Monday, December 22, 2014

What Would it Take to Get Me Back to Church?

My wife and I recently met with my bishop. I hadn't met with him since I was in acute crisis mode 2.5 years ago when I initially lost my belief in Joseph Smith's status as prophet of God.

Basically, the bishop offered to continue to meet with me with the goal of helping me re-establish a relationship with Jesus and to know that Jesus is in charge of the LDS church. He told me that this knowledge has brought him great happiness and that he wanted to share that with me. I shared with him some of my concerns that I felt contradicted some of the claims that the church makes. It was a civil and kind conversation all around, I thought, but it got me to thinking, what would it take to get me back to full activity and belief in the LDS church?

Spiritual Experience

Would some sort of spiritual experience do it? I have a deeply rational/analytic personality and despite praying heavily all my life I have honestly just felt like I was talking to myself. When I initially started learning the details of the origins of Mormon polygamy, the Book of Abraham, and racist comments* made by past prophets I decided to apply methods that I had been taught my entire life to solve the problem. I prayed about it. At the time, I was exceptionally emotional. So I opened myself up to the possibility that God would explain it all to me. I said a prayer and asked what I was supposed to do and I felt a calm, peaceful feeling come over me and felt distinctly that I should no longer try to justify Joseph Smith and other LDS church leaders' questionable behavior and that I should no longer be a disciple of that church.

Now that is a hard story for an LDS believer to swallow. In the believer's paradigm the church is true, so the Spirit would never tell someone to separate themselves from it. If I got that answer, I *must* have done something wrong. This presents an interesting conundrum. The Spirit is on the one hand the highest form of truth. It is what you use to establish the veracity of the church, so it is necessarily higher in the hierarchy of tools to use to determine truth than the teachings of the church itself. The LDS church teaches that the Spirit is the most sure way to know something. On the other hand, the spirit can be unreliable. Also according to LDS church teachings, the Devil can give you spiritual promptings or your own feelings can be easily mistaken for spiritual promptings from God. I don't understand how a method can be both so sure and unsure.

It ends up playing out a lot like this in practice: A person who feels prompted by the spirit to leave the church is told to ask God again. The logic becomes completely circular. A Mormon would never tell someone to ask again and again if they received an answer to stay in the church, but they have no problem telling someone to ask again and again with the goal of getting an answer to stay in the church. The funny thing is, there is also a well-known cautionary tale in LDS teachings (the story of the lost 116 pages) that serve to caution against asking again after receiving an answer from God.

Another interesting thing I have done is read, or whenever possible watched on YouTube, people sharing how they know that their religion is correct. It is almost invariably that they asked God and had a positive emotion as a response to that prayer or that they just know it is true because of how they feel when they are listening to the teachings. I watched footage of "Heaven's Gate" cult followers talking about how they knew that their religion was true and I was really struck with how similar it was to being in an LDS testimony meeting. How do I make sense of that in the Mormon paradigm?

When it comes down to it, I think that the answer to my prayer did come from me. I don't think that a simple emotional feeling is enough to establish the truthfulness of something beyond a reasonable doubt.

Okay, so a simple feeling probably wouldn't be enough to get me back. Would I accept a visit from the God of Abraham in the flesh as a spiritual experience that would put me back in full church activity? Possibly.

You see, given the behavior of the God of Abraham in the Bible and in LDS history, I think if he does in fact exist it is a distinct possibility that he is not a good or moral being. For me to follow him, we would have to sit down and have a chat where he would explain some seemingly unexplainable things. For instance, why he ordered genocide and the killing of babies in Canaan, why he was cool with slavery, why he sent an angel with a sword to threaten to kill Joseph Smith unless he married dozens of women, etc. Earlier in my life I was okay to have a parent/child relationship with my church where my church would tell me what to do and I would do it without question. I now would demand an adult/adult relationship, even to God's face. I need to be told why I am doing something and then be invited to do it. I deserve that.

Jesus Leading the Church

I want to address another thing that my bishop said in our chat, that he knows that Jesus is the head of this church and that he wanted to restore my relationship with Jesus. I responded to him that I have no problems with Jesus and my issues were that I didn't think that the data lines up with that theory. To be sure, the LDS church has some beautiful teachings and motivates a lot of people to do good, but I don't see Jesus leading Joseph Smith to give coercive marriage proposals to teen foster daughters. I don't see Jesus telling Brigham Young to declare that slavery is God's will to the Utah Territorial Legislature (leading to the legalization of slavery in Utah in 1852). I don't see Jesus when LDS church leaders deny the practice of polygamy while practicing it in secret. What does it even mean when Mormons say that Jesus is leading the church? Does it mean that he occasionally bumps them in the right direction while they make huge moral mistakes in the name of God? Or does it mean that Jesus wanted all of these weird things to happen? I need an explanation if I were to ever even consider coming back.

You see, for a very long time Jesus was my hero. Mormons are famous for reading the Book of Mormon over and over but I always wanted to read the four Gospels. I don't have problems with Jesus, I have problems with LDS church leaders and their inability or unwillingness to condemn bad decisions by past leaders. I just don't think that Jesus would have a problem doing that.


Another thing my bishop touched on was his desire to share with me the happiness that he feels in the LDS church. I didn't say anything in our visit, but it seems like the assumption behind his statement was that I am unhappy for having left the church. This is the complete opposite of how I feel. I am happier now than I have ever been, and I was never more miserable than when I truly believed it all and was doing everything that the church asked of me. I am an introvert and the LDS church can be pure hell for introverts. I served as an Elder's Quorum President and during that time I would dwell on how restful death would be if I got in an accident and died, because I was continuously being asked to do things that were *way* outside my comfort zone. So you have to excuse me if I am skeptical that I am going to jump back in to church activity and that everything will be sunshine and roses for me. After having left the LDS church behind, I am happier and more fulfilled than I have ever been in my life. That isn't to say that losing my faith wasn't a traumatic experience and didn't cause me great pain and a need for healing, but I wouldn't trade back for anything now. Only now that I have separated myself from the church am I now unafraid of dying. Strangely, it terrified me when I was a believer.

For me, the main problem with participation in the LDS church is that it doesn't meet my needs. I don't get to discuss the things that interest me there. The lessons re-hash the same things over and over and don't answer the real questions I have. Why do God and prophets do things that seem morally reprehensible? Why is it a measure of our goodness whether we believe that things that seem morally bad are really somehow morally good (though we can't understand why)? Why isn't it more important that I treat others with kindness than that I believe a certain way about events long in the past? Why does that even matter at all?

What Are Prophets For?

This brings up another thing I don't understand. What is the role of a prophet? Because if God is going to go through all of the trouble of calling a prophet, it logically follows that God must have a strong desire to communicate clearly with us. So why is it that the best answer to my concerns is, "We'll find out after we die." Why doesn't the prophet just ask God why there was a priesthood ban for anybody of African descent if current church leaders don't know how the ban started? When Ordain Women tells the church leadership that they feel that women should have the priesthood and asks them to ask God if it is time to give the priesthood to women, why don't the church leaders just say, "Thanks for the suggestion. We asked and the answer is ..."? Why do they get defensive and offer stern warnings about the tone of the question? If the question is a good one, who cares who asked it or what their tone was? Or is it inappropriate for prophets to ask God questions?

Back to the Original Question

So what would it take to get me back into full activity? The church would have to take a new direction in a lot of things. Church culture would have to drastically change so that we celebrate learning from the mistakes of the past instead of pretending they never happened. The church would be much more focused on kindness than obedience. In fact, obedience would never be asked for, reasons simply would be given to do something and it would be up to the individual what to do. The church would focus on moral reasoning rather than on strict obedience. They would have to be completely comfortable with the full participation of non-believers. It would be a completely different place, which is why I am not asking for this to happen. Even if all that happened, I may not want to go. I'm an introvert and I think I'm already doing pretty well at moral reasoning. I go out with friends and we discuss moral concerns in small group settings and that really is enough for me. There really is no church-sized hole in my soul.

