“My Joseph”: Meg Stout and Polygamy, Part 4

March 3, 2015

I give up. I am not going to waste any more time on a point-by-point rebuttal of Meg Stout’s deplorable work. She has complained to me that I haven’t dealt with specific details of the evidence; as I told her, the reason I haven’t bothered with the tiny details is that the big stuff is all wrong. She makes sweeping generalizations and assertions upon which her arguments rest, but these come out of nowhere, with no evidence other than Meg’s wishful thinking. She invents conversations and motives out of whole cloth and then interprets the evidence we do have on the assumption that her invented fantasies are demonstrated fact.

This is beyond poor research and poor history. It’s simple dishonesty based on the kind of man Meg Stout wishes Joseph Smith was, regardless of the actual evidence. I don’t think Meg Stout is a bad person, and I suspect she may not even be conscious of her problems with evidence and honesty. That said, it’s not worth anyone’s time to go through the rabbit-hole of selective evidence mixed with fantasy that is at the heart of her “research.”

With that in mind, I’ll just point out some of the obvious problems in the rest of the series.

“The Angel, the Sword, and the Heron Seduction”

Here we’re told that in the fall of 1841, Joseph was threatened by an angel with a sword, “Joseph had to establish the principle, or his position and very life were forfeit.” But as she acknowledges, Joseph had already established the principle when he married Louisa Beaman earlier in the year.

The four women Joseph would marry in response to the angel’s threat were women who were married to other men. I believe Joseph did this because he had already contracted one marriage that did not involve sex. Perhaps he was already aware of how unhappy lack of intimacy had made Louisa Beaman. It would be unreasonable to expect other single women to be satisfied with a marriage that didn’t involve physical intimacy. But these married women would be relieved if the celestial marriage were purely ceremonial.

We’ve already established the evidence that Joseph’s marriage with Louisa was sexual in nature, and the only evidence against it is Meg’s denial. So, based on that denial, Ms. Stout believes Louisa was unhappy because the marriage wasn’t sexual(!) and that the married women would therefore expect no intimacy. This is pure fantasy.

Speaking of Zina Jacobs, Stout writes:

She expected that by becoming Joseph’s celestial wife she would never again be looked upon as an honorable woman by those she dearly loved. One presumes she spoke of her husband, Henry Jacobs, and those of her siblings who knew about celestial marriage: Prescendia, Dimick, William, and Oliver.

Begging the question of why “celestial marriage” would cause her dishonor, we again see Meg writing her own facts, as there’s no evidence that Henry Jacobs was aware of Zina’s marriage to Joseph.

But what takes the cake is the insistence that Mary Heron Snider was “the first to be seduced by the unknown band of evil-doers:

I believe Mary came to the attention of Dr. Bennett because she was still in her thirties, yet had not produced children for more than a decade. He had to have a first victim. He also had to train his acolytes how to seduce women without causing pregnancy. The barren Mary Heron would not conceive if the man assigned to seduce her failed to follow Bennett’s instructions on having sex without risk of procreation. This kind of sex may have included the sometimes synonymous practices of onanism, petting, vulvar massage, frottage, and frigging.

So, to recap, we have an imaginary ring of “evil-doers” seducing Mary Heron, and we get speculation on what kinds of sexual activities were involved. The evidence for this? Years later, Mary Heron Snider’s son-in-law mentioned in a disciplinary council that he had been “familiar with the first frigging [slang for sexual relations]—that was done in his house with his mother in law—by Joseph.” As Michael Quinn has shown, Mrs. Heron was connected with Joseph Smith and with plural marriage, having been noted traveling with Smith and Sarah Cleveland, who was known to be one of the women Joseph used to convince prospective brides to accept his proposals. But here’s Ms. Stout’s take:

I believe Joseph Ellis was trying to explain the abhorrence he personally felt, explaining that he rejected the notion that it was OK to bed a woman out of wedlock as long as it was not found out, that part of his rejection of this behavior is because his own mother-in-law had been a victim. I propose the transcript could read “I was made familiar by Joseph Smith with the story of the first frigging. The bastards frigged my mother-in-law, Mary Heron Snider, around the time I was married to her daughter, in the same house where we stayed there in Nauvoo before moving back down to Ramus.”

But when Michael Quinn came across this record in 2009, he read it differently. Here, he believed, was proof of yet another of Joseph Smith’s sexual conquests. Never mind that it makes no sense for Joseph Ellis to tell the apostles, “By the way, I know we’re in the middle of my church hearing for adultery and I’ve just told you seducing people secretly is abhorrent to me. But did I tell you I am familiar with the fact that Joseph Smith secretly externally shagged my mother-in-law, Mary Heron, in my house in Nauvoo. She was the first, you know. Random factoid I thought you’d like to know.”

As Quinn explains, it makes absolute sense for Johnson to mention that Smith had slept with a married woman as an attempt to justify or at least mitigate his own misbehavior. Needless to say, he says he was aware of the “frigging” that was done “by Joseph.” There is no justification for reading it as “the bastards frigged my mother-in-law.” But based on that–shall we say–creative reading, she makes yet another leap:

Personally, I don’t think Michael Quinn’s interpretation makes sense. But I am grateful for his constant vigilance. The tale of Mary Heron allows us to pinpoint when Joseph Smith could have learned of the abuse Bennett and his followers were systematically inflicting on women in Nauvoo, the beginning of the desperate hunt for the seducers in Joseph’s City Beautiful.

This leads us to the next chapter.

“Hunt in the City Beautiful”

Here Ms. Stout tells us of a “manhunt I believe Joseph and Emma Smith conducted together, trying to identify those abusing the women of Nauvoo during the fall and winter of 1841/1842.” I’m assuming she’s lifted this from Richard and Pamela Price’s ludicrous web site, “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy.”

Wherever she got the idea of an investigation, it goes without saying that there’s no evidence that it ever happened. In fact, the only documented investigation of Nauvoo plural marriage was instigated by Emma Smith, which caused considerable conflict between her and Joseph and ended with Joseph shutting down the Relief Society when she would not give it up.

In Meg’s world, however, women known to have been married to Joseph Smith were instead victims of John Bennett’s “sex ring.” They were sealed to Joseph not because he wanted plural wives but “as part of either securing their loyalty or offering them protection.” What evidence is there? None, of course. But that doesn’t matter to Meg. In her eyes, the women Joseph is known to have used to procure wives, such as Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Durfee, become detectives helping Joseph and Emma uncover the dastardly deeds of the Bennett sex ring.

We’ve seen already that she thinks, based on no evidence, that Joseph discovered that Mary Heron had been abused by unnamed bastards. Similarly, Nancy Winchester, Stout tells us, ” was a victim of the Bennett ring during the winter of 1841/42, when she was barely 13 years old.” Again, is there any evidence of such abuse? Apparently, just that she received a blessing for “fits” in 1845 “–plausible as a post-traumatic stress reaction if she was attacked during the winter three years earlier.” I’m sorry, Meg, but, no, that kind of grasping at straws is pathetic, not plausible. Almost as an aside, she says she believes that the intended victim had been Clarissa Marvel, not Nancy Winchester. Why? She doesn’t say.

