Joseph Smith Practiced Polygamy, The Mormon Church Admits (Very Quietly)

Despite what Big Love and Chloe Sevigny taught us, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stopped recognizing plural marriages as a practice nearly 125 years ago. But in a surprising essay issued by the church, it recognized for the first time that Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, practiced polygamy. The research, published on the LDS site, estimates that Smith had between 30 and 40 wives, some as young as 14

The admission is the church's answer to criticism of its systematic secrecy. For the last year LDS has, with little fanfare, posted 12 essays discussing the more troublesome aspects of the church — including polygamy. The volunteered explanations could help address some of its member's fears, fueled by an ability to quickly access a trove of information via the Internet. Elder Steven E. Snow, the church historian, told The New York Times that clearing up the sometimes murky history of the church is important.

There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history. We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history. I believe our history is full of stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice, but these people weren’t perfect.
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It isn't so much that the church admitted to Smith's multiple wives more than the extensive details the research revealed. Until now, Smith's perpetuated biography only included his first wife, Emma Hale Smith. LDS' essay details Smith's hesitance to be sealed to multiple women, but said that angels appeared to him three times to tell him that polygamy was God's will. Emma Smith was aware of four of the marriages, which she accepted into her household. But the church admits that Emma Smith likely had no idea the extent of her husband's polygamy. Even more shocking, the essay revealed that Smith was married to other men's wives.

The transparency, however, seems feigned. The church isn't exactly highlighting these potentially illuminating essays, but rather keeping them deep in the annals of the website despite the groundbreaking impact that the revelations have had on the church members who've actually seen them, such as blogger Emily Jensen. "This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love," Jensen told The New York Times.

It's admirable that LDS wants to eradicate some of the persistent complaints about their inner-workings, but with virtually no promotion from the church itself, it's kind of the equivalent of whispering something important in the middle of a concert. When it takes The New York Times making it front page news for people to even be talking about it, your motives seem a bit fishy.

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