His Name Shall Be Had for Good and Evil

As I continue to dissect Mike Adams’ assault on my faith, I find myself stuck on the words of Joseph Smith as he described his visit from an angel.

“He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me,” Joseph recalled. “[He told me] God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”

So Joseph Smith, an impoverished, functionally illiterate 19th Century farm boy of 17, predicted that the entire world would know his name? Such chutzpah! What’s more, his name would be “had for good and evil,” which I interpret to mean that people would either love him or despise him. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that anyone’s name would achieve that level of recognition, but Mike Adams is a direct fulfillment of that prophecy.

Make no mistake – Adams has it in for Joseph, and the bulk of his column is spent cataloguing his various crimes against heaven and humanity. I mentioned the first anti-Joseph indictment yesterday, when Adams said the following:

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.

I would quibble with his headcount – Wikipedia, for instance, says the number of total wives is 27, not 33, and very few of them could be described as “well-documented,” especially those where the women were married to other men – but that seems, to me, to be beside the point. What if the actual number were half, or perhaps twice that figure? It wouldn’t really mitigate the underlying problem, which is that Joseph married lots of women, and some of them were, in fact, already married at the time. Yet Adams doesn’t tell you that in plural marriages where Joseph married other men’s wives, the supposed cuckolds knew about this arrangement, sanctioned it, and, what’s more, went on to live with their wives as they had before Joseph Smith came on the scene. Never mind Joseph Smith – what husband would allow such a thing? What on earth was going on?

The answer comes from an understanding of the difference in Mormon theology between “marriage” and “sealing.”

Even today, Mormons who solemnize their weddings in LDS temples refer to the ceremony as a “sealing,” wherein a couple is sealed together for “time and all eternity.” The word “seal” comes from the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), a collection of revelations given to Joseph Smith throughout his life. In D&C 132:45 the Lord says to Joseph Smith, “[W]hatsoever you [i.e. Joseph Smith] seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens.” This “sealing power” is thought by Mormons to be identical to the authority given to the apostle Peter in the New Testament as written in Matthew 18:18 – “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Latter-day Saints believe that binding/sealing a couple with this authority perpetuates family bonds beyond the grave.

The word “sealing” is often synonymous with “marriage,” but not always. Children, for instance, are “sealed” in temple ceremonies to their parents. Joseph saw all of this as part of his role in the “restitution of all things” mentioned in Acts 3:21. That included restoring both the sealing, or binding, power mentioned earlier, along with the ancient practice of plural marriage.

Evidence suggests that what happened in these instances was that Joseph drew a distinction between sealing and regular marriage. Some married women were sealed to Joseph, but, in this life, they stayed faithful to their husbands. Many more women, including my own great-great grandmother, were sealed to Joseph after his death. There is no evidence to suggest that Joseph slept with the women who remained married to other men. Those who claim that the doctrine of plural marriage was a convenient outlet for Joseph’s libido overlook the reality of how Joseph actually conducted himself in living this principle.

There were no orgies or harems. A large number of his plural wives got a wedding ceremony and nothing else. Offshoots of the mainstream LDS Church, notably the Community of Christ, insist Joseph couldn’t possibly have been a polygamist. After all, how could a man could be married to over two dozen women and father children with none of them? The answer is that Joseph did not view polygamy as a license for licentiousness, and how he lived this doctrine defies the modern caricatures that have sprung up around it.

Again, understand the narrowness of my point. I’m not saying polygamy is wonderful, and I concede it is strange and disturbing. What I am saying is that it wasn’t the sexual free-for-all that Adams implies, and that it needs to be understood in its proper historical and theological context. I’ll get into that a bit more when I respond to Adams’ Book of Mormon quote on the subject.

I am sorry that in his lifetime, Joseph Smith married four different pairs of sisters. I am sorry that Joseph Smith married a young woman and also married her mother.

Well, at least they had someone to talk to at family reunions! Honestly, how does this make polygamy even worse? This is just piling on for the sake of piling on.

I am sorry that some of Joseph Smith’s marriages were the result of religious coercion secured only after he told the prospective bride that marrying him would ensure the bride’s place in heaven.

