’t mention that he married two sets of sisters[18].

The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.

Why does the essay describe Helen’s age this way rather than saying she was 14 years old? It doesn’t mention that he was 38 and leaves out the surrounding details. Joseph told Heber he needed to surrender his wife, Vilate, to him in marriage. After 3 days of agonizing over this, Heber leads his wife to Joseph only then to be told it was some sort of Abrahamic test. Then he tells Heber to marry a certain woman and to keep this marriage a secret from his wife Vilate. Heber pleads with Joseph to reconsider and finally relents and marries her. After which he becomes depressed, unable to tell his first wife why. Meanwhile, Vilate prays to understand what’s happening and receives a vision about plural marriage and she accepts it[19].

Shortly after this Helen was given to Joseph as a plural wife. Helen records “My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seamed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched untill they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrafise, but the Lord required more. I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me this principle & asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph, who came next morning & with my parents I heard him teach & explain the principle of [p. 1] Celestial marrage-after which he said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.

This promise was so great that I will-ingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart—when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied “If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.” She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me.[20]”

Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.

I’m assuming the essay brings this up because the thought of a 38 year old man having sex with a 14 year old girl is uncomfortable. There is real disagreement about whether this marriage included sexual relations. If that is true and Joseph felt she was too young to sleep with, why alter her life so drastically by committing her to a polygamous marriage?

Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

Again the implication is that we have no records even though there are several. One heartbreaking example is the story of Zina Huntingon. When Joseph first asked her she refused, as she was courting Henry and loved him. Joseph “Smith was always persistent in his marriage proposals, and rejections usually moved him to further effort, so he continued to press his suit with Zina at the same time that she was courting Henry. And Smith usually expressed his polygamous proposals in terms of prophetic commandments[21]? Zina makes the decision to marry Henry and probably felt this would solve the situation with Joseph. “However, Zina learned soon afterwards, undoubtedly to her complete astonishment, that Smith had not given up” and “remained conflicted until a day in October, apparently, when Joseph sent Dimick to her with a message: an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy, he would lose ‘his position and his life.” Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced[22].  She was seven months pregnant when she married him. Henry “was a faithful church member in good standing, an active seventy, the veteran of numerous missions[23].

How was this supposed to work in the next life for these husbands and wives who were already married? Were they basically being set up to lose their wife to Joseph after death? How could that not affect their current marriages and their feelings toward each other?

These sealings may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships. This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.”

The essay implies that Joseph did this to somehow protect Emma since they may not have included “normal marriage relationships”. I’m guessing this is a roundabout way of saying marriages that included sex. Why would the angel rebuke him for these marriages? Why return primarily to marrying single women? The implication is that the angel wanted Joseph to have marriages that involved sex. If Joseph was following the purpose for plural marriage this would have been part of the relationships.

Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages.

The essay implies that at least some of the 11 polyandrous marriages were for eternity only (the next life)? Why would married women need to be married to Joseph when they already had husbands? What does this have to do with short life spans for married women? The implication here is that if a woman was married to an apostate/inactive man it was OK for her to marry Joseph or if they were unhappy in their marriages. How many of these husbands were asked or did they not deserve to be involved in the decision? What about the active worthy husbands like Orson Pratt, whose wife Sarah, Joseph had tried to marry while he was out on a mission? He became so distraught he left a suicide note for his wife[24]? Or Orson Hyde, whose wife Nancy, Joseph did marry after Joseph sent him on a mission[25]?

Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Nauvoo, and she accepted all four of those wives into her household. She may have approved of other marriages as well. But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings. She vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing it.

This paragraph alone is astonishing. Emma approved of four of the 30-40 marriages. What about the rest of them? The essay fails to include the history leading up to Emma approving two of these marriages. “Emma had heard Joseph and Heber C. Kimball address the Relief Society and allude to a time when women would participate in the endowment” “Joseph taught that a man must obey God to be worthy of the endowment and that a wife must obey a righteous husband to merit the same reward. Until Emma could be obedient to Joseph and give him plural wives, she could not participate in the endowment ceremonies, yet he taught her that the endowment was essential for exaltation –as opposed to salvation, which Joseph taught was available to all through the atonement of Christ. Joseph wanted Emma to serve as the example, the Elect Lady, the “disseminator of the endowment blessing,” to other women. Thus her rejection of plural marriage would have blocked her admittance into the Endowment Council, because she had not obeyed her husband, and therefore prevented other women from entering as well.

“Simultaneously with the endowment and plural marriage, Joseph formalized a third concept. He explained to Emma that husbands and wives could be married, “sealed,” forever by proper priesthood authority. Couples who had been married in traditional ceremonies were considered to be married for “time,” or until death separated them, but unions made in the new Mormon ceremonies were to last beyond the grave.” “Within the same few weeks, in the spring of 1842, both Hyrum Smith and Emma would accept plural marriage[26].”

The essay fails to include the fact that two of these women, Eliza and Emily Patridge, were young sisters, living/working in their house. “The sisters were an awkward selection because Joseph had already married them two months earlier in March without Emma’s knowledge[27].”  When Emma finally approved, he didn’t want her to know he had already married them, so he remarried them on May 23, 1843, in a pretend ceremony[28]. “Emily said that “to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed….[Emma] had her feelings, and so we thought there was no use in saying anything about it so long as she had chosen us herself[29]”

“Emma had made the sacrifice; and within five days she had her reward. On a cold rainy day, May 28, 1843, Emma was sealed to Joseph for “time and all eternity” On this same day she was the first woman admitted to the Prayer Circle. Joseph would initiate her into the endowment sometime before the early autumn of that year[30]. Shortly thereafter she changed her mind about Eliza and Emily, and tried to monitor their whereabouts in the house when Joseph was home. “Emma was not successful in keeping Joseph from meeting with his wives. Emily Patridge would one day testify under oath that she “roomed” with Joseph on the night of their second marriage to him while Emma, she believed, was in the house at the time. She also testified that she had “slept with him” between her first marriage and the second ceremony[31].

