Sunday, August 19, 2007

CoC on Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage

I really liked the following statement on the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) website. I think it is an excellent articulation of how any religious person should approach religious history.

What position does Community of Christ take on Joseph Smith Jr.’s alleged involvement in polygamy?

Our faith is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ and not in the actions of any particular person. The Community of Christ affirms its long history of vigorous opposition to polygamy as a doctrine or practice, regardless of what historical research may ultimately conclude about its origins in the early Latter Day Saint movement. The church has consistently taught monogamy as the basic principle of Christian marriage (Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 111 and 150).

As a policy, the Community of Christ does not legislate or mandate positions on issues of history. We place confidence in sound historical methodology as it relates to our church story. We believe that historians and other researchers should be free to come to whatever conclusions they feel are appropriate after careful consideration of documents and artifacts to which they have access. We benefit greatly from the significant contributions of the historical discipline.

This is part of a much longer answer to the question which you might find interesting. They acknowledge their historical denial of Joseph's polygamy and say that even if he practiced it, it was wrong.


  • I saw a TV interview about a year ago with a CoC spokesperson who said as much. He said that Joseph Smith was a fallible man that made mistakes and was yet an instrument in the hands of God in establishing their church. He stopped short of saying that Joseph Smith was a prophet. When asked about polygamy, he said that J.S. was guilty of pastoral malfeasance (sorry, can't remember his exact words), but that this in no way negated the good things that Joseph did.

    This varies dramatically from the official LDS view that J.S.'s engagement in plural marriage was commanded by and ordained of God. The LDS Church fully admits that Joseph Smith was imperfect and made many mistakes. However, the church in no way intimates or suggests that his engagement in plural marriage relationships was anything but proper in the eyes of God.

    In fact, we have the original founders of the CoC to thank for the availability of many of the historical documents outlining Joseph's plural marriage arrangements. Emma Smith sent her sons on a mission to Deseret Territory to squelch stories about Joseph's plural marriages. By this time, the church was openly sponsoring polygamy. In response to the Smith boys' mission, LDS Church leaders collected hundreds of sworn affidavits by eyewitnesses to Joseph's polygamous activities, as well as those of other church members and leaders in the Nauvoo era. Some of these are written on a very personal level and describe various members' conversion to the principle.

    Richard Lyman Bushman wrote, "Nothing confuses the picture of Joseph Smith's character more than these plural marriages" (Rough Stone Rolling, p. 437). Bushman also said on another occasion that most people's perceptions of Joseph ultimately revolve around what they think about Joseph's relationships with women. You can see this embodied in the different approaches to Joseph by the CoC and the LDS Church.

    By Blogger Reach Upward, at 8/27/2007 1:22 PM  

  • I suppose we could further say that nothing confuses the picture of Emma Smith Bidamon's character more than her reactions to these plural marriages. I can't imagine how difficult that principle must have been for her to accept! Yet her outright denial is equally difficult to understand.

    By Blogger Bradley, at 8/27/2007 1:38 PM  

  • Even though I don't understand it, I believe the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to practice polygamy. I do wonder, however, where to draw the line between his human fallibility and what the Lord commanded him to do. Is it possible that, in his efforts to implement the practice, he did it in a less-than-perfect way, or was every last detail done exactly how the Lord desired? Can one be a full-fledged latter-day saint and still question whether the implementation was done perfectly, or is that question simply the "fallen prophet" theory in disguise? I've wondered about these questions as I've read Joseph Smith's biographies, especially regarding his taking a married woman as a wife. Maybe that was somehow right - I don't know. My belief in the Gospel certainly doesn't hinge on these questions, but they are questions I'd love to have answers to someday. If anyone has thoughts on them, or if anyone is aware of articles addressing them, please pass them along.

    By Anonymous gsbbyu, at 8/28/2007 10:27 AM  

  • I feel a lot like you do on this subject. I admit room for imperfect implementation while accepting the divine origins of the commandment. Better understanding of history helps us find better answers to these sorts of questions, which is why I liked the CoC quote so much.

    By Blogger Bradley, at 8/28/2007 2:59 PM  

  • Keep up the good work.

    By Anonymous Aya, at 10/28/2008 12:19 AM  

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