Joseph Smith as Peeping Tom

by “Faraday”


This essay hopes to solve a great mystery: the origins of the naked part of the endowment.

The mystery

Most people know that the signs and tokens of the temple come from Freemasons. And the Adam and Eve part comes from the book of Genesis. But where do the washings and anointings come from?

The lost ceremony

In modern temples, “washings and anointings” refer to applying oil to the head, water to the feet, etc. These are like Biblical practices: kings had their heads anointed with oil, and Jesus famously washed his apostles’ feet. And in the 1836 predecessor to the endowment Joseph Smith did just that: washed feet and anointed heads. (The report also refers to “washing” but that seems to refer to washing their hands etc.). But from 1842 there was another part: you had to get stark naked, with a bathtub! Where did that come from?

Let’s get naked!

Most people don’t know that until the early 20th century, the “washing” required you to stand there naked, with no towel to cover you. Then you got in a bath: this was no symbolic dab of water, your whole body got washed! Here is one of those bathtubs, from the Salt Lake temple in 1911, courtesy of Wikipedia.


In modern times the “washing” is fully clothed and takes about a minute. In fact the whole endowment session, including all ordinances, is over in a couple of hours. But in 1842 it took pretty much all day. For example, when you were finally given underwear you were left sitting on your own for an hour or so (in the version described in the Naked Mormonism podcast). And it was a lot weirder: originally there were no washings for the dead: you only did it for yourself. So your first time was your only time. And this was the days before electric lights: this was a time of shadows, real blood oaths backed by real Danites, belief in all kinds of supernatural things. Getting naked and having someone wash you was just icing on the weirdness cake.

Where did the weird naked stuff come from? One clue is that the endowment is all about the priesthood. We are endowed with power to become kings, and kings are strictly male. So in the 1836 version it was all male. But in 1842 Joseph decided that women should be allowed in. And the ceremony should involve getting naked. Coincidence?

Naked endowments and Peeping Toms

It should be obvious to anyone that a naked bathing ceremony is a Peeping Tom’s dream.

“While the temple ceremony encouraged reverence and decorum, Brigham Young complained that church members sometimes peeked through partitions to observe others being endowed.” (source)

The peeping problem is so obvious, that only Peeping Toms would want a naked ceremony. So where did the idea come from?

The naked ceremony cannot be traced to Freemasonry. And it cannot be traced to anointing kings and washing feet: foot washing was about being humble, and head anointing was about becoming a king. But the naked washing was abut being promised health and strength. It’s just a different concept. We might try to trace it to baptism, except baptism is a completely different concept too and a separate ordinance. Just where did the naked bathing ceremony come from?

The revelation on polygamy

The endowment is closely linked to polygamy: it was invented to bind people in oaths of secrecy, and polygamy at the time was the biggest secret of all. So to understand the endowment we need to understand polygamy. The key text is Doctrine and Covenants 132, and the key passage is verse 39:

“David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation”

What was “the case of Uriah and his wife”? David spied on Bathsheba while she was bathing. David then sent her husband Uriah away to war, so that David could have Bathsheba for himself.


You might wonder how David came to be spying on Bathsheba bathing? This was because David owned the palace and temple, the highest buildings in Jerusalem. Everybody else had small houses. The women could bathe on their roofs for privacy. But David, in his office at the top of his castle, could see them all, and choose any he wanted. As long as Nathan approved.

Modern readers often skim over the “Uriah and his wife” passage without realising its significance. In Joseph’s day the Bible was far better known than it is now. The Uriah story was one of the best known stories of all: the fall of king David! A story of drama, sex, violence, reversals, it has everything! When talking polygamy, this is the most famous example of all! And in those almost-Puritan times, when seeing a woman’s ankle could make a man horny, imagine how this story stayed in a man’s mind. King David could stand on his balcony and see every woman, naked! And then choose to bed the ones he wanted! For a man like Joseph, that idea would tend to crowd out all others. Once referenced it would tend to stay in the mind, no matter what else was being discussed.

Modern readers also tend to forget what Joseph means when he said polygamy, or some aspect of it, was a sin. For years Joseph had been saying “spiritual wifery” was a sin while practising “celestial marriage.” To outsiders they look like exactly the same thing. But Joseph had to reassure his followers that he would never do anything like that. Until he was found out of course. So when Joseph says the Uriah’s wife episode was a terrible sin, that does not mean he would not do it. It just means it was on his mind, and he wanted to reassure followers that he would never spy on their wives in their baths. Oh no sir. Definitely not. Meanwhile, Joseph was planning a new ceremony that involved naked wives and bathtubs…

In the revelation Joseph says this was the only time David sinned. Why was it a sin? 2 Samuel 12 explains:

“The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. ‘Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.’ David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.'”

Note the analogy with the traveler and the rich and poor man. The sin was not in taking the lamb, but in being an asshole about it. In ancient times it was good to give your very best to a weary traveler. Clearly this lamb was the best, so yes, the rich man should have taken it. But he should have made a deal with the poor man: explained the situation and offered him ten sheep in return.

Joseph learned from David’s mistake. Joseph did not simply take women by force, like a rapist. The endowment was designed to first get people totally on board with whatever Joseph needed, and to promise them eternal riches in return. Then if people disobey and need to have their throats slit it’s their own choice. The endowment solves the Uriah problem.

I wonder if Joseph saw other parallels between himself and David. The previous year Joseph had sent Orson Hyde away on a mission so he could marry Orson’s wife. And the new endowment ceremony threatened death to any followers who did not accept Joseph’s way. And Joseph previously created the Danites, showing that he was serious about the death threats.

Finally, note that only a prophet (like Nathan) could decide which wives were justified and which were sinful. Luckily, Joseph was himself the prophet. Even luckier, Joseph was also the king. Well, technically the mayor of Nauvoo, but on 11 April 1844 the Council of Fifty declared him “our Prophet, Priest & King.” So if Joseph the king saw a woman and wanted her, it was not a sin as long as Joseph the prophet approved.