On the other hand, to be clear, I don't think there is anything that can ever make me believe that there is a just and prefect creator of the universe that wanted so badly for Joseph Smith to have dozens of wives that he sent an angel with a sword to threaten to kill him if he didn't (as is taught in the new essay on Nauvoo polygamy and in the new seminary manual). If I have to believe those sorts of things, I don't think I can do it. I will stay a lone wolf. I don't think it is possible for me to go back to that unquestioning, uncritical belief that I had earlier in my life.

* Such as when Brigham Young said that slavery was God's will in his 1852 speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature, or when John Taylor said that blacks survived the flood so "...that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God," or when various prophets and apostles stated that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence and that was the reason for their not being able to hold the priesthood (now explicitly disavowed in the new essay).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Letter to LDS Church Leaders

In April 2013, I sent a letter to the First Presidency of the LDS church and to all of the Apostles outlining moral issues I have with the church. I received a response from Stephen Snow, the church historian. Both are copied below, minus personal information:
April 17, 2013 
President Thomas S. Monson
Office of the First Presidency
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
50 East North Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150 
Dear President Monson: 
My name is _________ and I am a 32 year old 7th generation lifelong member of the church. I served a mission in the Brazil ___________ mission. I have been a primary teacher, nursery leader, counselor in the presidency of a couple of elder’s quorums, and elder’s quorum president a few years ago. I believed in and trusted this church completely. I was devoted. Most of my dearest friends and my family are Mormon. I continue to attend LDS meetings every Sunday.

Last July, I saw some headlines about some DNA testing being done to determine if certain people in history were offspring of Joseph Smith. I read the article and determined that I really didn’t know that much about Joseph Smith’s life. I decided to find out more by reading the Wikipedia article on Joseph Smith. That article, through its sources cited, led me to vast amounts of information on Joseph Smith. I learned that there were several things that Joseph did that were out of harmony with the current teachings of the church, but the most surprising to me was his lack of honesty(1) in bringing forth the principle of polygamy. In discovering many unexpected things about the history of Joseph Smith and many other church leaders, I felt a profound breach of the trust I had placed in the church. I cannot describe how painful this was to me. The more I read, the more apparent it became that the version of history taught at church is very one-sided and whitewashed to promote faith. It felt like these things were purposely hidden from me and that I had not given informed consent in my church service and in the covenants I had made.

Honesty is important to me. I have set as my ideal the teachings in the current Gospel Principles manual(2). I have not always been perfect in this regard myself, but I believe a just God would give us prophets and apostles that would be humble and truthful on points of doctrine and would admit frankly when they don’t know something. It hurt to read and hear lies and misrepresentations straight from the mouth of Joseph Smith(1), John Taylor(3), Gordon B. Hinckley(4), Jeffrey R. Holland(5), and others. Still, this would be excusable had they repented as outlined in the modern teachings of the church. However, to my knowledge they never did. 
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is currently a bishop. We spoke of how it is difficult to apologize to a child even when we are sure we have wronged them. Something about human nature makes it difficult to make that apology when we have authority over someone. I recently listened to the apology of Henry B. Eyring for the Mountain Meadows Massacre(6). What beautiful words. I think this has been wonderful for allowing us to move forward from this tragic event. I have also been studying the history of the priesthood ban for blacks and while the church maintains the position that we don’t know where the ban came from, I think it is quite clear that it came from the racist attitudes and common racist protestant doctrines of the time, especially when coupled with Brigham Young’s support for and instrumentality in making Utah territory a slave territory(7). Slavery and racism have no place in the true church of God. A real apology could work wonders on putting the issues of the priesthood ban and church support of slavery behind us.

At this time, my level of participation in the church is minimal. I am there on Sundays and that is about it. I don’t think that there are any good answers to the moral questions I have about early church history. I have looked hard for them. However, there are some changes that could be made in the church that could lead me to want to participate more fully despite my issues. I don’t presume to be in a position to tell you what to do. I am writing to make my opinion known so that it can be considered.

Church finances have been closed since 1960. Church history teaches us that even the highest church leaders are imperfect. The general authorities set their own salary with no oversight. Since my trust in the organization was broken I would have to see the finances opened before I could ever consider paying any money to the church. It is especially disturbing when leaders state that tithing was not used in a particular expenditure (such as the City Creek Mall). To me, interest earned on tithes and offerings is the same as the funds that produced it. Interest earned on tithing is not up for grabs or less sacred than the tithing funds. It is not as the rest of the world would refer to it, “beer money.” 
Current temple wedding policies also create problems for me. On one hand, in countries where it is required by law, couples can marry in a civil ceremony and can be sealed the same day. In the United States, having a civil ceremony earns the couple a one year waiting period. It seems to be a policy with no scriptural basis that can be waived when inconvenient. I don’t see how including all family and friends in this joyous occasion could be anything but good for everybody. The problem that I see is that I correspond with people on the internet that admit to lying to go to the temple and see friends or relatives get married. I don’t agree with doing this, but they would not feel it necessary to enter the temple unworthily if the couple could have a civil wedding beforehand to include those who can’t attend the temple. Frankly, this policy creates feelings that the church cares about money first, since many of these unworthy people who otherwise don’t pay tithing are required to pay tithing for a period of time before they can get a recommend. I have corresponded with individuals who pay tithing for the sole purpose of attending temple weddings. I really want to believe that you want unworthy individuals to stay out of the temple and that money is not the reason for this policy.

The BYU Honor Code is another policy that I have a hard time understanding. The policy does not allow for a change of faith(8). I am far from alone in my crisis of faith. Many BYU students share my experience while they are enrolled. They are placed in a position where they cannot be honest about how they feel for fear of losing all that they have worked for in their education. The situation encourages them to lie and compromise their integrity. In my opinion this policy shows utter disrespect for our God-given agency. Please change it so that people who lose their faith in the LDS church can get a new ecclesiastical endorsement from a minister of another faith.

The stance of the church with respect to gay marriage is ironic when you look at history, considering the fact that a lot of the arguments that the LDS church is using against gay marriage were used against it almost verbatim when it was fighting to legalize polygamous marriage. It is becoming increasingly clear as scientists research the subject that being gay is not a choice. The only logical thing for someone who is born gay and does not share the beliefs of the LDS church is for them to want to marry the person they love. I don’t believe that it will harm my family or marriage in any way for them to do so.

I also do not agree with the church directing bishops to interview children alone behind closed doors. I will not be allowing my children to be interviewed by the bishop or his counselors without my being present. The potential harm that a rogue bishop could do here is too great. The issue is not just the potential for sexual abuse but for ecclesiastical abuse, unnecessary shaming and guilt, etc. Also, a false accusation could ruin a bishop’s life as well. I wonder if there is a better way for the goals of the church to be met that doesn't involve such a risky situation. 
Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read this letter. There is no need to forward it to my bishop or stake president as they will not be able to assist me with any of these issues. 
(1)“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one”
- Joseph Smith, May 26, 1844. At this time, he had about three dozen wives. 
(2) “When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest. 
“The Lord is not pleased with such dishonesty, and we will have to account for our lies. Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, “Yea, lie a little; … there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.

“People use many excuses for being dishonest. People lie to protect themselves and to have others think well of them. Some excuse themselves for stealing, thinking they deserve what they took, intend to return it, or need it more than the owner. Some cheat to get better grades in school or because “everyone else does it” or to get even. 
“These excuses and many more are given as reasons for dishonesty. To the Lord, there are no acceptable reasons. When we excuse ourselves, we cheat ourselves and the Spirit of God ceases to be with us. We become more and more unrighteous.”
-Exceprts from Gospel Principles (2011) Chapter 31, Honesty 
(3) “We are accused here of polygamy, and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived.”

