You’ve probably heard the news that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church, has for the first time officially acknowledged that church founder and prophet Joseph Smith was a polygamist with over 40 wives. You may also be wondering why this seemingly common knowledge is news to anybody except the most willfully ignorant latter-day saints. Certainly, this could be comparable to the Catholic Church finally admitting that the Earth revolves around the sun in 1992, almost 400 years after condemning Galileo. Some may say better late than never, but I would say it still doesn’t go far enough.
For starters, this particular essay, while on the official website, isn’t linked to the church’s homepage. The clear intent here is that people specifically Googling about Joseph Smith’s polygamy will now be able to weigh the church’s official response alongside content created by critics and secular historians, however the church still doesn’t want seekers inquiring about Mormonism in general to be able to easily find this information. This is nothing more than the cultic control that the Mormon church is known for, that it took so long for them to publicly admit it is more an acknowledgment that they’ve lost their ability to control their own narrative in the internet age.
Second, while the church is still trying to protect the reputation of their prophet, they admit to several details which hint at how much worse Joseph Smith was than is even commonly known about him. Most strikingly, it repeats the story Joseph Smith would tell his future wives, that an angel with a drawn sword threatened him with destruction unless he instituted plural marriages. Now to any moron, this sounds like it could likely be a case of a man in a position of power taking advantage of a devout woman’s religious beliefs for self-serving sexual gain. Given Joseph Smith’s track record of lying and fraud, and the absence of any corroboration of this angelic appearance by anyone else, the simplest explanation is that he lied to girls to coerce them into having sex. And if this was the reason why women on record for being hesitant (and sometimes already married) ultimately consented to marry him, then sex under these false pretenses is in fact rape. No amount of faith or wishful thinking can change or cover up this uncomfortable truth. Like every other defense of Mormonism, it can only be excused away if one already believes in Mormonism, which is only acceptable in the real world if Mormons completely abandon their missionary activity. The burden of proof is entirely on every Mormon to provide empirical evidence that Joseph Smith’s angelic encounters did actually occur, as there is no shortage of ministers exploiting their positions and their follower’s beliefs for sex, but none of them would ever be defended by millions of blind sheep. Of course, assuming the Mormon’s heavenly father really did send an angel to threaten Joseph Smith to marry other people’s wives might sort of excuse their prophet, but it still makes their god look pretty immoral. Also consider that the God of the Bible sends an angel to both Joseph and Mary to ease their uncertainty about the virgin birth, but all of Joseph Smith’s 40 wives just had to take his word. One wonders how anybody could confuse the two for the same God or the same religion.
Frankly, now that the church has publicly admitted this unwholesome detail, latter-day saints can no longer feign ignorance as a defense; every single one of them who still follows the teachings of Joseph Smith from this point on is an immoral reprobate. They have to acknowledge this fact, whereas before even if they were aware of it, they could have at least argued that it may have happened in the past, but it wasn’t the church’s proudest moment and it didn’t really affect the lives of LDS today. Instead, their official position has suddenly become not only that it happened, but that it was commanded by God and necessary for the church. The LDS church had tried to identify themselves with “family values” when their credibility, history, and archeology proved bankrupt, but now they don’t even have that. While some Mormons may still remain faithful despite knowing the real story of the 116 lost pages, the Salamander Letter, or the so-called “Book of Abraham”, there’s not really anything immoral per se about willfully believing things that are patently untrue. However, if you’re a Mormon who even remotely suspects that Joseph Smith might have been a rapist and you choose to overlook that fact, then you no longer just have stupid beliefs, you’re also an evil person.
Next, this article perpetuates some of the LDS church’s damnable lies about polygamy. The missionary’s go-to defense of polygamy is usually that it was necessary when the faith was young to increase the population. This argument is just plain silly, because even if a woman had multiple husbands, she can still only birth so many children in a 9-month period. But since Joseph Smith had over 40 wives, he would have to have slept with several of them a day just to make the rounds with all of them in a month, and even then the odds would be against him that it would coincide with their fertility. On top of that, it’s been alleged by reliable sources that Smith’s friend Dr. John Cook Bennet performed forced abortions on the girls who were already married so their other husbands wouldn’t find out. That might be too difficult for some Mormons today to accept (or reconcile with the church’s current pro-life stance), but then they would still have to explain why Joseph Smith didn’t have dozens if not hundreds of more children through so many wives, if that really were the reason. It’s a far-fetched defense, nevertheless, the essay does try to make this claim:
“Plural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents.”
What facts do the church historians cite to support this? The footnote here appears to be a deliberate attempt to bury the truth, as it directs the reader to click to another article and reference another footnote (which the reader inconveniently has to find themselves, the church couldn’t be bothered to link directly to that footnote even though an anchor clearly already exists for it):
On the question of children, see note 6 of “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah.”
However, the first line of that footnote actually says the exact opposite of what the church claims:
“Studies have shown that monogamous women bore more children per wife than did polygamous wives except the first.”
If anybody was giving the modern LDS church the benefit of the doubt until this point, I hope they can see now that the church is still just as sinister and deceptive as it was when it was led by serial rapist Joseph Smith.
Lastly, the essay makes it clear that members today no longer practice polygamy. I find it ironic that they admit to this doctrinal flip-flopping in an article which is itself a flip-flop. For over a hundred years, church members could have been disciplined and even excommunicated for writing the same content that this essay now makes official. Will the church welcome any of those former members back? What does this say about any of the reasons for which members today can still be excommunicated? As much as Mormons hate being labeled a cult, what else can you call an organization that seems to value no position except what the current leadership teaches, even if that contracts what they taught the day before?
Frankly, if they were going to go this long refusing to acknowledge things which are common knowledge outside the church, then it probably would have been better for them to simply go on ignoring it. But now that they’ve given at least the facade of open inquiry, I hope their members start evaluating what kind of leaders they revere, and what kind of organization they belong to.