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.

1 comment:

  1. Joseph never lived polygamy, he fought against it his whole life. To believe unproven hearsay, no matter how much, when Joseph constantly testified and taught just the opposite, makes no sense. For Joseph would have known his name would be toast as soon as he was found to be lying. Joseph also understood that Christ condemned polygamy, thus he would have never been able to live or teach polygamy and still say he followed Christ.

    Even if Joseph really lie & fall for polygamy, it would only mean he was just like countless other false or fallen prophets throughout history who fell by adultery & whoredoms.

    The bottom line is Christ condemned polygamy with so many of his teachings. And anyone who truly follows Christ would see this and be repulsed by polygamy or anyone who lived or taught it. Many people, if not most, in the Church in Joseph's day refused to follow Brigham Young because they understood how vile polygamy was, for they knew it in their hearts, as good people would. We only hear about and from those who fell for and supported BY because they liked the idea of polygamy, it sounded good to them and their carnal desires, so we only see that side of it, not wanting to see the other side lest the Church prove totally false.