Sunday, January 12, 2020

Joseph Smith and Polygamy: Persistence of a Myth

Something tells me this photo has been doctored.
Previously: Politics and Religion

I've been reluctant to address this topic because I don't like to publicly criticize people I genuinely like. In fact, my one and only new year's resolution was to stop giving a hard time to people who disagree with me.  The impetus for that resolve was when I noticed I was getting cantankerous and impatient with certain commenters on Facebook who attacked my views while failing to provide a reasoned argument in return. I don't mind people disagreeing with me, but what annoys me is when someone disagrees with me but refuses to provide a reasoned argument as to why.

I knew I had reached bottom meanie when, in my frustration, I called someone on Facebook "a low IQ moron." Reacting like that is not only unkind, it's possibly impolite. So I resolved that in the new year, Facebook would see a kinder, gentler Rock Waterman; I will no longer make fun of anyone's intelligence -not even the really dumb ones.

So that's my one and only new year's resolution: to refrain from calling anyone a low IQ moron.

That doesn't mean I shouldn't be critical of others when the need arises; I should just make sure my criticism is couched in kindness the best I can. So that brings us to my current topic, which necessitates my criticizing the work of someone I genuinely like for other reasons: Lindsay Hansen Park.

Lindsay Park is known for a phenomenal work of cultural anthropology in which she spent considerable time documenting the world of Mormon Fundamentalists and others who practice plural marriage today. She took time to immerse herself in that world, and over time came to know and love many of its practitioners. I doff my hat to Lindsay Park for her accomplishments in this arena; she may well be our foremost expert on modern fundamentalism and is probably more familiar than most about the lives of these people, their belief systems, and generally what it is that makes them tick.  I consider her an expert on the topic of polygamy as it has been practiced since 1844.

What I don't consider her an expert on is the question of polygamy as it was practiced in the church prior to 1844.  Yes, spiritual wifery was a problem in Nauvoo, because some members of the Twelve were seducing young women and clandestinely taking on extra wives. But Joseph Smith was vigorously denouncing the practice and doing everything in his power to stamp it out. Lindsay Park, however, is firmly convinced that Joseph Smith was the the secret originator of the practice.  This is where Lindsay and I part ways, because there is now an abundance of evidence that would cause any reasonable person to recognize that the question is far from settled.

But Lindsay Park remains fully on board with the "Joseph Smith Did Practice Polygamy" train. She appears to be unaware of the research that would call her assertions into question. In fact, I'll go further: Lindsay Park seems to have gone out of her way to remain willfully ignorant of the mountains of evidence that tend to cast serious doubt on the common assumption that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. She simply doesn't want to hear about it.

Now, in case you are not aware, there are two schools of thought regarding polygamy as it pertains to Joseph Smith. The conventional view (which is the one promoted by the LDS Church) is that the doctrine originated in secret with Smith and was continued by Brigham Young. Those advocating this view acknowledge that Joseph publicly denounced the practice, but they insist he secretly practiced it just the same. They believe the historical record supports that view and anyone who can't recognize that reality just isn't paying attention.

The other view, and the one I subscribe to, is that Joseph Smith adamantly and vigorously fought against polygamy until the day he died, and that those stories that he married anyone other than his wife Emma were falsehoods promoted by Brigham Young and others. They fabricated lies about Joseph for the purpose of lending legitimacy to their own participation in the practice.  Those who adhere to this view believe the historical record exonerates Joseph Smith, and anyone who can't recognize that reality simply isn't paying attention.

So Lindsay Park is firmly in the Joseph-was-a-polygamist camp. In fact, she admits to being constantly frustrated when encountering people who don't share her opinion on this matter. So two years ago she put together a two-part podcast with the purpose of putting this matter to rest once and for all. This podcast, she claimed, would address the concerns of any doubters and convince everyone listening once and for all that Joseph Smith did indeed practice plural marriage - no ifs, ands, or buts.  You can find those episodes here, titled Joseph Smith Did Not Fight Polygamy.  Part two can be found by clicking here. 

Listeners to these two podcasts soon discovered why this "final word on the subject" failed to deliver as promised. First, the panel was decidedly one-sided. Every person on that panel was dedicated to offering their views as to why it's an undeniable fact that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and anyone who believes otherwise must have something wrong with them. No one with an opposing view was asked to be on the panel, and nothing that would contradict the preferred narrative was mentioned.

Secondly, Lindsay herself admitted that she got frequently annoyed, frustrated, and even angry when she found herself engaging with people who did not share her views, and that's the reason she put on this  podcast: to set the record straight once and for all. I would suggest that coming at this from a place of emotional frustration is an odd approach if what you're launching is an attempt at historical inquiry. I would think one would want to approach the topic intellectually rather than emotionally.

