Tuesday, February 06, 2007

BYU Polygamy Page: Did Joseph Smith marry Young Girls?

One of the questions posed on the short lived, so called "BYU Polygamy Page," (see http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com/mormon_inquiry/2007/02/here_today_gone.html ) was "Did Joseph Smith Marry Young Girls?" and if so, would this indicate that he was either immoral or even a pedophile.

The article (possibly written by Jim Engebretsen who copyrighted the "project" in the original BYU page) states that "the most conservative estimates indicate that Joseph entered into plural marriages with 33 women, 6 of whom were under the age of 18. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball, who was 14. The rest were 16 (two) or 17 (three)."

Two of Joseph Smith's young wives are discussed, the 1st being Helen Mar Kimball. The article points out that opinions as to whether Joseph Smith had sexual relations with Helen Mar Kimball are mixed, with Todd Compton (author of the most recent scholarly book on Joseph Smith and polygamy, "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith") believing that there was no such relationship, but that it was instead, a dynastic marriage "to tie faithful families together." The article points out that the Tanners and other critics "assume that everything 'is all about sex'" revealing dimensions of their own biases.

While the article illustrates that the youngest wife (age 14) probably did not have sexual relations with Joseph Smith, the author bases his argument for Joseph's lack of sexual relations with Helen Mar Kimball on Compton's arguments. But he fails to mention Compton's assessment that sexual relations were the norm in Joseph's marriages except isolated cases [Compton, p.15]. By addressing only Helen Mar Kimball, one is left wondering if her case (and the case of sexuality) was the norm.

It seems that the article is the beginning of an apologetic approach towards difficult issues surrounding Joseph's young wives. However, rather than dealing with issues regarding polygamy head on, aspects of the article seem to lead the reader to make inferences that are incorrect or misrepresented.

Frank discussions of polygamy are needed, particularly from the church's perspective. But they should not mislead readers towards incorrect assumptions.

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