One of the biggest (doctrinal) differences between the LDS Church and other Christian churches is that they are led by a prophet that quite literally speaks for the Lord. (As explained in the Gospel Principles manual: "A prophet is a man called by God to be His representative on earth. When a prophet speaks for God, it is as if God were speaking - see ." ) We have to wonder why these essays are not more definitive. Every essay thus far released leaves the reader with many unanswered, troubling questions. These essays are being interpreted by critics as the Church's tacit admission that they are run by ordinary men like every other church: that there is no modern-day revelation and the prophets don't really communicate with deity. We would like to see evidence to the contrary, but the more that troubling historical and doctrinal issues are pushed to historians instead of prophets and apostles, the more the Church seems to be headed by men instead of the Lord as taught and believed by most Latter-day Saints.
It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,”covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.
As will be seen, the author's application of this distinction to Joseph's polyandry is intended to try and place these plural marriages in the more positive-sounding "eternity only" category, which, by the Essay's definition, would preclude sexual relations in this life.
Ironically, we did not need to wait long for this assertion. Evidently, it can be found in Denver’s essay on plural marriage. On page 38 he provides a modified drawing originally penned by Orson Hyde where he identifies a line of priesthood authority. Snuffer then writes in the names of early patriarchs who held the priesthood in a continual line from Adam to Melchizedek. Then he writes: “After the days of Shem, who was given the new name ‘Melchizedek,’ the direct line of the Patriarchs fell unto apostasy and lost the birthright. There was no continuation of the line of government because it was broken by apostasy and had to be restored again (p. 38).”
This section of the Essay begins by framing the argument in a way that will allow the author (later in the Essay) to downplay that aspect of plural marriage which really bothers most LDS members: a man's sexual relations with a other than their first (and only legal) spouse. This form of polygamy is often referred to as "polyandry".
The math here obviously doesn't work—if each of the 29 men, in order to be a polygamist, had to have at least two wives, wouldn't there need to be at least 58 (instead of just 50) women involved? Perhaps some polyandry was going on that skewed the numbers (but we'll never know because the Essay doesn't discuss this obvious problem).
All the essay really shows is that the Mormons in the 1800s blindly followed the leadership of one man and what he claimed God told him to do. Since there were no clear reasons given for polygamy (back then or now), and since polygamy violated other LDS tenets like obeying the law, went against LDS scriptures that condemn polygamy, and considering all the harm it caused, we can't help but wonder if polygamy was not a man-made mistake like denying blacks the priesthood (church leaders said in the essay "" that it was a man-made ban).
The article completely avoids the most troubling issue that knowledgeable LDS have on polygamy which is the way Joseph Smith practiced it. Joseph Smith practiced polyandry where he married other men's wives as well as polygamy. Joseph married 33 women of which 11 were married to other men. Although many LDS believe that Joseph did not have sexual relations with those women, many faithful LDS historians acknowledge that there is . Often Joseph would send men on missions overseas then marry their wives. Also not mentioned is Joseph's marriages to girls as young as 14 and to what lengths Joseph went to hide these marriages from his first wife Emma. Also omitted is how the Church leaders denied practicing polygamy before the 1850s.
The author brings up John C. Bennett's so-called "spiritual wifery," which is the practice of plural marriage without Joseph's prior permission (in all other ways, however, Bennett's "spiritual wifery" appears to have been the same as Joseph's "plurality of wives"). In endnote 21 of the essay, the author describes Bennett's "spiritual wifery" as "sexual relations … outside of legalized marital relationships, on condition that the relations remained secret." (Essay, p 7 fn. 21) (emphasis added)). As noted in the essay, like Bennett's "spiritual wifery" system, (i) Joseph's plural marriages were NOT legal in the United States (Essay p 1), and (ii) those who Joseph authorized to practice plural marriage had to keep it secret (Essay p 1). Frankly, I'm at a loss to understand how the marriage 'systems' practiced by Bennett and Joseph were really that different.
The writer of the essay wants the reader to have only a small amount of information which is strategically placed to put the history in the best possible light while still omitting many of the serious issues about polygamy. Then the writer has the sheer audacity to say the lies and deception and omissions make members more loyal and devoted to these lies and deceptions.
As probably every response to the Essay has already pointed out, the author does not want to admit that Helen was just 14 years old when she married the 37-year old Joseph Smith. Instead, the author inexplicably refers to Helen's marriage as occurring "several months before her 15th birthday." Even the author of the essay can't bring himself to say that Joseph married a 14 year-old girl. One reader quipped that Helen was 243 months before her 34th birthday.
11) The essay shows Mormon polygamy in a very favorable light. In reality, there were many examples of excessive abuse by leaders in the church that few members know about. For example, Bishop Snow wanted a young girl to be his polygamous wife but she wanted to marry her young boyfriend. Snow tried to send him away on a mission and did everything to persuade him to forsake his sweetheart. When that failed, Bishop Snow and other church leaders ambushed him and castrated him so the girl would no longer want him so he could add her as one of his several polygamous wives. Brigham Young was informed of what happened and said to "let it be" and didn't even remove Snow as the bishop.