Based on nothing in particular, she suggests that Joseph and Emma brought Dr. Willard Richards, midwife Patty Sessions, and Sessions’ daughter, Sylvia Lyon, “wife of the town store clerk and druggist, Windsor Lyon,” to help in the investigation:

Involving Sylvia Lyon in the investigation indicates Joseph and Emma feared a drug was being used to molest women. Involving Patty Sessions indicates Joseph and Emma now feared the molestations may have resulted in pregnancies.

Again, unsupported speculation. Her treatment of the case of Marinda Hyde and Willard Richards is particularly fun:

On January 13th Willard Richards moved from the home of Brigham Young to live with Joseph. I propose this is the date when Joseph discovered abuses that required the attention of a doctor. Two weeks later, Joseph received another uncanonized revelation, directing the Twelve Apostles to take charge of the Times and Seasons. Robinson and his family were evicted, but Marinda remained. Willard Richards moved into the lower floor of the Times and Seasons, barring the windows, and shooting off his gun. These actions are usually interpreted through the eyes of those who thought Willard and Marinda were having an affair. However if the Times and Seasons had become a location frequented by Bennett’s ring, the shooting could have an alternate interpretation, one of Willard warning everyone that there was new management in the building, and that they could take their unholy business elsewhere.

Again, the evidence for this? Nonexistent. But we do come up with this perfectly marvelous paragraph:

By April, Marinda was assisting Joseph’s investigation. On April 9th, Marinda invited Nancy Rigdon to her home at the printing office to meet with Joseph Smith. Nancy believed she was being propositioned. However if you read the correspondence between Joseph and Nancy with the idea that Joseph was hunting out guilty men, who had enthralled Nancy as her “suitors,” it becomes clear that he was desperately trying to win her soul back from the corrupted path she was beginning to take.

Most Mormons are quite familiar with Joseph’s letter to Nancy Rigdon, in which he tells her that, when God gives “special revelation,” whatever he commands is right, even if it violates one’s conscience. This letter makes no sense if Joseph was “hunting out guilty men” but makes perfect sense if Nancy Rigdon rightly believed she was being propositioned. Indeed, it was John Bennett who made the letter public, and we are left wondering why he would have revealed a letter showing that Joseph Smith was hunting him and his sex ring.

Delcena Johnson Sherman, Marinda’s sister, is another wife that Stout claims is a victim of the sex ring. Again, no evidence is given, other than she was a plural wife and she moved in with Louisa Beaman, another wife.

Joseph’s concern for women living without protection (as in Marinda’s case) might be the reason he asked Delcena to move in with Louisa Beaman, already his plural wife.

However Joseph had to have learned of the seduction of Mary Heron Snider, mother-in-law of Delcena’s brother, in some fashion. I propose that the abusers had swept up the widow Delcena in their predations, and that Delcena was the individual who informed Joseph of what had happened to her and to Mary Heron. If such damage had been done to Delcena, Louisa stepped up to become Delcena’s protector. Louisa provided a home, shared the resources she had, and could provide Delcena an understanding of the New and Everlasting Covenant to combat the tales of the seducers.

I’m sorry, but this is pure fantasy, based on nothing.

By May of 1842, rumors were rampant that church leaders, including Joseph Smith, had been engaging in plural marriage. Emma Smith appears to have been outraged and exhorted a Relief Society meeting to root out the “heinous sin” among the Saints. Given Joseph’s history with Fanny Alger and possibly Lucinda Morgan, the thought that the practice was starting again had to be distressing to Emma, so she made it clear that she did not believe the practice was “sanction’d by Prest. Smith.” To me, this indicates pretty strongly that Emma was not aware of Joseph’s previous marriages, now totaling nine in addition to Emma.

But for Meg, Emma’s distress wasn’t over Joseph marrying plural wives but was connected to their attempts to discover who had been abused by Bennett’s gang of rapists. Consequently, she has Elizabethe Durfee (known as one of Joseph’s intermediaries in setting up plural marriages) as questioning Emily and Eliza Partridge about possible abuse at the hands of the aforementioned bastards.

When Joseph was unable to find a time to talk with Emily, he offered to give her a letter, provided she would promise to burn it after reading it. Emily refused the letter. Elizabeth Durfee was sent in next, and invited Eliza and Emily Partridge to her home. Mrs. Durfee then struck up a conversation with the girls about what they might think of spiritual marriage. The girls said nothing. However the very attempt to determine if they’d been caught in Bennett’s web raised suspicions in the girls’ minds. There is no indication the Partridge girls ever suspected the questioning was in service of apprehending evil-doers.

The reason they didn’t suspect that is that the questioning wasn’t regarding “evil-doers,” unless you consider Joseph Smith an evil-doer. Emily Partridge explains quite clearly the subject of her conversation with Joseph:

He told me then what he wanted to say to me, and he taught me this principle of plural marriage called polygamy now, but we called it celestial marriage, and he told me that this principle had been revealed to him but it was not generally known; and he went on and said that the Lord had given me to him, and he wanted to know if I would consent to a marriage, and I consented. . . . I was married to him on the 4th day of March, 1843.

Joseph wanted consent to marry, not information about abuse.

I can only throw up my hands in disgust at this blatant dishonesty. Ms. Stout is well aware of the reasons Joseph Smith approached Emily Partridge, and yet she ignores it because it does not fit her narrative.

Meg Stout claims to be a researcher uncovering the facts. She even told me she’s “pissed that no one else has previously put this story together.” Frankly, I’m pissed that I have wasted so much time on this dishonest garbage. I can understand someone interpreting the facts differently, but this stuff is fantasy mixed with dishonesty, plain and simple.

“My Joseph”: Meg Stout and Polygamy, Part 3

March 3, 2015

Ms. Stout next tackles the meteoric but relatively brief history of John C. Bennett in the LDS church. In 1840 Bennett had attached himself to the LDS church in Nauvoo, helping to develop the city charter and using his charisma and persuasiveness to get it passed by the state legislature. Joseph Smith was so impressed by Bennett that he gave him a tremendous amount of civil and ecclesiastical authority, and Smith even adopted Bennett’s oratorical style and mannerisms. But who was John Bennett?

As before, Ms. Stout begins her discussion with a straw man:

There are two prominent views of John Cook Bennett.

Those who revere Joseph Smith tend to believe Bennett was a devilish scoundrel who told vicious lies about Joseph Smith.

Those who don’t much care about Joseph Smith tend to believe Bennett was a colorful individual who possibly told the truth about Joseph Smith.

This is a false dichotomy, as most historians put Bennett somewhere in the middle of the scale between scoundrel and truthful whistleblower, hence the title of Andrew Smith’s Bennett biography is The Saintly Scoundrel. Bennett, in his self-serving exposé of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, History of the Saints, portrays himself as an unbeliever from the start, dedicated to ingratiating himself with Smith and church leaders as a means of exposing the truth. Meg Stout posits an initially sincere believer who eventually “fell.”

However real people are not all good or all evil. I think of Bennett as someone who secured freedom for his adopted people and could have been one of the greatest leaders of the Mormon movement. Allow me to explain how a believing and honorable Bennett could have fallen.

But I’m not going to focus on Bennett here entirely, as what is far more interesting is the contrast between the way Stout deals with evidence against Bennett and how she dismisses similar, if not stronger, evidence regarding Joseph Smith.

