Line-by-Line Response to anti-Mormon Claims about Polygamy

The following was written by Brian Hales, the full article can be found, here.

The Letter to a CES Director’s treatment of Joseph Smith’s polygamy is remarkably unbalanced, redundant, and sometimes rambling. It is apparent that its author has embraced a few impressions that were mentioned over and over within the six pages. Below are responses to all of the concerns, although a few of the redundant claims (and their responses) have not been repeated. Excerpts from The CES Letter are represented in red with responses in black.

Polyandry: Of those 34 women, 11 of them were married women of other living men.

By my count, Joseph was sealed to 35 women and 14 of them may have had a legal husband.[xvi] Of the 14, two (Mary Heron and Lucinda Pendleton) are too poorly document to discern what kind of sealing occurred (if any), and Sarah Ann Whitney’s legal ceremony resulted only a “pretend marriage.”[xvii] That leaves 11, which all appear to be non-sexual, “eternity only” sealings. Several of these women could not be sealed to their civil husbands because those men were not active Latter-day Saints. The reasons the other women chose Joseph Smith for eternity is unclear. Lucy Walker remembered Joseph’s teaching:  “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.”[xviii]

Among them being Apostle Orson Hyde who was sent on his mission to dedicate Israel when Joseph secretly married his wife, Marinda Hyde.

Two sealings dates for Joseph and Marinda Hyde are available in the historical record. Theearliest date is a year after Orson Hyde left on his mission to Palestine. “Apr 42,” is written by Thomas Bullock on a blank page at the back of Joseph Smith’s journal.[xix]  A second more reliable date of “May 1843” is found on an affidavit signed by Marinda, five months after Orson returned home.[xx] Of the other thirteen women, none of their legal husbands are documented as being on missions on the dates of their sealings to the Prophet.

Church historian Elder Marlin K.  Jensen and unofficial apologists like FairMormon do not dispute the polyandry. The Church now admits the polyandry in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

This is false. There is no credible evidence that a woman in Nauvoo believed she could—have or ever did have—two genuine husbands at the same time. Church leaders have not stated or otherwise implied that true polyandrous relationships occurred or would have been sanctioned.

Out of the 34 women, 7 of them were teenage girls as young as 14-years-old.

According to available documents, Joseph Smith was sealed to four 19-year-olds, three 17-year-olds, one 16-year-old, and two 14-year-olds.[xxi]

Joseph was 37-years-old when he married 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, twenty-three years his junior.

Helen was sealed to Joseph Smith when she was fourteen, but he did not seek that union—it was arranged by her father, Heber C. Kimball.[2]  Strong evidence indicates the sealing was not consummated.[xxii] Decades later in Utah, Helen was the most prolific voice defending Joseph Smith and the practice of plural marriage.[xxiii]

Even by 19th century standards, this was shocking.

This is false and an example of presentism. Marriages to fourteen-year-olds were eyebrow-raising, but not “shocking.”

Among the women was a mother-daughter set and three sister sets.

Joseph was sealed to women that he already knew, that were in his immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. Benjamin F. Johnson, a close friend of the Prophet, remembered:  “In talking with my mother… he [Joseph Smith] told her that when the Lord required him to move in plural marriage, that his first thought was to come and ask her for some of her daughters; and I can now understand that the period alluded to was at Kirtland, where she had three unmarried daughters at home.”[xxiv] Joseph did not marry strangers. That these women may have been related is unremarkable.

Several of these women included Joseph’s own foster daughters.

Little is known about Joseph’s sealings to Sarah and Maria Lawrence beyond the fact that Emma Smith participated in the ceremonies. Neither Sarah nor Maria neither left any negative statements concerning the unions even though Sarah later left the Church.

Some of the marriages to these women included promises by Joseph of eternal life to the girls and their families,

This is false. While Helen wrote in 1881 that Joseph said: “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred,”[xxv] two years later she admitted: “I confess that I was too young or too ‘foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all” that Joseph Smith then taught.[xxvi] Other members of Helen’s “father’s household” who were present did not recall such a promise. Their lives after the sealing, demonstrates that they did not believe that Helen’s eternal marriage to Joseph had ensured their own “eternal salvation.”[xxvii]

threats of loss of salvation,

This is false. No credible reports exist that Joseph Smith threatened a woman with of a loss of salvation if she decline a plural proposal. When Sarah Granger Kimball rejected Joseph’s discussion of plural marriage, “He said, ‘I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer, you will not be led into temptation.’”[xxviii] We only know about this because Sarah later mentioned it. Joseph never spoke of it.

and threats that he (Joseph) was going to be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if the girls didn’t marry him.