Seers and peeping

Joseph was a seer. He saw stuff. He told us “a seer is greater than a prophet”. Joseph began as a glass looker, a scryer, a peep-stone user. His whole schtick was that he could see things that are hidden. Whenever God or nature had ordained that thing was hidden (far away, or buried in the earth, or lost to history), Joseph could pull aside the veil and have a good old look.

Scrying, or seeing, explains everything. For example, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a classic example: a spirit guards buried gold, Joseph with his peep stone finds it, and on the night of the autumnal equinox the spirit gives it up. All of Mormonism is about seeing hidden things: spirits and angels and plates and translations that others cannot see.

Nothing can be hidden from a seer. Using a peepstone or crystal ball, or other means, they can see what they are not supposed to see, and nobody else will know.


And what did Joseph look for the most, throughout his life? Apart from gold? He looked for women! As Grant Palmer (“Insider’s View”) reminded us, Joseph was accused of sexually harassing women in every single place he lived. Joseph just loved to see women’s private parts, and if possible then show them his. Leonora Cannon Taylor writes about one of Joseph’s chat up lines:

“…I had many tryals about this time [May-Sep 1843, when Joseph made polygamy public and began naked washing] but I am yet alive, “ [Her next diary entry reads] “Come Joseph Don’t be filling that up with balderdash, ‘how is your garden this year I’ll show you some summer apples my lady’ O Dear.” (source)

I am sure that readers can work out what Joseph meant by the lady’s “garden” and his “summer apples”. A lady’s “garden” is a well known euphemism. And Joseph’s “summer apples”? Apples are harvested in the Fall: summer apples are about the size of very large cherries, and summer is the time to play. If you get my meaning. No wonder Leonora’s reaction was “O Dear”.

As Leonora’s case shows, not all of the women agreed to show Joseph their gardens. This must have been extremely frustrating to him. Until one day Joseph received a revelation of how every single one of his friends’ wives could be naked before him. And specifically have their private parts touched. What an inspired idea!

Sacred ceremonies, including naked ceremonies, had to be performed exactly right. So the prophet, the seer, had to be able to see everything, including the naked part, whenever he wanted. But there was a problem with that. Joseph still remembered that time he saw Mirinda Johnson’s “garden”. And Mirinda’s brother Eli found out. Eli and his friends tarred and feathered Joseph, the mob screamed for Joseph’s castration, and he only barely escaped. That was a close call! Another problem was Joseph’s wife Emma. She had caught him in the barn with one of his lady friends. Another time when she found out about his extra-curricular gardening she kicked the other lady down the stairs. For some reason Emma was not convinced that polygamy was divine, despite God’s clear statement that Emma would be destroyed if she did not let Joseph have any women he wanted. Why couldn’t Emma understand?

Clearly Joseph had to be able to spy on the ceremony without anyone knowing. Not even Emma. Especially not Emma. But how?

A temple designed for a Peeping Tom

Let’s look at the endowment in general. The “Naked Mormonism” podcast shows how it was designed to disorient the woman. It was confusing, scary, full of strangeness and shadows and starting with nakedness, designed to make her feel helpless. The whole point was to get her to a state where she would bow her head and say “yes” to anything.

Now let’s look at the temple that was designed around the endowment. The Nauvoo temple was built for the endowment and has some interesting differences from the Kirtland temple. The Kirtland temple had its own pre-endowment elements (preaching, washing of feet, anointing of heads) but no naked women. The Nauvoo temple was “Kirtland plus naked women”. Can you see the difference?


The difference is the offices. (And the baptistry, to get people used to the idea of bathing.) Pay special attention to the top floor. Naturally you would expect washings to take place in the basement, where the water was, right? Yet Joseph wanted the washing to take place on the top floor. When Joseph died, Brigham Young changed it to the bottom floor like any sensible person:

“Earlier in 1842 there had been suggestions that the upper story of the temple will when finished be used for the ritual purposes, but at the beginning of 1845 Brigham Young decided that upon each side of the font there will be a suite of rooms fitted up for the washings and also in the recesses on each side of the arch on the first story.” (Weeks, p.351)

Why use the cramped and inconvenient upper floor? One obvious reason is that there are no windows there. But look at the design. Despite having less space, the sides are lined with offices. This is where Joseph would do his work, or wait for his time in the ceremony. In other words, when the women (and men) are naked, Joseph would be just a few feet away behind a door. And for the new washing ceremony to be correct, Joseph had to be able to peep from his office whenever he wanted. Whether he used a keyhole, curtain, or crack in the door is anyone’s guess. But his offices had to be on the same floor as the naked women, and close enough to see every detail of what was happening. Because these sacred ordinances had to be done right!

One problem with the “temple designed for a Peeping Tom” theory might be that Joseph planned the temple in 1841, a year before he got the full Masonic treatment and decided naked women could be involved. But the inside design of the temple was not finalised until after Joseph decided he wanted naked women naked women. The design of the temple, like everything else Joseph invented, was constantly changing:

“Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois gained the impression from Mormons themselves that their temple was commenced without any previous plan and that the master builder from day to day during the progress of its erection received directions immediately from heaven as to the plan of the building. […] temple plans remained
general and fluid no complete plans being presented at any one time. […] changes in temple details from first drawings to final building were dramatic” (Weeks, pp 341-2)

In particular, the interior arrangements (and whether the offices were close enough to the flesh for him to see anything) were still being tweaked right up to the end:

“During April another visitor learned that the interior plan is yet undecided upon or rather the prophet has not received a revelation in regard to the interior arrangements. In June [1844] the prophet informed others that the temples interior structure and arrangement had not been decided on.”(Weeks, pp.347-348)

If these were just ordinary offices for ordinary business why would he care? Why not leave that part to the architect? And why put them on the same floor as the ceremony, squashed next to the naked people, unless being squashed together was the whole point?

Conclusion: the “wife of Uriah” principle

Here, then, are all the elements of the new naked bathing ceremony:

  1. A woman bathes naked. (And men, but the scripture focuses on the woman.)
  2. The king is in his office at the top of his palace, where he might “accidentally” see the bathing.
  3. The king then chooses the best polygamous wife.
  4. This is approved of God as long as all parties agree first, e.g. by being promised great rewards (in heaven)

If this is not the source of the naked bathing ceremony, please provide a better known source from the same general period. Study the Freemasons’ books. Study the Bible. I can wait.

