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Mormon Credentials

Lest anyone doubt my Mormon credentials, I present a photograph of some of my polygamous ancestors.

Unless I am mistaken, I am descended from the young, sturdy-looking wife who is standing in the back. Sometimes I think having a second (even) younger wife could be handy.

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Where Are Joseph’s Children?

If Joseph Smith had dozens of acknowledged wives and yet no children except with his first wife, it’s natural to ask why.

One possible explanation is that Joseph Smith didn’t have sex with his plural wives. According to sworn testimony of some of his wives, this is not the case.

Another explanation is that Smith did in fact have such children that aren’t publicly acknowledged because the children go by other names (e.g. by the name of the mother’s other polyandrous husband). This seems to be the case. (ibid)

Yet another explanation for the relative scarcity of children is that abortion was practiced in Nauvoo (though the impartiality of the witnesses for this is doubtful).

I honestly don’t have any firm conclusions about what went on between Smith and his women. It’s nigh on impossible to know. Of one thing I am confident: the history of Joseph Smith is not as clear and pure as LDS sunday school lessons would have us believe. While it is possible that Joseph Smith was above reproach, the evidence seems to me to weigh more heavily in the other direction. I tend to believe that Smith simply fits the oft repeated archetype of cult leader taking sexual liberties with his followers.[1] [2] [3] It is certainly the simpler explanation when compared with angelic visitors and divine commandments to wed other men’s wives.

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The Wives of Joseph Smith

TAG recently sent me a link to The Wives of Joseph Smith which contains a short biography on most if not all of Joseph Smith’s wives. (Thanks, TAG.) It seems well researched and reputable. The most interesting to me are the stories about his wives who were still married to living men at the time of their marriage, like the story of Zina Huntington Jacobs who was the polyandrous wife of three men: Henry Jacobs, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young.

In 1839, the Huntington family arrived in Nauvoo, along with daughter, Zina. Within months, Zina’s Mother died from the malaria epidemic which claimed the lives of many of the early Nauvoo settlers. About this same time, Zina met and was courted by Henry B. Jacobs, a handsome and talented musician. Sometime during Henry’s courtship of Zina, Joseph Smith explained to Zina the “principle of plural marriage” and asked her to become one of his wives. Zina remembers the conflict she felt about Joseph’s proposal, and her budding relationship with Henry: “O dear Heaven, grant me wisdom! Help me to know the way. O Lord, my god, let thy will be done and with thine arm around about to guide, shield and direct …” Zina declined Joseph’s proposal and chose to marry Henry. They were married on March 7, 1841.

Zina later wrote, that within months of her marriage to Henry, “[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’”. Joseph further explained that, “the Lord had made it known to him she was to be his celestial wife.”

Zina chose to obey this commandment and married Joseph on October 27. She later recalled, “When I heard that God had revealed the law of celestial marriag … I obtained a testimony for myself that God had required that order to be established in this church … I made a greater sacrifise than to give my life for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honerable woman by those I dearly loved …”. Zina continued, “It was something too sacred to be talked about; it was more to me than life or death. I never breathed it for years”.

Zina’s first husband, Henry, was aware of this wedding and they continued to live in the same home. He believed that “whatever the Prophet did was right, without making the wisdom of God’s authorities bend to the reasoning of any man.” Over the next few years, Henry was sent on several missions to Chicago, Western New York and Tennessee. Henry missed his family and wrote home often. One of Henry’s missionary companions, John D. Lee, said, “Jacobs was bragging about his wife and two children, what a true, virtuous, lovely woman she was. He almost worshiped her …”.

Shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Zina married Brigham Young. In May of 1846, Henry was sent on a mission to England. In Henry’s absence, Zina began to live openly as Brigham’s wife and remained so throughout her life in Utah. Henry seemed to struggle with this arrangement and later wrote to Zina, “… the same affection is there … But I feel alone … I do not Blame Eny person … may the Lord our Father bless Brother Brigham … all is right according to the Law of the Celestial Kingdom of our God Joseph.”

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The Downfall of Civilization

In furtherance of my note about the irony of LDS church members seeking to restrict same-sex marriage, I offer some quotes about what early church leaders thought was the downfall of civilization:

This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans,…

It is a fact worthy of note that the shortest lived nations of which we have record have been monogamic. Rome … 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, Vol. 13, pp. 195, 202

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 Christendom, and which had 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, Vol. 11, p. 128

… the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.—Prophet John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227

We breathe the free air, we have the best looking men and handsomest women, and if they [non-Mormons] envy us our position, well they may, for they are a poor, narrow-minded, pinch-backed race of men, who chain themselves down to the law of monogamy, and live all their days under the dominion of one wife. They ought to be ashamed of such conduct, and the still fouler channel which flows from their practices; and it is not to be wondered at that they should envy those who so much better understand the social relations.—Apostle George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, page 291

I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors his word. Some of you may not believe this, but I not only believe it but I also know it. For a man of God to be confined to one woman is small business. I do not know what we would do if we had only one wife apiece.—Apostle Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses Vol 5, page 22

Just ask yourselves, historians, when was monogamy introduced on to the face of the earth? When those buccaneers, who settled on the peninsula where Rome now stands, could not steal women enough to have two or three apiece, they passed a law that a man should have but one woman. And this started monogamy and the downfall of the plurality system. In the days of Jesus, Rome, having dominion over Jerusalem, they carried out the doctrine more or less. This was the rise, start and foundation of the doctrine of monogamy; and never till then was there a law passed, that we have any knowledge of, that a man should have but one wife.—Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 12, page 262

Thus we see that according to the prophets and apostles of the church founded by Joseph Smith we should lobby for a constitutional amendment which mandates that all capable men take more than one wife. Our civilization is at stake.

(Thanks to Talking to God for the inspiration.)

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Change Blindness

The Situationist excerpted an article about change blindness and included this related video.

Were you taken in, even though you knew it was about change blindness? I don’t think this shows that we are deficient because we failed to notice what should have been obvious. As the article suggests, it would be dysfunctional to be aware of everything around us at that level of detail. Conscious thought is a limited resource because our brains are limited in size thanks in part to the limited size of women’s hips (I am sure mothers thank the stars that babies’ heads aren’t any larger). We just don’t have enough brain to take in more information.

Predictably, I thought about this in relation to Mormonism. The doctrines of Mormonism have changed radically over the course of its short history, yet people still insist that the Gospel according to Mormonism is eternal. Even in my own lifetime, doctrines have changed enough that I have noticed some changes.

Some may dismiss these as changes in Mormon folk doctrine, but that’s really all Mormon doctrine is. It lacks a defining written or oral creed, so everything is folk doctrine. That’s beside the point.

I’m talking about how unaware I was of these changes. I thought the changes in doctrine were minor and inconsequential. I absorbed this attitude from the people around me who all seemed to believe that the Gospel was unchanging. Why this belief despite ample evidence to the contrary?

The answer is complex, to be sure. Perhaps human change blindness can help explain some of it. If changes in doctrine are made quietly and slowly enough, it is quite easy to forget that we used to believe differently just a few years ago.

For example, I’ve recently learned that the LDS church has begun sealing women to more than one husband though not at the same time. Let me explain for anyone unfamiliar with the niceties of Mormon practice. A sealing is a marriage for “time and all eternity”, an eternal marriage. If a person’s eternal spouse dies, Mormonism considers them to still be married. So you can’t get sealed to another spouse after your first spouse dies because you’re still married to someone else.

Except that this is Mormonism and polygyny is okay. Men have long been allowed to be sealed to another woman as long as all previously sealed wives have died. Polyandry, on the other hand, isn’t kosher in the LDS church (even though Joseph Smith apparently practiced it), so women have only been allowed to be sealed to one husband ever. Make sense?

Anyway, that’s recently changed. As I mentioned, women are now allowed to be sealed to another man after their spouse dies. This may seem to some to be a small policy change, but this policy was based on the doctrine that polygyny was ordained of God while polyandry was not. I’m sure the rationale is that God will sort out in the world to come which (one) man the women will be sealed to forever.

I can’t help but speculate, however, that this represents another example of how Mormon doctrine changes over time without anyone suspecting it. Maybe a few years down the road Mormons will believe that God will also sort out which one woman a man will be sealed to, that polygamy was just a practical expedient here on earth to raise up Mormon seed to God, and that all polygamous sealings will be dissolved in eternity. That’s a long way from teaching that polygamy would be required of everyone who wanted to inherit the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

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