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Wrestling With Polyandry


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I agree we shouldn't belittle the women's claim of spiritual experiences. But this whole spiritual experience thing is tricky business. So, when modern LDS members decide to up and join a polygamous group, and a married women is sealed to another man all with accompanying spiritual experience, what would be your counsel to them? Follow what you believe God has told you to do?

Senator,

I certainly agree that assessing the meaning of spiritual experiences can be tricky. (Heck, you're talking to someone who left the Church for five years because, in part, I then reinterpreted my spiritual experiences as not having having epistemic value). Rather than treat such experiences as a very simple matter, I would say that fully learning the spirit of revelation is much like learning wisdom: it is complex and only comes with deep searching and long experience.

My point was not that these women's spiritual experiences were reliable (though I wouldn't challenge that), but rather that it's ironic how some complain that polygamy negated the women involved while the one complaining blithely negates those women by denying that they were anything other than Joseph Smith's sexual pawns. These women were autonomous agents with their own minds and spiritual judgment--which they used!

I'm not, of course, saying that they didn't feel great emotional pressure to accept plural marriage, only that chalking their spiritual witness of polygamy up to nothing more than that is a way of invalidating them.

Don

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Prophets and of our ecclesiastical leaders are vessels to move the work forward, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. They should not always be expected to be examples for us. By nature of the fall all men will sin, no exception. Just because someone is called as a leader of the flock does not mean they stop sinning. It means they are the person that is best able to move the work forward. It is faulty to look to men for examples of a perfect life. There is only one way we should look and that is towards Jesus Christ.

Bingo, Tyler! We already have a moral exemplar, and it ain't Joseph Smith!

While I do see Joseph as having some utterly remarkable character strengths, to look to him as a moral paragon is to set oneself up for disappointment. He neither was nor claimed to be that. In fact, he repeatedly claimed the opposite, denying for instance that he was "a great deal better than" everyone else, and even saying once that he was "not a very righteous man." Righteousness is, of course, relative, but Joseph clearly saw and publicly acknowledged his own completely human sinfulness, God bless him!

Don

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My memory says that polyandrous wives were married at the beginning of his practice of plural marriage for a year or two as opposed to later when he was sealed to single women exclusively (there were single women he was sealed to during the time period of the polyandrous marriages).

If so, I wonder if his understanding of the purpose of sealings changed overtime to include the necessity of a more normal/intimate relationship with those women he was sealed with, the original it was almost all about making connections and that later while this was still of prime important (because I believe the very young sealings were not consummated at the time, but were anticipated to be when they were older), having descendants was made of equal importance....however, this does not explain the low number of potential children to his later wives.

I can also see him being sealed to establish connections and set an example, but knowing his ultimate fate and feeling too weak to ask this of all the women he was sealed to, believing and seeking from the Lord permission not to leave behind him so many that would be shattered by his death....though I suppose some could point out that his wives were able to find other husbands, either plural or monogamous at the time to support them, he still might have been concerned about the emotional impact of his death on someone who was completely his wife as opposed to someone who was ceremonially his wife and thus wanted to leave less of the latter where possible.

It explains for me the small number of potential children though of course is complete speculation.

Edited by calmoriah
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The only conclusive proof is a DNA test. To date none of the potential offspring of Joseph, other than those with Emma, have shown up. Don't you find it rather odd that with a fertile man with dozens of fertile women that at least one wouldn't show up?

Of the several alleged descendants tested and disconfirmed, most never had much chance of being Joseph's anyway. There is only one of them that I believed there was any substantive evidence for as his descendant. And the DNA evidence for another likely child (Josephine) is still pending. However, the historical evidence for her being Joseph's child is extremely strong.

I believe I know of five such children--Josephine, two who died in infancy, and two I have identified in my own research and whose descendants are potentially testable.

Don

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If one reads Helen Mar's words on the matter, she did not fully understand the matter when it was first informed about it. She evidently did not pray about the matter either, but accepted it because it came from the prophet Joseph and her father. She had complete confidence in Joseph as a prophet, and just as important, in her father and his righteousness and understanding of the gospel, and knew that he would never knowingly steer her into a wrong path.

It is evident that Helen did later obtain a witness that polygamy was a commandment from God, as she wrote a very strong endorsement for it later in life.

Glenn

Thank you for the further information. However, keep in mind the purpose of my thought experiment is to show that if there should be good reason to set aside the spiritual experiences of the women involved, that need not imply that our spiritual experiences regarding other matters automatically comes into question.

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Wouldn't the issue of Smith not impregnating his wives have something to do with the menstrual cycle? Are there not just 4 days a month (ovulation) when a woman is likely to fall pregnant? If he is visiting women on various occasions, maybe without Emma's knowledge would he not be under stress?

