News headlines are notoriously misleading. They often used “trigger” words to create a certain impression. Such were the recent headlines concerning the articles published on the church website concerning plural marriage. The Huffington post headline was Mormon Church Admits For First Time That Founder Joseph Smith Had A 14-Year-Old Bride,” This post was an AP article which included a short video of an interview with the Reverend Paul Raushenbush. In the interview the interviewer uses the words that the church’s essays were trying to “justify” Joseph’s actions. It also included some quotes from the essays on the church website. Another headline in the UK Telegraph was “Mormon Church Finally Admits Founder Joseph Smith was Polygamist with 40 Wives.”
In both headlines the words “admits for the first time” and “finally admits” imply that this knowledge was never admitted before. David Grant wrote a post for LDS.net from which I’d like to quote. I like the way he says it.
Mormon History Was Never Hidden
“For instance, the word, “admits,” is charged with accusation that there had been a previous denial of some kind. On the contrary. Off the top of my head I can think of three definitive declarations that attest to the practice of polygamy early in church history: Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a 1905 Improvement Era article by Prophet Joseph F. Smith, and a 1992 Ensign article.
In fact, being a student of Joseph Smith and history, I learned of these 14-year-old “brides” (another baggage-laden word) and 30-40 wives in my early twenties as a student at Brigham Young University, as I combed through journals and other documents in a quest to get to know and understand Joseph Smith better.
The events and history of Joseph Smith’s marriage to teenage and other brides have been well known and documented within available resources since there were accounts written of the event way back in history. All anyone had to do was look… and some did.
The information has been readily available for anyone to read. For example, Richard Bushman, in his book, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, has attempted to write more objective historical accounts of Joseph Smith and has included more difficult events in his history. Thanks to Bushman, the names of Joseph’s wives have rested on thousands of Mormon bookshelves since its publication in 2005.
Internet reach and information ease fluidity resulting in the availability and sharability of history have put the Church in the new and sometimes uncomfortable position of having to clarify interpretations of events, statements and doctrines when it would rather testify.”
I love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To my knowledge the church has never lied about any of its history. It pains me to have those insinuations “out there.” As the church stated in its essays, accurate historical documents have been sketchy: “Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. . . The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith.”
Shelving Doubts Until Further Light and Knowledge Comes
David Grant goes on to say:
“It may be astonishing to some, and they may think me delusional, dishonest or brainwashed, but I can look at all of the evidence, including Joseph Smith’s marriage to a “14-year-old bride,” and still say without hesitation that his claims are truthful. That he saw the heavenly beings he said he saw and that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture and his role in bringing it forth is reported accurately.
Of the many intervening considerations that have allowed me to get to that conclusion in the face of disparaging and difficult circumstantial evidence, four have been the most useful: deep historical study of primary sources; the return of prodigals; the Book of Mormon; and, spiritual work.”
He cites individuals in Joseph’s time and in our modern times who have “come back” to Joseph. Individuals who resolved their questions.
“The experiences of these men and many like them have caused me to wonder and have stood in the way of my departure as I have had occasional and sometimes serious doubts and concerns when I have gone so far as to say, “do I need to seek truth elsewhere?”. Their experiences have effectively challenged me to shelve my doubts for a time until further light comes, which it always has.”
I, like David Grant, have shelved my doubts. I recognize that many haven’t been able to “shelf” with doubts. I have no criticism of them. Spiritual work and a testimony of the Book of Mormon have buoyed me up.