Of course, we do not have video proof of what Joseph did. All we know is that he would be on the other side of a door or curtain while his friends’ wives got naked. Maybe he never peeped? Sure…



The original temple ceremony
(Part 2, the woman’s perspective)
Joseph Smith’s history of chasing women
(part 2)
Polygamy timeline
Endowment timeline
William Weeks, Architect of the Nauvoo Temple
Polygamy diaries etc.
Tarring, feathering, and almost-castration

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: Losing control of the story edition!

If you’re a faithful Mormon, there are a lot of possible ways to rationalize the various sticky issues of the CoJCoL-dS. Take the problem of Joseph Smith “marrying” a bunch of teenagers and married women, and lying to his wife and everyone else about it — it can be explained away with any of the following excuses:

  1. Joseph Smith would never do any such thing — it must be just anti-Mormon lies.
  2. Sleeping with dozens of women is awesome — it’s part of what makes the Celestial Kingdom such a great reward! — and Joseph led the way.
  3. Joseph Smith didn’t want to do it, but he was obedient when God commanded it.
  4. Joseph Smith was wrong to to it (but he and/or the CoJCoL-dS had/has/have sufficient other redeeming qualities that this point isn’t a deal-breaker).
  5. There’s some sort of reasonable explanation for it that we just don’t know yet.
  6. (other?)

These can’t all simultaneously be right, but different choices are satisfying to different believers. As long as the CoCJoL-dS doesn’t officially commit to any one of them, each believer can believe that his/her preferred explanation is the real explanation — and that all faithful LDS believers are on the same page. The CoJCoL-dS can even help out behind the scenes by paying apologists to come up with even more possible explanations! As long as the apologists are careful to add the disclaimer that their explanations are not official, the people who like them can believe that they’re right, and those that don’t can be comforted in the knowledge that the unsatisfactory explanation just some random guy’s opinion.

That has been the church’s strategy for many years, and I have to admit that it was a really clever tactic! So why did they do a 180 and start posting official positions on various issues? Maybe it wasn’t working…

One problem with the strategy is that by conveniently never mentioning some uncomfortable issues, the Internet hands the entire discourse on these issues to the critics who are interested in talking about them. And when believers realize that the critics are, in fact, giving more accurate information than the CoJCoL-dS gives, it’s the catalyst that starts people on the path of investigating how trustworthy and good the CoJCoL-dS really is. The church and remaining faithful members can lecture the leavers all day long about how they shouldn’t feel deceived/betrayed by their discoveries, but you can’t but the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak. Once you get the idea to look at the church from another perspective, you can’t unsee it.

So, the CoJCoL-dS has decided to try out the strategy of “inoculation” (for English-speakers) that the Bloggernacle has been recommending for years. (Not that the church gave credit for the idea or anything — it’s just a coincidence that God revealed this idea to His prophets after they’d read about it on other people’s websites.) But by picking one explanation as the official one, they’ve lost their earlier advantage — the folks that liked the other explanations better won’t be happy.

That’s what happened with the polygamy essays. The CoCJoL-dS officially chose explanation #3 — which (like the others) has a lot of problems. And Joseph Smith’s teen brides are controversial enough that I suspect the church bureaucrats are now wishing they could silently delete those latest essays, considering what they set themselves up for.

With that intro, let’s see what people are saying about Joseph Smith and polygamy! Last week‘s reasonable, faithful editorial continues to cause ripples:

Kristy’s article is a very well written and educated response from a believer’s perspective. While I take the logical non-believing view that Joseph Smith was simply a man who started a religion, got high on his power/authority and started acting like so many other men in his shoes by taking on additional wives, many of them teenagers, I can appreciate Kristy’s integrity. She’s standing up for what’s right and moral by asking the Mormon church to be clear that Joseph Smith was absolutely wrong in taking on teenage brides. As a psychologist with a PH. D from BYU, she clearly states the issues surrounding the Mormon church not acknowledging this heinous act, as it relates to victims of sexual abuse and the potential of this essay enabling future sexual predators within the Mormon religion to excuse their deviant actions by claiming “God told me to do it, same as Joseph,” much like the abductor of Elizabeth Smart. In fact, the Elizabeth Smart case is a perfect example of why the Mormon Church’s essay was so wrong from the perspective of the sexual predator and the victim.

And, on the other side of the coin, presenting Joseph Smith as a “reluctant polygamist” is also kind of an insult:

First, the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smith’s zest for life and self-perception as Heaven’s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,” he taught (History of the church, 5:134).

Plus, hard to justify:

The problem is that he said the angel continued to threaten him even after he had entered into the practice, suggesting that God wasn’t so much interested in restoring “the principle” of plural marriage as He was in ensuring that Joseph Smith married specific women.

Not to mention some other glaring problems with Smith’s system:

So he also married already married women. Where is that ok? Even if you want to buy the excuse that the “Eternity-only” marriages had no sex. What does that mean for the next life? That the other husband is screwed? He only gets his wife, who he married first, for this life? They don’t even comment on that idea. They just worry about trying to put out fire of “Oh, they probably didn’t even have sex.” Which they have no sources saying that was the case. Again, you aren’t suppose to really think about this. Just trust in them, the church is true. Let’s continue on to the Celestial Kingdom together! (By the way is your wife taken? Oh she is, darn.)

(That last quote is by a blogger who is new to Outer Blogness, so please stop by his blog and say hello!)

It makes you wonder how they can invoke a love of traditional marriage when it comes to criticizing gay marriage.

Another problem: it’s hard to convince people to stick to when there’s so much more interesting stuff in church history that they still won’t touch! (This week’s Old Testament lesson explores the origins of the Mormon love of object lessons!)

So, how about that election? Yeah, I don’t want to talk about it either. How about some humor instead…?

There were some personal essays about choosing to be gay and taking Moroni’s challenge seriously. More discussion of pastoral apologetics here. (Another problem with “pastoral apologetics: Ex-Mormons are awesome!)

