Polygamy, Secrets, & Kolob

I don’t remember when I first learned that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy. (Never mind behind Emma’s back. With teenagers.)  But I remember feeling disgusted–but mostly betrayed. This historical omission was clearly intentional. Now I’m not an idiot where polygamy is concerned. My paternal grandmother, born in 1885, was the daughter of a second wife, and Grandma told us lots of stories about hiding out in Star Valley, Wyoming while family #1 was hanging out in Logan.  We all know about Brigham and his bagillion wives.  Icky but whatevs. And maybe I’d feel that way about Joseph and his harem, if we ever mentioned it in our endless rotations of Church History. I hate to admit it, but at this point I am more disturbed at our secrecy regarding Joseph’s actions than by the actions themselves.

That being said, I have not yet passed these historical tidbits onto my children, who range from 14-6. So my question is, when do I tell my kids that a) Joseph had several wives, b) at least three were between the ages of 14 and 16, and c) he married several of them without Emma’s knowledge?  I want them to believe. I want them to have a solid foundation before being exposed to doctrinal earthquakes. And yet, there has to be a point where we shine the light into our dark corners, and say, “Yup. That happened.”  It distresses me that the Church seems to be shaking its finger at its members saying, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Case in point. Here is an email I received this month from my good friend Parry, who, like me, serves in the Young Women’s program:

I’m sitting at Jiffy Lube reading my YW lesson for tomorrow. I read the paragraph [on the kindness of Joseph Smith] below, which I will let you read now…

Mercy R. Thompson, a woman who knew the Prophet Joseph, wrote: “I can never forget the tender sympathy and brotherly kindness he ever showed toward me and my fatherless child. When riding with him and his wife Emma in their carriage I have known him to alight and gather prairie flowers for my little girl” (“Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, 1 July 1892, p. 399).

•    What attitude did Joseph Smith show in performing this act of service?

And then in my own cynical brain I thought, “Yeah, if he was picking flowers for your poor fatherless child then I’m guessing he was wooing you into marrying him.” Then I felt a little bad for thinking that–but I looked it up and my instinct was dead on. Later, Mercy married him. Why does it irritate the crap out of me that the Church used not only this story but that they refer to her as “a woman who knew the Prophet Joseph”? Really though she did KNOW him. Blech. I would have made a terrible pioneer.

Now I’m not saying we have Sunbeam lessons on polygamy and or reenact the Mountain Meadows Massacre for Sharing Time. But at some point kids need to know these things, and better to have them explained by a friend than a foe. I remember teaching a Primary lesson many years back and mentioning that until 1978, Black men could not hold the priesthood. My class of 11 year-olds was incredulous.  I swear they thought I was making it up. And most of my LDS friends who are younger than me have no idea that when I was a kid, women couldn’t pray in sacrament meeting. These facts aren’t secrets, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend the wacky stuff never happened and hope that the young and uninitiated among us will never stumble upon such embarrassments. It reminds me of what my English professor Gloria Cronin always said, “Catholics say the Pope is infallible, and nobody believes it. Mormons says the Prophet is fallible, and nobody believes it.”

Maybe it’s because I live in Mitt Romney’s town, but I feel like there has never been so much discussion about our faith and practices, some flattering, some not. Some true, some not. And let’s be clear that while I think we obfuscate way too much, I can’t deny that I wish some aspects of our theology and history could stay buried. For instance, when the occasional religious scholar delves into the nether regions of our beliefs, I start rocking in a corner muttering, “Please don’t mention Kolob! Please don’t mention Kolob!”  So I get the desire to hide stuff. But with the media microscope on us, its impossible to manage what we are exposed to.   In an attempt to deal with this, one of our youth leaders talked to the kids about some of the common criticisms of our faith, hoping to prepare them when they face detractors. I believe he mentioned that there were not horses and elephants in the Americas during Book of Mormon times, and that stories like Jonah and Job are most likely allegorical. This did not go over well with a couple parents and “cease and desist” emails were sent. When I asked my son about it, he said this man was his favorite teacher because “he’s not afraid to tell it like it is.” But how would I have reacted if my son came home and asked if Joseph really married a girl his age? The truth is I don’t know when or how to get into the really messy stuff with my kids. Does that make me complicit in the secrecy?