“ Inasmuch as this Church of Jesus 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 case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." 
- John Taylor debate in France in the summer of 1850. In the second paragraph, Taylor quotes from the Book of Commandments which was not being followed by church leadership at the time. Taylor himself had a number of plural wives at this point. He later published this debate and distributed it in England to aid in conversion efforts.
(4) “I condemn it[polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.”
-Gordon B. Hinckley, Interview with Larry King September 1998. He states that polygamy is not doctrinal (we still practice it in the temple and it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants) and that we don’t practice it because it is against the law. However, in all the time that the LDS church practiced polygamy, it was never legal. 
(5) “S: As a Mormon, in the Temple, I’ve been told, [Romney] would have sworn an oath to say that he would not pass on what happens in the Temple, lest he slit his throat. Is that true?
J: That’s not true, that’s not true. We do not have penalties in the Temple.
S: You used to.
J: We used to.
S: Therefore he swore and oath saying ‘I will not tell anyone about the secrets here, lest I slit my throat’.
J: Well, the vow that was made was regarding the ordinance, the ordinance of the Temple… [The oath was] that he would not tell anyone about his personal pledge to the Lord. I’m assuming that any religious candidate, an evangelical, a Roman Catholic, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Osama, erm, I mean President Obama, I’m assuming that anybody who has a relationship to God has made a pledge of some kind to God.”
-Interview of Jeffrey R. Holland by John Sweeney, from BBC’s “The Mormon Candidate” 
(6) ”The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here.
“We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time.”
- Henry B. Eyring remarks at Mountain Meadows Massacre Sesquicentennial Sept 11, 2007 
(7) ”It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain for servants…”

– Brigham Young, speech given on February 5, 1852 to the Utah Territorial Legislature. Later that year, the legislature voted to make slavery legal in Utah Territory. The legislature was made up primarily of General Authorities of the LDS church. To be fair, Young did advocate for better treatment of slaves than they were given in the south. 
(8)“Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement (See Withdrawn Ecclesiastical Endorsement below).”
“Students without a current endorsement are not in good Honor Code standing and must discontinue enrollment. Students who are not in good Honor Code standing are not eligible for graduation, even if they have otherwise completed all necessary coursework. Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the withdrawal of the student's ecclesiastical endorsement and the loss of good Honor Code standing. Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual's name from the official records of the Church.”
-Excerpts from BYU Honor Code
Here is the response I received from Steven Snow, the church historian:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Other Moral Issues with Polygamy

Note: This post is part three of a three part series on polygamy. Part 1 Part 2

This post is going to cover the remaining moral issues I have with the way Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. Here is a graphic that shows the demographics of Joseph's wives:

Link to full size image.

Okay, the first remaining issue I have is that Joseph Smith married teenagers and one bereaved young adult that he was caring for in a foster care type of situation. Joseph took in Emily and Eliza Partridge after their father died when they were 16 and 20, he took in Sarah and Maria Lawrence at the age of 16 and 18 after their father died, and he took in Lucy Walker at the age of 16 after her mother died and Joseph sent her father on a mission. As their caregiver, he was in a special position of trust. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of a man acting as a foster father and pursuing romantic relationships with girls that he is caring for soon after they lost their parents like this.

The second issue I have is that I have no doubt that these relationships were sexual in nature. Why does this bother me? Don't pretty much all marriages include sex? The reason this bothers me is that cult leaders almost always come up with some theological reason that they need to have multiple sexual partners. I wanted to believe that Joseph was different than David Koresh or Warren Jeffs in this respect. See the appendix below if you would like to see why I am convinced that these weren't just ceremonial marriages.

The third issue I have is the secrecy involved in Joseph's polygamous marriages. If it wasn't sinister, why keep it a secret? Why ask potential brides to burn letters? Why lie to cover up what you are really doing.

The problem with these three issues above is that they are very similar to how sexual predators operate. Many sexual predators will befriend the fatherless and motherless, giving them gifts and showering them with attention and kindness. They will then test a child's ability to keep a secret and groom them so that they can eventually have a sexual relationship with them. Now Joseph wasn't doing this with small children but he was doing it with teens and it bothers me, and I don't think it is a moral failing on my part to be bothered by this pattern.

Another thing that bothers me is that Joseph married other men's wives. He claimed that he was bringing back polygamy to restore early Biblical practices, yet this has absolutely no precedent in the Bible, nor does it have any explanation in Mormon theology anywhere.

Sometimes Joseph would ask for another man's wife as an "Abrahamic test," as was the case when Joseph asked for John Taylor's wife and Heber C. Kimball's wife. When they agreed to give Joseph their wives, Joseph told them it was just a test and let them off the hook. To be sure, this is a morally problematic behavior, but he didn't stop there.

It wasn't just a test for Orson Hyde. According to Joseph's journal, he married Hyde's wife while Hyde was on a mission to Palestine. It wasn't a test for Zina Jacobs, who married Joseph a few months after she married Henry Jacobs. As you can see from the chart at the top of this post, 11 of Joseph's wives already had living husbands when they married Joseph.

The reason that these behaviors are a problem for me is that it is quite normal for cult leaders to administer difficult loyalty tests to their followers, getting pleasure from their discomfort. Janja Lalich, an expert in the study of cults, states the following concerning loyalty testing of followers:
The loyalty test. Transparent as it may seem to those not in a cult, the expectation that true followers will demonstrate their loyalty is an effective tool for manipulating cult members. The more a leader demands, the more power he gets. Soon he intrudes and controls every aspect of life. The rationale is that nothing is too sacred to withhold from the leader. Giving oneself, and sometimes even one's children, is viewed as a noble sacrifice. Physical violence and sexual abuse are incorporated into elaborate rituals in some cults, where these activities are endowed with mystical or magical meanings. In some cults, the testing of loyalty may be done in a sexually sadistic manner, further debilitating the follower and increasing personal confusion and dependency on the leader.  
Testing may also take the form of controlling sexual preferences or relationships, for example, telling a lesbian that she can no longer follow her preference, or instigating a crisis situation where a person must break off a personal relationship in order to prove loyalty to the cult [demanding other men's wives as a loyalty test comes to mind here]. Each time the person obeys the cult at the cost of forgoing her personal preference, she loses more sense of personal control, and consequently, self-esteem. (Dominance and Submission: The Psychosexual Exploitation of Women in Cults, Janja Lalich, pg. 12)
Helen Mar Kimball, in her autobiography describes her marriage to Joseph as an offering of her to Joseph by her father:
Just previous to my father’s starting upon his last mission but one, to the Eastern States, he taught me the principle of Celestial marriage, & having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth. My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seamed[sic] to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched untill[sic] they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrafise[sic], but the Lord required more.(Helen Mar Kimball Whitney 1881 Autobiography)
As another example, David Koresh received a revelation that all of his married male followers needed to remain celibate and that Koresh needed to marry and have children with their wives. This was their "Abrahamic test." The more I studied cult leaders, the more I started to realize that a doctrine of polygamy or some other doctrine that results in many sexual partners for the leader and often an inner circle of followers is the general rule in cults. A monogamous relationship is very rare for a cult leader. I wanted to believe that Joseph was different from other obviously crazy religious founders but he often behaved in very similar ways, to my great disappointment.

Yet another concern I have is that women who refused polygamous proposals and went public about it frequently had their names soiled by close associates of Joseph Smith. FAIR, an LDS apologetic organization, acknowledges this:
Other women loudly trumpeted the plural marriage doctrine in Nauvoo and the hostile press. These women's testimony and character were generally attacked to try to discredit them in an effort to preserve the secrecy which surrounded plural marriage. (Fair Website)
One such woman was Nancy Rigdon. Nancy was the 19 year old daughter of Sydney Rigdon. Joseph Smith proposed to her in 1842 and she refused. Her story got out and eventually reached John C. Bennett who was a former Mormon who had been criticizing Joseph in newspapers. To be clear, my opinion of John C. Bennett is that he was a scumbag, but he put out the story of Nancy's refusal and of course tried to make it sound as bad as possible and probably embellishing. Still, it is well established by other sources that the marriage proposal took place, whatever the details were.