But he was still having children with Emma during this same time period.
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One of the stronger claims for polyandrous sexuality would be that of Mary Heron Snider, whose son-in-law Joseph E. Johnson (brother of Benjamin F. Johnson) said consummated a marriage to Joseph in his (Johnson's) household.

Brian Hales discusses this case at some length in his books. (It was first found by D. Michael Quinn, and then I located the source in Mike's papers at Yale and provided it to Brian.) Brian calls Johnson's testimony into question because he finds it at odds with Joseph's theology on marriage and because Johnson may have wanted to use Joseph's reported behavior to justify his own questionable behavior.

Still, what we have here is clearly evidence: a believing Latter-day Saint reported to the 12 that he knew Joseph had consummated a marriage to his mother-in-law in his own house; and no one present called him on this.

The case of Sylvia Session Lyon provides even stronger evidence of polyandrous sexuality (though, of course, Brian Hales offers a plausible scenario under which it may not have been, citing family sources in support of this scenario). Sylvia believed Joseph had fathered a child by her. Whether she was right about Josephine's paternity or not (and the name chosen for the girl suggests a high degree of confidence!), the very fact that she could believe the child was his indicates that she and Joseph had a sexual dimension to their marriage.

There are reasons to suspect that Sylvia and her legal husband Windsor Lyon had a de facto divorce after Windsor's excommunication and before Josephine's conception. But since this, far more than Josephine's paternity, is uncertain, the case provides some reason to believe in polyandrous sexuality.

I'm not taking the position that Joseph Smith participated in sexual polyandry. But I think it's best to be realistic that there is some evidence for it and that the evidence could end up tipping in that direction. How could one rule that out?

Hence my OP question. If we were faced with Joseph Smith having participated in sexually polyandrous marriages, how would we deal with that?

Don

Was Johnson's mother-in-law married at the time? What, exactly, did the Twelve fail to call Johnson on? Joseph's sexuality in a polygynous marriage or the mother-in-law's sexuality in a polyandrous marriage?

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I think Sylvia Session's words can just as easily be construed as claiming Josephina was Joseph's because mother having been sealed to Joseph, as she was Joseph's bio child. The sealing did make Josephina Joseph's for God's purposes, no matter who her bio father would have been. If sylvia understood sealings, telling Josephina she was JS for eternity would have had far more relevance on a death bed, than who her bio was.

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Incredible. You as much as accuse all those women of being the most egregious of liars....

Someone was lying.

Either it was Joseph and Emma, or it was those women married to ploygmaous men in Utah- who it seems would have a vested interest in attaching Joseph's name to their practice of "the Principle".

I believe Joseph and Emma, you believe the women.

That's about all there is to it.

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While I know this position to be false, I wish that it were true. It would simplify things--greatly. So, while I can handle knowing the overwhelming evidence that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy (and that he covered it up), I envy you.

BTW, are you Utah LDS, or in one of those other denominations you mentioned?

Don

"Overwhelming" hardly describes the evidence in either direction.

It comes down to whether you believe Joseph was a liar, and perjurer, who toosed men out of the church for practcing what he taught in order to hide his own practice of a supposedly righteous principle or you believe he told the truth in sermons, court, and church discipline. Keep in mind this is the same man who said he would stand for a correct principle even if he were the only one in the world.

I am neither, I am a RLDS Restorationionst. I believe Joseph was a prophet to the end and didn't teach polygamy. If I were a member of the two other I mentioned, I would be telling you he did practice it and that he had fallen from his calling.

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To answer Don's original post, sexual polyandry could be a deal-breaker for me. Not for the truth of the Book of Mormon. But for what Joseph Smith became.

As to tagriffy's question about why it matters anymore than polygamy, for me there are a couple of reasons. Polygamy was sanctioned in the OT so it's not hard to justify it more recently based on that alone. Also, I tend to look at the institution of polygamy in the early church as something that both carmelised the saints and separated them from the "gentiles." It may sound counter-intuitive, but I wonder if they could have held together so well without the persecutions and other hardships they endured. Polyandry doesn't avail itself of these two justifications which are both valid for polygamy.

Also, I was aware of JS's and BY's polygamy from an early age. But I had never heard of polyandry discussed until a few years ago on this board. So if it turns out that JS did practice sexual polyandry that would qualify as something that the church has covered up. Again, this is something that makes polyandry a different problem than polygamy.

But here's a question for those who don't think sexual polyandry is a deal-breaker: Is there anything that JS could have done that would be a deal-breaker?

Amen! The truth of the Book of Mormon stands independent of any man or organization.

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DNA studies used to prove Joseph fathered no children with polygamous wife's = good science/conclusive results

DNA studies used to prove Native Americans don't have Jewish ancestry = bad science/inconclusive results

Have you read the articles on DNA studies and Native Americans and why there would hardly be any DNA results?

Glenn

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I think Sylvia Session's words can just as easily be construed as claiming Josephina was Joseph's because mother having been sealed to Joseph, as she was Joseph's bio child. The sealing did make Josephina Joseph's for God's purposes, no matter who her bio father would have been. If sylvia understood sealings, telling Josephina she was JS for eternity would have had far more relevance on a death bed, than who her bio was.

I disagree. If Sylvia merely meant that Joseph was Josephina's spiritual father, why wait until she was on her deathbed to say anything. And if Josephina thought spiritual fatherhood was that that Sylvia meant, why go to the trouble of swearing out an affidavit without clarifying the matter?

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"Overwhelming" hardly describes the evidence in either direction.

BoMLuvr, having spent two years gathering most of the couple thousand sources used in Brian C. Hales's series Joseph Smith's Polygamy I feel entitled to my own judgment on whether that evidence is overwhelming. But--please note--I'm not trying to press that judgment onto you. Why would I want to convince you of this when I wish it weren't so myself?

I am neither, I am a RLDS Restorationionst. I believe Joseph was a prophet to the end and didn't teach polygamy. If I were a member of the two other I mentioned, I would be telling you he did practice it and that he had fallen from his calling.

Wonderful. I have a great deal of respect for your faith. It's been a shame to see the Community of Christ give up so much of the Restoration. And I'm happy that you are keeping the beautiful RLDS tradition alive.

Don

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I believe I know of five such children--Josephine, two who died in infancy, and two I have identified in my own research and whose descendants are potentially testable.

Don

Very very interesting but not surprising considering the fact that you started this thread, as I said earlier. You are a good man, I think, to handle it this way!

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And if Josephina thought spiritual fatherhood was that that Sylvia meant, why go to the trouble of swearing out an affidavit without clarifying the matter?

I agree that the "spiritual daughter" explanation doesn't really hold water. Quinn writes that "Although Josephine Lyon didn't know [about her alleged paternity] until 1882, and didn't make an affidavit to that effect until three decades later, Angus M. Cannon (president of the Salt Lake Stake since 1876) told Joseph Smith III that Brigham Young had referred to her in 1877: 'That girl, I believe, is living today in Bountiful, north of this city. I heard Prest. Young, a short time before his death [in August 1877], refer to the report and remark that he had never seen the girl, but he would like to see her for himself, that he might determine if she bore any likeness to your father.' A decade after Young's death, a devout Mormon (George H. Brimhall) wrote on 1 January 1888: '... had a talk with Father Hales, who told me that it was said that Joseph Smith had a daughter named Josephine living at Bountiful, Utah'" (Quinn, "The Sexual Side of Joseph Smith's Polygamy," 2). If Brigham Young had not believed it possible that Josephine was Joseph's biological daughter, he would hardly have been curious about her resemblance to him.

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Oh, I don't think it would be necessary to go quite that far. Consider this thought experiment. According to Compton, for example, there is reason to believe Helen Mar Whitney did not fully understand what she was getting into when she was sealed to Joseph. Assuming she had a spiritual experience prior to the sealing (mind you, I do not have the full story), then, in theory, one could say her experience was based on asking the wrong question. We would therefore be justified in setting aside that experience without having to deny one's own experience about the Book of Mormon.

The other problem with this approach is that we do not have a "control" in place telling us what the will of God was "really" for any of these women. We are assuming that we know God's will and that any answer which included her involving herself in a relationship with Joseph must have been "wrong"

We can't know that. We have no right to "set aside" anyone's revelation because it does not agree with our misconceptions of what the will of God is for that individual.

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Please re-read my post. You completely misunderstood the whole thing

The entire point was that even IF Joseph was a "fallen prophet" which he was not, it would be irrelevant to the validity of his revelations.

If the folks at CARM see that as something in their favor, they are drastically mistaken, and even stupider than I thought.

:fool::help:

I just realized I left out one very important word here.

I meant that one line to read "... it would be irrelevant to the validity of his PREVIOUS revelations."

:pardon:

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I do find it odd that not one of the alleged offspring of Joseph, other than those with Emma, have been confirmed.

Don may have come up with the smoking gun here.

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..

I am neither, I am a RLDS Restorationionst. I believe Joseph was a prophet to the end and didn't teach polygamy. If I were a member of the two other I mentioned, I would be telling you he did practice it and that he had fallen from his calling.

This position of yours remains inconceivable to me.

JS knew about the highest leaders and women in the Church practicing sexual polygany, in secret, in Nauvoo. And yet he did nothing? The Prophet taught it, and nearly all the men and women involved in the "calling" to plurality of wives had wholly negative reactions to "the principle", until they got a testimony of it and buckled under and obeyed JS. Or do you discount all those witnesses too as liars?

What about the children born to plural wives in Nauvoo while JS was alive? "The thirty polygamous husbands from 1841 up to Joseph Smith's

death on June 27,1844, had married a total of 114 legal and plural wives, who had borne 132 children."

http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V34N0102_135.pdf

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