LDS Church Rebuts NY Times “Faith of Our Fathers”

The LDS Church has posted a rebuttal to an opinion piece written by Timothy Egan that appeared on the New York Times blog on April 23rd (2008). Mr. Egan’s article, “Faith of Our Fathers,” makes a critical comparison between FLDS polygamy and the early Mormon Church. He writes,

“Faith is a moving thing; witness the throng in Yankee Stadium who came away in a fever of fellowship after listening to the Pope last weekend, or the 55,000 moved to practice random acts of compassion by the Dalai Lama at Qwest Field in Seattle two weeks ago.

“But religion can also be used as an excuse for awful behavior – from the torture of the Roman Catholic Inquisition, to beheadings by Jihadist killers, to the sexual manipulation of children by early Mormons and their latter-day sects.

“…The [LDS] church has been vocal about denouncing the renegade Mormons in Texas, and quick to point out that it abandoned polygamy in 1890, as a condition of Utah’s statehood.

“For a long time, though, the church was at odds with basic American ideals, and not just because old guys sanctioned marital sex with dozens of teenage girls. What you see in Texas — in small part — is a look back at some of the behavior of Mormonism’s founding fathers.”

The LDS rebuttal, “Polygamy Then and Now,” written by LDS Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen, begins with this:

“…Egan wrote a post on the Outposts blog claiming that the way polygamy is practiced today by members of the FLDS sect in Eldorado, Texas is the same as it was practiced by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the 19th century.

The alert reader might notice a disparity here. In the New York Times article Mr. Egan does not say, as the LDS rebuttal claims, that the way FLDS practice their polygamy (which might include, for example, forced marriages, exiling young boys, etc.) is the same as the way in which early Mormons practiced polygamy. Mr. Egan actually writes that what we see in the Texas FLDS community is a look back at the behavior of early Mormon leaders “in small part.”

The LDS rebuttal continues,

“Much of the argument Egan makes for similarities between FLDS polygamy and early Mormon marriage practices relates to the claim of ‘sexual manipulation’ of children as evidenced by the age of marriage.”

Mr. Egan does mention the young age of some of the plural wives of both early Mormons and today’s polygamists, but the bulk of his argument is based on “some of the behavior of Mormonism’s founding fathers”; specifically, the claim of divine revelation commanding polygamy coupled with militant defiance against the government.

Mr. Egan’s charge of “sexual manipulation of children by early Mormons,” is not set forth as an empty claim. He provides his readers with one example as background. Speaking of Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s first prophet, Mr. Egan writes:

“Before he died at the hands of a mob, he married at least 33 women and girls; the youngest was 14, and was told she had to become Smith’s bedmate or risk eternal damnation.”

The LDS rebuttal points out that it was not uncommon in the nineteenth century for 15-year-old girls to wed. Yet it misses an important point and does not address the other factors involved in these Mormon marriages: the 15 year-old girls often married men twice their age, and they married men who had multiple wives.

The remainder of the LDS rebuttal does not address issues raised in Mr. Egan’s opinion piece but rather addresses differences between early Mormon society and the FLDS communities that the LDS Church would like to stress. For example, it talks about the freedom enjoyed by Mormon women in the nineteenth century, about the industriousness of the Mormon communities, about the involvement of these early Mormons in things like politics and education; all starkly contrasting with today’s FLDS model.

At the same time that the LDS rebuttal discusses these non-issues in relation to Mr. Egan’s article, it avoids discussion of the core of Mr. Egan’s comparison: the divinely commanded and divinely required practice of plural marriage in defiance of the law.

The LDS rebuttal concludes,

“Mr. Egan’s cavalier comparison of FLDS polygamous practices with those of 19th century Latter-day Saints is historically unsupported and simply wrong. By implication, he also unfairly impugns the integrity of all Latter-day Saint marriages and families, the very institutions they hold most dear.”

Though the Church is loath to admit it, Mr. Egan’s statement, “What you see in Texas — in small part — is a look back at some of the behavior of Mormonism’s founding fathers,” is historically supportable and accurate. Does Mr. Egan “unfairly impugn the integrity” of polygamous Mormon marriages? He is entitled to his opinion. And you and I are entitled to ours.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Early Mormonism. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to LDS Church Rebuts NY Times “Faith of Our Fathers”

  1. falcon says:

    Plural marrage was one of the greatest scams (among others) that Joseph Smith perpetrated. His claim that an angel with a sword threatened to kill him unless he took on more women as wives is on the one hand deplorable and the other laughable. Laughable in that anyone then, or today, could accept this as true. Joseph Smith left this legacy of sexual perversion which the FLDS carries out today. If any of our Mormons friends have the courage (or stomach) for it, go and read the accounts of Joseph Smith’s taking the 14 year old daughter of one of his closest followers after first testing the faith of this follower by demanding his wife. There is a definite link between the practices of Joseph Smith and today’s FDLS.

  2. David says:

    A couple of things. First, I am not so sure that marriages involving a 15 year old was all that common in the 19th century. I know the idea is out there via cultural osmosis, but from the little data I have seen on this issue it seems like the average age for women to marry back then was closer to 20. It may be nothing, but I do not accept this notion at face value.

    Second, this “But religion can also be used as an excuse for awful behavior” gets it half wrong and half right. Sometimes it is true, however, it is often the case where a relgious idea is the source for awful behavior and not merely an excuse. Mormon polygamy is an example of both. For Joseph Smith it appears that the principle was an excuse for his lust. But for those after Joseph, the principle was the source for polygamy and the bad stuff that is often associated with it.

    Who is closer to the faith of Mormon pioneers, at least in regards to marriage? The FLDS church still practices polygamy in some form and the LDS church has totally abandoned it – let the reader decide.

  3. Anubis says:

    One simple quote sums up LDS’s most sacred institution and the historical LDS treatment of women/marriage.

    Heber C. Kimball said, “I think no more of taking another wife than I do of buying a cow”


  4. lillym says:

    At this point it seems that Mormons are not just deceived by a fake prophet – they are willfully blind. They want to believe, so they will, regardless of how laughable and evil Joseph Smith seems to the rest of the world.
    So really, can we expect the LDS to do any different?

    There’s a blog discussing the El Dorado compound, and several FLDS men post there. They will say absolutely anything to spin the situation their way. For instance, after several commentators mentioned how “brave” the FLDS men were for disappearing and leaving the women and children to fend for themselves, one of these jokers posted:
    “As far as the men standing by their ladies, I think we are seeing how important the ladies roll[sic] in the community really is. They aren’t all mind controlled, sexually abused victims. Many are strong, smart and passionate women.”

    I mean it’s just laughable. They will defend anything. The LDS is the same in that respect. They will defend every crazy aspect of Joseph Smith to the very end, but at the same time they avoid discussing how they are, in reality, disobeying one of Joseph Smith’s commands/visions about plural marriage.

  5. iamse7en says:

    Significant difference between early Mormon polygamy and FLDS polygamy: one was authorized by God, and the other is not. Scoff at the statement as you please, but it’s a fact.

    Here’s a real problem with the “Joseph Smith invented polygamy as an excuse for his lust” argument: You can say the same about the righteous prophets in the Bible that also practiced it, and claimed it was God’s command.

    Here’s another problem with a big part of much of Christianity’s argument: You use the Bible to say it’s wrong. Understand this: you use God’s word to people in the 1st Century, almost 2000 years ago. Did the people in the Bible follow past revelation, or current revelation? Then, what shall we do? Follow past revelation or current revelation. Granted, gospel principles do not change, but policy is always changing, at least for a church guided by ongoing revelation.

  6. bigbear says:

    Whoa there mister. No where, NO WHERE will you find in the bible that God commanded polygamy. If anything, it proves what a mess people got themselves in to when they practiced CULTURAL polygamy.

    Fact??? Facts require physical proof and you have no such thing. Case in point from the prior paragraph. Jesus Himself said one man, one woman. Nuff said.

  7. subgenius says:

    First, i do not practice or encourage polygamy and my faith requires that i faithfuly obey the “law of the land” unless it conflicts with the teachings and Gospels of Jesus Christ. However, for argument sake i offer the following.

    In Exodus 21:10, a man can marry an infinite amount of women without any limits to how many he can marry.In 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9, 14:3, King David had six wives and numerous concubines.In 1 Kings 11:3, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.In 2 Chronicles 11:21, King Solomon’s son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines.In Deuteronomy 21:15…..aww you get the point (bigbear may want to explain the mess these people got into as a RESULT of their plural marriages). Now Matthew 5:17-18 shows that even Jesus agreed with the Laws from the Old Testament. Jesus uses this reference in Matthew 19 and 22. He does not exclude multiple wives or even condemn the act. He states the rules for divorce. He does say that man and wife are “one” but man is capable of being “one” with a number of wives. Jesus does not even prohibit Deuteronomy 25:5 when questioned about it. Remember this passage says a childless widow must marry her husband’s brother – even if the brother is already married. Matthew 22:24-28 shows that Jesus does not refute this practice. Polygamy seems to be only biblically prohibited for members of the clergy (deacons, bishops) see book of Timothy 3. Interesting insight into cultural nuances that have since passed. Like stoning sinners, or walking everhwere in sandals, etc..

  8. David says:


    It’s a fact? That is the very bone of contention. Trust me when I tell you that the FLDS beleive they are following God’s directive by practicing plural marriage. Scoff at that statement as you please but I dare say that is fact.

    So, why is/was LDS polygamy sanctioned by God and FLDS Polygamy is not, other than “I say so” or the “continuing revelation” idea (as they have that too)?

    You might want to ask my views on polygamy before you assume you know my position. Generally, polygamy is not as bad as people make it out to be (although I am still open to the idea that it is sin). Many native Americans and Asiatics practice it today with little fan fare.

    “You can say the same about the righteous prophets in the Bible”

    I can and sometimes do say that about men in the Bible. Keep in mind, Josephs Smith’s brand of “polygamy” takes an added twist as he took women that were already married. I know of at least one instance in the Bible where that happen. My name-sake was judged by the prophet Nathan and found in sin. Great men of the Bible do not get a free pass, and neither does Joseph Smith.

    Here’s a problem with your argument. In the first century, Jesus cites the Torah as why divorce is not OK. He cites the “one flesh” principle which is found in the first few chapters of Genesis. In fact, Jesus sides with a known rabbinic teaching on the issue of divorce that stated that a man may only divorce his wife for sexual dirtiness (and not merely burning the toast). Other rabbinic lines of thought were out there saying a man may divorce his wife for no reason or something small – like burning the toast. God permitted divorce because of the harness of Israel’s hearts. He said this only based on the Old Testament. I would make the same application to polygamy. Christians often cite this principle against the practice of polygamy.

    One does not need all 66 books of the short canon to get the “one flesh” idea. You just need the first book.

  9. amanda says:

    Speaking of the willfully blind, how many people read this retarded op-ed piece and took it at face value? So many of us have very little desire to actually educate ourselves past what the NYT op-ed writer THINKS about LDS history. When you are aware of simple context, it wouldn’t take much research, this op-ed piece becomes bubble gum opinion. Intellectual dishonesty in its’ truest form.

    For those who are sincere in their desire to show LDS the true path to Christ, I would steer clear of siding with lazy loonies like this one- it’s a serious discredit and liability to your cause.

  10. Sharon Lindbloom says:

    Amanda, would you be willing to provide your fellow Mormon Coffee readers with specifics regarding Timothy Egan’s “intellectual dishonesty”? And what, exactly, causes you label him a “lazy loonie”? Mr. Egan has at least briefly explained why he holds the opinion he does; an explanation from you regarding your opinion could be quite helpful.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    I would like to know as well, Sharon. Does she know this fellow personally? An attack upon ones character isn’t “Christ-centered.”

  12. Arthur Sido says:

    Subgenius, you have proven that the Bible refers to and records polygamy. What you have failed to do is show where it commands the same. The Bible describes Lot and his drunken incestous relationship with his daughters, in your eyes does that equate to God commanding incest? Not every event the Bible describes is a command to perform that act. Bigbear is right in his assertion that nowhere in the Bible do we see God commanding men to have multiple wives.

  13. amanda says:


    Are you serious? Just read the response on the LDS website, there are several examples of intellectual dishonesty (you referenced the response on your post but I wonder if you read it). Namely the comparing ages of early women who married as a relevant comparison to today’s marrying age. I have seen this mistake made by posters on here before.

    The context of the past is completely ignored rendering the author dishonest and the sympathetic readers, lazy.

    The women of the early church were given more rights (i.e. voting rights) than the women of the time. They were strong, bright, educated and accomplished women- a legacy that LDS women today carry with pride. It’s time to at least be real, because anyone who is remotely aware of history can’t take any of this discussion seriously.

  14. amanda says:


    Cute. 😉

    I must admit categorizing him as a lazy loony was not Christ-centered. I am a hypocrite in this regard.

    I stand by my dishonesty charges, because it is important to make sure people scrutinize the structure of his argument since he is making historically inaccurate comparisons- about an entire group of people who cannot speak for themselves, since they are dead. The truth is important- I hope we can all agree on that.

  15. Sharon Lindbloom says:

    Amanda, thanks for providing some content/context for your initial comment about the NY Times article. I was indeed serious in requesting specifics regarding your charge of intellectual dishonesty against Timothy Egan; the reason I asked was so there would be something for the Mormon Coffee community to discuss.

  16. Michael P says:

    Actually, we cold even dispute the common age of marriage during the time. From what I understand, and am having trouble finding quick info on this on the net, but from my college studies, the actual age of marriage was closer to twenty, and not the early teens. Such arrangements were not normal and actually frowned upon.

  17. jer1414 says:

    Amanda said, “examples of intellectual dishonesty … Namely the comparing ages of early women who married as a relevant comparison to today’s marrying age”
    “The context of the past is completely ignored…”

    It depends on which version of the “past” you choose to believe is factual history.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Table MS-2, “Estimated Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present”, In 1840, the “Average Age at First Marriage” for women is estimated to be between 21 and 22 years of age. In 1950, it dipped to about 20 years of age. By 2005, it had risen to about 25 years of age. So here is an intellectual and honest comparing of ages of early women to today’s marrying age.

    My understanding is that it was not common nor was it acceptable for men to marry wives of other living men, as did Joseph Smith. I believe there are a handful of books available at Deseret that would allow some insight to that “entire group of people who cannot speak for themselves, since they are dead”. I have not read any, but they may prove for sad, yet interesting reading.

  18. traveler says:

    While, I do agree with the rebuttle that “not all LDS pioneer women were sunmissive and subserviene creatures” (I may have misquoted- please forgive my paraphrasing) but in the same vein – Not all LDS pioneer men were brave kind or stalwart, nor were they ALL virtuous or spiritual.

    Yes these “all”-incompassing comments are pointless over generalizations, yet that does not deny the valid arguements expressed ny Mr Egan in his New York Times essay.

    Amanda – I’m happy that you are willing to continue to contribute to this discussion, but please reconsider your choice of such terms as “Retarded” or “Stupid” … It makes your arguements seem more emotional and less well considered and thoughtfully composed.

    PS: I ‘m not a Christian


    [“Trash” removed by moderator]

  19. traveler says:

    So sorry about the trash at the end of my last post -please ignore

    [“Trash” removed by moderator]

    I must pay more attention when I post!



  20. amanda says:


    So when something is emotional it is poorly constructed? I find emotion to have its’ place in expression. I would be sympathetic to your request if my entire comment was devoid of any substance.

    I’m not sure what your point is about the fact that no one is perfect, including early LDS pioneers. We aren’t categorizing individuals, we were discussing the culture of an entire group of people.

    Jer, and Michael…

    You could make an argument about social norms- however, I was rebutting the portrait of pedophilia commonly painted by these kinds of comparisons. The age of consent in some southern states was 12 (or close)…my own grandmother, a later generation,(who wasn’t active LDS– just a regular girl) was married at 16 to a 27 year old—for love—for more than 50 years until my grandfather passed last year. The laws themselves reflected a more sympathetic and approving position on younger marrying ages…I was not pointing out AVERAGE marrying age. It’s about social acceptance, not averages. Just look up the laws in every state at that time…the age of consent was a lot younger than 18.


    Certainly, thank you, and sorry for misunderstanding your intentions.

  21. jer1414 says:

    Amanda, I specifically addressed your comments of “intellectual dishonesty” and
    “The context of the past is completely ignored…”

    So I gave you some examples of intellectual honesty, factual information, and the context of the past. But they were not faith promoting, so you replied with “You could make an argument about social norms”.

    I “could”? What? Don’t social norms of the past give context to the past? Again, it must depend on which version of the “past” you choose to consider.

    Then you said “It’s about social acceptance, not averages.”
    I’ll repeat that that it was not common nor was it socially acceptable for men to marry wives of other living men, as did Joseph Smith. I realize anything showing a less than postive light on Mormonism is difficult for you to hear, but please don’t ignore it. The truth will set you free.

Comments are closed.