It wasn’t “likely” that Emma didn’t know of the remaining marriages ….we know she didn’t know. There are numerous examples of this. One of those involved her best friend, Eliza Snow, who married Joseph on June 29, 1842 for time and eternity. Unaware of this marriage, Emma invited Eliza to live with them and she taught the Smith Family School. Records indicate that in February of 1843, Emma was stunned to discover this relationship, and a possible physical altercation took place. There are repeated incidents where Joseph hid what he was doing and Emma was suspicious and upset. It leaves out the details about how these hidden marriages were performed, the circumstances surrounding Joseph’s proposals and the experiences of these girls/women. The essay doesn’t include all of wives names[32] or mention them in the footnotes. The focus is on Joseph. The essay shares quotes from three of them.

The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage. Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife “receive not this law”—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be “exempt from the law of Sarah,” presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women. After Emma opposed plural marriage, Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. He may have thought Emma’s rejection of plural marriage exempted him from the law of Sarah. Her decision to “receive not this law” permitted him to marry additional wives without her consent. Because of Joseph’s early death and Emma’s decision to remain in Nauvoo and not discuss plural marriage after the Church moved west, many aspects of their story remain known only to the two of them.

This comes from D&C 132, which was added in 1876, years after Joseph engaged in polygamy. Footnote 43 says: see also Genesis 16: 1-3 which doesn’t seem to match at all. Emma was able to conceive and bear children. So were many of these other first wives. Why is this story being used to come up with a law that tells men they can take additional wives even if they don’t approve? It has a backdoor written right into the law so why even ask? Are we really supposed to accept this law comes from a God who loves his daughters? How are we supposed to feel that it’s still included in our scriptures? What precedent and message does this send to the women in the church?

There may be many aspects, of Joseph and Emma’s story, that remain known only to them. However, there are also numerous examples of how Emma felt about polygamy.

Difficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed “raise up seed” unto God. A substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage.

In Jacob 2:30 it says “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” The essay points out that a substantial number of today’s members have descended through polygamy. How exactly does this fit with the earlier attempts at clarifying when Joseph had sex and with what wives? Was Joseph following the purpose as God revealed it? If not, why the marriages? Why the secrecy, the denials and the pain for Emma and other wives? Why the endless ongoing discussions about whether Joseph had sexual relations with his wives?

Church members no longer practice plural marriage. Consistent with Joseph Smith’s teachings, the Church permits a man whose wife has died to be sealed to another woman when he remarries. Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married. The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to trust in our wise Heavenly Father, who loves His children and does all things for their growth and salvation

The essay clearly doesn’t back away from the doctrine of polygamy. In fact, it reiterates that in the temple plural sealings have been and continue to happen. The current sealing policy is that men and women can be sealed to all spouses to whom they were legally married in life, after all parties are dead. The conclusion is that the church continues to practice both polygamy and polyandry for the next life. The essay tries to soften that by saying the precise nature of these relationships is not known and remind members to trust in Heavenly Father to sort it all out.



[1] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy History, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, FairMormon, George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, The Joseph Smith Papers, Orson F. Whitney, William Clayton’s Journal, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, BYU Studies, Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling

[2] Phelps to Brigham Young, LDS archives, 12 Aug. 1861

[3] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 4-6

[4] Jacob 2:30

[5] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 6

[6] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 29

[8] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 28, see also Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 323

[9] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 324

[11] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 25

[12] D&C Section 110: 13-16

[13] Brian Hales website: – he cites the source as Document #10, Andrew Jenson Papers, Box 49, fd. 16.

[15] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 25

[16] Willard Richards, Joseph Smith Diary, May 26, 1844

[17] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 171

[18] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 288-305, 473-485

[19] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 333-339

[20] Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 481–487

[21] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 79-80

[22] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 80-81

[23] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 84

[24] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 466-67

[25] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 228-253

[26] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 140

[27] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 494, see also Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 143-144

[28] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 313-314, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma p. 132-134

[29] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 143

[30] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 143

[31] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 144

[32] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Conferences Edition!

This past week there were a lot of great discussion of the sessions of two recent LDS-interest discussion conferences: Sunstone and FAIR. In particular, I think Andrew S really nailed the key problem with Ty Mansfield’s deconstruction of gay identity:

deconstruction goes all the way down. I’d be more OK if Ty’s discussion weren’t so focused on the social situatedness of homosexuality without saying anything at all about heterosexuality.

Because here’s the deal — heterosexuality is also a construct.

And even more importantly, the reason sexualities are constructs is because they are built on a substrate of gender and sex — which are also constructs.

The FAIR conference sounds like it was a barrel of laughs. I particularly liked this bit:

The Book of Abraham has been a blessing for some, a curse for others, and a puzzlement for all. The layers of issues are as thick as a large onion, and just as painful to peel.

*Cough* if you want to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that is…

At Sunstone, J-G W gave the The Pillars of My Faith session, and also wrote a piece on people’s expectations about God:

Everyone (including folks who don’t actually believe in God at all) has some idea about what God is about, what God has done, does, and will do, what God is capable of and what God is incapable of. I have been/am/will be guilty of this as much as anybody else.

As far as the atheists are concerned, I think J-G W’s point is missing some key nuance. Let me quote a representative atheist article from this week (which I heartily agree with):

We are typically successful in finding that unity, and then the human mind tries to call it God, bringing in all the cultural baggage that that word carries. It’s not helpful. It obscures more than it enlightens. We should reject the whole notion of “god” because it fails to clarify.

That said, the atheists earned some criticism recently as Richard Dawkins yet again made an ass of himself on Twitter, throwing the online atheist community into a mess of chaotic bickering. (It must be awesome to be so popular that people continue to take your tweets seriously after how many of these incidents…?)

In church watch, the CoJCoL-dS is building more apartment buildings. A religion professor at BYUI was unwelcomed to the point of resignation (apparently for being over-qualified). Plus there’s more discussion of the prophet’s dementia. In history, here’s an interesting new tidbit about the varying first vision accounts, one on Mormon improvement in Hebrew, and one on Mormons and conspiracy theories. And the family church is still at odds with actual families.

This week’s Old Testament lesson was an interesting personal perspective on the temple. Plus, there was a conversation about a discussion.

In fun, Heavenly Father is such a tease and correcting Moroni’s grammar.

In random life stuff, Uomo Nuovo made a connection on Castro Street, Roger Hansen is making swing-sets in Peru and Ecuador, Froggey photographed glass art, Knotty is adjusting to life in Germany, and come see what Heather is up to.

Were any of you at either of these conferences? Anything interesting to report?

The trouble with answering questions

Runtu has added some new insights in the continuing discussion of LDS Doubt in the NY Times:

It seems the church has learned at least a few things from the rescue experience. First and foremost, don’t send anyone official out to discuss the issues. Instead, they’ve sent out (or at least haven’t objected to) Richard Bushman and Terryl and Fiona Givens to hold meetings with doubting members. I have tremendous respect for Richard Bushman, who in my view epitomizes the faithful historian, acknowledging the problems but finding reasons to believe. The Givenses, however, don’t add much to the conversation, in my view, as they seem to approach Mormonism from a sort of aesthetic point of view, admiring Joseph Smith’s creativity and seeing it as evidence of his prophetic calling. And as others have pointed out, Terryl Givens is every bit as dismissive of the problematic as anyone else. You really can’t resolve someone’s problems if you refuse to acknowledge that they are problems, and that is why I don’t think the Bushman/Givens meetings will bear much fruit for the LDS church.

I think Runtu is right that the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS probably regret sending church authorities to give official answers. Simon Southerton (and others) noticed pretty quickly that this means that the FAIR/FARMS responses are the official church responses, despite many disclaimers to the contrary.

But I don’t agree 100% with Runtu’s claims that “admiring Joseph Smith’s creativity and seeing it as evidence of his prophetic calling” is necessarily unsatisfying. Yes, it’s counterproductive to refuse to acknowledge the existence of problems, but different people find different answers satisfying. A certain percentage of Mormons will say “I know that Joseph Smith correctly translated the writings of Abraham from Egyptian papyri and that there really were horses in the Americas during Book of Mormon times, and any evidence and arguments you show me to the contrary are simply wrong.” Other people prefer to confront the issues with FAIR/FARMS-style apologetic responses. Yet others are totally OK with believing that Joseph Smith had a prophetic calling even if he made it all up.

The problem comes about when one of your only “official” doctrines is that you have living, breathing leaders who are capable of talking with both humans and with God. There are all these questions that should have answers, like: “How many Heavenly Mothers are there?” Even if you insist that the CoJCoL-dS shouldn’t be required to answer such questions, logic would suggest that this question should have some kind of correct response that doesn’t vary depending on who’s asking. But any “official” response the leaders might give would alienate a portion of their audience.

Wouldn’t it be convenient not to have to give an “official” response at all?

If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’d like to do the usual and compare to the Jewish model. For a lot of questions, it wouldn’t even make sense to say there is an “official” Jewish answer. Yes, there are the discussions in the Talmud, but the people who wrote it are dead, and there is no one “official” organization that regulates all the synagogues and excommunicates all of the heretical ones. So people can pick whichever response they are most comfortable with when it comes to various theological questions, and pick a branch accordingly, and they can all believe that the other branches of Judaism are wrong on this or that question — but that they’re all Jewish, and there’s no particular reason to expect that they would all agree.

It can be similar with Mormonism when people are willing to acknowledge the various branches of the Restoration tradition. But the one conclusion that the CoJCoL-dS most wants to reject is that its leaders don’t have a monopoly on the right answers.

Trouble is, that leaves people wondering what those answers are, and why the prophets, seers, and revelators won’t answer them.

A key that will never rust – appears a bit rusty upon closer inspection

One of the ways church members are encouraged to know and avoid apostasy is by following the majority of the twelve apostles. This is stated over and over in church periodicals via a quote by Joseph Smith:

“I will give you a key that will never rust — if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.”

All of them cite each other down to a root source in: “Young Woman’s Journal, XVII (December 1906), pp. 542-543.”

This source is a statement by William G. Nelson. Now, please tell me who William G. Nelson was and why what he claims the prophet said or did not say should have any bearing on the broad membership of the church? Anyone? Anyone?

Never mind that this particular journal doesn’t seem to exist in the archives available to the public[1](September is the last one available for 1906, nothing published in December from what I can find, but maybe it’s just locked up in an archive somewhere), the focus should be that this quote comes from 1906. That’s 54 years after the death of Joseph Smith, with no contemporary sources WHATSOEVER.

There is one other quote, also in a journal for children: ““I heard the Prophet Joseph say he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters, nor would he allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy.” (Improvement Era 5 (January 1902): 202.”

That’s 1902. It took 50+ years for both of these quotes to surface, and they surface about the same time when the reorganized church made it’s bid to be the true church on earth. That hardly takes a scientist or a historian to see that these are more likely fabrications to support the LDS’s position than actual historical recollections.

