For the last weeks of October and the first part of November, 2014, headlines similar to "The LDS Church Finally Admits Joseph Smith Was a Polygamist and Had a 14-Year-Old Bride" have been splashed across news sources from Salt Lake City to all points east and west. Of course, this is a result of the LDS Church recently posting the "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo" article to lds.org stating their official position that Joseph was a polygamist and, among other things, was married to a 14-year-old girl, Helen Mar Kimball. Naturally, because the LDS Church has been officially silent for almost a century about Joseph and polygamy, the news sources are under the impression that this is the first official statement by the LDS Church that Joseph was a polygamist. Actually, this was one of many actions of the LDS Church (since migrating to Utah) that have accused Joseph of being a polygamist. In addition, because of the sensationalism of the official statement by the LDS Church that Joseph was married to a 14-year-old girl, the news sources have taken up this chant so as to eagerly prove his allegedly depraved nature. However, when looking at the prolific writings of Helen Mar Kimball in support of polygamy, they don't convince me beyond a reasonable doubt that she was a plural wife of Joseph Smith, Jr. Because both of these subjects are too lengthy to address in one blog post, today I will address the fact that the belief of the LDS Church has always been that Joseph was a polygamist. My next post will deal with the issue of Helen Mar Kimball.
The Original Position of the LDS Church in Utah Was That Joseph Founded Polygamy
The belief that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy is not a new position for the LDS Church. In 1852, Orson Pratt at the direction of Brigham Young, publicly read for the first time the purported revelation from Joseph Smith, Jr. on plural marriage, which is now Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants. Allegedly, prior to its public reading, Brigham Young had been holding this document in secret. This was the first official statement from the LDS Church legitimizing the practice of polygamy and crediting Joseph with its origin. Publicly crediting Joseph as the author of both the revelation and the doctrine—whether such credit was fact or fiction—was the galvanizing agent used by the LDS Church to bring their people together to openly accept and practice this principle. Those in the rank and file of the church who knew Joseph, both loved and revered him. Thus, when they were told in 1852 by their leaders, who they also respected, that Joseph had received a revelation nine years earlier indicating they were to openly practice celestial marriage and that their eternal salvation depended upon it, for the most part, they readily accepted it without question.
In the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s the sons of Joseph (Joseph III, Alexander, and David) came to Utah to preach against polygamy and try to establish that it was not taught or practiced by their father and was not a principle of the Church established through him. As a result of their efforts, their cousin Joseph F. Smith (an apostle in the LDS Church at the time) began a search for documentation to prove Joseph was a polygamist. According to Brian C. Hales, Joseph F. Smith wrote to Orson Pratt (who had openly presented the alleged revelation on celestial marriage and who was a more senior apostle) in 1875 about his efforts to obtain evidence regarding Joseph's polygamy and was astonished at the lack of existing evidence.
A few years ago [May 1869 to April 1870] I obtained the affidavits of as many as I knew of, with a few exceptions, who received personal instructions or commandment from The Prophet respecting the Subject of celestial marriage [,] all of which are filed away in the H.O. [Historian's Office].... When the subject first came before my mind I must say I was astonished at the scarcity of evidence, I might say almost total absence of direct evidence upon the Subject, as connected with the Prophet Joseph himself. There was nothing written and but few living who were personally knowing to the fact that Joseph Taught the principle. True much had been written in support of the Doctrine, bearing upon scriptural—and rational evidences, but not a word, except the Revelation itself. Showing that the The Prophet was the Author—under God.... (Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 1: History, Brian C. Hales, p. 9)
Since there was "almost total absence of direct evidence" of Joseph teaching or practicing polygamy, Joseph F. Smith had to resort to obtaining affidavits (signed statements, not made under penalty of law for perjury) of alleged plural wives of Joseph as well as those who stated they knew Joseph was a polygamist. According to Brian C. Hales, Joseph F. Smith obtained such affidavits from about fifty individuals (Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 2: History, Brian C. Hales, pp. 352-357).
