Can I Have That in Writing? Joseph Smith, Sexuality, and Apologists

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.”

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10 Responses to Can I Have That in Writing? Joseph Smith, Sexuality, and Apologists

  1. Odell says:

    Maybe she really meant to say: “We don’t want to know.”

  2. What the hell is the problem with Joseph’s polygamy? Why does Brigham get full acceptance (jokes even) and apologists try their damnedest to distance Joseph from sexual relationships with his wives? Especially his polyandrous wives? Either say that they were married and sealed by God’s approval (and thus could do what husbands and wives usually do), or state exactly what the problem is. I agree; the equivocation is maddening. Either accept it completely, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes; or reject it entirely because it’s “yucky” in our modern society to associate Joseph Smith with modern Mormon polygamists. There really isn’t any middle ground here: the evidence is clear.

  3. shematwater says:

    I have no problem with accepting plural marriage, or that Joseph engaged in sexual relations with all his wives.
    However, the Polyandry is one that is not accepted, and not proven by any records.
    And don’t use the churches website of FamilySearch as your evidence, as so many people try to do. It states on every page that the information is not verified, and is thus not a proper source for facts.

  4. bull says:

    I’ve posted about this before, but there was really no other reason for the marriages to occur other than to permit sex. The polyandrous marriages are well documented and seem to be uncontested by most apologists. Instead they throw out other reasons the marriages may have happened. However they are the ones on thin ground there because there is no documentation, canon, scripture, or writings to support those as the primary reasons for the marriages. It is purely speculative in order to allow those who are bothered by Joseph’s behavior to believe that he didn’t have sex and that normal male urges were the true reason behind the institution of polygamy. If sex wasn’t involved then there was no need to hide the marriages. If sex wasn’t involved Emma wouldn’t have been mad. If sex wasn’t involved then there was no need to hide it. The bottom line is that if these were non-sexual “marriages” then we wouldn’t be having this discussion and the BYU professor wouldn’t be hedging so much. The mental gymnastics involved are staggering to me.

    On the other hand, if you are a believer I think you just have to accept that Joseph’s marriage practices were outside the norms of the day but sanctioned by God. Deal with that the same way you deal with the Book of Mormon, modified revelations, and anything else you discover.

    For me, parsimony required me to accept the simpler explanation that God wasn’t involved with anything in the Mormon movement and that the sum total of the events can be explained the same way I explain other religions. They were created by men.

  5. mcarp says:

    That’s funny that FamilySearch isn’t verified, yet that’s what we use for temple ordinances. So, we are doing ordinances based on hearsay?

    More to the point, I hate it when apologists use one line of defense until they find out you know the facts that dispute that line (i.e., the Partridge sisters) and then they change their line of defense to a different argument. I really hate that.

    • runtu says:

      Technically, it’s International Genealogical Index (IGI) that is the official repository of temple ordinance data, but as you said, that is available through FamilySearch. Unfortunately, the IGI is no less problematic and disorganized as the Ancestral File. For example, Elizabeth Edwards’s body barely had time to get cold before her ordinance work was done. Not much oversight there, is there?

  6. The polygamy I could, with difficulty, buy, although finding out that all the excuses are invalid would be problematic. However, the polyandry is really giving me fits, along with all the lying and deception. I read about Smith sending one woman’s husband off on a mission, and couldn’t help but be reminded of David sending Uriah off to the battle front to be killed.

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