50+ years! That’s after Brigham has been in charge and died. That’s after John Taylor. We’re talking about people who have been following and deciding on apostles as the way to go for half a century suddenly making a quote, pretty much out of no-where, to support their previously-held positions.

Yet here it stands in the following Church approved sources:

Beware the bitter fruits of apostasy (beware the fruits of hypocracy probably would have been a better subject for members[2]

James E. Faust Talk[3]

Joseph Smith Manual lesson on Apostasy mentions it.

2009 reprinting of the 1994 article[4]

Family counseling manual about deception… ouch![5]

2009 relief society manual on apostasy[6]

It’s time for apologists to turn their methods inwardly and cleans the inner vessel. To really look at their own church’s methods and how shoddy their research and efforts are and to demand as much accuracy, truthful reporting, and well sourced foot notes as they demand of the non-member, the exmormon and the anti-mormon.

The full quote:

“In one meeting I heard him say: ‘I will give you a key that will never rust,—if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.”

Yes, if the apostles turn away from the records of the church, hide them in vaults, ignore them, have apologists cover over their history on their behalf, etc… well I’ll let you figure out the rest.

Mithryn blogs at Exploring Mormonism

FARMS and me!

Many of you no doubt recall that there was a recent shake-up in the Mormon Apologetics community. I don’t have all the details (mostly because I don’t find apologetics to be a terribly interesting topic), but in a nutshell, it was this:

The Maxwell Institute (which is perhaps? affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was publishing an apologetics journal in conjunction with the Mormon Apologetics organization FARMS. The FARMS guys have something of a reputation for using personal attacks as one of their favorite debate strategies (see here for example). An extensive piece criticizing John Dehlin was axed from their journal at the last minute before press time, and, shortly after that, the Maxwell Institute decided to clean house — and fired the FARMS guys (here are some links to more discussion and details about the incident).

Anyway, apparently the FARMS guys regrouped and formed a new journal: The Mormon Interpreter. And guess who they decided to go after in their inaugural issue? Me!! (Among other people, of course.)

Now, it’s probably undignified of me to acknowledge and respond to this piece, but to hell with dignity. The piece is actually kind of funny, and as I said at Sunstone I don’t want to take myself too seriously. For reference, the Mormon Interpreter article is a response to Free Inquiry‘s Mormon issue from last year. My article from that issue was posted here. Thanks also to this Mormon Discussions thread for further information about the Mormon Interpreter article (notably for pointing out that a version of the same article was published in another venue shortly after the issue of Free Inquiry came out last year). And thanks to Badger for calling the article to my attention.

Let’s start at the top, with the title: “Atheist Piety: A Religion of Dogmatic Dubiety,” by Louis C. Midgley. As usual, they try to zing the atheists by calling atheism a religion. If that’s the best (or worst) epithet you can come up with dismiss atheism, then atheism has already won. Moving on:

Ms. Hanson proclaims that she is an atheist but grew up Mormon (p. 40). She can presumably translate between [the] two communities (p. 40). Why? Her once having been LDS makes her, she imagines, sort of bilingual. She is ready and willing, she claims, to correct those who believe the usual stereotypes about atheists because she knows that they are not really amoral nihilists, or whatever. She can, she claims, also correct mistakes that atheists make about the faith of Latter-day Saints. She does these things sometimes on the Bloggernacle (network of faithful-Mormon blogs).

OK, true enough so far. Though I’ve recently learned that there are non-Bloggernacle-affiliated faithful Mormon blogging networks.

She pictures herself as a mild mannered mom who posts up a storm on the Internet promoting what she calls the middle ground where nice, tactful atheism can occur (p. 41).

Sadly, this is not as true as I would like it to be. I really don’t “post up a storm on the Internet” anymore. I wish I did have more time to blog like I used to back in the early days of my blog. Now — as you guys can attest — it seems like every other post is me apologizing for not making any progress on Mormon Alumni Association books. I’d rather be actually making progress than apologizing, but between my job and my kids and my other hobbies, it’s hard. My kids are getting a little older and more independent though, and I’m hoping to ramp up my Internet activities again over the next few years.

Her blogsMain Street Plaza and Letters from a Broadstrike me as a bit raunchy and as lacking intellectual content.

As for the “raunchy” part, again I have to admit that it’s not as true as I’d like it to be. I enjoy writing about sex, but here’s my problem: I’m happily, monogamously married, and have been for more than a decade. My husband has asked me to respect his privacy by not discussing our sex life on the Internet (a request I find totally reasonable) — but this leaves me short on material. If you check out the sexuality tag on my blog, you’ll see that the raunchiest articles are many years old — except for my Vagina Testimony, which was posted after the Mormon Interpreter article was written. (And as I said to my Sunstone friends, I was really happy to be invited to write that piece which kind of sums up what I’ve been saying about sexuality and Mormonism since the beginning of my blog.)

As for the claim that my blogs are “lacking intellectual content” — well, let me quote this response from Bob Loblaw on the Mormon Discussion thread:

Her blog is a personal blog without pretensions to “intellectual content,” though her insightful posts are a hell of a lot more intellectually solid that Midgley’s s****y post.

Neither my personal blog nor “Main Street Plaza” are intended to be academic journals. (I probably don’t have to tell anyone here, but) MSP is mostly conversation about Mormon-interest topics, and my personal blog is about me posting random thoughts and stuff about my life. That said, I do discuss serious topics, and I hope I have some interesting insights to offer. Maybe instead of going for the sex posts, you might look at my series on A future for everyone’s favorite species?, or tags like economics, philosophy, racism, etc. (But whatever you do, avoid the Minecraft, Legos, Star Trek tags. 😉 )

That sentence has a footnote:

For example, it really is ludicrous for Hanson to describe her teenage efforts to seduce boys or to describe what she claims to have managed in the library at BYU. See, including the comments for one of many similar examples of childish rubbish.

