the thinker

Leaving Mormonism: My Story by Brian Staley

Here is a brief account of my recent experience regarding the Mormon Church (LDS). Following that account is a document with my thoughts on polygamy that I would like to share on the MormonThink website

Brian Staley
September 07, 2008

I am 40 years old, and up until about a year ago, I was 100% Mormon (LDS). I had done it all by the book: graduated from seminary, one year at Ricks, served a mission (was AP), got married in the temple three months after my mission, graduated from BYU, completed graduate school at the University of Utah, had a few babies, served in the elders quorum, three bishoprics, and so on, just like I was supposed to. I was one of those Mormons who would have given my life for the church if asked, then it all suddenly started crumbing down (or becoming clear, however you want to phrase it). I had never put forth much effort to learn anything outside of my Sunday school or priesthood classes, and I had only the most superficial knowledge of the controversial aspects of church history. For the record, I did not have a problems keeping any of the commandants.

During a layover at the Salt Lake airport I went to a bookstore to get something to read on the flight home. I picked up Carolyn Jessop's book Escape because it looked interesting, and her picture on the cover showed something in her eyes that I wanted to understand. After reading the first half of the book on the plane I was so disturbed that I got my wife out of bed at midnight when I got home to talk. Fortunately for me, she had read some things about polygamy a few years ago that had disturbed her, and although I was unaware of it, she had already begun to alter her perception of Joseph Smith. After reading this book about the horrors within the FLDS community, I had to know what, if any, similarities there were between polygamy in the FLDS community and polygamy as it was practice in the days of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. Next I read Wife No. 19 by Anna Eliza Young (she was kind of a 19th century Carolyn Jessop), Tell It All by Fanny Stenhouse, and In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton. I am sure some of you see where I am going with this. I was shocked by the similarities between FLDS polygamy and polygamy in the early days of the church.

The next thing I did was search the internet to see what other skeletons were hiding in the LDS church closet that I didn't know about. I found a few other interesting gems: there are various conflicting accounts of the first vision; the Book of Mormon was translated using a stone in a hat (the same stone used to look for buried treasure); a portion of the Book of Abraham papyri have been rediscovered and found to be common Egyptian funeral documents that don't even mention Abraham; many of the animals, plants and technologies mentioned in the Book of Mormon didn't exist in America before Columbus; Brigham Young had crazy beliefs about "blood atonement" (which led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre), etc. At this point, I am left completely without a testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the church. I am looking for a quiet way slip out of activity in the church without drawing attention to myself. I am lucky that my wife has taken this journey with me, and we are in complete agreement on everything pertaining to the church. Unfortunately, our parents and siblings are all members, and we were both given fairly prominent callings in the ward just prior to finding all of this stuff out. We are struggling along in our callings, dodging all of the situations where we would be expected to testify of Joseph Smith in public. We both still believe in Jesus Christ, and we love the members of the church. Some of the best people I know are within the church. Part of me wants to tell them everything I have learned, and part of me feels like it would be like telling a kindergartner there is no Santa.

As a therapeutic exercise, and in preparation just in case I ever have to defend my beliefs in front of a bishop, I have written down my thoughts and discoveries about polygamy. This document takes up about 20 pages, but I believe I have condensed many of the most powerful arguments against polygamy into this document. I believe it leaves no justification for polygamy the way Joseph Smith practiced it. I would like to share it with all of you in the ex-Mormon community for feedback and for your reading enjoyment.

Comparison of polygamy as taught in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 with the way it was actually practiced by Joseph Smith.