Years later Orson Hyde gives a speech in 1845 with the goal of discrediting Sidney Rigdon as a potential successor to Joseph Smith. The entire speech is very heated and reads kind of like a political attack ad. In fact, considering the fact that Hyde calls Rigdon's daughter a prostitute, I would say that it makes today's political attack ads look pretty polite. Hyde speaks of Nancy:
During my absence to Palestine, the conduct of his daughter, Nancy, became so notorious in this city, according to common rumor, she was regarded generally, little if any better than a public prostitute.(Speech of Elder Orson Hyde p. 27) 
Let's pause here for a second. What we have here is an Apostle of Jesus Christ defaming a young woman's character based on a rumor. He acknowledges that this is just a rumor but still doesn't hesitate to use it to destroy her reputation. This seems to me to be totally out of harmony with the behavior of Jesus Christ. He goes on later:
Miss Nancy is made, therefore, to attribute to Joseph Smith and to my wife, language which neither of them ever used. Thus must an innocent and unsuspecting female suffer for putting down a hand to help, as it is verily believed, a poor miserable girl out of the very slough of prostitution.(Ibid. p.28)
And bit later in the speech, he takes another dig at her:
But if Mr. Smith had tried to get Miss Nancy for a carnal wife he might probably have been successful.(Ibid. p.28)
Now to my knowledge there is no credible historical documentation that suggests that Nancy Rigdon was a prostitute or was morally deficient in any way, but for argument's sake, let's just say that she earned her living by having sex. Is it morally right for an Apostle of Jesus Christ to drag a prostitute's name through the mud to further his goals of discrediting a rival? Would Jesus have acted similarly in his place?

Martha Brotherton is another young woman whose reputation suffered after she went public with her story of her polygamous proposal. Martha was Brigham Young's first polygamous proposal. Joseph was with him to mentor him and they both conversed with her for some time but were unable to get her to agree to marry Brigham during that initial conversation. She asked for more time to think about it and left the meeting, and eventually told her parents. She and her parents left the church and she went on to share her story with John C. Bennett who had it published in newspapers. Her sisters and brother-in-law swore in affidavits that she was a "willful inventor of lies." How they could have known that she lied about this incident, since they were not present at the meeting, is anyone's guess.

In addition to Martha's sisters and brother-in-law attacking her credibility on a matter that they really could have no knowledge, Apostle William Smith, the editor of The Wasp, calls John C. Bennet:
...the pimp and file leader of such mean harlots as Martha H. Brotherton and her predecessors from old Jezebel, whom the dogs may eat...(The Wasp, Aug. 27, 1842)
Again, we have a man who is supposed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ who is spreading rumors about the sexual morality of a young woman. Like before with Orson Hyde, I'm not okay with this.

Brotherton died in 1864. Some time afterward, Brigham Young finds out about Brotherton's death and on 1 Aug. 1870 according to Salt Lake Endowment House records (Mormon Polygamy, Van Wagoner p. 231), has Martha sealed to him, her sister Elizabeth, one who had sworn to her being a liar, standing in as proxy at the sealing. To me this shows a profound disrespect for Martha's agency. She made it clear in life that she did not want to marry Brigham Young. She left the church and married a non-Mormon. Instead of doing temple work for Martha and sealing her to her earthly husband, the man she lived with and loved for years, Young determines that Brotherton needs to join his group of wives in the afterlife. This is not how I expected a prophet of God to act. This is not taking the moral high ground and showing empathy toward those with whom you disagree.

Moving on to other things, in my earlier years, I had heard the rumor that the reason that polygamy was instituted was to care for the excess women in the church. Now that I have studied the history a little more, while I was unable to find any real evidence that there ever was a surplus of women in the church, I have discovered to my dismay that many of the wives received little if any care when it came to the wives of top leadership of the church. Especially heartbreaking was reading the chapter in In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton which covers the life of Emily Partridge, and getting toward the end of her life. She clearly suffered from depression, and writes about how she cannot talk directly to her husband (Brigham Young). Instead of being allowed to see him she has to communicate through a secretary and her repeated requests for help in paying her property taxes are denied. And this is a wife of the wealthiest man in Utah. It is just a very sad thing for me to read about, the way she was told to have her children to care for her and not to expect anything from her husband.

Anyway to finish this post off, I just find the whole moral context of polygamy to be puzzling and can't make much sense of it. Here are some additional quotes that I just don't know what to make of:
Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman Empire... Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a hold sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers. (Prophet Brigham Young, Deseret News, August 6, 1862)
Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout all Christendom, and which has been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious. (Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 11, p. 128)
It is a fact worthy of note that the shortest-lived nations of which we have record have been monogamic. Rome, with her arts, sciences and warlike instincts, was once the mistress of the world; but her glory faded. She was a monogamic nation, and the numerous evils attending that system early laid the foundation for that ruin which eventually overtook her. (Apostle George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, v. 13, p. 202)


The testimony below is from depositions given by two of Joseph Smith's wives for use in the Temple Lot Case. The case was between a Mormon offshoot group known as the Hedrickites or Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the RLDS church. Ownership of the lot was disputed by the two groups and they went to court to settle the dispute. The Utah LDS church was not a party in the suit but they got wind that as part of their legal strategy, the RLDS church was attempting to prove themselves the rightful successors of Joseph Smith's church. One claim that they made was that polygamy was an invention of Brigham Young and that would make the RLDS opposition to polygamy more in line with Joseph Smith's teachings. Probably for PR reasons, the LDS church did not want this assertion to go unchallenged and Joseph F. Smith organized cooperation with the Hedrickite church and rounded up several people to give depositions to help them show that polygamy originated with Joseph Smith. Among those were Emily Partridge and Malissa Lott, two of Joseph Smith's plural wives. At some point, the line of questioning went toward addressing whether the marriages were merely ceremonial or included sexual relationships. These excerpts cover that part.

These are just a couple of pieces of evidence that Joseph's plural marriages included sexual relations. There are many more.

Emily Partridge deposition testimony:
Q. Had you roomed with him prior to . . . the night after you were married the last time?
A. No sir, not roomed with him.
Q. Well had you slept with him?
A. Yes sir.
Q. [Had you] slept with him . . . before the fourth of March 1843 [their marriage date]?
A. No sir. . . .
Q. Did you ever live with Joseph Smith after you were married to him after that first night that you roomed together?
A. No sir. Emma knew that we were married to him, but she never allowed us to live with him. . . .
Q. Do you make the declaration now that you ever roomed with him at any time?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him in the same bed?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How many nights?
A. One.
Q. Only one night.
A. Yes sir.
Q. Then you only slept with him in the same bed one night?
A. No sir.
Q. Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How many nights?
A. I could not tell you.

Q. Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him but one night?
A. Yes sir.
Q. And that was the only time and place that you ever were in bed with him?
A. No sir.
Q. Were you in bed with him at any time before . . . you were married?
A. No sir, not before I was married to him. I never was.
Malissa Lott deposition testimony:
Q. There was not any children born to you by Joseph Smith?
A. No Sir.
Q. Have you ever borne any children since that time?
A. Yes sir, I have. . . .
Q. State now the reason why you never bore any children by Joseph Smith?
A. Well that is something impossible to do,—that is something I can’t tell. . . .
Q. Now you said there were no children born of that marriage [to Joseph Smith]?
A. I said I had none.
Q. You had none by Joseph Smith?
A. Yes sir, and you asked me why I hadn’t any and I told you I couldn’t tell you, that you would have to go to some higher authority than I to tell you that. . . .
Q. Did you ever room with Joseph Smith as his wife?
A. Yes sir.
Q. At what place?
A. At Nauvoo
Q. What place in Nauvoo?
A. The Nauvoo Mansion.
Q. At what place in the Mansion?
A. Do you want to know the number of the room, or what?
Q. Well just what part of the house the room was in if you can give it?
A. Well I can give it and the number of the room too. It was room number one.
Q. Room number one?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Who else roomed there?
A. I don’t know of any one. . . .
Q. So you roomed with him [Joseph Smith] in the Nauvoo Mansion in room number one?
A. Yes sir. . . .
Q. How often did you room there with Joseph Smith?
A. Well that is something I can’t tell you.
Q. Well was it more than once?
A. Yes sir, and more than twice.
Q. Well that is something I would like to know?
A. Well there is something I would like to know. If I am to be asked these questions I would like to know if I am to answer them. I have told you all about this thing that I know, and I can’t see any reason in your worrying me with these questions, and I would like to know if I have to answer them?
Q. Well if you decline to answer them say so, and that will do?
A. I don’t decline to answer any question that I know anything about.
Q. Well answer that question then?
A. What is the question?
Q. I asked you how many times you had roomed there in that house with Joseph Smith? I do not expect you to answer positively the exact number of times, but I would like to have you tell us the number of times as nearly as you can remember it?
A. Well I can’t tell you. I think I have acted the part of a lady in answering your questions as well as I have, and I don’t think you are acting the part of a gentleman in asking me these questions.
Q. Well I will ask you the questions over again in this form,—was it more than twice?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Well how many times?
A. I could not say.
Q. Did you ever at any other place room with him?
A. In what way
Q. Of course I mean as his wife?
A. Yes sir.
Q. At what places?
A. In my father’s house.
Q. At other places did you ever room with him as his wife?
A. Well now I think that is all the places it is necessary for me to answer you one way or the other . . .
Q. Did you ever room with Joseph Smith at any other place or places than at the Nauvoo Mansion and your father’s house,—that is did you ever room with him as his wife?
A. Them is all the places I remember.
Q. Those are the only places you remember?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Now at the times you roomed with him, did you cohabit with him as his wife?
A. Yes sir.

Q. And you never had any children?
A. No sir, I answered that question before and told you no.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Polygamy and Coercion

Note: This post is part two in a three part series on polygamy. Part 1 Part 3

I want to start out by talking a little bit about coercion. To coerce is " to persuade someone forcefully to do something that he or she may not want to do." (Cambridge Online Dictionary)  Coercion consists of applying usually negative pressures to get someone to do something that they don't want to do. Positive incentives can also be considered coercive when they are something that is extremely important to the individual. For example, telling a young son or daughter that you will start loving them if they clean their room would be coercive since the child would infer that not cleaning their room would lead to you not loving them, which is just something that a child is not prepared to cope with.

Let me be clear, not all coercion is bad. You have to get a child to clean his/her room somehow. Anyone who has raised children knows that reasoning with the child and just asking them to clean their room will frequently not work. A reward or proportional punishment is appropriate in this instance.

But in my mind there are certain areas of life that are morally off-limits to coercion. Sex, love, and marriage are three that come to mind. In my opinion, applying coercion to people's decisions in these areas is morally wrong across the board.

One of the biggest problems I have with the way Joseph Smith practiced polygamy was that his proposals to women were many times coercive. I guess it wouldn't bother me so much if he had just said to them, "Hey, I've got this new polygamy thing going on and if you want to participate, that's cool and if you don't, that's also cool. I mean, God cares most about whether you are a good person but if you want to get in early on this new marriage system that he wants started, God would really like that." I mean, the whole idea of men marrying multiple women being important to God is pretty hard for me to wrap my head around, but if it was important to God, that's the way it should have gone down: without coercion. A God who coerces people into sex, love, or marriage or supports such coercion is not a God I can get excited about worshiping.

Besides the wording of the proposals, another contributing factor to the coercive element of Joseph's marriage proposals is the power imbalance inherent in the prophet/disciple relationship. Followers of a prophet or guru believe that this leader speaks for God and that what they say is God's will. Going against the leader's will implies going against God's will and some sort of negative consequence from God.

Let me give some examples of the types of marriage proposals I am talking about.

Joseph told several people that when he was first commanded to practice polygamy, an angel delivered the message. He was reluctant to marry polygamously and the angel had to visit three times to get him to do it. According to Joseph, the angel brought a sword on the third visit and threatened to kill him if he did not start practicing polygamy. There are various people who report that Joseph told them this story and they are summarized in a table that spans pages 188 to 191 in Volume 1 of Joseph Smith's Polygamy by Brian Hales. Also, here is a link to a paper authored by Hales that contains the same table. As you can see, people who report that Joseph told this story include Joseph Lee Robinson, Lorenzo Snow, Benjamin F. Johnson, Eliza R. Snow, Orson Pratt, Zina Huntington, Helen Mar Kimball, Erastus Snow, and Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner. Here are quotes from two of Joseph's wives:
I know whereon I stand, I know what I believe, I know what I know and I know what I testify to you is the living truth. As I expect to meet it at the bar of the eternal Jehovah, it is true. And when you stand before the bar you will know. He preached polygamy and he not only preached it, but he practiced it. I am a living witness to it. It was given to him before he gave it to the Church. An angel came to him and the last time he came with a drawn sword in his hand and told Joseph if he did not go into that principle, he would slay him. (Mary Lightner, Address to Brigham Young University, April 14th, 1905, BYU Archives and Manuscripts)
19 year-old Zina remained conflicted until a day in October, apparently, when Joseph sent [her older brother] Dimick to her with a message:an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy, he would lose "his position and his life." Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced. (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, page 80-81)
Why is this a problem? If I believe in the church, I either have to believe that Joseph made up the story to get people to marry him and God backed his prophet despite this serious moral lapse, an uncomfortable thought, or I have to believe in a God who sends angels out to force compliance to commandments that don't make much moral sense, using death threats.

Put yourself in Joseph's place for a moment. An angel comes and tells you to marry many men or women. You find this morally confusing and don't wish to comply. You put off obeying the angel. The angel keeps visiting and on the third visit brings a .44 magnum, points it at your forehead and says, "You had better start marrying polygamously or next time I visit, I'm pulling this trigger," and disappears.

This God who is in charge of this whole affair is not a God I could worship, even if he were real. I would tell the angel, "I am not going to do this until you make it clear to me why it is necessary and why it is a morally correct thing to do. Reason with me or kill me now and get it over with."

But I think it is much more likely that Joseph made up the story to make his polygamous proposals more effective because he knew that his followers would be eager to do anything to save his life, since they believed him to be a prophet of God. As Compton states above, "Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced." The story was very effective at getting Zina's compliance in marrying Joseph, despite the fact that she was already married to a faithful LDS man.

Let's talk about Helen Mar Kimball now. She is first introduced to the idea of polygamy at age 14 by her father, apostle Heber C. Kimball. When relating her own story, Helen is clear that when she first is introduced to the idea, she is angry that he is suggesting she marry Joseph Smith and that it is something that she does not wish to do. She states:
I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me this principle & asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph, who came next morning & with my parents I heard him teach & explain the principle of Celestial marriage-after which he said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father’s household & all of your kindred."
This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. (Helen Mar Kimball, letter to her children, March 30th 1881)
A couple of things bother me about this. First, the idea that one's family's salvation can be dependent on whether a 14 year old marries Joseph Smith is just...well...I have no words. It was wrong for Joseph to tell her this. Second, this promise, according to her words, is clearly what influenced her to agree to marry Joseph Smith. It is a positive but coercive incentive. But it doesn't even make any moral sense. the salvation of these people should be completely independent of whether Helen marries Joseph.

Another example of a coercive proposal is Joseph's proposal to Lucy Walker. Walker was a foster daughter of Joseph. Her mother got sick and died, and Joseph sent Lucy's father on a mission and had Lucy come stay in his home. Lucy writes in her story which was published in 1888:
In the year 1842, President Joseph Smith sought an interview with me, and said: “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” My astonishment knew no bounds. This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me. He asked me if I believed him to be a prophet of God. “Most assuredly I do,” I replied. He fully explained to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage. He said this principle was again to be restored for the benefit of the human family, that it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house, and form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end. “What have you to say?” he asked. “Nothing.” How could I speak, or what could I say? He said, “If you will pray sincerely for light and understanding in relation thereto, you shall receive a testimony of the correctness of this principle. I thought I prayed sincerely, but was so unwilling to consider the matter favorably that I fear I did not ask in faith for light. Gross darkness instead of light took possession of my mind. I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me, that I might find rest on the bosom of my dear mother. Why should I be chosen from among thy daughters, Father, I am only a child in years and experience, no mother to counsel; no father near to tell me what to do in this trying hour. Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul. 
The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how unhappy I was, and sought an opportunity of again speaking to me on this subject, and said: “Although I cannot, under existing circumstances, acknowledge you as my wife, the time is near when we will go beyond the Rocky Mountains and then you will be acknowledged and honored as my wife.” He also said, “This principle will yet be believed in and practiced by the righteous. I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you. (Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving an Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience (Logan: Utah Journal Co, 1888), 46–48)
This is clearly not something that Lucy wanted to do, in fact she talks of her desire to die in order to escape this situation. What does Joseph say that finally pushes her to make a decision? That God says she has to and that if she doesn't agree to marry him within a day, "...the gate will be closed forever against [her]." To me this is clearly coercive.