In the 1880s Andrew Jenson, an LDS author, obtained additional affidavits (again, not made under penalty of law for perjury) and published them along with a list of 27 plural wives of Joseph Smith by name. According to Brian C. Hales:
In July 1887, Jenson published a twenty-seven page article, "Plural Marriage," in his monthly Historical Record. It identified by name twenty-seven plural wives of Joseph Smith. He also printed all seven of the Joseph F. Smith affidavits that the Deseret News had printed in 1879 and added several more new attestations [some of which were originally recorded by Joseph F. Smith] (Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 1: History, Brian C. Hales, p.11).
While the work done by Joseph F. Smith and Andrew Jenson was not officially directed by the LDS Church, at the time of its collection, it was certainly not discouraged or denied by the Church. Today, it remains the core of evidence used to "prove" Joseph was a polygamist by the LDS Church in the mid to late 1800s, as well as by contemporary authors today.
However, in the 1890s, the LDS Church took another official stand that Joseph was a polygamist. The RLDS Church brought suit (Circuit Court of the United States, for the Western District of Missouri, Western Division, at Kansas City, Missouri, Judge John F. Philips) against the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) for ownership of the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri. The LDS Church entered the suit on behalf of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) against the RLDS Church. The presence of the LDS Church in the trial was so notable "that Judge Philips in his decision spoke of it as 'the power behind the throne.' They furnished many leading witnesses, including Wilford Woodruff, president of the LDS Church, Lorenzo Snow, president of the Twelve, and at least two of the women who had become notorious by reason of their claim that they were plural wives of Joseph Smith the Martyr" (The Church in Court, compiled and arranged by Elbert A. Smith).
Since neither party owned a warranty deed to the land, the court had to decide who was the proper successor to the original LDS Church which had purchased the 63.27 acre tract containing the Temple Lot. Thus, the court investigated the original beliefs of the Church, as well as the beliefs of the churches represented at the suit, to determine which church was the legitimate continuation of the original church and entitled to the property. The LDS Church officially took the position that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy. However, according to the Judge, they could not prove their case. While the court's decision to award ownership of the Temple Lot to the RLDS Church was overturned in appeals court because of laches (too much time delay in suing for ownership), the lower court's decision about the original teachings of the church and Joseph's innocence regarding polygamy was not overturned. For more information about the Temple Lot Suit see my blog "Why is the Temple Lot Suit important?"
From the above it is important to remember that, according to Joseph F. Smith, the only evidence the LDS Church has that Joseph was a polygamist are the statements of individuals associated with polygamy. And when the LDS Church presented their case in a court of law to prove that Joseph was a polygamist, their evidence was too weak to convince the judge that Joseph taught or practiced polygamy. Nevertheless, the original position of the LDS Church from 1852 on was that polygamy originated with Joseph.
The LDS Church Stopped Teaching that Joseph Was a Polygamist
It is my understanding that since the Manifesto in 1890, the LDS Church gradually stopped teaching their previous position that Joseph was a polygamist. As a result, several generations of LDS were not taught about polygamy in their church, but emphasis was placed on monogamy as the basis of the family unit. Joseph and Emma, in a monogamous relationship, with their children were depicted as the perfect example of harmony and family life. The concept of polygamy and the history of its past practice was skillfully eradicated from common LDS thought. It wasn't until about the mid-1900s that the work of Joseph F. Smith and Andrew Jenson as well as the allegations made by Bennett, the Laws, the Higbee's, and anti-Mormon enemies of Joseph, began to be revisited by authors to paint Joseph as a polygamist. However, the publishing explosion of these types of books didn't occur until about the 1980s. Because the LDS Church had "covered up" these allegations from the past about Joseph practicing polygamy in order to distance itself from the teaching and practice of polygamy, authors have treated their books as exposés about Joseph—he was a deceiver, a liar, a whoremonger, a dictator, an adulterer, a pedophile, and in general a sex-driven maniac. In their minds they have uncovered the "truth" about him and informed not only the membership of the LDS Church, but the world, of his "true" nature and actions. But in my opinion, what they have uncovered are the lies told about Joseph by both his enemies and the mid-1800 leaders of the Utah LDS Church.
After having read several of these authors, it is my opinion that their purpose is only to prove how much of a polygamist Joseph was. They never consider any evidence (including his relentless statements and those of his family) that point to the possibility he was telling the truth that he was not a polygamist. So all they have done with their books is resurrect all the old evidence stating Joseph was a polygamist and made it "new" again. See my blog posts on "The 'New' Attack of Joseph"—Part 1 and Part 2. And now the LDS Church has officially taken the same position as these authors, which ironically, was the Utah LDS Church's original position. Officially, the LDS Church has gone full circle in their assertions that Joseph was a polygamist.
What Is My Take on All of This?
First, My Beliefs about Joseph
To understand my opinion about the recent plural marriage statement of the LDS Church, whether you agree with it or not, you need to understand my position about Joseph and polygamy. I don't believe Joseph taught or practiced polygamy. I believe that many of the high officials (including most of the Council of Twelve Apostles) began to secretly teach and practice polygamy in Nauvoo and attached Joseph's name to it in order to promote their position. I don't believe that the polygamy revelation (Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants) was authored by the Lord or Joseph. Some might say I have this belief because of my RLDS upbringing. It is true that this background influenced my original beliefs on this subject, as anyone's upbringing affects their original belief system. However, as I have investigated both sides of the issues including scrutinizing source materials such as Jenson's "Plural Marriage" article in the Historical Record, Udney Jacob's The Peace Maker, the Nauvoo Expositor, statements made by the Whitney's, Eliza Snow, John C. Bennett, the Laws and Higbee's, the writings of Helen Mar Kimball, interviews of Sarah Pratt, etc., I have found that the truthfulness of their allegations break down and don't convince me beyond a reasonable doubt that Joseph taught or practiced polygamy. Joseph is on trial in our minds, and as such, should be considered innocent until the facts (truth, not hearsay or opinions) prove him guilty. None of the source material I have read proves him guilty, and thus he remains innocent to me. The contemporary authors stating Joseph was a polygamist, and now the LDS Church, have not proven to me that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy. The reason they have not done so is that I don't agree with their interpretation of the source material I have read for myself, and they fail—almost refusing—to deal with all the evidence proving Joseph was innocent. Their approach has been to show how much of a polygamist Joseph was, not to determine if he was. I feel their conclusions are tainted because their paradigm that he was a polygamist excludes evidence supporting his innocence and brings them to only one conclusion--he is really guilty of the most heinous acts including marriage to the 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball. However, my investigations have not proved him to be such, and until they do, he will remain innocent to me.
Why Did the LDS Church Revisit Their Original Position that Joseph was a Polygamist?
In short, they did so for damage control. As stated earlier, for about 100 years the LDS Church did not teach to their members their original position that Joseph was a polygamist. Several generations were raised on monogamous family values with their first prophet, Joseph, leading the way. Since the 1980s, there has been an explosion of books using documentation by the mid-1800s LDS Church, as well as enemies of Joseph, to "prove" Joseph was not only a polygamist, but an evil person. Because of this information and silence from the LDS Church on this issue, many members became disillusioned and left, and are still leaving, the LDS Church. And it seems the issue is not dying, only heating up. I recently learned from a video interview on the The Salt Lake Tribune Web site, that Brian C. Hales—who recently published (2013) the three-volume book, Joseph Smith's Polygamy—is co-authoring with his wife, Laura Hales, another book entitled, Joseph Smith and Nauvoo Polygamy—Separating Fact from Fiction, which should released in early 2015. Conversely, on the other side of the spectrum, Volume 2 of Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, the only series of books defending Joseph's innocence, has recently been released in print. Because of their silence on the issue, the LDS Church has appeared to its members to be covering up the issues made public by the contemporary authors supporting the position that Joseph was a polygamist. The appearance of cover-up by the LDS Church has only fueled the disillusionment among the members. Thus, the LDS Church was forced to take a stand on the issue to assure their membership they are aware of the issues and are not covering up anything.
So why did the LDS Church stand against Joseph's innocence? In my opinion, they had no choice but to do so if they wished to preserve their church. Since I believe that the leaders of the LDS Church that went west with Brigham lied about Joseph teaching and practicing polygamy to justify their continued practice of the principle, the current LDS Church could not expose that lie and preserve their church. For the LDS Church leaders today to say that Brigham, the apostles, other church leaders, and their plural wives lied about Joseph's involvement in polygamy would put in question the authority of their church as the "true" church and heir to the Church established by Joseph. In addition, it would put in question other beliefs and practices emanating from Brigham Young. Since the LDS Church could no longer be silent about the issue and could not defend Joseph's innocence and still maintain the authority of their church, their only choice was to once again throw Joseph "under the bus" to preserve their way of life. (If you think my criticism is unwarranted because of my RLDS background, please be assured it is not about the LDS Church as such, but about their treatment of Joseph. I am just as critical about the RLDS Church leadership that also threw Joseph "under the bus" many years ago in order to promote the current liberal Protestantism of the Community of Christ.) I believe that, unfortunately, the LDS Church leadership have only just started their descent down a very slippery slope because their statement was too general and too rationalizing of polygamy to satisfy the intellectual and liberal members of their church. According to some of the opinions of the three women on the video interview by The Salt Lake Tribune reporter mentioned above, the statement made by the LDS Church on plural marriage was good for a start, but the church needs to address the issues of polygamy and its beginnings in the church more in-depth.
What Is Next?
For me, the statement by the LDS Church was inevitable. They had to control the damage done to their church by the Joseph-was-a-polygamist authors by jumping on board to spin the information in a way that would minimize its adverse impact on their members. In my opinion, the plural marriage statement is just the beginning for the LDS Church because these authors and the intellectual, liberal members will not stop until the LDS Church admits the full extent of what these authors say about Joseph and polygamy.
What is next for me? I will still continue to defend Joseph. The fact that the LDS Church is again officially saying Joseph was a polygamist has no bearing on my stand. They are just reiterating what authors have already said. Since these authors haven't yet proven their case to me, the LDS Church jumping on the band wagon is certainly not going to make a difference. The reason I can say this is that I have evaluated many sources used by these authors and have determined they are very weak in proving Joseph was a polygamist. Since Joseph's alleged polygamy took place over 170 years ago, I don't foresee any "new and convincing evidence" surfacing that would push me to the other side. However, I do find the study of this subject very interesting and will continue to pursue the truth about Joseph and polygamy.
But how about you? What is next for you? For those of you who already believe Joseph was a polygamist, the official statement by the LDS Church is confirmation to you of what you believe to be true. For those of you who have studied out this issue and, like me, have come to the conclusion that Joseph was not a polygamist, the statement is just a reiteration of what authors have already said against Joseph and thus, not too earth shaking. But for those LDS who have either heard the "rumors" about Joseph and polygamy or are hearing this about Joseph for the first time, you could be very disturbed and overwhelmed. For you it isn't an issue that some "wacko" authors are bringing to your attention. Your church, which has probably not taught you anything about this issue in the past, is now officially stating that Joseph was a polygamist. Since you can't ignore the official position of your church, what do you do about it? In my opinion, you can either choose to accept it and go on, or you can choose to investigate the issue for yourself and make up your own mind as to whether you agree or disagree with the official opinion of your church.
If you choose to investigate this for yourself, I have some suggestions for you. First, you need to get your head in the game. Don't be concerned about what other people believe or say about this issue. As I indicated earlier, just because published authors and now the LDS Church are saying Joseph was a polygamist, doesn't make it so. The only thing that makes it so, is if he really was a polygamist. So the only thing that should matter to you is that you find out the truth about Joseph and polygamy for yourself.
Second, you need to approach your investigation as if Joseph is on trial (which he is) and you are the jury. Remember that in our court system, a person is innocent until proven guilty. To come to the truth, you must presume Joseph's innocence until the presented facts prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means you must review the evidence against him to determine if it is a fact (or true). If the evidence presented against him is not a fact (or not true) then you must reject it. Opinions and hearsay are not facts. Eyewitness accounts are acceptable as long as the witness is a person of integrity and has no reason to lie. Discrepancies in a person's testimony, or with what they said earlier, or with other accounts of the same event must be resolved. Otherwise, the truthfulness of their testimony is questionable. Evidence collected or statements made close to the event tend to be more accurate and reliable than those collected or made many years after the event. Generally, statements made close to the event are more detailed than those made many years after the event. Detailed statements made many years after an event tend to be questionable due to the fact that memory fades over time.
Third, don't forget to investigate and evaluate the defendant's (Joseph's) evidence. The best source of this information is the book, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, which is over three volumes of information supporting Joseph's innocence and is free to read. Since the book is not finished yet, continue to check back for new chapters.
Fourth, when doing your investigation, don't just take the author's word for interpretation of source material. Go to the source they reference and evaluate it yourself. If you do this you will be surprised, as I have been, how authors can misinterpret or bend the meaning of source material to fit their premise or support their conclusions.
Fifth, the whole issue of Joseph and polygamy can be a big, complicated mess. So as not to get overwhelmed, take one aspect of it that interests you, study it thoroughly from both sides, and make your judgment on that issue. Then, move on to the next one.
Sixth, if after evaluating all the evidence pro and con, you reasonably doubt that Joseph is guilty of being a polygamist, you must in your mind acquit him of the charges and deem him innocent..
While I realize this process is a little legalistic, it is the only way to fairly evaluate Joseph's guilt or innocence and give you the ability to determine this for yourself without being influenced by the opinions of others. In addition to the above, I suggest you add one more important step to your investigation—make it a diligent matter of prayer. Ask the Lord to show you in your studies whether or not Joseph was a polygamist. He knows the truth and He will show it to you in the way that will convince you. When He does, you will be satisfied in your soul about this issue. These are all the steps I have used to research this issue and they have led me to believe Joseph was innocent of both teaching and practicing polygamy.
God bless you in your pursuit of the truth about Joseph and polygamy. My next post will be about Helen Mar Kimball—was she really Joseph's wife?
Addendum (2/6/15): Authorship of LDS D&C Section 132 Determined by Writing Style Analysis
The following was posted on 12/31/14 anonymously as a comment: “Have you ever read Enid DeBarthe's thesis paper on an analysis of the writing style of the author of Section 132 MDC? She proves incontrovertibly that Brigham Young was its author. I have had a physical copy of it for almost 30 years, but didn't take the time to digitize it until a couple of weeks ago. I have never heard anybody mention it in any polygamy discussions. It is quite lengthy and technical, but if you would be interested in reading it, I can send it to your email.”
I responded that I was interested in getting a digital copy and gave my email address. However, I never received a copy of this document. Since this post, I asked around locally if any of my contacts knew of this document and where I could get a copy to digitize. I soon found out that Enid DeBarthe’s sister had recently begun attending our church. Her sister put me in contact with Enid’s son who had a copy of the document. It is a 348 page book which he allowed be to digitize. There are only three in existence.
According to the title page, the book is entitled, “A BIBLIOGRAPHY ON JOSEPH SMITH II THE MORMON PROPHET-LEADER.” Enid DeBarthe wrote this book as a “Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Library Science” for the “Faculty of the Graduate School Northern Illinois University” in July 1969. The major portion of the book is about Joseph Smith (his teachings and writings), the movement of the Church from New York to eventually Illinois, and the disbursement of the Church after Joseph’s death. It is the appendix of the book (oddly not listed in the table of contents) which analyzes the writing styles of both LDS D&C 132 and the King Follett sermon and compares them to the writing styles of several men, including Joseph and Brigham Young, to determine the likely author of these documents. It is her conclusion that “Brigham Young wrote Section 132 and rewrote the major portion of the report on the King Follett sermon” (p. 315).
Today, the type of writing analysis she used is called stylometry, which compares the writing style, using various criteria, of a document with unknown or disputed authorship to the writing styles of various authors to determine correct authorship. Presently, there are several computer programs which are used to do this task. However, Enid DeBarthe, in 1969, had to do this manually by counting words as well as comparing sentence structure and phraseology. The study and analysis she did was very detailed and remarkable for her time.
Since there has been so much interest expressed to read this analysis, I have made a PDF file of it available for you to download. If you have trouble downloading it, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email it to you.