If the idea is to embark on an academic investigation, you don't go in with your mind already made up and no dissenters allowed. You certainly shouldn't admit to being mad at people who don't share your opinions. The question of whether or not Joseph Smith was a polygamist is a controversy that is far from settled in the minds of many, so I find it odd that the person launching this inquiry admits to being fully biased from the get-go. Starting from a place of annoyance and anger means you're arguing from emotion rather than from intellect.  The first rule should have been "let's look at this thing dispassionately and see where it takes us."

But then this podcast was Lindsay's baby, so she gets to make the rules. I don't think she claimed it was going to be an academic exercise; that's just me saying it would have been more effective if it had been.

Thirdly, there's the sin of omission: at no time did anyone on this panel bring up or attempt to refute the findings of those researchers who held opposing views. No one in the full two-hour-plus duration of this thing is ever heard arguing substance; they just repeat the same rumors and hearsay that have already been discredited by others who are known to have done their homework. If the goal was to arrive at any semblance of historical truth, this podcast took a curious path to getting there. This is not the way one goes about demonstrating critical thinking. And that, I think, is why it failed.

How About A Little Thought Experiment?
By way of illustration, suppose all you've ever heard about the causes of the second world war is the gradeschool version that states Hitler started the war because he wanted to conquer the world. And then suppose you come across a little booklet with the provocative title "How Britain Initiated Both World Wars." 

Well, you know that thesis is ridiculous because as far as you've ever heard, everybody knows the Germans were the ones who started the first and second world wars. So you decide you're going to refute that thesis. How would you go about refuting it? Would you ignore that book, or would you read it with an eye toward debunking every ridiculous assertion contained wihin it?

Well, you would read it, of course. But then having read it, you realize the book is well-documented and you're surprised to discover you don't know how to debunk the information it holds. Worse, that little book leads you to another, larger and more heavily documented volume that proves  Hitler never would have been a threat if he had not had the support of America and Great Britain in the build-up to WW II. And as much of a monster as Hitler turned out to be, Winston Churchill is proven to have also been such a cold-blooded killer of innocents that he could right now be sharing a cell in hell with Hitler and Stalin and no one who knew him would be surprised to see him there.

And as if all that isn't enough to shake your faith, you learn from the thoroughly documented research of Professor Antony Sutton that while Americans were scrambling to catch up by collecting scrap metal to help in the war effort, American financiers on Wall Street had been helping put Hitler in power and keeping him in power by providing the Third Reich with all the money and armaments it would ever need.

Plenty of professional historians are well aware of the complicated causes of the two world wars, but you are completely blindsided because you never heard any of this stuff before.

So now what do you do? If asked for your opinion on the causes of World War II, you can either reveal some of the anomalies you have discovered from examining the historical record, or, if you want to cling to your fantasies, you wisely keep your mouth shut and don't opine about it at all.

There is a third option, of course. You could decide never to pick up that little booklet -or any other book on the causes of World War II- and blissfully cling to your fixed beliefs. That way you don't have to overcome contrary arguments; you don't have to refute or debunk anything. You merely put forth your own opinions and pretend the discussion is over.

This is the course chosen by the panel in that two-part podcast on polygamy. These presenters are clearly not aware that there exist plenty of actual, legitimate reasons to question the official narrative on polygamy. Did Joseph Smith actually wed multiple women? Could be.  But there are plenty of compelling reasons to suggest he did not. The members of this panel -the panel that is going to put this controversy to rest once and for all, don't forget- never bother to address these reasons because they obviously didn't think those reasons were important enough to look into. They are not familiar with the arguments. How do we know that? Because in the space of two hours and twenty-two minutes, no one on that panel ever brings any of those substantive arguments up. Not even to refute them.

Meet The Panel
The panelists Lindsay chose to weigh in on that podcast with her include John Dinger, John Hatch, and Bryan Buchanan. John Dinger is somebody else I personally like. I've never met him, but I liked him enough to buy his book when it came out nine years ago. The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes has been a boon to my research on the Nauvoo era, so I appreciate the work Dinger put into that book.

But I learned long ago that just because someone has expertise in one area, it doesn't necessarily translate to expertise in another. John's contributions to the podcast consist mainly of repeating the same dubious hearsay that most Mormons have been taught about Joseph being the originator of polygamy. Do I blame John Dinger? Well, he doesn't appear to be a hostile witness, so I'm willing to give him a pass. After all, he isn't repeating rumors that aren't already held by 90 percent of all Mormons. Could he have examined the issue from all sides before agreeing to appear on this forum? Certainly. Maybe next time he will.

