I have long avoided talking about polygamy on my blog. It is a source of tremendous discomfort for me, but it keeps coming up, so I want to give my impressions about this early practice in Mormonism, as well as my beliefs and reconciliations.
While all Mormons are well-aware of polygamy, my first real encounter with uncomfortable facts about polygamy came when I heard John Dehlin’s interview of Todd Compton on Mormon Stories (episodes 12-14). Compton wrote a book called “In Sacred Loneliness“, and goes into detail about all of Joseph Smith’s practices. Then I read Richard Bushman’s book, “Rough Stone Rolling“, and was quite astonished to learn that Joseph married women who were currently married to other General Authorities, while they were still alive.
A third book, “Nauvoo Polygamy” by George Smith, caused me further discomfort with the practice, so much so that I never finished the book (but plan to go back to it later.) My book club has picked 2 more books: “The Mormon Question:” by Sarah Barringer Gordon (a non-mormon), and “More Wives Than One” Kathryn M. Daynes. Additionally, I had been having a conversation with an RLDS blogger who claims Joseph Smith never taught or practiced polygamy. (Since he is so rude, I refuse to publicize his site.)
I’m currently reading “Nauvoo: a place of Peace“, by Glen M. Leonard, which has a chapter on polygamy. I read the first 125 or so pages, and found it focused on a lot of economic data, which I found rather dry. So, I’m skipping ahead to some more interesting chapters.
Anyway, while I plan to devote some posts to Leonard’s chapter, which is written from a very sympathetic Mormon view, I have to say that from what I know so far about polygamy, I just do not believe it to be an inspired doctrine, just as I do not believe the priesthood ban was an inspired doctrine, as seen from my earlier post on that topic. Now that may cause some people to ask if I believe Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet? No.
I’m sure that seems like a big contradiction, but I have a more complex view of prophets. I think they can make errors, even in revelation. I don’t believe a prophet is infallible. I believe that when we look at Biblical prophets, we find errors in revelation, bad conduct, and pagan influences as well. For example, I don’t believe God commanded genocide with Joshua, I question Abraham’s conduct with Hagar (and circumcision), and Jonah was a bigot towards the people of Nineveh (which deserves a future post.) In short, I believe God uses fallible men to give revelations to.
So, while I respect Joshua “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”, Abraham, “the father of monotheism”, Jonah “swallowed by a great fish”, I can respect Joseph Smith as well. Just as the former three were prophets, so is Joseph. I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but my testimony of polygamy is completely different. I can accept that Joseph spoke many inspired things, translated the Book of Mormon, and performed many miracles. I can also accept that I don’t believe polygamy was inspired by God, just as the Curse of Cain was used by so many people to justify slavery.
So, as I post on polygamy in the future, I just want to make my perspective clear. Comments?