#hearLDSwomen: As Stake RS President, I Was Reprimanded by My Stake President for Sharing a Link to the Gospel Topics Essay About Joseph’s Polygamy

My grandmother wrote a manuscript for a book about Emma Smith decades before any of the more recent, honest biographies while she was Associate Editor of the Relief Society Magazine. She was told that if she published it she would lose her job and be excommunicated. She needed her job, so she handed over the manuscript, and for years it was hidden away in the Church Archives, with no one allowed to see it. It was finally moved to BYU Special Collections, and she’d donated her notes to U of U, so the information has since been used in other publications, but she was heartbroken since she’d worked on it for over 30 years. She ended up never publishing the history of the Relief Society, which she’d also written. She only wrote poetry, essays, and did editorial work after that.
– Nancy K.


I was serving as Stake Relief Society president when it hit the front page of the New York Times as well as newspapers and TV where I lived about the extent of Joseph Smith’s polygamy when the church published the Gospel Topics essay. I sent out an email to all my Relief Society presidents with a link to the Gospel Topics essay, shared how I had learned about Joseph’s polygamy years earlier and worked through the challenging stuff, and bore my testimony of Joseph Smith. I wanted them to be prepared in case one of their sisters came to them about it. One new RS president was horrified that I would distribute such information and reported me to her bishop who reported me to the stake president, and I got reprimanded for discussing it and was told all correspondence with my Relief Society presidents needed to be approved by him. Yes, I got in trouble for sharing a link to lds.org and bearing my testimony of Joseph Smith. Now I’m on my third year teaching early morning seminary and make it a priority to teach all of the gospel topics essays.
– Stacy


I was candid with my bishop about my parts of my faith transition and challenges with gender and LGBTQ issues in the church. He was kind and tried to be understanding. He asked what things were bothering me. I tried to give a succinct summary, sticking to straightforward facts and commonly accepted history, but when I recounted Emma’s struggle to fight polygamy through the Relief Society while she didn’t know that her own counselor was already married to Joseph, and how all Joseph’s wives were redistributed to Brigham and Heber after Joseph’s death, I became emotional and said they were treated like property and rewards for the men. The bishop’s response was, “Oh, that’s bad.” and he didn’t mean the ugly history was bad. He meant my faith crisis was bad. I was bad; my interpretation of horrific facts was unfaithful and showed a loss of testimony. I’ve been on the watch list ever since.
– Anonymous


I was told by a member of the Seventy that the “many noble and great ones” referred to in Moses only referred to prophets—not any women. I was told by his wife in a special ladies’ session that sisters were not better than elders in response to a sister’s question about how sisters can feel more included in the missionary experience. She chastised us because she thought we needed to stop thinking we were better than the elders and we needed to stop treating the elders so horribly. She was oblivious to the fact that most of us felt like second class missionaries because of the treatment of the elders. I have no idea why she thought that we thought that we were better than the elders because every sister I had ever talked to just wanted to be taken seriously and to be regarded as an equal.
– Chloe M.


Pro Tip: Bringing attention to troubling issues in church history and policy is not the problem; the troubling issues are the problem. Do not punish or marginalize congregants for exploring their faith or expressing concerns. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; certainty is.

Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

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8 Responses

  1. Annon says:

    This church was made by men, for men.
    Women can be some of the strongest supporters of the patriarchy.

  2. Taylor R. says:

    For the woman who wrote a book about the Relief Society, but was forbidden to publish it, I found her name (Vesta Crawford) and the record of her manuscript in BYU Special Collections:

  3. Moxie says:

    It’s really sad how unprepared leadership is to help people deal with the difficulties of church history. So much pain could be avoided if we could just be real about it.

  4. EmilyB says:

    Thank you for sharing these poignant experiences, sisters. I felt very alone after a lifetime in Mormonism for the way the church policed my body and won’t let gays love or be married, yet goes to such great lengths to conceal how early church leaders not only satisfied their every lust, but did so at the expense of young teen girls and women who had already chosen other spouses, only to have those choices taken away from them because a prophet or his friend wanted these women and girls for himself. This doesn’t feel right to me.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of delving into church history, it is an interesting thing to actually take the side of Emma and believe her when she says that Joseph didn’t practice polygamy. There is so much evidence coming to light now, but that would mean you would have to believe that Young, Richards, Taylor, Kimball, Clayton, etc. were practicing “secret chamber” spiritual wifery and were the authors of polygamy in the church. (To which, actually, there us a lot of evidence on that side.) The Joseph Smith Papers project is revealing several instances of editing of church history after Joseph’s death. Significant changes in that Joseph never said it was given by the Lord. Phrases were added afterwards, words were crossed out. That is only the beginning. D&C 132 has fishy beginnings.I find it amazing that most people are ok believing that a prophet and the founder of the Restoration was a pedophile, adulterer, polygamist and polyandrist, and yet it is hard to fathom some kind of conspiracy and there is no way that Brigham could have done anything wrong. Polygamy evidences were only given many years after Joseph’s death. There is not a single contemporary primary source of him practicing it. Not one. The only ones were by Brigham and crew after the fact when they were getting pressured from the government, and all of the sudden, there were journals, affidavits, his alleged wives crawling out of the woodwork with all sorts of evidence coming forth. But none from Joseph. Emma never changed her story. Brigham, though, had a lot to say about her. You should read his scathing opinions of her during general conference. Over the pulpit, for pete’s sake! In 1844, Joseph said this: ” I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives…. I am innocent of all these charges…. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:410–411). So, either he and Emma are lying, or someone else is. I hear so many apologists of the church try to explain this statement away–he was lying for the Lord, he was really just married for eternity, so he was really just telling the truth on a technicality, he had to be secretive, etc, etc. At any rate, the church has a lot to lose on either side. Even in the bible, polygamy did not turn out well in most all circumstances. While it was a cultural thing and God might have allowed it in some cases, it was never commanded by Him, nor was it the ideal. It’s best to search all sides and then take it to the Lord, just like Joseph did when he opened up the heavens at the very beginning. Seek, knock, ask, and ye shall receive.

    • ElleK says:

      I’m really uncomfortable with letting arguments like these stand unchallenged because they essentially discredit dozens of first hand accounts, particularly the testimonies of women. I understand that it is difficult to believe Joseph (or any personal hero) is responsible for a practice so ugly, but the evidence points very strongly toward the fact that he did, indeed, institute and practice polygamy. There are many sources, but one of my favorite compilations is the Year of Polygamy podcast episodes 139 and 140 (“Joseph Didn’t Fight Polygamy” parts 1&2). Perhaps you don’t believe those sources, dozens of scholarly books and articles, or the Church’s own website, and that’s your right, but it’s important to me to point out for the sake of other readers that the views expressed above are just attractive conspiracy theories that do not share support by the vast majority of experts, scholars, or the LDS church itself.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Guess I should have said there was not one “legitimate” contemporary primary source of Joseph practicing polygamy. There was the case of Sarah Pratt, but that was proven bogus because of the Bennett debacle and his spiritual wifery seductions, and someone needed to be a scapegoat. And, too, many seemed to find Joseph a convenient scapegoat while he was still living as per Joseph’s statement in May of 1844 suggests (one month before his marytrdom). But after he died, there have been no end to the accusations.

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