Bryan Buchanan is listed as the book buyer at Benchmark Books and a lover of history. What he mostly contributed to the podcast was a lot of irrelevant information about Richard and Pamela Price, authors of Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy. This would have been a good place in the podcast to address some of the findings of the Prices, and even show where Richard and Pamela might have been in error. But Bryan gives us no indication he has ever read any of the Price's extensive research. What he does instead is give us background on Richard Price's disaffection from the RLDS tradition. There is no reason to go into all this immaterial background on the man, unless the intent was to paint Price as some kind of dissenting loner who lacks credibility. That's the only reason I could see for wasting all that time on a whole bunch of nothing.

The third guest panelist, and the one we hear from on the podcast first, is John Hatch, who is (I'm struggling to find a polite descriptor here) a low IQ moron.*

*Dang. Only twelve days into the new year and I've already blown it.
   I should have gone for weight loss.

You think I'm being harsh? You won't once you listen to the twaddling gibberish Hatch comes up with. Lindsay had this guy on the podcast for the specific reason of explaining to the listener "why people go to such extreme lengths to believe Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy." (a completely  unbiased assumption if there ever was one, am I right?)

Hatch doesn't really know anything about the people he is asked to weigh in on. In fact he's actually kind of slow to the wind-up, coming off at first as if he's been asked a question on a topic he never considered before. But that's not going to stop him from psychoanalyzing me and everybody else who doesn't share his unassailable views.  Having never spoken with anyone who holds an opinion on this topic contrary to his own, John Hatch falls back on a guess. And what a guess it is. Watch him pull a rabbit out of his butt.

Do you want to know what motivates people to go to such extreme lengths to believe Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy? "It's mostly naivete," Hatch declares knowingly.

Ah, naivete. I didn't know that.

Hatch continues, "But there's also a conspiratorial aspect which I find fascinating."

Oh gee, here we go. Whenever somebody can't come up with a reasoned argument to explain something he doesn't understand (or something he hasn't bothered to look into) he simply dismisses his opponents as conspiracy theorists who, as John puts it, "aren't familiar with any of it."

It is abundantly clear that John Hatch is the one not familiar with the topic under discussion. He clearly has no knowledge of the people he is dismissing with a callous wave of the hand. I almost feel sorry for this poor sap because he is clearly in way over his head. Not to worry, though, because he's clearly up to the challenge. John is going to just wing it. Not having any facts at his disposal, he falls back on his imagination. And boy, does it show.

John Hatch apparently has decided that scholars who have written entire books on the topic must not have spent any time engaged in historical inquiry. Obviously they've never delved deeply into the hoary artifacts to discover what those artifacts are telling us. According to John Hatch, people like me and the authors of the many books and papers on early Mormon history and polygamy haven't investigated anything about this topic.  We're just dumb, unthinking sheep, and when faced with the threatening reality that our dear prophet may not always have been perfect, we've adopted coping mechanisms to help us deal with the fallout.  That's the funniest part of his rambling screed: that upon discovering that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, many of us simply couldn't cope, and had to come up with "explanations" that would enable us to cling to our testimonies of Joseph Smith by denying reality.

I've got news for Brother Hatch. I grew up being taught that polygamy originated with Joseph Smith, and I was fine with it. I was also taught that "one day the Lord will bring back polygamy and we'll all be required to practice it again." And I was fine with that too. I was never surprised to learn Joseph Smith practiced polygamy; knowledge of that was part and parcel of the religion I grew up in, and everyone I've talked to about this tells me it wasn't news to them either. No one I know was thrown for a loop over the possibility that polygamy originated with Joseph Smith. That's what we all believed coming out of the gate. And we were all perfectly willing to accept it.

What did surprise us was learning that the polygamy narrative had some serious holes in it and therefore that narrative warranted closer scrutiny. That's the part that surprised me; not that Joseph might have been involved with polygamy, but that he might not have been involved.

Throughout the entire two hour podcast, John Hatch returns to this same tired theme of desperate Mormons trying to hold onto their tattered faith: Blah blah blah "...conspiracy..." blah blah blah "...feel like they have no control over their lives..." blah blah blah "...conspiracy theory gives them a sense of belonging..." blah blah blah "...don't deal in the same facts and truths the rest of us do..." blah blah blah "...conspiracy theorists..."

It's all very tiring. But if John Hatch can find a conspiracy "theory" in anything I write, I hope he'll let me know what that theory is.

Lindsay and the Boys have some very interesting opinions on those rare instances when they do seem like they might be about to dance close to the fire of controversy. But then they dismiss it and back off. For instance, they admit that William Clayton's diaries are not available, having been kept locked in the vault of the First Presidency since, like, forever. But they think those who want to examine those diaries are -here it comes again- "conspiracy theorists" for thinking it might matter.

