Our family has a tradition to celebrate the prophet Joseph Smith’s birthday on Dec. 23rd of each year. A friend recently commented that they did not feel there is much to celebrate about Joseph Smith based on many of the things they have read about him lately. We inquired what this was about and they answered that it was about Joseph’s plural wives and other information they had read on a website called Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith, wivesofjosephsmith.org.
I decided to check out the website. The friend thought it was a credible website, so I wanted to see for myself. While I’m no historian or Mormon Church history expert, I have read a lot of Church history, including a significant amount on difficult subjects like polygamy. As I perused the websites, here are some of the red flags I saw:
Red Flag #1: The Site Author Remains Anonymous
There is no indication of who runs the wivesofjosephsmith.org website. There’s no about us section or copyright notice. This causes me to wonder, why are they hiding who they are? Even when site visitors have emailed the author and asked who is the sponsor of this website, they still did not answer (see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Who.htm ). All the author will state is that “I am a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” And when asked if he or she is a member in good standing, the author says “Personally, it has been difficult for me to be comfortable with many of the events surrounding early polygamy – and I suppose this has distanced me somewhat at church.”
Red Flag #2: Bias Comes through in Prejudicial Language
Though the author of the site claims to be simply presenting the unbiased information, he or she lets their true feelings come through often by their comments, conclusions, and by the information they choose and choose not to reveal. The author’s bias is loud and clear when he/she says “My greatest hope in this regard is that one day the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy as appropriate.”
On their FAQ page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/FAQ.htm, the use of quotes shows their skepticism regarding Joseph’s revelation on plural marriage. The author further comes to the conclusion that the church phased out the practice due to intense pressure from the government, not because of revelation from God, again showing prejudice. While it is true there was intense pressure from the government, it was ultimately revelation to the prophet that ended the practice of plural marriage and the sites makes no mention of that.
Red Flag #3: Leaving Out Important Background Information
The author of the site quotes Oliver Cowdery, in reference to Joseph’s first plural wife, Fanny Alger, calling it “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” What the author leaves out is a lot of important background to this quote. Oliver’s falling out with Joseph and the Church had largely to do with polygamy. When Oliver found out about Joseph taking an additional wife, he accused Joseph of adultery. Ultimately, Oliver Cowdery who was excommunicated and it was under these circumstances that the quote from Oliver comes.
Red Flag #4: Leaving a False Impression
On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Praise.htm, the site author quotes material that is clearly out to make Joseph Smith look like a sex crazed maniac, preying on any woman, no matter how young, who stayed in the same home as him. The author wants to leave the impression that polygamy was simply about Joseph satisfying his manly urges. I don’t believe that’s true of Joseph Smith, and I don’t believe there is evidence that Joseph was that kind of man. There’s no evidence of him bragging of his sexual exploits, as you would expect if he really were a sex-crazed maniac. There’s nothing in Joseph’s language or in the record of his associates to support that conclusion. Joseph’s eye was single to the glory of God, and an honest study of his words and deeds shows that.
The purposeful leaving of a false impression reminds me of Elder Neil L. Andersen’s talk on Joseph Smith in the October 2014 General Conference in which he talks about a misleading photograph taken of Elder Russell M. Nelson. “The picture was true, the caption was true, but the truth was used to promote a false impression.”
Red Flag #5: Pinning Statements on Others
Even thought he author remains anonymous, he or she still feels compelled to pin statements the he or she clearly agrees with, on other people. On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Why.htm, the author of the site does not take responsibility for the statements below, pinning them instead on “an increasing number of LDS church members,” but it’s clear these are the author’s feelings:
- “Joseph Smith’s behavior seems inappropriate or manipulative – perhaps even abusive.”
- “All this seems foreign to the God they worship and the principles they honor and love.”
- “They hope for the day when the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s behavior in polygamy as appropriate.”
- “I just want you to know that I don’t think this was appropriate, or of God.”
Again, there is nothing unbiased or objective about these statements. Whether these statements are the author’s or someone else’s, they are jumping to conclusions that are contrary to the teachings of LDS Church leaders.
It is clear that the author of that website feels that Joseph’s practicing of plural marriage was manipulative, inappropriate, and not of God, and he or she is trying to persuade others to draw the same conclusion. The author quotes select information, fills in the blanks with conjecture, and implies conclusions that are subjective.
While I have read much of the same historical material as the author of that website, I have come to much different conclusions. I see Joseph Smith as a man and a prophet of God. He was a good man, but not a perfect man. He made mistakes, but he was faithful to the end in his calling as a prophet of God. While some people choose to attack Joseph Smith, I am going to continue to do my best to defend Joseph Smith, honor him as the great prophet of our dispensation, and testify of the wonderful truths and blessings he brought forth as an instrument in the hands of God.