So I’m conflicted. I don’t want to spend my time digging up historical dirt on the Church. I’m a here and now gal whose religious mantra tends to be, “Look at the fruits, not the roots.” Living the gospel makes me a better person regardless of the authenticity of the papyri that make up the Pearl of Great Price. So I stay, happily. But I do not like to be lied to about said roots, however dark and twisty they may be. It’s time to ditch the shame and acknowledge our stuff, even if it’s out there. Maybe even as out there as Kolob.

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56 Responses

  1. clank says:

    I wish I knew the answer to that too. I want it to come sooner for my kids than it did for me. And I want my spouse and I to be ones to tell my kids some of the hard stuff, because I want to control where that information comes from. At the same time I don’t know how to slowly let all of that out. I’d love to know how it has worked for someone.

    • lj says:

      focus on family prayer scripture study and family home evening, help them build a solid foundation.

      • Annie B. says:

        lj, My parents did all of those things, but never discussed any of the disturbing parts of church history with me. When I finally did learn a less filtered version of the history as an adult I actually suspected the LDS church of still secretly practicing polygamy and wondered if my own dad or my own husband had secret wives. I’m still reeling to where I have high anxiety at church especially whenever someone mentions Joseph Smith.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    I didn’t know a lot of this stuff until my children were grown, and I still don’t know how to discuss it with them. If I had known more as they were growing up, I think I would have tried to fit it into natural discussions. For example, in a family home evening about the Book of Mormon, I would be sure to let them know that Joseph used a seer stone in a hat. I think this could be presented to fairly young children without changing the essence of the story. The conflict would come when they get a different story at church, I guess. As for polygamy, that’s going to naturally come up in pioneer stories. I don’t remember ever not knowing that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. And I knew that Emma didn’t always approve, but she was portrayed in a negative way for her opposition. The real problem for me, even with my adult children, is how to talk to them about the historical facts and not destroy their testimonies. So I just don’t talk about it for the most part. Yet, I feel dishonest.

  3. X2 Dora says:

    I think that this will continue to be an issue, especially with Romney’s campaign. I’m only surprised that it hasn’t gotten more malicious yet. I wish that all members were more knowledgeable about the history of the church. Not just the highlights, but also the strange and inexplicable things. Otherwise, how will they be able to stand when confronted by “foes” with verifiable dirty laundry?

    • Annie B. says:

      I agree, and it does bother me when members clear up “misconceptions” about what the church believes when it appears they don’t realize many of those perceptions came about by very real events that they aren’t aware of. On that same note, it also irks me when LDS members judge the FLDS and their brand of polygamy while they revere their own polygamous ancestors and Joseph Smith. I read a FB post where someone was talking about how much of a creep and sexual predator Warren Jeffs is and cited his unfulfilled prophecy about the jail that was holding him being destroyed and scoffing about how silly the FLDS were for still believing in him as prophet of God. I couldn’t help but think about Joseph Smith’s unfulfilled prophecies and teen brides and wonder if they even knew.

  4. Jessica says:

    I feel as though I don’t even know the whole history. That so much has been hidden and changed that I personally don’t know the whole picture. And that is what we try to tell our children and prepare them not to base their faith in history, but in trying to become who they need to become. And to focus on being compassionate and Christ like. That they might be prepared for whatever changes will come and the history that is discovered is not going to shake them to the core. We just try to bring up more stories that are not told but paint a picture of history and faith and love. We also bring up the hard stuff and say we don’t know.

  5. Gilly says:

    This describes my feelings exactly. My kids are young still, but one thing I am doing is making sure that I discuss issues I have with doctrines as presented at church in a positive way. Like, So and so said this and it rubbed me the wrong way, what do you think about this”. It is hard for my husband sometimes, because he is a very black and white kind of thinker and doesn’t always see things the way i do. At first he worried that in stating my questions in front of the kids I would hurt their developing faith. He has come around to the idea that in modeling good questioning/discussion behaviours we teach them that it is ok for them to questions us. I am hoping that that means that when they do come face to face with these issues – the first person they want to talk about it is me. I try to plant little seeds of ideas that will help them handle these things like “the leaders aren’t perfect”and “go to the Lord yourself” which I think were important elements in helping me maneuver issues related to learning icky history. I do hope and pray the leaders of the church will get a little braver about being honest about this history. So many people find out and feel so lied to. I also always appreciated my parents saying ” I don’t know” about things and forcing us to look at issues in many different lights.

