August 7, 2009

Greg Smith: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage (But Were Afraid To Ask)

The following are my personal notes of the presentations. They are incomplete and likely contain mistakes, omissions and especially spelling errors. As we go you'll notice these notes get shorter as I slowly burn out. These notes are weak. Check the transcript, now available from FAIR here.  

Greg Smith bio here.

This is a vast topic and there is simply not time to address everything. In the first 15 minutes I'll examine a common charge against him, that he was lecherous and that this is the pathologic background to plural marriage. Look at primary evidence for and against that claim. It is a worthwhile question. Also it is a template to give a framework to appreciate what we are dealing with on this topic. Even a somewhat straighforward question in plural marriage still takes time and is difficult to work out. You can't always trust what you read. Cautionary tale. What you're in for. Then question session. Replies somewhat off the cuff. Also can post some answers on the FAIR website with references and sources, etc.

Secondary sources:

Brodie, No Man Knows My History
Richard Van Wagoner Mormon Polygamy: A History
George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy

Claim #1: Nancy Miranda Johnson "allegations in Hiram, Ohio" caused problems in 1832, a mob attacked Smith tarred and feathered, screaming for Joseph's castration. Only source for Van Wagoner's claim is Fawn Brodie which should send your attanea twitching.

Critical sources repeatedly quote each other.

Check footnotes to VW's work: that "an incident between smith and nancy precipitated the mobbing is unlikely..." more admissions including that from the mob members on why they did it. Not included in main text?  Gave evidence the account is spurious. So why didn't this make the narrative?

Brodie's source is a late secondhand source from Clark Braden Church of Christ Disciples minister in 1884. Why mention it at all, VW?

George D. Smith did a similar tactic. "rumors may have been circukating already by 1832..." tar and feather. No contemporary evidence corroborates, but this explanation was later given.

Well, notice the "weasel words" used here. Smith's footnote notes VW and Todd Compton's mention of financial motives. GDSmith misrepresents the footnotes and claims of VW and Compton.

Marinda Hyde was the girl in question, and in 1877 she witnessed that she never saw "aught" in JS's life that made her question his prohetic mission, and she was no fan of plural marriage.

-If a former critic used it you can too.
-If story doesn't help image you're trying to portray, so put in a footnote because only nerds read those...


Also discussed Winchester as a witness.

Claim 3: Polly Beswick "colorful two hundred pound Smith domestic." No citation, "Mrs. Alexander," domestic gossip, etc. description doesn't match emma, etc.

To GDSmith's credit he does not use this source.

Source 4, Martin Harris recalls charge of plural marriage in Kirtland. But he wasn't in Kirtland at the time. Interview said to be given in 1873, published after harris died. And Harris was back in church by 1870. Made public only after death of witness?

Claim 5- Eliza Winters [See transcript when available]

Q: Are there known percentages of early marriages that were not sexual?

A: Seems it was minority stance when sex as not involved, etc.

Q: Is there a hierarchy for wives in heaven, if you are sealed to someone second?

A: This is revealing because it shows the worries, etc. Culturally in plural marriage the first wife was usually seen as more prestigious, or so forth, there were occasional hierarchies? Yes. Was that doctrinal? No. All have same glory etc.

Q: Will all CK be required to live law of plural marriage?

A: Some back then did believe that, but I don't. Essentially, we need to obey God and what he commands. So for those commanded, likely. etc.

Q: Will polygamy be returning etc.

A: Nothing would astonish me more., etc.

Q: Marriages to younger women?

A: Beware presentism. Census data on marriages, chapter forthcoming. Nationwide in 1850s and in Mormon community.

Q: Polyandry?

A: Kathryn Daynes "sealings to women already married, evidence supports conflicting interpretations."

Women having more than one husband. Term is used here for convenience. Todd Compton identified polyanrous marriages. See Brian Hales's paper on Sylvia Sessions, who is questionable and appears to have been sealed in 43 not 42, etc.

Why did they do it? Zina Huntington prayed and searched scriptures and found that God required it. There were spiritual components that critics do not acknowledge often.

-Women less likely to accept since married already.
-Husband involved, risk of anger, exposure, violence.
-Even "stranger" than the Bible record, harder to persuade.

All presumes that polyandrous had sexual aspects. Wonder if polyandy wasn't almost exclusively for the sealing issue. Thought it might just be my own attempt to reconsile this easily. But the data seems to support it. Some early Mormons believed a faithful spoiuse could help exalt a non-member or wayward spouse, etc. [Refers to his own family history record of an early member of the church]

Q:  Why are leaders, etc. so reticent to discuss it?

A: It is a difficult complex issue and requires a lot of time and research to understand. Also, we don't have all the answers. Finally, leaders do not want to give any indication that they support plural marriage, because there are still other groups that practice it, etc.

