A Different Standard Applies

Elder D. Todd Christofferson recently gave this interview to a Reuters reporter. The reporter left his big question for the end. You can read the complete interview here

REUTERS: We have one last question and we raise this because it seems obvious that there is going to be a lot more scrutiny of the church. There is historical evidence that suggests Joseph Smith took a 14-year-old bride, Helen Mar Kimball, when he was 38 years old. In today’s terms, that would make him a pedophile. Does this bother you or other LDS church members?

CHRISTOFFERSON: It would depend on what all the facts were and the context. In those days, of course, was that it was not so uncommon in the society of the time. Today that would be statutory rape. A different standard applies. What I look to, I’m telling you about my personal approach, is: what do I know through study and through prayer concerning Joseph Smith and at root my witness is that he was divinely called. That’s the foundation. Now whatever questions might arise — as to whether he erred or stumbled in a certain matter — throughout his life he wasn’t perfect. We don’t claim perfection in the human being. I don’t know what he was responsible to before — God I don’t know frankly. But as to his prophetic calling, his prophetic mission and what he achieved in that goal, I’m convinced of that. So the fruits of what he accomplished I think are evident.

From a non-LDS perspective, I have to say that this answer is a little creepy. I know that many sincere LDS find satisfaction with it, but I don’t think it really passes mustard outside the LDS circle. If it works for you, great. But you shouldn’t honestly think that this solves the problem for non-LDS.

Fourteen year old girls getting married, may have happened in the 19th Century but it wasn’t common. Even more so, it wasn’t common for a 14 year old to marry a man nearly 3 times her age. And most certainly it was never common for a 14 year old girl to marry a man who already had a wife. So we don’t need to hold Joseph Smith to today’s standards, we can hold him to his own day’s standards. This was a scandalous act no matter how you swing it.

Christofferson, tries to walk a fine line in his answer by saying that this may have been a mistake on Joseph’s part, but his prophetic message and calling are still intact. The problem is, Joseph used his prophetic calling to marry Helen Mar Kimball. You can’t separate the restoration of the priesthood from his practice of polygamy. They both come with the same authority. They are both the fruits of his mission. If you think his plural marriages were a mistake, then you have to say he was abusing his prophetic authority. I don’t think LDS are willing to do this because then it starts the slippery slope of trying to figure out when he was and when he was not abusing his power as Prophet.

Perhaps I’m reading more into Christofferson’s comments than I should. He didn’t actually say that Smith’s marriage to Kimball was a mistake. He just said that Smith erred and wasn’t perfect. If I happen to misconstrue his comments because he happened to be making them in the context of polygamy, perhaps that’s my fault.

There is another response that only on occasion do I hear from LDS: “you have to have the right kind of spiritual eyes to understand it”. There is one word that runs through people’s heads when they hear this from anyone from any new religious movement.(and it starts with a “c”). They may be right, perhaps you do need to have to be given spiritual eyes to understand it, but what I, and others hear is, “you haven’t been brain-washed yet.” I’m glad that this sort of response is beginning to diminish from the LDS apologetic arsenal. If I ever get the hunger to hear it again I’ll call up a Jehovah’s Witness or a Moonie who are still pretty fond of it.

25 thoughts on “A Different Standard Applies

  1. Nah, the “whether he erred… he wasn’t perfect” thing is a pretty standard rhetorical dodge tacked onto pretty much any defense of objectionable statements or actions made by past leaders of the Church. It’s a kind of hemming and hawing, trying to have it both ways. And it provides a convenient rhetorical rug to sweep foundational problems under, minimizing whatever of your concerns are left over after the apologetic response.

  2. Here are some good posts on the Helen Mar Kimball topic, with a serious rebuttal to the “different standards” and “it was normal at the time” defenses. The posts are long and passionate, but they have a lot of good sources and quotes.

    If Your Daughter Was Helen Mar Kimball

    Was It Normal To Marry a 14-Year Old Girl In JosephSmith’s Time?

    Should We Judge Joseph Smith By A Different Standard?