“Some” of his marriages? Which ones? Were the other ones OK, then? Adams seems to have greater access to the mind and intentions of Smith and his wives than any number of reputable historians do. Because most of Smith’s marriages were conducted in secret, there is precious little hard documentation about any of them, and neither Joseph nor his wives offer much in the way of first-person commentary. That leaves an awful lot of room for wild speculation, which is what Adams is engaging in here. To charge “religious coercion” requires evidence from either coercer or the coercee. Such evidence doesn’t exist one way or the other.

I am sorry that Smith also coerced teenagers into marrying him by promising their families a place in heaven.

Another explosive-yet-entirely-unsubstantiated charge. How about some specificity, Mr. Adams?

I am sorry that Joseph Smith kept fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball from marrying her sweetheart Horace Whitney because he wanted to marry the teenager instead.

Ah! There we go! Specificity! Also, alas, inaccurate. Kimball wasn’t Whitney’s “sweetheart” when she was sealed to Joseph – she didn’t develop a relationship with Horace until after Joseph Smith’s death. She did, in fact, marry Horace Whitney, and the couple had eleven children together. They were married for the remainder of their natural lives. She was also an ardent supporter of the practice of plural marriage throughout her life. At least, that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

It’s notable that the most incendiary accusations – Joseph was forcing himself on impressionable girls! – have no names attached to them. It is doubtful that’s a deliberate choice on Adams’ part. If he had names, dates, and places to populate his smears, he would provide them. But he doesn’t have them, so he has to smear without sources. Of course, it may also be a case of covering his tracks – as demonstrated with his Kimball/Whitney mistake, the more specific he is, the easier he is to refute.

I am sorry that Joseph Smith also asked Helen’s father Heber C. Kimball to give him his wife.

Now this accusation is entirely true. It is also entirely vicious. Notice that Adams doesn’t claim that Joseph Smith married Vilate Kimball, Heber C. Kimball’s wife, because he didn’t.

Well, why didn’t he?

The most logical explanation would be that Vilate and Heber C. turned him down. But they didn’t. Joseph did ask for Vilate, and Heber and Vilate agreed, after which Joseph broke down in tears when he realized that his friends had that much confidence in him. He immediately confessed that this was a test of their faithfulness, and that he never had any intention of marrying Vilate. He had even given Heber C. a blessing prior to this unusual request promising him that he and Vilate would never be parted in this world or the next. Context makes this a very, very different story than the one Adams is peddling.

But it turns out that Adams isn’t finished bungling the story of Helen Mar Kimball.

I am sorry that before he eventually married Helen, Joseph Smith gave her a 24-hour deadline to give in to his offer of a place in heaven. I am sorry that two years after the death of Joseph Smith, Helen married her old sweetheart Horace Whitney. I am sorry that the marriage between Helen and Horace was only temporary because Helen was already “sealed” by marriage to Joseph Smith for eternity. I am sorry that Horace Whitney was “sealed” to an already dead Mormon woman before his “temporary” marriage to Helen.

Where to start? It’s all wrong to one degree or another. Joseph didn’t propose to Helen directly; Helen’s father imparted Joseph’s intentions, with no record of any deadline or hellfire threats. Promises of heavenly blessings came only after Helen had accepted the proposal. Adams mentions Helen’s marriage to Horace Whitney, inaccurately calling him “her old sweetheart” when their courtship didn’t begin until after Joseph’s death. Adams claims their marriage was “only temporary” even though they spent their entire lives together as husband and wife. Horace wasn’t, in fact, sealed to anyone prior to his marriage to Helen – a detail of minor import, except it demonstrates that Adams is comfortable being sloppy with the facts.

Adams’ complaint that the marriage was “temporary” is of special interest. A casual reader would infer that they were divorced at some point, which they weren’t. If Adams truly believes, then, that this marriage was temporary, he then accepts the efficacy of the sealing power restored through Joseph Smith. Should I fill up the baptismal font for you, Mike?

More polygamy tomorrow, with a helpful summation on the subject courtesy of the Book of Mormon.

Good Fruit from Rotten Roots?
Man of Adequacy

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