Rape Apology and Joseph Smith

What would you say if I told you the story of a man who declared himself to be God’s messenger, published and circulated a document threatening his legal wife with death if she did not allow him to have sex with other women, told his male followers that their teenage daughters or legal wives needed to become his sexual partners or they would all be shut out of heaven, had sex with teenage girls living in his home as wards, and allowed his best friends to unwittingly defend him against all of this in a public setting? Chances are, if you are a practising member of the LDS Church, you would angrily tell me not to talk about your prophet that way.

While we’re on the subject of polygamy, I want to touch on the other big reason the LDS Church tries to avoid the subject: the entire approach of the LDS Church with regards to Joseph Smith’s behaviour has involved nothing but rape apology for 150 years. Polygamy practised in Utah was downright puritanical, with husbands and wives demonstrating the sort of Victorian prudery that you’d expect in a Brontë novel. Polygamy from 1852 to 1904 generally involved clearly defined relationships of choice. Threats of damnation to convince a prospective bride were unheard of, and unhappy plural wives were generally granted divorces when they asked for them. Joseph Smith’s activities, however, are difficult to describe without using the word rape. The rest of his relationships range from consensual to coerced to rape.

Rape! Well, then that’s a serious word. Is it really fair to call Joseph Smith a rapist?

Is there any evidence that Joseph Smith skulked down an alley and pounced on a girl in the darkness? Absolutely not. But rape includes coercing someone into sex through threats of violence. In Smith’s case, he abused the trust of his followers by threatening them with spiritual death if they did not provide him with sexual favours. A true believer in Mormonism would fear being shut out of heaven far more than mortal death. In the case of his wife, Emma, Smith was so serious about his threats of spiritual destruction that he had them canonised as scripture, adding spousal abuse to the mix. There’s no debate in my mind as to whether or not his sexual relationships with teenage girls taken into his home constitutes rape.

Women in Joseph Smith’s day were at greater disadvantage than they are now. They could not vote and had no legal existence apart from their fathers or husbands. They could own property in only limited circumstances, and could be socially and economically ruined by an extramarital affair. Divorce was difficult, sometimes illegal, and left a woman without financial resources. On top of all this, abuse of spiritual power is a horrific crime that does lasting damage to individuals and religious institutions. You would think this would bother the average LDS person, and that they would be in favour of getting the information out there and setting the record straight. I firmly stated my belief that Joseph Smith’s crimes need to be acknowledged as such, but I was told that they just don’t really matter:

Well, again… would anything I say here change your mind? I’m not really interested in having this out today if it’s not going to make any difference.

Like I said below, I’m more interested in the theological implications than whether Joseph Smith was nice to kittens or not.

Well done, SethR. You have compared women to animals and rape to failing to be pleasant. You also aren’t interested in having the discussion unless I change my mind to agree with you. If only we all had your sense of humanity. At first I thought you seem a bit too intelligent to make such a callous, misogynistic statement. But then you went on to say it’s okay for a spiritual leader to have sex with only two fourteen-year-olds. How many fourteen-year-olds would it take for you to be shocked? Let’s take a look at how Joseph Smith treated his “kittens,” if that’s how you want to speak of the women he sexually abused.

The LDS owned and operated FamilySearch lists twenty-four women as being married to Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, which would evolve into the LDS Church and other denominations. This number is on the low side of the thirty-odd women commonly accepted by Mormon historians. But even if you take twenty-four as a low number that is two dozen women that he bagged and shagged in the course of a decade and a half. Hugh Hefner never had it so good.

In a long, agonising, involuntary, nearly all-night conversation I once had with my Dad in which he did his very best to convince me that I needed to just forget everything that troubled me about Mormonism, he confided that he believed Joseph Smith’s death was not actually a martyrdom as the Church tries to make us believe. In a telling statement about the level of honesty tolerated in LDS meetings, he also asked me never to tell anybody he believed that. He said that while he believed that the scripture and temple rituals established in Mormonism were the key to God’s plan, he also believed that Joseph Smith had abused his privilege. He believed that polygamy was invented because Smith had a raging ego with a libido to match, and that because of his sexual transgressions, God had allowed him to be removed from his office. Damage had been done to the Church as an organisation, but the essential things were the Book of Mormon and the Temple, and although the Church would continue to suffer for Joseph Smith’s sexual crimes, as long as we had the Book of Mormon and the Temple things would work out over time.

This is a pretty reasonable way to resolve the conflict between Smith’s allegedly divine mission and his definitely unorthodox sex life. But my dad’s position didn’t resolve any questions for me; it only created more:

  • If he could lie about all of that, how can I believe anything he said about the Book of Mormon or the Temple?
  • If it was okay for Joseph Smith to lie, cheat and manipulate his way into the beds of dozens of women who had everything to lose from these sorts of relationships, then what does that mean when he is called a role model for all Mormons, or Jesus Christ’s right hand man in the plan of Salvation?
  • If polygamy was never supposed to be part of the Mormon faith system, why hasn’t the LDS Church ever just come out and said that?
  • Why do Mormons defend Joseph Smith so furiously against what can only be called rape?
  • Why do Mormons perpetuate made-up or skewed stories about people such as Oliver Cowdery and William Law, whom Joseph Smith sold out to protect himself?

Rape apology is a very serious problem, and victim-blaming is still common. “She was dressed like a tart; what did she expect?” “She walked out to her car alone; what did she expect?” “She was a prostitute; she deserved it.” In the case of Mormons who defend Joseph Smith’s behaviour, they say it’s okay to overlook it because, as SethR put it, “Joseph Smith’s efforts, attempts, and failures don’t interest me much anymore.” It’s easy for someone like SethR because his comments sprinkled over the firmament of Outer Blogness reveal him to enjoy the privilege of being a white, middle-class male. He doesn’t have to concern himself with silly things like women who are sexually exploited, as “the ability to opt-out is indicative of privilege”. Considering that the LDS Church is owned, operated, and run by white middle-class cisgender men, is it any surprise that they choose to opt out of discussion of abused women? Or opt out of discussion about women being treated as equals?

If you say that it doesn’t matter that Joseph Smith did these things, you are a rape apologist. If you have trouble swallowing that bitter pill, imagine what your reaction would be if today we found out that the current LDS prophet had been bedding married women and teenage girls after telling each woman God would kill him or that refusing sex would mean going to Hell. Would you feel it was “persecution” when he went to prison? Would you think for a moment that he deserved continued veneration?

Teaching children that Joseph Smith is an example of choosing the right and neglecting to mention that he shagged married women and Mia Maids is not going to help staunch the flow of young adults away from the LDS Church. It would be painful and difficult, but publicly acknowledging that Joseph Smith engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour would go a long way in alleviating the confusion and anger many Mormons feel over this issue. Hero-worship and misrepresentations of “persecution” that was triggered by his own actions will not.

When a religious leader fails to handle sexual abuse properly, the public demands that the person is removed from office and criminally charged when possible. A sexual abuser or rape apologist cannot be regarded any longer as a spiritual guide, even if the perpetrator is a woman. When US President Bill Clinton engaged in an unethical sexual relationship and lied about it, he was impeached. When Tiger Woods’ squeaky clean image turned out to be a deception, his sponsors dropped him and the public stopped buying his merchandise. It was not the business of the United States government that Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs are considered to be prophets by their followers. It was the business of the US government that they had broken laws, and society punished them both for being rapists. In this day and age, Joseph Smith would have wound up in prison. In his day and age, vigilantes got to him first because he’d managed to piss off every bloke in the state of Illinois.

Sexually unethical behaviour is has never been acceptable in human society. Rape creates physical and mental scars, children that dwell in social limbo, and social trauma. For Mormons, Joseph Smith’s transgressions caused lingering trauma, and apologising for those actions makes it worse. Joseph Smith may not have been as bad as a priest who abused 200 deaf boys, but he’s worse than plenty of others who endured the consequences of their bad behaviour.

You are a rape apologist if you think that Joseph Smith’s sexual transgressions have no impact on his credibility as the founder of Mormonism. It is hypocritical to think that abusive Catholic priests get what they deserve when they are publicly shamed, but that since Joseph Smith was founding The True ChurchTM his crimes can be overlooked. Even in our post-modern culture where consensual relationships between adults take many forms, everyone agrees that those relationships must be ethical. A religious leader leveraging his divine calling to get laid is not ethical. Defending that behaviour is just as bad.

95 thoughts on “Rape Apology and Joseph Smith

  1. A pre-emptive comment: the following are not valid responses:

    1. Not all of his relationships were sexual, and not all of his sexual relationships were coerced
    2. Emma knew about lots of his plural marriages, so that means she didn’t have a right to complain
    3. He only had sex with a couple of teenagers
    4. He only had sex with a few women who were economically dependent on him and living in his home
    5. The parents of the teenage girls encouraged their daughters to have a relationship with him
    6. Why would you care about this? It all happened a long time ago. What are you, some kind of bitter rape victim?
    7. Even if he had inappropriate sexual relationships, what does that have to do with his role as prophet?

    If you can’t figure out why these arguments are invalid, I encourage you to begin here: http://www.fugitivus.net/rape-faq/

      • No, I don’t find that a fair assessment of the situation. Rather, she won’t accept as valid excuses which are standard ways to justify rape or blame the victims. If you can’t think of any other way to disagree with what she’s written here, it just means that you’re basically admitting Joseph’s guilt.

        • The problem is Craig, who specifically Joseph did and did not have sex with matters quite a bit to Molly’s argument.

          If, for example, we could prove that Joseph didn’t have sex with either of his two 14 year old brides (one of whom was debateably actually 15), and then if we could establish that Joseph didn’t have sex with either of his 15 year old wives, then about 70% of Molly’s emotional appeal here goes straight down the drain.

          As it so happens, we can’t prove that Joseph didn’t have sex with them. But, as it so happens, Molly can’t prove he did either. Sure, she has the common assumption that people have sex after getting married. But there’s also the historical record of how Joseph himself viewed and presented those marriages (as well as some testimony from the other women themselves) that he did not.

          So really, the argument boils down to “Joseph Smith had sex with young girls because I think he did.” Which isn’t exactly persuasive.

          But right off the bat, in number 1, Molly declares this topic to be pretty-much a settled deal, and off-limits to debate. But half of her argument falls apart if it is in dispute.

          Molly’s attempts to make this about me personally don’t deserve much of a response. We call this “poisoning the well.” The fact that she is so violently trying to undermine any response from me before I even make it shows a lot of lack of confidence in her own arguments. Otherwise, why the need to undermine me on merits other than the argument in question? Enough said on that.

        • SethR, you keep making my point for me. Does it make it any better if one of Joseph Smith’s child brides was 15 and not 14? That’s just as problematic as saying he only married two 14-year-olds.

          I am not going to go into the details of why I believe Joseph Smith’s plural marriages were sexual in nature. That topic was addressed quite thoroughly by Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness. There is plenty of first-hand information to substantiate the idea that Joseph Smith’s relationships were sexual.

          Rape apologists victim-blame. Rape apologists make ad hominem attacks. Rape apologists say that absence of videotape means the woman was automatically lying. Rape apologists say that people who come to the defense of the victim are clearly hysterical unconfident liars. You really are digging your own hole here.

        • Right here, “But, as it so happens, Molly can’t prove he did either. Sure, she has the common assumption that people have sex after getting married. But there’s also the historical record of how Joseph himself viewed and presented those marriages (as well as some testimony from the other women themselves) that he did not.”

          You’re saying that because some of the women claimed he never had sex with them, then those who claimed the opposite must be lying, and therefore he never had sex with any of them, so he didn’t rape them, so this is all silly conjecture. Molly explains why that’s victim-blaming right here: “Rape apologists say that absence of videotape means the woman was automatically lying.”

          “You seem to be confusing me with other men in your experience.”

          And you seem to be a an entitled, privileged, condescending, misogynist prick. Your white, male, straight, cisgendered privilege is blinding you to the realities of rape and the and the disgusting practise of rape apology which you are now engaging in, again.

          Sorry for the ad hominem Molly. I couldn’t help myself.

        • That’s a pretty strained reading of what I said Craig.

          Or are you saying that we have testimony from Helen Mar Kimball that Joseph had sex with her? I’m not aware of any such testimony. Unless you have something like that, I don’t see how you can say that I was discounting it.

        • I’m not aware of any testimony from any of Joseph’s wives which indicate that Joseph did not have sex with them. While the testimony that he did have sex with some is limited, I suspect this may be due to the fact that the ‘Prophet’ required his wives to keep their relationships both sacred and secret. I would be very surprised is all of the marriages where not consummated, but that is purely an assumption on my part.

          Having read some of Helen Mar Kimball’s journal entries, it is apparent that she entered into the marriage against both her and her mothers will. Rather her entering into it, despite her feelings was an effort to be obedient to her father and obtain exaltation for him and the remainder of their family. I’m not aware of any doctrinal basis for this either – even section 132 doesn’t cover extension of salvationary benefits to extended family.

          Helen’s description of herself as a ewe lamb who was sacrificed for her family is heartbreaking to read. And as stated about, you are quite correct in that there is no evidence that the prophet had a physical and sexual relationship with her, but I believe the circumstantial evidence demonstrates a relationship which was coerced, and which seems to indicate something bigger than simply a marriage in name only.

          I started going through the list of wives, making notes about how he manipulated them into marriage, and which wives left journal entries about the consummation of the marriages. I could share that here, but I doubt it would do much good, and to be completely honest, the process actually made me feel a little sick that I ever regarded this man with any form of reverence. Some of the accounts I read seem to indicate that he may have been guilty of spousal abuse as well, but that is likely a topic for another day.

          The basic facts are this…

          Joseph manipulated woman into marrying him, and many of those marriages appear to have been sexual in nature.

          Rape is defined as:
          the crime of forcing a woman to submit to sexual intercourse against her will.

          Several of the woman whom Joseph wedded were against the union, and it was only through threats of the loss of eternal salvation, or in some cases, that the blood of the prophet would be on their hands if they didn’t marry him – The old “The angel will kill me if we don’t get married” line – that he got them to agree. I don’t believe that their agreement under those circumstances negates Molly’s claim of rape.

          Joseph was a rapist, pure and simple. While obviously the idea that he raped 14 and 15 year old girls evokes an emotional response from people, even if the girls had been 30, it wouldn’t have made his crime any less abhorrent.

          In addition to that, Joseph lied about those relationships to his wife and to the membership of the Church.

          If a man is willing to lie, manipulate and rape for his own personal gratification, then I think it stands to reason that the remainder of his work should be suspect as well.