I mentioned — but didn’t actually describe — my teenage efforts to seduce boys (and my BYU library story), but I could have described them. My personal blog is intended to be about my life, including lots of memoirs.

As Doctor Scratch of Mormon Discussions pointed out, it’s perhaps a little pervy of this guy to have tracked down sex-in-the-BYU-library story (which — at the time the Mormon Interpreter article was first written — was only told in the comments section of some really old posts deep in the archives of my blog).

However, I suspect the BYU library reference was less a question of perviness and more a question of the fact that painting a woman as a slut is a way to discredit her, especially to a Mormon audience. But, as I explained in my Vagina Testimony, one of my goals is to show that a woman can be normal, healthy, happy — even interesting! — and also be sexy. So go ahead and bring up the BYU library story or my sex on the first date post all you want.

Then I noticed that there was an earlier footnote about me:

Hanson is an atheist housewife who blogs from Zurich, Switzerland (at Letters from a Broad and Main Street Plaza). She self-published in 2006 a novel entitled ExMormon. The issue of Free Inquiry under review has a half-page advertisement for her novel and one of her blogs (p. 24) in which she asks others to join her in what she calls the Mormon Alumni Association: Gone for Good.

Mostly true, except… I’m not a housewife. Sheesh, they can do enough sleuthing on my blog to find the sexy stuff, but not quite enough to discover my occupation. Allow me to direct you to the blog tag/category called my real job. Then there’s this:

Hanson needs a sense of solidarity with Latter-day Saints, even though her own nice atheist community (p. 41) should take care of her emotional needs by providing her with friends, a sense of [Page 135]meaning, and an identity.

This is the bit that most makes me go “WTF?”

Midgley seems to be implying that I’m some sort of lonely, emotionally-needy person who clings to the faithful Mormon community due to some inadequacy in the atheist community. Not only is that not true, but there’s really nothing in my article to suggest it. Allow me to explain that the point of the article was to convince atheists of the value of engaging in constructive dialog about religion. You can go read my whole article, but let me just quote the conclusion to give you the idea of what my article is like:

Atheists who were raised in other religions can form the same sorts of bridges with their own communities. I encourage them to do so. It makes sense that within the atheist community secular Jews should take the lead when discussing Israel, and people raised Muslim should take the lead in discussions about problems in Muslim countries, for example. They have added perspective on the subject, plus they can be trusted not to be biased by racism against their group nor by believing that their group is doing Gods will. Being raised in religion isnt better or worse than being raised without it. But I believe that those of us who were raised in religious communities have a special role to play, and we should step up and play it.

Then Midgley says:

The fact is, however, that both substance and civility are in rather short supply on lists, boards, and blogs, where the most violent and uninformed are free to opine up a storm. And this goes, unfortunately, for both Latter-day Saints as well as their critics.

Yes, exactly — that’s the challenge. There is tremendous polarization between the members of the church and the former members. And this polarization needlessly tears apart families and friendships. It is not at all an easy task to try to have any kind of civil dialog across belief lines. Yet, some things that are hard are worth doing.

I have a hard time believing that Midgely finds the polarization unfortunate. I wrote an article encouraging atheists to build bridges of constructive dialog with their former faith community, and Midgley responds to this by calling my personal blog “childish rubbish.” I can’t help but read that as meaning that he’s in favor of the polarization.

Then I worry that maybe I’m encouraging polarization myself by calling more attention to his article. But this isn’t an “us vs. them” post because I am not at all suggesting that his article is typical of faithful Mormon tactics. Quite the contrary, I think most faithful Mormons would agree with me that his posting gratuitous insults in response to my article is both unhelpful and uncalled-for.

Then he says:

Some of Hansons remarks, however, actually almost seem to address Tom Flynns desires for an answer to the question of how atheists and Latter-day Saints can have something to say to one another (p. 21), presumably in addition to bashing each other on blogs.

Yes. My remarks “actually almost seem to address the question” of how atheists and believers can have something to say to one another because that was one of the main topics of my article. If he would replace “in addition to bashing each other on blogs” with “instead of bashing each other on blogs” then I do believe that he read my article and mostly understood it.

Unfortunately, she does not address the two questionsWhy did Mormonism grow? and Why does it endure?that constitute the subtitle of Tom Flynns introduction.

Right, because those were not the topic of my article.

Actually, I didn’t read Tom Flynns introduction (nor any of the other pieces) until I received my print copy of the magazine. Tom Flynn didn’t tell me to answer any particular questions — he simply contacted me to tell me that the magazine Free Inquiry was doing a special issue on Mormonism and asked me to contribute an article. So I submitted an article that I thought would be interesting and relevant. (After it was accepted, I also placed the ad mentioned above for my book and for Main Street Plaza.)

That said, I agree that the questions of what’s interesting and special about Mormonism, and what are the reasons for its growth/attrition, are very interesting topics. We discuss them frequently here on Main Street Plaza.

Anyway, I’m glad to have a new excuse to discuss civil discourse and building bridges of understanding with current members of our former faith. It’s a challenge, but I don’t think it’s a lost cause. KThxBi. 😀

Revisionism: The Sin (and Doctrine) of the Ages

About 15 months ago, I published a pieceon MSP, the first of series of posts exploring issues related to mixed-orientation marriages, that generated a number of comments by someone who identified himself as An Inner Light. I subsequently found out that this person is Joshua Johanson, a youngish Mormon who is married to a woman but admits publicly and loudly that he has same-sex attraction (SSA).