This is false. Joseph never told a woman that he’d be “slain” if they turned him down. Zina Huntington remembered: “He [Joseph Smith] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth, I would lose my position and my life.’”[xxix] This recollection is sometimes conflated and misrepresented.

A lot of members don’t realize that there is a set of very specific and bizarre rules outlined in Doctrine & Covenants 132 (still in LDS canon despite President Hinckley publicly stating that polygamy is not doctrinal) on how polygamy is to be practiced.

D&C 132 speaks of exaltation and eternal marriage, two of Joseph’s zenith teachings. The last two sections of the revelation address plural marriage. But I find no “set of very specific and bizarre rules” regarding polygamy there or any other doctrine.

The only form of polygamy permitted by D&C 132 is a union with a virgin after first giving the opportunity to the first wife to consent to the marriage. If the first wife doesn’t consent, the husband is exempt and may still take an additional wife, but the first wife must at least have the opportunity to consent.

This is false. D&C 132:61–63 describe one acceptable way (of several) to enter into eternal plural marriage. But claims that those verse describe the only way are in error.

In case the first wife doesn’t consent, she will be “destroyed”.

Being “destroyed” means that they will not receive exaltation. See D&C 17:4.

Also, the new wife must be a virgin before the marriage and be completely monogamous after the marriage or she will be destroyed (D&C 132: 41 & 63). It is interesting that the only prerequisite that is mentioned for the man is that he must desire another wife: “if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another…” It does not say that the man must get a specific revelation from the living prophet, although we assume today that this is what was meant.

This is false. D&C 132:61–63 does not describe the only way valid plural marriages may be contracted. For an eternal marriage to be valid, it must be performed by the authority of the “one” man holding the priesthood keys (vv. 7, 18, 19). He would not grant permission if he felt it was inappropriate to do so. Freelance marriages arising from a man’s “desires,” as stated in the CES Letter, would “not be valid, neither of force” (v.18).

D&C 132 is unequivocal on the point that polygamy is permitted only “to multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.”

This is false. D&C 132 specifies four reasons for the practice of plural marriage: 1. To multiply and replenish the earth (v. 63). 2. As part of a restoration of all things (vv. 40, 45). 3. As a specific trial (v. 51). And 4. To allow all worthy individuals to be sealed so they may become eligible for exaltation (vv. 16–17). Otherwise they “remain singly and separately, in the saved condition, to all eternity.” This is the most important.

Unions without the knowledge or consent of first wife Emma.

We do not know when Emma learned of Joseph Smith’s plural marriage teachings and polygamous wives. There is no record of him lying to her about this. Emma, who obviously knew the details of their own relationship, stayed true to Joseph throughout their lives right up to the martyrdom.

Unions without the knowledge or consent of the husband, in cases of polyandry.

This is false. “Polyandry” is multiple husbands, which was never authorized in Nauvoo. We know very little regarding the eternity-only sealings of married women to the Prophet. These were not polyandry.

A union with a newlywed and pregnant woman (Zina Huntington).

This was an eternity-only sealing. Zina later related: “I was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity. . . I was married to Mr. Jacobs, but the marriage was unhappy and we parted.”[xxx]

Dishonesty in public sermons, 1835 D&C 101:4, denials by Joseph Smith denying he was a polygamist,

This is false. Joseph was not being “dishonest” when he said: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” Outwardly, Joseph only had one wife. He never publicly acknowledged his plural wives in any way. He never introduced them in a public setting as his wives.  Legally, Joseph only had one wife. He did not commit bigamy because none of the plural marriage ceremonies invoked legal authority. So as he was openly addressing the congregation that day, only one wife was legally recognized and only one wife had ever been publicly acknowledged. And that wife was Emma.