First of all, let’s look at Bennett’s sincerity. In discussing Joseph Smith, Ms. Stout takes everything he says at face value, even when it conflicts with compelling evidence to the contrary. Bennett, however, gets the opposite treatment:

Bennett’s 1842 exposé History of the Saints claimed he had never believed. But Bennett in 1842 was a wounded man full of rage, driven to hurt Joseph Smith in any way possible.

However I urge you to consider the possibility that Bennett was honestly impressed with the goodness of the people he had decided to save. Bennett’s past was littered with events of which a man might reasonably wish to repent. For a moment, let us consider that his decision to be baptized in October 1840 was sincere, despite his obvious political motivations.

It’s fine to consider a possiblity, but Ms. Stout gives us no reason to do so. Now, as before, Ms. Stout takes this speculation and interprets every subsequent event assuming that the speculation has become fact.

If Bennett was truly converted …

Perhaps a penitent Bennett thought his relinquished past could remain a secret.

It could be that Bennett was aware of how much Joseph was willing to forgive. … If Joseph could forgive the deadly treachery of W. W. Phelps, why need Bennett confess of politically inconvenient facts from the past?

In Ms. Stout’s world, then, by March of 1841, Bennett was a sincere, repentant believer, determined to leave his sordid past behind him. But it eventually caught up with him. Sometime after Bennett’s association with the church became public, Joseph Smith received a letter informing him of Bennett’s having committed adultery and having abandoned his still-living wife. Nothing is known about whether Smith confronted Bennett with this information, but, as we’ve seen before, that doesn’t stop Ms. Stout:

I imagine Joseph’s conversations with Bennett gently probed the past before Joseph took the step of commissioning an investigation. This would be the first point after baptism when Bennett could have come clean and retained Joseph’s trust. However Joseph remained concerned enough that he sent George Miller to look into the accusations.

On March 2, 1841, Miller reported back that he had substantiated the claims. Once again we have no information as to whether Joseph confronted Bennett at this time, either, but Ms. Stout forges ahead:

Joseph would have talked with Bennett again after receipt of George Miller’s March 2nd letter. The text of the letter is damning, so Bennett must have done something to retain Joseph’s good will. It’s even possible Bennett didn’t overtly lie.

Again we have an imagined conversation with nothing behind it but Ms. Stout’s hunch, but she goes further in telling us what she imagines the contents of the conversation were:

Why would an honest Bennett allow Joseph to reach a wrong conclusion? The key may have been love. Joseph would later accuse Bennett of having courted a woman under false pretenses. Bennett could have confessed to feckless behavior before his baptism without significant damage. But he could not admit he was still married and hope to continue courting his newly beloved.

Even if Joseph wasn’t ready to censure Bennett openly, Bennett had clearly kept important information hidden. Assuming the young woman Bennett had been courting was known to Joseph, he could easily have put her on her guard against Bennett. Bennett was persuaded to leave the homestead around May, hinting that the young woman in question was a frequent visitor to or intimate of the Smith homestead.

I wouldn’t blame readers for getting a little lost here, but let’s try to sort this out. In the July 1, 1842, edition of the LDS newspaper Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith wrote of Bennett:

He had not been long in Nauvoo before he began to keep company with a young lady, one of our citizens; and she being ignorant of his having a wife living, gave way to his addresses, and became confident, from his behavior towards her, that he intended to marry her; and this he gave her to understand he would do. I, seeing the folly of such an acquaintance, persuaded him to desist; and, on account of his continuing his course, finally threatened to expose him if he did not desist. This, to outward appearance, had the desired effect, and the acquaintance between them was broken off.

Smith’s statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but it’s germane here because, in the previous section, Ms. Stout had identified the young woman in question as Annie Elvira Cowles. I’m assuming this will become important later, but so far it’s just speculation based on speculation. More speculation follows:

Despite Joseph’s likely misgivings, Joseph defended Bennett when Thomas C. Sharp attacked Bennett’s character in May.

Again, we don’t know if Smith had “likely misgivings,” but Ms. Stout proceeds as if her supposition is factual. She continues:

It appears Bennett’s next lodging was the home of Sarah Pratt, wife of apostle Orson Pratt. Sarah was a young woman and mother, and was likely emotional about her husband being gone on a foreign mission. Later reports alleging Bennett and Sarah were intimate early on could have arisen from professional treatment of her “hysteria.”

Here she relies on testimony from Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard, with whom Sarah Pratt stayed in October 1840. They swore an affidavit that Bennett was with Sister Pratt every night but one during that month. This testimony is clearly false, as Bennett was in the state capital that month, working for passage of the city charter. Indeed, Sister Pratt later claimed that the Goddards told her they were forced to sign the affidavits to “save” Joseph and the church.

Stout then states as a fact that Bennett and Pratt “became fully intimate”:

Bennett was later reported to have claimed “Sarah Pratt made a first rate go.” I imagine Bennett was heartbroken at being cut off from his beloved. Sarah was likely still anxious about the absence of her husband, Orson. The professional treatment for hysteria in Bennett’s day was vulvar massage, something we would see as intensely sexual. Bennett and Sarah Pratt lived in the same house, a house not nearly as crowded and public as the Smith homestead where Bennett had been living. It is little wonder that the two lonely adults ended up in bed together.

Here we see the double-standard by which Stout applies evidence. Firsthand testimony from Joseph’s wives that they were sexually intimate with him is dismissed as “euphemisms” and outright lies. Corroboration from people who said Joseph retired to bed with a woman is dismissed because no one actually saw them having sex. But with Bennett, a secondhand report that “Sarah Pratt made a first rate go” is taken as absolute truth. Jacob Backenstos’s ambiguous statements that Bennett and Pratt seemed like husband and wife are also taken as proof of sexual intimacy, as are the clearly fabricated statements of the Goddards.

I do not know what transpired between Sarah Pratt and John Bennett. What matters here is that Meg Stout takes hearsay and demonstrably false testimony and accepts it as fact when it applies to John Bennett. But when dealing with Joseph Smith, she discards stronger, firsthand testimony because it doesn’t fit her narrative. This is dishonest, and it is not scholarship.

But let’s get back to the timeline. Apparently unsatisfied with George Miller’s report, Joseph confronted Bennett only after receiving further confirmation of Bennett’s past from Hyrum Smith. Here’s Stout’s take:

Joseph called Bennett in and tore into him. I believe it is during this discussion that Bennett confessed to his adultery with Sarah Pratt. 22

I’m leaving the footnote citation in because it’s illustrative. It reads:

22. Lorenzo Wasson, Emma Smith’s nephew, overheard the exchange but his summary doesn’t mention Sarah Pratt.

So, again, based on nothing, she asserts that Bennett confessed to adultery with Sarah Pratt.

Bennett begged Joseph to not openly shame him. Sarah was evicted from the house she had been granted and sent back to board with the Goddards. Bennett may have moved to a public house at this point. Certainly Joseph would not have brought Bennett back to the homestead.

Alone, disgraced, despairing, Bennett apparently took a lethal dose of medicine. I believe Bennett’s suicide attempt was sincere. But Bennett was discovered and his life saved.

Oddly, though, Joseph Smith did not make any of this public.