Well yeah, I'd say that evidence deliberately hidden away is a problem that matters for people trying to get at the truth of a historical controversy, because if we had access to the diaries we might be able to tell if and when an entry was inserted years after the fact. Did Clayton make an entry in his diary at the very time Joseph is said to have dictated what we know as section 132?  Or was it entered years later? Or never at all?

Most people, when they hear the word "diary," assume the owner of that diary made daily entries. But more often than not, a diary from the pioneer days is more of a memoir, written as far as 40 years after the events they describe took place.  This does not always result in accurate recollections being put into the record.

The modern First Presidency of the Church could put this matter to rest if they weren't constantly hiding historical artifacts from the members, but John Hatch and Lindsay Park only bring up the Clayton diaries in order to make a point about how those wacky conspiracy theorists spend way too much effort thinking it might be a good idea to get a look at the historical documents.

It should also be noted, As Ronald Karren has documented in his book, that we already know Brigham, Heber, and Richards often left large gaps in the pages of their diaries for the express purpose of adding entries after the fact if they needed to fudge facts, dates, and events.  And they often needed to. Karren can show you pictures of added entries written in a different handwriting.

There's a lot I could address about this podcast, including how cavalierly the panel dismissed the idea of the Cochranite influence on Brigham and others. Had there been a contrary voice on that panel, he might have reminded them that a dismissal is not the same as a refutation. Dismissing an argument out of hand only makes it clear that you don't want to deal with it.

How To Get To The Truth About Any Topic
What this panel is seriously lacking in is the capacity for critical thinking. No matter what the topic, it's very easy to become a critical thinker. All you have to do is be willing to ask yourself one question:

"Is there a possibility that I could be wrong?"

I've written over two hundred posts on this blog and it's very rare when someone has to point out any errors I've made in either doctrine or history.

I rarely have to make a correction of fact on these pages after it has been posted. And do you know why? It's because I don't like making a fool of myself. I would rather find out for myself that I'm wrong than to be made a fool of publicly by someone else. So whenever I find myself in a position where I'm completely sure of myself, I ask myself that simple question: "Is there a possibility that I could be wrong?"

I save myself a lot of embarrassment that way.

I wouldn't want to admit how many times I discovered I was wrong about something. I'm just glad all those errors were caught by me and not someone who would rag me about it incessantly over the interwebs.

Another important way of coming to the truth on matters of history is to start out remembering that a great deal of history prior to the beginning of the twentieth century is unreliable. Not just partly unreliable, but mostly unreliable. As Jeff Riggenbach revealed in his extremely important book, prior to the twentieth century we couldn't really rely on what people stated as fact because too often people recorded events as they wished they had happened and not necessarily as they actually occurred. Historians themselves were part of the problem, compiling these errors into books which were then repeated in other books.

When you're dealing with Mormon history, you should just assume that half of what you're reading in the early histories is hokum until shown otherwise, because the temptation for latter-day Saints to inject faith-promoting fables into their histories was so irresistible.

This plain reality somehow escaped the panel in this podcast because they tend to take every utterance from the pioneer practitioners of plural marriage as the gosh-awful truth.  If some woman said she was married to Joseph Smith, well doggone it, she must have been married to Joseph Smith. Never mind if she was careful to note she never lived under his roof, never shared his bed, and never played hide-the-salami with him. She said she was married to him, and that's good enough for Lindsay and the Boys.

The main problem we have with women who claimed to have been sealed to Joseph Smith is that we have come to believe that a sealing is the same as a wedding. It meant no such thing, at least not until Joseph was long dead and Brigham Young started using that word as a synonym for marriage. We really have little idea what was meant by a priesthood sealing when performed by Joseph Smith, other than it was some sort of ordinance by which both men and women were spiritually adopted by Joseph Smith in order to form a chain of connection going back to Adam. From best we can tell, it had something to do with everyone being part of one big happy connected family in the afterlife.

We don't really know because Joseph never recorded what it meant before he was unexpectedly murdered. That's how Joseph described a sealing: it was an ordinance, like being given a blessing or being set apart. For anyone in our day to apply Brigham's later use of the meaning of "sealing" to what Joseph Smith was trying to accomplish is just foolishness. You might as well assume that when you received your patriarchal blessing from your stake patriarch, it meant you just got yourself married to the stake patriarch. It's a priesthood ordinance, not a marriage, for crying out loud.