  6. SilverRain says:

    I never had a huge problem with these types of issues. I think it is because my parents taught me to go directly to the Lord and to scripture with any questions, not just the sticky ones.

    They challenged me to get my own testimony about the basics, so when it came to less-than-basics, I already had a well-used conduit between me and the Spirit by which to study them.

  7. spunky says:

    My father was a convert, and my mother is from pioneer stock. My father told me about Jospeh Smith’s polygamy when I was a child- it never bothered me that Jospeh had more than one wife, but I equated non-member/convert = smarter and knows more about the church (father) than life-long member = dumber and in the dark about the truth of the church(mother).

    Now, my mother isn’t dumb, but I never asked her about church or church history or algebra or anything– and I think my siblings were similar, because I (we?) thought she was more of the fantasy-mormon mindframe, and therefore, not so bright. Poor mom. I always asked my father the hard questions, including drinking, etc. and knew he would not judge me, when I thought that my mother would judge me for the same. So… honestly, I think for the sake of the relationship of you and your child- and not appearing like you are hiding information from your child, just tell them now– and in the couse of a normal conversation. That is how my father did and I respect him for it. What’s more, when other church “secrets” came out, I felt more confident about seeking truthful answers, rather than living in fantasy land.

    That has literally saved my life, because life is hard, and far from a fantasy.

    • Fantasy mindset in Mormonism. I just had a conversation about exactly that not to long ago. Too true. Of course, a fairy tale is usually a lot nicer than reality. So I can see why people prefer it. Unless it’s a German fairy tale. Then you’d have your thumbs cut off and there would be heads in the closet. Just sayin’.

      • Which goes back to the whitewashing, actually. Anyone read the version of Cinderella where the step-sisters get their eyes pecked out at the end? Maybe Mormon history is a little like a German fairy tale. Of course, to be fair, most history has been sanitized for our consumption.

    • Annie B. says:

      That’s cool that you had a realistic idea of the history growing up. I wish I had.

  8. Kristine says:

    Heather, my kids may have already told your kids the juicy bits–you may want to quiz them 🙂

    I can’t remember NOT knowing about JS’ polygamy–at least by the time Mormons first came up in 5th grade American history I knew the basics. My parents always answered my questions in a matter-of-fact way, like there was nothing to freak out about, and we had an open-access family library with pretty much everything, from apologetic to anti-Mormon literature. I think the theory was that, left to our own devices, we’d read about as much as we could handle. I don’t know if that would work for everyone, but I do feel like I’ve had a lot less trouble with messy historical issues because I never felt that truth had been hidden from me.

  9. HokieKate says:

    I teach 12/13 year old Sunday School. Next year the curriculum is “Presidents of the Church”. Is it my place to tell them about Joseph’s polygamy or that he had a gun at the martyrdom?

    • davis says:

      What is wrong with having a gun? He was trying to protect himself and his friends from being murdered

      • Ru says:

        There is nothing wrong with having a gun. There’s something wrong with telling kids their whole lives that he went like a lamb to the slaughter … and then later they find out he tried to defend himself.

        For the most part, it’s the coverup that gets you. By making Joseph Smith into some infallible saint, we set people up to be unnecessarily severely disappointed in him.

  10. This is a really difficult issue. I wish you the best of luck. I don’t have children, and it will be awhile if I do. Also, the way things are going now, they probably won’t be raised in the church. If you do decide to tell your children, maybe you can couch it in whitewashing? I.e., human beings are inclined to bolster the good and downgrade the bad, but sometimes the truth can get lost? I don’t know. For me personally, I only learned about the history after my disaffection. The history was troublesome to me, and I felt lied to. However, current practices of the church are more irksome to me than the practices of the past.

  11. I think part of the trick is to just be up front about it. If you get nervous when they ask, they’ll wonder why it should be something to get nervous about (much like the discussion of sex). If you treat it like something that should be hidden, too ashamed to talk about, or with outright hostility, those feelings will effect how your children also feel about it. If they can see that you can freely talk about it and are still strong in your faith in the Church (or just the Gospel, or the Goddess, etc), they will be able to find safety in that faith to help build their own faith.

    • Kirsten says:

      I agree with Frank… Don’t be nervous and secretive– they can smell it for miles…
      My husband and I have been very open and honest about things with our kids (16 and 13) There have been times when my daughter would come home from Seminary and question what she was taught that day. Often it was half of the story with Church history. We would tell her the truth so she knew what was going on. We knew that it would make her trust the teacher less, but we wanted her to know she could trust us to be frank and honest with her. (Frankly, we were not thrilled with her teacher anyway) She’s a smart kid and doesn’t need to be talked down to. We have done this throughout their lives with everything from schoolwork, to sex, to church questions. I want them to come to me with anything they want to talk about. This is something I did NOT have with my own parents and wish I would have had…

    • Annie B. says:

      I think that sounds like a wonderful way to approach it. I haven’t seen the LDS church as an organization set a very good example in that respect. Not just in its own published material, but in the media like when Pres Hinckley did that interview with Larry King it seemed like he just wanted to say “we don’t practice polygamy anymore, why are you even bringing it up?” (not his exact words but the gist I remember getting from it). Does anyone besides me feel that way? It does seem like it’s becoming less taboo of a subject though. I hope it’s trending in that direction anyway.

  12. Ru says:

    I say tell them as soon as you can, in an age-appropriate way. My dad told me a lot of the darker stuff when I was a kid (Mountain Meadows, the salamander letters, the temple ritual changing to be more positive, feminists being excommunicated) but somehow left out Joseph Smith being a polygamist. I found out when I went on an Orson Scott Card reading kick in 10th grade and found SAINTS, which I’m sure was intended to be faith-promoting and actually put me in a bit of a tailspin.

    Anyway, my point is that when those topics came up in college (from people who I’m sure thought they were going to shock me) I could just shrug and say, “My dad told me that when I was 12. Sorry, not surprised.” But for whatever reason, finding out at 15, AFTER having church history in seminary, that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy blew my mind and it took a long time to get over.

  13. Diane says:

    I’m with Frank on this one. You need to be up front, but you also need to be age appropriate. You don’t need to bombard or saturate them with everything all at once. But, if they ask you a direct question, give them a direct answer and then look for ques as to whether or not they want more information.

  14. honey says:

    I made sure when I taught early morning seminary that my students knew about Josephs wives and the MMM. My parents took me to visit my 2nd greatgrandfathers grave with his six plural wives laid out three on each side. I’ve always felt awed by their sacrifices, sacrifices that I Know I would not make for the gospel. I think that we demean those early members when we speak of their lives negatively. We make so many judgements based on our 21st century feelings about what is wrong or right. I am always uncomfortable when I read posts about polygamy and it’s sinfulness etc. Most of the great women of the early church, who we admire, were in polygamous marriages. The time when women in the church had more power and privileges than we do now was during the exact time polygamy was practiced and when those who practiced it where still living.
    I really have never felt embarrassed by this history. If not for polygamy I would not be here. When I was on a mission in the south last year and people would dig at me about polygamy I would just answer “I’m thankful for it or I wouldn’t be here. Although the church does not practice it now and members will be excommunicated for the practice.” I think standing up with honesty, and compassion for those who have gone before us works.

    • CatherineWO says:

      Honey, I understand your feelings and concerns. I too am the descendant of several polygamous unions. In researching the stories of these people, my people, I have only the greatest respect for them and the sacrifices they made for their faith. However, in doing that same research, I have come to the conclusion that polygamy is not a correct priciple and caused a great deal of heartache. I think it is possible for me to honor my polygamous heritage and, at the same time, disagree with the leaders who promulgated the principle. I don’t feel a need to apologize for my ancestors. I am not responsible for their behavior, and they did what they did for good reason, to follow the faith they had embraced. I also respect those who still follow that faith and the principles that go along with it (even polygamy). This may seem like a fine line, but I don’t think that disagreeing (and/or disbelieving) and respect are mutually exclusive.

    • LovelyLauren says:

      I get especially frustrated when women living in polygamy get portrayed as suffering victims. While I believe that polygamy did leave a lot of victims, I doubt those women saw it that way and I find it disrespectful when they are portrayed that way.

      • Diane says:


        As an English major I’m sure your know and understand the power of words and language. The fact is that during these women’s life times they didn’t have the language skills that even described what they endured.

        And after reading these women’s stories on FMH they were all but threatened with both spiritual and physical abandonment. What choice would you have made at that time? In my mind there really wasn’t much to choose from.

        Indeed, they may not have felt abused, but, the fact of the matter is they were. I feel particularly bad for women who were already married and had their husbands forced (by Joseph) to serve a mission, just so he (Joseph) could wear them down far enough to agree to marry him.

    • Annie B. says:

      There are people alive today who wouldn’t be alive if their mothers had not been raped. That does not make the rape a good thing. In bible times it was customary for soldiers who wiped out populations to keep the women alive and take them as unwilling wives. I’m sure it was painful for those women to go through that but I’m also sure they were able to eventually find joy in their children and daily life but it doesn’t make the whole ordeal okay. Thank heavens our 21st century feelings and standards can now see that practice as barbaric and harmful. I believe it is more disrespectful to those who came before us to hide the truth or simply mention any of Josephs wives as “a woman who knew him” and not tell their true story, or to only portray polygamy in a positive light when it also had a negative impact on many women as well as men.

  15. Katherine says:

    I have never posted a comment before, but I have a couple of questions and a comment. I am 29 and I think that I have always known that Smith had more than one wife, but I was taught he only had three. Obviously not even close to the real number and I never knew that a good number of them were already married to other men.

    However, my question, women weren’t allowed to pray in sacrament meeting? What the! This I did not know and now, well, is one more reason why I don’t understand why women don’t stand up for themselves more. We weren’t allowed to pray? When did this change, why and how?

    • Heather says:

      Here’s a quote I found from the Ensign regarding the policy: “The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have determined that
      there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers in sacrament meetings. It was therefore decided that it is permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend, including sacrament meetings, Sunday School meetings, and stake conferences. Relief Society visiting teachers may offer prayers in homes that they enter in fulfilling visiting teaching assignments.”

      (Marvin K. Gardner, “News of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 100)

      • I wonder when they’ll discover there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers in GC.

      • Jessica says:

        It is still practiced in some of the wards I have attended that women cannot give the opening prayer. But Handbook 2 pg 146 says that “Men and Women can give opening and closing prayers”

        In case it is ever an issue like it was in my ward.

  16. Chris says:

    I’ve known about Joseph Smith’s polygamy for years, and my children knew about it as well. What has broken my heart is recently learning about his polyandry, which has broken my heart. It is fundamentally wrong on every level–defies the sanctity of marriage and eternal family relationships, breaks the commandment about not committing adultery, and temple covenant of faithfulness to one’s spouse.

    Now that these facts are easily accessible on the Internet, our children and grandchildren may become perplexed and disturbed by the choices Joseph Smith made. I can find no justification for his polyandry or adultery. As a faithful member of many years, I am heart-broken that Joseph did not live the teachings he professed and need help knowing how to resolve the cognitiveg dissonance I feel and which my children and grandchildren may experience as well.

    • anita says:

      polyandry has been a real struggle for me too. one thing that has helped is understanding that the early saints felt like all prior earthly covenants such as baptism were in flux compared to the new & everlasting covenant, and marriage went along with that too. i don’t think we know enough to judge at this point.

      and i’ve told my kids (ages 7-15) all about such issues! better to discuss them now…

  17. Molly Wilson says:

    I have the same questions. How much do you tell?

    Chris, polyandry also broke my heart.

    I am less concerned about my children finding about Joseph Smith having a gun than I am about him drinking wine, smoking a cigar, and taking his garments off. Or the fact that he shot and killed a man.

    Not only when do I tell them but how much do I tell them?

    • I think how much to tell depends on their interest level at the time. Sometimes, when we ask questions, we want just a simple answer, not a day-long lecture. If it becomes more important to them, they’ll ask more detailed questions, and from there you can give more detailed answers. For some times, “JS had a good number of wives, some of them already married” or “Jesus might have been married to two women” is enough to start a longer discussion, and sometimes it might just provoke a “Huh, I didn’t know that” and give them something to mull over for later.

      I think how much depends on development of a discussion (in the time you have), rather than a lecture.

      This is just like talking to your kids about sex, alcohol, drugs, world events, etc. Make it something they can discuss with you, rather than something to hide from and throw out tiny answers hoping it will go away.

      • Lala says:

        Hmmm…I don’t believe Jesus was married to more than one woman.

        Joseph Smith is ruined for me. Let’s not put Jesus in that sick speculative pool when we have no evidence for it, please.

  18. Emily U says:

    My kids are too young for me to have any direct experience with this. But lack of experience has never stopped me from having an opinion! So a few thoughts…

    1) I and many people I know have chosen to stay in the church in spite of our knowledge of all kinds of unpleasant historical facts. So there’s a reasonable chance my kids will, too.

    2) It’s better if they hear the dirt from me first. But I don’t need to give them a comprehensive list of it. I think I’ll inoculate them with a few horrid facts and let that experience serve as a model for how to deal with future horrid facts.

    3) I want to trust my kid’s judgement. I think they’ll be smart people with good souls, and if they decide the church is too weird for them, I hope I’ll be able to make peace with that.

    4) But. I really wish I didn’t have to worry about doing damage control!

  19. April says:

    I feel like my parents and teachers have always been honest with me, although I cannot say the same about official church materials, which certainly do omit unsavory historical information. Still, whenever someone told me a less than flattering historical fact, they usually followed it up with something about how even though that sounds bad, the church itself or a church leader did it, so God must have approved, so even though it would be wrong for one of us to do that, it was most certainly right for that person at that time. I would like to emulate their candor, but not their apologies. I would say, “…and I don’t think that was right. I am glad we don’t do that anymore.”

  20. Elisabeth says:

    As a non-member who has always been interested in Mormonism but is somewhat hung-up on these historical issues, I have one question: what makes you keep your testimony despite this sometimes disturbing and secretive history? I know other religions have dark sides as well, but somehow they seem less secretive and less recent. What keeps you from seeking out the “fruits” in another religion, and what keeps your faith alive when your trust is sometimes broken?

    • LovelyLauren says:

      For me it’s the joy I find in the everyday. I’m not a polygamist (though my ancestors were) and I can recognize that it was clearly misguided and move one. Not everyone can or does and we all deal with it differently. Recognizing how young my faith is helps and how it’s evolved over time is essential. It’s easy to get over the Crusades because you can comment about how long ago they were and I’m betting that my descendants will do the same in a few hundred years should Mormonism still be around.

      Polygamy was no big secret to me and I can understand (if not agree with) the church’s decision not to publicize it. Knowing what really happened means I never felt betrayed. My opinions on it evolved over time, but it wasn’t a shocking secret. Many Mormons who grew up with this knowledge feel similarly and thus don’t understand the betrayal that those who didn’t know feel, at least in my experience.

      I seriously considered joining another church during a faith transition but I realized that I wouldn’t be able to find everything in one place. Religion cannot be all things to me and I would miss certain aspects of Mormonism that I don’t feel that I can find anywhere else and dislike aspects of whatever church I joined. It’s not always easy, but I don’t think God really intended religion to be easy all the time.

  21. Chris says:

    Elizabeth, after experiencing a significant crisis of faith, I stay in the Church because its fruits are good. I know of my other religion that cares more about each individual member, where compassionate service is generously given, and where sincere members center there hearts, thoughts, and actions in following the Savior.

    I feel the Spirit each Sunday when I worship in Sacrament Meeting. I feel it intensely in the temple when I worship there. I feel it when I visit members in my calling as a visiting teaching and with my husband visiting elderly members each month.

    I especially appreciate the fact that lay ministers (bishops, branch presidents and their assistants or counselors) serve without pay. Our wards and branches are geographically determined and we do not move from one ward to another because one leader might be more charismatic than another. My husband served for 5 years as a bishop and several more as a branch president. I have seen him through the power of the priesthood heal the sick, cast out devils, and help people become born again, turning away from the natural man to becoming new creatures in Christ.

    Yes, I am saddened by some of the facts of Church history. As I have reviewed the Bible, I realized that Moses murdered an Egyptian, Paul assisted in the stoning of faithful Christians, and Peter denied the Savior three times after he had walked with him for three years. There are no perfect prophets or followers of the Savior.

    Although I do not condone the bad choices that Joseph Smith made, I love the Church that he organized. Being a member has made me a better person. It has helped me love God, myself, and others more fully. It has helped me realize that everyone is a son or daughter of God. That is a priceless gift.

  22. Annie B. says:

    I feel so much the same way. I really feel that personal relationships are the most sacred thing we nurture as children of God, and because of that I can’t believe that God commanded Joseph Smith to disregard Emma and his faithfulness to her with Polygamy (not to mention polyandry). I also feel it’s a huge disrespect to Emma and Joseph Smith’s other wives, as well as the men who were affected by Joseph’s polyandry to not tell their stories.