    • A very persuasive arguement. That is a very shocking mental image: what would people think if Thomas S. Monson was sleeping with multiple women and girls?

      Putting it that way really paints it in the right light.

  2. This is very shocking to me. I have known about the problems with polygamy for a very long time and worked my way around it, but I never thought of it this way before. Women get such little attention in the Book of Mormon. They don’t even have names!! But how come Emma gets so much personal attention in the d&c? I never thought of it as spouse abuse before, but it seems so obvious that threatening her directly looks a lot more like Joseph Smith trying to cover his tracks. I’ve always hated that section of my scriptures because it forced me to wonder if I was going to have to share my husband one day. Now I don’t believe it belongs there in the first place!!!

  3. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read.

    “If you say that it doesn’t matter that Joseph Smith did these things, you are a rape apologist.”

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Virtually the entire church hierarchy, church historians, BYU professors, many institute teachers, and many members, including women are rape apologists. It’s horrifying and disturbing that the church has the power to desensitise people to rape (even if it happened nearly 2 centuries ago) and ignore the proven sins of an entire caste of men simply because they were/are spiritual leaders.

  4. Very well put.

    I have to wonder… Is there a statute of limitations on rape in Illinois, and if not, could the prophet rapist be tried of the crime post mortem? I suspect there is plenty of evidence that would incriminate him, on this charge.

    Just a thought, but I think it’s an interesting idea.

    As for Seth R. You have to admire the courage it must take to try and defend an argument, even when it is indefensible, but at the same time, you have to question the intelligence or at the least the ethical integrity of someone who seeing the evidence against his position, and still tries to defend it.

    • This is one of those places where Mormons are just royally screwed. If they admit to the evidence and decry the rape, then they have to admit that the man who founded their church, gave them all their scriptures and doctrines was a liar who lied to cover up adultery and rape. They’d have to admit that the church leaders since Smith lied about and defended the rape, and they’d have to admit that their church leaders today are covering up and lying about rape.

      It’s just almost (only because it’s not ongoing) as bad as what the Catholic Church is dealing with re: all the paedophilia/child rape and the millennia of apologetics and cover-ups.

      It’s utterly indefensible, and that’s what makes it so dangerous to Mormons, and why they end up defending it, because to do otherwise would destroy their world-view and their religion.

    • If you read the post and commentary Molly is linking to, you’ll see that I wasn’t really initially interested in the question of whether Joseph Smith was good or bad. Unlike many active Mormons, I don’t base my testimony on Joseph Smith’s status as a good or bad person. I’m more interested in the theology and scripture he produced.

      It was only when Molly started fishing for a response that I gave one.

  5. Long time lurker, first time poster. SethR, I’ve seen you around the Bloggernacle. You’re usually thought-provoking. Sometimes you’re funny. But right now you look like an asshole. Just sayin’.

  6. I’m posting this down here otherwise it gets too narrow.

    Seth, we have testimony from many of his other “wives” that he had sex with them, and that he coerced them into it. You’re right, we don’t have a first-hand account written by Helen Kimball as she was being raped deflowered on her romantic wedding night. But we can make a reasonable inference that he did have sex with two very young girls.

    Secondly, you’re ignoring the fact that it’s not just his having sex with 14/15 year-olds that is the problem here. He did definitely have sex with several of the other women he manipulated and threatened into marrying him. He did definitely rape those women. Even if they were “of age”, it is still rape.

  7. I don’t much like threaded comments either.

    Unless you want to provide specifics Craig, I don’t see this conversation going anywhere. The first link you provided doesn’t work. I’m still thinking about the second article. Was there anything specific in there you wanted me to comment on?

  8. I probably should not jump into this here, but I would say one thing.

    Testimony of some of his wives does not necessarily imply that he had sex with all of his wives. We are assuming that all of the women are share a crucial similarity (being a wife) and that this distinction gives us a meaningful way to deduce that that Joseph had sex with them.

    But we don’t know that. We don’t know if instead, there is another premise up there like, “Joseph had sex with the wives that were older than x age.” We could be misidentifying evidence of the various wives’ testimonies as implying, ‘All of these women have the trait of being Joseph’s wife, so Joe obviously did all of them,’ when it could be, “All of these women have the trait of being wives of Joseph *and* older than {whatever age}, so perhaps Joe bedded the ones of {whatever age}.”

    I am not concluding anything at this time, especially since I have not looked at the data, the testimonies, the historical accounts. And I have not touched *any* of the other issues at hands (e.g., coercion. already married, etc.,)

    • Andrew,

      You should jump in because you’re a brainy bloke whose opinion I value. And the point you raise is valid, although it would probably best be addressed in a separate post that divided Smith’s non-Emma relationships into consensual, coerced, and rape. (Fanny Young and Eliza Snow, for example, I would consider cases of consensual sex, possibly no sex in Young’s case.) It’s wholly possible that he did not bed all of his “wives.” But rape is rape is rape even if it’s only one incident, and Emma certainly wouldn’t have turned Fanny Alger and Sarah and Maria Lawrence out of the house unless the relationship was as sexual as D&C 132 implies.

  9. I think the only useful way to talk about this subject is to take each one of the women Joseph married, and talk about them individually. Or take specific documented instances and talk about those.

    Trying to assert general trends for all the women based on a few anecdotes doesn’t seem to be working that well for either of us.

    • Still ignoring this?

      Secondly, you’re ignoring the fact that it’s not just his having sex with 14/15 year-olds that is the problem here. He did definitely have sex with several of the other women he manipulated and threatened into marrying him. He did definitely rape those women. Even if they were “of age”, it is still rape.

      • Narrow it down for me Craig. Which wife did you have in mind here? The article you linked to was far too general for a useful discussion. It provided certain examples (though I never felt I was getting the full story with any of them), but was less than convincing when it tried to extrapolate general trends from the examples. Are we going to talk about the Partridge sisters, or someone else? Give me someone we can actually look at the historical record on and discuss.

    • Thanks. The blatant rape apology is just confusing me at this point. I’m starting to believe that SethR is just trolling to rile up indignance.

        • You can assure us he’s really trying to defend rape? Well, that’s disturbing. But I’m honestly not surprised. I’d be surprised if any active Mormon would really admit that their prophet and founder was a rapist, even with this sort of overwhelming evidence. The conditioning to ignore all evidence which contradicts church teachings, doctrines and official history in Mormonism runs very, very deep.

        • I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in Seth’s mind, just that his behavior and style of defense is pretty consistent from what I have seen elsewhere. His defense of polygamy as an idea is a consistent theme of his.

          If I had to speculate I would guess that Seth does not consider it rape because it would be difficult to convict JS of rape in a 19th century court of law. Since his peers wouldn’t convict him of it, one can in that sense argue that it was not rape. If he did what he did nowadays, it would be an easy sell to get a jury to convict him of statutory rape.

        • It’s an interesting idea to be sure. Is rape only wrong because our society has decided it is? Is it not wrong for other societies, say in parts of the middle-east?

          Oh, and the only issue here isn’t just the statutory rape which he did or did not commit. It’s also the fact that he told women that they’d go to hell if they didn’t marry him, and/or that god will kill him. For people more concerned about their “eternal salvation” than earthly life, that’s the same as threatening to kill a woman unless she acquiesces. He not only raped at least some of those women, but effectively threatened them with death as well.

