SALT LAKE CITY — The headquarters for the Mormon religion, also known as the Latter Day Saints (LDS), has acknowledged in a new official essay that its founder practiced polygamy and had up to 40 wives, including a 14-year-old and women who were already married.
“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” is the first of a three-part series to be posted on the LDS.org website, and focuses on the life of Joseph Smith and the many wives that he took to himself after purportedly being commanded by an angel to “practice plural marriage.”
Heretofore, the Mormon establishment had sought to distance itself from portraying Smith as a polygamist, but the new essay states forthrightly that “careful estimates put the number [of women Smith married as] between 30 and 40.”
“Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him,” the essay outlines. “The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.”
The publication also notes that there were two types of marriage: time and eternity, and eternity alone. In other words, some of Smith’s marriages, referred to as “sealings,” were sexual in nature in the here and now, and others were meant to be unions for the afterlife.
“The same revelation that taught of plural marriage was part of a larger revelation given to Joseph Smith—that marriage could last beyond death and that eternal marriage was essential to inheriting the fullness that God desires for His children,” it outlined.
But the essay also noted that some of the “eternity alone” sealings were with women who were already wedded to his followers.
“Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman (Smith’s second wife, who later separated) and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married,” it explained.
“Joseph Smith’s sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another,” the publication stated, citing possible reasons for doing so. “These sealings may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships.”
But Smith did not only practice polygamy himself, the essay noted. He encouraged it.
“Joseph married many additional wives and authorized other Latter-day Saints to practice plural marriage,” it notes. “The practice spread slowly at first. By June 1844, when Joseph died, approximately 29 men and 50 women had entered into plural marriage, in addition to Joseph and his wives. When the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, at least 196 men and 521 women had entered into plural marriages.”
Some turned away from Mormonism, however, because of this practice, and the religious group eventually banned polygamy in 1890. Nonetheless, Mormons consider Smith to be a prophet sent by God and “a martyr of the restored gospel.” Others who oppose Mormonism as a false religion take issue not only with Smith’s polygamy, but also its teachings that God was once a man who worked his way up to being God, and that some will likewise go on to become gods, where they will call their spirit wives to themselves and populate the planet that they have inherited.
“[Y]ou have to learn how to be gods yourselves,” Smith wrote in “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” “[T]he same as all gods have done before you.”