I learned that Joseph Smith had many wives when I was in seminary at Provo High School in the 1970’s. It bothered me, but I figured if the Church is true we would just have to accept certain doctrines whether we liked them or not or understood them or not. It was the same with the teaching that Heavenly Father came down and had sexual intercourse with Mary, the mother of Jesus. I clearly remember sitting in my seminary class in 10th grade. The teacher said that Jesus was the “literal” son of Heavenly father and was conceived in the same way that the rest of us were. I was mortified. Just to clarify and make sure I understood him correctly, I went up after class and asked,
“Brother Tanner, are you saying that…well, you know…that Heavenly Father came down and, well, you know,” I felt my cheeks turning red, “that he ‘did it’ with Mary?”
“That’s right,” the teacher replied. “But there was nothing immoral about it. Mary was set apart as one of Heavenly Father’s wives in the preexistence.”
“But What about Joseph?” My mind was reeling. That poor man! Spending his life with Mary for “time only,” while in the eternities she would be given back to Heavenly Father.
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Brother Tanner said. “It will all be worked out when this life is over.”
My eyes welled up with tears, and as soon as I got out the door of the seminary building I ran across the lawn behind the school, weeping. “How can this be?” I cried out in silent prayer. “Heavenly Father, please help me understand!” The thought that maybe the Church wasn’t true struck me, and I was suddenly gripped with fear. What if I had made the biggest mistake of my life by becoming a Mormon?
For days I was in turmoil. Fast & Testimony Meeting Sunday approached, and when it came I heard affirmation after affirmation by all the people I respected as they testified of the truthfulness of the gospel. I felt comforted at last. I decided to put Jesus’ conception on a mental shelf tucked carefully away in the back of my mind. If the Church was true then all the things I didn’t understand at present would be sorted out in the afterlife. Polygamy was one of those issues.
The seminary program rotated the curriculum over a four-year period, so from ninth through twelfth grades students would learn about the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants/Pearl of Great Price, Old Testament, and New Testament. During the year we studied the D&C I learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and how Emma had a hard time coming to terms with it. I was taught that Joseph himself was loathe to take on other wives, but that an angel with a drawn flaming sword threatened to take his life if he didn’t obey God and live the principle of plural marriage. I felt sorry for him and Emma both.
Over the years we didn’t hear much about Joseph Smith’s polygamy. The knowledge of it was always bubbling under the surface, and on the rare occasions when it was brought up in a Sunday school or Relief Society lesson it was always spoken in somber and reverential tones. If the Prophet Joseph Smith wasn’t too happy about having to have more than one wife, then we shouldn’t be happy discussing it. That was our inference.
Brigham Young and his 50-something wives was a different story altogether. It was almost an enjoyable narrative to discuss, as it was easy to imagine President Young compassionately marrying as many pioneer widows as possible, whose husbands had perished on the plains. Of course, I secretly harbored the thought that he could have just provided for them instead of marrying them, which would have been the nobler thing to do; giving to someone that you know can’t give back. Otherwise it appeared too gauche: I’ll take care of you as long as you put out once every 53 days.
I knew a lot about the Church’s history and the foibles of its leaders. I knew they weren’t perfect and didn’t expect them to be. Maybe a cut above the rest of us; after all, they were so valiant in the preexistence that they were sent down to earth to be the great leaders of The Restoration. The Church told us not to expect perfection from its leaders, although we were warned never to speak ill of them. The truth was they were human too. But that’s only half the story.
It wasn’t the half-truths (the half that I was told) that made me leave the Church. It was the other half, the untold half that caused me to realize that Mormonism is not the Way, the Truth, and the Life that leads to reconciliation with God. The Mormon Church, for all the good it may have done over the last couple centuries, is simply a religion that began in the imagination of a man named Joseph Smith and evolved into a massive organization ran by men whose ideals got confused somewhere along the way.
The history shows that Mormonism was never based on truth. It began with a con about Gold Plates that (conveniently) got taken up to heaven, that were never actually seen by the physical eyes of the Three Witnesses, but rather with their “spiritual eyes” (in other words they imagined it).
You see, as members of the Church we were told one thing, but the reality was another.
- The Urim and Thummim? Smith buried his face in his hat.
- The angel Moroni? The original story was the angel Nephi.
- Joseph had a few wives? 40 to be exact, including a 14-year-old and other men’s wives.
- The Temple Ceremony? Lifted from the Masons.
- American Indians descended from Jews? DNA proves otherwise.
- Book of Abraham written by the Patriarch Abraham himself? Uh, not.
- Early Mormons persecuted? Yes, after doing some pretty horrendous things first.
I didn’t leave the Church because of the things I was taught; I left over the things I wasn’t. When I found out the details they weren’t telling me, they denied it despite the evidence, like a five year old insisting he didn’t get into the cookies when there are crumbs all over his shirt and remnants of chocolate chips in his teeth. And when I got the courage to point out that “the emperor had no clothes,” they demonized me and threatened to excommunicate me simply for speaking the truth.
To those Mormons who are now questioning, whose faith has been shaken, I implore you to do your own research. The Church lied to you about many things; how can you trust that their new “transparency” (think “Perestroika and Glasnost”) is really all that transparent?