Joseph’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor that exposed his polygamy and which printing press destruction started the chain of events that led to Joseph’s death.

This is an overstatement. Joseph was Mayor and supported the action, but the Nauvoo City Council voted to destroy the press.

Marriages to young girls living in Joseph’s home as foster daughters (Lawrence sisters, Partridge sisters, Fanny Alger, Lucy Walker).

This is false. Fanny Alger, the Partridge sisters, and Lucy Walker did live with the Smith family, but they were not “foster daughters.”

Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger was described by Oliver Cowdery as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323

The original statement was “dirty, nasty, filthy scrape.”  It is clear Oliver did not accept the plural marriage as valid, but evidence is strong that Fanny, her family, those who officiated, and others who knew the details did believe it was a valid marriage.

Joseph was practicing polygamy before the sealing authority was given. LDS historian, Richard Bushman, states: “There is evidence that Joseph was a polygamist by 1835” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323. Plural marriages are rooted in the notion of “sealing” for both time and eternity. The “sealing” power was not restored until April 3, 1836 when Elijah appeared to Joseph in the Kirtland Temple and conferred the sealing keys upon him. So, Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger in 1833 was illegal under both the laws of the land and under any theory of divine authority; it was adultery.

This is false. We do not know when Joseph Smith married Fanny Alger as a plural wife. Joseph reported that in July of 1834 an unidentified angel commanded him to practice polygamy. Some have speculated that the marriage may have been after April 3, 1836 and could have been a sealing. What we do know is that it was not discovered until a few weeks after the Kirtland Temple dedication.[xxxi] If the plural ceremony occurred prior to April 3, priesthood authority could have ratified a time-only plural marriage that unquestionably would have been recognized by God (according to Joseph’s teachings). The Prophet and other ordained elders used priesthood authority to perform monogamous marriages recognized by the government and the Lord. The state of Ohio would not have recognized a plural marriage, but if God commanded it and priesthood authority was used, it would be fulfilling His expectations.

Also, verse 63 states that if the new wives are with another man after the polygamous marriage, they will be destroyed. Eleven of Joseph’s wives lived with their first husbands after marrying Joseph Smith. Most of them lived on to old age. Why weren’t they “destroyed”?

Being “destroyed” is not earthly destruction, but spiritual destruction. Paul gave a similar example: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).

How about the consent of the first wife, which receives so much attention in D&C 132? Emma was unaware of most of Joseph’s plural marriages, at least until after the fact, which violated D&C 132.

According to available records, Joseph did not received this principle (D&C 132:61) in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835. Regardless, Emma rejected his plural marriage to Fanny Alger the following year so he would not have been required to seek Emma’s consent later in Nauvoo. As stated above, D&C 132:61–63 is not the only process through which a valid plural marriage can be contracted.

I’ve been asked once by an LDS apologist if I would be okay with Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry if I received a witness that God really did command Joseph Smith to participate in these practices. The question is not if I would “be okay with” God commanding Joseph Smith to secretly steal other men’s wives and to marry underage and teenage girls. The question is “Do I believe that God did such a thing?” The answer, based on comparing D&C 132 to what actually happened, along with my personal belief that there is no such thing as an insane polygamist god who demanded such sadistic, immoral, adulterous, despicable, and pedophilic behavior while threatening Joseph’s life with one of his angels with a sword…is an emphatic and absolute “no.”

This is a rather dramatic and inaccurate portrayal. The author of The Letter to a CES Director is entitled to his opinion, but this paragraph is very problematic. “Secretly steal other men’s wives”? I think this is the fourth reference to polyandry, a relationship that did not occur in Nauvoo and would have been condemned by Joseph Smith if anyone had tried to practice it. “Pedophilic behavior”? I’ve learned that anyone who uses the word “pedophile” to describe Joseph Smith’s behavior is either uninformed or seeking to misrepresent reality or both. A “pedophile” is someone sexually interested in children up to age 11 and has no application to Joseph Smith. “Sadistic” is defined as “Cruel, barbarous, vicious, brutal, callous, fiendish, cold-blooded, inhuman, ruthless, heartless; perverted.” This seems over-the-top and nonsensical. Does the CES Letter author apply this condemnation equally to Old Testament polygamists Abraham and Jacob? Joseph’s behavior was not “sadistic.” None of his plural wives ever accused him of any form of abuse, including the seven that left the Church. It seems that accusations like this take us far afield from transparency and accuracy.