No doubt you've heard of the letter from Joseph to his close friends the Newell Whitney family? In that letter he asked all three of them to come visit him so he could perform an important ordinance for them.  Some people have interpreted that letter as Joseph wanting to be "comforted" by his young bride, Sarah Ann Whitney.  I don't know about you, but if I were proposing a tryst with some sweet young teenager, the last thing I would do is invite her parents to come along.

Speculation on sealings is fruitless because we just don't know enough about what they were for, just as we know absolutely nothing about what an endowment was when Joseph Smith performed one of those. For decades after Joseph's death, Brigham Young performed endowments that consisted of long ramblings that included anything he felt like yammering on about on a particular day, and they changed significantly every time he did one, until finally around 1876 he put one long boring form of it down in writing and that was the one that stuck.

But it still isn't likely Brigham's endowment ritual had much of a resemblance to Joseph's original. Maybe it did. But again, we don't know.
Learn To Be A Forensic Historian
If you want to get at the truth about historical events, you have to learn to get scientific about it. In other words, getting at the truth is not a passive activity where you accept whatever you heard first as the facts of the matter. Accurate history is a science. It isn't all that easy to sort out. Like any science, it requires the use of logic, reason, and common sense. It requires some study and effort.

David Hackett Fischer is one of America's most prominent historians. Thirty years ago I bought a book he wrote, Albion's Seed, which was hailed by other historians as a radically new way of looking at the cultural diversity of the early Americas. It was considered at the time revolutionary, as it showed for the first time why people from the different colonies were not just different from one another, they were so radically different that they had little in common.  The roots of these differences explain why so many Americans are still factious today.

I mention Fischer because he had previously written a book which was actually a rebuke to his fellow historians. The title of that book is Historian's Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. Fischer effectively criticized his colleagues for the many factual errors in their writings. They didn't tend to check facts, he said, but instead just accepted what they themselves read in other history books, repeating things uncritically and passing them on.  Fischer insisted that historians need to thoroughly investigate what they read and not take anything at face value.

Because David Hackett Fischer was held in such high regard by his fellow historians, that counsel was taken to heart, and 50 years later we're seeing a marked improvement in the writing of history. Authors are making sure their works are as accurate as possible, where many had previously relied on rumor and hearsay.

Insisting on accuracy is good advice for anyone reading or writing Mormon history, because so much of it has been doctored, embellished, or completely fabricated since the death of the founder. I can't help but think Fischer would have a field day critiquing Mormon history. Due to all the deliberate lies and deceptions (not to mention omissions and fabricated additions), Mormon history is among the most unreliable history there is. Here's an example that was brought to my attention just days ago:

In 1901 Joseph Smith III finally got a look at the original letter that had been written by his father from Liberty Jail. It would surprise most members to learn that this letter is quite different from the letter that supposedly made it into our Doctrine & Covenants. Here's what David Price says about it:
The original letter was authentic, but what the Utah LDS did to it is not. They hacked and altered it immensely as they plagiarized it to confabulate their D&C Sections 121, 122 and 123.

When forging Section 121, they omitted the first 631 words in t
he Letter. Between verses 6-7, they omitted another 905 words. Between verse 33 and 34 they removed another 856 words. In total for Sec 121, they removed over 3,000 of Joseph’s words and falsely added over 400 words which he did not say (which changed the meaning of the letter).

When they invented Section 122, they deleted at least 8 words, and added at least forty-three.

When inventing Sec 123, between verses 23-33 they omitted 1,003 words, then INSERTED 247 new words promoting the plurality of gods (a subject which appears nowhere in the real Letter)! In all, 292 words were added, and 90 words subtracted from the portions that they chose to include (not including the 1,003 mentioned above). Also, the final 717 words (including the signatures of Joseph, Hyrum, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae).
This is the very kind of thing Fischer warned historians not to gloss over, yet how many Mormon historians have bothered to compare Joseph's original letter with the chopped up and added-to fraud that was inserted into our scriptures? Full details about what is in this letter will be available in Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, Volume Four (which has yet to be released), but it gives you an idea of the level of perfidy that infuses our historical documents and why we should follow David Hackett Fischer's wise counsel and never accept our histories at face value. If you are investigating any controversy about Joseph Smith that surfaced after June 27th 1844, have your B.S. detector switched on and at the ready. And if someone insists there is historical consensus on a particular claim made about Joseph Smith after he was dead and unable to defend against it, walk away fast because that person is conning you.  Historical consensus is often dead wrong, and anyone today who expresses absolute certainty about an event they were not around to witness is being disingenuous, to put it kindly.

What We Know Vs. What Some Guy Said
I'm well aware that for some people, truth is not an issue. They don't care what happened nearly two hundred years ago.  Fine. They're living in a bubble of their choosing.

