One of my good friends has over the last year or so traveled the difficult road of discovering some of the more unpleasant realities about the origins and rise of Mormonism. He spoke to his father about one of his concerns, Joseph Smith’s practice of polygyny and polyandry without the consent of his legal wife, Emma. My friend’s father assured him that such wasn’t the case, that Joseph may have introduced polygamy, but it wasn’t practiced “fully” (in the sense of the marriages being consummated) until Brigham Young. My friend’s father offered to put him in touch with a well-known BYU Religion professor who specializes in Church History to confirm that Joseph Smith was not a polygamist, except in that “loose, dynastic” sort of way the apologists like to talk about.
My friend emailed me with a brief account of his phone conversation with this professor. It went something like this (I’ll put his questions and her direct responses in quotes):
“I asked, did Joseph consummate the marriages?”
She replied, “We don’t know because if you read all of Joseph’s writings you will see he never mentions the words polygamy or plural marriage.”
“I brought up the temple lot case and asked if the Partridge sisters were lying” (they testified that they had married Joseph without Emma’s consent and consummated the marriages).
She replied, “No, I believe they were telling the truth.”
“I asked, ‘Where do you stand on this issue? Do you believe Joseph Smith consummated the marriages?'”
“She said we don’t know.”
“I asked, ‘Do you believe Joseph Smith married them but didn’t consummate the marriages and that Brigham Young actually started the practice in full?'”
“She finally said Joseph Smith very likely practiced it in full just like Brigham Young, but we don’t have DNA evidence.”
“She was really reluctant. She did make the comment that I have learned a lot.”
“She kept saying this over and over: ‘We have a one-sided view of church history because Joseph Smith didn’t say anything about the subject. All we get are the women testifying against him.'”
“I could tell she was waiting to see what I know before saying anything.”
This kind of evasiveness and equivocation really bothers me. On the one hand, yes, the Partridge sisters were telling the truth about marrying Joseph Smith and consummating the marriages, but on the other, we don’t know because Joseph never said anything, and there’s no DNA proof.
Saying that we can’t know anything because Joseph Smith didn’t write it down (in specific words, no less) is one of the worst apologetic arguments I have ever come across. Mind you, this is the best the church has to offer. This woman studies and teaches the life of Joseph Smith and early LDS history for a living, and yet she can’t commit herself to anything beyond, “We don’t know.”