The secrecy of the marriages and the private and public denials by Joseph Smith are not congruent with honest behavior. Emma was unaware of most of these marriages. She certainly did not consent to most of them as required by D&C 132. The Saints did not know what was going on behind the scenes as polygamy did not become common knowledge until 1852 when Brigham Young revealed it in Utah. Joseph Smith did everything he could to keep the practice in the dark. In fact, Joseph’s desire to keep this part of his life a secret is what ultimately contributed to his death when he ordered the destruction of the printing press(Nauvoo Expositor) that dared expose his behavior in June 1844. This event initiated a chain of events that led to Carthage.

The idea that Joseph Smith kept plural marriage “in the dark” is false. Secrecy was attempted regarding the actual marriage ceremonies and relationships, but teaching the principle was done cautiously. The goal was that worthy Church members were introduced to the principle in a way that did not teach gospel meat to those who needed gospel milk (D&C 19:22). For example, Cyrus Wheelock described his introduction: “We would go out in the timber to talk under the trees about the principles of the church, amongst other principles that of baptism for the dead was discussed and the building of the temple and all those things together.  It was at this time, amongst others, that he taught us the principle of plural marriage, but his teaching was not specially directed to me, but to all who were in the company.  We talked about it as we might here or any brother qualified and having authority to do so will discuss principles when he gets along with his brethren in friendly and confidential discourse.”[xxxii]

Consider the following denial made by Joseph Smith to Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo in May 1844 – a month before his death:

“…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.” – History of the Church, Vol. 6, Chapter 19, p.  411

It is a matter of historical fact that Joseph had secretly taken over 30 plural wives by May 1844 when he made the above denial that he was ever a polygamist.

[Repeated from above: Joseph was not being “dishonest” when he said: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.” Outwardly, Joseph only had one wife. He never publicly acknowledged his plural wives in any way. He never introduced them in a public setting as his wives.  Legally, Joseph only had one wife. He did not commit bigamy because none of the plural marriage ceremonies invoked legal authority. So as he was openly addressing the congregation that day, only one wife was legally recognized and only one wife had ever been publicly acknowledged. And that wife was Emma.]

The following 1835 edition of Doctrine & Covenants revelations bans polygamy:

1835 Doctrine & Covenants 101:4: “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.”

Other critics of the Church have observed that, due to technicalities in the verbiage of this verse, it might not require monogamy. RLDS Elder David H. Bays made this allegation in his 1897 book:

You may have observed the ingenious phraseology of that part of the document [1835 D&C section 101] which is designed to convey the impression that the assembly, as well as the entire church, was opposed to polygamy, but which, as a matter of fact, leaves the way open for its introduction and practice. The language I refer to is this:

“We believe that one man shall have one wife; and one woman but one husband.” Why use the restrictive adverb in the case of the woman, and ingeniously omit it with reference to the man? Why not employ the same form of words in the one case as in the other? Of the woman it is said she shall have but one husband. Why not say of the man, he shall have “but one wife except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”67

In 1902, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith made the same observation: “The declaration … that ‘one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband,’ bears the implication that a man might possibly be permitted at some time to have more than one wife.”68

These two authors took the position that the statement in the Article on Marriage could be seen as ambiguous due to the absence of a needed qualifier “we believe that one man should have [only or at least?] one wife.” Bays condemns the lack of specificity, while President Smith implied it was an intended loophole.

Whether the precise terminology was truly deliberate is unknown because Joseph Smith apparently never referred to the technical aspects of the declaration. It is possible the language was crafted by Joseph himself, since by 1835, he knew the practice of plural marriage was one of the many things he was expected to restore.69

1835 Doctrine & Covenants 13:7: “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.”

Here we learn that a man should cleave only to a wife and never cleave to a non-wife. The issue of monogamy may be implied, but the language does not prevent polygamy.