D&C 132 contains 66 verses, but the specific instructions on polygamous marriage are contained primarily in only five verses, 61-65 (emphasis added):

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfill the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.
64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power [seems to refer specifically to Joseph], and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife. [see page 10 for a discussion on Abraham, Sarah and Hagar]

The only form of polygamy permitted by D&C 132 is a union with a virgin after first giving the opportunity to the first wife to consent to the marriage. If the first wife doesn't consent, the husband is exempt and may still take an additional wife, but the first wife must at least have the opportunity to consent. In the case the first wife doesn't consent, she will be "destroyed." Also, the new wife must be a virgin before the marriage and be completely monogamous after the marriage or she will be destroyed (verses 41 and 63). It is interesting that the only prerequisite that is mentioned for the man is that he must desire another wife:" - if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another…" (v. 61) It doesn't say that the man must get a specific revelation from the living prophet, although we assume today that this is what was meant. D&C 132 is unequivocal on the point that polygamy is permitted only "to multiply and replenish the earth" and "bear the souls of men." This would be consistent with the Book of Mormon prohibition on marriage except in the case where God commands it to "raise up seed." (Jacob 2:30)

The way polygamy was actually practiced by Joseph Smith:

Joseph married women who were already married (multiple husbands = polyandry). About one third (including nine of the first twelve) plural wives of Joseph Smith were married to other men at the time he married them, and they continued to live as husband and wife with their prior husband after marrying Joseph Smith. Joseph's polygamy also included:

D&C 132:63 clearly states that the only purpose of polygamy is to "multiply and replenish the earth" and "bear the souls of men."

Also, verse 63 states that if the new wives are with another man after the polygamous marriage, they will be destroyed. Eleven of Joseph's wives lived with their prior husbands after marrying Joseph Smith, but there is no record of any of them being destroyed.

How about the consent of the first wife, which receives so much attention in D&C 132? Emma was unaware of most of Joseph's plural marriages, at least until after the fact, which violates section 132.

Did Joseph have sexual relations with these women?

The social customs of the time prevented most women from discussing sexuality, but even the most conservative LDS authors agree that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with at least some of his plural wives. Examples of documentary evidence of the sexual aspect of Joseph's polygamous marriages are given in Appendix 1. Thirteen faithful Latter-day Saint women who were married to Joseph Smith swore in court affidavits that they had sexual relations with him. Some of these affidavits were made at the request of the church to combat claims by the Reorganized LDS church that Joseph never practiced polygamy and certainly never had sexual relations with anyone other than Emma.

The following are brief accounts of some of Joseph's polygamous marriages:

Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he [her father] offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet's own mouth.

My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the altar: how cruel this seemed to my mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for he [her father] had already taken Sarah Noon to wife and she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice but the Lord required more. (Helen Mar Whitney Journal, Helen Mar Autobiography, Womans Exponent, 1880 and recently reprinted in A Woman's view).

Helen was given 24 hours to decide whether to marry Joseph. Of this, Helen wrote:

[my father] left me to reflect upon it for the next twenty four hours.…I was sceptical - one minute believed, then doubted. I thought of the love and tenderness that he felt for his only daughter, and I knew that he would not cast me off, and this was the only convincing proof that I had of its being right.

Up to this point, Helen had not spoken to Joseph personally regarding the matter. The next morning, Joseph Smith visited Helen to explain the "law of Celestial Marriage" and encourage her. In her memoir, she wrote:

After which he said to me, 'if you take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father's household and all of your kindred.' This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.

Helen also writes about her mother's reaction to all of this:

None but God and his angels could see my mother's bleeding heart - when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied 'If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.

She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older and who better understood the step they were taking, and to see her child, who had yet seen her fifteenth summer, following the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was hidden from me."(Mormon Polygamy by church member Richard S. Van Wagoner, p. 53.)

Official denials of polygamy:

Joseph publicly denied polygamy and he asked others to deny it on his behalf. These denials were published in official church publications.

On May 26, 1844 Joseph made the following denial regarding polygamy next to the Nauvoo temple. This was one of his last public addresses (emphasis added):

I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man does not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this…I wish the grand jury would tell me who they are - whether it will be a curse or blessing to me. I am quite tired of the fools asking me…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 410-411)

Was there only one of his wives within his field of vision at the time? Was there only one wife within the congregation? This reminds me too much of, "It depends upon what the definition of the word 'is' is."

