One was a sexual abuser of young girls, who was eventually forced out of the ministry. Another pastor propositioned me as we shared a dorm room at a clergy conference. Another simply had multiple affairs with different women in the church and was eventually confronted and pushed out of the pastorate. Another confessed to me that he was being treated for 'sexual addiction', having been caught cruising for prostitutes. And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
|Anna Eliza Webb Young, 19th Wife of Brigham Young|
The male sex drive is so powerful that there will always be 'shepherds of the flock' who lead their sheep astray and violate them sexually. That's always been true in Christianity, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. In the case of Catholicism, the recent scandals regarding the sexual abuse of young boys is truly horrifying and is causing a crisis in the American church. In the case of modern 'televangelism', the cases of celebrity preachers gone bad are almost too numerous to name. The women and families damaged by these transgressions are countless. Is there any doubt that pastors must be held strictly accountable and seriously disciplined if they cross that sacred line?
Which brings me to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. As my readers will know, I've been posting quite a bit on Mormonism recently. I first became interested in the subject several years ago when I did a series of classes in my church on what I called 'peculiar American religions'. And then more recently, the discussion of Mitt Romney's Mormonism caused me to return to the subject. I had purchased a book several years ago that I had not yet read, One Nation Under Gods, on the history and doctrine of Mormonism, so I decided to read it and answer some of the questions I was having. Needless to say, it was rather eye-opening and has led me in quite a few different directions.
Perhaps my strongest reaction--because of my past encounters with sexually immoral pastors and the damage they do to the church--was disgust with what I interpret as the obvious predatory sexual behavior of Joseph Smith toward his Mormon 'congregation'. It is unmistakable, frankly, to anyone who has been in a pastoral role. And it's one of the reasons that I have a hard time taking anything connected with Joseph Smith very seriously, including the Mormon faith which he founded.
Most people have heard something about Mormons and polygamy, but very few know much about that part of early Mormon history. Neither did I, really. But the more I read in the course of my research, the more repugnant became the whole Mormon scheme of 'celestial marriage', 'spiritual wives', 'plural wives'. And no matter how it was eventually justified by the Mormon Church, it seemed to me that Mormon polygamy was really just another example of that familiar, age-old, male behavior. Nothing more, nothing less.
So who was responsible for initiating this morally repugant and unchristian sexual behavior in Mormonism? All of the recent historical accounts (Mormon and non-Mormon) point clearly to none other than Joseph Smith himself. He began slowly, by an illicit affair with a teenage servant girl living in his own home, Fanny Alger. Then another somewhat later. Then he began to solicit sexual favors from the wives or daughters of some of his Mormon members. Finally, in the last several years of his life, at the height of his power in Nauvoo, Illinois, he secretly promulgated the doctrine of 'celestial marriage', which was essentially what we would call polygamous marriage. Before he was through (or in his case, was assassinated), he had taken some 33 women as his 'wives' in the course of about 4 years time. And probably more than we don't know anything about. Plus he had encouraged most of his top leadership to do the same, most of whom (with some notable exceptions) found it to be a 'privilege' they couldn't refuse.
So it struck me that here was a man who really lost it and eventually became what we today would call a 'sexual addict'.
In order to help persuade you that what I'm saying has some validity, I want to share a very interesting excerpt from a book entitled Wife No. 19. Published in 1875 by Ann-Eliza Young (and available online here as a free PDF), this book is a personal autobiographical account of a woman's life growing up in early Mormonism and her experience with polygamy. Indeed, she became the '19th' (out of 55) wife of none other than Mormon President Brigham Young--who succeeded Joseph Smith as Church President--and then wrote this book years later after she had been divorced from him. Her witness was largely responsible for the 'Poland Act', a federal law which outlawed polygamy.
Wife No. 19 is fascinating for many reasons, but the lengthy excerpt below (Chapter 3) is probably the most informative inside look at what actually happened in early Mormonism to initiate the sexual oddity (and moral monstrosity) known as Mormon Polygamy. (Any section in [ ] are added by me to aid in understanding.) You're going to love her wry sense of humor too. If you stick with, I think you'll be rewarded.
After the Revelation on Celestial Marriage [commanding ‘plural marriage’ or polygamy] was publicly announced, in 1852 [in Utah by Brigham Young], it was stated that Joseph Smith first produced it in 1843 [in Nauvoo, IL]; but there were, no doubt, hints of this new doctrine at a much earlier date. It is generally believed, and in fact well known by many of the old Nauvoo Mormons, that he had it in contemplation at a much earlier date ; certain indiscretions rendering it necessary that he should find an excuse of some kind for acts that were scarcely consistent with his position as "Vicegerent upon earth," and set himself right, not only with his followers, but with Mrs. Emma Smith, his wife, who objected very decidedly to some of his prophetic eccentricities.