          And this is what I don’t understand – how can any Mormon defend this? How can this not simply destroy their faith in their church and the hierarchy that Joseph Smith founded?

        • Well, Craig, it’s pretty hard for Mormons to even talk about it when – no matter what they say – they are met with a storm of unhinged anger from the others in the conversation.

          This reminds me of one of those ancient show-trials where the purpose of the event is not whether the person is innocent or guilty (which has already been pre-determined), but rather to give the government representatives a chance to ridicule the accused in public. Molly never wanted a debate to begin with. She only wanted an opportunity to heckle me personally and call me a “rape apologist.”

          It is impossible to debate anything under such conditions.

  10. Well, thanks for trying to be balanced David.

    I’ve kept my arguments very limited and haven’t even touched on the rape issue as Molly has framed it. My arguments have been solely limited to the issue of Helen Mar Kimball and her age. That’s about it.

    The rest of it has been Molly and Craig inventing material out of thin air. In fact, I’m starting to think the whole point of this post was so that Molly could use me as a whipping boy for her own resentments. I’ve been pretty civil here, certainly more so than other conversations I’ve been in. I’d hate to think the whole point of this conversation was just to manufacture grounds for heckling me personally.

  11. Molly, I’ve always appreciated your comments at my blog in the time since you’ve been commenting. I’ve also come to appreciate Seth, whom I’ve met in person and who has been commenting on my blog for a few months shy of two years now. I’m always a little miffed when I log on and find that my “blogging friends” aren’t getting along with one another, but then again, I guess that’s inevitable when I try so hard to be friends with everyone on the Mormon spectrum. (You should have heard my TBM husband’s reaction when I told him Maxine Hanks was going to be my respondent at Sunstone . . . )

    Anyways, I guess to try and summarize my thoughts on this thread:

    (1) I don’t think Seth hates women. I’ve raged at him many times in the past year about my oh-so-subtle feminist disgruntlement with the church, and he’s generally been a good sport about it. On some points he even agrees with me that there needs to be change. He’s a bit stodgy and old-fashioned on some gender issues, but other than that, he’s mostly harmless.

    (2) I realize that Mormon apologists often aver “presentism!” when our distaste for an issue has little to do with presentism, but in this case? I think calling Joseph Smith a rapist is presentism in its purest form, for the simple reason that the people in that society didn’t view coercive marriages as rape. They simply had different ideas about what rape was than we did. Marital rape (which didn’t become illegal in all 50 states until 1993) is a striking example of this. There’s no way a man who forced his wife into sex in the 1830s would have thought of it as rape, even if we would today. The situation for women back then was simply crap-tacular when compared to modern standards, and believe me, I hate that as much as you do. (We can fairly ask why divine agents of God seemed to work within these conditions instead of trying to liberate women from them, but I think that’s another matter for another day.)

    Now that doesn’t mean that what Smith did was okay. I think he himself knew that what he was doing wasn’t okay, and that’s why he kept it secret. But even if all of his marriages had been publicly known at the time, people wouldn’t have considered it rape. Adultery, yes. Licentiousness, yes. Coercion, yes. But not rape.

    (3) If what Joseph Smith did can’t be considered rape without the aid of presentism, then I don’t think Seth deserves the label of “rape apologist.”

    Last thought: while Seth has a lot of interesting insights on a number of topics, including some interesting thoughts on the theological ramifications of polygamy, I personally feel that engaging him on the historical practice of polygamy is a waste of time. For whatever reason, he genuinely seems to have never found Smith’s practices disturbing, he doesn’t know all of the historical details involved, and he doesn’t show much sympathy for those who do struggle with it. If you want to discuss the matter with a believing Mormon, Seth’s the wrong person for that. You’ll only wind up frustrated and annoyed.

    • Good comments all. I agree with your explanation that the person I encounter as a blog visitor isn’t the whole, real person, and IRL an online crank is probably a decent guy. And I agree with most of what you’ve said. My reactions to your insightful comments:

      1. It’s a semantic issue, then. To me, someone who shows lack of concern for women and clings to old fashioned gender views is a misogynist, and misogyny means “woman hating.” Putting it in plain English like that sounds very harsh, but I stand by it. Plenty of other people would say it’s different to show no concern for feminist issues and to actively hate women, and I can see the logic in that. But I think both are just as harmful to our society and I consider them to be different manifestations of the same thing.

      2. I agree that it’s wrong to use today’s standards to judge social behaviour in the past. That’s why I think Mormons need to get over their socially-constructed discomfort with the idea of polygamy itself. Your example of laws against marital rape are spot on; there are still lots of places in the world where the powers that be refuse to accept that marital rape is even possible. However, 1830’s and 1840’s America is not that different from today, and we do know a lot about the social institutions that existed in Smith’s time. Seducing or pressuring a woman into extramarital sex was, in that social setting, often accepted as a justification to kill the perpetrator. Single or married women who fell prey to “seduction” as they referred to it back then were almost always socially ruined. By the standards of the day, Smith’s actions were unacceptable and his sexual actions directly contributed to his murder. Parley P. Pratt serves as a pretty good example of what society thought of men who stole other men’s wives. This site provides a pretty thorough overview of the events, although it’s skewed toward the pro-LDS view that Pratt’s murderer was an alcoholic. (The only records we have claiming this come from his estranged wife, and affidavits from the wife’s family claim otherwise). The short version (for any readers unfamiliar with the story) is that Pratt appropriated the wife and children of a man who eventually stabbed him to death for it. The murderer was never brought to trial because nobody in law enforcement could be bothered to take up the case, and the press loudly trumpeted that Pratt deserved what he had gotten.

      You are correct that it’s wrong to use modern, feminist-influences in judging Smith as a rapist. People in his own day called him a seducer depriving men of their wives. It’s a view of rape that is oriented toward defending the property rights of the man, rather than the well-being of the woman, but it’s the same thing in terms of the level of social outrage it caused. Contemporary rape laws focused on male entitlement and male ownership of the female body, but they still used the term rape to describe someone who unlawfully engaged in sexual relationships with a woman who was not legally his wife. Unfortunately it’s not free on the Web, but this article gives an excellent overview of 19th Century American perspectives on rape.

      3. I stand by my belief that anybody, who in this day and age, defends the actions of Joseph Smith and the LDS policy of whitewashing history, is a rape apologist. It’s fair to say we shouldn’t judge older societies by modern standards, but I certainly can judge a modern person by modern standards. Like I mentioned above, anybody with that little concern for how women were treated by their prophet can’t have too much concern for women in the present day.

      This may fall under an unfairly modern viewpoint, but I also feel that if Joseph Smith really was the messenger of God, then it’s fair to hold him to a higher standard. In his day a promise to be faithful to one wife was taken even more seriously than it is today. Divorce and philandering were not condoned, and the penalty was often ostracism or death by duel. God’s one true restoring prophet committing acts of adultery, licentiousness, and coercion, which we now describe with the modern term rape, puts a massive black eye on the truth claims of Mormonism. I use the modern word rape, although your point that it may be an overly modern term is valid. If I have to make a choice I’ll stick by my opinion that it’s fair to judge Smith by higher standards.

      I also agree that trying to discuss this with Seth is a waste of time, hence my accusation of trolling and a bit of counter-trolling on my part. We have a fundamental disagreement on how to examine things. I take a post-modern view that no work exists in a vacuum; the surrounding context that contributed to the creation of LDS theology matters. He takes the view of New Criticism, which rejects the relevance of context to the finished work. However, the flame war seems over and I’m content to agree to disagree now that I can see he’s taken back the callous bits in his statements.