    The secrecy of the LDS church does also disturb me because I also learned growing up that other bad people would be the ones telling half-truths and twisting things to make the LDS church look bad. I have encountered that, but to find that the LDS church has been telling half-truths and omitting things to make itself look good is no better, I feel. A true principle is a true principle. It is self-evident whether you learn it by way of a fable, a true story, or personal experience. Maybe that’s why I get the same good feeling reading C.S. Lewis fantasy as I do reading parts of the New Testament, or helping a neighbor, but I feel sick to my stomach whether I’m reading about Joseph Smith’s polygamy or I catch a snippet of fictional rape on TV. I don’t need the added carrot on a stick telling me that something came straight from Gods mouth in order for me to follow it. I have a relationship with God and a moral compass that he gave me. I’ll confirm for myself whether a principle is in line with God, and I will teach my children to do the same.

    I’m in a different situation than you though. I don’t currently go to church. My husband does and I know it makes him sad that I don’t, but any mention of church history (even relief society is a reminder of polygamy for me, and the resulting cover-up) gives me horrible anxiety. The church does focus on good principles now, mostly all of which I agree with. I just feel right now that I’m employing the true principles in my daily life much better without the added anxiety of attending church. So that’s what I do.

  23. Angie says:

    I’m afraid that this will sound like I’m making light of the struggles that some have with aspects of the LDS faith – but IMO all these issues are nothing compared to the stuff in the Bible: Abraham and Hagar, Lot and his daughters, that married couple who were struck dead during tithing settlement, etc., etc., etc. Anyone who believes in the Bible follows a God who discriminates, commands killing, punishes, inflicts plagues and diseases, kills children, and commands men to marry more than one woman. It is a humbling (in the best and worst meanings of the word) to try to truly know and follow God. He can seem cruel, unfair, irrational, and terrifying. One day in my Primary class, we read a scripture in the Old Testament about a prophet who got upset about a group of children who called him “bald head.”. He cursed them, and a she-bear came out of the forest and ate up the children! In other words, Kolob is the least of our worries, as Latter-Day Saints.

    Regarding the discussion of how to teach all this craziness to our children – I think I don’t understand the dilemma. How do we tell our children that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry? We say, “Joseph Smith was married to more than one woman at a time. It’s called polygamy.” How do we tell our children that the Mormon and Masonic temple rites are similar? We say, “Joseph Smith was a Mason, and the rituals in the Mormon and Masonic temples are similar.” How do we tell our children that Nephi killed Laban? We tell them that the Holy Ghost told Nephi to kill Laban, so he did.” etc., etc., etc.

    Hopefully, our children will question the why’s and how’s of these and other things that seem crazy, terrible, nonsensical, and/or evil to them. I believe in God so completely that I know He can stand the scrutiny. In fact, it is only be looking at things as they really are and wrestling to understand them that we can develop mature faith. Anything less is superstition.

    • Annie B. says:

      You are right, there are a lot of disturbing things supposedly commanded by God in the Bible. They disturbed me as a kid just like the polygamy thing did. As I’ve realized that many of the misdeeds in LDS church history are likely not of God, but are mistakes of man, I have to draw the same conclusion where many stories in the Bible are concerned. Even religious scholars accept (and, ironically, Joseph Smith hinted) there’s enough room for prophetic personal bias, personal interpretations of what Godly calamities were supposed to have taught, faulty accounts of what happened, faulty translations, and personal bias from translation to translation, that taking the Bible literally in all cases is not advisable. I think the Bible contains valuable information, definitely, but is best learned from when it is studied and understood for what it is. I don’t believe that any work of scripture is infallible.

      I actually find the current trend in the LDS Church of emphasis on obedience over an individual ability to understand and discern between right and wrong disturbing. Stories like the one of Abraham and Isaac are referenced to legitimize the idea that we can’t always understand God, but that we should go ahead and obey seemingly harmful or immoral commands anyway. My heart and connection with God (and the story of the pre-existence that details Christ and Satans opposing proposed plans of salvation) indicates to me that God values our ability to discern right from wrong far more than he values our ability to simply do what we’re told. A good parent does not keep his children dependent on him, but teaches them to be good stewards over themselves.