What greatly disturbed me at the time about Johansons comments to my piece was what I viewed as his apologetic historical revisionism of the teachings of the LDS Church concerning homosexuality in the 70s and 80s, particularly the teachings of Spencer W. Kimball and Boyd K. Packer. Johansons position, briefly stated, was that Church leaders have never condemned homosexuality per se (i.e., sexual orientation), only the practice of engaging in lustful homosexual sex acts. He argued that Kimballs teachings as well as Packers infamous speeches in the late 70s (as well as his October 2010 address) were misinterpreted by the men and women who heard and read his remarks.

The following are a couple of choice excerpts from his comments:

When [President Spencer W.] Kimball said homosexuality can be overcome in a few months, he wasnt talking about becoming straight because that concept didnt exist back then. He was talking about not having gay sex. People say that the churchs position has changed because the vocabulary has changed, not because the doctrine has changed.

[T]here are people who misinterpreted Kimball back then just as the news reports show people misinterpreted Packer now. I have no doubt that many people, including many bishops counseling gay men to get married, misinterpret many comments.

At the time, I took strong exception to his position, because to me it was revisionism, plain and simple. To me, Johanson in the process of proving (mainly to himself) that the Churchs position on homosexuality has never changed; it was just misunderstood was minimizing what for generations of Mormon men were deeply significant statements and teachings teachings that altered their lives and conveyed that to have same-sex attractions was sinful, dirty and (to use Packers recent phrase) impure and unnatural.

As I commented at that time, to advance a theory that the Church didnt really teach what it did in fact teach, that it was all semantics, minimized the trauma that countless men went through and are still feeling the effects of. It relieved the Church of responsibility for what it did, and it relieved the modern thinking member of the Church of responsibility for contemplating WHY the doctrine has changed so significantly over the past few decades.

I didnt think much more about Johanson until a little over a week ago, when I read that he had make a presentation at the recent annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) held in the Salt Lake area. I found a transcript of his remarks online, entitled Navigating the Labyrinth of Homosexual Desire (note not Homosexuality, but Desire) and saw that he was repeating and amplifying comments that he had made over a year ago.

[M]any people, Johanson wrote, fault President Kimball for saying homosexuality can be changed. Understanding that homosexuality has multiple meanings, we can look at the context and determine he was referring to homosexual behavior. Take this quote for example about homosexuality: If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery. The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. He refers to homosexuality as both a practice and a sex act, not as an attraction.

After asserting that thousands of people misinterpreted Elder Packers comments in his 2010 October conference address, Johanson writes: In previous statements, Packer had made it clear that simply having same-sex attraction is not a sin. Why would he change now? This is what Kimball taught, and this is what the Church teaches now. There hasnt been a major change in doctrine like some people suggest.

In a sense, I dont care what Johanson believes or says (and I am fully aware that his views do not necessarily represent the views of current leaders of the Church). But his revisionism deliberately and consciously ignores the deeply painful and traumatic experiences of thousands of Latter-day Saint men and women who struggled with same-sex attraction, who listened to leaders such as Kimball and Packer and saw themselves as virtually less than human in the secret chambers of their own hearts. For Johanson to dismiss these experiences as misunderstandings and to in effect blame these persons for their own misunderstandings this is insufferable.

A few months ago, I received an email from a guy I know who is about my age, is married (to a woman) and is gay. We have corresponded for well over a year. By way of background, he was raised in the Church, but knew he was gay. He came out for a number of years (or, as many might put it, lived the gay lifestyle), but then met a woman with whom he felt he could make a life and live the Plan of Happiness (i.e., be a devout heterosexual Mormon). They got married and had children. Now, however, though he loves his wife, he feels deeply conflicted.

I was cleaning out some old magazines and books, he wrote, when I came across an issue of the Ensign dated November 1980 (conference issue). On page 94 there is an article by President Spencer W. Kimball entitled “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality.” I want to quote some parts.

He then went on to quote extracts of President Kimballs address, including a quote that Johanson used in his FAIR presentation:

The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity. If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery [C]ontrary to the belief and statement of many people, this sin, like fornication, is overcomable and forgivable, but again, only upon a deep and abiding repentance, which means total abandonment and complete transformation of thought and act The fact that some governments and some churches and numerous corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice. This heinous homosexual sin is of the ages I am pressed to speak of it boldly so that no youth in the Church will ever have any question in his mind as to the illicit and diabolical nature of this perverse program God made me that way, some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. I cant help it, they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be that way?

My friend then went on to describe the visceral, unexpected reaction he had upon reading Kimballs words:

This makes me sick and I started shaking when I read it again for the first time in many years. Is it any wonder so many of us fought with ourselves for so long? Is it any wonder we put on the mask and thought if we acted the way we were told to that eventually we could be cured? If the church really wanted to change, really wanted to heal wounds, then they would recant these types of messages and extend an olive branch to the downtrodden. Instead we just get a general love the sinner but not the sin. Or the equally loving hey, you’re OK just they way you are, just don’t act on it. It makes me realize how hard I fought, and why I fought. I wanted to please the prophet, my prophet. In the end I was just betrayed. I’m sorry could go a long way towards healing old wounds, but it won’t happen.

When I wrote this friend a week ago to tell him about Johansons FAIR presentation, he responded:

[This] almost brings me to tears, and makes me angry as hell. To be marginalized as though none of this ever happened, or that if it did happen it was just misunderstood. My god what are they thinking?! It is so frustrating to always come back to the same place. It is always my (our) fault. Not only was it my fault when I was fighting being gay, it is now my fault again because I misunderstood what the prophets were saying! Never ever did I hear one word about how it was ok to be attracted to men. There was never a distinction between feelings and actions. I think maybe that was one reason it was relatively easy to act out when I was younger. I was already evil and broken by having those feelings, so having a sexual encounter was really no different.

