Someone asked me why it was that the issues that so upset my friend (see the preceding post) did not upset me and do not seem to upset a lot of the apologists.
That’s a difficult question. I really can’t answer for anyone else, but it seems logical that most people would be upset if they learned that the religious leader they had been taught to revere as God’s chosen prophet had done some pretty reprehensible and inexcusable things (say, to pick one example, marrying teenagers and married women behind his wife’s back). Indeed, most people who find out these things before joining Mormonism will never join Mormonism. And many church members live blissfully unaware of such problematic pieces of history for years, and when they do uncover them, they are devastated.
But what of us who knew of these things and defended Joseph Smith and the LDS church anyway? Many church members simply deny that any of it happened, waving it off as an anti-Mormon lie. I know people who insist that Joseph’s marriages were platonic in nature and never consummated, despite all of the evidence, including firsthand testimony of the wives who actually did consummate the marriages. Of course, the simple truth is that most ofthe marriages were not platonic. Their sexual nature thus demanded the total secrecy Joseph maintained, including from his wife. There would be no need for public and private denials had these been the “loose dynastic sealings” the apologists speak of.
But a lot of apologists know very well of these problems (and there are far more problems than the plural marriage issues), but they seem untroubled, no matter the seriousness of the problems. I was one of these. I knew at least fifteen years ago of many of the problems with early Mormonism and its claims. Why didn’t it bother me? I think I went through a few stages of understanding.
First, I went into denial mode. Again, using plural marriage as an example, I rejected the information and dismissed it as exaggeration. The Joseph Smith I knew would never have done such things. There had to be some kind of misunderstanding, or the history was incomplete. And last, this really wasn’t an important issue because I had a testimony.
Next, when the evidence became to me undeniable, I rationalized. Well, he was commanded of God, I told myself. This wasn’t the behavior of a sexual predator but a solemn commandment of God made through an angel (with a drawn sword, no less). If God commanded it, it must have been right, and I was wrong to question it because my mortal understanding could not comprehend such holy things. Again, my testimony trumped all, and I accepted the rightness of the acts because I believed in the prophet.
Finally, that day in August of 2005 I acknowledged what I think I had known all along: there was no misunderstanding, and it wasn’t about doing anything holy. It was just part and parcel of the larger religious and financial enterprise Joseph Smith had built around himself. It’s no coincidence that almost every religion led by a charismatic leader ends up with his or her getting involved sexually with followers. It’s just one of those things that people with absolute power do, and Joseph Smith was no exception.
I’m glad I stopped making excuses because my conscience really did bother me all those years, and I suspect that at least some apologists feel that same nagging feeling that something is wrong. But I’d bet that they rest comfortably in their testimonies, as I once did.