Polygamy led to widespread dishonesty among the leaders of the church and from many of the rank and file members. Even some of the apostles perjured themselves before the congress of the United States when they were called to testify in the Reed Smoot hearings, which were a series of Congressional hearings from 1904 to 1907 on whether the United States Senate should seat LDS apostle and elected senator Reed Smoot. The hearings revealed that polygamy was continuing to a small degree into the 20th century. Polygamous marriages were performed in the LDS church up until 1910, primarily in Mexico and Canada, but there are also records of post-manifesto polygamous marriages in the Logan and Salt Lake temples.

President Joseph F. Smith was interrogated on the stand for three days before the Senate committee during the Reed Smoot hearings. He admitted that the church had not abandoned polygamy, despite its official declarations. The complete transcripts of these hearings are public domain and are available on the internet or in a book. Here is a portion of President Joseph F. Smith's testimony before the Senate committee:

(Proceedings in the Smoot Case, Volume 1, pages 334-335)

For a summary of post-manifesto polygamous marriages and examples of perjury during the Reed Smoot hearings see: LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890 - 1904, Michael D. Quinn, Dialogue, Spring 1985. In this article on post-manifesto marriage, Quinn says:

Heber J. Grant was an Apostle until he became Church President in 1918 and served in that position until his death in 1945. He is the prime example of how confused a conscientious LDS Church leader was in the contradictory messages about post-Manifesto plural marriage. After the Presidency publicly stated in 1901 that men should stop cohabiting with their plural wives, Heber J. Grant was the only Apostle who did so. He resumed polygamous cohabitation after about 4 years, when it gradually dawned on him that Joseph F. Smith and other General Authorities were violating their public pledges regarding cohabitation with plural wives. So he resumed polygamous cohabitation.

Regarding the dishonesty surrounding plural marriage, Charles W. Penrose said in a letter to John Taylor in 1887: "…the endless subterfuges and prevarications which our present condition imposes… threaten to make our rising generation a race of deceivers."(Quoted by B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage, p. 368)

The dishonesty surrounding polygamy was even been canonized in LDS scriptures. The 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants included an official Declaration on Marriage denying the practice of polygamy:

Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again. (D&C 101:4 [1835 edition]; also in History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 247)

This section appeared in every edition of the D&C until 1876 when it first included section 132 "justifying" plural marriage. The current heading of D&C 132 states:"Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831."By this statement the church effectively admits that the Declaration on Marriage was a lie, yet it remained in the scriptures for 40 years. Despite the argument that this dishonesty was necessary to protect the church, I do not believe Jesus Christ would lie for any reason, and I do not think He would instruct his representatives to lie on his behalf.

The only instance in the scriptures of the Lord instructing someone to lie is in the Book of Abraham:"Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live."(2:24)Interestingly, this situation also pertains to lying about a marriage relationship, and the Book of Abraham was brought forth at a time in church history when "lying for the Lord" was a fairly new concept. In considering how much confidence to place in this account of the Lord asking a prophet to lie, it should be remembered that a portion of the actual papyri Joseph Smith used to produce the Book of Abraham has been rediscovered and determined by many scholars [including by Hugh Nibley] to be common Egyptian funeral documents that do not mention Abraham and date to 2,000 years after Abraham.

A Choice:

In choosing whether to accept the way in which Joseph practiced polygamy, I am being forced to either lower my opinion of God or lower my opinion of Joseph Smith. If God actually commanded Joseph Smith to practice polygamy the way he practiced, God is not the kind, loving, perfect God I believe in. I do not believe that God would condone plural marriage, let alone command it. It is unthinkable that He would command plural marriage without the first wife's knowledge, or marriage to women who were already married.

Some of Joseph's plural wives were told that an angel had visited Joseph with a drawn sword and threatened to kill him if he didn't take more wives. To these believing women, the thought of their prophet dying was worse that the thought of dying themselves. Some of the women were also threatened with the loss of exaltation if they refused.

How can God be an unchanging god, yet declare in the Book of Mormon that polygamy is an "abomination," then later declare in D&C 132 that polygamy is “justified…for their exaltation in the eternal worlds”, then absolutely require it to the point of threatening to kill the prophet if he didn't practice it? I have never heard of God sending an angel to kill murderers or rapists for their unspeakable acts, so why would he kill a prophet over polygamy? How can the LDS people believe that God was willing to give up one third of his spirit children in a war in heaven over free agency, yet abandon the principle when it came to polygamy?

If the principle of polygamy was so important, God would have supported it. D&C 132 states that Emma must accept the principle or be destroyed. (Verse 64:"…if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord they God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.") Joseph was dead within a year of giving this revelation but Emma spoke out publically against polygamy until her death at age 74.

Even if we were to accept D&C 132, Joseph's polygamy went far beyond the scope of that document. It doesn't make sense that God would know and accept the details of Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages prior to the 1943 revelation, then give the revelation which basically condemns these marriages because the woman was already married or Emma was not given the opportunity to consent.

Even if we accept the argument that polygamy needed to be restored in the latter days for the “dispensation of the fullness of times,” would not marrying just ONE plural wife be enough to restore the principle? Polygamy is defended as a doctrine of the Old Testament, but not all Old Testament practices were restored. I have not heard of animal sacrifices in this dispensation.

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar:

Arguments justifying polygamy often refer to Abraham. D&C 132:65 says, "I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife." Actually, I cannot find any mention of God commanding Abraham to take Hagar to wife in the Bible or Book of Abraham. God promised Abraham and Sarah that Sarah would have a son in her old age. With this promise, why would she have given Hagar to Abraham? It seems that Sarah lost faith in God's promise, gave Hagar to Abraham so he could have a child, and then began to regret her decision. I quote Genesis 16 to illustrate these points (emphasis added):

1 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee.
6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.

What "wrong" was Sarah talking about in verse 5? It seems Sarah was sorry about giving Hagar to Abraham in the first place. God promised she would bare a son, which she eventually did. If she had believed this promise she would have felt no need to give Hagar to Abraham.

Was it really have been God's will for Abraham to have a son by Hagar?Let's look at the consequences of that union: Hagar went from being a favored servant to being banished into the desert with her son. Her son, Ishmael, is the father of the Arab nations, which the Jews and Christians believe have been a scourge to "God's chosen people."

What were the fruits of polygamy during Joseph Smith's lifetime? For one thing, polygamy led to his death. He ordered the destruction of the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor for exposing polygamy; this resulted in his incarceration in Carthage jail. What were the effects of polygamy upon Joseph's family? Basically, Joseph broke Emma's heart again and again over polygamy. To anybody who would argue that God commanded these things, I respond that I cannot believe in a God who would command such things. The scriptures say, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it" (Ephesians 5:25). Most LDS church members would never accept the notion that our Father in Heaven has the type of dishonest relationship with our Mother in Heaven that Joseph had with Emma. Furthermore, polygamy is still producing bad fruit in our day in the form of abuse within the FLDS church.

Some members of the church hold fast to the belief that all regarding Joseph's practice of polygamy was in accordance with the will of the Lord. Others in the church are willing to consider that Joseph Smith may have made mistakes regarding the practice of polygamy but are able to overlook these mistakes because he was learning "line upon line." I agree that everyone, including prophets, make mistakes, but the scripture don't seem to support the notion that a prophet can make mistakes regarding chastity and continue to be a prophet.

The scriptures teach us to follow the spirit. Polygamy has always given me a bad feeling. From what others have shared with me, it seems as if the initial response (or "gut reaction") is universally negative when someone learns the details of Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy. I would describe my own initial response as feeling sick to my stomach. Why is this? Do church members ignore the spirit when it comes to polygamy? I believe I did for many years.

Will polygamy be a part of heaven?

Polygamy has been unequivocally declared by the church to be essential for exaltation. It is clear from early church teachings that polygamy was believed to be as important and necessary for exaltation as baptism and the temple endowment. Appendix 2 gives examples of early apostles and prophets declaring polygamy is absolutely required for exaltation.

The current LDS church position on polygamy is that God has forbidden it (or doesn't require it) at this time. Despite extensive study, I have not found a single statement by a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve reversing prior official statements that polygamy is necessary for exaltation. There is no official declaration that members will not be asked to practice polygamy in the next life. (If such a statement exists, I would appreciate someone bringing it to my attention.)

I can understand the awkward position the current LDS church leaders are in. In addition to strong statements from the 1800's regarding polygamy (Appendix 2), Bruce R. McConkie stated in Mormon Doctrine that polygamy is an eternal principle that must be restored before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Current LDS leaders would have a hard time reversing all of these statements without shaking the faith of some members and stirring up controversy. However, unless the statements in appendix 2 have been nullified by subsequent revelation, the Latter-day Saints should be preparing themselves to practice polygamy in the next life. Will polygamy be required of Mormons in the next life? I think most members of the church would like to know the answer to this question. I think the current church leaders them a straight answer.

President Joseph Fielding Smith declared:

Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 188).

I agree with this statement. It is unfortunate that so much of what Mormons hold dear rests upon the integrity and honesty of Joseph Smith. Mormons love their family members dearly, like everyone else, and they believe the opportunity to live with their families in the next life is dependant upon Joseph Smith. When Mormons hear anything negative about Joseph Smith, they quickly “do the math” in their head and see that if he falls, it all falls. Somehow Mormons are able to go through life ignoring everything that would cause them to question Joseph Smith. Mormons will give 10% of their income, a large portion of their time, and everything else the church requires so that they don't loose their opportunity for a “forever family”. You couldn't get more submission if you had a gun to their head. Come to think of it, it is like having a gun to your head: “Do this and this, and don't do ever do that, or you will never see your family again!”

It is very easy to prove that Joseph Smith lied about polygamy, but that just leads to the question: “What else did he lie about?” No good Mormon wants to go down that road. I finally had the courage walk down that road; it was painful and sad. It was like finding out my mother is a prostitute. It hurt really bad at first, but time has a way of healing. Oh, well!I was duped!What can I say? I thought I was smarter than that. I have a doctorate degree, but that poorly educated farm boy, Joseph, duped me! He certainly was a master con artist. I have to hand it to him.Men like that are hard to find (outside of politics, I mean).

Appendix 1:Statements regarding sexuality within Joseph's polygamous unions.

Evidence from the historical record:

Compton writes:

Because of claims by Reorganized Latter-day Saints that Joseph was not really married polygamously in the full (i.e., sexual) sense of the term, Utah Mormons (including Joseph's wives) affirmed repeatedly that Joseph had physical sexual relations with his plural wives-despite the Victorian conventions in nineteenth-century American religion which otherwise would have prevented mention of sexual relations in marriage.

Ann Eliza Young divorced Brigham Young and wrote a book about her experience in polygamy.Although she was admittedly an apostate, her claims seem to be supported by other accounts. She said in her book:

Joseph not only paid his addresses to the young and unmarried women, but he sought 'spiritual alliance' with many married ladies…He taught them that all former marriages were null and void, and that they were at perfect liberty to make another choice of a husband. The marriage covenants were not binding, because they were ratified only by Gentile laws…consequently all the women were free…

One woman said to me not very long since, while giving me some of her experiences in polygamy: 'The greatest trial I ever endured in my life was living with my husband and deceiving him, by receiving Joseph's attentions whenever he chose to come to me.'
This woman, and others, whose experience has been very similar, are among the very best women in the church; they are as pure-minded and virtuous women as any in the world. They were seduced under the guise of religion… (Wife No. 19, 1876, pp. 70-71)

Appendix 2:Statements regarding the necessity of polygamy for exaltation

For more on Polygamy, see MormonThink's page.