I am quite confident that hundreds, if not thousands, of men could give similar testimonies and share similar reactions concerning this revisionist, apologetic view of the Churchs teachings regarding homosexuality that affected men not only of my generation, but have continued to impact men down to the present day. I have blogged here about my own contemporary reaction of Kimballs words, and testimony that the effects were not limited to my generation is evidenced by the following comment left on my blog:

I went to the MTC in 2004. I spoke of my gay feelings with a leader. I was then given and required to read The Miracle of Forgiveness.” That book is explicit and clear on how the church and its leaders thought about homosexuality. It made me feel even more hopeless and dirty. I knew God would never help me as long as I was gay. So I vowed to serve my mission on my own- without God’s help, to prove to him that I was worthy of the miracle of being cured. Anytime something went wrong, I assumed it was my fault for being gay. Not that I was acting on it at all… just because I knew that God knew. In Mormonism, I could never accept what I could not change- I am Gay.

People say that the Miracle of Forgiveness has been pulled by the church and no longer used. That Kimball admitted to the over-the-top harshness of his book on his deathbed. They were saying this back when I went to the MTC. The truth is, they were still using it as required reading for anyone with gay feelings. Why? No matter how it is reworded to sound more politically correct, this is the view the church has accepted for a long long time. Being gay is like being a murderer. It is better that a gay man never had been born. That’s what I believed about myself- even as I went about Korea trying to teach the gospel I thought I loved.

As offensive as is the revisionism, as maddening as it is to be accused now of having misinterpreted the words of the leaders of the Church, perhaps the most damaging aspect of the type of apologetics advocated by Johanson and his ilk (such as FAIR) is the likely effect that this has now today on young gay men and women and on their parents and family members.

I dont doubt that a number of parents of LDS youth who are struggling with same-sex attraction were either present at the FAIR conference or have read Johansons comments, and the take-away messages are: the Church has never changed its position on homosexuality; it is ok to experience same-sex attraction, but this doesnt mean that your son or daughter is gay or lesbian (which terms, in any event, should never ever be used as nouns); these feelings of attraction dont say anything about your son or daughters innate sexuality; God doesnt have homosexual sons and daughters; feelings of attraction (or affection or love) to members of your own gender can and should be ignored or overcome and treated as sin.

The problem with these take-aways is that they are all lies at worst, gross misrepresentations at best. The true take-away: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

two interesting news items – Mormon’s Secret and Maxwell Institute shake up

Not sure if you’ve heard, but all you ex-mo’s out there missing your “super sexy” garments can now get them without the requisite temple recommend. has recreated them, symbols included. I’m tempted to buy some of these for my wife for role-playing:

(I kid, of course. Nothing sexy about these, despite the picture. And my wife hated garments.)

Second news item: Everyone’s favorite apologist to hate – Daniel Peterson – has been given the ax. Apparently his ad hominem attacks went too far when he was involved with a 100-page tirade against John Dehlin. Dehlin, who has, amazingly, managed to stay on the border of Mormonism longer than I ever would have imagined possible, has friends in high places. One phone call later and Daniel Peterson was out the door on his keister as editor of The Mormon Studies Review. So long, Daniel. Can’t say we’ll miss you!

Here’s to the Hard Cases

When I was invited on to post at Main Street Plaza, I was asked to explain why it is I go to the trouble, as a committed member of the LDS Church, to debate with those who are hostile to the LDS Church in some way. This article is a part of my answer to that question.


In the late summer 1995 I was transferred to the port city of Sasebo in southern Japan. It would be the fourth city Id lived in as a missionary in Japan, and would bring me into the last quarter of my time in that country. It was probably the largest city Id served in to-date and, unlike my previous assignments, actually had a real dedicated LDS Church building, and not just rented space.

After Id been shuttled from the train station to our ground level apartment in an alley off an open-air fish market, been lectured by a fussy neighbor lady about leaving her yappy dog alone (apparently the previous missionaries had shot the obnoxious little runt with contraband airsoft pistols), and unpacked, I hopped on a spare bike and followed my three fellow missionaries the two or three miles to the Church building for the free English classes missionaries in my mission all provided at that time.

The date our transfers usually took place, and the way our weekly schedules were set up, Wednesday English classes were usually the first thing a transferring missionary did upon arriving in a new area. It was a good way to get introduced to all the regulars in the area, member and non-member alike. Id been through the routine of twice-weekly English classes for a year and a half now, and wasnt really nervous about it anymore. I was actually pretty good at teaching English, and my classes were always well-attended. It was one of my favorite parts of the week. Besides, first class, you could always punt to introductions and idle chit-chat.

It was here I met Kumi. She was one of the regulars I mentioned. Nice girl – in her early twenties. Not a member of the LDS Church, and showing no sign of becoming one any time soon, and quite conversant in English. Every missionary free-English program had a core of these types of people. People who highly valued either the native English pronunciation practice (which was hard to come by in Japan), or socializing with the missionaries, but were dead-set against converting, despite the efforts of numerous missionaries. The more results-oriented missionaries tended to ignore them, or keep things on the level of restrained friendliness at best. Just about all missionaries tended to write them off as hopeless cases as far as proselyting was concerned.

For myself though, I always liked these types and tended to gravitate to them. So it was probably natural that Kumi and I would hit it off. She was a friendly, understated person with a wry sense of humor, and seemed to enjoy my own perverse approach to life. I saw her regularly at both our Wednesday and Saturday classes, and she usually attended the activities we held after class as well.

