Friday, August 26, 2011

The polygamy of Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs


In a bold, lengthy article, Peggy Fletcher Stack discusses aspects of the polygamous practices of Mormon founder Joseph Smith Jr.,  comparing them to those of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs (who considers himself carrying on the prophetic tradition/authority of Joseph Smith). Stack includes the opinions of prominent Mormon historians who have authored works on  Joseph Smith's polygamy. 

Below are selections of Comparing Mormon founder, FLDS leader on polygamy  by Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune.  Also listen to audio of Warren Jeffs instructing his wives.
Mainstream Mormons and many modern polygamists recoiled in horror during Warren Jeffs' recent sex-abuse trial when the FLDS leader repeatedly quoted Mormon founder Joseph Smith, implying a direct link from that 19th-century figure to himself.
Both Jeffs and Smith were considered by their respective communities to be prophets and both faced hostility within their own faiths and from outsiders. Each used religious language to describe and defend his multiple marriages. And much of each man's behavior was shrouded in secrecy.
The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America[Sarah Barringer Gordon] "Smith was a charismatic, larger-than-life figure who was constructing an expansive theological, marital and economic universe, says Gordon, a legal expert and independent historian who has written extensively on Mormon polygamy. He was a visionary, while Jeffs "tried to replicate the life of a prophet," but was "twisted" in his approach to polygamy and to his people. He was "deeply destructive of other people and human dignity — and even himself."
Still, questions about Smith's practice of plural marriage continue to vex even devoted Mormons.
Why, for instance, did Smith marry other men's wives? Was he motivated by religion or lust? And why are there so few documented offspring of his various unions?
By most accounts, Smith took his first official polygamous wife, Louisa Beaman, in 1841, although some historians believe he hinted at plural marriage — or even practiced it — much earlier.
At first, Smith told his burgeoning Mormon flock, he resisted God's command to follow the model of the biblical patriarchs. Eventually, he said, an angel with a raised sword compelled him to comply.
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph SmithSmith was building Zion, he preached, ritually binding families and generations and raising up a "righteous seed."
To do that, he said, God authorized him to institute plural marriage.
In 1843, Smith dictated what he called a divine revelation that remains in LDS scripture, spelling out "a new and everlasting covenant" of plural marriage.
By the time of his death at age 38 in 1844, Smith had married secretly some 33 women between ages 14 and 50, says Todd Compton, author of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith.
Compton, who is LDS, does not believe Smith had sexual relations with the two 14-year-olds.
One of them, Helen Mar Kimball, wrote a memoir as an older woman about her "marriage" to Smith. It doesn't say whether she had sex, Compton says. "It's my interpretation of the evidence."
The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon PolygamyBrian Hales, a Mormon who is writing a two-volume work on Smith and his wives, believes Smith had sexual relations with nine of the 33 plural wives. Thirteen of the unions, he believes, were "eternal," not connubial.
"Claiming sexuality in more than nine plural unions," Hales writes,"goes beyond the evidence."
But Lawrence Foster, author of Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community, sees no reason to believe that Smith wasn't fully involved with the women he chose as "spiritual wives."
Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community"He was a handsome, dynamic leader with great physical and intellectual vitality — a man not afraid to break with convention," Foster, who specializes in American religious history at Georgia Tech, writes in his book. "Many of his statements reveal a basically positive attitude toward sexual expression, as well as the difficulty he sometimes had in keeping his impulses in check."
Offspring and other men's wives
Historians agree that at least two children were born of Smith's relations with women beyond his first wife, Compton says. But a key problem with documenting his progeny is that 14 of the so-called marriages were between women who were already married to other men, says George D. Smith, author of Nauvoo Polygamy: ' ... But We Called it Celestial Marriage.'
Latter-day Saints explain these relationships in two ways, says George Smith, himself a Mormon.
Nauvoo Polygamy: "... but we called it celestial marriage""Either the women must have separated from their husbands during the interval that Smith was married to them, then went back to them and continued to have children in their original families — a fanciful explanation, I think," he says. "Or Smith is connected to these married women by 'celestial sealing,' which does not include sleeping together as man and wife."

To George Smith, neither explanation seems reasonable, but it is still curious why there were not more documented children.
Researchers have suggested eight possible offspring from Joseph Smith's plural wives, Hales says, but DNA testing on descendants has failed to prove any link. So, he argues, Smith must not have had frequent sex with too many of the women, who were young and likely fertile.
That may be, Foster says, because of Smith's extensive leadership obligations and the prying eyes of friends, neighbors — and especially Emma.
So how did he persuade monogamous men and women in a puritanical society to go along with his plan for multiple marriage partners?
Smith preached fervently and frequently about the nature of the family, including extensive relations between generations, righteous "dynasties" and "adopted" friends. It was at the core of his theology.
Jeffs sermonized about that, too, but also trained women in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in ways to please him sexually during what he called "heavenly sessions."
Hales and other LDS historians believe Smith's intimate relations were about procreation, not sexual satisfaction. They claim Smith did not talk openly about his own pleasure.
Nonsense, says Foster.
"Joseph Smith did talk quite a lot about sex, even if some of the later records have been cleaned up quite a bit. One of the most common code words for plural marriage was that it was a man's 'privilege' and Joseph told one follower that 'it is your privilege to have as many wives as you want.' "
Still, Foster says, Smith largely couched his proposals in religious terms.
Smith proffered a promise of salvation and even told 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball that it would extend to her entire family if she complied.
Smith "skillfully used a wide range of pressure tactics to try to convince women to become his plural wives," Foster says, "including threatening them with perdition if they wouldn't go along with him."
"The gate [to salvation] will be forever closed against you," Foster says Smith told one woman if she refused him.
Nancy Rigdon, daughter of Smith's counselor Sidney Rigdon, was furious at the Mormon prophet's proposal to her, Compton says.
Hales argues that most of the women Smith approached were free to reject him — and some did. None, Hales says, even the seven who abandoned their LDS faith, ever spoke ill of him or their relationship.
"Decades after their feelings had matured and their youthful perspectives expanded by additional experiences with marriage and sexual relations, none of them claimed they were victimized or beguiled by the prophet," Hales says. "None came forth to write an expos√© to tell the world he was a seducing imposter. None wrote that Joseph Smith's polygamy was a sham or a cover-up for illicit sexual relations."

[read the entire article here]

Search for Books about Warren Jeffs

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