But let's talk about you. Is it important to you that you get your historical information unencumbered by propaganda and editorializing? Are you interested in finding out what really happened, or are you content to just accept what some guy said to some other guy sometime back in 1880 about some event that supposedly occurred forty years before that?

Well, the bad news is, we can't know everything that happened back then with complete certainty. But we can sort through the anomalies, contradictions, distortions, and obvious falsehoods that have grown up around the facts so we can help get a clearer picture than we already have. Here are four excellent publications that can help you sort through the noise. If you're interested in getting at the truth about plural marriage as it pertains to Joseph Smith -or at least as near to the truth as possible- these are the tools you'll want to own:

The Secret Chamber by Val Brinkerhoff
I put this book first on the list only because I was asked to write the preface, so me an attention hog, but I want you to read it. That preface is where you'll find the story of how I got this close to becoming a polygamist myself back in the late 1970's. I can't stress how essential it is for you to obtain both this book and the next one on the list by Ronald Karren, as both not only complement each other, but both books document the existence of a "secret priesthood" that attempted to operate in Nauvoo without Joseph's knowledge. Referred to interchangeably by its acolytes as the "Secret Chamber" or "Secret Priesthood" The former is the term the Lord used in a revelation to Joseph warning him that men close to him were seeking his destruction. You'll find that revelation in D&C 38: 13 & 28, but documents have surfaced showing members of the chamber warning one another that Hyrum had been snooping about and he might have found out about their Secret Priesthood.

You probably can't come to a real understanding of the polygamy issue without being aware of this secret priesthood that was trying to undermine Joseph.  Most members are not aware that Heber C. Kimball was a Royal Arch Mason before he joined the church, and if you know anything about 19th century Freemasonry, you'll know that any loyalty Kimball may have had to the church or to Joseph Smith took a distant second behind his devotion to "The Craft."  Kimball, along with Brigham Young and Willard Richards, made up the inner circle of the secret chamber, which existed not just to keep secret the polygamy being practiced among its acolytes, but also to plot how they were going to get Joseph out of the way before he exposed them.

Once Joseph and Hyrum were successfully dispatched at Carthage, it was this secret priesthood that scrambled to make certain they were the ones who took over leadership, even though both the Lord and Joseph Smith had already made it clear that no members of the Twelve were authorized to govern the church. There were some in Nauvoo who had a more solid claim to succession (such as Samuel Smith and William Marks), but those obstacles were easily gotten out of the way to make room for the usurpers.  (See How Jesus Christ Was Ousted as Head of the Church of Jesus Christ and Brigham Young's Hostile Takeover.)

What makes this book of special importance is that it is chock full of citations and footnotes. It's essential when deciding whether or not Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage to recognize that the most important sources are the Lord's words first, followed by Joseph's words and warnings second. You'll find all that in abundance here.

The thing that makes this book especially useful is you can read it two ways. If you choose to read it front to back, that's a good choice. Everything is laid out carefully. One reader told me he thought the author repeats himself too much, but there's a reason for that. He is carefully laying out the case. I've seen this kind of careful explication compared to mowing a lawn -a very big lawn. You run the mower up a long path, then you mow another strip of grass right next to the first one, carefully positioning your mower so that you are overlapping a good part of the first strip you covered so you make sure you're covering everything and not missing a thing.

Another way to read this book is to just dive in anywhere, because there are loads of fascinating sub-chapters where you can learn the truth about most of the rumors, how they originated, and where they fall apart under close examination. For example, beginning on page 48, Brinkerhoff examines every one of the so-called "revelations" on polygamy claimed to have been received by men who came after Joseph Smith, and he shows where those claims fall apart one by one. On page 162 we get "A Short Summary of Mormonism and Freemasonry," which actually isn't that short because it goes on til page 187. Pick any subheading in that section you like and you'll learn stuff you'll probably find disturbing. My point is you can pick up this book, open a page at random and always find something interesting in it. And everything in the book is extremely well documented.

Val initially issued this book rather hastily in 2018 because he was anxious to get it to print, but unfortunately that first edition was riddled with typographical errors. If you bought that first edition, get rid of it because he later issued a corrected and revised 2nd edition with significant improvements and substantial additional material. The second edition is the one you'll want to own. If it looks like the copy on the picture above with the author's name and the words "2nd Edition" on the cover, that's the right one. Ignore the first edition; this one is vastly superior. If you want to make sure you're getting the right version, Look for ISBN numbers  10:1090268394 or ISBN 13:978-1090268396.

The Exoneration of Emma, Joseph, and Hyrum
By Ronald Karren

This book has created something of a sensation since its release in 2017. It deserves all the attention it has been getting, as you'll see when you read it. There are now thousands of Mormons and former Mormons who have come to recognize they've been sold a bill of goods when taught that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, and this book had something to do with supplying that change in outlook.

