Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are You Calling Joseph Smith a Liar?

What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.

—Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:410–411

Think about this:

Joseph Smith stated publicly and repeatedly that he only had one wife. According to his public statements, he sought to root out and eliminate polygamy. The public record shows that he did so at every opportunity.

The LDS church and others claim that Joseph was privately married to a large number of women and had sexual relations with them, including a 14 year old.

Therefore, if you believe the LDS position that Joseph was a polygamist, you necessarily also believe he was a base liar, deceiver, hypocrite and practitioner of the worst sort of adulterous wickedness, because of his public statements.

Further, if you also claim Joseph was a prophet of God, you must therefore accept the proposition that it’s acceptable for "prophets of God" to engage in deception, lies, hypocrisy, and private wickedness.

Further, if you then accept modern Presidents of the LDS church, up to and including Thomas Monson, as prophets of God, by your very definition of "prophet," you not only give them license, but actually expect them to lie to you, deceive you, and practice private wickedness.

Them’s the facts, folks. You can’t have it both ways. If Joseph was a polygamist, he was a liar and a hypocrite. If you call him a prophet, you have redefined the word "prophet" to include the worst sort of deceiver. When you apply that word to modern leaders, you are, in fact, proclaiming your expectation to be deceived by them. Think about that when you raise your hand to sustain them.

But there is another way to view things.

What if Joseph Smith was telling the truth? What if the historical records after his death were influenced, even altered, to promote the views of Joseph’s successors? What if, whatever it was Joseph was doing, it didn’t involve sexual relations with multiple women? 

There’s a VERY strong case to be made for this view. The essay linked below explores the historical record, and makes the case that Joseph told the truth, did not practice sexual polygamy, and was unfairly framed by his successors after his death.

My personal belief is that Joseph was telling the truth. I do not accept the proposition that he lied and deceived about polygamy—but told the truth about the Book of Mormon, angelic visitations, the first vision, and other issues which I KNOW to be true. 

What’s your position? 

Do you believe Joseph was a polygamist, and therefore a liar? Or do you believe Joseph was an honest man, and unfairly blamed for the acts of his successors? 

This is important. 

No, this is vital. 

If you believe Joseph is a liar, then on what foundation do you place your testimony of revealed scripture, the restoration of the gospel and modern prophets?

It's time to clear Joseph's name. It's time to recognize the truth of the historical record. And if the LDS Church continues to call Joseph Smith a liar—you, and I, and all of us have to make a choice. I've made mine, and I'll stand with Joseph Smith. 

What is yours?

Will you join the chorus of Joseph's accusers? Or will you doubt the LDS version of "history?"

I know this is uncomfortable. I know it's not easy. Believe me, I've been there. But the test is always the same. Do you value the truth, or do you cherish the security of being a follower, and pretending you don't have to search out truth for yourself? 

Your eternal life hangs in the balance. Please take the search for truth seriously.

Note: I am not the author of this paper, but I do agree with its premise. 
The author wishes to remain anonymous.

Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.
—D&C 121:16


  1. Thank you for your testimony. Your post reflects what many believe, but lays it out very logically.

  2. Your questions have blown me away. I never looked at it quite so clearly as at this moment. Either he was or he wasn't. It is next to impossible for one who cannot speak lies - one with integrity - to speak them. Just as it is next to impossible for one who speaks lies to speak the truth without confusion of facts.

  3. This is great Adrian, and I think you can add another piece to this logic: sealing power.

    2 Nephi 9:34 and D&C 76:103 notes that liars will be thrust down to hell, and relegated to a Telestial Judgment. Such individuals are necessarily unqualified for the fullness of the Priesthood, by which sealing occurs. That power is reserved for those who prove themselves faithful to what He commands (Helaman 10:4, 7). His commandments include being honest (Proverbs 12:22; 2 Corinthians 13:7-8; Mosiah 13:23).

    Therefore, if Joseph was lying about polygamy, then he could not have held or maintained the sealing power by which his additional wives would have been recognized in Heaven, according to LDS doctrine. Practicing polygamy without sealing power necessarily constitutes nothing but adultery, having no Divine power to make it otherwise.

    Indeed, either he was honest, held sealing power, and used it as instructed by God, or he had no such power, and was a liar and adulterer.

    1. If Joseph told the truth about polygamy than he most likely never even heard about something called 'the sealing power'. That again was most likely Brigham Young & Co.'s invention to make polygamy seem more legit.

  4. I stand with Joseph. It is good to see others do so as well.

    Thank you for the commentary. I have had the same thoughts for some time.