Why am I so sensitive to coercion? Why does it bother me so much? As an LDS missionary I had a companion who I am pretty sure suffered from narcissistic personality disorder. As a missionary, you must spend 24 hours per day in the presence of your companion, so I was subjected to about 8 weeks of nearly constant coercion with respect to what seemed like every facet of my life. This was hands-down the worst 8 weeks of my entire life.

At first I didn't understand why control was so important to this guy. I had never dealt with someone like him before in my life and I was very ill prepared to do so. I am very easygoing and so I was just biding my time until one of us got transferred away. He would manipulate me on a near-constant basis. I tolerated it because I thought that God wanted me to be there and the rules said I had to stick with him at all times. After a time, the manipulation and coercion reached a point where I think he had gotten pretty comfortable with ways of getting me to do what he wanted and he reached into my pants and fondled me.

After this, I did make a call to the mission president and this missionary was sent home, but I still sit and wonder about how I let things go as far as they did. This guy was at most 120 pounds. I could have easily broken him in half. How did I let him control me like he did? He was just really good at coercion.

The thing is, when I really started studying Joseph Smith, I saw a lot of the techniques that my companion used on me being used  by Joseph to get the compliance of those around him, and Joseph attributing things to God where God was the coercive agent, like the angel with the sword story above. I just no longer believe that a just God would coerce or would endorse a coercive prophet.

9/11/14 Edit: I found an online copy of Brian Hales's table  and updated the text above to include it.

Also, It was brought to my attention that the new seminary manual addresses the fact that Joseph told others that an angel with a sword threatened to destroy him. In lesson 140 it states:
Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey (see “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record, May 1887, 222).
Following the reference cited in the manual leads you here. Flip to page 222 and you will find the following affidavit by Lorenzo Snow:
The following affidavit was made before J. C. Wright, clerk of Box Elder County, Utah, Aug. 28, 1869: 
In the month of April, 1843, I returned from my European mission. A few days after my arrival at Nauvoo, when at President Joseph Smith's house, he said he wished to have some private talk with me, and requested me to walk out with him. It was toward evening, we walked a little distance and sat down on a large log that lay near the bank of the river; he there and then explained to me the doctrine of plurality of wives.

He said that the Lord had revealed it unto him and commanded him to have women sealed to him as wives, that he foresaw the trouble that would follow and sought to turn away from the commandment, that an angel from heaven appeared before him with a drawn sword, threatening him with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment. 
He further said that my sister Eliza R. Snow had been sealed to him as his wife for time and eternity. 
He told me that the Lord would open the way, and I should have women sealed to me as wives. This conversation was prolonged, I think, one hour or more, in which he told me many important things. 
I solemnly declare before God and holy angels, and as I hope to come forth in the morning of the resurrection, that the above statement is true. 
(Signed) Lorenzo Snow.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Polygamy and Honesty

Note: This is part one in a three part series on polygamy. Part 2 Part 3

What is a lie? The LDS Gospel Principles manual states the following in chapter 31:
When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.
Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.
People use many excuses for being dishonest. People lie to protect themselves and to have others think well of them. 
These excuses and many more are given as reasons for dishonesty. To the Lord, there are no acceptable reasons.
Today I want to write about early Mormon polygamy and honesty. First, it is necessary to lay out some background information. In my opinion, the definitive works on Joseph Smith's polygamous relationships are "In Sacred Loneliness" by Todd Compton and "Joseph Smith's Polygamy" by Brian Hales. Both are active Mormons. If one really wants to know the beginnings of Mormon polygamy, those are the books to go to. Since I can't share my books over the internet, is an excellent place to get a short blurb about each of Joseph's wives. The website is largely based off of information from "In Sacred Loneliness". Also, here is a Wikipedia article that summarizes all of Joseph's marriages. As you can see, Joseph starts practicing polygamy in the early 1830s and continues marrying until late 1843, which is the year before his death in the summer of 1844. In their books, Compton gives a total of 34 wives (if you include Emma) and Hales gives a total of 36.  Hales's book was written later and has the benefit of making use of information that has come to light since the 90's, when Compton's book was written.

I also want to introduce some background information on John Taylor, who practiced polygamy starting in the 1840s. Here is a summary of his polygamous marriages from

As you can see, Taylor starts marrying polygamously in Nauvoo and by 1850 he has at least seven wives. I say 'at least' because records of polygamous Mormon marriages are very spotty before 1852. 1852 was the date that LDS church leaders stopped denying that they practiced polygamy and started practicing it openly, so records of marriages before that date were minimal, kept hidden, and sometimes lost to history.

Now that we have that background information out of the way, what struck me in my studies of polygamy was the dishonesty that accompanied it. It bothers me deeply. Let me show you what I mean. There was a man named William Law who was in the First Presidency until he found out about polygamy and became disaffected from the church. He was pretty angry when he left the church and began to oppose Joseph. In the spring of 1844, he went and had charges filed against Joseph Smith for living "in an open state of adultery" with Maria Lawrence. In the eyes of the law, since polygamy was illegal in Illinois and Maria was living with Joseph as his wife, Joseph was living in an open state of adultery. Joseph gave a sermon on May 26, 1844 that was a response to "the dissenters at Nauvoo," who were led by William Law. This sermon is recorded in the LDS church publication "History of the Church" Vol 6, p. 408-412. Here is an excerpt:
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.
I have seen people justify this statement by saying things like, "well he doesn't actually say that he only has only one wife, he says that he can only find one, so he was just wording things carefully so that he wouldn't lie." But I ask, even if that is what he was trying to do, does that meet the standard of honesty in the Gospel Principles manual? I don't see how it could be in harmony with that standard.

Earlier, in 1842, the Times and Seasons published a reiteration of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants statement on marriage which states,
"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 case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again."
Now, on its own, I have a big problem with the 1835 statement because as you can see from Joseph Smith's marriage dates, the statement is dishonest from the beginning, since Joseph marries Fannie Alger some time between 1833 and 1835. But in the October 1, 1842 newspaper reprinting, the statement is followed by two affidavits. Follow the link and you will see that a group of men and a group of women sign a statement affirming the following:
We the undersigned members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place nor never did.
S. Bennett, N. K. Whitney, (witnessed daughter's marriage to Joseph in July 1842)
George Miller, Albert Pettey,
Alpheus Cutler, Elias Higbee,
Reynolds Cahoon, John Taylor,
Wilson Law, E. Robinson,
W. Woodruff, Aaron Johnson.
We the undersigned members of the ladies' relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practiced in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and we give this certificate to the public to show that J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a disclosure of his own make.
Emma Smith, President,
Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Counsellor, (witnessed daughter's marriage to Joseph in July 1842)
Sarah M. Cleveland, Counsellor, (married Joseph in June 1842)
Eliza R. Snow, Secretary, (married Joseph in June 1842)
Mary C. Miller, Catharine Pettey,
Louis Cutler, Sarah Higbee,
Thirza Cahoon, Phebe Woodruff,
Ann Hunter, Leonora Taylor,
Jane Law, Sarah Hillman,
Sophia R. Marks, Rosannah Marks,
Polly Z. Johnson, Angeline Robinson,
Abigail Works.
At issue is the swearing that they, "know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the book of Doctrine and Covenants..."  The problem is that among the people who signed those statements are Newell K. Whitney, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Sarah Cleveland, and Eliza R. Snow. Cleveland and Snow were wives of Joseph smith at this time and the Whitneys were witnesses at their daughter's marriage to Joseph Smith prior to this date this was published. All four of them certainly knew of a system of marriage other than the one in the Doctrine and Covenants, since Section 132 wouldn't be added until many years after Joseph Smith's death. As shown on the last page of the paper, the editor of the paper was Joseph Smith himself, so he bears ultimate responsibility for what is published in this paper, and he certainly knew that these were false statements.