Karren not only deals with the Secret Chamber, he also analyzes a whole host of claims made by those who insist Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, and dispenses with them in proper order.  If you're looking for something to wash the nasty taste of the polygamy podcast out of your mouth, this book could be the antidote you're looking for.

Again, I can't stress enough how important I feel it is that you obtain at least these two books, both Karren's and Brinkerhoff's.  Karren is no longer a believing latter-day Saint, which gives him an advantage over those critics who believe he is motivated by a desire to rehabilitate Joseph Smith's image. He doesn't give a hang about Joseph Smith's image, since he doesn't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. What Karren is, is a seeker of facts and evidence.  He lets the research take him wherever it goes without worrying about anything but the unvarnished truth. Karren is a guy who recognizes a lie when he sees one -or more accurately, a mountain of lies. 

You'll find plenty in here about how members of the church placed their loyalties to Masonry over their devotion to the gospel.  The author examines those who claimed Joseph was a polygamist, shows the contradictions and inconsistencies in those claims, and shows how in the late 1880's, immediately after one person begins making a new claim, suddenly everyone in Utah starts "remembering" Joseph had told them the very same thing.

I learned just today from several friends online that their comments in the comment section following
 Lindsay's podcast had been deleted, including several instances when listeners left links to this book so others could get a fuller picture of the subject matter. That certainly would explain why, for a podcast that has been up for two years, only a handful of comments can be found, all of them having to do with Bill Nye the Science guy and none of them having anything to do with the subject matter of the podcast.  Obviously the administrator of any online site has the right to block comments if she wishes, but if it's true that Lindsay has been deleting comments that challenge her worldview, I have to say I'm very disappointed.

In the latter part of the book, Karren examines the truly bizarre idea that Joseph Smith (who was by this time hated, derided, and ridiculed across America) had decided to run for president of the United States. Karren provides a compelling argument that, assuming Joseph did float the idea, it was intended as a joke and not to be taken seriously.  More likely, Karren shows us, the idea of Joseph Smith running for president was ginned up not by Joseph but by others, who were either serious about it (not likely) or thought the idea was a pretty good gag (much more likely). Someone printed up a one page flyer touting the candidacy, and to this day that remains the only evidence in existence suggesting Joseph Smith was actually running for president.  Was that flyer intended to be taken as a joke?  Karren seems to think that may have been one purpose for it, since there was never any follow up. Curiously, Brigham and his pals (who, we have been told in our histories) embarked on a trip back East to campaign for Joseph Smith's presidency, did so long after the presidential conventions had already ended. So why would they do that? What was the purpose?  Karren documents the behavior of Young et al while in the East through their letters back home, and suggests they were up to no good.  Buy this book and The Secret Chamber now, and while you're waiting for those books to arrive you can read this excellent synopsis.

Joseph Smith Revealed: A Faithful Telling 

-Exploring An Alternate Polygamy Narrative-
By Whitney N. Horning
For several months I sat at my desk with this book on top of a stack directly behind my head but for some reason I only just noticed it there last week. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far as I've dipped into it randomly. I find it highly readable, and very informative, and I've learned several things I hadn't known about before, which tells you something about how thorough this author is with her research. In a word, I'm impressed. She covers things I haven't seen covered in book form before and I'm glad I got it when I did.

I don't like telling people they have to buy a whole armload of books at once, but if you can manage it, while you're ordering the first two books on this list I highly recommend you latch onto this one as well. I think it's a treasure.

Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, Volume Three
By Richard and Pamela Price

Released just last year, this is the third installment of the series that woke a lot of people up. In here you'll find a continuation of the conspiracy launched by William Law against Joseph Smith, as well as a refutation of the charge that Hyrum Smith secretly taught polygamy.  Also lots more documented instances of Joseph Smith continuing to assert his innocence. Chapter 17 looks interesting, as it would appear the Higbees were conspiring to see that Joseph was assassinated at Carthage because his lawsuit against them would have been their ruination. You wanna talk about "putting this matter to rest," Lindsay Park should have been reading these books instead of clinging to a false narrative that turns out to be largely unsupportable. If you haven't already read the previous two volumes, by all means get volume one and devour that one first. It was a game changer.

I've been told, I don't know how many times, that these books by the Prices have been thoroughly debunked, to which I reply, "Yeah, right."

If anyone tells you that, ask them for the name of the person who did the debunking and where you can read about it in detail. Don't be surprised when they come up empty-handed, as to some people, "debunked" simply means "I can't deal with this right now."