  24. “I actually find the current trend in the LDS Church of emphasis on obedience over an individual ability to understand and discern between right and wrong disturbing.”

    Amen. Personal revelation is such a beautiful doctrine. Unfortunately, I usually don’t hear of it taken seriously. Personal revelation is usually spoken of in terms of personal “confirmation”. If you’re not getting a confirmation that the church is true or that current teachings are true, the message I usually receive is, “well, you’re just not trying hard enough or your not reading your scriptures enough” etc. etc. If we are suppose to just follow blindly, what is the point of personal revelation?

    Sorry for the tangent. This issue drives me crazy.

  25. Brenda Gonzalez says:

    I grew up abroad, happily shielded of all these facts. Learned about them a couple of years ago. I’m close to 50 now and felt terribly disappointed. The worst part is feeling guilty because I went on a mission an misled a bunch of good folks. Glad to see there’s brave people around tackling the issue.

  26. James Taylor says:

    The question everyone should be asking is why GOD’s church, led by men who are supposed to have GODLY revelation in terms of how much and what information is disclosed/taught to members, are opting NOT to teach this stuff to adults? Why do people have to find out by “anti-mormon” websites. I can fully understand the feelings of betrayal – if I were, for example, to find out my wife had cheated on me a few years ago, but hadn’t told me, I would be deeply disappointed/upset/anger when I found out.

    I am considering not bringing my children up in church for the reason that I do not want them t0 be taught anything that doesn’t resemble the whole truth. I don’t want to have to be the one who takes my children aside and say “hey sweety, all that stuff you’ve been taught for years, well actually there’s a little more to it than that…..”. I have confidence in raising my children with morals and values without having to subject them to part truths and lies. And I pray that you may have the strength and courage to do the same.

    • Annie B. says:

      “I have confidence in raising my children with morals and values without having to subject them to part truths and lies.”

      That is the direction I’m leaning in right now, but my husband is still an active member. I feel I can do more good, and better support him and our daughters, if I maintain a respect for the LDS church, for the parts of it that I do agree with, and for the rest of my family and their LDS traditions. For all the ideas in the LDS church or its culture that I disagree with, I feel I could have been a lot worse off being raised in another set of religious ideals or lack thereof. And I can’t deny that it has given me some positive things too.

  27. Anabelle says:

    I agree that Joseph Smith had some disturbing courting habits – far more disturbing than the example given here. However, to my knowledge he never married Mercy Thompson. Mercy Rachel Fielding Thompson married (sealed to) Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother in 1943 for time. I think she was the sister of Mary Fielding Smith. So… Joseph may have been wooing Mercy for his brother, but not for himself.

  28. me says:

    Is this discussion closed?

  29. Gillian says:

    I may be a little late for this discussion? but I just wanted to add that for anyone, whether it be our kids or ourselves, researching historical information about the church through reputable sources is vitally important. The internet has a lot of unfounded, third +++ hand, twisted information that can do a lot of damage.

    • Annie B. says:

      I totally agree. After doing a lot of reading and researching I did find that what I had learned growing up was true, that there are a lot of bitter people out there who just want to sensationalize and tear down the LDS church. But I was also disturbed to find that there were lots and lots of genuine sources, letters and journals kept by people who remained faithful to the LDS church throughout their lives, and even some older church sanctioned, but presently rarely mentioned, materials including the Journal of Discourses and D&C 132 that all unwittingly tell the same story…that Joseph Smith used coercion to secure brides, some of them teenagers, and some of them already married to faithful LDS men, that he kept some of those brides a secret from Emma and that men were instructed to take wives even if their first wife did not consent, and that any man who wouldn’t take plural wives out of respect for his first wife and her wishes, should be shamed and shunned. I think twisting things positively as the LDS church has done in some cases is just as dishonest and wrong as twisting them negatively.

  30. Nate C. says:

    Tough question. I struggle with this too, but kids are younger so no decisions yet.

    I am reading “In Sacred Loneliness” right now. The book has been accepted both by BYU and general academia as historically accurate. I would recommend reading at least the prolog before talking to children.

    The age ranges of Joseph’s wives is one area where we don’t know the right answer. The youngest was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old. The other two teenage wives were between 16 and 19. It only helps a little, but for some reason it was comforting to me to learn that the youngest might not have been just 14 years old.

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