I can’t wait to see what the Mormons will come up with next week! Until then, happy reading!

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

Joseph vs. The Gold: Help me script it!


Ever since seeing this not so good version on youtube, I’ve been wondering what a good recreation of the Joseph Smith run with the plates might look like.  It’s all based on Lucy Smith’s account:

“The plates were secreted about three miles from home… Joseph, on coming to them, took them from their secret place, and, wrapping them in his linen frock, placed them under his arm and started for home.”
After proceeding a short distance, he thought it would be more safe to leave the road and go through the woods. Traveling some distance after he left the road, he came to a large windfall, and as he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind it, and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him down, then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further he was attacked again in the same manner as before; he knocked this man down in like manner as the former, and ran on again; and before he reached home he was assaulted the third time. In striking the last one he dislocated his thumb, which, however, he did not notice until he came within sight of the house, when he threw himself down in the corner of the fence in order to recover his breath. As soon as he was able, he arose and came to the house. He was still altogether speechless from fright and the fatigue of running” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Smith, pp.107-108).

So, if you wanted to recreate this incident, what would be the ideal script?

  • How big/tall would the person playing Joseph have to be?
  • How heavy would the plates have to be?  Does the size/shape matter?
  • How far would the Joseph character have to run?
  • What about the people chasing him: How big/tall would they need to be?
  • How about the logs he hurdles?  How big would they have to be?

I’m thinking about trying to recreate this, though I wouldn’t be offended if someone else did it first.  I just thought I’d get some input on how to recreate this such that it would satisfy the apologists.

(Also, if there are any readers in Florida who want to help, make a note in the comments and maybe we can work out a date/time for our recreation.  I have a decent camera and tripod that would work.)



One thing that I have learned is: although Gay people are born gay; when gays have gone through the process of: first denial, then self-loathing and other steps, and finally acceptances; then Gay people are ready to move on to healthy relationships.  Another thing that I have learned is: that for relationships to work; each person in that relationship, must learn to deal with all the rejection from family, friends, the clergy, members of their church, and other so called Christians or any religious people and all other haters of gay people.  Along with this, there are the normal problems of a relationship, which for a Gay person, are similar to a heterosexual relationship, yet are different also, and for most gays, even more difficult than it is for straight people to handle, especially without expert help.

The difficulty for us gays to have relationships in the first place, is what I am getting at.  Because it is so hard to have a gay relationship, this is why so many gay people give up and just go to bars to try and “Hook-Up” (have anonymous sex).  But even these gay people still dream of having a wonderful relationship some day.  Now those who diligently strive for a long lasting relationship; if they find one, they are much more appreciative and thankful, than those whose relationship was not so hard or difficult to find or achieve.  This is why I have known gay couples who have been together for 27 years, 30 years, 36 years, 55 years, 63 years or even longer.  The point being, that Gay relationships can last a really long time or even for a lifetime if the two partners work at it and they love one another and are dedicated to one another.

Some gay people used to go from one relationship to another; but since the AIDS epidemic and Hepatitis C, many couples are staying together longer, and many singles are now seeking out a Gay relationship much more diligently than before.  These new Gay relationships stay together longer as well.  However, a relationship lasting longer than 6 months is still considered a long term relationship; one lasting a year, marriage is expected, and 4 years, a full term relationship.  If you pass 7 years, then your relationship is considered to be extremely long term, and finally if you reach and pass ten years then your relationships considered a life long relationship.  Many relationships between Gay couples unfortunately only last for a few short months and then they break up or one partner begins to sleep around.


On January 19th 2012, homophobic bishop Bobby W., excommunicated me from the Mormon Church.  Just as I was making plans to go back to church this happens and now I have not gone back.  I attend church at the Church of Christ in Porum, Oklahoma, with Cody and his family.  George’s grandpa is the minister in that particular congregation, which consists of George Allen Circle, his mom Sharon, his step-dad Jaun, his sister Juliana, his brother Roy, his grandpa the minister, me of course and 22 other people.  We sing several songs, we have Holy Communion; except for me of course because I am not allowed, do to the fact that I am not a member; they take collection, and then Grandpa gives the sermon, we then have closing prayer.

Cody and I are very happy together over these past 9 months and I have officially moved in with his family who completely accept me, at least a lot more than the Mormon Church does.  Cody and I share the same bedroom and bed and we have our desk in the back room.  Cody and I are good companions for each other and he is completely devoted to me.  We bring comfort and joy to each other and we share our lives together.  He gives me a sense of purpose and helps me to not be lonely.  I need him in my life and he needs me and we are there for each other.  Cody is my partner and significant other, and I do love him and I do love his whole family.

I miss the Mormon Church, so I went to the LDS church on Sunday just 2 days ago on September 23rd 2012.  I do not believe that I should have been excommunicated.  I still have a testimony of the church, the prophets and apostles and seventy; as well as the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.  The Church is true.  I do wonder though, why President Benson did not get more revelation about gays than he did (they fear change or did not like what they have heard already).


I challenge anyone to prove to me that I “misrepresented” any general authority in my first BLOG.  I had before me several talks by Gordon B. Hinckley, Jeffery R. Holland, James E. Faust, 2 by Dallin H. Oaks, and 3 by Boyd K. Packer.  I read them over and over again, and I marked them with underlines and then I included all the underlined statements in this BLOG and none of them were taken out of context.  I also quoted all the scriptures from some of the talks that were listed and which were supposed to back up the points the brethren were trying to make.  I did not think that all those scriptures related to homosexuality, but apparently the brethren did.  Since the bishop supports all that the brethren say, I wrote that he was saying these things also that the brethren were saying and quoting, by way of agreement.

But I was mistaken about that; the bishop does not agree with all these talks by the brethren or the supporting scripture they used, or else he would not have excommunicated me himself.  I am excommunicated right now, primarily due to a homophobic bishop.  Because I was excommunicated before when I wanted to be, and it was justified; now I may not ever be baptized again in the Mormon Church.  It is very difficult to be rebaptized, let alone be rebaptized a second time.  Brother Bailey my dear sweet Home teaching Companion and church Choir coach was rebaptized twice, but I was told that it was very rare.  Also if I would have received my blessings back, the bishop would not have been able to excommunicate me himself; he would have to get his superior, the Stake President, to do it (and I do not believe he would have excommunicated me the way the bishop did).

