Friday, November 14, 2014

LDS Church's "big announcement" on polygamy is old news.

I keep seeing Facebook posts and news articles about the new lds.org essay on early 19th century Mormon polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo. These news sources generally suggest that the church's essay is some big wow moment, a grand historic confession. But it wasn't a flashy PR move, it's not even a mormonnewsroom public statement, it's just one of many encyclopedic articles the church gradually adds to it's gospel topics summaries on lds.org. It's also ironic to me that this is viewed as a big announcement, because BYU history professors and other significant Mormon historians have published works about Joseph Smith's many wives and the associated controversies for several decades. The church never denied or opposed the history, rather they simply didn't have it posted on lds.org, because it has only been in last couple of years that the church has even started adding controversial or historical explanatory essays to their lds.org articles, which were originally intended to be simple summaries of basic doctrinal topics. Over the last 4 years, I've immersed myself in the study of early LDS Church history, especially that of polygamy, and can say with confidence that all the issues discussed in that lds.org article were things I've known about for quite some time.

The Church has certainly been a little shy about broadcasting anything controversial on the internet, but it never hid the information, in fact, most of the primary resources, the journal entries, letters, sermons, and marriage records that hold the historical foundation for this supposedly "new" information have always been available to the public at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and the church-owned Harold B. Lee Library on BYU campus in Provo. Additionally, the secondary sources cited in the Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo article are historical books and scholarly articles published in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. It's not news, people.

 I want to add how much I love this history. Sometimes learning about the oddities in the history of my faith is confusing and worrisome. But I chose to dive in with resilience and determination to comprehend the heart of it. The more I prayerfully read respectable historical books on polygamy, the more the Lord opens my spiritual eyes and helps me understand the whys and the hows. Studying the Church's complicated history has been a wonderful opportunity for me to experience doubt, anxiety, and fear--and to come through with faith stronger than ever.

My faith has been strengthened, not because the history makes perfect logical sense (history is inevitably riddled with loose ends), but because of the spiritual experiences and feelings I've had in my heart as I study this topic. That said, many of the historical works I've read have made the issues much less confusing in my mind. That's why I want to recommend a few of my favorite books on polygamy by serious historians:


More Wives than One by Kathryn M. Daynes (Here's my 2012 review of the book)

In Sacred Loneliness the Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton, and

The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, ed. by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher