Sunday, December 11, 2011

Polygamy frankly discussed in church publication (Joseph Smith Papers volume)

Excerpts of Thoughts on the introduction to the new JSP Volume: Journals Vol. 2 (1841-43) By: Ben Park, Juvenile Instructor
...The Joseph Smith Papers just released the most recent addition to their foundational series. Journals, Volume 2 (1841-1843) ... I just want to comment on a single section of the introduction; in fact, only about seven pages of the introduction....  in a little over twenty pages, they had to update their readers on what happened between 1838 (when the last Journals volume ended) to when Willard Richards became Smith's journal keeper in December 1841 ...  about a third of the entire introduction—of discussion on the origin, documentation, and controversy over polygamy. And it's not just the length of the discussion that's surprising, but also the content.
They openly discuss controversial issues with the practice, using terms like "conjugal relations" (xxv) and "polyandrous marriages" (xxvii), and refuse to shy away from facts that the Church has in the past ignored. They admit that Smith likely consummated some, but not all, of his plural marriages, they list several plural wives who were already married to other men at the time of their sealing to Smith, and they detail the secretive nature of this controversial practice during the period. While they do spend most of their time on the problematic nature of the documents that outline polygamy ...
Of course, these details aren't new. Indeed, a cynic might say this publication deserves more of an "about time" shrug than a celebratory post. But as an optimist, I find in this introduction an important sign of change in how the Church handles its history—or, perhaps more correctly, an important sign of the continued change that has taken place over the last decade. These volumes go through a horrendous gauntlet of review before they can be finished, a review process that includes not just external, academic reviewers (a list that includes several prominent documentary editors), but also a group of internal, ecclesiastical reviewers, including a number of the Brethren we sustain to lead the Church (and whom others accuse of hiding our history). The fact that this introduction passed this review of Church leaders, is found in a book sponsored by the institutional Church, is printed through a Church-controlled press (Church Historian's Press), and is marketed by the Church's conservative merchandise arm (Deseret Book), should, I think, be cause for celebration. Kudos to the Joseph Smith Papers Project for providing this great project, to the volume's editors for producing responsible and credible scholarship, and to the Church for encouraging this change.
The charge of the Church hiding its history is finally becoming less credible....
Read the entire article here.