Mormon Essays On Polygamy Tv

On Monday, the New York Times reported that, for the first time ever, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church, acknowledged that its founder, Joseph Smith, was an avid polygamist who had up to 40 wives. This is not exactly news—even though the Times characterizes the disclosures as “bombshell” revelations, most outsiders, and plenty of insiders too, consider Smith's polygamy common knowledge. Smith announced “the principle of plural marriage” a year before he was killed, and his successor, Brigham Young, was openly polygamous, as were many subsequent Mormon leaders. But the church's public admission is still significant because previously the official church had been reluctant to engage the question of Smith's own polygamy.

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is writer for Salon.

The history of what Mormons called “plural marriage” has always been the greatest obstacle for those in the faith seeking mainstream acceptance of their church. Up until now, Smith has always been portrayed in Mormon literature “as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma,” as Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times writes. The picture that accompanies Goodstein's story—a statue of Smith gazing into the eyes of Emma, his first wife, that stands in the Temple Square in Salt Lake City—drives home how much the other 30-plus women in Smith's life—including one who was just 14, and some who were still married to other men—have largely been ignored.

In that context, the lengthy essay posted at the Latter-day Saints website detailing Smith's erratic history of coming up with varied reasons to marry more and more women feels surprisingly frank, particularly the details of how polygamy affected Emma, who married Smith before he had the revelation that God wanted him to be with all the ladies. “Plural marriage was difficult for all involved,” the essay reads. “For Joseph Smith’s wife Emma, it was an excruciating ordeal.” Indeed, quite a bit of emphasis is put on how confusing and miserable polygamy made many of its participants, including the men (though I remain skeptical that so many men would stick with the practice if it didn't have some upsides). 

The essay also addresses what we all really want to know, which is how much sex a guy with 40 or so wives had. In short, according to the essay, it's not as much as you'd think. Many of Smith’s wives were married to him for “eternity only,” which church historians believe was more of an honorary designation than a full-blown sexual union. The historical website Joseph Smith's Polygamy gets into more detail, arguing that “evidence supports sexual relations in less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions, and available documents indicate that such relations were infrequent.” One convincing data point: Smith only had two children, ever, with all those extra wives. 

These essays are all part of the church's recent push for greater transparency, a start at correcting its long and notorious habit of secretiveness. Church leaders sent a letter in September asking priesthood-holders to direct believers who have questions about church history to essays at the LDS website that address some of the more controversial issues of the church's past. In addition, many of Smith's papers that have long been hidden from public view are now on display in the Church History Library and available for viewing at the Joseph Smith Papers website.

So why is this happening now? There are several reasons for this new emphasis on transparency, but as Goodstein writes, the Web is a big one: “The church’s disclosures, in a series of essays online, are part of an effort to be transparent about its history at a time when church members are increasingly encountering disturbing claims about the faith on the Internet.” The transparency push is also occurring at a time when Mormon women are increasingly clamoring to have a larger place in a church that has traditionally reserved the most important leadership roles for men. The church has not exactly embraced this campaign—it’s been excommunicating women for being too outspokenly feminist, in fact. But for the first time ever, the church is allowing the twice-annual LDS General Women’s Meeting to be part of the church's General Conference, a decision that has plenty of detractors. Perhaps that decision, plus this new transparency, suggests that the church is moving, in fits and starts, in the right direction.

Click on the links below to read the entire essay on

  • Plural Marriage (Polygamy) in Kirtland and Nauvoo

    When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

    Published on October 22, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • First Vision Accounts

    Joseph’s First Vision accounts describe the heavenly beings with greater detail over time. The 1832 account says, “The Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.” His 1838 account states, “I saw two Personages,” one of whom introduced the other as “My Beloved Son."

    Published on November 20, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Book of Mormon Translation

    Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”

    Published on December 30, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

    Although the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical, some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America. The discussion has centered on the field of population genetics and developments in DNA science.

    Published on January 31, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Race and the Priesthood

    Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

    Published on December 6, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

    Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.

    Published on July 8, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

    Accounts left by men and women who practiced plural marriage attest to the challenges and difficulties they experienced, such as financial difficulty, interpersonal strife, and some wives’ longing for the sustained companionship of their husbands. But accounts also record the love and joy many found within their families.

    Published on December 16, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Are Mormons Christian?

    Latter-day Saints believe the melding of early Christian theology with Greek philosophy was a grave error. Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead. The true nature of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    Published on November 20, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Becoming Like God

    God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him.

    Published on February 24, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

    [The Latter-day Saints] were persecuted, often violently, for their beliefs. And, tragically, at some points in the 19th century, most notably in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, some Church members participated in deplorable violence against people they perceived to be their enemies.

    Published on May 13, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage (Polygamy)

    The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event.

    Published on October 22, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women

    During the 19th century, women frequently blessed the sick by the prayer of faith, and many women received priesthood blessings promising that they would have the gift of healing. “I have seen many demonstrations of the power and blessing of God through the administration of the sisters,” testified Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney, who was, by her own account, blessed by Joseph Smith to exercise this gift. In reference to these healing blessings, Relief Society general president Eliza R. Snow explained in 1883, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS, but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”

    Published on October 23, 2015 | Read on

  • Mother in Heaven

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.

    Published on October 23, 2015 | Read on

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