  3. I knew Elder Christofferson a long time before he became a member of the seventy. I was a good friend to his son, Peter. I have a lot of respect for him and his family. With that said I was surprised at some of his statements. He said by today’s standards Joseph Smith would be guilty of statutory rape. I have always understood that statutory rape is when you have sex with a minor without being married.
    In some states you can be married to a minor if permission of the parents is obtained. Unless it has changed in the last 7 years, in Utah a 14 year old can marry with parental permission. I don’t agree with that, but it can be done and I don’t think consummating the marriage would be considered statutory rape. Elder Christofferson was fairly high power lawyer before becoming a GA, so I could be totally wrong on my definition of what statutory rape is. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
    The other thing that threw me was his response to this question:
    REUTERS. Turning to polygamy. I realize the church banned the practice in 1890, but is it true that LDS temples across the world continue to conduct ceremonies where men are sealed to multiple wives who would only become their spouses in the afterlife? Does that happen?
    CHRISTOFFERSON: Yes, when someone’s spouse has died for example and they remarry; they could be married in a temple for a second time, sealed as we say. How that sorts out in the afterlife we’ll leave in the Savior’s hand, but we permit people to marry again when there’s been a death or a divorce.

    How that all sorts out? I can guarantee that close to 100% of LDS members would agree that if they live worthy and desire to after this life, those men and women sealed into polygamous temple marriages will be living polygamy in the afterlife. There is not too much ambiguity on this subject in the LDS Church.

    Then there was this question:

    REUTERS: That said, is the Romney campaign exciting for Mormons?

    CHRISTOFFERSON: I think it is for many members. I’m sure there are many who support his candidacy and others who don’t. It’s not going to be 100 percent in either direction. But it’s of interest obviously because it’s a fellow church member who is in a prominent political race in this country. It’s a matter certainly of interest here.

    I think this is where the lawyer starts to come out. Not 100% in either direction? No, I suppose 99.9% is not 100%:) Seriously it may not be that skewed, but the realistic answer would be that most LDS members are conservative Republicans and most will be voting for Romney, if given the chance merely for the fact that he is a member of the LDS faith.

    I did like how he handled the evolutions question. And what he said is entirely accurate. I had a professor at BYU that went around to schools encouraging them to teach evolution. The two professors I had (one for evolution and the other for bioethics) seemed to think the idea of creationism was silly.

    There was a bit of controversy between the Biology department and the Religion department on this subject. The son of Bruce R. McConkie was teaching in the Religion department and was not happy with these professors’ stance on evolution or the fact that BYU allowed it to be taught.

    And what about this question:

    REUTERS: Women cannot enter the lay priesthood if I understand that correctly. Can you imagine a time when that might change? Is that conceivable?
    CHRISTOFFERSON: I don’t know. I really don’t know. We do honestly believe in the reality of revelation. Both in the past and the present and the future. We think the scriptures came by revelation. We think the Lord continues to reveal His will. It wasn’t just a thing in one period in the Earth’s history, but that God has always acted that way and there’s no way he wouldn’t continue. In that sense it would be conceivable. It happened in regard to blacks (in 1978). In that case, there was a time when God’s view for whatever reason was that it was not permitted and a time now when it is. I’m not saying He changes his mind. I’m just saying that for whatever vision of eternity he has and he wants to time things in a certain way that’s up to Him. He can reveal his will and he does.

    I would certainly agree that it is up to God. And I suppose that it is honest to say we don’t know if it could change (God can do whatever he pleases). However, the feeling of the LDS membership is that women never have and never will be able to have the priesthood. Some might even say they don’t need it. Women have never been given the priesthood. It would be going against 1000’s of years of precedent to do so.

    He then goes on to talk about blacks and how they didn’t have the priesthood until 1978. He says that God did not permit blacks to have the priesthood for a time. God didn’t permit it? I guess that depends on how you look at it. If you don’t want to think that leaders, even prophets, can be bigots and still receive revelation from God then I suppose that Elder Christofferson’s answer makes sense. On the other hand, If you believe that they were prejudice toward blacks, then you don’t believe that God ever intended to ban blacks from the priesthood, but that it came about because of the prejudice of man.

    Like I said before I really do respect Elder Todd Christofferson, but it drives me crazy when leaders of the LDS Church do interviews and give softball answers to hardball questions. They do more to mollify members and critics than actually address the question (i.e. They are very “PC”).

  4. With regards to this- I really don’t think there is an acceptable answer for the critic. What more can be given? The only other thing is to say that Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet- and the cookie crumbles.

    Nobody likes the answers (excuses) that have been given. What else can be said?

    If Joseph Smith erred then he erred. He certainly wasn’t perfect. He will give an account of any abuse to God. I can have faith in that and still believe he was a Prophet of God.

    If, however, Joseph Smith was commanded to “restore” the practice of plural marriage, then one would have to assume (or at least have an assurance) that his marriages (all of them) were sanctioned by the Lord.

    I’ve done a little digging into my own ancestry back in the 1800’s and found several males (20’s and 30’s) marrying younger women. In a couple of cases, the males were in the mid to late 20’s and the women were in their teens, one almost 17 and the other barely 15.

    These men were devoted to their wives and vice versa.

    So, to judge the family structure and society by our standards today may lead to biasness.

    I will somewhat agree to your (Dando’s) comment:
    “Fourteen year old girls getting married, may have happened in the 19th Century but it wasn’t common. Even more so, it wasn’t common for a 14 year old to marry a man nearly 3 times her age. And most certainly it was never common for a 14 year old girl to marry a man who already had a wife.”

    The first two points weren’t common but did occur (not specifically 14 year olds, but teens). For instance, William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) was 37 and he married Julia Hancock who was 16. Or John Milton (Paradise Lost) was 34 when he married his first wife, 17 year old Mary Powell.

    Helen Mar Kimball’s experience certainly was out of the ordinary to the extreme. It definitely brings on the compassion of anyone who knows her story. If plural marriage was a true, restored principle sanctioned by God, then her experience was a Refiner’s Fire.

  5. They really do give some silly-soft answers.

    Keep in mind that the statutory in statutory rape means “under statute.” In other words, regardless of whether there was actual coercion, the law treats that sexual behavior as rape. And the law is subject to all kinds of pressures and forces (policy concerns, politics, etc.), and the law is extremely changeable, especially statutory law, where all it takes is for the lawmaking body to simply decide to vote the other way.

    the statutory part of statutory rape isn;t a moral issue at all, it’s basically the legislature saying that regardless of whether the conduct was actually immoral or not, the conduct is illegal.

  6. “If, however, Joseph Smith was commanded to “restore” the practice of plural marriage, then one would have to assume (or at least have an assurance) that his marriages (all of them) were sanctioned by the Lord.”

    That’s a classic “false dilemma” logical fallacy, Austin.

  7. The LDS church has 4 sets of scripture, two of which are the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. Here is an interesting comparison on the subject of plural wives from each of those two.

    First, from the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:23-24:

    23“For behold, thus saith the Lord:
    This people begin to wax in
    INIQUITY; they understand NOT
    the scriptures, for they seek to
    excuse them- selves in committing
    WHORE- DOMS, because of the
    things which were written concern
    ing David, and Solomon his son.
    24“Behold, David and Solomon truly
    had many wives and concubines,
    which thing was ABOMINABLE
    BEFORE ME, saith the Lord.”

    And, second, from the D&C, Sec.132

    1 “Verily, thus saith the Lord…you
    have inquired of my hand to know
    and understand wherein I, the Lord,
    justified my servants…David
    and Solomon,…as touching the
    principle and doctrine of – having
    many wives and
    concubines . . . 39 David’s wives
    and concubines were given unto
    him of me,…”

    Which is it, I wonder? Is it abominable, or not?

  8. Something in addition to Smith’s appalling behavior struck me while reading this post. Christofferson makes reference to Smith’s humanity – that he was an imperfect human, and the fact that as such, he sinned. It struck me that Mormons believe that God is an exalted man. Did God ever sin? This question reminded me that Romney and other Mormons claim Jesus Christ as their savior. What does Mormon doctrine say about man’s need for salvation? Do Mormons believe we are hopelessly lost in sin without Jesus? Can we work our way toward salvation without Jesus? If not, did God need a savior and if he did, who was it?

  9. “If you think his plural marriages were a mistake, then you have to say he was abusing his prophetic authority. I don’t think LDS are willing to do this because then it starts the slippery slope of trying to figure out when he was and when he was not abusing his power as Prophet.”

    More than that, if he instituted the practice of plural marriage, called it of God, and it wasn’t.. he was leading the Church astray, which was prophesied could never happen (the prophet would be struck dead before God lets that happen).

