Shock waves continue to move across the globe as Mormons discover their Church’s recent admissions regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy. There is much distress evident among Mormons who have always believed (been told) that the kinds of things now disclosed in the Mormon Church essays (i.e., Joseph Smith married up to 40 women, many were quite young, some were married to other living men, Joseph lied to his legal wife, Emma, etc) were anti-Mormon lies. One former Mormon described the scene as his still-LDS family in Latin America realized the news reports were true: “mother in law crying, father in law shell shocked.”
After the tears, what do people do when they find their trusted leaders have repeatedly lied to them? How will Mormons reconcile this new information with what they have been told in the past? How will the Mormon Church react to the burden imposed on it by wounded and angry members? Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations proposes five possible institutional (as opposed to individual) responses. I just list them here; Tim goes into more detail on his blog — please do go read it. Tim’s list:
- So What?
- No Sex.
- He [Joseph] Was a Fallen Prophet.
- No Religion Is True, So Stick With What You Know.
Based on past behavior, it’s likely that the Mormon Church will do its best to retain membership while protecting the institution – which means protecting the Prophet. Among faithful Mormons (individuals), it seems that members don’t get past the first two options – at least when posting publicly.
At the Facebook page “1 Million Mormons on Fb” a member asked, “What do you think about Joseph Smith having 40 wives? I just read about this [this] morning. It makes me cringe”
The 220 responses (as of this writing) are pretty revealing. Even though the information for the question came directly from the LDS Church’s website, some Mormons reacted with denial:
CD: “Be careful of things you read. I have heard of these things too but as for as I know Emma was the only wife Joseph Smith had.”
PFM: “He only had 2 [wives] while alive.”
CP: “You can’t believe everything you read, hear, or even some things you think you have seen. I have never heard such a thing…”
CHR: “Why? Why do members worry or stress over church history and sometimes the facts aren’t even correct?”
Many Mormons acknowledged Joseph Smith’s polygamy but offered up the traditional, typical (but historically untenable) excuses:
EL: “Smith married a lot of the women he did because they did not have a husband who was a worthy member of the church so they did the sealing ceremony so that the wife would be married in the after life”
KLR: “The definition of wives in our day vs back then were different. It was said as wives because there wasn’t enough men to be priesthood holders in the home. It was for priesthood representation… most of them had lost their husbands on the trek.”
NWS: “Imagine living in those times. Imagine being a single woman with no chance of having a husband and or any children because all the men were married. So for your entire life you would have no chance to be married in this life or the next…So it seems to me the soul purpose of polygamy was to have a temple marriage and experience having children.”
WSC: “…polygamy was to grow this church population, and to help women because they had no rights, so if it was true [that Joseph Smith had 40 wives] it was to help theses women.”
MAA: “Polygamy today is typically a fruit of the flesh. However back in Joseph day remember so many lady’s husbands where killed by mobs against the lds church. And back then the law of the land was ladies need husbands or they are worthless and harlets in the eyes of others…Joseph had one wife for this life. Most if not all others where for sealing of all eternity like today’s family sealings.”
Though Tim compiled a list of possible Church responses to the current situation, many individual Mormons follow the same path in their personal reactions. Lot’s of Mormons subscribed to the first idea on Tim’s list, “So what?”
KNC: “Who cares?! Move forward in faith believing in all things and pray that your concerns will go away. Heavenly Father is in charge and that’s all we should worry about!”
EH: “Past is past. Is that still a problem?”
RCB: “I don’t care. Why does it matter?”
RP: “Doesn’t really matter. He was an instrument to bring forth the gospel in these latter days. Polygamy was NOT against the law of the land then either.”
Lot’s of Mormons also embraced the second response on Tim’s list, “No sex.”
AS: “Polygamy then is not like polygamy now. He was not having sex with all of them. It was a commandment that he faithfully obeyed even with how hard it was for him to do. It was a very tough decision for him and Emma.”
SPP: “Remember something here concerning this issue. Just because they had more than one wife doesn’t mean they were having sex with all these women.”
NDH: “I think to a certain extent polygamy was like adoption. Joseph didn’t have kids with all these wives. He took them as wives because their husbands where killed.”
LB: “I have never been convinced that he was married and had sexual relations with these women.”
HAW: “Remember back then it wasn’t to sleep with them or anything. It was to help them. With money and everything else.”
Not a single Mormon commenting on this Facebook thread suggested Joseph Smith could have been a fallen prophet. In fact, many made a point of praising Joseph and his actions:
NWB: “Can you imagine telling your spouse you had to do this? Emma hated the idea. Joseph and Emma went through such trials. I’m so grateful for their service and testimonies”
SO: “Joseph was a great man. Obedient, loving and submissive to the mind and will of the Lord.”
LS: “It doesn’t matter or change how I feel about him. He was a great Prophet then & still is.”
CL: “At least he had a big enough heart and patience to care and love all those woman but his true love will always[s] be Emma”
LFP: “I think he was the most Christ like person who has ever existed”
Finally, many Mormons did not try to make sense of Joseph Smith’s polygamy/polyandry, nor did they make excuses. For them, it’s all about personal testimony:
JACB: “I think it boils down to having FAITH in the Lord Jesus that he knew what was best for those people at the time. I am 99% sure that Joseph Smith and others would not have done it otherwise. Again, I just want to say it has everything to do with FAITH.”
LC: “We are like little children and Heavenly Father is an adult. Just like parents give instructions to children they don’t understand or agree with so it is with commandments. In 1000 years from now it will make perfect sense because we’ll be different people.”
KM: “We cant judge. We’ve never walked in Josephs shoes. What took place is between him and h[eavenly]f[ather]. What matters is if the holy ghost confirms to us the church is true.”
SS: “Anything that the Lord commands, no matter what it is…doesn’t bother me. We just need 2 have faith & trust that there is a reason 4 all things.”
CSC: “Really? Why are we focusing on this? He was called of God, and commanded to live that life…. If we have Faith in the Lord and his gospel, we have Faith in his plan and commands, and how we would feel about it should not matter…..”
AMM: “I don’t care about his wives I know he was the prophet of the Lord the spirit of God testify to me”
JCC: “that was a commandment from God, Joseph struggled to follow this commandment…as for myself I don’t understand why the Lord directed his servant to abide by this commandment, but it was a commandment non the less…The Lord instructs His prophets in many things that we may not understand…We need to listen to the prophet of our day and trust in the Lord and His ways”
Those of us who have ministered God’s truth among the Mormon people know that denial is the first reaction a Mormon will exhibit when faced with painful truths. Then anger. Then excuses. Then more anger, more denial. And on it goes, often taking years before a true-believing Mormon finds the courage to begin asking questions.
On a public forum like Facebook, Mormons are careful to present a face of strong faith and testimony. But in private, things may be strikingly different — like the “mother-in-law crying and the father-in-law shell-shocked.” Don’t be fooled: despite denials, excuses and faith-promoting testimonies, the LDS Church’s revelations on Joseph Smith’s polygamy have rocked the Mormon world.
In his blog post, Tim calls November 2014 a “watershed moment in the history of Mormonism.” Which way the water will ultimately flow remains to be seen, but this we know: many Mormons are feeling lost, tossed and set adrift right now.
This is Jesus’ time to shine. Just as He rescued Peter from the rough and wind-driven sea (Matthew 14:22-32), He is able to reach out and rescue those Mormons who have become aware that they are spiritually floundering. Please, friends, pray for them. May all God’s people be marked by great compassion for those Mormons who are losing their faith in the Mormon system and beginning to sink. Show them the hope they have if they but call on Jesus. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Please Lord, may it be so for the Mormon people.