  5. Thank you for laying it out so simply.

  6. Over the last ten years I've found myself becoming increasingly devoted to Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Even with the many accusations of sexual mischief leveled at Joseph I never felt alienated or repulsed by him. Sadly I cannot say the same of those in the plush, red seats. So much hubris, willfulness, and willing blindness. Were they to counsel us as Joseph did to not accept a word of what they say until we've asked God for a confirmation would be one thing. To claim to be scripture or the only mediators for truth on earth is quite another. May we all repent of our foolishness and rebellion.

    What a delight to have your voice raised with Denver's, Adrian, in standing squarely with Joseph, the head of our dispensation. The chain of logic that follows the accusations made against the man who communed with Jehovah is strikingly stark and ugly—so much so that we've not considered it until now. Thanks for speaking plainly on the matter. God vouched for Joseph. Let us be about taking up the challenge of the renewed restoration in his footsteps!

  7. Is anyone aware of the history of this reasoning? I believe it, but what I want to know is what other Mormon splinter groups have embraced this viewpoint?

  8. I believe Joseph Smith never preached or practiced polygamy as well.

  9. As a 6th generation Mormon and a direct descendent of Joseph Bates Noble, who testified that he performed a polygamous marrieage in Nauvoo with his sister in law, Louisa Beaman, it has been very painful to come to grips with this issue, exactly as you have stated. I have been saying the same thing for the last couplle of years, you can't have it both ways. If Joseph is a liar and had to hide his sins from his beloved wife, Emma, then the whole foundation comes tumbling down. If he is not a liar, then Brigham and my ancestors who came to Utah are liars and have deceived us and the Utah church is built on a corrupt foundation. We need to awaken to a sense of our awful situation. I feel that my ancestors who were accomplices in this great deception, want me to wake up to their error and set the record straight regarding the prophet Joseph. This is part of the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers and their fathers to their children. We need to reconcile this and then get on with the great and marvelous work started by Joseph. Millions will know brother Joseph again...and his elect lady, Emma.

  10. Adrian, love your blog, but in this case I have to point out a little bit of a lack of logic. You state how important this topic is, and I agree, but disagree with why. The issue is of utmost importance because, more than anything, it divides those who have set up stakes for God from those who have not. For the benefit of your readers, who might not know the phrase, setting up stakes for God is a phrase Joseph coined that referred to when a person thought he knew right and wrong better than God. When we set up stakes for God, we damn ourselves from progression, because we delineate a set of teachings that, if true, we will never accept. Note that this is a true statement irrespective of whether or not Joseph practiced whatever he might have practiced. We ought to rely on God to reveal what is true and what is not, not modern sensibilities, which are merely a product of the fallen society in which we live.

    Now, onto your article's specifics. You stated:
    "if you believe the LDS position that Joseph was a polygamist, you necessarily also believe he was a base liar, deceiver, hypocrite and practitioner of the worst sort of adulterous wickedness, because of his public statements. Further, if you also claim Joseph was a prophet of God, you must therefore accept the proposition that it’s acceptable for "prophets of God" to engage in deception, lies, hypocrisy, and private wickedness."

    First let's tackle "wickedness." The use of that term assumes either that multiple conjugal wives is never ordained by God, or that it was not ordained in Joseph's case. The first is a position at odds with scripture. The second is not provable from the historic record. Since you cannot prove from history whether or not Joseph even had multiple conjugal wives (let alone whether God commanded him to), and yet know that God honored Joseph and promised him eternal life, ought you not exercise more caution in what might be your own fulfillment of D&C 121:16, which you quote?

    Issue 2: Was it deception lies and hypocrisy for Abraham to declare that Sarah was his sister, on two separate occasions? While I realize that people will say, "well, technically, she was," that a) does not excuse the fact that Abraham intentionally mislead people about the relationship, and b) could just as well justify Joseph in distinguishing between what the public imagined plural marriage to be (your position, a filthy wicked affair), from what God could have taught him it was. TECHNICALLY, he wasn't lying, because plural marriage was not a filthy wicked affair, and therefore what he was practicing could not really be called whatever the public called it.

    I find it more than a little disheartening that people like yourself with such an important message and capacity would allow their talent to be squandered on arguing a point that could be completely wrong, and can't be justified through history. Should you be wrong, which is very possible, you reduce your credibility in the points you've argued that actually matter. No one ought to be practicing plural marriage who has not been commanded by God to do so. We would be better served by sticking to that message, than to try to decide post-hoc and without sufficient history whether or not Joseph had plural conjugal wives. As I said before, the only reason this matters is that those who align against the possibility because of supposed wickedness of the principle are in need of repentance for setting up stakes against God, whether or not Joseph actually practiced it. Beyond that, it has absolutely no bearing on salvation.

    1. Rob, Thanks for your response and warning. I'd reiterate that I'm highlighting the inconsistencies between Joseph's public behavior and alleged private behavior.

      His public behavior included denouncing polygamy, excommunicating those who practiced it, and declaring that he did not practice it. That's why I used the phrase "according to his public statements." Further, as you know, he had a prohibition of polygamy canonized into scripture in the D&C.

      If he was, in fact, practicing conjugal polygamy, he was lying and deceiving his followers in his words, deeds, and even in scripture.

      I did not take a position as to whether God could, or historically did command or authorize the practice in certain cases. I'm simply highlighting the fact that if you believe Joseph practiced polygamy, you necessarily believe him to be a liar and deceiver.

      One reason an issue like this is vital, is because it reveals our hearts. If you believe and revere Joseph as a prophet, while simultaneously believing he was a liar and hypocrite, it shows that you love a lie. It displays a sort of moral relativism with truth that interferes with and ultimately supplants the search for truth. It makes following a man the only important path to salvation, regardless of that man's deception.

      This is the same sort of relativism that can be applied when modern leaders, directly contradicting Christ, deny baptism to children—and believers justify this behavior as "protecting the children" or some such other silly nonsense.

      What it really means is that people don't want to search truth, obey scripture, or take a stand. They would rather simply follow a leader, regardless of that leader's behavior, no matter how offensive it is to God.

      (Not accusing you of any of the above, Rob. I'm simply pointing out that in matters of truth and righteousness, we compromise at our peril.)

      Lovers of truth above all, must grapple with this contradiction and decide for themselves whether Joseph told the truth or lied.

    2. It does have bearing on salvation, because many have been deceived by the falseness and confusion of the history. Because we (the LDS church) teach that Joseph practiced it, many are still deceived and seek to regain what the church ended long ago. In Jacob 2 the Lord calls polygamy an abomination and a whoredom. This definitely does have bearing on salvation.

    3. Hi Adrian,
      As always, thanks for your level headed and well thought out response. Perhaps you are right.

      "One reason an issue like this is vital, is because it reveals our hearts. If you believe and revere Joseph as a prophet, while simultaneously believing he was a liar and hypocrite, it shows that you love a lie. It displays a sort of moral relativism with truth that interferes with and ultimately supplants the search for truth. It makes following a man the only important path to salvation, regardless of that man's deception."

      I think this paragraph is worth thinking about. When I think of Abraham lying on two occasions,it makes me wonder if I understand God's definition of honesty.

      When I think of Nephi openly contradicting scripture because God told him to, I wonder if maybe God can override himself.

      When I think of how God progresses in eternity, and how we aim to progress from telestial law through terrestrial law into celestial law, I wonder if we shouldn't expect different rules as we draw closer to God.

      I wholeheartedly agree that following a man, no matter the man, is a mistake. Jesus taught the same when he listed himself among those who we can be "of" and be condemned to telestial glory. I also think one would be an idiot to practice plural marriage simply because they think Joseph did. Yet, just because God hasn't commanded me to slay Laban, doesn't mean I am going to go around writing blog posts about how slaying Laban is wickedness and anyone who does it loves a lie.

    4. I think it's worth noting that Abraham and Nephi, in the cases you cite, were not engaged in prescribing a path for others to follow.

      Joseph, on the other hand, publicly proclaimed monogamous marriage as the path to follow, and brought forth canonized scripture stating as much.

      Joseph's successors, on the other hand, not only claim he practiced polygamy, but also prescribed this path as the only way to exaltation. Until they changed their minds and now excommunicate for it.

      The duplicity is a challenge for us all. But in the end, I absolutely agree with you that we ought not follow any man, but must receive our direction from the Lord.

      Even so, the point of this post is not to prescribe a path for or against polygamy, nor to say who should or shouldn't practice it. Rather, it is merely to point out that if you believe Joseph practiced sexual polygamy, you necessarily also believe him a liar and deceiver on a matter of eternal importance, and have therefore expanded your definition of "prophet" to be one who can acceptably lie and deceive on important spiritual matters.

    5. Rob,

      God set up his own stakes, for himself and everyone else, when Christ preached God's commandments. Christ was very clear that we just all truth and error and true disciples from false ones by whether or not they are in harmony with and keep his commandments. Christ made it very simple so we aren't led astray by false prophets, ancient or modern. You are assuming that just because someone ancient or modern called themselves a prophet or 'righteous' or lead by God, that they indeed were, when their behavior or teachings reveal otherwise and contrary to Christ.

      As far as polygamy, God condemned polygamy in every instance throughout history (through Christ's words) over and over by many different teachings, about marriage, love, the Golden Rule, etc. The laws of God are eternal, they don't change and God would cease to be God if even he himself did not abide by them, for they are merely science.

      Even Joseph Smith understood these things and that he nor anyone before or since could preach anything contrary to what Christ and the scriptures said. That's why they are called our 'standard'.

      If personal revelation was our standard then the world or any church would have complete chaos, like we see in Church and the world's religious history, for everyone would get different revelation and God would be said to be fickle cause he would keep changing his mind with each new prophet. And than no one would know hos to tell truth from error if truth could keep changing.

  11. Lying and Salvation

    As we consider whether Joseph was a liar, we should consider a few things he taught about lying, especially with regards to sex outside of a monogamous marriage.

    "No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless he is strictly honest" (Recalled by Milo Andrus, who heard Joseph say this in Nauvoo. See Joseph Smith papers. )

    This is consistent with the information about lying given in "the Vision", (section 76). This verse, describing telestial glory, begins and ends with liars.

    "These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie." (D&C 76:103)

    Coming to the conclusion that some lied is unavoidable. Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor both signed an affidavit in 1842 stating “we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants”. (Times and Seasons​ [October 1, 1842]: 939–940. Yet these men would later teach that the "rule or system of marriage" they were taught in Nauvoo by Joseph was marriage for the purpose of bearing children with these plural wives.

    Joseph also said

    "The reason we do not have secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them but reveal them; We do not keep our own secrets, but reveal our difficulties to the world, even to our enemies, then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord? I can keep a secret till Doomsday."
    Joseph Smith, 19 Dec. 1841

    The two ideas, honesty and secret keeping, are perfectly compatible. Joseph did things in secret in Nauvoo. He entered into marriages or sealings and kept these things secret. His public statements were not denials of marital sealings but of having multiple wives. Whether this is a difference without a distinction or not will be addressed later. Stick with me.

  12. The 1828 Websters dictionary defines wife as
    "The lawful consort of man", a "consort" being "a partner of the bed".

    Joseph entered secretly into multiple marriages or sealings. Joseph never denied that he did. Many of these sealings were with women already happily married and who stayed with their earthly consorts. What he did deny is that he had more than one wife, more than one partner of the bed.

    "...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one."

    "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." 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, C1, p. 251 (1835)

    His denials were not of marriage but of having additional wives, fornication and adultery. Emma was his only wife but he was married or sealed to many other women.

    Well isn't this a difference without a distinction? Being married or sealed to a woman but not calling her a wife? Given that men sleep with their wives, have sex and babies with their wives and this distinction is the essential meaning of "wife", I conclude it is a difference with a very important distinction, the difference between morality and immorality, between lying and telling the truth.

    The wording of the 1869 affidavits is telling. Each of the women testified that on a certain date they were "married or sealed" to Joseph. Why married OR sealed? Because the women didn't really know what the ceremony was. Emily Partridge for one was flummoxed by the event.

    Emily Partridge recorded that immediately after her marriage or sealing to Joseph, the two went seperate ways.

    "My mind was now prepared and would receive the principles. I do not think if I had not gone through the ordeal I did, that I could ever have gone off that night to meet him (Joseph). But that was the only way that could be done then. Well, I was married there and then. Joseph went home his way, and I going my way alone. A strange way of getting married, wasn’t it?" (Emily Partridge)

    What of the 27 or so men who entered into the ceremony of celestial marriage during Joseph's lifetime ? Did they understand that this ceremony was not about sex and babies? Judging by the nearly completely absent progeny from these men and "celestial marriages" during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, I suspect they did. But something changed the day of his death. These "marriages or sealings" morphed from "celestial marriages" to a telestial "loving and making a lie".

    1. In reading Joseph's writings, it is clear that Joseph understood very well all about how evil, abusive and adulterous polygamy was in every instance, past, present or future, no matter what people wanted to call it.

      Thus it would have been impossible for Joseph to abuse women and his wife by any form of polygamy and still be a righteous man, let alone a prophet of God.

  13. Quite the conundrum! Difficult to discern the truth.

    Was Joseph Smith simply lying? Was Joseph speaking in mysteries, i.e. he was sealed and/or married to women but never cohabitated? Was Joseph purely framed by men with evil designs?

    It is clear that we cannot look to the Church for guidance as any significant departure from polygamy would therefore nullify some of the doctrines that have indirectly fostered a culture of blind obedience and therefore control (my opinion), e.g. "cannot lead us astray" etc.