The biggest problem the bishop has with this BLOG is that he thinks that I am going against Boyd K. Packer; but it is other general authorities that are disagreeing with him too.  In my understanding of things, if several different people are saying different things, or complete opposite positions about the same subject, then some one is wrong, or they are all wrong together.  There is only one truth out there and I for one do not believe we have all the truth about same-sex-attraction yet.  The Articles of Faith tell us that we believe that many plain and precious truths will yet be revealed to us.  I simply sided with the majority of those general authorities, who spoke on the subject of homosexuality and it is not my fault the bishop disagrees with those talks.


The Catholics have the same problem with the Bible; they believe in the “divinity of the Bible,” which means that they think it is perfect and infallible.

I have heard, that when the Bible says that a Priest must be 30 years old to make sacrifice in the Temple; and in another spot says that he must be 3 years old to make sacrifice in the Temple; the Catholics say, both are right, and if you do not understand, they say “just have faith my son”.  I know that one of these Old Testament verses is wrong.  I choose to believe that the correct age is 30, because that is the age that Jesus Christ chose in the New Testament to start His mortal ministry.


Bishop W., like many other Mormons, believe that our general authorities are also perfect and infallible.  This is not true, because Joseph Smith said of himself, that he was only a man, and that he was not perfect.  One of my favorite general authorities who was a seventy, even Paul H. Dunn who was nicknamed the “great orator,” was later released and all his books and tapes were no longer sold at LDS Bookstores and his works were censored by the Church, because he embellished his stories.  In other words, he lied to the youth of the Church, which was his main group that he spoke to.

If a Seventy can lie to us, then why can’t an Apostle simply be mistaken about a certain subject, or even possibly be prejudice.  Well, I have already been punished for saying these things and I do not know how I am supposed to see it any other way.

This is why the Articles of Faith say that “we believe in the Bible as far as it is translated correctly”.  Mormons say that 2% of the Bible has mistakes in it; and it is not a perfect book, or set of books, like the Book of Mormon is.

Mormons are so against Gay marriage that they spent 22 million dollars to stop gay marriage in just California, and it was all for nothing, because it was declared unconstitutional; I guess then that Mormons are also just unconstitutional in their thinking when it comes to gays.  Mormons wanted equality for women, Indians, black slaves and anyone else, but they draw the line with gays.  They hate homosexuals so much they did everything in their power to get Catholics to also vote against gay marriage.

Mormons believe that you cannot enter the gates of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom of God the Father, if you are not baptized.  But my understanding of this doctrine is, that this is for people who refuse to be baptized in the Mormon Church especially after being exposed to the Church and rejecting it.  I have not rejected Christ and his Church, it is just one man, a bishop in the church named Bobby W., that has excommunicated me and he probably believes that I will never go to heaven now.  I know that he does not want me in the Celestial Kingdom because of his hatred of Gays.  I do not hate brother W., I am just disappointed in how he treated me, when I let him know that I still had same-sex attraction, even though I was still keeping all of the commandments and I was certainly not acting on my gay feelings or participating in any way, in the gay lifestyle for over 14 years yet.


The time has come for me to stop obsessing about the Church and just be happy with the life that I have right now.  Besides, it would take someone like Joseph Smith to get all the correct information that we need from God.  I just know that I am not evil minded and that I love God and our Christ, and that I did not deserve to be just excommunicated the way that it was done.  But since I am not a member of the Church any longer, I think that I will continue to have an ear ring in each ear, and nail polish on my fingers and toes.  I also wear pants and t-shirts that are really women’s clothes, because they don’t have men’s clothes in pink.  I will continue to be in love withGeorge Allen Circleor Cody as he likes to be called.

I really believe that I would have been much happier in my lifetime if I were born to a family that accepted homosexuality a lot more.  If I could have had boyfriends when I was young, like my present husband has had, and if I had been able to accept my own sexuality then I do not believe that I would have developed so many mental illnesses.  My childhood sucked anyway, for many other reasons as well.

I am now glad that I am gay, and do not want to change myself anymore, like I used to.  I want to get married legally to my husband and spend many years with him.  Cody Pooh is my baby and I love him very much.  I cannot be happy any other way than being gay.  I am definitely not your average Joe; no, the gay life is the only life for me, from now on and for the rest of my life. Gay life is pretty cool when you are accepting of yourself and you are not being persecuted by your peers, family, clergy, neighbors, or just strangers.  Then it is really fun to be gay.

I really like myself now, and because I have got to know so many other gays; intimately and otherwise; I have grown to see that there is not really anything wrong with me, I just love young men and not young women.  I do not need to be fixed; I am not broken or maladjusted in any way.  I feel much better about myself, and I have a much better support system than I did when I was growing up inCalifornia; which is really weird when you stop and consider that this isOklahoma, home of the red man and redneck.  I am not recommending the gay lifestyle to anyone; I am just saying that it is right for me and for anyone else who knows that they were born to be only this way.  For if you are born this way there is really no problem as long as you can accept yourself the way that you are and do not give a damn what all other people think of you.

When I was growing up I thought that God would change me and that I must have done something wrong in the Preexistence to deserve being gay.  I now know that I am not sick nor am I a pervert, or deviant like Boyd K. Packer says that I am.

Because I have publicly stated that I am for gay marriage, I have been excommunicated from the Mormon Church and I will probably not ever be allowed to be rebaptized again, especially since I already was once before rebaptized & now excommunicated again.

