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Good Fruit from Rotten Roots?

Continuing my line-by-line response to Mike Adams’ incendiary anti-Mormon column, we begin today with a passage from the New Testament.

I am sorry that my Mormon readers have put all their eggs in one basket by constantly writing to me quoting Matthew 7:16.

Matthew 7:16 is a statement by Jesus wherein the Savior establishes the criteria by which his followers could be identified. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” the Lord says. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

We have no access to the specific reader complaints that Adams is referencing, yet it seems odd that Adams would see repeated callbacks to the Lord’s own criteria for Christianity as an attempt to “put all their eggs in one basket.” Remember, the catalyst for this facetious apology was Stacey’s complaint that Adams identified Mormons as non-Christian. Shouldn’t a Christian turn to Christ to determine the standard by which Christians ought to be judged? Matthew 7:16 provides perhaps the simplest explication of that standard in all of Scripture. Doesn’t the Savior himself repeatedly say that he is the only way to heaven, and, to continue the metaphor, the only basket in which we should place our eggs? If he were consistent, Adams would be congratulating the Mormons for recognizing the importance of this biblical yardstick as opposed to relying on the authority of some other source.

I’d be very interested to read some of the messages that Adams received privately. If so many of them reference Matthew 7:16, it’s likely they also provide specific examples of ways in which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have effectively emulated the example of the Master. My church has blessed and continues to bless the lives of millions of people, both spiritually and temporally, whether or not their names can be found on church membership rolls. Critics of my church’s doctrine are often forced to concede that, in practice, Mormons are a force for good in the world at large, and that, in most instances, Latter-day Saints strive to follow Jesus’ example in their personal lives. Objectively speaking, it would be very hard to find a way to argue that the fruits of Mormonism are anything but overwhelmingly positive.

Somehow Mike Adams found a way.

So I am sorry that I must now apply that verse to the very first Mormon.

Adams makes a hard shift here, and, if you listen closely, you can almost hear the gears grinding. In an act of breathtaking audacity, Adams contends, for well over half his column, that Mormonism can’t be any good because the first Mormon was so very, very bad. This is a precise inversion of Jesus’ counsel in Matthew 7:16. Where Jesus says you’ll know them by their fruits, Adams says ignore all that good fruit and focus on the rotten root. Apparently, in Adams’ world, thorns grow great grapes, and this year’s thistle harvest will yield figs to die for.

I am sorry that among the 33 well-documented plural wives of Joseph Smith, there were close to a dozen unions in which the wife was already married to another man.

Now we get to the heart of Adams’ objections – polygamy, a widely misunderstood practice discontinued by my church well over a century ago. While I will get to each of Adams’ accusations re: plural marriage in due course, a couple of things are important to note here at the outset.

The first is a reminder that Adams’ brief was prepared to prove that Mormons are not Christians. In order for any discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy to be relevant to that thesis, one of two things has to be true:

1. The practice of polygamy disqualifies any polygamist from legitimate Christian status.
2. Joseph Smith’s personal polygamy was uniquely and egregiously wicked in itself, disqualifying him and any of his followers from laying claim on the blessings of the Gospel.

Adams proceeds as if both these arguments are identical. They are not. Yet all of Adams’ “apologetic” references to polygamy focus exclusively on how Smith practiced it, presumably in the hopes that the perceived excesses of the church’s founder will shock the sensibilities of his readers. How else to explain his outrage at the fact, for instance, that “Joseph Smith married four different pairs of sisters?” Would Adams have been mollified if Joseph Smith had, instead, married eight women with no siblings? No. So why bring up irrelevant family connections? Either polygamy is disqualifyingly unChristian, or it isn’t. If it is, then any eight concurrent marriages would offend the Lord. If it isn’t, then Adams’ extra level of familial detail only serves as an attempt to make Smith’s unions just a little more creepy.

So what about it? (Polygamy, I mean.)

Personally, I’m not a fan, and I know of no Mormons who are. I think it would be a miserable way to live. Nothing I write here should be construed as advocacy for the practice or eagerness for its return to Mormon theology. I’ve catalogued my personal feelings about polygamy here, and those interested ought to refer to that previous post if they want to know how I personally reconcile a disturbing historical practice with my own modern faith.

My focus here, then, will be a narrow one. I will only be responding directly to the issue raised by Adams – specifically, is polygamy definitionally impossible to reconcile with Christianity?

Well, if it is, then it’s not looking good for a whole bunch of those Old Testament guys. Adams mentions David and Solomon, but he ignores Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and a host of lesser names, all of whom were married to more than one woman, sometimes following a direct command of the Lord to take another wife. None of them faced any divine opposition to their actions. Indeed, there is no condemnation of the practice anywhere in the Bible. Even in the New Testament, polygamy isn’t mentioned at all. Josephus and other contemporaneous observers note that polygamy was still prevalent among the Jews at the time of Christ, yet there is no recorded counsel from either Jesus or the apostles on the subject one way or the other.

How, then, can Adams biblically exclude all polygamists from the body of Christian believers?

He can’t. Neither can anyone else. So, instead of citing authority he doesn’t have, Adams invokes outrage at a practice that modern society, by and large, still finds repellent. It’s an effective technique; after all, I’m a Mormon, and even I find the practice repellent. But I find a lot of things repellent. If I made the rules, you wouldn’t be able to get into heaven if you use your cell phone in a movie theater or you say “lay down” when you should say “lie down.” But I don’t make the rules; Christ does. And, as far as I can tell, poor phone etiquette and atrocious grammar don’t keep people from being Christians. And, if you adhere strictly to the Bible, as Adams claims to do, polygamy doesn’t disqualify you, either.

But what about Joseph Smith? He wasn’t just a polygamist; he was a scoundrel, too, wasn’t he? Surely his behavior was so vile that he couldn’t possibly be considered a leader of Christians, right?

We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Refuting Adams' Sorrow
His Name Shall Be Had for Good and Evil

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