Do you think that I am an old man? I could prove to this congregation that I am young; for I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband than can carry any of the young men.” – Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 5, p. 210

The night I finally accepted that I didn’t believe the LDS church was true, I defended Joseph Smith’s polygamy on someone’s Facebook status. Looking back, it made absolutely no sense, because not 10 minutes after making the comment, I realized that I hadn’t really believed the church was true for at least a month, and I didn’t need to feebly justify something that was so gross to me any longer.

Almost no one in the modern church is ok with polygamy. I’m sorry, but no amount of “Why Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Doesn’t Matter to Me Anymore” blog posts can convince me otherwise. Polygamy sounds awful, and no Mormon, especially Mormon woman, wants to live it. (With some exceptions, I’m sure—people can be weird.)

Polygamy is an issue that I know most Mormons put on their figurative shelves of issues they don’t understand but expect to in the next life. I can’t count the number of faithful Mormons I’ve heard say “Yeah, polygamy is weird to me/I hate the idea of polygamy/I wouldn’t be able to live polygamy”, while hoping that they won’t be asked to live it in the next life. That’s exactly what I did as a 100% devoted member of the church. I put polygamy on my shelf (not realizing how little I even understood about what was taught, what was lied about, and how it was practised) and hoped I wouldn’t have to live it in heaven, or that I’d somehow magically become ok with it if I did have to.

We formerly taught to our people that polygamy or Celestial Marriage as commanded by God through Joseph Smith was right; that it was a necessity to man’s highest exaltation in the life to come.” – Reed Smoot Case, v. 1, p. 18

“I’ve heard it all before” is something I also hear a lot of Mormons say when presented with difficult issues from “anti” or ex-Mormons. The modern church has become very blasé about polygamy—as if it was “just something that happened back then”, rather than a fundamental doctrine and driving force in the early church.

“Abraham did it” is something I also hear a lot of Mormons say in order to justify polygamy—as if the Old Testament is something ANYONE wants to live by. (Genocide, don’t wear certain materials, blah blah.) Just because some other book you also believe is divine (but has a lot of awful stuff in it) has people being polygamous, doesn’t mean it’s ok to ignore your own moral compass and justify it. We finally live in a time where women have rights, and everything about polygamy robs women of those rights—in my mind, even having to be ok with the idea of polygamy ever being “commanded”. 

The bottom line is, Mormons—you can’t justify polygamy. Not really. Not in a way that satisfies you emotionally or morally. There’s no way to make Joseph Smith marrying a 14-year-old girl ok. (EVEN if he somehow didn’t sleep with some/all of them—which would mean he had no scriptural justification for having married her—we know for a fact that Brigham and other subsequent prophets slept with young girls. Also look at the evidence for that.) There’s no way to make the idea of a woman having to share her husband with 1 — 100 others seem fair or conducive to happiness.

No, it wasn’t common for 14-year-olds to get married at that time, especially not to considerably older men who used their self-proclaimed prophet-status to coerce. If 14-year-old Helen Marr Kimball said having to marry Joseph made her lie “a portion of the time like one dead” for three months, it obviously wasn’t a good time for her. Nor was it a good time for any of the other women who described the polygamous life as being void of happiness.

Polygamy is a cruel system of misogyny and emotional abuse. It was a way for men to justify their sexual appetites with women other than their wives, in my opinion. It is absolutely indicative of the sexism that has always been present in the church, particularly in the old days when Brigham taught men not to get too attached to their wives.

Some of the nations of Europe who believe in the one wife system have actually forbidden a plurality of wives by their laws; and the consequences are that the whole country among them is overrun with the most abominable practices: adulteries and unlawful connections through all their villages, towns, cities, and country places to a most fearful extent.” – Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 12

Oops. Guess we dropped the ball there, Orson.

Joseph broke both the rules of polygamy as laid out in D&C 132. (Marry only virgins, and get the first wife’s permission.) Emma hated polygamy (duh). Other women hated polygamy. Oliver Cowdery described Joseph’s marriage to 16-year-old Fanny Alger as, “A dirty, nasty, filthy affair…” Everyone who spoke up about Joseph’s disgusting polygamous actions was quickly labeled an apostate by the prophet, and slandered publicly. The Nauvoo Expositor, which was printed to expose Joseph of the polygamy he had been vehemently denying for years, was destroyed at the orders of Joseph, resulting in his death by a mob.

To any Mormon women reading —PLEASE think about your natural love for your husband and your family, and how absolutely awful it would be to be a polygamous wife. I’m totally trying to appeal to your emotions here, because the church teaches that women are naturally compassionate and nurturing, and I totally agree. But early church leaders treated women like lesser beings to be traded and gained as extra wives. It’s wrong, and I think you know it’s wrong. It’s also absolutely intrinsic to the history of the church, the character of Joseph Smith and other prophets, and the current temple sealing system. Think about it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lies about polygamy, because it has to. Though let it be noted that they also admit to things now that they denied for years, in typical “we’ve told you this all along!” cult style. Know that you don’t have to swallow lies, or be ok with things you know are wrong.

For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” – Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, p. 111, verses 23-24

The only way Mormons can be ok with polygamy is total moral relativism. I encourage you to read what was actually said by men and polygamous wives at the time, and not to disregard your own feelings about how wrong polygamy is in the name of making your beliefs fit into a nonsensical box. Polygamy is just one of countless issues with the LDS church, but we all know it’s a huge one.

I am grateful I wasn’t ever LDS at a time when Joseph could have taken me from my husband and declared that God had commanded it. Really, really grateful.



Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.
  • Richard R. Lyman
  • Darren

    So glad to see that the word “Moral Relativism” is used because I hate to break it to those Mormons but they are TRUE Satanists. From my own research based on listening to a former Satanist Mark Passio who was a high priest for the Church of Satan. The four main tenants/principles of Satanism are Moral Relativism, Self Preservation (selfishness), Social Darwinism, and Eugenics. Most Mormons are Satanists and don’t realize and know this.

    • fides quaerens intellectum

      ^This. Just 100% this, every time I hear Henry B. Eyering. That man has it out for me and everyone else, I swear. I’m just amazed the fools at Stanford ever let someone so clearly deranged lecture there… And that he got away again at MIT! Morons, all of them. Darren has it all sorted though. Thanks, Big-D.

  • Elder_Cooper

    Do I really want to believe that a loving, fair god and the architect of righteousness sent an angel with a flaming sword to force and coerce young girls into polygamy with Joseph Smith and others? No, I can’t. Yet what if it is true? What if God really did command these men to enter into this disgusting practice? Then that means this world and its supreme creator are so messed up and twisted that the implications divinely justified polygamy present about our existence completely destroy any notion of a just or fair father in heaven that loves his sons and daughters. If I have to stand before God and angels in the next life and answer for my outright rejection of this sickening doctrine then I welcome judgement. I would rather walk in to outer darkness with my integrity than stand in the celestial kingdom knowing I accepted misogyny in its most horrific form.

    • Darren

      I don’t think you have to worry about that. All the religions in the world were created by the dark occult (those with hidden knowledge) and high level Satanists. Those that created the religions practice the old religion that has been around since Babylon.

    • Shawn

      Angel with a drawn sword. Not a flaming sword.

  • k_space

    “The mob who tarred and feathered Joseph did it because he was preying on young girls and they didn’t like it”

    correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that particular mob was more about the local members’ property, money, and livelihoods. Something about Joseph having all the deeds because of the law of consecration.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      You’re right, we’ve edited that out. 🙂

  • Jason Bryant

    I love how you fit in the word indicative…

  • Bob Smith

    An interesting discussion, no doubt. I agree with much of what you have said. There is interestingly an irony in the position you are taking which I’d like to discuss. It’s very easy to speak in terms of absolutes when you can say “I have it on God’s authority that ____ is right/wrong”, but as soon as you leave that umbrella (as you and I have, at least in leaving the LDS church), absolute morality becomes much more difficult to pin down.

    The LDS church (even recent talks from general conference) try very hard to push the concept of Moral Absolutes as being grounded in God-given commandments. They would argue that if God commanded it then it is good no matter the fallout (even if that includes a lot of suffering as you aptly described in your article). For those who believe it came from God (even if it disgusts them on a personal level) it looks like a moral absolute — a “greater good” that stems from a deference to the authority of God (as they perceive it). For you, polygamy looks like an example of Moral Relativism because it caused a lot of suffering / inequality, and you are aptly pointing out that the deference to “God’s” authority on this appears to result in actions (often seemingly arbitrary) with “evil” consequences and therefore must be morally relative… yet this is based on a different definition “evil”, one not grounded in God’s commandments but rather (it seems) whether something causes suffering/inequality.

    What, after all, IS evil if God is out of the equation? And how could any definition we come up with for good and evil NOT be relative?

    In this way, it seems to me that conceptions of Moral Relativism vs Moral Absolutes ultimately means nothing because it’s so intertwined with what an individual believes and therefore is ALWAYS relative to that standard (and better yet is almost always situational)… unless of course the church is right and there is a capital-T “True” and universally applicable sense of right and wrong in the universe which happens to coincide with the opinion of a God who appears to change his mind a lot and who apparently values blind-obedience more than whether something causes suffering, etc… all of which appears highly improbable to say the least.

    What, then, do you see as moral absolutes, and why do you claim them to be moral absolutes?

    From this article you imply that a moral absolute in your view has only to do with whether an action brings people (actors AND those acted upon) happiness or suffering and whether it is just or unjust, equal or unequal. However, you can appreciate, no doubt, how that position also has an immense amount of relativity in it biased heavily by your personal feelings on happiness / suffering / justice, etc. And frankly the world is so full of contradictions, ridiculously messy situations involving people that are all to some degree self-serving sociopaths and to another degree altruistic human beings.

    It’s been strange leaving the church behind and re-assessing my sense of morality. Allowing for & supporting gay marriage is a no-brainer under the “happiness vs. suffering / justice / equality” paradigm of morality which I also find very compelling. But other things are more murky.

    Every time we fill our gas-tanks, for example, we are indirectly
    supporting some serious exploitation of entire nations in addition to
    potentially causing climate change that could create chaos for our
    children… yet do we stop filling our gas tanks? No, of course not, we
    have to get to work and travel around to see the world.

    Now regarding polygamy: could there be a happy polygamous marriage? Would it still be wrong?

    How about a man married to two bi-sexual women? Who’s to say that such a thing is “wrong”, especially assuming they all mutually enjoy the relationship, they aren’t causing each other suffering, they are loyal to each other, there is no compulsion, etc.? Such a thought undoubtedly disgusts (while secretly stimulating — at least the men) most believing Mormons since it goes counter to their view of “absolute” morality as dictated by their conception of God.

    Ultimately perhaps all this morality talk could all be boiled down to a discussion of our monkey-brains: the ultimate morality could arguably be simply a practical one based on our extreme dependence on each other as highly social animals without inborn tools required for our survival as individuals. i.e. Those things that improve our relationship with one another and increase our mutual happiness are good and those that damage those relationships and cause unhappiness are bad — what else is there to worry about in terms of “morality”? Furthermore it seems that most of such morality is in fact driven by self-interest, is it not? How interesting.

    What other sense of morality has any foundation when God is out of the picture? (and of course I don’t think I need to point out that such a sense of morality is highly relative and situational…)

    • k_space

      Thats an interesting novel, but I think you have missed the mark entirely. I don’t think she is taking an absolute moral stance. She pointing out that TBMs are taking a relativist moral standpoint when they justify polygamy. That is, if they say that it was ok because things were different back then.

      She is also pointing out the horribleness of the situation for a lot of the women, a point that gets conveniently left out of church lessons. (They do often highlight Joseph’s anguish over this commandment. how interesting.) I saw this as arguing against the “god commanded it, so its ok” idea. The idea that God would command such a thing jars with the modern concept of a loving God that most TBMs accept. Its true that, if God was real, he could command this and any other horrible thing he thought was needed and it would be morally acceptable by nature of the fact that God commanded it. But its not very inspiring to imagine that God commanded such awful things of his true followers.

      • Bob Smith

        It seems we are missing each other’s points =).

        The point of the article appears to be attempting to point out

        My point is that the whole concept of Moral Relativism and Moral Absolutism is practically worthless because of its extreme dependence on a person’s point of view.

        TBM’s say “absolute morals” are inextricable from God’s will even if it means suffering or death, etc. — e.g. Nephi cutting the off Laban’s head b/c the Spirt prompted him to is completely moral to a TBM.

        A post-mormon sees that as Moral relativism because it God has a situational morality “Thou shalt not kill” in one instance and “thou shalt utterly destroy” in another.

        So ultimately it depends on a true definition of absolute morality. And once God is out of the picture, who can say what that actually is? Nobody, it seems. All we can posit is what appears to be the most “useful” morality in terms of creating happiness for ourselves and others, but it cannot be argued that such an approach is not also completely situational and “relative” morality.