Of Demigods and Dark Knights
By Jeremy Hoop

This is an 18 page transcript of a remarkable talk given by Jeremy Hoop that you can read right now without having to wait. And it's free, so what are you waiting for?

If you're new to this whole controversy, this is an ideal introduction. It's a concise overview of what we know -and more importantly what we don't know- regarding Joseph Smith and polygamy.  There's tons of stuff in here that will make you sit up and take notice.

For instance, I started reading the transcripts of the Temple Lot Case a few years ago, but I never finished that massive volume so I was not aware of something pertinent that Hoop points out in this transcript.

For those who are not aware, the Temple Lot Case, tried in 1890s Missouri, centered around which church had legal claim of ownership to the plot of land in Independence, Missouri where Joseph Smith had laid the cornerstones for the temple that was to be the one where the Lord finally makes his future appearance. The LDS church did not own that land, the Hendrickites owned it. But that plot of land was about to fall into the hands of the RLDS church, so the Utah Church launched a prolonged and expensive legal battle to keep that from happening, on the theory that they might eventually be able to persuade the Hendrickites to sell the temple lot to the Utah Church, but if it fell into the hands of the RLDS Church, they would never, ever get ownership of it.

It was extremely important to the Utah Church that they could lay claim to the legal right of succession, because if some other church winds up owning the only place in the world  where the Lord's True Temple was prophesied to be built, and in which the Lord Himself is prophesied to return to, how does that look to your claims of authority?

So the case ended up being a contest between the the LDS Church and the RLDS Church as to who had the rightful claim of being the church that Joseph Smith founded. The case was presided over by a gentile Judge named Phillips, and the entire case devolved into which church (the LDS, the RLDS, or the Hedrickites) could prove to be the authorized successor to Joseph Smith. The Utah Church pulled out all the stops in an effort to prove they had right of succession, even to the point of pressuring women to (Gasp!) lie for them.

The RLDS church testified that the LDS church could not claim to being the church founded by Joseph Smith because the Utah church had radically altered the religion Joseph taught by introducing polygamy into it. The Utah church countered that claim by providing testimony from three supposed "wives" of Joseph Smith who would prove the doctrine of plural marriage was taught by Joseph and therefore the Utah church had the rightful claim to being founded by Joseph Smith.

Except two of the three "wives" who testified were evasive when directly asked about their marriage to Joseph, and the third, Emily Partridge, had a history of changing her story. A lot. In the end, the judge wasn't buying any of it. But what was new information to me was that nine of Joseph's alleged wives were still living, but only three were willing to testify or provide affidavits affirming they had been married to Joseph Smith.

Now, why do you think that might be? These women were more than happy to claim to have been married to Joseph Smith while they were living in Utah (and married to other prominent church leaders). This was their claim to fame; women who were known to have been sealed to Joseph Smith enjoyed a privileged station in the Utah hierarchy.  They were the Queen Bees of the territory. So why avoid testifying in a trial that had everything riding on it?

I'm guessing that for some of these women it was one thing to strut around as Utah royalty, but it was a different matter when it came to swearing to what they knew was a fraud under oath.  The Church put tremendous pressure on these women to make that claim in open court, but it seems few were willing to put their hand on the bible and swear "so help me God" that they were telling the truth when they knew they were not.

Jeremy delivered this talk in person at the Joseph Smith Restoration Conference in Boise last June, so if you want to watch the video click here. There are other speakers on the docket, so you'll want to fast forward and start at the 45:30 mark where Tausha Larson introduces Jeremy.

In Conclusion...
Some people reading this information for the first time will be tempted to cite the conventional histories as somehow providing "Proof" that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. I advise against stopping there as if the matter has been settled.

There is an abundance of conventional sources out there to choose from.  Some of these are Mormon sources and some are hostile to Mormonism. Some sources are written from the standpoint of believing Mormons and others are written by ex-Mormons who no longer believe. What they all have in common is they echo the same narrative, albeit with minor differences here and there.

I advise against parroting the conventional histories. You won't persuade anyone and you certainly won't impress me. I have owned these books for decades and I've read them all. Remember, I used to believe that plural marriage was ordained of God. I believed that because I read the conventional histories, including nearly every one of the 26 volumes of the Journal of Discourses.

As most accomplished historians will tell you (David Hackett Fischer being chief among them), you don't learn anything by parroting the conventional narrative. You learn by challenging the conventional narrative in order to test any weaknesses in that narrative.

I have provided above five links to challengers of the conventional narrative on polygamy. Overcome the arguments put forth by those challengers and eventually you may find where the truth lies.

Related Post:
Why I'm Abandoning Polygamy


UPDATE June 18, 2021:
Steven Retz has compiled a very handy resource page on this topic: