Joseph 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.

I had, in hours of temptation when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart.

For three months I lay a portion of the time like one dead…I tasted of the punishment which is prepared for those who reject any of the principles of this Gospel. I fasted for one week, and every day I gained until I had won the victory…I learned that plural marriage is a celestial principle, and saw… the necessity of obedience to those who hold the priesthood, and the danger of rebelling against or speaking lightly of the Lord’s anointed.”

Helen Marr Kimball

To me, the morality of polygamy is really quite a simple issue. It happened. It was wrong. Church leaders shouldn’t have married 14-year-olds. Boom. 

Of course, to accept that when it comes to polygamy would be to recognize that Joseph was no different than many cult leaders who take young girls as their wives. (I.E Warren Jeffs.) So Mormons have come up with all sorts of justifications for polygamy. None of them really make sense when you zoom out from them and look at the entire picture, but they can certainly calm troubled members for as long as they’re willing to limit their research. 

Because polygamy has been so dissected and justified in numerous different ways, it would be impossible for me to write one huge post about it. So here are some questions I think every Mormon should ask themselves when thinking about the ethics of polygamy. If you are a faithful member and would like to provide your answers to any of them, we welcome that in the comments section. But commenters, please stay respectful of everyone, whichever side you’re on. 🙂

1. Regardless of the tactics you think Joseph did or didn’t employ to get women to marry him, how do you think his status as the “prophet of God” affected the decisions of women, especially young girls, to marry him? 

2. How do you think fasting about polygamy for a week, as Helen Marr Kimball did, affects a girl’s conversion to it? Are there any other factors other than “the spirit” that might come into play there?

3. What do you think of Helen Marr Kimball’s depressing account of polygamy?

4. D&C 132 clearly states that polygamy can only occur with the permission of the first wife. Did Joseph Smith and other church leaders follow this rule?

5. D&C 132 clearly states that a man can only take a virgin as a plural wife. Did Joseph Smith and other church leaders follow this rule?

6. Would you be ok with your 14-year-old daughter marrying a 37-year-old man?

7. Why did 10 of Brigham Young’s wives divorce him?

8. Why would God want a woman sealed to someone besides her spouse for all eternity? (Polyandry)

9. Why did Joseph Smith marry Zina Huntington Jacobs, who was 6 months pregnant with her husband Henry’s baby at the time? Why did Brigham Young marry her after Joseph died, having sent Henry on a mission?

10. Why did 7 of Joseph Smith’s wives marry Heber C. Kimball after Joseph died?

11. Why would God be specific about non-commandments such as the rotations of Kolob or the Word of Wisdom, but not about something as huge as plural marriage? 

12. Why do Mormons condemn other religious leaders for having child brides, yet not Joseph Smith and other church leaders who married 14-year-olds?

13. Why would God require Joseph to marry 14-year-olds knowing that it would be morally repulsive to most of His children? Weren’t there other options?

14. Is polygamy representative of a God who is “not the author of confusion”?

15. Why would God require the Saints, at any time, to practise polygamy illegally? 

16. Why did church leaders continue practicing polygamy after the release of alleged revelation saying it was to stop?

17. Why do Mormons refuse to allow presentism when examining church leaders’ polygamy, but use it to justify things like racism in the earlier church?

18. Why would God send an angel with a sword to force Joseph to practice polygamy, but not send an angel for other things? (Preventing the banning of blacks from exhaultation, not giving the 116 pages to Martin, forcing early prophets to obey the WoW, etc.)

19. Why did Joseph lie about it for years? Why did other leaders lie about it?

20. How could polygamy be commanded by God when Joseph started it 2 years before he got the revelation to do so, and before he even had the sealing power?


What questions do you think should be added to this list? Let us know in the comments and yours may be added!


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.
  • MTB

    When I finally reached the conclusion that polygamy/polyandry was not commanded by God, I was amazed and surprised at the level of peace that I attained. It was like a massive weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I no longer had to force myself to go through the mental gymnastics to find excuses for this practice (and the reprehensible behavior that accompanies it). This realization came after many torturous months of study, fasting, temple attendance and prayer. And at the end of this process, I had complete peace about Joseph’s polygamy for the first time in my life.

    Recognizing that Joseph Smith was not unlike many other religious innovators (using spiritual leverage and position for sexual gain and power) was very freeing. He made it up. It’s that simple. Polygamy came from his own mind and desires. It wasn’t from God. I no longer had to lower my personal standard of ethics to excuse Joseph’s behavior. I no longer had to contort my mind and spirit to imagine a God that would command Joseph to practice polygamy.

  • Tamsyn

    There were a lot of polygamists who testified that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, but evidence suggests otherwise. If he was a polygamist, where are the children? Consider that Joseph sued and excommunicated church leaders who were involved in polygamy and used JS’s name to seduce women. Consider that in all of the times JS was brought to court for polygamy, he was never convicted, and even after his death with many Utah saints testifying that he was a polygamist, in the Temple Lot Case they still failed to prove it. Consider Emma’s consistent testimony until her death that he only had one wife. That the Doctrine and Covenants published during his life condemned polygamy. That Emma gathered the signatures of over 1000 women in Nauvoo who declared that the LDS church wasn’t practicing polygamy and that “spiritual wifery” was an invention of Bennet. Consider how, when some leaders of the church were minimizing the role of women in the gospel and the church (and polygamy does this), Joseph and Emma organized the Relief Society, to establish that women and men are equal to the Lord. Consider that D&C 132 was published years after Joseph died under suspicious circumstances. Consider the evidence of the Price couple in their well-researched work “Joseph Fought Polygamy” as well as the evidence in the blog . Joseph was no polygamist. He was not an adulterer. He was a good man. He was a prophet of God.
    Brigham, on the other hand… Well, there are some serious questions that need to be asked, and you’ve asked some of them.

    • DrTensor


      Your first sentence makes no sense. What is – “a lot of polygamists who testified that Joseph was a polygamist” – if not evidence?

      How did all of these polygamists who testified that Joseph was a polygamist come to be polygamists if not at the direction, and by the example, of Joseph Smith?

      • Sarcastic Fringehead

        The idea of polygamy likely came from the Cochranites, a sect whose members joined the early church. There actually is a pretty good historical case to be made that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy. Rock Waterman over at Pure Mormonism summarizes some of the evidence. I would say it’s worth reading even if you’re out of the church.
        It’s interesting to me that after years of sweeping polygamy under the rug, now the church is doubling down on it by publishing essays on their website that even include statements about Helen Marr Kimball’s age. I guess their problem is, if Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy and all the statements and writings he published disavowing it are accurate, Brigham Young’s mantle of authority is on shaky ground. It’s disturbing to me that the church would rather tell people JS basically coerced young teenagers into marrying him than admit the possibility that Brigham Young and other early apostles really screwed up. Claiming there’s always been a prophet on the earth since Joseph Smith, and that the current prophet’s authority was passed down directly from Joseph Smith and given by God, is evidently much more important than acknowledging the utter soul devastating experiences of the women forced into polygamy. The church chose to uphold the authority and infallibility of the Brethren rather than to listen to the voices of women. Guess that shouldn’t be surprising.
        By the way, this is an awesome website. I’m really enjoying reading it.

        • Mark Hansen

          ” There actually is a pretty good historical case to be made that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy”

          I don’t think so.

          There is way too much evidence that Joseph was having sex with other women.

          He was simply lying to cover it up because it was illegal and he didn’t want to go to jail.

          This is a nutty conspiracy theory.

          • Tamsyn

            Like the lack of biological children aside from those with Emma? There is actually hardly any first-hand contemporary evidence. Not enough to convict him in life, and not enough to prove it in court during the Temple Lot Case. Most of the contemporary literature of JS was written by his enemies. Not reliable enough to convict him.

          • csteve

            Read up on Dr. John C. Bennett and his particular set of skills in regards to your question on the lack of additional progeny…

      • Tamsyn

        I don’t know why my response hasn’t popped up yet. I’ll post it again:

        Good question. Of course it’s evidence, which is why I gave
        it a nod. I could have worded that sentence better. What I meant is that the
        bulk of evidence suggests otherwise. The question is, are those testimonies
        about Joseph practicing polygamy reliable evidence? No, not really. Almost all
        of this evidence is hearsay- written decades after the fact. Many of those
        testimonies were riddled with inconsistencies and even known untruthts. How reliable
        are they? Contemporary evidence was almost exclusively written by enemies of
        Joseph, also riddled with lies. Other evidence has been tampered with.

        As far as how these polygamists would have started, remember that the church
        was not restored in a vacuum. While Mormon polygamy was certainly the best
        known, it was not the only polygamy happening and certainly not the first.
        Consider the Cochranites, many of whom joined the LDS church and moved to
        Kirtland. Or Udney Jacob’s “The Peace Maker”, which certainly had an
        impact on some of the early Saints since there were church leaders who snuck it
        in and published it on a church-owned printing press. Joseph Smith found out
        about it and immediately published a disclaimer that he didn’t want his name
        associated with such trash. Yet compare Jacob’s polygamy to the polygamy taught
        by the LDS church during Brigham’s years and you will find similarities. Truth
        is, there is a lot of contemporary evidence that Joseph fought polygamy. Court
        cases. Public sermons. Joseph’s own family declared he had nothing to do it.