Joseph Smith also married women without his first wife's knowledge. I can't imagine being a polygamist, but if I were to marry other women I also can't imagine not telling my first wife about it. I imagine that when she found out that I had married other women without even telling her, she would be deeply hurt. Emily Partridge states:
My sister Eliza and I, having arrived at an age at which we might earn our own living and perhaps contribute something to help our mother and the smaller children, were considering what we had better do, when the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family, and they treated us with great kindness. We had been there about a year when the principle of plural marriage was made known to us, and I was married to Joseph Smith on the 4th of March, 1843, Elder Heber C. Kimball performing the ceremony. My sister Eliza was also married to Joseph Smith a few days later. This was done without the knowledge of Emma Smith. Two months afterward she consented to give her husband two wives, provided he would give her the privilege of choosing them. She accordingly chose my sister Eliza and myself, and to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a second time, in Emma’s presence, she giving her free and full consent thereto. (Emily Partridge writing on Feb 28 1887, quoted in Historical Record, p. 240) 
In other words, since Emma didn't know about the first time the sisters married Joseph, they decided to have another ceremony and pretend that it was the first ceremony, because simply telling the truth to Emma, that there was no reason to perform a ceremony because it had already been done, would create trouble. I want to make a note here that Emily is not an "Anti-Mormon." She was a faithful Mormon all of her life. She is just telling her story here.

Lucy Walker, also a wife of Joseph Smith and faithful Mormon until her death told of her marriage to Joseph in a deposition:
It was the 1st day of May, 1843, when I married him [Joseph Smith]. … Elder William Clayton performed the ceremony. Emma Smith was not present, and she did not consent to the marriage; she did not know anything about it at all
No, sir, she did not know anything about my marriage to her husband. (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant, vs. The Church of Christ at Independence Missouri et al., 373-374.)
Also, Joseph Smith had Joseph Kingsbury marry Sarah Ann Whitney in a pretended marriage to deflect suspicion of his previous polygamous marriage to Sarah Ann. Kingsbury writes about it later:
On the 29th of April 1843 I according to President Council & others agreed to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as Supposed to be her husband & had a pretended marriage for the purpose of Bringing about the purposes of God in these last days...(Kingsbury's personal writings quoted in In Sacred Loneliness, Todd Compton, p. 351)
Another event that I can't justify morally is a debate that John Taylor had in France with a couple of other ministers in 1850. We know of this debate because Taylor had it recorded by a stenographer and printed up as a booklet to aid in proselyting efforts in England. A scanned copy can be found here at On page 7, a Mr. Robertson asks John Taylor about rumors of Joseph Smith keeping a "seraglio of 'Sisters of the White Veil' and 'Sisters of the Green Veil'," which seem to be rumors of polygamy promulgated by John C. Bennett. John Taylor responds with the following:
It would seem from the remarks of Mr. Robertson, that he also attaches very great importance to the statement, of Mr. Caswell and John C. Bennett, of course, for want of better testimony. I have already referred to their characters. I have already stated that I proved Mr. Caswell to have told one lie, and a man that will tell one falsehood to injure an innocent people, will tell five hundred, if necessary, for the same object. I have also spoken of John C. Bennett's character; perhaps these gentlemen suppose that great importance is to be attached to Mr. Caswell's statement, because he is a reverend gentleman; but reverend gentlemen can tell falsehoods, when it answers their purpose, as well as others...We are accused here of polygamy, and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived. These things are too outrageous to admit of belief; therefore leaving the sisters of the "White Veil," the "Black Veil," and all the other veils, with those gentlemen to dispose of, together with their authors, as they think best, I shall content myself by reading our views of chastity and marriage, from a work published by us, containing some of the articles of our Faith. "Doctrine and Covenants," page 330.
Inasmuch as this Church of Jesus 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 case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.
As you can see from John Taylor's marriage dates above, he is knowingly lying here in this debate. More than that, after the debate he prints his lies up in a booklet and uses them in proselyting efforts in England. If you download the booklet from the link above, look at the title page of the booklet, it is published by John Taylor and for sale by O. Pratt.

I can't describe how much this bothers me. It makes me feel sick that these leaders didn't think that they needed to tell the truth to people they were asking to give up their lives and join a church on another continent. Only after they made the journey would these people find out the truth about polygamy. Let's be clear here: John Taylor took away these people's ability to choose for themselves by denying them the right of informed consent. In Mormon theology, Taylor is following Satan's plan. In my opinion, everyone should be supplied with as many facts as possible and left to do what they think is best. The true church of God should not need to misrepresent itself to gain converts.

The thing is, I think that John Taylor is absolutely right when he says, "...a man who will tell one falsehood...will tell five hundred, if necessary, for the same object." If Joseph Smith and John Taylor were willing to lie about polygamy to get more people to join the church, what else were they willing to lie about for the same goal? If Joseph Smith was capable of getting a group of people to swear to something in a newspaper that they knew to be false, was he capable of getting a group together and having them falsely swear to witness plates and an angel? I don't know, but lies have ripple effects throughout one's credibility.

And this leads me to my final thought: I just don't understand why a just God would expect that I would believe prophets/apostles who have demonstrated their willingness to lie from the pulpit about church doctrine, especially if I should feel in my heart that things they are saying are not morally right, which is how I feel about polygamy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Translation of the Book of Abraham

Outside of polygamy, the Book of Abraham is probably my biggest barrier to faith in Joseph Smith's work. The LDS church has recently released an essay discussing issues with the translation of the Book of Abraham that can be found here. I'll summarize what the highlights were for me:
  • We don't have any recorded accounts of how the translation took place.
  • Joseph Smith's 'Egyptian Grammar' document is not accurate. 
  • "Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith’s explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings." I will discuss this below. 
  • Egyptologists state that all surviving fragments are funerary texts that date much later than the time of Abraham.
  • The essay states that the fragments don't necessarily need to be as old as Abraham. That doesn't make sense to me since the intro to the Book of Abraham says that the book was "...written by his own hand, upon papyrus."
  • The essay states that there might be a broader definition of the word 'translate', suggesting that Joseph may have just studied the papyri and received a revelation. Maybe so, but I think that if we can broaden definitions of words that far, words pretty much cease to have much meaning.
  • The essay states that, "evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record." The essay then cites the example of human sacrifices in Chaldea or as the Book of Abraham calls it the "land of the Chaldeans."  This is an odd example to cite to support the Book of Abraham's authenticity since the Chaldeans were a people that only existed between the 10th and 6th centuries BC, more than a thousand years after the life of Abraham, and after the flood was supposed to have occurred around 2300 BC.

But anyway, the real problem for me with respect to the Book of Abraham's authenticity is Facsimile 3, and I'll explain why. The issue is that Joseph Smith makes claims about what specific characters mean in the picture. For example, the explanation for Figure 2 states, "King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head." The explanation for Figure 4 says, "Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand." Figure 5 says, "Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand." Now it turns out that Figure 2 is really Isis, Figure 4 is really Maat, and Figure 5 is really Hor, the dead guy for whom the scrolls were made. The characters above them actually do say who each one of them is, but it does not match what Joseph Smith said. The problem is that Joseph Smith, working in his prophetic capacity, makes falsifiable claims that are indeed false. If he can be wrong about the translation of characters in Facsimile 3, this implies to me that he could be wrong about other things.

As historical context, when Joseph was working on the Book of Abraham, the fact that these characters could be deciphered was largely unknown in the American frontier. The Rosetta Stone had been deciphered about 10 years previous to the publication of the Book of Abraham, but that probably would not have been known to Joseph Smith. Had Joseph been making the book up, he would have probably thought that he could make whatever claims he wanted about the meaning of Egyptian characters and nobody could prove them false.

At some point in my questioning of my Mormon faith I decided to honestly ask myself the question, "what would it look like if Joseph Smith had made up the Book of Abraham?" I had to admit to myself that it would probably look a lot like it does, with Joseph overreaching and making some claims that could be proven false. It was not a happy thing to realize.

Another thing that I thought about was that if the Book of Abraham was the work of God, why would God want to have so much confusion surrounding its provenance and the validity of its translation? It would seem like he was purposely making it look like fraud. In fact, I think that if you asked random non-Mormons what they thought of all of this they would overwhelmingly say that the mistranslation of the characters in facsimile by Joseph would make it seem like he made it up.