As angry as Joseph would have been at Bennett, he had compassion on the fallen man. As soon as practicable, Bennett was again involved in the duties of his offices. No mention was made publicly at this time of his abandoned wife and children, his shady past, or the adultery with Sarah Pratt.

Once again, Ms. Stout makes unsupported assertions. How do we know Joseph had compassion on Bennett? By this time, the anti-Mormon press had already suggested that it was common knowledge that Bennett was not a believer in Mormonism but had joined for personal gain. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Joseph to disavow Bennett, but he did not do so. Why, I do not know. I could as easily suggest that Bennett knew of Joseph’s marriage a few months earlier to Louisa Beaman and feared exposure, so he decided to keep quiet about Bennett’s problems. That makes as much sense as Meg Stout’s assertion, but at least I recognize mine is speculative and based on no evidence.

Next, she tells us, “By July Bennett was stripped of all real power. But few realized how hollow his positions were.” Without elaboration, it’s difficult to know what she means. But never mind, we’ll keep going.

In July Orson Pratt returned to Nauvoo after a successful mission to the Holy Land. Orson was perturbed to find his wife living as a tenant, without the level of support other missionaries’ wives were receiving. However no one told Orson at that time about Sarah’s infidelity. Orson re-established his household and looked to re-integrate himself into the excitement that was Nauvoo. Orson’s interest in founding a University led him to Bennett. When Orson learned of Bennett’s care for Sarah while Orson was absent, he insisted Bennett come live with them.

Again Ms. Stout assumes that Bennett’s alleged adultery with Sarah Pratt is established fact and was known in July 1841. Why? Because she believes that Bennett would have confessed to Joseph Smith. This baseless assertion leads to more wild speculation:

Bennett was forced to be friends with a man he’d cuckolded, forced to endure while that man enjoyed all the benefits of being back home. Bennett had to go through the performance of his duties knowing that Smith would never permit him any more opportunities for advancement. The woman he loved was in the city, forever in sight, but never to be his.

I’m trying to be polite, but this is beyond bizarre. But Meg Stout needs all of this to be true because she needs the sexual polygamy of Nauvoo to have originated with John C. Bennett, not with Joseph Smith. According to her narrative, Bennett’s first hint of polygamy came from an Joseph Smith made in the fall of 1841, at which Smith suggested that in countries were polygamy was practiced, the church might have to accept the practice.

After lunch the meeting reconvened, and Joseph recanted his words. But the sermon may have planted the seed of an idea in Bennett’s mind.

She doesn’t tell us why Joseph recanted, but it was Emma’s and other women’s strenuous objections over lunch that forced Joseph to back down. But for Stout, this is a seminal moment in that it gave the lecherous Bennett an excuse to sleep around with multiple women.

Bennett was apparently not alone. A small group of individuals came together over this idea. Some one or more of them was familiar with Jacob Cochran’s explosive teachings related to spiritual wifery. Bennett was an obvious individual to guide the group for good or ill. He could have called them all to repentance or asked Joseph to instruct them more perfectly in what he’d meant with his sermon about the Turks and Indians.

I submit that Bennett saw an opportunity to possess the one he desired. If he could convince her that it was right to sleep with someone who was not acknowledged as her husband before the world, he might taste the pleasure of her embrace. If he could convince her that it was right to be his secret, spiritual wife even though he was still legally married to another, he could have the joy of her devotion.

He could not risk approaching his beloved first, however. It needed to be bigger than him, something that neither his beloved or Joseph would see as the object of the group’s activities.

With luck Bennett would secure the heart and body of his beloved before Joseph discovered the matter. Joseph had forgiven men who had plotted to kill him. 28 Bennett himself had not suffered terribly even though he had bedded the wife of an apostle. What then if a few men tasted the pleasures of the fair ladies of Nauvoo, as long as it was done in secret without exposing those involved by unexplained pregnancies?

Surely, Bennett must have reasoned, Joseph would forgive.

More assertions and speculation without evidence. In a footnote, Ms. Stout explains her source for her unsupported assertions:

My midrashic view that Bennett could have fostered this scheme for the sole purpose of ensnaring the woman he had been courting is based on the 2002 DC Sniper. John Allen Muhammad created a cloud of shootings with the intent of hiding the intended murder of his wife. By the time John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were apprehended, they had terrorized the capital of the United States for months, shooting twenty seven people, of whom seventeen died. John Muhammad had not yet gotten around to shooting his wife.

I will leave it here for now, as I don’t think that statement requires any commentary from me.

“My Joseph”: Meg Stout and Polygamy, Part 2

March 2, 2015

Moving along with Meg Stout’s series of posts on Joseph Smith’s plural marriages …

She begins her next section, “Six Funerals and a Blessing,” by restating the straw man argument she opened with previously:

When discussing Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, many have simply presumed that Joseph initiated marriages whenever there was a plausible opportunity for Joseph to be in the same town or house or room as a putative wife. This seems to be the rationale behind Compton’s assertion that Joseph married Lucinda Pendleton in 1838 or the belief that Joseph fathered children with Hannah Dubois in the early 1830s.

As I said before, I don’t believe any serious historian has ever said that Joseph Smith entered into plural marriage with any available woman, apparently to satisfy his lusts. Certainly, that is not the reason Todd Compton lists Lucinda Morgan as one of Joseph Smith’s wives. But let’s get into the heart of her arguments.

The main thesis of this section is that several deaths, including that of Joseph’s father, in 1840 opened Joseph’s mind to the need to seal parents to children and thus hastened the practice of plural marriage. She first notes the untimely death of Jane and William Neyman’s teenaged son, Cyrus, who had not been baptized, correctly linking that death with Joseph’s explication of baptism for the dead a few months later at the funeral of Seymour Brunson.

At this point, the connection between these deaths and the introduction of plural marriage is not clear, but then Ms. Stout brings up the death of Marietta Carter Holmes, who was killed as a result of an attack by a mob. After Holmes’s death, Marietta’s husband and two daughters were taken into the Smith home, where one of the children died shortly thereafter. At this point, Ms. Stout launches into pure conjecture:

I imagine Marietta being carried from her burning home to the homestead. Jonathan hurries in, stopping in horror as his worst fears are realized. Joseph Smith watches, knowing that Marietta bears the wounds intended for Emma and himself.

It seems clear to me that Joseph would have comforted Jonathan and Marietta. Though death was imminent, their union and their love could persist despite the cruelty of the mob, despite the tragedy of a life ended so young.

Marietta died August 20, 1840. She was only twenty years old.

Joseph knew of the New and Everlasting Covenant that could bind husbands and wives together for eternity. He had received the keys of that power more than four years earlier, but had yet to use that power to bind his own marriage, much less the marriage of any other couple. As they buried Marietta, I believe Joseph must have realized that the ordinance of marriage could also be performed for those now dead, just as baptism could be performed by proxy.

When Marietta’s daughter died, Ms. Stout again has Joseph pondering baptism for the dead:

I believe it was in this crucible that Joseph finally understood that the sealing power could bind parents to their children and children to their parents. It could seal infant Mary to Jonathan and Marietta. It could seal his own departed children to himself and Emma. It could seal him to his own father, bedridden since March 1840.

Finally, Joseph’s own father died two days after the death of Mary Holmes. Once again, Ms. Stout veers far away from the historical record into speculation:

I submit Joseph’s attempt to obey the 1831 commandment regarding plural marriage and the New and Everlasting Covenant did not start in earnest until September 14, 1840, at the deathbed of his father.

What reason does she give to support this belief? None that I can see, but her next chapter is based on the assumption that these deaths spurred Joseph to begin seeking plural wives in earnest. Accordingly, he approached Joseph Bates Nobles in the fall of 1840 to teach him about the principle and ask for his help in securing Noble’s sister-in-law Louisa Beaman as a wife. Around the same time he approached Zina Huntington, who refused him.

Now things get a little muddled in Stout’s telling. By this time John C. Bennett had firmly established himself as one of Joseph Smith’s chief lieutenants and confidants, as Bennett had been instrumental in getting the state legislature to approve Nauvoo’s city charter. In March 1841, Joseph received confirmation from George Miller that Bennett had abandoned a still-living wife in Ohio. When further confirmation came in June of that year, Smith confronted Bennett, who admitted his guilt. It would be another year before Bennett lost his position in the church.

In the fall of 1840, Elvira Annie Cowles was living in Joseph Smith’s home as a governess for the Smith children. She would not marry Joseph until 1843, a fact that puzzles Ms. Stout. Once again Ms. Stout abandons the evidence and weaves a narrative that suits her:

Here was a possible answer, then. Elvira Annie Cowles, of all the plural wives Joseph would covenant with, appears to have promised Emma that she would not enter into a Covenant with Joseph until after Emma herself had accepted the Covenant.

Even though Elvira Annie wasn’t the first plural wife, there is no reason to think she was not the first woman Joseph talked with after his father’s death. She was an intimate of the Smith family. Emma loved Elvira and trusted her. Elvira may have witnessed the conversation between Joseph and the dying Marietta Holmes and the death bed blessing Father Smith pronounced on Joseph’s head. With this background, Elvira would be uniquely prepared to comprehend the strange doctrine of plural marriage.

Assuming Joseph approached Elvira about joining him in the New and Everlasting Covenant as a plural wife during September 1840, Elvira also understood one other thing about plural marriage. The first wife had to agree–Emma would have to give her consent. There is no good reason to suppose Joseph and Elvira kept this from Emma. If Elvira was going to refuse Joseph, then it seems only natural that she was doing so based on knowledge of Emma’s wishes.

To be clear, there is no evidence that:

1. Joseph Smith approached Elvira Cowles about plural marriage, let alone that she was “the first woman Joseph talked with after his father’s death.”
2. Elvira Cowles made any promise to Emma about marrying Joseph.
3. Elvira Cowles knew that “the first wife had to agree,” as Joseph entered into other marriages without Emma’s knowledge or consents.
4. Elvira Cowles refused any proposal of Joseph’s for any reason, including “Emma’s wishes.”

It’s difficult to overstate how problematic this is. Once again, we have a whole lot of assertions based on no evidence. This is not reputable history; it’s not even good apologetics.

But it gets worse. Next Ms. Stout asserts, again with no evidence, that Dr. Bennett must have pursued Elvira Cowles after Joseph refused to “excoriate” him for his transgressions: “More importantly for Bennett, the reprieve would give him time to secure the affections of his new beloved.” Who was this new beloved? Elvira Cowles:

When Dr. Bennett began to court, I suggest Elvira Annie Cowles was very likely the woman he sought.  When Joseph learned of Bennett’s shady past, it became a matter of significant importance to warn the young woman involved of the impropriety, to break off the acquaintance, as Joseph termed it. Significantly, it was around the timeframe of the Miller letter that Bennett moved out of the homestead, apparently taking a room in the home of Sarah Pratt.

Why is Ms. Cowles “very likely the woman [Bennett] sought”? No reason in particular. She was at the house, so why not? Based on this conjecture, we get a second conjecture, that Joseph tried to warn Elvira about Bennett’s shady past. What evidence is there of such a warning? None, just the suggestion that since Bennett moved out of the house in May, it must have had something to do with improper advances on Elvira.

More speculation follows, including Ms. Stout’s apparent belief that Joseph Smith tried to persuade Noble to enter into plural marriage:

Was it not possible that Joseph Smith was trying to convince Joseph Bates Noble to enter into plural marriage himself? The sight of Joseph Bates Noble assisting his wife and sister-in-law down the street must have been arresting to Smith–so like a vision of plural marriage at its best. If Smith attempted to persuade Noble to take on a plural wife, however, Noble did not act in the winter of 1840/41.

Is it possible? Anything’s possible, but is there any evidence? Again, no. So, to sum up, she says:

By April 1841 Joseph Smith knew he couldn’t trust Dr. Bennett. Elvira Cowles wouldn’t marry him. Zina Huntington wouldn’t marry him. Joseph Bates Noble wouldn’t take a plural wife.

Is there any evidence that Joseph had lost trust in Bennett by April 1841? No. Is there any evidence Elvira Cowles refused a marriage proposal? No. Nor is there evidence that Joseph Noble refused to take a plural wife. The only statement that can be substantiated is that Zina Huntington refused Joseph’s proposal in the fall of 1840.

Finally, Stout explains that Louisa Beaman consented to marry Joseph in April 1841 and that the newlyweds spent the night in Joseph Noble’s house. But even here she can’t bring herself to acknowledge that anything sexual might have occurred. “Despite Joseph and Louisa spending their wedding night under the same roof, Joseph Bates Noble was unable to testify that he’d actually seen the couple get in bed together. ”

I will just quote from Joseph Noble’s actual testimony to show how preposterous this is.

Q. Do you know whether Joseph Smith ever lived any with Louisa Beaman as his wife?. . .

A. I know it for I saw him in bed with her. . . .

Q. What made you say the other day that Joseph Smith and that woman you sealed to him slept together that night?

A. Because they did sleep together.

Q. If you were not there that night, how do you know they slept together?

A. Well, they slept together I know. If it was not that night it was two or three nights after that.

Q. Where did they sleep together?

A. Right straight across the river at my house they slept together. . . .

Q. Did he sleep with her the first night after the ceremony was performed?

A. He did.

Q. Now you say that he did sleep with her?

A. I do.

Q. How do you know he did?

A. Well I was there.

Q. And you saw them go to bed together?

A. I gave him counsel . . . .

Q. What counsel did you give him?

A. I said “blow out the light and get into bed, and you will be safer there,” and he took my advice or counsel . . . .

Q. Well did you stay there until the lights were blown out?

A. No sir I did not stay until they blowed out the lights then.

Q. Well you did not see him get into bed with her that time?

A. No sir.

Q. And so you don’t know whether he followed your advice from your own knowledge?

A. No sir, I did not see him, but he told me he did.

Q. Well, you know from your own knowledge that he did?

A. Well, I am confident he did.

Q. But you don’t know it of your own knowledge from seeing him do it?

A. No sir, for I was not there.

Corroboration comes from Benjamin Winchester:

Q. Were you personally acquainted with any of Smith’s wives?

A. Yes, but especially with Louisa Beaman from a girl. About the year 43 Joseph Smith took rooms for her in my father’s house, and Smith came to see her about once a week.

