This is the third in a series of posts about what I consider solid evidence the Mormon church isn't true. The first was Rock In a Hat and the second was Translation Strike 2.
The title of this blog entry links to a web site dedicated to the wives of Joseph Smith and to one in particular, Helen Marr Kimball. Helen was the daughter of apostle Heber C. Kimball. Joseph Smith initially proposed to take Heber's beloved wife Vilate as one of his plural wives. Heber tearfully agreed and then to his great relief Joseph told him it was just a test. However, he then asked for his 14 year old daughter Helen. Heber consented and then convinced his daughter to agree. Joseph Smith, 38 years old, was then married to this 14 year old girl.
This is merely one of Joseph's many polygamous marriages, but one of the more shocking because of the age of the girl. He also married other men's wives. Some of the women he proposed to, such as the wife of apostle Orson Pratt, refused him and threatened to expose him. He then tried to ruin their reputations through libel and threats. When his first counselor in the First Presidency, Willian Law, found out that he had proposed to his wife he created a paper, the Nauvoo Expositor, to expose Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy. Joseph excommunicated William Law and his wife, declared the Nauvoo Expositor a public nuisance, destroyed the press and paper and created an atmosphere that caused those who refused his polygamous advances to flee the city.
The church has always acknowledged that Joseph Smith instituted polygamy, but details aren't to be found in church lessons. This can perhaps be put down to the fact that the church no longer considers polygamy an important doctrine and no longer practices it among the living, but it is also conventient that the details are so damning. As a result most members learn of the details and are shocked because they seem so out of character for what the church considers the greatest prophet in the history of the world.
Probably the best reference on the topic is "In Sacred Loneliness". Don't trust the FARMS review of the book which borders on libelous unless you also reads the author's rebuttal of the review. The book is thorough and if anything biased in favor of the prophet.
I recently read some of the apologetic explanations to refresh my memory of how they respond to Joseph's practice of polygamy. I want to talk about two defenses in particular because it's difficult for me to imagine them being put forward with a straight face. In fact, I can't imagine that in my most faithful, believing state of mind I could have ever even considered these defenses.
1) It wasn't uncommon in that place and time for girls as young as 14 to get married.
Perhaps, but it wasn't common either and it was very uncommon for them marry a man 24 years older. It was even more uncommon if the 38 year old man was already married to a dozen or more wives.
Seriously, read the accounts from Helen and it becomes clear that the idea of marrying Joseph was repugnant to her and that she only did it because she was told that it would ensure the salvation of her family and that it would be a marriage in name only.
2) It wasn't about sex. There were other reasons such as dynastic marriages.
There is something wrong about this whole line of reasoning. Does it imply that if it was about sex then there WOULD be something wrong? It tacitly acknowledges that if sex were the primary marriage that it would look bad. It would make Joseph Smith look like so many other false prophets and powerful men who use their power and influence to gain sexual access to their followers. Think David Koresh and Bill Clinton for religious and political examples.
First of all, the church in Utah went around and got legal affidavits from as many of the surviving widows of Joseph Smith as it could to confirm that he did have real marriages including sexual relations with them to contest the RLDS accusation that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy.
Also consider, if it wasn't about sex, then what was the outrage about? If these marriage didn't include the right to have sex, then why were the husbands so outraged to have their wives married to Joseph? Why was Emma, his first and only legal wife, so upset? Why did he have sex with some of them? It's possible, given the quantity of marriages and requirement of secrecy, that not all of the marriages were consummated, but it is clear that the marriages allowed sex. Heck, read D&C 132 and the Book of Mormon. It's clear that polygamy was about having sex and children. The possibility that not all the marriages were consummated simply allows Mormons to believe that Joseph may not have been bedding young teenage girls. However he was caught in the sack with other teenage wives who weren't much older. In fact, he married sisters that he was the guardian of.
So, I guess you can believe that God was the author of all of that. If so, then why not. God can do whatever he wants.
But if you just heard about Joseph Smith's polygamous practices, does it really seem to have the hand of God involved?
Still confused? Consider the fruits of the church's practice in Utah which ultimately resulted in the church being disenfranchised and nearly destroyed. Consider that the world is still plagued with Mormon fundamentalists that still believe and follow the church's original teachings.
To me it is too much to swallow and the apologetics involved are simply whistling past the graveyard; they are completely unconvincing to me.