Best of FAIR 12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask)

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Greg Smith examines the anti-Mormon charge raised against Joseph Smith that he was lecherous from an early age and that this is somehow the psychological or psychiatric or pathological background to plural marriage.

The text of Dr. Smith’s address can be found at Fairlds.org. The listener should be aware that there are helpful notes in the written version that help provide clarifications and corrections to some comments that appear in the oral presentation. For example, a question from the audience stated that Richard Bushman believes polygamy was a faulty revelation. However, FAIR contacted Dr. Bushman and he clarified that, while he believes that section 132 is complex and difficult to interpret in our time, he has never said that it was a faulty revelation. Similarly, Todd Compton denied that he would have used the word “mistake” to describe the practice of polygamy.

Greg Smith studied physiology and English at the University of Alberta, but escaped into medical school before earning his degree. He then did his medical residency in Montréal, Québec, learning all the medical vocabulary and all the French Canadian slang that he didn’t learn during his LDS mission to Paris, France. He is now an old-style country doctor in rural Alberta with interests in internal medicine and psychiatry. A clinical preceptor for residents and medical students, he has been repeatedly honored for excellence in clinical teaching.

A member of FAIR since 2005, Greg helps manage the FAIR wiki. Due to his research interest in plural marriage, he has spoken to the Miller-Eccles study group and been published in the FARMS Review on this and other topics. With twelve years of classical piano training, he is a life-long audiophile and owns far too many MP3 files. He lives happily with his one indulgent wife, three children, and four cats.

4 thoughts on “Best of FAIR 12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask)

  1. michael hoggan

    Observations on plural marriage from a non-athlete.

    First, I would like to state that I have no intention of ever being married to more than one woman simultaneously. I fully expect to be monogamous in mortality and the eternities. I have no desires otherwise.

    Having said that, I have a confession to make. I am opposed to organized athletics. The issues it creates for sabbath observance, substance abuse, violence, “rioutous living”…etc. are pretty obvious. My feelings about this are as poignant as the feelings of many people who are bothered by the idea of plural marriage. (People who think I am joking about this are urged to reconsider.)

    The First Presidency (as far as I know) has never encouraged a ban on organized athletics. Many members of the church participate in organized athletics, even at the professional level. Some endowed members of the church are professional athletes. Likewise, the church has athletic programs in it’s wards and branches. Teams are often divided by congregation.

    I suppose I could deal with this by piously declaring myself a “nerdist” who is opposed to the dominant “athleto-centric” culture. I could call the General Authorities to repentance on a facebook page or (better yet) in anonymous letters. I could assure everyone that I am patiently waiting for other members of the church to “catch up” to my level of enlightenment.

    I don’t plan to do those things for a number of reasons:

    1. I know Heavenly Father is omniscient and fully enlightened. He has complete foreknowledge of all things and has accounted for them in his plan. His love (in all ways) is beyond mortal comprehension. I do not know the exact mechanism of his foreknowledge, but that is irrelevant.

    Incidentally, I do not see God’s perfect foreknowledge as an impediment to agency. Knowing someone will do something is a far cry from forcing them to do it. We are still exercising agency (I don’t use the term free for the simple reason that it is precious and comes at great cost) when we make decisions.

    2. I know that Heavenly Father (along with his Only Begotten) appeared to Joseph Smith and set in motion the Last Dispensation.

    3. I know that Joseph Smith was true to his responsibilities. Many of the things that he did may seem offensive to modern sensibilities. However, these offensive things are similar (if not identical) to the actions of prophets in the Bible. We also must keep in mind that decisions are very dependent on circumstances and early nineteenth century America was a far cry from the early 21st century world.

    There is little on the world’s past or present that is not now controversial. I read a historian recently who argued that America and the world would have been better off if the thirteen colonies had remained united with England. He questioned the wisdom of a written constitution as opposed to the United Kingdom’s unofficial constitution. Of course, if that had happened, the Church couldn’t have been restored in 1830.

    4. I also know that Wilford Woodruff was following Heavenly father’s instructions when he issued the manifesto. He reiterated the promise that Heavenly Father would not allow the President of the Church to instruct the Church contrary to Heavenly Father’s instructions to him. This promise is part of Official Declaration 1.

    God does not command in all things and the Church Presidents are not omniscient. God also reveals information to the Church in parcels. Many of the sections of the Doctrin and Covenants are compilations of revelations given at somewhat different times.

    I can’t see plural marriage as a mistake because it was consistently upheld by three Church Presidents stretching over a half century. This in spite of horrible persecution, including murder. The eternal ramifications are even more serious. Furthermore, if I choose to believe that Joseph and later presidents were lying about polygamy, what am I to say to a person who believes Wilford Woodruff was lying about the Manifesto?

    I also agree with Brother Smith that we should not equate Warren Jeffs (for example) with the 19th century Church, or even with other modern polygamist groups. I would like to reiterate that I do not sympathize with post-Manifesto polygamy groups. I don’t need to demonize all of them in order to realize that all of them are in the wrong.

    Actions can be (and often are) justified by circumstances. An American soldier on Guadalcanal in 1942 is justified in killing Japanese soldiers. An American soldier in the occupation force in Japan in 1946 is not justified in rounding up former Japanese soldiers and killing them. The first action might warrant a medal, the second a court-martial.

  2. michael hoggan

    In short, I am willing to accept that something that really bothers me may still serve some higher purpose.

    I apologize for any spelling,grammatical, or punctuational errors in my previous post.

  3. Michael Hoggan

    To anyone who still thinks I was joking about my issues with organized athletics, I would like to direct them to the current horrible proceedings at Penn State and the increasing silliness of the NBA lockdown as exhibits A and B.

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