Q: I am a woman and NOT a fan of polygamy although I and my husbands are both descendants of it. Was it revealed in 1841?

A: It occurred earlier, around 1831.

Q: Practiced only by those who received special calling to do so?

A: In a way. D&C 132 said only one person would hold the keys but not that only he and a few would do it. Also later leaders expanded it.

Q: Did it mushroom beyond expectations and get out of control? FLDS show how evil it can be. Is it possible JS made a mistake in revealing it? Richard Bushman said he believes a "faulty" revelation. [according to this questioner]

A: Firstm be careful trying to draw analogies between FLDS people and the rest of fundamentalists or even the early saints. I will elaborate on that on the website. Was this a mistake? Well, anything is possible, and some members of the church take that stance. Todd Compton said it was a mistake because of overenthusiasm, tragic error. etc. I don't think it matters what a member believes about it unless it leads you to believe that JS isn't a prohet, Jesus isn't the Christ, and the keys are not with the Church today. So we can adopt Brother Compton's view if we wish, but should be clear about the full implications of that view before we pick up one end of the stick, because that picks up the other end.

JS claimed it was a revelation from God, that an angel commanded him to practice. Early polygamists reported similar dramatic experiences. So the suggestion Compton offers has a potential fatal weakness: if JS could be mistaken about 132, what about D&C 1, and 2 and 3 and 4 and temples, and so forth. And if he mistook or lied about an angel commanding him from practicing plural marriage, what's to stop him from lying about angels bringing priesthood keys or gold plates etc. Now Compton does not take those conclusions, but critics know what can happen because of the implications and that is why critics have embraced his book so happily. I am not convinced he made a mistake, I am confident he did not, and I will tell you why, and apologize for the personal nature of this. It becameclear on the drive here that I should say this. I was always aware of the practice but I began studying the details with the Van Wagoner book and womanizing claims. I stopped at that point because I hadn't done the leg work. The author dumped it on me and moved on and I had to decide what to do with it. Plural marriage is such a useful tool that  way. I thought about it a lot. I knew I didn;t know enough to answer the questions it brings. I knew a lot of time and work was required to know. I knew I might not be intellectually or spiritually up to the task. I knew answers might not exist. So I detemined to take it to the Lord and it was one of the most interesting aspects of my life. I ended up praying differently than what I planned. I found myself telling God what bothered me and instead of insisting on answers, I found myself telling him I would not forsake him or our relationship. That I would not abandon my covenants but do what he wanted me to do. Would it be spiritually dangerous to take the time and effort for this project. I thought it would be the first of many struggling prayers. God told me clearly it would all work out, I had nothing to worry about, and I could devote time and go for it. Be careful what you ask for. I didn't set out to be the person people ask about plural marriage.

Even the idea of plural marriage is deeply hurtful for some people especially women, and its more than some sort of cultural revulsion. It brings up memories of abuse, inconsiderate spouses, easily seen as abuse of reliigon for power. I sympathize with all thoise reactions. Perhaps because of them, we become very uneasy that we dont see in other apologetic issues. A pressure to solve this one above others once and for all, the harder we look the harder it becomes, the sources do little to help,

Paul Simon on his most underrated album hearts and bones called think too much b.

They say the left side of the brain
Dominates the right
And the right side has to labor
Through the long and speechless night
And in the night
My father came to me
And held me to his chest
He said there’s not much more that you can do
Go on and get some rest
And I said yeah
Maybe I think too much
Maybe I think too much

Now I am not suggesting we stop thinking. I would think all my notes and presentation and wiki suggest I like thinking and it's ok. But my spiritual life did not have 4 or 5 years to sit in the church archives and could not be put on hold. How long could I halt between two opinions? Jesus didn;t have his apostles spend years with the primary sources before coming to follow him.

The key issue actually was do I trust Father? I see now I actually expressed that trust at the outset and I chose to consecrate my brain. I value my brain, we all do. None of us like to be thought of as duped or cognitively disonant etc. I love science, I am a rationalist, I think of myself that way. I could have demanded answers, I want answers now, ultimatums. I would quit if it didn;t work out. I chose instead to sacrifice my self-image, years of learning, etc. because I trusted Father. It's the funny thing about consecration, you always get back more than you gave. I got more answers, trying to drink from a hose and I threw bread on the water and an aircraft carrier with a baker on top came back.

I fear this seems I am offering a pat answer, I am not. It is not simple. Abrajam put his son on the alter and got him back. We know he got him back but Abraj=ham didn;t. You can;t ask for a sign, but I bear witness that signs follow them that believe, in this and everything.

My question for you is, Do you trust Father? If you do I have no worries. If you cannot answer, you must start there because no answer I can give will help. Settle it up with Father and we can talk.


[see recording for the remainder.]

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