Chat with a Mormon Missionary: Part 1: Polygamy

I got the following from blog corrospondent Kyle, who had an interesting chat with “Dan” at  Kyle was trying to get Dan to see the problems with church teachings.

For clarity, and to punish Kyle for being so mean as to actually try to make a mormon think about his beliefs, I’m coloring Kyle’s text red.

Kyle is my ‘theist’ corrospondent.

-Chat Begins-


Hello how can I help you today?

Hi Dan, where are you from?


I am from Washington State

Me too.

I’m in Kent.

Oh I am from Spokane

oh, I see.

Yeah I love Washington.

Did you have a question I could help you out with today

So uh, I was wondering, based on a article I read this week… mormons were saying that They don’t practice polygamy anymore. Is that because polygamy is against church teachings?

Yes polygamy is against the churches teachings.

It is been outlawed for a very long time now

So would it be considered a sin to practice polygamy, in the mormon church?

Yes and a very serious one. Anyone that practices polygamy is immediately removed from the church records and is no longer a member

So, if polygamy is bad, and a sin, even… why did the first leaders of the church practice it?

You know I don’t know exactly why they did. I know that back then the Lord deemed it necessary at that time to practice it. Today that need has passed and the Lord has outlawed such practices

Hold on… are you saying that God deemed it necessary for his people to sin?

No I am saying that throughout history God has instituted Polygamy to his people. Such is the cas in the days of Abraham and David and other Prophets. However, it is only at certain times. When the church first started the Lord allowed it but the Lord has

since indtructed us to stop the practice

But you said that polygamy was a sin. I don’t believe that God would ever instruct his people to sin. I’m sorry, that’s just my belief.

And that is okay. I am not say that the Lord is telling his people to sin. I am trying to say that at certain points in the history of the World God has instructed his people to participate in Polygamy and other times he has not

But you said that polygamy is a sin, so you are saying that sometimes God instructs his people to sin.

Did he instruct Abraham to sin when he had multiple wives. No but then later he stopped the practice

Well, if polygamy is a sin, then I guess that’s another problem. But I wasn’t really asking about the problems in the bible. It just seems to me that mormon teachings are quite contradictory when it comes to polygamy.

Well this is what I know. That the Lord teaches us through prophets. And I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and at a certain time God instructed him to allow Polygamy.

So God instructed him to sin? (we’ve already established that you believe polygamy is a sin)

Later God instructed the new prophet after Joseph Smith that Polygamy should no longer be practiced

Let me see… according to what I’m reading, the next 3 or 4 prophets also practiced the sinful act of polygamy.

Sir I don’t understand your purpose in coming here. Are you just trying to prove that my church is wrong. If you want to know what we believe in Polygamy then I will tell you that we no longer practice polygamy. We haven’t for a long time

Prove it is wrong? I’m just trying to figure out why mormons now say polygamy is sinful, but then say it was not sinful before…. almost like you believe in a changing god.

Well, I’m sorry, I guess you never said it wasn’t sinful before. You seem to be saying that God sometimes orders people to do sinful things… is that what I would expect to see if I joined the mormon church?

No you would see that we are led by a loving heavenly Father that looks after us through Prophets that reveal the truth to us.

How can I be sure that they won’t ask me to do sinful things, since they have done so, in your church, in the past?

Well if they ever ask you to do something and you question it. I know through prayer you can know the truth and that the Lord will reveal to you what you should do

So if the prophet asks me to do something that God says in scripture is sinful, I should ask God if he is authorizing the sin?

The prophet would never ask you to do such a thing but the Lord will tell you what you should do. The scriptures tell us that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. But also know that we can ask God what we should do and he will tell us

How can you say that the prophet would never ask me to sin, when in mormon history prophets have asked people to sin?

Because I have personally followed the Prophets counsel today and never been led astray and I have felt the Lord’s guidance in my life continually

So because the prophet has never asked you to sin he will never ask me to sin? Is that what you are saying?

-chat abruptly cut off-

Poor Dan. Oh well, hopefully I gave him some stuff to think about.


Tags: , , , , ,

66 Responses to “Chat with a Mormon Missionary: Part 1: Polygamy”

  1. Bryan Hinton Says:

    This whole conversation was pointless. It yielded little, but silly debate (and was also a complete setup). To answer Kyle’s question it is a sin to practice polygamy today in the Mormon Church. Sin is disobedience to the commandments of God. Prior to what is known as the Manifesto (the revelation that ceased the practice of polygamy in the Mormon Church) God allowed for the practice of polygamy in the 1830s-1890s. The use of polygamy at certain times in the history of the world is of course found in the Bible as well.

    The scriptures are filled with examples of the Lord revealing his will to his servants the Prophets. Sometimes that revelation established permanent changes in His will to His people and others they were temporary to fulfill God’s purposes. It all comes down to whether or not people believe that the revelation from God that came to ancient prophets comes to prophets today. I do (and Elder Dan did as well as his testimony indicated).

    My question for you is do you believe in prophets and revelation as in biblical times? If not then are you saying you believe in a changing God?

  2. measure76 Says:

    So you believe that God would command his people to sin?

    I can’t answer for Kyle, but I think he is in favor of an unchanging God.

  3. Seth R. Says:


    Would it surprise you to hear that I share the frustration here?

    If they aren’t going to equip these young men to address these issues coherently, they shouldn’t be letting them loose on the internet.

    The answer is, of course, polygamy is NOT inherently sinful. The only reason it is not practiced now is because God has declared it should not be. Practicing polygamy would be a transgression of a declared law of the Church. But it would not be inherently sinful, in and of itself.

    In and of itself, polygamy is actually a rather lovely idea (in certain respects – in others… not so much). I see nothing wrong with it IN THEORY. If God chooses to authorize it, fine by me. If he chooses to curtail it, fine by me too.

    And the missionary also misses the fact that the modern LDS Church does still practice polygamy. It happens all the time posthumously. If a guy had two wives over the course of his life (first one who died, then a second marriage) we seal him to BOTH. Same thing for deceased women. And if a living Mormon loses one wife to illness or something and then remarries, he can marry the second in the temple and the first sealing is not annulled.

    It’s still alive and kicking theologically, even if it isn’t openly practiced.

    If they aren’t going to clue in the green missionaries manning the phone banks to these realities, then they should at least teach them how to hand the line over when they are in over their head.

  4. measure76 Says:

    Seth R… I mostly agree with you…. except for there being good parts of polygamy. But I’ll digress on that for now.

    Anyway, I just wanted to mention that I am technically a mormon polygamist, as I have been sealed to two living women, and neither has cancelled the sealing.

    I was sealed, divorced, and sealed again, still sealed to my current wife and my ex-wife.

  5. karen Says:

    Hi I find when I read the doctrine,and other publishments by the prophets of the past.

    Imho we stopped the practice, it was because utah wanted to be a part of the united states. we could not join until the prophet stopped polygny. I have read 132 many times and I have knelt and prayed to my heavenly father to ask if we should still be practicing I was amazed.
    My prayer was answered so fast and we are supose to be polygamist.

    There are so few worthy young men in our faith. I have had conversations with the bishop in my ward who would practice polygny.
    They have worthy daughters who would be open to this life style.

    I ask the Missionary to pray and fast for the truth. I can tell you I knew without a doubt it is what our never changing god has orderd.
    our god is the same yesterday today and tomarrow. I beleive We were forced by the us government to stop.

    I am a mother of four temple worthy member and if my bishop were to ask us to take on a sisterwife I would welcome her with all the love I have for my sister,childeren,or my husband.

    I do not understand our society it is ok for men to make babies with as many as they want.

    Have mistresses,

    I want to practice polygyny.

    D&C132: 3 & 4 says it all for me I will be damned if I do not abide.I have read this part so many times.I don’t want to be damned.
    I live the words of wisdom as I am required. I want to obey all of gods requirements not just pick and choose. We live in a free country. It is time to for us as latter day saints to stand tall and live the everlasting covenants.

    How can our lord chnge his mind?


  6. Seth R. Says:

    I’m not entirely sure measure, but I think karen is actually an ex Mormon trying to be funny.

    • measure76 Says:

      Yeah, either exmo or severely deluded. I think I heard once that it is difficult to tell the difference between fanaticism and parody.

  7. Seth R. Says:

    I’ll have to remember that one.

  8. karen Says:

    Do you remember the law put the prophet in jail? and rounded them up like cattle?no not ex-mormon did you pray with an open heart?are you ready for the answer.i don’t understand. we are tUGHT THAT GOD IS THE SAME YESTERDAY TODAY AND TOMARROW. We were and are a threat and were a threat. read your church history.

    how many wives did Young have? Joseph? how many are we taught?why do we hide them from our sunday lessons? there is no secret here read church history.

    John Taylor did not have revelation to stop polygyny. he stopped only when utah wanted to be a state.and not go yo jail again!

    Do some history and pray.

    • measure76 Says:

      Joseph Smith Jailed? Yes, I am aware of this.

      You again seem to be taking the position that the will of the almighty God can be thwarted by earthly authorities and their pagan laws?

  9. karen Says:

    Yes!! try thinking of crossing our government.

    Did you understand more than joseph was jailed John Taylor and many more. For living the everlasting covenant.

    Rumors of plural marriage among the members of the Church in the 1830s and 1840s led to persecution, and the public announcement of the practice after August 29, 1852, in Utah gave enemies a potent weapon to fan public hostility against the Church. Although Latter-day Saints believed that their religiously-based practice of plural marriage was protected by the U.S. Constitution, opponents used it to delay Utah statehood until 1896. Ever harsher antipolygamy legislation stripped Latter-day Saints of their rights as citizens, disincorporated the Church, and permitted the seizure of Church property before the manifesto of 1890 announced the discontinuance of the practice.

    In 1843, one year before his death, the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated a lengthy revelation on the doctrine of marriage for eternity (D&C 132; see Marriage: Eternal Marriage). This revelation also taught that under certain conditions a man might be authorized to have more than one wife. Though the revelation was first committed to writing on July 12, 1843, considerable evidence suggests that the principle of plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith more than a decade before in connection with his study of the Bible (see Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible), probably in early 1831. Passages indicating that revered Patriarchs and prophets of old were polygamists raised questions that prompted the Prophet to inquire of the Lord about marriage in general and about plurality of wives in particular. He then learned that when the Lord commanded it, as he had with the Patriarchs anciently, a man could have more than one living wife at a time and not be condemned for adultery. He also understood that the Church would one day be required to live the law (D&C 132:1-4, 28-40).

    Earlier polygamous families continued to exist well into the twentieth century, causing further political problems for the Church, and new plural marriages did not entirely cease in 1890. After having lived the principle at some sacrifice for half a century, many devout Latter-day Saints found ending plural marriage a challenge almost as complex as was its beginning in the 1840s. Some new plural marriages were contracted in the 1890s in LDS settlements in Canada and northern Mexico, and a few elsewhere. With national attention again focused on the practice in the early 1900s during the House hearings on Representative-elect B. H. Roberts and Senate hearings on Senator-elect Reed Smoot (see Smoot Hearings), President Joseph F. Smith issued his “Second Manifesto” in 1904. Since that time, it has been uniform Church policy to excommunicate any member either practicing or openly advocating the practice of polygamy. Those who do so today, principally members of fundamentalist groups, do so outside the Church.


    • measure76 Says:

      Well, Karen, if that’s your position, then I just have to say… You’ve got a pretty weak God.

      If I worshipped a God, it would be one whose purposes could not be affected by the laws of man.

      But then, I worship and respect no God, and even go so far as to say I believe there is no God. But that’s just me.

  10. Seth R. Says:

    I prefer a God who is willing to adapt his earthly programs to the weaknesses and needs of his children.

    • measure76 Says:

      Yes. I’m with you, but If God can’t get past earthly governments to meet those weaknesses and needs, what the hell good is he?

  11. andrew Says:

    why do you people call yourselfs christians? Everything that you do is completely against the bible? oh, that’s right you’re a cult because you don’t use the bible. please, i want to know you’re story though. I’ll be praying to the true GOD, the true lord, the true Jesus that wasn’t born from God having physical relations with the virgin mary!!!

  12. andrew Says:

    please if you as mormons love god you would read his true book, the bible. but you all have been decided to read the BOM, which by the way was just ancient eygptian burial rights. John Smith, or whoever supposedly wrote that crap was under the control of Satan. and why are mormons not allowed to drink coffee or tea, that is obsured. Jesus loves all mormons, atheist, muslims, buddist, hindus’, and ect.

    • measure76 Says:

      andrew, I am an avowed atheist, but I make the same offer to you as I do all believers, and I’ll make it a bit more clear this time:

      I swear unto you that I will accept your God as my own if you can do two things:

      1-produce a piece of unassailable evidence that proves your God of choice exists

      2-Show how that evidence argues in favor of your God versus Zeus. If your God IS Zeus, show how your evidence argues in favor of Zeus versus the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      Thank you!

      • eagertolearn Says:

        Ha, I read a comment mentioning the flying spaghetti monster, had to do with another unusual practice : baptizing the dead – Was that you ? I thought it was funny, refreshing really ! (my -limited- experience with mormonism is that you enter a no-fun zone ) so…thanks for your comments !

        • measure76 Says:

          I did not invent the Flying Spaghetti Monster, nor did I invent the Invisible Pink Unicorn. (what? Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!)

          Just standard atheist themes that I use from time to time.

  13. Seth R. Says:

    For the record, I would never drink obscured tea.

    I’d always want it in plain sight.

  14. Jill Says:

    God has never condoned polygamy. Even in the Old Testament. Re Read the scriptures again. A scripture of God commanding polygamy will not be found anywhere in the O.T. Neither in the N.T. Only in D&C 132 which Joseph Smith made up because he was involved in several adulterous affairs, married to other married women, and many women besides Emma, who did not believe in polygamy, so Joseph made up this revelation to pursuade Emma.

  15. Jill Says:

    Mormons today are not familiar with the true history of the church. This history has been altered and changed. In the first vision, Joseph Smith saw One being. Jesus Christ. This account written by Joseph Smith himself is the only account written in his own handwriting. All other accounts have been embelleshed. No polygamy! Blacks as well as women held the priesthood. Jesus Christ is God the Father. One and the same person. The LDS church is the Great and Abominable church needing to be cleansed. Mormons are blind obedient sheep. The Book of Mormon was altered at the second printing 1837. The original 1830 BoM is true and needs to be the main source of study for the church. The BoM testifies of ” the other sheep” Jesus speaks of in the N.T. in John.

  16. Seth R. Says:

    God didn’t disapprove of polygamy in the Bible either.

  17. freethinker Says:

    Dan proved he was blessed with patience and was rational thinking in the face of one who was just trying to get his temper up. He stated that the church does not practice Polygamy today and that currently it is a sin to do so. However he rightly pointed out that in the centuries past God has for his reason allowed and encouraged it. The practice of Polygamy is only a sin when God says it is, not when Kyle says it is. None are so blind as those who refuse to see and Kyle is truly a blind man. BTW I am not a Mormon and as a Deist I am not a part of any organizes religion, but I do not have the patience of Dan to suffer fools.

  18. Jill Says:

    Everyone on this subject of polygamy needs to re read their scriptures. Read the account of Abraham taking Hagar to wife, and see if the scripture says anywhere that God commanded or okayed it. He did not. Abraham and Sarah didn’t have the faith that Abraham would indeed have a posterity. So Sarah gave Abraham Hagar for a wife. God did not condone this. Because of free agency, He allowed it. God does not interfere with agency. Joseph Smith invented the polygamy revelation because he was involved in several adulterous affairs. His first was with Fanny Alger in 1833. Oliver Cowdry called this a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair. Source Mormon Heirarchy, Origins of Power by D. Michael Quinn. Joseph and Emma Smith burned the revelation on polygamy in June 1844 just a few days before Joseph was killed. God has never condoned polygamy either anciently, or now.

  19. Seth R. Says:

    I think the main message of the Bible is that God isn’t too fussed about the form of marriage as long as people are treating each other well.

    As for polygamy.

    What’s wrong with it?

    Name me one single evil attributed to polygamy that isn’t also a problem with monogamy.

    • measure76 Says:

      Nothing wrong with polygamy, as long as it is between consenting adults, and legal.

      Now Seth, with the mormons, you had polygamy between adults and children, and polygamy between Joseph Smith and women who were still married to other husbands.

      In open court, these women testified that the relationships were physical.

      So with Joseph you had polyandry and polygamy, both of which were illegal in every state mormons practiced it in, and federally illegal by the time the mormons got to Utah.

  20. Seth R. Says:

    Can you tell me one evil from polygamy that hasn’t been equally a problem with monogamy?

  21. Measure76 Says:

    As I just said, “Nothing wrong with polygamy, as long as it is between consenting adults, and legal.”

    The problem with mormon polygamy is that it was often not between consenting adults, and was always illegal.

  22. Seth R. Says:

    Whereas monogamy in that time period was often not between consenting adults, and usually legal.

    • Measure76 Says:

      This is not correct. Marriage of that era was typically between consenting adults, which is one of the reasons that polygamy offended so many at the time, and was one of the driving reasons for Joseph Smith’s murder.

  23. Seth R. Says:

    My experience in studying 19th century history is that what was “legal” is a pretty crappy indicator for whether something was good or not.

    • Measure76 Says:

      Ah, here we get to it. Even though mormon scriptures state mormons are supposed to ‘obey the law of the land’ and ‘be subject to secular leaders’, as soon as it is exposed that polygamy was illegal, mormons throw out the laws like they mean nothing.

  24. Seth R. Says:

    Do you think it would have been appropriate for a 1930s Mormon in Germany to hide Jews from the Nazis?

    And no, forced marriages and underage marriages were just as common among American monogamists as they were among Mormon polygamists in the 1800s.

    • measure76 Says:

      Forced underage monogomous marriages being common in the 1800s? Totally untrue. Please provide a (non-mormon) source to show me I am wrong.

      I think it would be appropriate for ANY person to hide jews from Nazi’s. Unfortunately the mormon church thought different, giving more power to the “obey the law of the land” scripture at that point:,9171,830616,00.html

      Helmut Huebener opposed the nazi government, was excommunicated by the mormon church for his opposition to his secular leaders, and then executed by his own government.

      Of course the embarrassed church later “undid” the excommunication after his death.

      Thanks for bringing that up.

  25. Seth R. Says:

    And I seriously doubt anyone who stormed Carthage and shot at Joseph Smith gave a crap about the age of the brides or the matter of consent. The only thing they were pissed off about, is that he had more than one of them.

    • measure76 Says:

      Really? Have you read what was in the expositor?

      Also, if you research a bit about why Joseph was killed, you would see that it is more about Joseph’s reaction to the expositor than what was actually written in it.

      The illegal underage polygamy was a driving factor, but not the main factor, that got Joseph killed.

  26. Seth R. Says:

    Exactly, the LDS Church in your eyes, is apparently “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

    So let’s be clear here – do you equate legality with morality?

    And I didn’t say underage marriage was “common” in 180ss America.

    I said it was just as common as among 1800s polygamists.

    All clear now?

  27. Seth R. Says:

    And I’m already familiar with Huebener’s story. I was thinking of it when I brought the example up.

    • measure76 Says:

      Still, thanks for giving me the chance to present it, showing that even when the mormon church gets things right, it gets them right the wrong way.

      Some God.

  28. Seth R. Says:

    You keep making these logical leaps.

    What does God logically have to do with it?

    • measure76 Says:

      Great question! What DOES God have to do with the mormon church? Since there is no God, nothing at all, which all the examples above show.

  29. Jill Says:

    I am a Mormon. And the Mormon church is full of corruption. Everyone knows this but the Mormons themselves. The original unaltered 1830 BoM is true. If doctrine being taught is not contained in the BoM then it is not true and should not be in the church today. Joseph Smith got involved in many things he was not supposed to get into. namely, polygamy,and masonry. He was repenting before he was killed. The other masonic leaders of the church wanted to continue the polygamy etc. They arranged with Gov. of Illinois to have Joseph murdered in the Carthage jail. Joseph ignored the warnings of God to flee Illinois and turned himself in to the authorities. If he had listened to God and fled, the LDS church would not be in the mess it is today. However, all the truth is coming out. Joseph Smith did not translate the Book of Abraham. He had adulterous affairs, made up the temple endowment from masonic rituals. Yeh, he was in deep doo doo.

    • measure76 Says:

      Jill, I am interested in your contention that Joseph was “repenting” of polygamy and masonry.

      What sources do you use to support this?

      As the primary reason for Joseph’s murder is that he himself ordered the destruction of a printing press, how is it that him ending up in jail for his illegal acts was the result of a conspiracy?

      (joseph was in jail for his illegal destruction of the press, not for his illegal polygamy, at the time)

  30. Jill Says:

    Most of my sources come from the Books by D. Michael Quinn. An award winning historian. Mr. Quinn was allowed free access to the LDS church archives. This had never been allowed before. He was a history professor at BYU. After his extensive research in the archives, he wrote two books. The Mormon Heirarchy, Origins of Power, Then Mormon Heirarhcy Extensions of power. These books both prove how church history has been altered, and they both prove how the leaders of the church became corrupt, how blacks as well as women were given the priesthood, that polygamy was all Joseph Smiths idea, that Joseph and Emma burned the revelation on polygamy. Of course after writing these books, Quinn was excommunicated. And the archives were closed to the public.
    And yes Joseph Smith was incarcerated for destroying the press. This destruction was against the law. Smith destroying the press gave his enemies just the tool they needed to toss him in jail legally. The Expositor exposed all of Joseph Smiths plans to be the King and Ruler of the world, as well as his polygamous relationships, which Joseph lied about at the time. Joseph had the press destroyed because he did not want to be exposed. But once they got him in jail, they could murder him and keep him from undoing all of the things he had done wrong. The very things the other masonic leaders, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards wanted to keep instilled in the church. Who became the first presidency after Joseph Smith was murdered? Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards. All 33rd degree masons. How is it that Willard Richards was in the jail cell at the time of the murder and he was not even hurt?

  31. Jill Says:

    I bought both books. I got them off of They are both huge books, but the interesting thing is that about half of each book is the information. The other half is all of Mr. Quinn’s sources. Very damaging to the church. Very good and wonderful information for people seeking the true history of the church. These books may be in libraries. I wanted a copy of each one. So for all of you LDS people, still under the mind control and brain washing of the LDS church, I urge you to get a copy of these books and free yourselves! Dare to discover what your LDS leaders won’t tell you.

  32. Seth R. Says:

    Since we keep hopping around here, let’s get the conversation focused.

    We have to address four questions:

    1. What were the ages of Joseph’s wives?
    2. Did Joseph have sexual intercourse with these women? If not, then the issue of statutory rape is moot. If so, we have not proven statutory rape, but can move on to the next question.
    3. What were the statutory rape laws of the time, and did Joseph violate them?
    4. If Joseph was not guilty of statutory rape, did he nevertheless violate common norms of conscience or society?

    I dug up a bunch of stuff and did some cut-and-pasting, since it’s difficult to keep all this info in my own head.

    First, the ages of the brides (in order of marriage):

    Emma Hale (22)
    Fanny Alger (16)
    Lucinda Morgan Harris (37)
    Louisa Beaman (26)
    Zina Huntington Jacobs (20)
    Presendia Huntington Buell (31)
    Agnes Coolbrith (33)
    Sylvia Sessions Lyon (23)
    Mary Rollins Lightner (23)
    Patty Bartlett Sessions (47)
    Marinda Johnson Hyde (27)
    Elizabeth Davis Durfee (50)
    Sarah Kingsley Cleveland (53)
    Delcena Johnson (37)
    Eliza R. Snow (38)
    Sarah Ann Whitney (17)
    Martha McBride Knight (37)
    Ruth Vose Sayers (33)
    Flora Ann Woodworth (16)
    Emily Dow Partridge (19)
    Eliza Maria Partridge (22)
    Almera Johnson (30)
    Lucy Walker (17)
    Sarah Lawrence (17)
    Maria Lawrence (19)
    Helen Mar Kimball (14) (possibly 15 according to recent research I read)
    Hanna Ells (29)
    Elvira Cowles Holmes (29)
    Rhoda Richards (58)
    Desdemona Fullmer (32)
    Olive Frost (27)
    Melissa Lott (19)
    Nancy Winchester (14)
    Fanny Young (56)

    It should be noted that this list may have a couple more wives than Joseph actually had. The historical evidence for marriages to two or three of them is somewhat sketchy.

    Either way, it puts about a third of Joseph’s wives under 20 years of age.

    This wouldn’t have been unusual in Joseph’s own localized societal context. A sample of 201 Nauvoo-era civil marriages found that 33.3% were under twenty, with one bride as young as twelve. Another sample of 127 Kirtland marriages found that nearly half (49.6%) were under twenty. And, a computer-aided study of LDS marriages found that from 1835–1845, 42.3% of women were married before age twenty. The only surprising thing about Joseph’s one third is that more of his marriage partners were not younger. (M. Skolnick, L. Bean, D. May, V. Arbon, K. De Nevers and P. Cartwright, “Mormon Demographic History I. Nuptiality and Fertility of Once-Married Couples,” Populations Studies 32 (1978): 14, table 3.)

    But how does this stack up to percentages in the rest of the US?

    Par for the course, as it turns out. A 1% sample from the 1850 U.S. census found 989 men and 962 who had been married in the last year. Teens made up 36.0% of married women, and only 2.3% of men; the average age of marriage was 22.5 for women and 27.8 for men. [7] Even when the men in Joseph’s age range (34–38 years) in the U.S. Census are extracted, Joseph still has a lower percentage of younger wives and more older wives than non-members half a decade later. (Data from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007.)

    Next, did Joseph have sex with them?

    Fact is, there is almost no data on this subject (other than Emma Hale, of course). So I guess you can imply whatever you want. Todd Compton was misquoted by anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner as having said that Joseph having sex with the 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball was a possibility. Compton later objected to being quoted in this manner and stated that the bulk of the available evidence points to a “dynastic marriage.”

    A dynastic marriage is one that is done for concerns other than love (and sex). Joseph often couched his marriage proposals in unromantic language that spoke of heavenly rewards, and the need to seal righteous people to each other. The writings of the families of the women seems to bear this out. They spoke of the benefits of having their own families united with righteous men.

    Probably not exactly a romantic notion, by today’s standards. But it does raise the possibility that some of Joseph’s marriages were motivated by something other than love (or lust) and there may not have been sex involved in many of them.

    In fact, it seems unlikely to me that Joseph consummated all his marriages. Even the most irresponsible and lusty womanizer doesn’t go through THAT many women in the time period Joseph had. It seems there was more to the marriages than sex, and sex may not have even been a factor (although I think it likely that at least some were consummated, and I remain open to the idea that most were).

    On the historical evidence – Todd Compton’s treatment is somewhat confused, but he clarifies his stance and writes that “[a]ll the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage.” Other historians have also concluded that Helen’s marriage to Joseph was unconsummated. (See Stanley B. Kimball, “Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years,” Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465; see also Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, “The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith),” FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 67–104; citing Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98.)

    Nancy M. Winchester was married at age fourteen or fifteen, but we know nothing else of her relationship with Joseph. (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 606.)

    Flora Ann Woodruff was also sixteen at her marriage, and “[a]n important motivation” seems to have been “the creation of a bond between” Flora’s family and Joseph. (Sacred Loneliness, 390.) We know nothing of the presence or absence of marital intimacy.

    Fanny Alger would have been sixteen if Compton’s date for the marriage is accepted. Others put a date of 18 as the correct one. In either case, very little information is available on this marriage. There is a good possibility of consummation in this one though.

    Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Sarah Lawrence were each seventeen at the time of their marriage. Here at last we have some evidence of intimacy, since Lucy Walker suggested that the Lawrence sisters had consummated their marriage with Joseph. Intimacy in Joseph’s marriages may have been more rare than many have assumed—Walker’s testimony suggested marital relations with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters, but said nothing about intimacy in her own marriage.

    Sarah Ann Whitney’s marriage had heavy dynastic overtones, binding Joseph to faithful Bishop Orson F. Whitney. We know nothing of a sexual dimension, though Compton presumes that one is implied by references to the couple’s “posterity” and “rights” of marriage in the sealing ceremony. (Sacred Loneliness, 347–349.) This is certainly plausible, though the doctrine of adoption and Joseph’s possible desire to establish a pattern for all marriages/sealings might caution us against assuming too much.

    Of Joseph’s seven under-eighteen wives, then, only one (Lawrence) has even second-hand evidence of intimacy. Fanny Alger has third-hand hostile accounts of intimacy, and we know nothing about most of the others.

    Assume whatever you want, I guess.

    Next, we go to statutory rape laws of Joseph’s time.

    The age of consent under English common law was ten. American law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century, and in Joseph Smith’s day only a few states had raised it to twelve. Delaware, meanwhile, lowered the age of consent to seven. Melina McTigue, “Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change,” (2002), (accessed 5 Feb 2005).

    Even today, minors can often be married with parental consent. Joseph certainly sought and received the approval of parents or male guardians for his marriages to Fanny Alger, Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Helen Kimball. (Sacred Loneliness, 31–33, 347–349, 464, 497–502.) His habit of approaching male relatives on this issue might suggest that permission was gained for other marriages about which we know less.

    As a legal matter, none of Joseph’s marriages would have qualified as statutory rape in his own day.

    But what about the final one – ignoring the question of legality – did Joseph violate the norms of his day?

    Polygamy was, of course deeply offensive in Joseph’s society. We all know this.

    If we set aside the issue of plurality, however, the only issue which remains is whether it would have been considered bizarre, improper, or scandalous for a man in his mid-thirties to marry a woman in her mid- to late-teens. Clearly, Joseph’s marriage to teen-age women was entirely normal for Mormons of his era. The sole remaining question is, were all these teen-age women marrying men their own age, or was marriage to older husbands also considered proper?

    The issue of age disparity was not a charge raised by critics in Joseph’s day. It is difficult to prove a negative, but the absence of much comment on this point is probably best explained by the fact that plural marriage was scandalous, but marriages with teenage women were, if not the norm, at least not uncommon enough to occasion comment. For example, to disguise the practice of plural marriage, Joseph had eighteen-year-old Sarah Whitney pretend to marry Joseph Kingsbury, who was days away from thirty-one. ( If this age gap would have occasioned comment, Joseph Smith would not have used Kingsbury as a decoy.

    And, as shown above, the marriage ages of the brides and their percentages were hardly unremarkable. If you take out the mere fact that Joseph had over thirty of them, his marriages are hardly even remarkable by the standards of his day.

  33. Seth R. Says:

    Much of the modern secular criticism of Joseph Smith today commits the fallacy of “presentism.”

    Presentism is where you judge the actions of the past by the standards of the present.

    A good example is the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. People point to this as a violation of freedom of the press. But freedom of the press is a notion that has developed slowly and sporadically over our nation’s history. I remember from my Constitutional Law classes that freedom of the press has not always existed in the United States, and certainly not to the degree we have it today.

    It was not a notion that was respected much generally in Joseph Smith’s day. It was hardly unusual for a government figure to silence the press – especially when the reporting posed a threat to public safety (which, given the explosive situation around Nauvoo at that time – was quite real). You’ve got to remember that at the same time period Joseph Smith had the Expositor press destroyed, newspaper reporters and editors were being challenged to duels by pistol from Atlanta to New Orleans. It was actually pretty common for a man who felt a reporter had insulted him to call the reporter out to a duel. Hundreds of people died in duels every year in large American cities during this time period (I even read some fun stories about medical doctors dueling over disagreements about proper medical treatment in New Orleans).

    The only really surprising thing about the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor is that its editors weren’t tarred and feathered. That would have made it a normal American anti-press operation.

    People know relatively little about the 1800s in general. This makes it easy for them to fill in the blanks with 21st century morals and norms.

    Lynn Hunt, President of the American Historical Association put it this way:

    “Presentism, at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior…Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards.”

  34. measure76 Says:

    I thought about deleting seth’s comments due to their sheer length, but I’ll leave them up.

    I’ll leave them up as an example to the rest of the world as to how far the mormons have to dig to protect Joseph Smith.

    There is not a simple “Joseph Didn’t force a 14 year old girl to have sex with him, and here’s the proof”

    Instead, mormons must convolute every bit of the evidence and try to tear it apart, when it should be more than obvious looking at the sheer girth of Seth’s posts, that occam’s razor at this point argues that Joseph did indeed force at least one 14 year old girl to have sex with him.

    He was a pedo rapist, and I offer seth’s lenghty excuse-filled posts as proof.

  35. Seth R. Says:

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

    If you didn’t actually want data, why didn’t you say so?

  36. Jill Says:

    Seth, The Point is this. Joseph Smith disobeyed God. D&C 3:4. He was living polygamy. This is against God’s law. Joseph continued on in his “own will and carnal desires” In June 1844 Joseph finally realized he was in deep trouble. He began repenting i.e. burned the polygamy revelation, told members of his Holy Anointed Quorum to take off their endowment undergarments etc. The Lord told Joseph to escape to the west. Joseph escaped Nauvoo and crossed th e Mississippi into Montrose Iowa. Joseph received the letter from his friends telling him they thought he was a coward to leave them. This broke his heart. He went against the Lords direction and returned to Nauvoo. At this time the spirit of the Lord left him alone and he was just as other men. Basically, he sealed his own fate for disobedience to the Lord. The Lord withdrew His protection and Joseph Smith ended up dead. Everything else is beside the point. Joseph Smith was given the gift to translate the Book of Mormon, period. He was not to do ANYTHING else. This info can be read in David Whitmer’s pamphlet called ” To All Believers in Christ.” Joseph went on in his own will and carnal desires, disobeyed God, and eventually ended up dead. Just as God told him he would.

  37. measure76 Says:

    Good blog-commenting practise would be to link to the data, and sum it up in your own words, instead of posting an ogry of evidence inside a single comment.

    I would point out that in addition to occam’s razor, the ‘orgy of evidence’ theory would also show that your above postings actually argue against Joseph Smith, philisophically.

    There’s also the proven fact that we know Joseph Smith was a liar, as he said he saw God, and many other angels, when we now know that spirituality is false.

  38. Seth R. Says:

    Jill, I suppose that’s possible. I’ve never ruled out the fallen prophet notion.

    But i just don’t really see anything particularly against God’s commandments in polygamy to begin with. Sorry.

  39. Seth R. Says:

    Fine, I’ll give you some links next time.

  40. Jill Says:


    Jacob 2: 23&24 are very clear regarding the Lord and polygamy. Abomination is the word used best to describe this practice.

  41. Seth R. Says:

    That was talking about concubines, not committed relationships. And it also states that God might use it to raise up righteous posterity (whatever that means).

  42. JIll Says:

    Read the scriptures. God never commanded Abraham or anyone else to practice polygamy. In the Book of Mormon, which by the way is the keystone of the mormon church, in Jacob, it clearly states that polygamy is an abomination. Joseph Smith was a horn dog and wanted many wives like David and Solomon. So he made up a revelation and condoned polygamy.

  43. Seth R. Says:

    I’m not particularly interested in what you think Joseph Smith was.

    I was talking about the idea of polygamy itself. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. No more so than monogamy anyway.

    • Measure76 Says:

      Well, one important difference is that in monogamy, both partners get a full partner. A man gets a fully committed wife and a woman gets a fully committed husband. You could argue that most marriages don’t live up to that ideal, but that’s the idea behind the marriage.

      With Polygamy, A man gets several fully dedicated wives, while each wife gets only a partially dedicated husband.

      This is an inequality that hurts women.

      Now, Joseph’s case was a bit different, because some of his wives had two husbands, himself and the guy they were married to before him. But the church has a hard time admitting Joseph and his wives practiced polyandry.

  44. Seth R. Says:

    Measure, the word “polygamy” means BOTH multiple wives and multiple husbands.

    What you are thinking of is “polygyny” – one guy with multiple girls.

    My views are not synonymous with the official LDS party-line.

    And of course, I reject your premise. Each wife, of course, gets a full man.

    Are you suggesting that because I have three children my oldest daughter only gets 1/3 of a dad? And that if I hadn’t had her brother and sister, she would have instead had an entire dad.

    You’re doing love a disservice here. It’s not a zero sum game where more for me means less for you. In fact, true love is the antithesis of such self-centered thinking.

    The problem is that our culture has a grasping, panicky, and incredibly insecure view of love. Those who are not secure in their relationships can never feel easy sharing them with others.

    I don’t want to be the only thing in my wife’s life. Neither does she want to be the only thing in my life. We love each other dearly, and I don’t think you could find two people who match each other better. But neither of us is particularly upset with the notion of sharing each other with others.

    Love isn’t love until you give it away.

  45. JIll Says:

    If you are ok with polygamy, and your wife is ok with it, then by all means go for it! You won’t know until you try it out! It is a free country and people are sharing each others spouses all the time! What makes me angry about the Joseph Smith deal is that he actually had the nerve to deny he was living polygamy, while being married to multiple wives! So he was a damn liar!

  46. Seth R. Says:

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not thinking of actually acting on it. It’s a matter of competence. I’m not up to managing several relationships at the same time. Besides, there isn’t a legal and acceptable societal context in which to do this. Not really something I’m exactly looking for – just saying I don’t care about the context.

    As for the lying thing, that’s a whole other nuanced discussion that maybe we shouldn’t get sidetracked on (unless you really want to I guess).

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: