This weekend of 25th October we in the UK see the clocks go back. It’s a time when we luxuriate in the illusion that we have ‘an extra hour.’ I say ‘illusion’ because, of course, we don’t gain an hour we simply live the same hour by another name, and rearrange how we use the same sixty minutes of time.
The Mormon Church has been turning back the clock and its a retrospective that is every bit as illusory as that ‘extra’ hour. Ministry to Mormons has, for generations, been a cat-and-mouse affair, with Christians making every effort to tell the whole truth behind the sanitized story told to generations of Mormons. Its been one round after another of “yes he did,” “No he didn’t,” “Yes they were,” and, “No they weren’t.” From merciless Danites to the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre, from polygamy to racism, we have chased down the truth and told it, even as the Mormon Church has dodged and denied it.
“At last,” some might say, the Mormon hierarchy has finally begun to address those thorny issues, painstakingly researched and revealed by generations of Christian ministries, denied by generations of Mormons. You can find articles in the Gospel Topics section of the Mormon website covering areas including Race and the Priesthood, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, The Danites, and Polygamy. The story they are telling, however, is as illusory as ever it was but, like that ‘extra’ hour, it is so beguiling that people are buying the revisions and “explanations.”
Joseph Smith Lied – and Started a Trend
If we look at the latest effort to revise and make palatable Mormonism’s troubled history we find some seriously important implications that might not occur to someone taking Mormon claims today on face value.
Joseph Smith married as many as 33 women, two as young as fourteen, ten of them under twenty. In Todd Compton’s “In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith” the ten are listed, with their ages:
- Helen Mar Kimball, 14
- Nancy M. Winchester, 14
- Flora Ann Woodworth, 16
- Sarah Ann Whitney, 17
- Sarah Lawrence, 17
- Lucy Walker, 17
- Fanny Alger, 16-19
- Emily Dow Partridge, 19
- Maria Lawrence, 19
- Malissa Lott, 19
The Mormon Church also now admits that some of Smith’s “wives” were already married to other men. Much is made of the difference between eternal marriage and marriage for time only, the fact that they are not sure who entered into which relationship, or with whom Joseph had physical relations. But this is a disingenuous attempt to hide behind the fog of history, which is particularly striking in those who boast of being “a record-keeping people.”
The key here, however, is the fact that Joseph Smith and his followers simply lied about these relationships. In 1833 he “married” Fanny Alger, yet, in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) he insisted:
“Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy:we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” (D&C 101:4)
Yet Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth president of the Mormon Church and one-time church historian, stated in a letter in 1935 that the principle of plural marriage had been revealed as early as 1831.
By 1838 Smith had married Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris, who was already married to George Washington Harris, so the relationship was not only polygamous but polyandrous. The infamous revelation on plural marriage (D&C 132) was not formally given until 1843 but by that time he had over twenty “wives” eleven of whom were apparently already married.
Yet, in 1844, in The Times and Seasons, the following appeared:
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 1844
As we have been credibly informed, that an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints, by the name of Hiram Brown, has been preaching polygamy, and other false and corrupt doctrines, in the county of Lapeer, state of Michigan.
This is to notify him and the Church in general, that he has been cut off from the church, for his iniquity; and he is further notified to appear at the Special Conference, on the 6th of April next, to make answer to these charges.
Presidents of said Church
One notably faithful follower, Eliza Roxcy Snow, sister of Lorenzo Snow, organised a petition in the Summer of 1842, with the signatures of a thousand women, denying that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. As secretary of the women’s organisation, the Relief Society, she issued a certificate in October 1842 denouncing polygamy. She was, at the time, already a plural wife to Smith. These people were simply dishonest and once the patina of religious piety is removed we clearly see a rogue and his accomplices.
The Mormon default position is “that was then, this is now.” The tone is – something went on, and it was much as critics have said, but we don’t know enough about it to understand it all. But is this really good enough?
Back in my Day…
The church article on plural marriage begins:
“Latter-day Saints believe that the marriage of one man and one woman is the Lord’s standing law of marriage. In biblical times, the Lord commanded some to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman. By revelation, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to institute the practice of plural marriage among Church members in the early 1840s. For more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints under the direction of the Church President.
Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes in instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord].”
This truly takes my breath away for its sheer mendacity. As recently as the 1970s, when I was a Mormon, the complete opposite was being taught. Far from monogamy being “the norm” for Mormons, we were taught that polygamy was an essential part of the restoration, that it was the order of heaven, and that the cessation of the practice after 1890 was simply temporary. Saints envisaged the day when they would again be free to practice plural marriage.
The article goes to some lengths to paint an opaque picture to which even modern prophets cannot bring clarity. Again, this is so thoroughly disingenuous. At the risk of sounding like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch, in my time there was a thoroughly worked out and systematically taught doctrine of plural marriage. Any Mormon worth his salt could explain, and at length, the whys and wherefores of the practice.
What is most revealing, however, is that the Mormon Church still carries on the practice of temple polygamy and polyandry to this day. The Church Handbook of Instruction, vol.1, 1998 edition, page 73 states:
Sealing of a Husband and Wife
A deceased woman may be sealed (in the temple) to all men to whom she was married during her life…
A deceased man may have sealed to him all women to whom he was legally married during his life if they are deceased or if they are living and not sealed to another man…
Given that these “sealings” are marriages entered into for eternity, the conclusion must be that the Mormon heaven is going to be polygamous, polyandrous, and quite confusing. Given that they can happen in Mormon temples today, and can involve living Mormons in the case of wives, then the Mormon Church still practices polygamy.
As a former Mormon, who has since embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible, I must say that I do not look back nostalgically on those days when it was required that I should believe so many un-Christian things. I do look back with some indignation at a church that can’t help itself but lie, and lie, and lie again.
Today’s is a quite different Mormon Church, even from forty years ago, with a very different take on the issues Mormon leaders purport to be honestly discussing. “Lets get these things out in the open,” is the tone of what they are doing, nevertheless, they draw near to integrity with their lips while their hearts are far from integrous.
Where former generations could easily explain to you their doctrine on the priesthood colour-bar, the practice of polygamy, the Book of Abraham, their goal of achieving godhood, today’s Mormons are, despite appearances, unaware of the real truth about their history, and their doctrines.
More importantly, they don’t know the truth about Jesus Christ. It is important that this attempt to bury even deeper the questionable history of Mormonism, doesn’t lull them into a false sense of security. That they are alerted to the dangers of putting their trust in such duplicitous leaders, and encouraged to trust Christ, and Christ alone for their eternity.