        So it would seem that Joseph Smith is on trial. His own words declare him
        innocent. If we are going to accuse him, there had better be rock-solid
        evidence. We better be willing to look at both sides before drawing
        conclusions. Joseph Smith’s integrity is vitally important, not just because of
        the man himself, but because of Smith’s work. Because of his message. The Price
        couple have made much of their research available online. https://restorationbookstore.o

    • Shem

      Here is your problem Tamsyn. Your own church has admitted that Smith was a polygamist:

      If what you are saying is true, then your own church is lying now. Which means they’re leading people astray and possibly out of the church. Why would they do that over a lie? If your prophet seers, and revelators are letting this happen, then they’re not who they claim they are.

      And let’s go back to D&C 132. Again, if not true, then again the church is lying to its members. Unless you think the Lord is okay with that, then we have a problem. Maybe the problem is you are in denial. Because if you are right, then your church is a bunch of liars who aren’t inspired men of God.

  • J.T.

    My two cents on strategy.

    I see two ways of using Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy against the LDS church. Unfortunately, the two are mutually exclusive because they are contradictory.

    The first way is to throw Joseph under the bus. Accept every claim the church has ever made about Smith’s polygamy and make them own it. The polyandry, the 14 year old girls, all of it. Like you are doing here. This approach is effective primarily at making individuals doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet and causing those individuals to distance themselves from the church, etc. It is less effective against the institution. To the extent that it undermines the LDS Church, it undermines all restorationist branches of the church together and does nothing to undermine the Utah church in particular. This approach actually strengthens the Utah church (relatively) because it reinforces what they have claimed all along.

    The second option is to throw Brigham under the bus. Take the position that Smith was NOT polygamous at all. Brigham Young lied about it and re-wrote the histories to make it appear that Smith was polygamous. His wives and the wives of other polygamists gave false testimony about being married to Smith, in part to argue that polygamy was part of their religion and so they had a legal exception. Etc. This approach makes Young an apostate false usurper and removes from the modern church it’s authority and right to succession. The current church leadership are no longer the rightful heirs to Smith. Amen to their priesthood. Turn out the lights.

    The Utah church wants secular historians to retell the first story. They want bloggers like you to retell the first story. They can survive the first story. The second story kills them. If Joseph was not a polygamist, Brigham was a liar and they have no rightful claim to leadership.

    I know the first option is more fun and produces quick results when pulled out at parties. But take a good look at the second option. Long-term it could be a better strategy. If secular historians came out with a couple good books about Smith not being polygamous, it would put the Utah church in a very, very tight spot.

    • Terri

      Maybe I am wrong. Maybe naive. I do not see this as “strategy.” in my particular search for truth and relationship with God, I find it reprehensible and exhausting that I have to wade through spin to get at the truth.

      Your comment above adds to the spin by suggesting that one should take a strategic view of recreating historical bits in order to serve a particular advantage. Again, maybe I’m naive in that some would say all historians do is spin anyway. But I believe there are some honest people who are open and willing to find truth wherever it may lead them and do not entertain the idea of strategy to create a narrative to serve a personal vendetta of some kind.

      • J.T.

        I could have been more clear… I think the second option is not only a better strategy but it has the additional advantage of actually being true. IMO. I point out the strategic angle because the church is being very strategic in their conclusions about who practiced polygamy when. If you choose to not only cede that ground but actually help them defend it, that’s up to you.

  • Richard R. Lyman

    Those claiming that Joseph’s polygamy was a posthumous conspiracy would do well to examine all the contemporary evidence instead of relying solely on the Prices or Rock Waterman (yes, I’ve read Rock’s article and the Prices’ book). Eventually you realize the conspiracy is too far spread to be credible.

    I find many of Brian Hales’s conclusions disturbing, but I appreciate the relatively even-handed approach he takes in examining and evaluating evidence. Here is his response to Rock’s article:

    As a side note, Rock is very sympathetic to Denver Snuffer. Since Snuffer has publicly stated that Joseph DID have plural wives, is it possible that Rock has changed his tune?

    • J.T.

      I promise you, I have carefully examined the evidence. As a result, I changed my mind from believing Smith was involved to not believing it.

      A large number of allegations does not constitute evidence. If it did I would believe Brigham Young was transformed to look like Smith during that famous speech. Just because people claimed it doesn’t make it true.

      I don’t think the BoM is historical or the RLDS COC is the real true deal like the Prices. I’m not interested in Snuffer. I enjoy Rock but disagree with him a lot. Hales has managed to reach exactly the set of conclusions that the church wants for their best outcome in all this. I think the claims of Smith’s polygamy have been way oversold and they are eventually going to come back to hurt the credibility of those making them.

      Ask yourself: Did every woman who claimed to be married to Smith tell the truth? Not one of them lied about it? Does that sound plausible? Emma lied about it but Brigham told the truth? Doesn’t sound like the Brigham I know.

  • Evan Smith

    What evidence is there to say marrying at 14 during the 1800’s was unlawful? Are there old state or federal laws that prohibited such act? I can’t find anything. Thanks

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