  10. Jim: As a LDS I’ll try and answer your questions: God never sinned. Period. Neither did Jesus. We believe that we are hopelessly lost in sin without Jesus and that we absolutely must have salvation. Absolutely no salvation without Jesus. God, like Jesus, never needed a savior. Now you know.

    Katyjane: Exactly right. This is why many, maybe most now, have such an uneasy relationship with our history of polygamy. Institutional racism is horrible but is not quite as hard to swallow as polygamy not really being a true principle.

    Gene: You are not wrong but D&C 132:39 tries to qualify what Jacob says. I can see that this is a pretty weak backpedal. Still, it gives us an out if we are desparate.

  11. I agree with lxxluthor’s explanation to Jim. God never sinned. Without Jesus there is no hope.

    I have to wonder if you ever get tired of using cut and paste? It seems like you just paste the same thing over and over hoping that no one will do any investigating into your accusations against the LDS Church. If they do they will see your consistent misrepresentation of LDS doctrine. (This is the danger of taking any one person as an authority of LDS theology).

    A key question to ask would be why aren’t Jacob and Abraham mentioned in the scriptures you compare? They had many wives; why not drive the point home by listing them also. It’s because Solomon and David took wives when they were not commanded by God to do so. When God told them to take wives it was not abominable, but when they took them without being commanded, “lying with strange women”, it was an abomination. Dig a little deeper Gene. You seem interested in staying on the surface where your bias view of the LDS Church can be easily upheld.

    I also regret that you don’t let people comment on your blog. You write many inaccurate depictions of the LDS Church and site your 20 years as a member as proof that your critiques are true. After reading many of your posts I can only assume that you were sleeping during church. Many show at best a lack of knowledge concerning LDS theology and at worst an intentional distortion of what LDS believe. You seem to be more interested in spreading half-truths than having a discussion and defending your remarks. If what you say is true then you should have no fear of people questioning what it. However, by not letting people comment you have proven you do have a fear that your positions are not strong enough to be questioned.

  12. Yeah, Gene, you’ve left out the parts of Jacob where God retains the power to command polygamy when he wants to, and the only abomination is when you do it on your own. That’s the easy Mormon defense to your argument.

  13. FYI

    BRUNSWICK CO. — A South Brunswick High School coach and teacher has resigned after marrying a 16-year-old student.
    The student’s parents had complained to the school system for months about their daughter’s relationship with 40-year-old Brent Wuchae. School officials and law enforcement officers conducted an investigation.

    School officials suspended Wuchae with pay at the beginning of May. Wuchae married the young girl Monday and submitted his resignation the same day.


  14. I think there are a couple of considerations that have been missed in this discussion. Probably Elder Christofferson didn’t want to appear argumentative and so he didn’t challenge the underlying assumption of the question–but there is good reason to question it. There is a distinction between “marriage” and “sealing” in Mormonism. Many people assume that since Joseph Smith was sealed to someone, that this meant that sexual relations were a given. I argued in a paper at the MHA that this is an unwarranted assumption. (Even though Todd Compton recognized that all sealings weren’t de facto marriages, the position he took in his book demanded that tenuous position in order to stir up controversy.) There is no documentary evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealing to Helen Mar Kimball constituted either a marriage or sexual relations. Michael Quinn noted in his book “The Mormon Hierarcy, Origins of Power” that William Smith was sealed to a 14 year-old and that the sealing record emphasized that she was still “Miss” rather than “Mrs.” The sealing ordinance did not necessarily constitute a marriage ceremony–especially when the person being sealed already had a living spouse. The assumption that all these sealings were in fact marriages is similar to the oft repeated assertion that John D. Lee was an adopted son of Brigham Young. It depends on ignorance of LDS doctrines for its emotional impact. We’re left with the impression that John D. Lee was raised in Young’s household as one of his children–when in reality, Lee didn’t join the LDS faith until he was an adult and didn’t even meet Brigham Young until Lee had children of his own. Similarly, people talk about Joseph Smith “marrying” Helen Kimball when in reality he was “sealed” to her and whether or not they were ever married is highly debatable and historically unlikely.

