Dear 100 Hour Board,
It is my understanding that Joseph Smith kept some of his wives secret from Emma. Why would God accept secrecy on this level in marriage ok? Joseph was reprimanded for losing some of the Book of Mormon pages. Why was it ok to be secretive to his first wife? I can’t see our current prophet treating his wife in a similar way. And if Emma was against polygamy, why did the Lord allow it? Particularly if Joseph was being sneaky. And another related question that has to do with agency, why was Joseph able to threaten women to be his wife (I heard on at least one account he said, “I have received revelation that you are to mary me or x will happen”). It seems like an abuse of power. I was taught in college that a guy couldn’t just receive revelation to marry you, tell you, and you had to say yes.
So.... a few questions in there but it boils down to....
1) Why is Joseph reprimanded sometimes and not others?
2) Does not having a voice (able to say yes or no) make you powerless?
3) Did Joseph abuse his authority and popularity?
-My Name Here
Before I answer your specific questions, I want to address something that seriously bothers me when members discuss Joseph Smith:
Far too often we throw God under the bus when it comes to Joseph Smith's actions.
Instead of doing what you're doing (keeping other wives secret from your first wife really is a horrible thing), too many people will simply say, "God commanded this, therefore Joseph was perfectly right. It's God who's the jerk, not Joseph. Joseph was just following commands."
When I researched into polygamy, I saw this answer far too often from apologists. I begin to think like C.S. Lewis: "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like.'" The God who commands Joseph to keep his wives secret from Emma, to re-do marriage ceremonies so he doesn't have to admit to Emma that he already married the girls she later approved of him marrying, marrying two 14-year-old girls by promising them their families will receive exaltation if they marry him, promising destruction to Emma Smith if she didn't accept polygamy, and being sealed to Emma only after he had been sealed to at least 18 other women - that God is a jerk. Isn't it so much better to instead believe that Joseph Smith was a human? That he messed up and made mistakes and needed to use the Atonement? I don't understand why we would sacrifice a loving, understanding, non-sexist God to keep an idealized and perfect view of Joseph Smith.
So now, to your specific questions.
1) I think God sits back and waits for us to come to Them with questions and worries. I remember teaching as a missionary that the Restoration happened because a boy asked God a question and was willing to accept the answer. When Joseph lost the plates, especially after having asked God if he could give them to Harris multiple times, he knew he would be reprimanded. But when Joseph is convinced his actions are right and doesn't come to God about them, then God may not respond. Or They might find other ways to respond. After all, Joseph died due to polygamy. He ordered the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper printing about his polygamous relationships, be destroyed, which led to his imprisonment and death.
-guppy of doom
I think that the above writers do a good job at addressing some of the complexities of the above questions and wanted to add Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman as a book recommendation, if you haven't read it. It does a good job at analyzing Joseph Smith for both believing and non-believing readers and could help you figure out some of these questions (many of which I also grapple with).
Hello, I want to point out a few things about just one aspect of this.
Brian Hales wrote a book called Joseph Smith's Polygamy, a 3 volume set. Over 1500 pages on just that topic.
Emma got pregnant 8 times in 14 years. The number of pregnancies in the cumulative 100+ years that Joseph was married to extra women was 7. Of those, one failed a DNA test, one conceived while Joseph was in Liberty Jail, another conceived while he was in another state, and I don't remember the other four, but if you are passionate enough about this topic, those books are admittedly pro-Joseph and pro-church, but there is a ton of info in it and it is a very interesting read.
I realize this does not exactly answer everything though. If he wasn't having relations with them then why was he doing it? Jacob 2 said the purpose of polygamy was to raise up seed.
We will never know exactly what he was thinking or what he wanted for the saints in the future. I feel like he was trying to do something more like the Oneida Community; it feels like something he'd build up to. But again, we can only speculate.