For my LDS friends, to imagine how a non-Mormon would view this, imagine that David Koresh came into possession of some Sumerian clay tablets and claimed that they were were engraved by King David's own hand and contain a prophecy that David Koresh would be a great prophet. When scientists examine and translate the tablets, they turn out to be a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh that dates to more than 1000 years before the life of King David. Would we not sit and wonder why Koresh's followers can't see that there is something really wrong here?

It seems like a God that would want truth to appear false would be what is referred to as a trickster God, and I can't bring myself to believe in a trickster God, a God who plants contrary evidence and expects you to believe unbelievable things just to see if you will follow along.

You see, I have a hobby interest in cults. I find it interesting how they work psychologically. A lot of cults have beliefs that are crazy to normal people. When followers start to detect how crazy things are and ask too many questions, the go-to answer from cult leadership is frequently some variation of "God is testing you, you need to have faith despite the fact that this is very difficult to believe and doesn't make sense to you." The problem I have with this type of thinking is that it works extremely well to keep people in belief systems that are obviously false, like the Heaven's Gate cult or David Koresh's cult, etc. I want my tools that I use to discover truth to be tools that would be effective no matter where I started, not tools that would only be effective at keeping me from changing my beliefs no matter what. I mean, what if I were born into the Heaven's Gate cult? Hopefully I would question that religion like crazy and notice that it doesn't make sense and leave, right?

For me, there is something majorly not right about the notes in Facsimile 3 not matching their actual translation. There have been various explanations given by apologists for why this could possibly not be a problem but all of them pretty much boil down to ignoring what seems extremely probable (that Joseph Smith simply made them up) and focusing on some very improbable but possible explanation. I was raised in a church that claimed that God wanted everybody to be a part of this church. Why place these types of barriers to faith before us? Would that not stop many honest people from joining God's true church? The common response is that it is a test of faith. If that type of test of faith is good, why not make things completely absurd? If that is how God operates, maybe Heaven's Gate was his true church. I mean it is the most difficult thing I can imagine to have faith in, so if I did manage to have faith in it wouldn't that prove that I was awesome at having faith?

What it comes down to for me is that the only God I could believe in would be one who gives tests with a purpose and I cannot detect a purpose in God requiring me to believe in the translation of the Book of Abraham. You can believe unbelievable things and still be a horrible person and you can have no faith in anything supernatural and be kind and compassionate. If I hypothetically assume that God wants me to believe in this, I guess it all seems like a huge distraction from what I think would be the primary goal of a just and loving God: getting people to behave better and show more kindness, compassion, and understanding to their fellow man.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Science vs. Doctrine

I am an engineer. I use the scientific method in my work and have found it to be the consistently most reliable way to get to the bottom of things in my professional life. The conflict between science and the religion I grew up with has always been very difficult for me. Frequently, LDS church leaders will refer to scientists as "so-called intellectuals" and "so-called scientists" when scientific theory conflicts with religious doctrine. I hate that. Putting "so-called" in front of a description of a person is rude and does not increase our ability to empathize with others. I am sure that President Monson would feel insulted if I called him a "so-called prophet." I so much wish that we could graduate from such polarizing rhetoric, but I digress.

Scientists make guesses about how things work, perform experiments to attempt to prove or disprove their guess, and come up with theories based on the data gathered in those experiments. Their theories are sometimes wrong. Any good scientist knows this. Good science is people doing their best to explain how the world works and make sense of their existence. When done correctly, science has a very good success rate and has been good to humanity.

I want to analyze a few LDS beliefs and how they compare to scientific theory.
  • Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings and lived around 4000 BC.
  • Before 2000 BC, everyone spoke the same language.  Around that year, the people attempted to build a tower to heaven and as a result God became angry and confounded their languages.  A group of these people split off and traveled to the Americas. These people could smelt steel. (Ether 7:9)
  • Around 600 BC, a group of Hebrews traveled to the Americas and populated the land. These people could also smelt steel. The author of the Book of Mormon makes repeated references to 'dross', a byproduct of smelting, throughout the book.
I don't think you'll be surprised to hear that prevailing scientific theory disagrees with Adam and Eve being the first humans at 4000 BC. We have found human remains that are tens of thousands of years old. Some will argue that dating via radioisotopes must be way wrong. I personally have difficulty believing that. Also, we have sequenced Neanderthal DNA and have found Neanderthal genes in European and Asian humans. That's right, I'm probably part Neanderthal, but that wouldn't be possible if the first humans were Adam and Eve 6000 years ago. We also find evidence of domestication of plants long before 4000 BC. The LDS church released an essay entitled The Book of Mormon and DNA Studies which attempts to explain why scientists have been unable to detect Hebrew DNA in Native American populations if the Book of Mormon narrative is true. The essay at one point states:
The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians.
I find it odd that a church that believes that the first humans lived in 4000 BC would cite theories that humans migrated to the Americas over the Siberian land bridge in the time frame of 15,000 to 30,000 years ago to support their arguments that the Americas were inhabited prior to the arrival of the Jaredites, Lehites, and Mulekites. A migration over the land bridge to Siberia 15-30,000 years ago just doesn't seem to fit into Mormon beliefs at present.

As far as a global flood in the year 2300 BC goes, there is really no scientific evidence to support it and much to contradict it. I find the evidence too difficult to ignore. We have no geological evidence of the earth being completely covered in water at that time and certainly no evidence of continents moving at that late of a date. We have a lot of evidence of continuous civilizations that predate the accepted flood date by 1000 years or more and continue right through it for thousands of years. We just don't see evidence of a mass extinction event at 2300 BC and then a gradual re-population. Plus, I can't even imagine all animals in the world fitting onto a boat the size of Noah's ark. Did you know that there are 35,000 species of spiders that we know of? Where would all of the animals in the world fit? The story just seems to be a fable or an allegory. In the end, I just don't find it believable.

Let's consider linguistic archaeology and the tower of Babel for a moment.  We have a few written languages that predate 2300 BC. Sumerian starts to appear around 3500 BC with a well developed written language appearing by 2500 BC. Egyptian starts showing up around 3300 BC and becomes well developed by around 2700 BC, and the Akkadian language starts appearing in Sumerian script by 2400 BC. All predate the Tower of Babel by hundreds of years, when there is still supposed to be only a single language on the earth. In fact, we see the Egyptian written language developing from 3300 BC all the way until it dies off as Coptic around 1600 AD. It is hard to imagine how the flood didn't wipe it out of existence, if there was a flood.

Evolution is another scientific theory that gets vilified from time to time, yet evidence in its favor is very strong. The translation of Joseph Smith's explanations of Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham don't withstand scrutiny from science. The Book of Mormon claims a lot of steel smelting, yet steel smelting seems to have been an unknown art to the Native Americans. We've done a lot of digging and never found any Native American steel swords or Native American bloomeries. Contrast that with the fact that we have found only a handful of Viking settlements in North America and they have bloomeries and slag piles, showing that they were smelting iron. Viking populations were tiny compared to the populations claimed in the Book of Mormon.

I just want to take a moment and make it clear that I don't begrudge anyone their beliefs. If you want to believe something that contradicts any given scientific theory, go for it! What I have a beef with is the constant vilification of scientists, the us-vs-them mentality. They have good reasons for believing the things that they do. They should be respected for that. They aren't trying to destroy faith by studying their respective fields, they are just making sense of the world around them.

As far as my personal beliefs go, given the difficulty I have setting aside facts that lead me to believe things that contradict Mormon beliefs, I would love to treat scripture metaphorically and still try to discuss things with my friends at church. But right now, in the faith that I grew up in, viewing scripture as metaphor isn't a respected way to look at things. My way of viewing the world is met with hostility and disdain by the leadership of the church. It makes it difficult to be there at all, and it has nothing to do with the good people who are there, but is due to the tone and direction from the top.

9/3/14 Edit: I previously had a sentence in this article that asserted that atomic clocks run on principles of radioactive decay, which is not correct.

I also want to state that I have not provided many references for my assertions in this post. That's because I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. I have looked at evidence concerning these issues and have satisfied myself. I just want to present my point of view to increase understanding.