Q. Did they sleep together?

A. Yes they did.

Q. Was there only one bed in the room?

A. Yes just one bed.

Q. Are you sure it was in 1843?

A. No, but it was about that time, or from 42 to 44

Apparently, Ms. Stout believes that, unless a third party actually watched them have sex, it’s unreasonable to believe that, when they spent the night together in a bedroom with the lights out, they didn’t actually share a bed and “the marriage between Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman likely remained unconsummated.” Indeed, Joseph Smith must have lied when he told Joseph Nobles he slept with Louisa.

I am trying very hard not to condemn or ridicule Ms. Stout, but I will simply say that this kind of stuff strains credulity.

How Not to Do Apologetics

February 27, 2015

About four years ago I wrote a post showing evidence that Joseph Smith married additional wives without the knowledge or consent of his legal wife, Emma. You can read the post here:

Secret Wives

The evidence is quite clear, and it’s also clear that Emily Partridge spent the night in bed with Joseph Smith on their wedding night, and when asked, she confirmed under oath that she had “carnal intercourse” with Smith. Their wedding night was spent in the home of Benjamin Johnson, who confirmed that they occupied the same room and bed.

That would seem fairly straightforward: a man and woman who have just been married and retire to the bedroom are likely to have sexual relations. It strains credulity to believe that they would have gone to the bedroom, closed the door, and spent the night playing cards.

Apparently, it’s not that clear to some people, as I received the following comment this evening. I’m not sure why the comment came four years after the post, but here it is:

Emily Partridge was sufficiently uninformed that she thought Mrs. Durfee’s original questions in 1842 regarding spiritual wifery were germane to Joseph wanting to get it on with her as per Emily’s interpretation of the conversation he tried to have with her and the letter he tried to pass to her.

Lucy Walker’s refusal to testify regarding whether she was intimate with Joseph is telling. This same manner of refusal occurred with Malissa Lott with respect to her own family (who would have loved to know she was Joseph’s factual bedded wife). Malissa always refused to confirm or deny.

I grant that we have Joseph spending the evening in the same room as women who would later be known as his plural wives, per the attestation of Benjamin Johnson. But Benjamin wasn’t watching through the knothole to confirm sexual intercourse. He was merely presuming what activity was occurring.

It all boils down to the one admission from Emily, where she responded “Yes sir.” when asked if she had engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith. But recall that this Emily had been the wife of Brigham Young, had lived through the culture wars of the 1870s and later, when her people were being put in jail for polygamy, when women were going on the underground with fake identities to avoid being forced to testify against husbands and fathers.

Had Emily not replied “Yes sir.” to that question, she believed that the temple lot of prophesy would be awarded to Joseph’s sons and their Church and therefore forever made unavailable to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Besides this, Emily was by then 70 years old, and knew her way around the English language. Carnal refers to meat. Intercourse refers to commerce or trade (ever visited Intercourse, PA?). Therefore “carnal intercourse” would also be a legitimate description of passing Joseph a platter of turkey or chicken or mutton or beef at a meal, an activity the young Emily had almost certainly engaged in.

As I recall the testimony, Emily was really testy after her “Yes sir.” Which I would be too, if I had technically told the truth but actually implied a falsehood.

I would respond to this point by point, but it just doesn’t merit it. I’m sure my commenter is sincere, but anyone who argues that “carnal intercourse” refers to the commercial exchange of meat is not to be taken seriously. If you have to do such violence to language and logic to support your belief, it’s quite likely your belief is erroneous.

Honestly, that is perhaps the worst apologetic argument for polygamy that I have ever read. And that’s saying something.

For what it’s worth, she apparently has a web site dedicated to proving that Joseph Smith did not have sex with those women.

A Faithful Joseph

Open the Books

February 27, 2015

As most of my readers know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently put out a series of essays discussing controversial or difficult historical or doctrinal issues.

Church Provides Context for Recent Media Coverage on Gospel Topics Pages

I have written previously that I found the essays less than “accurate and transparent,” as Jeffrey Holland insisted they are, “within the framework of faith.” Several faithful Latter-day Saints (and even a few non-LDS) I know have responded by saying that it isn’t the church’s responsibility to teach an exhaustive history and deep study of doctrinal matters, so it’s too much to ask for accuracy and transparency.

For a lot critics, the LDS church will never do enough until they air all their dirty laundry and explain it. And in my view, whoever wrote the essays felt they had given as much information as they could to maintain that framework of faith.

Initially, I thought it was pretty obvious the church has been teaching history and doctrine for 185 years, so it isn’t out of bounds to ask that what they teach be accurate and complete. When you’re not completely open, it looks like you’re hiding something, and that never ends well. After all, it was the desire for secrecy and control of the message that led to the Hofmann bombings in the 1980s. But then I recognized that the church focuses on gospel principles and behaviors that are intended to lead people to Christ, so why get sidetracked wading through the depths of these things?

I think I finally have a solution. Open all the church historical archives to researchers in the way that libraries have long opened their “special collections” to academics and others, so long as those accessing the documents and books respect the terms of use (not removing things, wearing gloves where appropriate, and so on) and that confidential information about living people is not compromised. Maybe it really isn’t the church’s responsibility to dig through the records and try to approach “the whole truth,” whatever that might mean. Let someone else do it.

But, you might say, wouldn’t that just open the church to attacks from secular and religious critics? Yes, it would, obviously, but then it’s not as if the church hasn’t been attacked by groups using information that is already in the public domain. Maybe I’m being naive, but I can’t imagine there’s all that much information in the archives that is any more embarrassing than that which is already known publicly. By opening the archives–even the First Presidency’s alleged “vault”–any sensationalistic attacks would be tempered by accurate information and context from academic authors and faithful church members.

In short, it makes sense for the church to focus on its core mission of inviting all to come unto Christ and leave the blips and flecks of history to the historians. Surely, something would arise on occasion that the church would feel it needed to respond to, just as it has with the recent essays, but historical and doctrinal oddities would be kept in proper perspective. I suspect most members would take any “shocking” revelations in stride, as they have other issues. No longer could any church members say that the church had “lied” to them or hidden things, and critics could no longer accuse the church of covering things up. (For the record, I am pretty sure I have never said the church has lied or covered anything up. If I ever did say something like that, it was probably in a moment of frustration.)

I’m a realist and don’t expect the church to do anything like this. Most image-conscious organizations feel the need to control the message, so they guard “proprietary” information carefully. But the church might follow the example of Tesla Motors, which last year released its electric motor and battery storage patents to the public in hopes of furthering the adoption of its technologies by other people, even competitors. Tesla is betting that whatever damage competitors might do with this information is outweighed by the good of putting the information out in the light of day.

It’s a nice thought, anyway.

Ask Me Anything

February 27, 2015

A friend asked if I would do a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” so I agreed to do it on Wednesday, March 4 at 9 pm Eastern (8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6 Pacific). I’ve never done anything like this before, but I think it will be fun. I was asked to provide a short biography:

I am an author and blogger. My blog, Runtu’s Rincón, has won several awards for LDS commentary and humor, as well as attracting a small group of Mormon stalkers, who consider me “the most dangerous kind of anti-Mormon there is,” though I’m not anti-Mormon at all.

I grew up in Southern California, attended BYU, and served an LDS mission in Bolivia. I’ve worked for more than 20 years as a technical writer and editor, and I spent two years working at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. I don’t have too many juicy stories–a few, though–other than getting lost in the tunnels once and, on finding my way out, tripping over then-prophet Howard W. Hunter’s wheelchair.

I was invited to join an LDS-themed email list back in 1995, and eventually I became a bit of an amateur apologist, posting on a couple of listserv and message boards. In 2005, I took a break from message boards, and in the process had a crisis of faith. I returned to the boards as an experiment, posting with the same style and interests but from an unbelieving perspective. Within a year, I was banned from the FAIR board, and a poster sent an email around to all my friends claiming I was mentally ill and possibly a sexual predator.

Needless to say, I have generated a lot of anger by posting my thoughts about Mormonism. At one point, a commenter said he had a loaded shotgun, and the shells in it had my name on them. I try to have a sense of humor about that kind of thing, but eventually my wife received anonymous emails threatening violence if she didn’t “put a stop” to my writing. Since that time, things have calmed down considerably, probably because I’ve mellowed, in part.

In 2011, I published Heaven Up Here, a sort of blow-by-blow account of my time as a Mormon missionary in Bolivia, which won a Brodie Award for best book-length memoir. I tried to write the book as I experienced things as a young missionary, not as a middle-aged man looking back. I’ve been really happy that the book has been well-received by believers and unbelievers alike. I think it’s just a great story, but then I’m biased.

These days I don’t write as much as I like, as I’m busy with life and my family in Northern Virginia.


Chris and Ida

February 24, 2015

My wife tells me it’s a morbid habit, but I sometimes check the obituaries in the Provo newspapers to see if anyone I know has passed on. Probably has something to do with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or perhaps it reflects a longing to stay connected with my past.

This morning I noticed the obituary for Ida Smith, an 83-year-old woman who was the daughter of church Patriarch Joseph Fielding Smith and a proud descendant of Hyrum Smith, brother of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith. After the usual list of survivors and those who preceded her in death comes this:

Idas [sic] most trusted friends in life were Myrna, her neighbor of many years, and Christopher M. Nemelka, both who [sic] were among those who enjoyed Idas [sic] last moments of this Lone and Dreary World.

It was Idas [sic] wish to let the world know, that after a lifelong search for happiness and real truth, she found solace and fulfillment in the Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Ida wanted all of her friends and family members to know about this marvelous find. Ida desired that anyone interested in her life read Joseph Smiths [sic] Inspired Translation of the biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 29, in regards to the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. Some of Ida Smiths [sic] last words were, Its [sic] a marvelous work and a wonder!

What is this “Marvelous Work and a Wonder” of which she speaks, this marvelous find, the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon? And what in this wonder brought her solace and fulfillment? One is tempted to believe that perhaps the wonder involves a prohibition of apostrophes, but then that would be too snarky.

I read about Ida’s journey of faith a few years ago in the Salt Lake City Weekly newspaper. (Full disclosure: I did an interview with City Weekly a couple of years ago, but I can’t see how that would relate to this post.) In 2007 Ida’s cousin told her that, as prophesied for many years, the “sealed portion of the Book of Mormon” had been translated and published. Ida wrote that, upon hearing this, “I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning.” The description in City Weekly is reminiscent of Parley Pratt’s reaction to receiving a copy of the Book of Mormon in 1830:

She devoured it over six weeks, in the process emptying two boxes of tissues and several red ballpoint pens as she wept and underlined page after page of scripture. The voice of the Mormon angel Moroni “was unmistakable,” she later wrote. By the time she had finished the book, “my entire worldview had been forever changed.” It revealed to her what she had suspected since her youth: that the LDS Church was fallible and unnecessary, and that its prophets since Joseph Smith had been in name only.

It’s always interesting to me what resonates with people. I am moved to tears sometimes by George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Blake, and William Butler Yeats, and yet other people I know find them dull and uninspiring. One of my favorite books is Wright Morris’s The Deep Sleep, but I have loaned my copy to friends who have returned it bewildered as to why I love it. So it is with matters of the spirit. I love the language and content of the King James Bible, while others find its Jacobean prose daunting and inaccessible. In the same way, the prose that changed Ida Smith’s life forever is to me as tedious as one might expect a plagiarism of the Book of Mormon could be. To give you an idea of what it’s like, here’s a bit of Nemelka’s echo of 2 Nephi 2:

39 And Jehovah responded to the words of Lucifer, saying: And how dost thou suppose that we learn about this pain and sorrow of which the Father hath spoken if we do not first experience it? And how dost thou suppose that we comprehend the happiness and joy of eternity if we do not know what causeth them?
40 Behold, thou knowest that one of the eternal laws stateth that there is an opposite to all things. If this were not the case, then we could not know anything. For if there was no dark, how could we comprehend the light? And if there was no bad, how could we comprehend good? And if there is no pain and sorrow, how can we understand what joy and happiness are?
41 And these things are according to our feelings. But even so if there were not cold, how could we know warmth.[sic] Yea, even if there were no rocks, then there would be no earth, which is softer than a rock, yet made up of the same elements. (The Sealed Portion—The Final Testament of Jesus Christ 5:39–41.)
The PDF version of the book is 668 pages of this kind of stuff. It’s definitely not my cup of herbal tea. Maybe, as some have suggested, I’m just missing the forest for the trees.

But I’m not going to criticize Ms. Smith for her taste in literature. For whatever reason, Nemelka’s book touched her in a very deep way, and she went all in as a follower. “I was prepared to give up everything for the truth,” she said. “I was looking for the truth all my life. And I wasn’t afraid.” According to the article, several friends and family members, “all, according to Nemelka’s blog, senior and well-connected figures in the LDS Church, … cut themselves off” from her. She gave Nemelka her burial plot in the Smith family portion of the Salt Lake City cemetery, where he had a tombstone erected “that proclaimed him as the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith, along with boasting two trademarked Websites inscribed in bright blue at the base of the plinth, which promote his work.”

The plot was not all she gave him. Nemelka is the executor of her will and her estate. Ida set up a trust, he says, called The Marvelous Work and Wonder Trust, to which she signed over all her assets. Others, he says, have also signed over their wills to Nemelka’s “work.” His message, he continues, “has freed” many people up. “It has given them a whole different view of life, and knowledge.”

Many of her friends and family tried to dissuade her from following Nemelka. Apostle Jeffrey Holland told her, “This guy is a wacko. He’s just not in touch with reality. … If we really believe there’s an order and a priesthood in the church, it’s gonna come to the president of the church.” Former Senator Robert Bennett wrote to her, “I am convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that [Nemelka’s works] are forgeries.” But Ida remained steadfast in her faith, no matter the cost, and she remained faithful to the end. And she’s not the only one. According to the 2011 article, Nemelka has attracted some 80 adherents. If you’re interested, you can read their testimonies here.

Who is this Christopher Nemelka, and how has he managed to convince people to follow him?

The official story is that, while working as a security guard in the Salt Lake Temple in the 1980s, Nemelka had a visionary experience.

