Dear 100 Hour Board,
I just asked a question about another link from the website below. I’ve continued reading and found another thing that troubles me deeply, to the point of anger. First, because somehow this isn’t taught in seminary or your typical church history and second because it undoes all the glory we see in church depictions of Joseph’s murder. In my mind,
William Law is doing a good thing by outing wrongdoings . Here is a president of a church actively lying to his congregation and engaging in illegal activity. I would be upset if I were him. But what happens? He’s released on his duties. Is this how God works? As a church we are taught to obey the laws of the land and to be honest, chaste people full of integrity. The prophet was clearly not doing this. So, why is William the bad guy if he’s calling out hypocrisy and, well, what he sees as evil because by definition, isn’t that what it is? Please settle my heart with words of wisdom. Why is William released from his calling if he’s asking Joseph to ask God to stop polygamy (and its secrecy and lawlessness)? At what point are we (in current times) asked to remain silent if we point out something that seems unjust? Would a similar situation happen today? Obviously not with polygamy but perhaps another topic. And lastly, why can’t we just say Joseph was in prison cause he did some bad things? I mean, history is muddy by any account but objectively he didn’t follow the law on some occasions, made some enemies, and potentially abused power. We are taught to be objective, to be thinkers, to be studiers. But do we cross a line when we point out something that doesn’t sit right?
-Here to truly learn. Trust me, I pray and read my scriptures. You’re not “anti” anything simply by reading history and trying to reconcile what you were taught with what you are now trying to learn
I'm not sure if I'm the right one to answer your question, seeing as I've left the Church, but as no one else has responded yet I'll do my best!
During my time studying Church history, I found there's different answers I needed at different times. I seriously wish I had a magical device that grayed out all the answers you don't need at this time, not only for you but for every other reader out there. But until that's invented, I supposed I'll just have to list out different answers. Feel free to stop once you've found your answer, snack on multiple answers before you decide on yours, or get full flung into an existential crisis by trying to accept them all. (I've been there. It sucks. I'm sorry.)
Answer 1: Joseph Smith was commanded of God to practice polygamy. Joseph did not want to practice polygamy, so God sent an angel with a flaming sword to force Joseph to practice this principle. There are various reasons why God commanded polygamy, and some of them are laid out in D&C 132: to follow the works and law of Abraham (verses 32-35); as an Abrahamic sacrifice (verses 36 and 51); to bear children (verse 37); to restore all things (verse 4); because women are given to the prophet by the Lord (verses 37-39; 52); and other reasons known to God alone. Because God knew people would not accept this principle, He commanded Joseph to keep the practice hidden - just as Peter, James, and John were commanded to not speak of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration until after Christ had been resurrected. While William Law might have thought he was doing the right thing by outing Joseph's actions, he was just steadying the ark and acting against God's commands. William should have been content with his answer from Joseph when he asked Joseph to stop practicing polygamy, as Joseph was simply following God's commands, and should have turned to God for answers instead of publicly decrying Joseph.
Answer 2: Joseph Smith, while a prophet, was also a man. He made mistakes and sinned. Perhaps polygamy is an example of that. Carol Lynn Pearson, an amazing woman who wrote The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, held the view that Joseph was wrong to create polygamy. As one reviewer summed up: "[Carol Lynn Pearson] views Joseph as a tragic hero—a man of remarkable courage, compassion, and generosity, brought down by his own recklessness. She agrees with Richard Bushman (Rough Stone Rolling) that Joseph 'did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin' (although she believes that Joseph’s 'personal desire' certainly played a part)." This is also a view I espoused when I answered a past question about polygamy. In this answer, this isn't how God operates, William isn't the bad guy, and Joseph was in jail because he did some bad things - he practiced polygamy secretly and destroyed a printing press when it published the truth. But that just shows that Joseph, like all of us, was human. He made mistakes and received the consequences of his actions.
Answer 3: Joseph Smith, while a prophet earlier in his life, became a fallen prophet when he started teaching and practicing polygamy. This is basically Answer 2 but taken a step further. Joseph used God as an excuse to act on his lusts and desires, and God was not happy with the direction the Church was going. So God used William Law's printing press as part of His process to remove Joseph from his position. Joseph destroys the press, gets sent to jail, and then is killed by a mob. Joseph's actions and his recklessness to hide them, including a lack of divine protection, shows that Joseph, who had once been the prophet of God, had fallen and needed to be replaced.
Answer 4: Joseph Smith was never a prophet. He was a man who used his imagination and gift of storytelling to create a religion. And like most men who create religions, he wanted more women, and it cost him his life.
To quickly answer your other questions:
I definitely think we're asked to remain silent on things that seem unjust. There is immense pressure to agree with the Church (or your family, or your political party) on many social issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights. A lot of people feel like they must be silent instead of openly dissenting, and that should change.
We should definitely teach the real circumstances behind Joseph ending up in prison (which I think they're actually doing now in seminary...?). It can feel like a real slap to the face when you find out the real circumstances, as it sounds like you're experiencing.
Please continue to point out things that don't sit right! That's how we learn and progress. Now, you may need to be cautious about who you broach these topics with - a faith crisis is an extremely painful thing, and not something you want to push someone into kicking and screaming - but I think it's important we talk about these issues so we can find our blind spots and improve. This applies to religion, politics, social issues, and, well, everything.
If you want to talk about any of these issues further, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-guppy of doom