    The RLDS Church denied for years that Joseph Smith had plural marriages pointing to the fact that he had no children except by his legal wife Emma. While an appeal to a negative isn’t generally good logic, in this case, it is cause at least for thought. Since the time of my MHA presentation DNA studies have been made on the proposed descendants of Joseph Smith through plural wives. None has identified a relationship to Joseph Smith.

    Jay asked, “Is it statutory rape if they are married?” The state would have to recognize the marriage–which it would not in the case of plural wives.

    Van Hale does a pretty good job of summarizing some of the historical information related to plural marriage and Joseph Smith at http://mormonmisc.podbean.com/2007/04/25/polygamy-some-statistics-and-some-speculations/

  15. I posted these comments else where, but they apply here.>>>>>

    I could just as easily say that there is no proof that Joseph ever had sex with Emma. At best we could only infer that she was impregnated by the same man on multiple occasions. (unless we’re willing to dig Smith’s body up and get DNA samples). If I were willing to tarnish a number of people’s reputation I could make an argument that Joseph was sterile throughout his entire life. (I don’t believe he was)

    The way Smith’s followers practiced polygamy do we have any doubt that consummating the relationship was part of sealing the marriage? Do we equally infer that Brigham Young didn’t consummate his multiple polyandrous marriages? For those who know their history you don’t find many willing to defend the reputation of prophet Young the same way people defend prophet Smith.

    My point in saying any of this is that “you can’t PROVE it” seems to be a convenient place to hide, when Smith’s reaction against the “Nauvoo Expositor” and the way polygamy was practiced by Smith’s followers seem to indicate that something more was happening. I’ll know doubt be called a pervert by some, but I don’t think sex inside the bounds of marriage is perverted. So when Joseph married someone I think it’s reasonable to believe that he actually married them. If it was just a simple spiritual sealing his Second Councilor probably wouldn’t have left and tried to expose him.

    Everyone is free to believe what ever they want about it. But if polygamy is okay if it’s ordained by God then why is it so important to say that there is no PROOF that Joseph had sex with his wives? That defense seems to be hedging both sides of the issue. As if to say: “God said it’s okay, but even if He didn’t Joseph didn’t really do it.” Joseph’s obedient actions as prophet should be celebrated.

  16. friuliveneto, no offense, but the “he didn;t necessarily have sex with his sealed wives” argument is an old one, and in my opinion a pretty lame one. It reeks of grasping at straws.

    Not the least of which reasons is that nowhere else in Mormon doctrine that I know of is there precedent for this kind of “spiritual marriage” as distinct from regular eternal marriage. It’s certainly not practiced now.

    And the doctrine of adoption isn’t any less weird because the adopted son wasn;t raised in Young’s house. And the doctrine has since been repudiated by later prophets anyway, so it’s not like the “he didn’t raise him in his own house” argument makes that little gem ay less problematic for the church.

  17. I think both of you have still missed my point. The question isn’t whether or not sex was included in Joseph Smith’s plural sealings but whether or not it was was included in all of them. And it isn’t whether or not it can be proved, but what does the evidence indicate?

    In the Smoot Hearings, (1904) Joseph F. Smith explained that there were different kinds of sealings: time, time and eternity, and eternity only–and that sealings for eternity only did not allow cohabitation. So you see, Kullervo that there is precedent for this kind of “spiritual marriage” being distinct from other marriage. JFS said that an eternity only marriage had not been performed since at least 1884. Since they clearly were performed previous to 1884, this demonstrates that it was an understood doctrine that differentiated between physical and spiritual unions.

    Brigham Young was sealed to lots of women –many of whom he never even met. (see Elden J. Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 2, 08 October 1854.) So, I would say that Brigham Young didn’t have sex with all the women who were sealed to him.

    Kullervo, can you tell me where the doctrine of adoption was “repudiated?” That’s a new one for me. The fact that it was modified doesn’t mean that it was repudiated. You think that the fact that John D. Lee was sealed to Brigham Young rather than adopted is essentially the same thing?

  18. Um, didn’t Joseph Smith lie through his teeth at the Smoot Hearings? Anyway, that hardly counts as the kind of precedent I’m talking about.

    AFAIK Wilford Woodruff taught that the Law of Adoption, i.e. men being sealed to the prophets and apostles in order to give them more glory, etc., was an incorrect practice. In any case, it isn’t practiced today, or even talked about ever.