Already disillusioned with the church, he ventured into the Temple’s upper room where the Twelve Apostles meet. Confronted with its opulence, he “wept bitterly.” Shortly afterward, a “tremendously bright light began to fill the room.” Not only did Nemelka see the personage of his late grandfather, but Joseph Smith and the gold plates to boot. His mission, he learned, was to “commence” the translation of the sealed portion, but only under the position and authority of Smith. The preamble ends with a rumble of stalwart righteousness: “Though I will endure many persecutions and trials, I will never deny that I have experienced that which I have described above, and if any man mock me or that to which I have testified, I will witness against him at the judgement bar of God … I solemnly testify.”

The sealed portion appears to have been published initially sometime in the early 1990s. By this time Nemelka had been through 2 marriages that had ended in divorce and had served time for abducting his son as a noncustodial parent. But there is some disagreement about Nemelka’s reasons for writing the book. In a 2007 interview, he appears to have decided to act the part of “pious fraud,” or someone who uses deception for godly ends. Some have argued that Joseph Smith was such a pious fraud, and it may have seemed natural for Nemelka to follow in his footsteps:

I set about in my own mischievous and arrogant way, of which I’m not proud of now, to prove that a person could actually write scripture and present it to people who were looking for certain scripture. I was playing on the belief that LDS people have that one day the gold plates would be returned and the sealed portion would be translated. Basically, I set about to write a fictitious version of the sealed portion as I thought Joseph Smith would have written it had he continued to perpetuate his translation of the gold plates. Much to the chagrin of the LDS church and others, what I wrote was indeed well versed and quite appropriate for the scripture I was trying to portray. Anybody who reads it would just be totally amazed. … My true intent was to somehow perpetuate a religion that would be based on true Christian principals [sic] of Christ-like love. Where I made my greatest mistake, for which I’m now extremely sorry for, is that I used deception to perpetuate what I proposed as the truth, assuming at the time that Joseph Smith had done the same thing.

In a letter to one of his wives, Nemelka wrote:

When I deal with people, I am amazed at the ignorance and stupidity of most. People are so easily manipulated and deceived. Knowing this has made me a near master of manipulation. I try only to use this art, however, to help people. Sometimes the things I do seem terrible at the time, but usually the manipulation works to accomplish that which I intended.

At other points, Nemelka has been more direct in explaining his motives: “Yeah that’s, that’s all bullshit. All the revelations are bullshit, of course. I made ‘em up.”

In the early 1990s, Nemelka took his book to the Mormon fundamentalist community, where it was a big hit. Nemelka soon set himself up in a polygamous arrangement, but eventually he admitted to the fundamentalists that he had written the “scripture” himself, angering them such that he fled and adopted a pseudonym:

Yes, Christopher Stohl was an alias that I used after I ran away from religious persecution. I didn’t want anybody to know Chris Nemelka. See, when I did that thing with the fundamentalist group, there were people who wanted to kill me. They were so mad. When I came out and told these other polygamists, fundamentalist guys, that I had really written the sealed portion, that I had done it just to show people that it could be done—they were very upset.

He also ended his polygamous relationships. One wife relates, “He sat us all down and said he didn’t believe in polygamy, but [said], ‘What man wouldn’t want to have sex with more than one wife?”

At this point, one would expect Nemelka to give up his religious enterprise, but not so. In 2000, Nemelka met a woman named Christine Marie, who told him she had seen him in a dream. Seemingly borrowing from the Joseph Smith playbook, Nemelka reportedly told her “he had been called to translate the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. He almost failed the first time because of his pride, so God took his calling away for a while.” Nemelka made her feel like she had been chosen to receive this new revelation, that, in her words, “God sent me that dream about him because I had been called to help him. He knew I was one of the elect the minute he looked into my eyes.”

Even after Nemelka was jailed for violating a restrictive order, Marie stuck with him, and he sent her revelations from his jail cell. Nemelka denies having told her he was a prophet or called of God:

Never did he try to persuade Marie that he was a prophet of God, translating the sealed portion, he said. Never did he once ask or press Marie for money. It was Marie who projected a divine image onto him, convincing herself of his status as a prophet and man of God, he said. He ran with it and played on it, he admits. For that, he is sorry. And any money she gave him was money she volunteered, almost forced on him. He accepted it only after she told him her business was thriving and her children were being provided for.

“What I did do was I deceived her religiously. I played with her religious beliefs and mind, which I do not think a person should do,” Nemelka said.

Nemelka’s deception led to her financially supporting him, and she ended up forcing on him somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000. According to her friends, “Marie sold all her furniture and goods to move into a dumpy hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, where she lived almost like a homeless person, among near-homeless people.” Yet Nemelka insists that he never led her on and never asked for money:

My whole purpose was for good. Christine knew that—knew that with all her heart. That’s why she said, ‘I’m going to finance you.’ She’s the one who brought it up. She’s the one who said I don’t want you to work. I wrote it under the inspiration and guise of being a prophet of God. That’s what she wanted me to be.

Indeed, he took pains to make sure that money she spent on him would not be connected back to him.

You have been quite spectacular and trustworthy in your timely payments to my Visa, which covers my child support. By using the Visa method, all transactions will be kept virtually out of my hands and name. So the world will have no cause against me if something happens to you, or if the media, which I am sure will one day be investigating, takes it upon itself to accuse me, as they did Joseph [Smith], of taking advantage of religious contributions for my own gain.

At this point, one could hardly be blamed for wondering if Nemelka himself is clear about his own motivations. Is it for money? Faith? Benefiting humanity? One of his ex-wives says, “There are so many angles that he takes. One minute he claims he’s an atheist, the next he’s a prophet of God.” But for his supporters, the motivation is unimportant. In every sacred text there is something more there than just the tomes.

I’m  less interested in Nemelka himself than in the reasons people adhere to such folks. I readily admit I don’t get the attraction to Christopher Nemelka; to me he seems like a low-rent, wannabe Joseph Smith. But something pulled Ida in, even after she knew about all the sordid details of his past (for some reason, I am reminded of Boyd K. Packer’s statement, “President William E. Berrett has told us how grateful he is that a testimony that the past leaders of the Church were prophets of God was firmly fixed in his mind before he was exposed to some of the so-called facts that historians have put in their published writings”). Similarly, Ida had a firm belief in Nemelka long before she learned about the jail time, the admissions of fraud, and so on. Why would she still believe? Was it the Spirit of God? Was it an unconscious desire to restore her family’s tarnished glory in the LDS church? Was it just that Nemelka’s stuff dovetailed nicely with what she already believed? I have no idea.

In the end, it doesn’t matter the reason. Religious attraction is a matter of individual desire, experience, and preference, and people like Ida are attracted to someone like Chris Nemelka, whereas others wouldn’t cross the street for him. I don’t know if these religious entrepreneurs specifically target certain kinds of people, or they just do what comes naturally in the hopes that the Idas of the world will appear.

Most people–and most Latter-day Saints–would dismiss Nemelka as an obvious fake, but Ida and others believe he has been called to usher in the last days. His website gives us a hint of when the end may come:

Plan to attend the next Marvelous Work and a Wonder® Annual Symposium, June 16th 2015 and every June 16th through 2144 with Wednesday June 16th 2145 being the ultimate culmination of all previous symposiums.

As far as I can tell, Nemelka will be around 183 then.

Maybe Ida will be there in spirit.





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