I made a few missionary overtures toward her early on and was politely rebuffed. At a certain point, she agreed to have a chat about religion in the chapel after class with me and a church member who was a friend of hers. But she set down some ground rules: I wasnt allowed to talk about my own message unless asked, and she would tell me about HER own beliefs. I was dealing with a pro here, whod been through the song and dance before. Realizing it was probably the only way Id be able to discuss her spiritual life at all, I readily agreed.

Cant say it led to much progress. Her life-philosophy seemed to be a sort of secular Unitarian approach. Sort of an all roads lead to Mount Fuji version of spirituality.

A Christian might taste the apple and say Its sweet she told me. A Jew might taste it and say Its sour. A Muslim might say Its bitter. And a Buddhist might say It has no taste. She looked at me evenly But the apple is the apple.

I nodded, but didnt respond. Id agreed not to argue and besides, Id dealt with hard cases enough to know better anyway.

The other missionaries assured me that Kumi and the others in the advanced class were not the place to devote my efforts. She was not likely to convert. I agreed with them, but it didnt make much difference to me. I wasnt that good at proselyting for new acquaintances mainly due to my fear of approaching absolute strangers. So I had time on my hands. My companion was native Japanese and didnt know a lick of English, nor did he wish to. He spent most of his time with the other Japanese senior companion in the apartment whom he got along with well. This left me and the other American junior companion together more than with our own companions. We also had the excuse of working with the nearby US military base and the American branch of LDS members who met in the same church building.

I enjoyed my time in Sasebo. I spent most of my time on successfully re-building member-missionary relations that the previous set of missionaries had unceremoniously knocked over (it took us almost a month to get to the point where the Relief Society President would even smile at us), reactivating inactive members, service projects (including English classes), and. Well. The hard cases.

Kumi was one of my favorites. I optimistically put her down as an investigator in my missionary log and spent a good deal of time thinking how best to bring her around. Mostly this involved socializing in a non-threatening way. I wasnt manipulative or anything. She was my friend, and as such, I naturally wished to share the things that were important to me with her.

Two months passed and things changed. My other companion had transferred, Id been assigned a co-senior companion who was full Japanese, no English-speaking ability, and was deaf as well. He and I had a rough go of it which was probably mostly my fault. Furthermore, our Japanese District Leader missionary had (appropriately) decided to end the status quo of racial separation that was happening in our missionary apartment. A decision that didnt bother me much, since me and the new American missionary who’d just transferred in really did not see eye to eye at all.

Naturally, I grew more and more concerned for and involved in my friends outside the apartment. Life was good in general. I had warm relations with the local members and was well liked. We were getting regular reactivations from inactives (which probably accounted for a lot of the smiles I was getting Sunday), my Japanese was growing by leaps and bounds due to the only guy in my apartment I really liked being the Japanese District Leader (who had absolutely zero interest in speaking English), and I was spending a lot of time socializing with our stable investigators.

As I was thinking more about these people and less about my own little missionary world, I wanted to see something happen with them spiritually. Especially Kumi. I started thinking long about how to bridge that last gap and bring her into being Mormon something vital to my identity, which I naturally wanted to share. We were really good friends, but something needed to happen.

I decided to go for the direct approach and asked her if she could meet me and my companion in the park to talk. She paused, looked at me knowingly, and sighed a bit, but agreed. She knew exactly what I was up to which was fine by me.

I went with my companion, apologized to him ahead of time, since a lot of the conversation would be half Japanese and half English and I still hadnt learned a lick of sign language (he could read lips, but not English). He was fine with it, more or less.

Honestly, I dont really remember what Kumi and I talked about. I know I asked her if shed be willing to start the lessons with us, pressed her on why it would be a problem, questioned her about how she felt about the whole Mormon thing. I really dont remember the words it was long ago. But I do remember the feelings conveyed. It was awkward. I was sincere, she was not willing to move and felt bad about it. She was obviously feeling bad about turning me down, and I was pushing like it was my last chance at reaching her on this issue which it was. In the end, she got a little teary-eyed and I had to back off. I reassured her it was alright and this wouldnt change anything. Mutual agreement was reached and we went back to where we were.

As we left I asked her to promise me that she wouldnt disappear and stop coming to the English classes and activities once I inevitably left Sasebo. She looked at me a bit mockingly.

You mean so another group of missionaries can have a shot at converting me?

Exactly I responded directly. She laughed and walked off.

I went home with mixed feelings. I was disappointed, but I also felt like Id really done all I could. The issue of faith really did need to be hashed-out between us. There was a feeling of having done the right thing in spite of things not working out. My companion was quiet. I apologized again for sort of leaving him out of the loop. He just remarked you really do care about her and didnt say much else.

I transferred out a few weeks after that. And after three more months in another small town, I went home to the US. Id been dealing with intractable small towns, eternal investigators, hard-nosed English students, and a politely immovable culture for two years, and loved it dearly. It seemed I just had an incurable soft-spot in my heart for the hard cases like Kumi. It hadnt won me any honors my numbers were always abysmal, and the only baptisms I saw were set up by other missionaries. Many of my fellow missionaries thought I was wasting my time. I was even dressed-down publicly in front of 100 missionaries by my Mission President once. But the smiles of friends and local members made up for it.

There is a satisfaction that comes from sharing with those who hold the same interests you do even if the divides seem inseparable. I fought a losing battle every day of my mission in Japan and loved it more than anything Id done up to that point.

So I suppose its not surprising that Ive had a fondness for lost-causes and hard cases ever since. I wouldn’t say that these experiences fully explain where I eventually went with my religion on the Internet, but the rest will have to wait for another post.

Seth R.