      • -1844 Eleanor LEAVES her husband Hector, because of his heavy drinking problem.
        -After this, the couple is reconciled and moves to San Francisco.
        -In California, Eleanor discovers the Mormon church, whereupon, her husband purchases a sword cane and threatens to kill her and whoever baptized her.
        -Eleanor attended Mormon Sunday services. Later, at home “while Eleanor was singing from a Mormon hymn book she had purchased, Hector tore the book from her hands, threw it into the fire, beat her, cast her out into the street, and locked the door.”
        -Eleanor lodged a complaint of assault and battery against Hector, and planned to leave him. She was prevailed upon to stay with him longer. She said of the incident: “I presume McLean himself would not deny that I then declared that I would no more be his wife however many years I might be compelled to appear as such for the sake of my children”
        -Eleanor was baptized in 1854 with the written permission of her husband, but he forbade her to read church literature or sing church hymns at home.
        -Eleanor then had her children baptized, whereupon Hector filed a charge of insanity against Eleanor to have her committed to an asylum. He sent the children away to live with their grandparents and locked Eleanor in the house threatening her with the asylum.
        -Eleanor found her children, but her parents refused to let her take them. She then left Hector and made her way to Utah. She never got a formal civil divorce, but I daresay she hardly needed one at that point.
        -Eleanor married Parley Pratt 14 November, 1855.
        -Pratt was arrested on trumped-up charges but later freed by a non-Mormon judge.
        -Hector later tracked down Pratt and and shot him six times and stabbed him twice.

        G.D. Smith conveniently leaves out half this information in his book – which is currently being widely quoted in ex-Mormon circles as authoritative.

      • It should also be noted Molly, that I think Joseph Smith did more than a couple things wrong in his enacting of polygamy. I don’t consider him blameless in the whole matter. If you want, I can list my disagreements with him.

        • Seth, what you posted has no link to corroborate the evidence, so in this case, it is pure hearsay. I think you are using a straw man argument, in effect, finding one piece of evidence that may be true, to impeach an entire book because that one piece of evidence wasn’t in it.

          Who said these things? Are the facts or distorted by emotion of the person who wrote them? You gave nothing that changes the basic premise that Joseph Smith coerced women into spiritual wifery, hid it from Emma, then when called out on it, made a canon to justify it. He lied about doing it, hid it from most of the rank and file of the church, and had the press destroyed of the newspaper that was going to make his philandering public.

          I gather you want to talk specifics, for the typical defense you use is to find one particular fact in a specific arguement you use, to demolish that entire argument; a typical defensive move for an apologist.

          I think one can use occams razor on this problem. There is evidence that Joseph Smith married underage women. Also evidence that he married women married to men that he sent away on missions. There is evidence that Joseph Smith lied in public about not cheating on Emma. I can go on and on. Granted, so much of this is conjecture, but if it smells like a duck, walks like a duck and quawks like a duck, it just might be a duck. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

          Sticking to the facts, only is too limiting.

        • Here is the article that contains a lot of the historical outline I mentioned above:

          Steven Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” BYU Studies (Winter 1975): 226.

          And I certainly hope you have a better response than “well, that was published at BYU, so it’s obviously wrong!”

        • No, but a reasonable response is that it was published in BYU Studies, which must pass the approval of Correlation prior to publication. This means that while there are often useful articles in the publication, there is also often a bias toward eliminating material that would reflect poorly on Thuh Brethrun. BYU Studies is not a respected peer-reviewed journal for a good reason: it is edited by religious authorities, not scholars.

        • Molly, I don’t believe that the Correlation Committee has anything to do with approving BYU Studies. I would be interested in seeing your sources for this assertion.

        • It’s incredibly naïve to think that there’s not massive censorship and pre-approval of all research and topics. Whether it’s officially correlation or not I don’t think is really the point. We do know that the hierarchy has made it clear to church employees (which includes everyone at BYU) that they’re only to research and publish that which makes the church look good, because the truth just isn’t useful or faith-promoting a lot of the time. And there’s even less tolerance for criticism of the hierarchy than there is for historically true things events and facts which are less than complimentary towards the church.

        • Craig, this is entirely off topic, but after reading your statements here, and on the SHAFT blog and then finding your blog and realizing you were following me, I feel incredibly flattered 😀


          All I can say is: WOW, this is AMAZING!! You articulated what I’ve been trying to say!

        • A Correlation Committee representative approves what appears in BYU’s World of Dance Concert. They have the ability to reject costuming, dance numbers, and choreography based on whether or not it reflects what the LDS Church wants the world to see. If they micromanage dance concerts, is it that hard to believe they groom printed articles for purity?

          While at BYU I assisted research that went into BYU Studies, and lo, frequently did I hear the grumbling of professors sick of censorship and meddling by GAs. All articles must be approved by a General Authority representative who is a member of Correlation. You won’t see that printed on their website, because it would make them look stupid. Nobody outside of BYU thinks BYU studies is a worthwhile academic journal.

        • So basically – “take my word for it”

          Is that it Molly? Why should I take your word any more seriously than you take mine?

          For a description of the editorial process for BYU Studies, see here:


          I should also note that I have read numerous articles in BYU Studies myself, that I am sure would never make it through the Correlation Committee. So your speculation here seems unlikely to me personally.

          But this is all beside the point. None of it presents a coherent or compelling argument against the historical timeline I provided.

        • By the way Molly, I probably shouldn’t say this… but I can’t resist asking:

          Where the arguments that led you out of the Church published in an academically rigorous peer-reviewed journal?

  12. BTW, Molly, there was something else you said on this subject that I really liked:

    It would be painful and difficult, but publicly acknowledging that Joseph Smith engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour would go a long way in alleviating the confusion and anger many Mormons feel over this issue. Hero-worship [SNIP] will not.

    I think this is absolutely true. It’s not simply that Smith did these things–it’s that the church has an unrepentant attitude about it and tries to sweep it all under the rug. There is no brokenness over the matter.

    • I think Occam’s Razor is a much abused concept that is usually invoked by people who have little more to add than “well you’re wrong – so there!”

  13. Pingback: Is there a way out? « Molly Muses . . .

  14. I feel good that I have discovered the true about this “prophet”, I tried to convinced myself that it was me the weird one that is always feeling that all he did was abused those women and now I am more convinced that it is not me!
    Thank you Molly for your journal it is really nice to see that I am not the only one going though this and that there is people out there that looks for the truth.
    I live in Utah and since I moved here 4 years ago I just can’t understand how I felt into being a member of that church, I feel so upset at myself and I wish one day I can scape from it too since I have to live in a lie because if I don’t pretend that I am ok with going to that church my husband gets sad and upset at me and also his good Mormon family would make him feel that he married the wrong women just because I founded the truth I just hope I can be free and be myself again someday!
    Thank you Molly once again!

    • KL, if what you found here is helpful then I’m happy. I’m sorry that you feel you need to compromise who you are in order not to rock the boat. I would have left a long time ago too, but I am in a similar situation: it would mean my family would cut me off. I hope that you can work things out with your husband, and that he can understand how upsetting it is to you to pretend. Best wishes and stay in touch.

