What About Those Essays?

When asked by the New York Times why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decided to post several “Gospel Topics” essays on its official web site, church historian Steven E. Snow said, “There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.”

questionsI really don’t wish to sound mean, but experience has shown me that in the context of Mormonism, “reliable” and “faith-promoting” are often two mutually exclusive terms. Even though the LDS Church has taken a big step even talking about “difficult aspects” of its history in some of these essays, they often fail to tell the whole story and at times contain information that is misleading. Rather than be brutally honest (something you would think a “true church” would strive for), they tend to contain a chorus of spin.

I am reluctant to join those who are praising the LDS Church for addressing the controversial characteristics of its past. Don’t get me wrong. I am pleased that this information is now coming from a source that many Mormons are expected to trust. That is a good thing. And because the information is coming from church headquarters, this will no doubt cause many of the faithful to stop and reconsider what they’ve been erroneously led to believe; however, the fact that leaders have waited decades to finally “come clean” causes me to see this as anything but an act of integrity. As Snow admits, the Internet has forced this upon them. Let’s be serious, it may be news to the New York Times and CNN that Joseph Smith, a married man in his 30s, successfully convinced numerous teenagers and married women to “marry” him, but this aspect of Joseph Smith’s life has long been known by those who lead the LDS Church and those who have devoted their lives to studying LDS history and doctrine.

The essay titled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” has no doubt caused the most stir. I can recall several conversations I’ve had with Mormons who insisted that Emma was Joseph’s only wife. One of those was with a sister missionary in the north visitor’s center on Temple Square. I challenged her to do what I did, walk across the street to the Joseph Smith memorial building, jump on one the church-owned computers, and look it up herself. I have no way of knowing if she ever did, but I would not be surprised if after our cordial conversation ended, she viewed me as some horrible liar destined for outer darkness.

The LDS Church could have easily addressed Smith’s polygamy and polyandry in the 2007 manual it produced titled Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. Instead, in the “Historical Summary” listed on page xiv to xxi of the book, only his marriage to Emma is listed. On page seven the manual speaks of the difficult trials the two faced in their marriage. It specifically lists, the “deaths of children, financial difficulties, and Joseph’s frequent absences from home in fulfillment of his duties.” The essay mentioned above says plural marriage “was an excruciating ordeal” for Emma. Why then, was that not mentioned back in 2007?  Perhaps I am asking too much. After all, a similar manual in that series highlighting the teachings of Brigham Young, gave the impression that the second Mormon president was also a monogamist.

Regardless of the motives behind the release of the essays, they will have a significant impact on many members. We are already seeing this. And while there will always be Mormons who will continue to make excuses for the dubious portions of their faith, we must pray for those who truly want to honor God by believing what is true—that they may personally come to know the One who is true.

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23 Responses to What About Those Essays?

  1. Rhythm Of The Tides says:

    For a church that claims to be the restoration its foundations and core beliefs are undergoing an obscene amount of maintenance with the passing of each year and it really isn’t that old a church.

    Very strange.

    I have watched a couple of LDS produced films and it is true that Joseph’s ( other wives ) are conspicuous by their absence as the film appeared to make Emma look like his one and only.

    What troubles me the most is that he married sisters and mothers of the same family…I am just not going there… weird.

  2. Freedom says:

    I’m trying to understand what makes LDS Church leaders “tick” how do they sleep at night? What motivates them? Money? Power? Why can’t the just be honest? Are they just dupes like I was or are they doing the duping?

  3. homeschoolmom says:

    Terryl and Fiona Givens are working very hard to keep those who find out about the troubling past in the fold of the LDS institution. Among other things, they wrote a book called The Crucible of Doubt.

    What I have learned about Mormonism, is that the core reason for belief is to find happiness through self-improvement. If that is your reason for religion, “Being Good,” “Being Happy,” then you can excuse and overlook false prophecy, lying adulterous prophets, non-historical scriptures, etc. because your life is ultimately only about you and what you make of it. And truthfully, you don’t even need to believe in God at all. That could be why 40% of ex-Mormons become atheists.

    It is important for Christian apologists to understand this when ministering to LDS, so we can emphasize that we exist to be in a relationship with the creator of the universe. We exist for Him, not to find happiness through self-improvement.

  4. historybuff says:

    Freedom —

    You asked, “I’m trying to understand what makes LDS Church leaders “tick”. How do they sleep at night? What motivates them? Money? Power? Why can’t they just be honest? Are they just dupes like I was or are they doing the duping?”

    They don’t believe they are duping anyone. They sincerely believe that we don’t have all the facts, and that if we had them we would understand and sympathize. But since we don’t have all the facts, we must band together and protect the organization, “lying for the Lord” if necessary. And remember the story of Laban in the Book of Mormon: he was murdered by the Church leaders of the time because they deemed it better that one man perish than that an entire nation perish in unbelief. Same thing here.

    And don’t forget that we’re not dealing with Christ-like leadership here. We’re dealing with former corporate executives who view protecting the organization as paramount. They actually believe that Christ will bless them for protecting “His Church” from people who wittingly or unwittingly are harming the organization.

    Granted, Laban was portrayed as a basically evil man. So what do they say about rejecting, ejecting or punishing innocent, faithful people who were just telling the truth? Simple. They quote the Bible about how such people must perish, too, for attempting to “steady the ark.” Uzzah was evidently a good-hearted disciple trying to do the right thing by reaching out and steadying the ark of the covenant so it wouldn’t fall to the ground. God struck him dead, presumably — at least to Mormons — because it was preferable to kill Uzzah rather than have the Israelites think they could touch the ark. 2 Samuel 6:6.

    This is one of those questions where a Mormon will really “go Old Testament” on you. Literally.

  5. historybuff says:

    Homeschoolmom — You are exactly right. Most Mormons care more about relationships than gospel. If you read the articles and poetry in Sunstone Magazine or listen to John Dehlin, it becomes fairly obvious that many of these doubters stay in the Mormon Church because of family, friends, social relationships, and an overwhelming desire to continue their comfortable lives. I have even had good temple Mormons, even regional leaders, patiently explain to me that gospel truth is secondary, or even irrelevant, because they have an opportunity in the Church to help others and keep families together.

  6. MJP says:

    I’m with ya Bill. The essays seem a bit disingenuous. They seem like they are trying to cover for past ills rather than directly deal with them. And why something must be faith affirming is beyond me. Truth is truth, and that is what should be faith affirming, and should not require the label of “faith affirming”.

    These essays raise more questions than I think they answer, and it is a shame more LDS don’t see it that way.

    I pray God, though, may open their eyes.

  7. Mike R says:

    There’s been so many Mormons leaving or becoming inactive in the last several years that Mormon hierarchy is trying to halt that exodus , thus their recent official response ( the Essays) is supposed to calm rank and file members down . Most LDS will see this attempt by their leadership as anemic .

    The Mormon people are simply being used by their leaders to keep the corporation financially strong
    Rank and file member are’nt even trusted to know the extent of finances given to their top leaders .

    Mormon leadership have not only apostatized from what Jesus’ apostles taught ( Rom 1:16) but they have apostatized from what their colleagues originally taught as gospel doctrine when they first started preaching about God / salvation etc . The Mormon people don’t need these men as guides .

    So Mormon church historian Steven Snow says that people can get ” reliable ” information about certain issues in Mormon history ? Are all the Mormon historical archives and the historical documents in the First Presidency’s vault open to inspection by all LDS ?

    The Mormon people can be free from latter days false prophets . Well dressed and polite false prophets are still false prophets .

  8. Rick B says:

    Their is a website called, the thinking Atheist.
    That atheist reminds me of the Mormon church and these essays. The atheist has two sections, one called (Contradictions) and one called (Bible Atrocities) . I did a show all about the so called Bible Atrocities from this website. These atheists purposely leave information out and lead people to believe things about the Bible that are not true by no giving all the facts.

    but I also put some fault at the feet of Christians, they simply dont read the Bible, or only read certain books, so when they see things by people who claim the Bible is wrong, they believe it since they dont know the Bible and have no idea what the Bible says.

    Jesus even said, the holy spirit will bring back to our remembrance of what to say, but how can he bring back to our remembrance something we never read. The Mormon essays are the same thing, Things purposely left out and that is deception, but people dont know or look into what really was said or happened and thats why believe these essays. Rick

  9. falcon says:

    There’s a saying which can be applied here: “The institution must prevail.”
    This can be applied to the LDS church. Nothing matters but the on-going existence of the LDS church. The LDS church is the system by which the rank-and-file can reach the pinnacle of religious success, becoming gods. If these people who head up the organization have one goal, it’s the continuation of the LDS sect, the institution.
    I’ve recounted that John Dehlin did this presentation way back on “Why they leave the church.” Now this was when John was still “in”. The funny thing was that he’d list all of these reasons why people leave related to the bogus nature of the sect and then he’d say, “But that’s no reason to leave”. I did a real LOL on that one. I felt he was saying that here are all the reasons why this religion it totally bogus but don’t let that sway you from your faith in it.

  10. johnnyboy says:

    Technically, Joseph was married to only one woman. He just happened to be sleeping around with 40 other women. Spiritual wifery as Bennet coined it when he was caught red handed.

    I prefer Oliver Cowdrey’s description of it as “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair”.

  11. Mike R says:

    Bill McKeever states that ” The Essay titled , ‘ Plural Marriage in Kirkland and Nauvoo ‘ has no doubt caused the most stir. ”

    Considering the mess that Mormon leaders caused by introducing polygamy into their church it is no wonder that the above Essay would cause the most stir , enough information about polygamy has not been readily given wide distribution to church members by their leaders the last 100 years . It’s not that some of this information was impossible to find by members but church leaders did’nt want them to know about it is evident by the merger effort they put into reminding the flock about it in official publications . Rank and file Mormons should have been enlightened regularly about what their prophets did and said about what they called , ” the Principle ” ( polygamy ) . Why ?
    Polygamy was that important , that’s why . Following are a few examples of what Mormon leaders claimed about , and instilled in church members to believe , about polygamy :

    – it was an ordinance as essential as baptism . [ Joesph F. Smith , Jof D v20 p. 28 ]
    – it will be fostered and believed in by the more intelligent portions of the world , as one of the
    best doctrines ever proclaimed to any people . [ Brigham Young , Deseret News Extra , 9-18-1852
    p 25 ]
    – Joseph Smith’s assistant , William Clayton later testified that he learned from J.S. that the doctrine of plural marriage ( and celestial marriage ) is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth . [ printed in the Deseret News of 5-15-1886 ].

    – why introduce polygamy in the church : because the one wife system degenerates the human family both physically and intellectually , but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality , it is lure to temptation and has always proved to be a curse to a people . [ Millennial Star vol. 15 p. 227 ] .
    – ” It is only our want of knowledge that we do not hail it as our greatest gift .” [ plural wife , Esther Romania Bunnell Penrose Memoir , LDS archives 6-7 ] .

    With such testimony about polygamy by faithful Mormons in the past why was’nt later church members consistently reminded about all this and more ? Church leaders should have in Gen Conf and official publications consistently since 1890 reminded church members about how great this doctrine was held to be and the behavior of their leaders regarding it .

    Mormon historian B. Carmon Hardy in his book ” Doing the Works of Abraham ” [2007 ] mentions an experience he once had :
    ” The present author once asked a docent at Mormonism’s Museum of Church History and Art why there were no exhibits relating to polygamy . He was told that that part of the church history was best kept out of sight for the same reason families lock portraits of embarrassing ancestors away in their closets.” [ p 392 ] .

    When Mormon leaders introduced polygamy in their church as an important ordinance of the gospel they preached , they showed how further they had drifted from the true gospel of Jesus Christ .
    The Mormon people back then deserved more reliable guides to lead them . So do those today .
    Mormonism is not the answer .

  12. Ironman1995 says:

    The essays to me like the one on the blacks and the priesthood validated what I said about Elijah Abel back in 2011when it came out a few years later how they disavowed all prior practice. LDS Church has one big giant broom and sweep and everything underneath the rug.definitely not the only true church but they definitely have the only true rug and broom.

  13. historybuff says:

    Johnnyboy —

    You mentioned Oliver Cowdery’s thoughts on polygamy: “I prefer Oliver Cowdery’s description of it as “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair”.”

    As I recall, Cowdery even got excommunicated and run out of town by the Mormon Church’s semi-official “enforcers”, the Danites, for his comments. Nevertheless, years later in 1848 after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom (if you assume a martyr can be killed against his will and with a pistol blazing at his attackers…), didn’t he return to the Mormon Church in 1848?

    Added proof that the LDS membership generally will consciously avoid any thought that could disrupt their highly valued personal relationships and social structure. Even Cowdrey came back… and the LDS accepted him.

    It’s even likely that Cowdery was accorded the highest honor that Mormons can bestow upon one of their own: coveted membership on the ward basketball team. Okay, maybe not.

  14. falcon says:

    This sort of blows holes in the LDS favorite tag line “When the leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” With this OOPS essay project, the LDS church is admitting that perhaps that little ditty isn’t quite true. But this is LDSville where everyday is fresh, new and exciting. Things are changed to suit what ever new thoughts are brought forth by the boys who sit in the big chairs at SLC.
    For those folks totally sold on the LDS religion, any excuse or rationalization will do to keep the fantasy going. But there are some, no doubt, who are beginning to get the picture.

  15. Mike R says:

    Mormon church historian Steven Snow says that because the Internet has a lot of information about Mormonism that is not accurate therefore it is not the best place to get the truth about Mormon teachings . He is right . Obviously , he feels that LDS can trust the information on their church’s site because LDS have been assured since 1830 by their leaders that the safest place to go for learning true and correct gospel teachings is by listening to them .

    Brigham Young reminded his flock that it was his duty to see they would only hear sound doctrine , that he would never teach /condone false teachings . At the 1998 Conference Mormon Relief Society Presidency member Virginia Jensen stated that the Mormon prophet is the source LDS can trust for
    ” pure , unpolluted guidance ” , and Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry reassured LDS that their prophet is a voice they can trust to provide ” pure doctrine ” therefore LDS could have ” complete confidence”
    in him [ Ensign Nov 1994 ” Heed the Prophet’s Voice”] . Mormons in the Oct. 1912 Conference heard speaker Elder Joseph F. Smith jr testify that :
    ” The time will never come when we will not be able to put confidence and exercise faith in the teachings and in the instruction of those who lead us …. therefore it behooves us , as Latter Day Saints , to put our trust in the presiding authorities of the church , in the Priesthood of God , and accept their teachings.”

    Those are the claims made by Mormon leaders . If only the Mormon people would test these claims by taking the time to examine the long teaching track record of their apostles and prophets . This is the kind of test that the apostle John advised his flock to use in order to stay safe of counterfeits —
    1 Jn 4:1 . Today false prophets pose the same danger , Jesus warned all to beware of these individuals appearing in the latter days — Matt 24:11 . Mormon leaders are such individuals — latter days false prophets . They have proven to be not consistently reliable as guides in their gospel preaching .

    So Mr Snow was simply trying to be loyal to his bosses over at church headquarters by steering LDS to the church’s official site for what his leaders have taught as it is a reliable and accurate source
    on the Internet for true gospel preaching . However, while they be well meaning , Mormon leaders have not been the place to find stable gospel teachings , rather they have shown a pattern of being vacillating , unstable , in what they have taught their followers . Eph 4:14 speaks about this type of problem , it’s not new , and Mormon leaders have also tossed their flock to and fro .

    The Mormon people deserve better guides . The danger of not dismissing their leaders –Matt 15:14 .

  16. falcon says:

    I remember when Jack Garcia use to post here. He is a former Mormon with a very interesting story. Anyway Jack used a term that I like when talking about Mormons and their mental/emotional state. Jack used the term “contemplative stage” to identify those Mormons who were starting to think about the religious sect in a manner that wasn’t knee-jerk and driven by a need to rationalize and make excuses for what they believed.
    I thought of this in regards to the “essays” that the LDS church is putting out. In a way the essays are a preemptive strike to head off any members who may be approaching this contemplative stage. The essays are meant to be an inoculation against shaken faith syndrome that plagues the LDS sect.
    It takes a lot of commitment to be a full-on, pedal-to-the-metal Mormon. There are a massive number of “inactives”. And in the population of active members there are a lot of fellow travelers. These are folks who are “in” but not all that dedicated to the program.
    So the challenge for the LDS sect really is to hold on to the super Mormons. They are the ones who do the work and pay the annual fee for their temple recommendations. I don’t know what the LDS church does to try and stem the tide of those flowing out of the sect but once they have exhausted guilt, shame and other forms of subtle and not so subtle manipulation, the ammo has pretty much been spent.
    I guess it’s back to love bombing.

  17. falcon says:

    What do you do when you find out that what you believed isn’t true and those whom you trusted to tell you the truth haven’t been all that forth coming?
    It’s complicated isn’t it? Well maybe in terms of all of the dynamics at play here but on another level, not complicated at all. Bottom line? You’ve been lied to both in omission and commission. The LDS leadership is using a fall back position that the information has always been there if someone wanted to obtain it. I say, “Bad on them”. They know better.
    Just take the picture they promote of Joseph Smith translating the golden plates. Here we have the prophet, pen in hand with the golden pages in front of him, writing down the translation. Is that an accurate representation of what Smith was up to. I don’t think so! Fact of the matter a better picture of him would be him sitting stooped over with his face buried in his hat, no golden plates present.
    That’s actually what those were assisting him said he did. He put his magic rock in his hat, shoved his face in the hat and the letters magically appeared.
    Now that’s a fact. So the faithful LDS folks have to make a decision as to what to do with that factual information. Some are shocked, shaken and left dangling on the precipice of full-out loss of faith. Others, and we’ve had some post here, embrace the hat, the rock and the whole narrative.
    There are several levels to the mind-set of the cult member true believer. It would do Mormons well to become familiar with these. If someone has a strong “testimony” support all of this, they are in serious mental and emotional trouble.

  18. Ironman1995 says:

    Feb 15,1975 I joined at age 17 , 36 years later i left before the essays came out , which served to validate what i discovered in 2011 and of course i was always way ahead of each essay , discovering information that proved the LDS church false , church leaders would deny what i would bring to there attention . From a state President to a Bishop, then 6 months laster to a year a essay would come out and i would shake my head and laugh .

    Now 4 years later i simply say ” Next ” I try and guess what is the next essay and its topic .
    We have had plural marriage, blacks and the priesthood, Joseph and his wives and so on and so on.

    40 years ago i joined and had no reason to not trust , I cant even imagine how someone could join today with the internet and how it brings to crystal clear vision the truth .

    How people today could even trust those LDS leaders is very sad and has a tight grip on hearts and minds ,all we can do is pray , share info in a way where that seed of truth can take root in there mind and heart and kill the weeds of false teachings .

  19. falcon says:

    You have quite a story. I’m still amazed at how some dedicated LDS folks let the door crack open and they peek inside.
    What was your motivation? You joined when you were very young and you hung in there for several decades. What was the nudge for you to begin examining the claims of Mormonism?

  20. johnnyboy says:

    @mike R.

    I am struggling to find any inaccurate information on the internet about mormonism. In fact, almost everything has turned out to be accurate, except what comes from the Church’s own websites.

  21. Ironman1995 says:

    Falcon the door flew wide open back in Sep 2011 when i found the Elder Delbert Stapley letter to Gov George Romney , i read it and was floored and from that point i found more .

    But i wasn’t looking to question or let alone leave ,but i found it by accident and i discovered Elijah Abel as well by accident ,then it was from one snowball to a complete avalanche that never stops and its so easy to see how man made it is and was and will always be .

    Grateful for so many people and sources , i would not change one thing I have been through it has made me the man I am , i don’t live in guilt and what the church took from me , because it did give me direction when i needed it at age 17 .

    I had weak family , i was a easy target .
    We live life moving forward and yet learning from our past .

    If a man dwells on the past , he may rob the future ,
    but if a man ignores the past , he may rob the present ,
    the seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots
    of our past .

    I keep my faith simple ,not about a building or a pastor , but simple belief in God and his Son and live in a way to treat others as they would have me do.

  22. falcon says:

    You know when I got into Christian apologetics way back when, I thought all you had to do was point out to Mormons how Mormonism differed from Orthodox Christianity, back it up from the Word and clue them in about the history of their sect and Smith. Boy was I off on that idea.
    I repeat, we often get Mormons here telling us that we don’t know anything about Mormonism and what we’re saying is totally wrong. Then when faced with the evidence, they pull out every form of denial known to man. At the end it’s all about their “testimony” not the facts.

  23. Mike R says:


    My comment you referred to about the Internet was not very clear , I guess I should’nt be posting anything at 2 am ! You’re right about there being accurate information about Mormonism on the Internet , and some information that Mormon leaders would rather not be widely known . MRM is just one source where those investigating Mormonism will be properly informed .

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