Now that I am in a gay relationship I am still affected by my upbringing in the Mormon Church, because I almost never have any kind of sexual relations with my boyfriend.  Like I was saying earlier, we are like a couple who just love to be with each other and share our lives together.  I support him and he supports me and we are there for each other.  Love is what we have for each other, not lust.  Some other Latter-day Saints stay in the Church and deny themselves sex and just join clubs and participate with other members of the same sex in a somewhat intimate way, such as hugs and long embraces and maybe an occasional kiss on the cheek.  It really sounds too hypocritical for me though.  Besides bishop W. took that choice away from me and did not give me a chance.  His contempt for me will be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ and I know that the lord will be sympathetic towards me because he knows how I was living and what was in my heart.  After all, I think that I had proven myself, by the fourteen years that I was either faithful to my wife or celibate and single.  The misery that I was going through, the sadness, the intense loneliness and heartache and the incredible desire for a loving relationship that I was missing are all a testament to my devotion to the Church and it’s principles, doctrines and rules and regulations.


I need to put an end to this debate over gay and straight.  Gay marriage should be legal everywhere so that gay people can love each other and be happy; after all, what is wrong with more love in this world anyway.  I believe that straight people need to stop interfering with honest, happy gay couples that are not hurting anyone.  I believe that the reason that straight people do not want gays to marry, is not just because they think that it is wrong, but it is because they do not want us gays to have the one thousand and forty-nine rights and privileges under the law that they have and enjoy, who are already married legally and that is just the federal laws that would benefit all gays in the United States.  Most straight people are not even aware that they have this many (1,049) federal laws for married couples, let alone what they are or what they are entitled to under State laws; they just no way in hell want gay people to have them what ever they are, that is for damn sure.

Like I have said in my first Manifesto; the civil rights of a minority cannot be decided by a plebiscite; for if you allow this to happen, we will all be going backwards and not forward in the arena of civil rights for all minorities.  This is why we have a Constitution of These United States and elected officials to govern us and protect minorities and individuals from the more “immoral” majority.  Especially when a minority has many fellow citizens that hate them and/or are prejudiced against them like our recent past has shown against Indians, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Women, Children, certain religions, Gays, Lesbians and Transgender people.


Have I mentioned lately that I am completely happy with my life here with my Fiancé and his whole family. My boyfriend’s dad defends me all of the time and his mother is always kind and supportive of me and his little sister and brother just love me to death, so to speak.  I do like living in a house.  My boyfriend and I have our own dog, Ariel, and my boyfriend’s mother has a dog, Scooby and a cat named Whiskers.  No other pets though, except for a few mice running around.

I feel like I am really married to George Allen Circle, not just because we would have already been married by now if it were legal in this State, but it is not.  But also because we are so settled together and happy at the same time, and we both want the same things out of life.  We both voted for incumbent President Obama because we know that he will continue to fight for gay marriage.  George’s grandfather voted for the Mormon, Mitt Romney, just for the opposite reason; he is against Gay Marriage.


My father believed that you must suffer the pains of hell here on earth, in order to go to heaven.  The church identifies this belief as one of the seven deadly heresies.  Believing in this doctrine and practicing it only creates bitterness and unhappiness and of course leads to apostasy.  For years, my father was practically apostate, because he did not follow the Prophets and he lived his own way, and he several times said to me, “the hell with the prophet” when I would quote something that the prophet said, he did not like.  My dad was miserable and lonely for years and he thought this would get him into heaven.  I no longer subscribe to this doctrine which is a false doctrine at best.

Robin Lee Johnson

Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration (review)

For kicks, I decided to pass the time during my lazy, uneventful day off by watching Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration, a church-sponsored film about the life of Joseph Smith. I found it on YouTube, split into five pieces, each with a description of the video containing a claim that it was a “documentary film.” And as I watched, I noticed lots of things that seemed…wrong.

Prophetgasm Instead of Plot
The film is supposed to be following the events of Joseph Smith’s life, but many of the events in the film are fictional–and if they are true, then they’re trivial. These scenes often perform double duty as both character development and comic relief. They show that Joseph was a really, really good person and it helps lighten the mood to see the protagonist playing with children instead of freezing in a cramped jail cell.

But those scenes mostly feel like the Mormon equivalent of fan service. Indoctrinated Mormons who already hold Joseph Smith as only second to Jesus as far as awesome people who have graced this earth will get to see a historical character they adore being charming, funny, but above all, virtuous. And they’ll eat it up and use it to reinforce their idealized, glorified perception of who Joseph Smith was.

The movie spends too much time on this and not enough time on the actual plot, so that the important historical events of Smith’s life seem disjointed and spontaneously generated. More time should have been devoted to explaining how these events developed.

Obnoxious, Stupid Preacher
I get the sense that the audience is supposed to assume a kind of mutual respect between Joseph and the preacher from his hometown. I think we’re supposed to see that Joseph looks up to him and that, more importantly, the preacher genuinely cares for Joseph and is concerned for his eternal welfare. Except that the script just makes the guy look like a complete prick.

One example: Joseph and the preacher are working together in a barn. The preacher earnestly informs him that revelation doesn’t happen anymore and he should stop talking about the vision he claims to have had. And then he walks away. Apparently this wasn’t a discussion or even an explanation. The preacher doesn’t open his Bible and say, “this is why you’re wrong.” He doesn’t give Joseph a chance to explain or ask questions. He just says, “Don’t talk about it anymore” and walks away. Okay, dick.

Even better is the scene when Joseph is by his brother Alvin’s grave, mourning his recent death. And the preacher walks up and reminds him none-too-gently that since Alvin wasn’t baptized, he’s “lost” and that Joseph should take care not to make the same mistake. And then, you guessed it, he wanders off. There was no hug, no “I’m terribly sorry for your loss,” advice on how to deal with the grief or honor the memory. There wasn’t even a respectful moment of silence. It was just a drive-by with a quick bullet to the heart and then he was gone. What a jerk.

The Perfect Couple
Joseph’s relationship with his wife Emma is sickeningly overplayed. There are a few of the happy-married-couple-lying-in-bed-together-discussing-life scenes. There are a lot of shots in the film in which the presence of a wedding ring on Joseph’s finger is made intentionally apparent. You get the sense, from watching this movie, that Joseph and Emma were inseparable, deeply in love, and the paradigm of a happily married couple in a healthy, traditional relationship. The fact that Joseph had a bunch of other wives never came up.

No Cause, Just Effect
Whenever this movie showed people who disliked Smith or the church, their opinions were not explored. The focus was more on the presence of their hatred than the reasoning for it. Perhaps since the film had already skipped historical events that would have painted Smith in a less-than favorable light, the writers couldn’t delve too deeply into his murderers’ motives while keeping Smith’s image untainted. So that meant we got some random backstabbing army asshole trying to get Joseph executed even though we don’t really understand why he’s so intent on the prophet’s demise.

I’m not saying that Smith’s murder was justified. I’m just saying that this is evidence of just how skewed and one-sided the film is. These people weren’t necessarily fueled by blind bigotry. The whole polygamy thing, Smith’s attempts to create his own society and garner governmental power, as well as the church’s tendency to draw converts away from their homes and roots could all understandably piss people off. But all you see in the film is unexplained hatred that, probably intentionally, makes all the bad guys look like idiots. It’s pro-Mormon propaganda at its worst.

No Gun
In the film, Joseph was unarmed when he was murdered. But that’s not how it happened. He had a gun, and he used it. But he was defending himself. There’s nothing wrong with that. So portraying him without a gun only helps destroy the movie’s credibility.

Ugly Means Evil
Joseph and his buddies are trapped in the room in Carthage Jail, desperately trying to keep the door closed. They’re all good-looking, well-dressed and clean. Then the camera cuts to the mob outside the door, full of men with unruly beards, bad teeth, filthy clothes and dirt smeared on their skin. You know, just to reinforce the idea that people who storm jails to murder prisoners are bad, the filmmakers figured they’d make sure they lookedbad too. God forbid Joseph Smith’s murderer was better-looking than the prophet himself. What a shameless attempt to manipulate people’s perceptions.

And beyond the things about the movie that I simply disagree with, there’s plenty in there that can easily be interpreted to mean something the church did not intend:

The Church Draws In Vulnerable People
The noble side-story about the woman and her father traveling to meet Joseph is pathetic. The woman reads Joseph’s teaching that people who didn’t have the opportunity to receive the gospel in life but would have accepted it can be saved. She turns to her father and says that her mother would have accepted the gospel. Suddenly, the story stops being about a woman whose faith was strong enough to carry her thousands of miles from home and starts being about a woman whose grief was strong enough to carry her thousands of miles from home. She thought she’d never see her mother again and that made her vulnerable to Joseph Smith’s enticing lie.

Joseph Molded a Religion to Match His Needs
Smith suffered many losses of his own. Several children, his father and an idolized older brother all die during the course of the film. Especially based on Joseph’s reaction to his brother’s death, it seems that he created a religion that he wantedto be true. It spoke to his own fears. He wanted to see his brother again, and later he got “revelation” saying that he could. He was raised as a humble farm boy but started a religion that elevated him to a man of position, respect and reverence–God’s mouthpiece in the modern day. It seems suspicious that the church he started gave him assurances and results that he would have wanted for himself.

Mormons Kinda Do Worship Joseph Smith
This issue is directly addressed in the movie. Joseph has a discussion with a woman who claims that the Mormons worship him, and he sets the record straight for her–they don’t worship him, they just rely on him for the word of God. He’s just their fearless leader and divinely inspired prophet.

But let’s be honest–Mormons may not pray to Joseph Smith or consider him to be any kind of deity, but the way he’s discussed in church meetings puts him pretty damn high on the list of beings that Mormons care about. He may not be worshiped, but he’s held in nearly as high esteem as the things that are.

I don’t know why I bothered to watch that movie. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy getting mad about Mormonism sometimes. But I do find it hard to believe how blatantly, shamelessly, unabashedly, unapologetically one-sided it was. I remember when it came out. I hadn’t seen it, but I’d heard great things from those who had. It was heralded as a great film, a testimony-building experience. But that’s not what it is. It’s just propaganda by the Mormons for the Mormons. It’s at once laughable and despicable.

And that does not seem right to me.

Cross-posted from my blog Challenging Mormonism.

My place in Mormon history

A lot of people — upon leaving the CoJCoL-dS — are amazed to discover how fascinating LDS church history really is. It’s not just that the whitewashed history in Sunday School is incomplete and inaccurate. It’s that you’re force-fed this watery-porridge version of church history that inoculates many people from even wanting to study more church history on their own. So when the leaders say, “Don’t go out and read a bunch of (non-or-marginally approved) books about church history!” one very natural response is “No problem!” Until you disobey that commandment and see how interesting those books can be, that is.

One such book I read recently is Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness, a relatively faith-friendly series of short biographies of the plural wives of Joseph Smith. This book gives a good overview of what it was like to be a member of Joseph Smith’s inner circle. The thirty women profiled run the gamut from LDS leaders to people who kind of lost interest and wandered off, from women who embraced polygamy (going on to join another leader’s harem) to women who had close relationships with their pre/post-JS husbands, from women who died in the thick of the story to women who lived long enough to see the CoJCoLd-S give up polygamy.

Part of my motivation for buying this book was to learn more about Nancy Maria Winchester — my personal church-history connection — to help find my place in the grand Mormon adventure. There’s kind of a “pioneer day” sentiment of “Wouldn’t it have been exciting to have been there when all of these miracles were happening, and to have known Joseph Smith?”

Yet, reading the book made me feel almost more of an outsider than before. I was continually struck by the feeling that I would never have joined this organization. I would never even have considered it. Then I tell myself: It was the ‘Great Awakening’! This was an exciting new trend! They had a prophet who was presenting popular, modern ideas as revelations from God, improving on that dusty old Bible! Yet, I still feel like it’s not a trend that would have appealed to me. Perversely, I can’t imagine my Uber-Mormon mom converting to a wild new religion, either. But my Dad? Maybe…

But then I ask myself if that would have been enough to have gotten my family [fictionally transported more than a century into the past] involved in the grand Mormon adventure. Certainly there were cases where a woman was brought into the Mormon adventure more-or-less against her will by a husband or father (like Martin Harris’ wife Lucy, or Helen Mar Kimball’s first polygamous marriage). Yet, this book also has tales of women who converted whole-heartedly to Mormonism — and brought unwilling or half-willing husbands along for the ride. Overall, the book showcases a number of tales of women’s independence and autonomy. It illustrates the strange connection between polygamy and feminism. At a time when women essentially had the same legal status as children (with respect to their father or husband), the central matriarchs of early Utah society were functionally single moms. Their husbands were more like patrons “with privileges”. Of course the women relied on a great deal of material support from their brothers and other male relatives when their absentee (deadbeat?) shared patriarch “husbands” didn’t come through.

One other striking thing about the book is all of the death: specifically how many mothers lost many or all of their babies and children. This isn’t a specifically Mormon point, BTW. If you can find a collection of bios of ordinary women of centuries past, you’ll find a collection of tales of babies and children dying. Really — despite the trek west — the pioneers of the American frontier had a better survival rate than families in many countries of Europe that didn’t have plentiful farmland to invade.

One line in the book jumped out at me about how we can hardly imagine what it would be like to experience so much loss. That’s true, but it’s because we’re the strange ones. We modern people in wealthy countries have managed to separate ourselves so completely from the daily experience of death that we can hardly comprehend what it was like for ordinary parents and spouses for most of human history. Rather than having more children than you can effectively handle and then watching many of them die you can typically choose to have no more kids than you think you can raise well, and more importantly, you can expect that you will most likely see them all live to adulthood. As I’ve said before, this is the number one thing I appreciate about living here and now, over all other modern advances. And it’s a point to keep in mind when trying to understand the experiences of people in earlier eras.

Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness is an excellent starting point for an adventure exploring your Mormon heritage!

Mormon Times says religion can be bad, but not theirs

I couldn’t help but stop by for this headline, “Elizabeth Smart case shows best and worst of religion’s influence“. I thought since Brian David Mitchell is a splinter from Mormonism the writers at MormonTimes might suggest something really “out there,” like, maybe, Mormonism can, in fact, be bad for humanity if certain ideas and practices are emphasized rather than others. Okay, the odds of that happening are virtually zero. But the headline grabbed my attention. Instead, what we get is efforts to distance Mitchell from Mormonism and even from religion, like the following:

In fact, when Mitchell used his quasi-religious beliefs to justify victimizing Elizabeth Smart, religion itself came under fire.


In the local press, some commentators compared Mitchell to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asserting that Smith also used claims of religious authority to victimize others. If some people have trouble distinguishing the likes of Mitchell from Smith, Smart does not. In her testimony she denounced Mitchell as an evil hypocrite.

The article fails to admit that this assertion – that Mitchell and Smith both did use their religious authority to victimize others – is true, and even in the same way: they claimed divine retribution against girls if they didn’t stick their penis in their vagina. I don’t mean to suggest that Smith and Mitchell are the same; as far as I know Smith never actually abducted any women and raped them over a lengthy period of time. He was a much smoother operator and apparently liked variety over domination. But the method employed wasn’t that different.

The article then turns its focus to how Mormonism has helped Elizabeth Smart cope with her trauma:

Faith in God helped Smart cope with violence, even violence hypocritically perpetrated in God’s name. When asked by KSL-TV why she chose to serve a Mormon mission, Elizabeth said she wanted others to know what she knows: “Whatever could happen to me, whatever happens to me, I will always be with my family,” she said. “I know that there is a God and he loves us, and that no matter what people can take from you or do to you or harm you, they can’t take that away from you.”

I don’t want to dismiss the fact that it does seem to have helped Elizabeth. I’m glad Elizabeth is doing well and I do hope she continues to do well in light of the trauma she suffered.

I just think the phrasing of the article, using qualifiers every time it talks about Mitchell’s religion (“hypocritical”, “quasi-religious,” “quirky”), is interesting. It isn’t uncommon for people to insist that those like them who behave in deplorable ways are, in fact, not like them. My favorite example of this was what a student in one of my classes said when I noted that there are Christian terrorists. The student said, “I’m a Christian. I would never do that. So, they can’t be Christians.” This perfectly illustrates my point: Mormons are, well, Mormons. And since they value their religion and think of it as a good thing, they have a hard time believing that their religion could motivate people to do abhorrent things.

News Flash for the MormonTimes: Religion isn’t necessarily good or bad; it can be used in good ways and bad ways. Religion doesn’t make people good. And quasi-religion doesn’t make them bad. What do you say you add a little nuance to your articles that better reflects reality?

The Future of the King Follett Discourse

Three months before his assassination in 1844, Joseph Smith gave a speech that is referred to today as the King Follett discourse (named after an Elder Follett). In that speech, Smith laid out the idea that God was once a man and that all human beings have the potential to become gods and goddesses themselves. As someone with Buddhist tendencies, I actually quite like this idea of understanding the divine at the human level, because it makes the divine accessible. It would be great if Smith’s speech were coupled with the gnostic gospels of early Christianity that also point to human divinity, but this would probably require Mormonism to consider women as capable of being prophets as they were in the gnostic period. (See, for example, Mary 9:2-4, where Peter gets pretty annoyed at the idea of Jesus confiding in her things that he didn’t tell his male apostles.)

Anyway, my understanding is that the King Follett discourse was indispensable to Mormon identity for several decades, but was used by evangelicals to point to “how crazy those Mormons are” because “they actually believe they can become gods.” Thus, the Church toned down its use of the doctrine by also suggesting to the membership that it’s not really important to think about potential divinity at this moment — since most of us have a long way to go. Armaud Mauss suggests that this will continue to be the case as the Church moves more into an assimilative period, as the teaching of human divinity is “traditional,” but not “essential.” A question I have, though, is whether Mauss is assuming that Mormons are assimilating to only Christianity in America, or if they are trying to make sense of themselves on a global stage (Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews) — in which case, why not maintain the King Follett discourse?

Also, in terms of the “essentialness” of the discourse to Mormon identity, is it not the case that the Church’s gender roles and stance against same-sex marriage are directly related to the notion of men being imaged like Heavenly Father and women being imaged like [a barely mentioned] Heavenly Mother, a divine procreation of deities Whom we will someday emulate as gods ourselves? I don’t exactly see how the Church can downplay its doctrine of potential godhood without also downplaying its justifications for no female ordination or same-sex marriage.