Over twenty years ago, I learned that a member of my family had been excommunicated for joining a “Mormon fundamentalist” group. In response I researched their claims and doctrines and published three books on the topic. The most detailed is Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism (Greg Kofford Books, 2006). A shorter version, Setting the Record Straight: Mormon Fundamentalism (Millennial Press, 2008), is also available. Throughout my analysis of their teachings, I remain unconvinced that their efforts are approved of God. Despite their apparent sincerity and traditions, I believe they are grossly misguided and in error.
Throughout my studies, I encountered many questions about the origin of plural marriage. Many authors claimed that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a womanizer who adopted polygamy to expand his sexual license. Eventually I committed myself to discover the bedrock truth concerning Joseph Smith’s polygamy. With the help of several others, I was able to either personally view (and transcribe) or to acquire copies of every known document dealing with the topic. These transcriptions will soon be available in an exhaustive two-volume treatment entitled: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, to be published by Greg Kofford Books within the next year.
It appears that the best evidence indicates that Joseph Smith’s pre-Nauvoo reputation did not include gossip of licentiousness and that Fanny Alger was his first plural wife. Manuscript documentation supports plural sealings to perhaps thirty-four women, with many of those being for “eternity” only—that is, for the next life. Sexual relations were present in some of the Prophet’s plural marriages, but probably in much fewer than half and they were not a common occurrence. It appears that only two or perhaps three children were born through those unions. Evidence indicates Joseph Smith never participated in sexual polyandry (one wife with two husbands) and that he condemned such associations as adultery (Doctrine and Covenants 132:63). No historical data has been found supporting sexual relations with his two fourteen-year-old wives, consistent with Utah policy of waiting until the women matured. A review of the numerous allegations of sexual involvement with non-wives fails to identify any that do not suffer from factual errors, internal inconsistencies, or gross implausibilities.
My detailed review of Joseph Smith’s introduction of plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints supports the idea that he resisted for the same reasons that virtually every other Church member was repulsed. After being three times threatened by an angel, he moved forward and embraced the practice as a commandment of God.
I believe that for Latter-day Saints today, the scary part of Joseph Smith’s polygamy is not Joseph Smith, not his choices and behaviors. The scary part of Joseph Smith’s polygamy is simply polygamy, for he established it among his followers and lived it, emulating ancient prophets.
As if to answer the unbelieving critic, a late second-hand account quotes Joseph Smith as saying: “I am no false Prophet; I am no impostor; I have had no dark revelations; I have had no revelations from the devil; I made no revelations; I have got nothing up of myself. . . . God . . . [has] directed me and strengthened me in this work.” This is also my testimony of him.
Brian C. Hales is a Utah-based anesthesiologist and author. Perhaps his most prominent work, thus far, is Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto. He received his medical degree from the University of Utah and did his residency at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Dr. Hales served a mission for the church The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir .
His other books include The Priesthood of Modern Polygamy: An LDS Perspective (with J. Max Anderson), The Doctrines of Mormon Fundamentalism (with J. Max Anderson), Is Fundamentalism Fundamental?, Light: The Physical and Spiritual Nature of Light, The Veil, and Trials: Understanding and Overcoming. He also operates a web site at mormonfundamentalism.com.