    I think you’re splitting hairs over the “adoption” thing.

  19. Hmmm. We talk about the law of adoption each semester in my Institute class. Does that count as “ever?” It’s explained on page 446 of the Church History student manual as well.

    I’ve heard lots of people claim that JFS “lied through his teeth” but none who have read his testimony and made the same claim. Just what would have been gained by either JFS or the Church in this line of questioning by lying? Is that your position–that there is still no precedent for eternity only marriages because JFS was lying about it?

  20. I’m just saying that testimony at the Reed Smoot hearings is not doctrinal precedent. A revelation or a clear teaching on it would be doctrinal precedent.

    What would have been gained by lying? Come on. Damage control. The whole hearing was basically an inquisition inot polygamy, and “spiritual marriage” with no sex sounds a whole lot less objectionable.

    As far as lying through his teeth, weren’t these the hearings where it was claimed that the Church wasn;t practicing polygamy, even though it was? Or at the very least, the Church leaders were so evasive about it that they could have given Bill Clinton a lesson in what “is” is?

    And I think you’re meaning something very different than I mean (and than Brigham Young taught) when you’re talking about the Law of Adoption, and I’m stating to suspect that you’re obfuscating on purpose.

  21. Kullervo, your comments just don’t make sense. JFS stated that he had not married an additional wife since the manifesto, but he also stated that he continued to cohabit with his wives knowing full well that it was against the law. Now, for him to have claimed that there were sexless marriages 20 years before, but that he was continuing to have sex with all his wives is damage control? That’s ludicrous.

    Why don’t you tell me what you mean by the “Law of Adoption” and we’ll see if we’re talking about the same thing and if you’re consistent about what you think qualifies as “doctrinal precedent.”

  22. Maybe I don’t have my facts straight; whatever. I’m not a scholar of Mormon history, and if you have to be one in order to make sense of the Church and still believe it to be true, than suddenly the LDS gospel starts sounding not so “plain and simple” after all.

    Also, you’re just being a jerk. I already said what I meant by the Law of Adoption. Now you’re trying to pin me down and catch me contradicting myself? Like that would even change anything.

    Hey, maybe if you’re really hostile and smarmy, I’ll come back to full activity in the Church.

  23. I’d be interested in your thoughts on my slowly-developing understanding of Joseph’s implementation of Plural Marriage as his responses to the knowledge he was acquiring about Abraham, and his desire to follow him (whether you think he acquired it through revelation, as I do, learned it from others, or figured it out himself is not central to this argument).

    Here is the introduction:

    Joseph Smith, Abraham, and Plural Marriage
    Patterns in Richard Bushman’s Book Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

    (copyright Stephen St.Clair, May 17, 2007)


    In Richard Bushman’s writings, he has provided an interesting map of the transformations that were going on in Joseph Smith’s mind during h)is experiences at the beginning of the restoration. He shows Joseph’s slow and painstaking discovery of his successive roles as (1) participant in forgiveness / redemption / conversion, (2) seerstone-gazer, (3) translator, (4) fulfiller of prophecy, (5) seer, and (6) prophet. It was the second half of his presentation at the Joseph Smith Symposium in Washington, D.C. in 2005. The text for that presentation is now available in hard-copy format, both in the February 2006 issue of BYU Studies (a double issue containing the full text of all the presentations) and a hard-cover book published by Deseret Book in March 2006.

    In my first quick reading of Dr. Bushman’s new book Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling I had not noticed him doing the same thing for the issue of plural marriage. During my first reading, I was focused entirely on Joseph’s clearly unusual individual actions, such as marrying Fanny Alger, marrying women who were already married to other men, and so forth.

    But in my SECOND reading (and subsequent readings), I have noticed that he uncovers what appears to be a very clear similar pattern in Joseph’s actions relating to plural marriage. I think this would be of great interest to scholarly members of the church who are wrestling with questions about plural marriage. It may also be of assistance to members wanting to throw a more positive light on the issue of plural marriage in the answers they provide to questions about Latter-day Saint history.

    Based on Richard Bushman’s insightful information, arranged in order of dates and clustered around key occurrences in the history of plural marriage, it revolves around Joseph’s gradual discovery of Abraham as a pattern.

    Joseph identified readily with him because of the Smith’s having to endure the loss of support of their extended family and kinship-group when they moved to upstate New York. He recognized that Abraham had undergone a similar experience in departing from his homeland in Haran to journey to the Promised Land, as well as nearly every other experience throughout his life.

    Joseph came to realize that he needed to pattern himself after that patriarch in numerous ways, and it would have included living the law of plural marriage that Abraham had lived.

    His reading of the Abraham narratives in the Old Testament made him realize that plural marriage was acceptable when done to preserve literal offspring.

    His threatened emasculation, the death of most of his children, and the personal nature of the threats hurled by the Jackson County persecutors made him fear for the survival of his literal posterity, and he arranged the marriage with Fanny Alger to protect against it.

    Between then and the time he began sealing women to himself or his family in 1841, many factors changed.

    He learned the New Testament and Book of Abraham understanding of the children of Abraham as his converts, not his descendants.

    His family circumstances changed in that his literal posterity became completely unthreatened, and the tragedy in Far West threatened his Abrahamic kinship group of all ages and genders.

    His desired relationship to the women married to him or sealed or adopted to Emma and him during the 1840’s, resembled that of relatives or kinswomen in the Abrahamic sense, rather than involving romantic or physical attraction.

    As things drew to critical point at end of his prophetic career, he realized that the marvelous blessings being unfolded to the Saints of the endowment, sealings of families for eternity, and the second anointing as an assurance of heaven, needed to be qualified for by a supreme Abrahamic test.

    Joseph concluded that Abraham’s family had met a supreme Abrahamic trial or test, and that people in Joseph’s time would be asked to overcome a test of equal proportion. Not too far distant from that thought would be the idea that Saints in Joseph’s day invited to participate in the Abrahamic experience would each have some almost insurmountable Abrahamic test to overcome, customized to their own personality.

    In their review of Todd Compton’s book titled “In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith” in the FARMS Review of Books, Richard L. Anderson and Scott H. Faulring correctly describe the historian’s dilemma when source materials about people’s innermost thoughts in short supply:

    If we had the benefit of Joseph Smith’s explanation for each of his plural marriages, we would be in a better position to judge the motives and depth of his relationships; but, since we do not, wisdom and prudence dictate that we withhold many judgments until we do. Biographers in this area are tempted to create historical fiction, which purports to read minds and furnish all answers, but serious history cannot run ahead of responsible source materials.

    Another reviewer of that book, Danel W. Bachman, described the dilemma about Joseph Smith and plural marriage in these terms:

    Compton’s thesis is that early Mormon marital ideology explains why Joseph Smith had so many wives, some of whom were quite young, and a third of whom were already married and thus living in polyandry once they married him. Most certainly it is necessary to understand Joseph’s theology to understand his conduct; but my analysis of the prolog of Compton’s book clearly demonstrates that much more research into this area is required to give us an adequate picture of both Joseph’s doctrinal understanding and his actions as plural marriage was introduced into the church. (Daniel W. Bachman, Prolog to the Study of Joseph Smith’s Marital Theology, Farms Review of Books, 1998)

    My hope is that these ideas and concepts, drawing from the Abrahamic sources that Joseph had in his hands during the time of the unfolding of plural marriage, will help to illuminate his motives in some small way.

    Here is a link to the rough draft, which will not be finished for years: http://ldsfocuschrist.blogspot.com/2007/05/joseph-smiths-plural-marriages-attempts.html

    Steve St.Clair

  24. I find Joseph Smith’s marriage to Helen Mar Kimball quite revolting. She did as well, and spent the rest of her life struggling with suicidal depression over it, as Todd Compton has thoughtfully documented in his book on Smith’s 33 known plural wives, “In Sacred Loneliness”. As revolting as I find it, “pedogamy” (adults marrying children) was quite common in Nauvoo and early Utah (until about when the train arrived in 1869 not surprisingly). The worst example I have found is that of ELEVEN year old Martha Miller, marrying her mother’s second husband, 43 year old John Hopworth Blazzard, in the Nauvoo Temple in March 1846. This girl’s mother (Sarah Searcy Miller Blazzard), John H. Blazzard, and whoever performed the actual ceremony deserve the death penalty for this, in my opinion. See their family record at:


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