Mrs. Smith had an adopted daughter [Fanny Alger], a very pretty, pleasing young girl, about seventeen years old. She was extremely fond of her; no own mother could be more devoted, and their affection for each other was a constant object of remark, so absorbing and genuine did it seem. Consequently it was with a shocked surprise that the people heard that sister Emma had turned Fanny out of the house in the night.
This sudden movement was incomprehensible, since Emma was known to be a just woman, not given to freaks or caprices, and it was felt that she certainly must have had some very good reason for her action. By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph's love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection, and his wife, discovering the fact, at once took measures to place the girl beyond his reach. Angered at finding the two persons whom most she loved playing such a treacherous part towards her, she by no means spared her reproaches, and, finally, the storm became so furious, that Joseph was obliged to send, at midnight, for Oliver Cowdery, his scribe, to come and endeavor to settle matters between them. For once he was at his wits' end; he could face an angry mob, but a wronged woman made a coward of him at once.
The scribe was a worthy servant of his master. He was at that time residing with a certain young woman, and at the same time he had a wife living. He had taken kindly to Joseph's teachings, although he by no means coveted publicity in the affair; and after seeing Mrs. Smith's indignation he dreaded exceedingly lest Mrs. Cowdery should discover that he was practising his new religious duties with another woman.
The worthy couple—the Prophet and his scribe—were sorely perplexed what to do with the girl, since Emma refused decidedly to allow her to remain in her house; but after some consultation, my mother [Mrs. Chauncey Webb] offered to take her until she could be sent to her relatives. Although her parents were living, they considered it the highest honor to have their daughter adopted into the Prophet's family, and her mother has always claimed that she was sealed to Joseph at that time.
The first public announcement Joseph ever made of his belief in the plurality of wives was at Nauvoo, in 1840. In a sermon one Sunday he declared that it was perfectly right in the sight of the Lord for a man to have as many wives as he pleased, if he could evade the laws of the land. Said he:
"People of polygamous nations will be converted to the church, and will desire to gather with the Saints to Zion; and what will they do with their wives? We must have polygamy among us as an established institution, and then they can bring all their wives with them."
He referred to the Bible to sustain his position, and grew very eloquent on the subject. He seemed determined not only to maintain the doctrine to his own satisfaction, but to convince his people of its truth and its desirability.
As may readily be imagined, it caused the greatest excitement and indignation in the church; and many threatened to abandon the faith. The women most especially were aroused, and they declared they never would accept a doctrine so hateful. It was the first open rebellion against any of the Prophet's teachings by his most devoted followers, and he was wise enough to see his mistake, and to rectify it. Evidently, as he said to certain followers, it was "to soon for the Lord to reveal Himself upon this subject."
The following Sabbath he arose, and said he wished to retract what he had said the Sabbath before; he was at that time only trying the Saints, to see what they could bear.
The Revelation at first was made known only to a few of Joseph's most intimate friends, and they were solemnly bound to keep its existence a secret; but in some way it became known very generally that there was such a Revelation, although it was not given to the world until 1852. It is on this ground that Smith's sons endeavor to palm the Revelation on to Brigham, and deny that their father ever intended to have polygamy become a church institution. The elder Mormons, who were at Nauvoo [before going to Utah after Smith’s death], among whom are my parents, know better than this, however, and also know the exact time when the "Revelation" was first talked of. If Smith was not a polygamist, his sons must allow that he was a libertine, or an advocate of free-love principles. It makes little difference which; the results are the same.
The wife of the Prophet took no more kindly to this new doctrine of Celestial Marriage than did the rest of the Mormon women, and no woman of them all allowed her objections to become so widely known as Mrs. Smith. She knew her husband's nature too well to believe in the Divine origin of the system, and she fought it persistently during his lifetime.
At one time he had eleven young ladies living in his family as adopted daughters, to whom he had been sealed [married by a Mormon priest] without the knowledge of his wife. She for some time supposed that his object in having them there was purely a charitable one. To be sure, some of them had parents living; yet there was some plausible reason always given for having them under his roof, which none of the Saints dared to question, although many of them, especially those who were growing disaffected, were dissatisfied with his reasons, and suspicious of his motives. Very little was said about it openly, until his wife saw something which aroused her suspicions, and she remonstrated with Joseph for having the girls there; but with no effect. The girls should remain--on that point he was decided.
Unlike many of the Mormon women, Mrs. Smith was not one to accept a cross of this kind submissively. She by no means bowed her head, broke her heart, and silenced her lips, and allowed her husband to pursue his licentious course without opposition. When Joseph would not send away the girls, she said very quietly, but with a determination which showed she was making no idle threat,--"Either those girls leave this house tonight, or I do."
"Very well," replied her husband, in a passion at having his authority questioned; "you may go, then, for I intend them to stay."
