It’s official: Mormon founder had up to forty wives
Author: Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, Nov 10 2014
Date: April 4 2015
The author discusses the controversial topic of polygamy in Mormonism. He begins with the recent Mormon Church’s revelation that the Mormon prophet “Joseph Smith” practiced polygamy in an attempt to follow the Lord’s orders. Contrary to earlier monogamy belief, Joseph Smith was married to forty wives. This shocking announcement came as a surprise to many followers who have been, for many decades, under the impression that plural marriage was a discouraged practice by the Mormon prophet. The fact remains that Smith reluctantly took part in such endeavor in order to follow the angel’s numerous visits to enforce polygamy. Such discovery arose through a series of online essays posted on the official website of the Mormon Church. Church officials took it upon themselves to reveal the truth about the role of polygamy in the religion’s history. The Church’s intent was to bring about transparency regarding its past history in an attempt to dispel any ongoing doubts and to decrease apostasy. The online articles were poignantly honest in an effort to reveal the truth behind the religion of Mormonism to its followers to retain them and to build a solid trustworthy foundation benefiting future generations to come. True and mature believers would accept all the facts surrounding the religion without discrimination or disillusion. In the age of the internet, the Church’s stance to be upfront about its past represents an intelligent decision in the long run. According to essays posted by the Church, Joseph Smith had forty wives, between the ages of fourteen and forty years of age. Sadly for his first wife Emma, polygamy was a distressing agony. The Church also revealed that Joseph Smith likely did not have sexual relations with all of his wives since some were promised to him in the afterlife and regarded as divine. Some of the prophet’s wives were already married to other men, when claimed by Joseph Smith. This led to further perplexity and controversy surrounding the prophet and the theology as a whole. Emily Jensen, a blogger and editor on Mormon issues in Farmington, Utah revealed that such recent revelation strongly opposed people’s lifelong view of the perfect prophet. The Mormon community’s reaction to such news resembled that of the five stages of grief.
Other papers posted by the Church covered a wide range of topics such as the ban on blacks in the priesthood, which was lifted in 1978 as well as alarming stories of Joseph Smith’s translation of The Book of Mormon. Despite the Church’s renouncement of polygamy in 1890, its practices still continued for years to come. Those who favored polygamy branched off the main Church and formed their own sects with their own belief systems. Many Mormon followers were aware of the polygamy practices that took place by Joseph Smith’s successor “Brigham Young” in Salt Lake City.
The current Mormon position on polygamy revolves around the teachings that a man is permitted by GOD to remarry a second wife, only if he loses his first wife to death or to divorce. In such instances, this man is sealed to two wives in the afterlife. Having said that, the opposite is not true for women. Women who lost their husbands to death or to divorce are not allowed to remarry. Certain women matters within Mormonism remain unanswered such as the question of women ministry within the Church.
Similar to other religions, Mormonism frequently faces controversy and inquiries by the public. Religion is a matter of faith in the invisible. It relies on a personal belief system that cannot be rationally explained to doubters. Despite such conviction, humans are inquisitive beings. Therefore, it is a natural phenomenon for followers to question certain aspects of their doctrines to find reason in their belief system. Regardless of one’s religious perception, people rarely agree with all aspects of the scripture’s teachings and practices. Inquiries often arise around evolving rituals that have not stood the test of time.
Joseph Smith’s story is very similar to other prophets before him. Similar to the Muslim prophet Muhammad, Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. In those days, marriage to under-aged girls was an acceptable act by society. Human’s perception of events change with the times. In addition, Smith was reported to not have consummated all of his marriages in order to keep cherished wives for the afterlife. This could resolve the controversy surrounding Smith’s decision to wed already married women. At the time, Joseph Smith felt that his recent revelations held more power and relevance than the Bible. This led him to reviseKing James’s Bible. Smith is reported to have seen visions to secure his own sacred land “Zion” in West Ohio. This place was to become a holy site to erect the temple of GOD. Smith’s gift centered around seeing the potential of the Bible.
The Mormon belief system mirrored aspects of Judaism. When speaking of the New Jerusalem. Joseph Smith can be seen as a radical forcing his followers to enforce his teachings based on what he saw. Despite that, Smith was a highly respected man. He was revered by many Mormons as well as agnostics. He positively contributed to his community by creating a strong organized establishment and in building the School of Mormonism for his devotees.
The controversy surrounding polygamy in the Mormon religion represents a confusing principle. The recent realization that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy in the name of the Lord legitimizes the validity and importance of such conviction to devout Mormons. However, the presence of political laws against plural marriages in The United States of America as well as charges of underage sexual rape at the hands of Warren Jeffs (Mormon leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints) create uncertainties within one’s faith. Some modern day Mormons consider Joseph Smith’s marriage to an under-aged bride as a form of pedophilia. This in turn discredits Smith as a decent prophet worth following. Also, the fact that the Church hid such findings for several decades only to reveal them in the past few years represents a form of deceit and manipulation of its followers.
Despite the Church’s courage to reveal the truth in recent years, questions remain unanswered surrounding the reasons behind the polygamy secrecy of Joseph Smith. Unfortunately, it becomes a more difficult task for believers to respect their religion if the Church’s founders displayed fear and an apparent shame in divulging the religion’s true identity. In the end, only time will tell if the Church’s recent proclamations will help or hinder the growth of Mormonism around the globe.