    Any significant reversal of polygamy as doctrine would be disastrous as it would imply that many past presidents of the church were uninspired. I genuinely feel sorry for the leaders of the Church. They inherit all sorts of issues, and face a decision to either course correct or double down. Unfortunately the path of least resistance (at least in the short term) is to double down, and I think it's clear that is what has occurred for many years, albeit I don't think it's clear whether it was done intentionally. I do not envy their position.

    Call me captain obvious, but there must be only one source for truth. Our Heavenly Father is the only One that can unravel this mystery, if he chooses to reveal it. For some reason, for me this issue remains murky. Perhaps it is murky because I don't fully understand it.

  14. To Adrian and the like. In all of your missives against plural marriage one salient fact remains and it is best described in the words of Mark Twain

    "...I had the will to do [plural marriage]. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically "homely" creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, "No--the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure--and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."

    You all think that polygamy today is about lust and dishonoring the notion of romantic, monogamous love. Is it because the women now appear so much more beautiful? Gentlemen take a closer look at your wives and girlfriends without their makeup. In the spirit of Twain's words, something has to be done for those left behind. "Arise...and be men."


    1. All I can say is that I sincerely hope you were joking. And even then, it's not funny.

    2. An odd point of view, EricDL. If humor was intended, your comment feels casually hurtful. I take no offense and I doubt Adrian takes offense. You'd be hard pressed to find a soul with a keener sense of humor than Adrian Larsen. I think there is a strong case based in scripture to be made for pushing back against the traditional LDS narrative of Joseph Smith being a deceptive, testosterone-driven, charismatic.

  15. Adrian lighten up. It is funny.You're taking this much too seriously.


  16. From the comments searching for "tortured" logic to justify Joseph's duplicitous behavior, saying one thing in public and doing another in private, it reminds me of the behavior of "Tricky Dick" Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton and his infamous "what is the definition of 'is'?" in trying to weazle out of his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Is this really what we want for our prophet, the same kind of behavior as Tricky Dick or sleazey Bill Clinton? A better question, is this the kind of behavior we would expect from Jesus Christ? Would we be able to worship a God, or a Savior who exhibited the same kind of "crooked path" that Joseph demonstrated if he, in fact, did practice multiple concurrent sexual relationships? There is no humor to be found in this, the whole work of the restoration depends on the truth of what really happened.

    21 Thou shalt not lie; he that lieth and will not repent shall be cast out.

    22 Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.

    23 And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.

    24 Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out. D&C 42

    Notice that the commandment not to lie is directly connected to the sin of having sex with a woman different than your current and legal wife. It is impossible not to look on a woman with lust, if there is any sexual relationship going on. So how could Joseph, or Brigham or Woodruff or any others comply with this scripture to not look on a woman with lust and get sexually aroused, enough to have penetration? If, as Benjamin Johnson reported, Joseph asked him for his sister and to bring her to room 10 of the Nauvoo Mansion to consumate the relationship, how do you do that without some lust or sexual attraction?

  17. I stand with Joseph. This is a difficult step for me, but not because of reverence for the official LDS version of history. It is hard for me to take amateur historians like the Prices seriously over the consensus of professional historians. But idolizing academia rather than the LDS Church is still idolatry. I've got nothing to lose by looking like a fool to academics, among whom I am nobody anyway, and everything to gain...

  18. Mike, thanks for the thoughts on sealing power. That gives even more to Adrian's well thought out argument. Joseph was called with a Holy calling from the foundation of the earth (alma 13) and if he were not God-like how could he have performed the work he did? God is no liar and neither was Joseph.

  19. Regarding D&C 42:21 - 25, the polygamists including Brigham, Taylor, Kimball, Woodruff, etc. can't get past verse 23 in justifying polygamy:

    And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.

    In my opinion, on this scripture turns the whole direction of the restoration. They, the polygamists, were able to get around the definition of "wife", by making vows with several women and they were able to comply with verse 22, by cleaving unto several wives at the same time. But, as they searched for women to add to the group, to become a "wife", they got tripped up by verse 23. No matter how pious, how Christ like, how noble his intentions or charitable a man might be, he cannot consumate a relationship with a woman unless there is some lust involved. Lust comes from Old English simply meaning desire, pleasure, appetite. The word "lust" did not take on the sinful connotation until later in the evolution of the English language. Lust is not a sin if it is done while there is no other wife waiting for him. Once a man has made a commitment to a woman the right to look on a woman with desire or pleasure is restricted. My grandpa was a bishop for several years and he used to say sexual desire is like a bird who lands on your head. You can't keep it from landing on your head, but you can keep it from building a nest there. When courting or dating a woman, a man must determine if there is sufficient sexual attraction and desire to consumate the relationship, building a nest. There are many stories of Brigham and his brethren going after young women, enjoying the pleasure (lust) of trying to convince the young woman to enter into a sexual relationship, as a wife. It is impossible to not look upon a woman to lust (desire) after her if he is going to later marry her and consumate the relationship.

    Therefore, as the scripture warns, sexually desiring a woman becomes a great sin when he already has a wife, and by thus doing, he shall deny the faith and not have the Spirit. The Utah church never repented of the sin, it remains a true and eternal principle, in spite of the Manifesto. If Joseph was innocent of violating verse 23, then the Spirit left the church with the succession of Brigham and others. If Joseph is guilty of violating verse 23, then the Spirit was lost and the faith denied almost from the beginning.

  20. Actually, I would argue that none of this is vital. There is one thing that is vital: is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints God’s restored Church? This post does nothing to answer that question.

    My position: Joseph told the truth regarding plural marriage, and so have all his successors. Conversely, *History of the Church* is known to be riddled with inaccuracies that directly contradict the actual historical records. But even if all of this were false—even if Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and every other prophet in history were boldfaced liars, it still wouldn’t have any relevance whatsoever to the Church’s truth claims. What *is* relevant is that God is not a liar, so what *He* says is relevant. Anything less is “trusting in the arm of flesh,” which is an exercise in folly.

  21. Adrian,

    Just out of curiosity, why are you so confident that Joseph Smith never practiced or taught polygamy? I understand your trying to defend Joseph's character, or more appropriately the character of Joseph Smith that you want to believe. I see nothing wrong with trying to defend his character and credibility as a prophet, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter what anyone thinks about Joseph, only the truth matters.

    The historical evidence that Joseph secretly taught and practiced polygamy while public denying it is very well documented. Of all the testimonies of Joseph's contemporaries that affirm that he taught and practiced polygamy the most convincing and hardest to dispute is the testimony of William Law. He was one of Joseph's councilors and published the Nauvoo Expositor exposing what he believed were false teachings that had been introduced by Joseph. Google the Nauvoo Expositor and compare it with D&C 132. The similarities in content are strikingly similar. It's pretty obvious that Joseph was the one who received the revelation on plural marriage. So the question really is whether or not that revelation is of God or not, and not whether Joseph Smith taught and practiced polygamy.


  22. Yes I have. I read it the first day you put it on your blog. It is very convincing and well written. The most interesting part was the statistics on polygamous births prior to and after Joseph's death. Overall the paper is very similar to the writings of Richard and Pamela Price in their several volume series "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy" (I've read through all of their work that's available online). It's been a few months since I read the paper you posted so correct me if I'm wrong, but the premise was that Brigham Young and others such as Heber K Kimball came up with the idea of polygamy and then produced a revelation they attributed to Joseph Smith (D&C 132) to make the new doctrine stick.

    One of the many problems with that theory is William Law and the Nauvoo Expositor. Another major problem is the fact that so many different contemporaries of Joseph believed and even claimed to know that he was secretly teaching and practicing polygamy in Nauvoo. Is it really reasonable to call so many people bold faced liars, especially when many of them had very different agendas? William Law was never a polygamist and was very much opposed to the practice for example and he wasn't the only one? The idea that Brigham Young made up D&C 132 but William Law knew the contents 8 years prior and attributed it to Joseph is very hard to explain away, and neither the Prices nor the paper from your blog give a plausible explanation to account for this. I'm not trying to attack Joseph Smith, but I just don't see how one can honestly believe that he never taught or practiced polygamy. One has to ignore very convincing evidence from multiple sources.


    1. Hi Anonymous,

      You spoke of two evidences for Joseph practicing polygamy. I’ll take them one at a time, starting with William Law and the Nauvoo Expositor.

      The Nauvoo Expositor was published June 7, 1844. It contained, among other things, three affidavits regarding the revelation on marriage. They were given by William Law, Jane Law, and Austin Cowles. All three stated that they heard or read a document similar to Section 132, with Cowles giving a date of Summer, 1843 for when Hyrum Smith presented it.

      As you have noted, these contained several very specific details about the contents and wording of what is now known as Section 132. Some have therefore taken these affidavits as proof that Joseph was teaching Section 132 polygamy in 1843.

      But given the level of detail in the affidavits, it’s a stretch to imagine that all three were speaking from memory regarding a document they hadn’t seen in a year (or had only heard a reading of, in Cowles’s case.) The level of detail calls into question whether they had more immediate access to source material. Coles gave a quotation, in quotation marks, allegedly from memory, of a document he heard but never read, a year before. This goes too far. The most plausible explanation is that they had the document in hand when writing the affidavits.

      The Nauvoo Expositor was published with the specific intention of destroying Joseph. Therefore, there was advantage to be gained by publishing inflammatory statements, including those found in what later became Section 132. Assuming Joseph had, indeed, taught about eternal marriage in 1843, when the Laws were presented with an embellished version to include polygamy—which helped their anti-Joseph agenda—it’s only natural they would have produced the exact affidavits they did.

      As we know, the only existing copy of Section 132 was written by Joseph Kingsbury at the request of Newel K. Whitney. I won’t rehearse all the details, which are provide in the essay linked in the post. It is sufficient to say the source of Section 132 is very questionable, and at least one version of it existed in 1843, according to Kingsbury.

      Given that there’s ample evidence of a conspiracy to frame Joseph and Hyrum for teaching polygamy, and given that Joseph testified the next day that the Expositor had taken the truths Joseph taught about marriage and perverted them into something he never taught or believed, I’m left to conclude that the Laws and Cowles had access to the Kingsbury altered revelation, produced by conspirators, and later used by Brigham Young and canonized as Section 132.

      I’ll address your other concern in my next comment.

    2. You said, “Is it really reasonable to call so many people bold faced liars, especially when many of them had very different agendas?”

      My answer is yes. Law’s agenda was to destroy Joseph, and the polygamy charge was convenient for that. Later testators had the agenda to defend what Brigham Young had made mandatory for exaltation. They also had the agenda to win a court case, which required proving Joseph was the founder of Mormon polygamy.

      Though there were different agendas, all had reasons to lie, or at least give an "enhanced" version of the truth. They may not have even known they were lying.

      As the essay demonstrates, there’s a long, well-established norm of “lying for the Lord” in LDS Mormonism. It was both acceptable and expected.

      And human nature and memory being what it is, it would be all too easy to convince key participants to remember events a bit differently.

      I just read about a recent psychology experiment wherein researchers attempted to convince teenagers they had committed a crime when they were younger. It was incredibly easy to do, and was so successful that the experiment was halted early. An alarmingly high number of the subjects confessed to a crime they had not committed, and even gave rich details about events that never happened. They fully believed they were guilty when they were not, and this after very little convincing.

      Therefore, yes, given social pressure, religious expectations, insular Mormon culture, the win-at-all-costs mentality, current practice, and the fact that Joseph was performing “sealings” I find it quite easy to believe these memories could have been embellished when recalled years later.

      Contemporary evidence, including the Expositor, is very strong in Joseph’s favor.

  23. Brigham Young had 56 children by 16 of his 55 wives. We have similar fact that other Mormon prophets had children many multiple wives. Such record of children is not existent with Joseph Smith. But the record is clear that publicly he denied practicing polygamy, but privately the record is clear that he did practice it. He lied about this many times.

    In the 1835 edition of the canonized Doctrine and Covenants, section 104 stated, “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 104, until the 1876 edition, when it was removed). Joseph Smith was actively practicing polygamy at this time. This D&C publication is thus dishonest and deceitful. Mormon prophets have also proclaimed that we must practice polygamy in order to go the celestial kingdom. [add citation; may have this already elsewhere] How could Joseph practice polygamy and at the same time publish this doctrine in the D&C? Why did Joseph publish this but then practice practice polygamy prior to this D&C 104 publication and from this time until the end of his life? How can we thus trust the D&C when these doctrines are conflicted?

    In a January 21, 1838 letter, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith's right-hand man from the early beginnings of the church, accuses Joseph of having an illicit affair with Fanny Alger: “When he [Joseph Smith] was there we had some conversation in which in every instance I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A DIRTY, NASTY, FILTHY SCRAP (AFFAIR written in after) OF HIS AND FANNY ALGER'S was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.” (Letter written by Oliver Cowdery; The Mormon Kingdom, Vol. 1, page 27) ( Fanny Alger) Joseph married Fanny Alger in 1833, three years before the claim that in 1836 Elijah delivered those keys back to the earth (D&C 110).

    1. Anonymous, did you read the attached paper? Based on your comment, it appears you did not. Actual, contemporary evidence pointing toward polygamy is extremely thin, and very questionable. It would never stand up in court.

      As you're no doubt aware, Cowdery's accusations toward Joseph were investigated and found to be false. Alger went on to marry and have a number of children with another man.

      Joseph was performing sealing ordinances. No question there. But these have been retrospectively changed into "marriages" and that's where it all falls down.

      You are taking "dirty, nasty, filthy scrap" and turning it into a sexual affair between Joseph and Fanny. Are you sure you are correct in this interpretation? Is there any other reasonable explanation? Could this have been a misinterpretation of the sealing ceremony in the barn (which others have tried to turn into sex, and have been wrong about...)? Before you so boldly declare Joseph was a liar, I suggest you look at the actual evidence, not the later interpretations overlaid on it. When you get down to actual, contemporary evidence, it is overwhelmingly against Joseph having practiced polygamy.

  24. Joseph's "frenemies" (William Clayton, William Law, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery) accused him of the "crime" of polygamy. Joseph's constant loyalists (Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, etc.) affirmed his divinely-appointed participation in "the Principle." The reported wives offered their own accounts. Peer-reviewed works of modern professional historians (inside and outside of the LDS Church) have yielded a preponderance of evidence to the conclusion that he entered multiple concurrent marriages. The RLDS Church built their entire doctrinal edifice around disavowal of JS's polygamy for over a century, yet even they were compelled to bend to the nearly universally acknowledged conclusion, and re-re-organized their church. We are entitled to our own opinions as to why a thing was done, but facts are stubborn things.

    But this either/or proposition the Salt Lake PS&Rs have peddled for decades is a false dichotomy. He was not either an infallible demi-god or a godless charlatan. Joseph Smith Jr. was a man. A man who saw God and commenced a Restoration of correct worship in doctrine, spirit and truth--of that I am certain. But in my view he fell into error during the latter part of his ministry. He was called to perfect the Saints and he was warned over and over in the early revelations of his own propensity to fall. And then the divine warnings seemed to stop, or stopped being reported. How is that? The saints had failed to live the Law of Consecration, failed to redeem Zion, lost the Kirkland temple, but we are supposed to believe the Lord responded in kind by elevating them to an even "higher law" replete with mysterious rites and blood oaths borrowed from secret societies? The novel doctrines of the Nauvoo era defy the simple gospel FULLNESS already revealed by the time of the issuance of the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants (including the original Section 101 Statement on Marriage and the nature of the Godhead taught in the Doctrine's Lectures on Faith.) Yes, Joseph was valiant and godly as a young man, and the imposing Goliath he was called of the Lord to vanquish was false worship and the false traditions of sectarian Christianity, through his incredible translation of the Book of Mormon and his other early revelations/manifestations/visitations, and to pretend to no other gift. But not unlike David of old, his unraveling began as a moral indiscretion (Fanny Alger, 1835) which spiraled into self-deception, doctrinal fabrications, public falsehood and confrontation with the confidants who challenged his conduct. Joseph was called to prophesy, see, and reveal truth, and so he did. And notwithstanding his eventual grievous errors, the man came back for his people when tempted to flee. “As a Lamb to the slaughter" Joseph laid his life down to save his friends. I admire the many strengths of the Prophet, I believe in his early mission, but I no longer cling to illusions of his infallibility. The Latter-Day prophetic succession crisis continues, in my mind. As for Brigham Young? Brilliant organizer, gritty manager, persuasive communicator. He was called as an Apostle while the keys were held by Joseph, but he was never called of God to be “The Prophet” (though he played the role enthusiastically with some curious doctrinal innovations of his own). --JM

    1. JM, yes, as you say, facts are stubborn things. Here are some:

      -There is extremely limited contemporary evidence of Joseph practicing polygamy. Nearly all the evidence was produced well after Joseph was dead.

      -There is concrete evidence of later interlopers changing records to claim Joseph taught exactly the opposite of what he actually taught.

      -The historians that study the matter most closely tend to dial back their assumptions about Joseph's participation quite a bit. The number of "likely" wives plummets with closer inspection of the evidence.

      -You have cited a "preponderance of evidence" which is a lower standard than is required for a criminal conviction. You could not pin this on Joseph in court. The evidence is just too weak.

      As for the false dichotomy, this is not at all the same as the LDS church claiming an all-or-nothing, follow-the-prophet dichotomy. This is what Joseph forces us to face. He is on record publicly and strenuously fighting against polygamy and denying his participation in it. The other contemporary evidence is likewise strongly AGAINST Joseph participating. Therefore, we are forced to believe he was blatantly lying if he was concealing multiple marriages and sex partners. I'm not saying Joseph didn't make mistakes. But I am saying that this is an extreme example of lying and hypocrisy for any church leader people claim to follow. It didn't work so well for the various TV preachers that got caught in various forms of wickedness. And they didn't do nearly what Joseph is accused of by his own church.

      You cite Fanny Alger, 1835, and yet the original documents are extremely equivocal about what happened. There is no evidence it was sexual at all, and yet you call it the beginning of Joseph's unraveling and a moral indiscretion, as if you know something more than the record supports.

      There's been enough sloppy research and revisionist history. There have been enough unsupported claims of wickedness against Joseph. I prefer to stick with the evidence and Joseph's own statements, as well as the statements of those around him while he was alive.


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