    • Bloggo, everyone in academia has an angle. That doesn’t disqualify them from being scholars. Again – it’s the quality of the argument that matters most, not the personal family life of the source.

      As for the resignation letters – you’ll find letters of resignation like that from ANY major university in the United States. People have written angry resignation letters to Harvard accusing them of academic censorship, and restricting research. So I’m not sure what the revelation here is supposed to be.

  15. Molly, thought maybe you might have an answer for this.

    Joseph Smith had sex with girls that were highly possibly prebusecent, correct? I’m basing this statement off of:

    Many Mormons leaders and historians suggest that sexual relations and the marriage of Joseph Smith and his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball, fourteen at the time was “approaching eligibility.” There is no documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was “approaching eligibility.” Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar’s culture.

    Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, were very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. American women began to marry in their late teens; around different parts of the United States the average age of marriage varied from nineteen to twenty-three.

    In the United States the average age of menarche (first menstruation) dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age. The mean age of first marriages in colonial America was between 19.8 years to 23.7, most women were married during the age period of peak fecundity (fertility).

    Mean pubertal age has declined by some 3.7 years from the 1840’s.

    The psychological sexual maturity of Helen Mar Kimball in today’s average age of menarche (first menstruation) would put her psychological age of sexual maturity at the time of the marriage of Joseph Smith at 9.1 years old. (16.5 years-12.8 years =3.7 years) (12.8 years-3.7 years=9.1 years)

    The fact is Helen Mar Kimball’s sexual development was still far from complete. Her psychological sexual maturity was not competent for procreation. The coming of puberty is regarded as the termination of childhood; in fact the term child is usually defined as the human being from the time of birth to the on-coming of puberty. Puberty the point of time at which the sexual development is completed. In young women, from the date of the first menstruation to the time at which she has become fitted for marriage, the average lapse of time is assumed by researchers to be two years.

    Age of eligibility for women in Joseph Smith’s timeframe would start at a minimum of 19 ½ years old.

    This would suggest that Joseph Smith had sexual relations and married several women before the age of eligibility, and some very close to the age of eligibility including:

    Fanny Alger 16
    Sarah Ann Whitney 17
    Lucy Walker 17
    Flora Ann Woodworth 16
    Emily Dow Partridge 19
    Sarah Lawrence 17
    Maria Lawrence 19
    Helen Mar Kimball 14
    Melissa Lott 19
    Nancy M. Winchester [14?]

    Short Bios of Smith’s wives:

    Did Smith have sex with his wives?:


    Coale and Zelnik assume a mean age of marriage for white women of 20 (1963: 37). Sanderson’s assumptions are consistent with a mean of 19.8 years (Sanderson 1979: 343). The Massachusetts family reconstitutions revealed somewhat higher mean ages. For Hingham, Smith reports an age at first marriage of 23.7 at the end of the eighteenth century (1972: Table 3, p. 177). For Sturbridge, the age for a comparable group was 22.46 years (Osterud and Fulton 1976: Table 2, p. 484), and in Franklin County it was 23.3 years (Temkin-Greener, H., and A.C. Swedlund. 1978. Fertility Transition in the Connecticut Valley:1740-1850. Population Studies 32 (March 1978):27-41.: Table 6, p. 34).

    Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 63; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (NY: Oxford University Press, 1980), 6; Nancy F. Cott, “Young Women in the Second Great Awakening in New England,” Feminist Studies 3 (1975): 16. Larkin writes,

    Dr. Dorothy V. Whipple, Dynamics of Development: Euthenic Pediatrics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966),

    So, this is my question. Because Joseph had sexual relations with girls who had not yet gone through puberty… so, they were still pretty much children, would that make him a pedophile? Is someone a pedophile if they are attracted to grown women as well as prepubescent girls?

  16. Pingback: Rapist? Yes. Paedophile? No. « Molly Muses . . .

  17. Pingback: Rape Apology and Joseph Smith (via Molly Muses . . .) « Progressive Ex-Mormon

  18. Rape! Well, then that’s a serious word. Is it really fair to call Joseph Smith a rapist?

    In today’s world he would. Look at the Warren Jeffs trial. I don’t know why people don’t see the connection. If Joseph Smith and Brigham Young lived today they would be in prison.

  19. While we’re asking questions, I have an inconvenient one for the author: Is there any proof whatsoever that Joseph Smith even HAD sex with anyone other than Emma? Joseph Smith has been a controversial figure for over 150 year in this country, so you can imagine the countless DNA tests that have been conducted to “prove” someone is a descendent. So far, over 2,000 people have been identified as descendents of Joseph Smith with Emma. Not a single person has been identified as a descendent of Joseph Smith with any other woman.
    Molly, I’m a former newspaper publisher. If you were a journalist, I’d say your “article” was extremely irresponsibly lacking with any proof. Don’t make the claim that he had sex with other women without some proof. And given his marriages (yes, he was sealed to many other women) took place in the 1800s, surely there would be descendents if he had sex with them, just as there are proveable descendents of Brigham Young with his wives. But there are none with any woman other than Emma Smith. My personal opinion, knowing a lot about LDS history in general and Joseph Smith and the 1840s in particular: He had “sealing” ordinances performed to seal himself with many other women. But he did not have sex with any of them

    • In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 132, written by Joseph Smith, a chapter pertaining specifically to polygamy, the “Lord” says, “And if he [Joseph Smith] have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified…. for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.” Not to mention that in verse 41, the “Lord” references adultery, which would not be applicable if these were simply “sealing” ordinances.

      In Joseph Smith’s original polygamy revelation, given to a group of priesthood brethren while visiting a Native American tribe, it also says, “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.”
      “The Joseph Smith Revelations Text and Commentary”, p. 374-376

      His WIVES testified to having sex with Joseph:

      – Faithful Mormon Melissa Lott (Smith Willes) testified that she had been Joseph’s wife “in very deed.” (Affidavit of Melissa Willes, 3 Aug. 1893, Temple Lot case, 98, 105; Foster, Religion and Sexuality, 156.)

      – In a court affidavit, faithful Mormon Joseph Noble wrote that Joseph told him he had spent the night with Louisa Beaman. (Temple Lot Case, 427)

      – Emily D. Partridge (Smith Young) said she “roomed” with Joseph the night following her marriage to him and said that she had “carnal intercourse” with him. (Temple Lot case (complete transcript), 364, 367, 384; see Foster, Religion and Sexuality, 15.)

      13 of his wives signed a court affidavit saying they’d had sexual relations with Joseph Smith.

      Joseph Smith’s personal secretary records that on May 22nd, 1843, Smith’s first wife Emma found Joseph and Eliza Partridge secluded in an upstairs bedroom at the Smith home. Emma was devastated.
      William Clayton’s journal entry for 23 May

      Smith’s secretary William Clayton also recorded a visit to young Almera Johnson on May 16, 1843: “Prest. Joseph and I went to B[enjamin] F. Johnsons to sleep.” Johnson himself later noted that on this visit Smith stayed with Almera “as man and wife” and “occupied the same room and bed with my sister, that the previous month he had occupied with the daughter of the late Bishop Partridge as his wife.” Almera Johnson also confirmed her secret marriage to Joseph Smith: “I lived with the prophet Joseph as his wife and he visited me at the home of my brother Benjamin F.” (Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 44. See also “The Origin of Plural Marriage, Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Deseret News Press, page 70-71.)

      Faithful Mormon and Stake President Angus Cannon told Joseph Smith’s son: “Brother Heber C. Kimball, I am informed, asked [Eliza R. Snow] the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith and afterwards to Brigham Young, when she replied in a private gathering, “I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that.”” (Stake President Angus M. Cannon, statement of interview with Joseph III, 23, LDS archives.)

      Faithful Mormon and wife of Joseph Smith, Sylvia Sessions (Lyon), on her deathbed told her daughter, Josephine, that she (Josephine) was the daughter of Joseph Smith. Josephine testified: “She (Sylvia) then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church.” (Affidavit to Church Historian Andrew Jenson, 24 Feb. 1915)

      In her testimony given at a Brigham Young University devotional, Faithful Mormon Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner stated that she knew of children born to Smith’s plural wives: “I know he [Joseph Smith] had six wives and I have known some of them from childhood up. I know he had three children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names.” (Read her full BYU testimony here: http://www.ldshistory.net/pc/merlbyu.htm)

      Faithful Mormon Prescindia D. Huntington, who was Normal Buell’s wife and simultaneously a “plural wife” of the Prophet Joseph Smith, said that she did not know whether her husband Norman “or the Prophet was the father of her son, Oliver.” And a glance at a photo of Oliver shows a strong resemblance to Emma Smith’s boys.
      (Mary Ettie V. Smith, “Fifteen Years Among the Mormons”, page 34; also Fawn Brodie “No Man Knows My History” pages 301-302, 437-39)

      LDS historian, Richard Van Wagoner tentatively identified eight children that were possibly Joseph’s. Besides Josephine Fisher (b. Feb. 8, 1844) and Oliver Buell, named as possible children of Joseph Smith by his plural wives are John R. Hancock (b. Apr. 19, 1841), George A. Lightner (b. Mar. 12, 1842), Orson W. Hyde (b. Nov. 9, 1843), Frank H. Hyde (b. Jan 23, 1845), Moroni Pratt (b. Dec. 7, 1844), and Zebulon Jacobs (b. Jan 2, 1842).
      (“Mormon Polygamy: A History” by Richard S. Van Wagoner, pages 44, 48- 49n3.)

      This is an excerpt from a love letter written by Joseph Smith to Newell K. Whitney’s daughter, Sarah Ann, whom Smith had already “married”: “… the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty. … Only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater friendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I will tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. … I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont, dont fail to come to night, I subscribe myself your most obedient, and affectionate, companion, and friend. Joseph Smith.”

      You can find a more detailed history of his relationships with his wives in Todd Compton’s “In Sacred Loneliness”, if you have a further interest.

      It’s pretty tacky to comment on an article saying that it’s not well-cited, and then make a blanket statement that reveals how little you’ve actually researched this. But, hey, YOU’re a journalist, so what could I know?

      • Jack, just curiosity on my part, and to benefit the readers….

        Were any of those women you cited quotes from either:

        a) married to other men or alleged to be


        b) under age 15?

  20. I have read this blog and followed these issues for years. There is so much more to read about the subject that is reliable and well thought out than there was thirty years ago. It seems to me that eventually you have to exercise faith about Joseph Smith. The fact that Joseph Smith even had plural wives is a surprise to many. Brigham Young and others were polygamists, but somehow Joseph Smith was not. I just purchased The Persistence of Polygamy, subtitled Joseph Smith and the origins of Polygamy. I came to the realization of many of the articles on my own years ago, but it was nice to have them under one title. For example I have followed the articles by Ugo Perego who looked at the Y chromosome of purported children of Joseph Smith. He has not found any who were Joseph Smith`s. Sylvia Sessions is a little more of a problem. Genetically there is no Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA comes from the mother. Thus, the DNA in general has to be examined, which is a much harder scientific analysis. No conclusion has been drawn about Josephine, Sylvia`s daughter, but no obvious child has been found. Who he had sex with and who he didn`t is hard to say and many of the accounts are anecdotal, some with an agenda-such as proving the proper owner of the Temple Lot. I think he did have sex with some, though children did not seem to be produced. I think it was also a very spiritual and the purpose was to seal the families together in one large family of God. It was secretive early on in trying introduce a new principle.

    If the fact that there are these issues is all you need to convince Joseph Smith was not a prophet, then nothing anyone says or any arguments that are put forward are not going to change your mind. If you can withhold judgement and look at the character of the women and people involved and the ideas put forward by Joseph Smith then I still think you can find a way to see him as a prophet. So the Church doesn`t have a lesson about Joseph Smith and polygamy, so they are lying in your mind. I can see where someone is coming from, but I also think the Church is making steps forward. There are also ways of staying active in the Church despite having doubts. The Borderlands column in Sunstone is excellent. His same book called For Those Who Wonder is great. Stay in the Church, put your thoughts in every once in awhile. It is your Church to and by golly there is room for all of you. As long as you don`t publish something or preach openly in Church, there is a lot of room for alot of different thoughts.

    • That’s a very thoughtful perspective. I tried to stay in for years, but eventually I had to leave to be true to myself. If it were only the problem of Joseph Smith’s sexual indiscretions, I probably would have made it. But so many other issues add up that it’s impossible to maintain the facade once the cracks in the foundation are visible. Just the same, I appreciate your insight and respectful attitude.

      • I am far from the expert on everything, but I am a scientist and find that the world can be a scary place. Science alludes me in its answers and how much things change in my own field in the course of 10 years. Does that mean I taught lies the last decade or has my understanding increased. The church or at least the restored gospel gives direction in living a happy life. I am not sure that you can really ever get being mormon out of you. I remember feeling lied to about church history. The older I get the less things seem to be black and white. I think that is part of our modern world. My own children know far more about controversies than I did. What are you going to do? What will you teach your children? How long can you stay mad? Maybe those aren’t appropriate questions or you find them offensive. I have two kids your age, call it the father and grandfather in me. Yes, I know that mormonism doesn`t have the corner of the market on all truth or happiness, but it certainly has some. It is our church and we can effect changes over time.

        • Those are all good questions. I especially agree with the idea that you can’t ever really get the Mormon out of you. I was angry at first, when I felt hurt and betrayed by a church I had unwittingly lied to protect. I felt a fool for stating apologist falsehoods that Church authorities perpetuate in the membership. I’m not angry any more, but I’m not going back to an organization that has such a shady attitude toward truth. When I have children, I will teach them to be inquisitive, skeptical, moderate, and forgiving in their judgments. I will never scare them into being “good” with threats of sin and hell. I will teach them to be ethical because it is the right thing to do.

          I stayed in longer than I should have because I hoped that there was room for diversity of opinion. There wasn’t. I thought that i could be part of change from within. I can’t be, especially because I am female. Mormonism offers some good ideas, but taken as a whole I have found it easier to be happy outside rather than in.

  21. Pingback: Hipster Joseph Smith « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  22. Really can’t believe I read all the way through this. The first part is informative on both sides and then it just turns into childish banter. I’m surprised there was no name calling involved.

  23. I am mormon, god bless the lord, my husband has been chasing girls3years into our marriage. I want2leave my pathetic husband. Right? What should I do? What am I entitled to? When should I come out?

    -002 is 6, NSA.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you’re having marriage trouble. I can’t really give specific advice as I don’t know you and I am not a counselor. I would recommend getting in touch with a Marriage and Family Therapist for advice. That’s the best I can offer. Sorry!

  24. My goddess. I knew Seth R was a humongous jerk when I argued him and he defended and tried to justify abuse, but … well actually this pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the level of jerkitude that I’ve seen from him. I’m so sorry you had to put up with it.

    And with The So-Called Church.

    • Thanks for the sympathy, but really, I didn’t engage with him any longer than I felt it to be productive. I’m perfectly willing to have civil to lively debate with someone who doesn’t share my view. In fact, one of my dearest friends is an Anglican vicar. We don’t see the world the same at all but value each other because every time we hang out we come away with a richer view of things. Once it becomes obvious to me that someone is just a troll, they get their commenting privileges yanked.

      • Okay … I’m glad you didn’t have to put up with that for very long.

        I’m just glad I seem to have helped drive him away from Latter-Day Main Street. >_>;

  25. Excellent article. I completely agree with you and I apologize as being one who used to be one who skipped passed these truths. I apologize for not seeing the manipulation for what it was. I feel for the women involved and I send them healing wherever their souls are, and this is coming from a white male.

  26. Believing that you really know what went on in the bedrooms of Nauvoo Illinois 170 years ago is delusional. The best evidence we have today is DNA and DNA research indicates that Joseph Smith’s reproductive history was indistinguishable from that of a monogamist.

    The Documentary evidence consists of the following problems.
    1. Date and place inconsistencies. For example Emily Partridge claimed to have married JS in Emma Smith’s presence in 11 May 1843. When confronted with evidence that Joseph Smith could not have been there on that day, Emily retracted the date but could not provide another. Emma Smith denies categorically that JS was married to any other woman in her presence.
    2. The fact that some documents did not come to light until the presumed author was dead and thus may have been manufactured.
    3. Some documents are authored by sworn enemies of the LDS church.

    • Please see my other response on this issue.

      If nobody ever explained to you that it is possible to have sex without making babies, you ought to have a chat with your mum.

  27. I followed a funny email link from a friend to the Mormon flow chart and ended up becoming engaged by some of the threads. So I came into this thread completely objective. I did go on a mission so I have a background in Mormon theology, but I haven’t attended church in over 15 years. Ultimately, the culture of guilt (and conflicts with my own common sense) was something I didn’t want to be a part of and didn’t want my children to be exposed to. In other words, no hard feelings, but Mormonism isn’t for me.

    Molly, your writing was engaging and thought-provoking. It is an angle I had never considered before. As we’ve seen with the FLDS ordeal, polygamy appears to be as much about sex as anything else.

    That being said, a couple of posters throughout the thread pointed to the evidence as being “overwhelming.” I disagree. I think it is circumstantial. I think the evidence suggests that your argument is correct, but I wasn’t necessarily convinced beyond reasonable doubt. I honestly think that Doug’s post creates reasonable doubt. In a society without birth control, how is it that Joseph Smith has no children from his other wives? I suppose that he could have went with withdrawal as a form of birth control for the other women, but for a potential sex-crazed manipulator, that doesn’t really seem logical to me. If I were on a jury, with the information we currently have, that would be similar to the glove incedent in the OJ trial. It would force me to acquit, even though there is a plausible chance he’s guilty.

    I did think that some of the comments and name calling directed at Seth R was unfair. There may be a history there, but calling him a rape sympathizer/troll based on what I read, seemed a little over the top. I can’t blame a person for having beliefs that mean something to them, and wanting to defend those beliefs.

    The LDS argument that drives me crazy is the, “if you have a testimony nothing else matters” argument. Members of religions everywhere have a testimony. That’s a great way for an organization to dissuade dissent. That’s why it’s the first response from church leaders whenever there is something that conflicts with a person’s common sense. Really? Educate yourself, take a look at the big picture, but ultimately, think for yourself.

    • CJ, thank you for the compliment on my writing. I agree with your position that it’s impossible to say for sure what went on behind closed doors 170 years ago in the backwaters of early America. If I may, however, I find it interesting that without fail it is male commenters who cite lack of offspring as proof that there was not an affair. I’m not sure why this is yet.

      As far as my stance that rape is rape and those who try to qualify rape or parse out what is rape, I’ll just point you toward the utter clusterfuck that is the Republican party at the moment. Rape is rape. People who believe that those who rape using psychological and spiritual manipulation aren’t “real rapists” like the men who rape at knifepoint are rape sympathisers. End of story.

  28. Pingback: My Name is Geoffrey. And I am NOT a Mormon | Austin Catholic New Media

  29. I feel most of your comments are valid and covered most all the bases. Joseph’s history from an early age indicates brain dysfunction. He had brain seizures with hallucinations during his teens which he seemed to grow out of. He had psychopathic low social anxieties,
    manipulated and controlled his family, his treasure digging crew and continued this into adulthood, accumulating property, wealth and women. I would add a couple of comments. The primary method of birth control during the 1800s or during the slavery era, was abortion. Was this why Joseph kept doctors in his leadership hierarchy? Another point which does not deny any of the points above, or justify Joseph’s sexual behavior, and in fact, I have no proof of it, is that a man with prophet/celebrity/power status, charismatic, good with words, physically agile and attractive, it seems that many women would naturally have had the hots for him and wouldn’t have needed too much coercion. This, of course, does not justify how he railroaded women into bed using his prophet authority and then immediately into a temple ritual in which they were not told ahead of time they would make horrific, fearful deadly vows that if they did not keep it secret or stray, they would have their throut cut from ear to ear and belly ripped out

  30. Joseph Smith is not hear to defend himself. Assuming that these women were honest, just shows that ignorance lives in the well educated. Ever heard of two sides of the story. Out of many YW only 2 were taken as wives. She could of been a pathological liar and hated being religious cause it was too hard to stay good and decent. That’s what many of you sound like. Harlots have been around since the beginning of time. No one has hard facts on the life of Joseph Smith. No medical records were kept to prove he had a mental issue, it’s all hearsay. You sound like scientists trying to make sense of life they will never get. Only the wise will and only the wise. Heaven exists people, stop trying to crush a light that can save humanity. As you can see, Mormonslive the most righteous manner. Focusing on health and family is the key to a good life. It all starts at home, not school, not society, not the community. Be grateful for Mormons, they are the reasons America still stands. They are very precious to GOD, the only church to help the heart.

  31. So it boils down to the swiss cheese logic (all swiss and no cheese) of: Joseph can’t be a Prophet because his marital life and imagined sex activity can be spun to be highly politically incorrect and morally negative. I can read the same diaries and put a faithful light on everything. This approach has never been a blessed Biblical formula for determining the authenticity of a Servant of God.

    Jesus set the standard for authentications. As reliable as the testimony of John the Baptist, was, Jesus offered an even more reliable standard: John 5:36 “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that i do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”

    The only question one needs to answer before they privately and sincerely bow before God and ask Him with the real and great sacrifice of a Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit of the Prophet’s authoritative calling, IS: What is the centuries old and often repeated Work of the Father and How much of the Work of the Father did the prophet Joseph restore and implement and spill his blood to attempt to implement???? I assure you the answer will reveal how ignorant most everyone is about the protocols of the Kingdom of God.

  32. Thank you Molly, for so bravely articulating the frustrations and concerns that have weighed upon many lds hearts regarding the whitewashing of rape culture in the church’s history. I have many personal thoughts and feelings on Ithe topic, but you seem to have saved me the trouble by mirroring them all. Well spoken. Thank you so much.

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