Without another word she left the house. No sooner had she gone than he began to consider the consequences of her departure directly should it be known, and she would keep neither it nor the cause which provoked her to the step a secret. The publicity of the affair was more than he dared meet. He was not yet ready to encounter the storm it would raise. Great as was his influence over his people, he did not dare risk his popularity by such a bold movement as this. Consequently he followed his wife, and prevailed upon her to return, by promising to dismiss the girls, which he did the next morning. This was her second triumph over his practice of the divine ordinance.
Emma Smith was, as may be supposed from the above narrated incidents, an energetic, strong-minded woman, possessing a great influence over Joseph, whose superior she was, both mentally and socially, when he married her
She was fond and proud of her husband during the first years of his success; but when there was any disagreement between them, she generally got the better of him, being less passionate in temper, and more quietly decided in manner. She forced her husband to respect her and her opinions, although he was notoriously unfaithful to her during all their married life.
Several young girls left the church in consequence of the dishonorable proposals which the Prophet made to them. One of these was a daughter of William Marks, another a daughter of Sidney Rigdon. Both these men—-Rigdon especially-—had been his warm friends and supporters; but this insult offered to their daughters exasperated them beyond measure, and both withdrew from him. Marks joined William Law and his apostate circle [who published a newspaper leading to Smith's assassination], and was as bitter in his denunciation as Law himself. Rigdon removed from Nauvoo, but still avowed himself a “true Mormon," while he repudiated Joseph and his teachings. Other young girls made affidavits to his offers of "Celestial Marriage," and their statements were published in many of the leading papers all over the country, creating the most intense excitement.
Joseph not only made his addresses to the young and unmarried women, but he sought "spiritual alliance" with many married ladies who happened to strike his fancy. He taught them that all former marriages were null and void, and that they were at perfect liberty to make another choice of a husband. The marriage covenants were not binding, because they were ratified only by Gentile [non-Mormon] laws. These laws the Lord did not recognize; consequently all the women were free.
Again, he would appeal to their religious sentiments, and their strong desire to enter into the celestial kingdom [the highest heaven where Mormons--and Mormons only--would be Gods]. He used often to argue in this manner while endeavoring to convince some wavering or unwilling victim: “Now, my dear sister, it is true that your husband is a very good man, but you and he are by no means kindred spirits, and he will never be able to save you in the celestial kingdom; it has been revealed by the Spirit that you ought to belong to me.”
This sophistry, strange as it may seem, had its weight, and scarcely ever failed of its desired results. Many a woman, with a kind, good husband, who loved her and trusted her, and a family of children, would suffer herself to be sealed to Joseph, at the same time living with the husband whom she was wronging so deeply, he believing fondly that her love was all his own.
One woman said to me not very long since, while giving me some of her experiences in polygamy : "The greatest trial I ever endured in my life was living with my husband and deceiving him, by receiving Joseph's attentions whenever he chose to come to me."
This woman, and others, whose experience has been very similar, are among the very best women in the church; they are as pure-minded and virtuous women as any in the world. They were seduced under the guise of religion, taught that the Lord commanded it, and they submitted as to a cross laid upon them by the divine will. Believing implicitly in the Prophet, they never dreamed of questioning the truth of his revelations, and would have considered themselves on the verge of apostasy, which to a Mormon is a most dangerous and horrible state, from which there is no possible salvation, had they refused to submit to him and to receive his ‘divine’ doctrines.
Some of these women have since said they did not know who was the father of their children; this is not to be wondered at, for after Joseph's declaration annulling all Gentile marriages, the greatest promiscuity was practised; and, indeed, all sense of morality seemed to have been lost by a portion at least of the church. Shocking as all this may appear, women that were sealed to Joseph at that time are more highly respected than any others. It is said, as the highest meed of praise which can be given, that they never repudiated any of the Prophet's teachings, but submitted to all his requirements without a murmur, and eventually they will be exalted to a high position in the celestial kingdom....
It had always been a practice of Joseph, whenever he met with any difficulty, to receive a "Revelation," which immediately put everything straight. On the present occasion he was equal to the emergency, and received that celebrated "Revelation" which then and since has constituted the sole authority in the Mormon Church for the practice of polygamy. It was at first only communicated to a chosen few, and it was not until long after polygamy had been practised more or less openly in Utah that Brigham Young delivered it to the world in 1852. It was then published in the Seer and also in the Millennial Star under the title of “CELESTIAL MARRIAGE: A REVELATION ON THE PATRIARCHAL ORDER OF MATRIMONY, OR PLURALITY OF WIVES” [Doctrine and Covenants No. 132].
Of all the extraordinary "revelations" given by Joseph Smith during his eventful career, this is, perhaps, the most remarkable. It certainly produced a deeper and more lasting influence upon his deluded followers than all his other effusions put together, although its language is as ungrammatical as its tendency is immoral.