Gregory L. Smith addresses criticisms of Church leaders lying about plural marriage.

Gregory L. Smith

Gregory L. Smith, "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," FairMormon, 2005, accessed June 29, 2022

Gregory L. Smith
Gregory L. Smith
Reading Public

Perhaps no practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proved more volatile and divisive than plural marriage, or “polygamy.” First revealed to Joseph Smith in the early 1830s, it was implemented in at least a few relationships by the mid-1830s and more widely during the Nauvoo period of the 1840s, though secrecy still surrounded its practice.1 Publicly announced in 1852, it served as a focal point for legislators, social reformers, and anti-Mormon agitators throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century.

. . .

It is my contention that the discovery and dissemination of historical materials at variance with the standard or “folk” understanding of polygamy common in the twentieth and twenty-first century Church is no threat to a faithful appreciation of polygamy as a divinely mandated practice during the formative years of the Church. Indeed, I do not think that it is the “additional information” that causes problems for faithful Latter-day Saints who are sincerely troubled by what the historical record tells us. Rather, it is the persistent—and often unmet—need for still more information and context, which some authors have been unable or unwilling to provide. The sole “danger” which historical information poses to members or sincere investigators occurs only if they stop their research too soon. Church critics are quite happy to lead their marks part of the way, only to abandon them when the story is just getting good.

This paper is a modest attempt to address these concerns within the context of the available historical sources.4 I do not proceed in strict historical order, but have rather chosen the six-pronged thematic approach outlined above (the themes consistently followed in criticisms of the Church), but I don’t consider the first complaint of “irreligion,” except in passing, since this concern has been addressed elsewhere.5

Initially I’ll focus on seeing the Church and its members’ actions in the context of civil disobedience from a historical, theological, and moral perspective. I’ll then consider the perspective of Church members who understood themselves to be defendants in a war of religious—and perhaps physical—extermination waged by religious and legislative enemies. I’ll review some of the legal and political history that contributed to this perception, and which helps explain the different choices made by Church leaders and members, especially in the period following the Manifesto of 1890.

Citations in Mormonr Qnas
Copyright © B. H. Roberts Foundation
The B. H. Roberts Foundation is not owned by, operated by, or affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.