  • Arwen Undomiel

    I read the Lemony Things Blog that posted the article called ” why it doesn’t matter that Josep Smith practiced poligamy”, or something like that, and I was disgusted. I felt pity on the lady that wrote the article. After all the evidence available today everywhere on line, you have to choose to remain blind to this truth to say something like this. it looks like she is desperately trying to distort reality. In the begining she says she cried when she found out about poligamy, but then she rationalized that it was ok because she felt some warm feeling before that the churh is true.

    The comments section was equally disturbing. I read a bunch of comments and people were just justifying and reasoning poligamy was just fine. I was one of these uninformed people before and im happy that now I know. I could never agree with poligamy. If some of the prophets of old practiced it, was more of a cultural practice than a divine practice for sure.

    Through history, we know of the many cases of men having affairs with other women, children out of wedlock, men would have a family in one city and another in another etc there are men that like this kind of drama. It’s nothing new. Some women also like to have many affairs at the same time. This is all very simple: uncontrolled sexual desire. What do they call it celestial love when it’s just sex?

  • Jaxon Peterson

    For the love… I mean, does anyone fact check the garbage you all are spewing these days? Has anyone, for a moment, thought to consult Brian Hales’ documents? I’m not talking about his site or conclusions, I am talking about all the source material he has put out for free. The idea of Joseph being tarred and feathered for taking young women (Miranda Johnson, right?) has been shown to be improbable — if not impossible.
    These articles are becoming more and more lazy and less and less about sharing “truth”.

    • Zelph on the Shelf

      First of all, there are four of us. Each of us have different strengths, and are different people. Richard Lyman, for example, has the best historical knowledge. I (Zina) prefer to write more emotional type posts. (Hence why this post isn’t part of our official polygamy series, which is considerably more thorough.)
      We always edit any mistakes we find it articles, but as you know – we’re all 20-somethings. In the same way you shouldn’t believe church leaders are always correct, you should never believe we are always correct! (As you have pointed out.) We try our best, but this is a blog, not our full time job. We DO fact check, but we’re imperfect. We never claim to be always right and we always encourage people to study things for themselves.
      We appreciate our errors being pointed out.

      • Jaxon Peterson

        I mentioned on Twitter that clearly I’m irritable today. My apologies. I’ll keep fact-checks to positive, non-attacking, comments.

      • John

        No doubt, polygamy is a doozy. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with the Church’s history on that subject. I flat out do not understand it. My faith has been up and down – way down, at times – over issues like polygamy. A few years ago I took to heart what I like to think is good advice in matters of faith – don’t let the things you don’t know make you lose sight of what you do know.

        I had to ask myself, “what do I know?” In fact, do I know anything? Well, spiritual knowledge is different from knowledge that comes through our physical senses or logical faculties. Still, spiritual knowledge is a form of knowledge. And not to get too cute, here, by quoting scripture, but as Alma 32 says, spiritual knowledge is “real.”

        As dim as my faith has seemed at times, I can honestly say that my answer to these questions is “yes,” I do know things that allow me to continue to believe in the Church despite all the doubts I’ve had over the years . . . and still have.

        There have been very simple things like the experience I had of returning to my mission to visit the apartment of a former investigator. The former investigator was a good man, but the feeling in his apartment was . . . not right. That same day I also visited my former mission president at the mission home. How else can I put it other than to say that the Spirit was in the mission president’s home? The difference was palpable. Is it possible the difference I felt was made up – all in my head? Sure, but I don’t think so.

        Same thing when I walked into the home of the Stake patriarch when I received my patriarchal blessing – even more so, in fact – there was a very powerful, reverent feeling there. It was like being in the temple. Now there’s the thing, many of you have been to the temple. And when I say “it was like being in the temple,” you know what I mean because many of you have felt the Spirit there. And that’s what I mean by not letting the things you don’t know make you loose sight of the things you do know.

    • k_space

      I think the fact that they read the comments and made a correction says a lot. I have seen them do this with other articles as well. Compare that with LDS inc. If I go to the topics essays on and point out a possible issue in the comments section, would they fix it or otherwise respond? Oh wait… they don’t have a comments section, or any other direct feedback for the essays. hmmm.

  • Christopher Peterson

    That is quite an argument by Brigham Young in defense of polygamy, to say that it is necessary to prevent sexual relations outside of marriage. For one thing, how strange that a ring and ceremony can evolve what is in one moment something “abominable” into unassailable divinity. For another, does it not take for granted that all men possess equivalent sexual desires, which naturally exceed the pleasure of one woman? What of the asexual or those who find fulfillment in one person’s arms?

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