1835 Doctrine & Covenants 65:3: “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”

If this were a declaration against polygamy, the language would have needed to be different: “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have [only] one wife.” This is similar to language in the 1835 D&C section CI.

Joseph Smith was already a polygamist when these revelations were introduced into the1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants and Joseph publicly taught that the doctrine of the Church was monogamy. Joseph continued secretly marrying multiple women as these revelations/scriptures remained in force.

The narrow interpretation found The CES Letter is unjustified.

In an attempt to influence and abate public rumors of his secret polygamy, Joseph got 31 witnesses to sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy. Pointing to the above-mentioned D&C 101:4 scripture, these witnesses claimed the following:

“…we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.”

The problem with this affidavit is that it was signed by several people who were secret polygamists or who knew that Joseph was a polygamist at the time they signed the affidavit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the signers of this affidavit, was Joseph Smith’s plural wife. Joseph and Eliza were married 3 months earlier on June 29, 1842. Two Apostles and future prophets, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, were very aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed. Another signer, Bishop Whitney, had personally married his daughter Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph as a plural wife a few months earlier on July 27, 1842; Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s mother Elizabeth (also a signer) witnessed the ceremony.

These claims are misleading. The statement signed by 31 men and women was denouncing John C. Bennett’s “spiritual wifery,” and had nothing to do with celestial plural marriage. Eliza R. Snow wrote to Joseph F. Smith explaining the intent of those that signed the statement:

At the time the sisters of the Relief Society signed our article, I was married to the prophet— we made no allusion to any other system of marriage than Bennett’s— his was prostitution, and it was truly his, and he succeeded in pandering his course on the credulity of the unsuspecting by making them believe that he was thus authorized by the Prophet. In those articles there is no reference to divine plural marriage. We aimed to put down its opposite.[xxxiii]

What does it say about Joseph Smith and his character to include his plural wife and buddies – who knew about his secret polygamy/polyandry – to lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist?

On July 27, 1842, only three men (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball) had entered into plural unions. Celestial plural marriage was not a “rule or system of marriage” within the Church. They did not “lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit.” Such exaggerations are based upon uninformed interpretations.

Now, does the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry while lying to Emma, the Saints, and the world about it over the course of 10+ years prove that he was a false prophet? That the Church is false? No, it doesn’t.

Polyandry for the fifth time? Is there evidence of “lying to Emma”? Emma remained devoted to Joseph. When on June 24, 1844, Joseph left for Carthage and martyrdom, he requested that Emma accompany him.  Because of the needs of their children, she was unable to comply, but she requested a blessing from him. Harried for time, he told her to “write out the best blessing [she] could think of and he would sign the same on his return.”[xxxiv] She wrote: “I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side.”[xxxv] Immediately after Joseph’s death, family friend John P. Greene reported seeing Emma “weepig and wailing bitterly, in a loud and unrestrained voice, her face covered with her hands.” He remarked, “this affliction would be to her a crown of life.”  She allegedly replied:  “My husband was my crown.[xxxvi]

What it does prove, however, is that Joseph Smith’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for a period of at least 10 years of his adult life was to keep secrets, be deceptive, and be dishonest – both privately and publicly.

It is paradoxical that individuals who know Joseph the least, like the author of The Letter to the CES Letter, claim to know things that those who knew Joseph best, apparently couldn’t see. None of Joseph Smith’s plural wives ever accused him of abuse or deception, including the seven who did not gather to Utah with the main body of the Church. Decades after their feelings had matured and their youthful perspectives expanded by additional experiences with marriage and sexual relations, none of them claimed they were victimized or beguiled by the Prophet.  None came forth to write an exposé to tell the world he was a seducing imposter.  None wrote that Joseph Smith’s polygamy was a sham or a cover-up for illicit sexual relations.  Had any of Joseph’s polygamous wives eventually decided that he had debauched them, their subsequent scorn might have easily motivated them to expose him through the pages of the anti-Mormon presses located across the expanding United States.  Numerous publishers would have been eager to print their allegations.

Similarly, none of the other 85 polygamists who had entered into plural marriage during the Prophet’s lifetime wrote exposés or defaming literature accusing him of licentiousness.

For a response to the chart on page 35, click here:

For a response to the chart on page 36A, click here: