Just sent this to a couple dozen LDS acquaintances. I imagine a good number of you can relate to my story.
Recently, my family has been contacted by several caring members from the Ward, who have demonstrated a genuine concern for our well-being. The bewilderment that has been expressed, regarding our absence from church, has prompted a desire in me to relate the story of my personal search for truth and subsequent journey out of Mormonism. Hopefully, this account will provide you with some meaningful insight into our current status with the Church.
What I am about to relate is my story only, as I cannot speak for my entire family. Faced with the explicit threat of church disciplinary action, I have remained silent regarding my historical findings, until now. Since I have recently resigned my membership in the LDS Church, thus removing the humiliating prospect of excommunication, I am now at liberty to speak openly of my journey out of the Church. Though my investigation is over, I fully recognize that, presented with the exact same set of facts, others may come to a different conclusion than my own. That is ok. My intent is not to convince, but rather to convey an accurate account of my departure from Mormonism.
First and foremost, I want to make it clear that my separation from the Church had nothing to do with unworthiness or transgression. For 38 years I was 100% devoted to the LDS Church. During those years, I never once questioned the truthfulness of the gospel. My faithfulness was clearly demonstrated by my service in the Church, and anyone who has ever served with me (in the mission field, in Priesthood Quorum/Young Men’s presidencies, Scouting, Bishopric, etc.) can attest to my wholehearted dedication and commitment. Indeed, I entered into my doubts at a time when I was diligently striving to live my life in accordance with every aspect of the gospel – weekly family home evening, daily personal/family prayer and scripture study, regular church attendance, temple attendance, generous tithes and offerings, faithful home teaching, faithful fulfillment of calling as Scout Master, unwavering support for my wife in her calling as Primary President, etc.
My doubts began as I drove to work one day, listening to Living Scriptures’ Dramatized Church History on CD. I can’t begin to describe the shock and disappointment I felt as I heard, for the first time, the reenactment of Joseph Smith taking Helen Mar Kimball as his polygamous wife at the tender age of 14. The account outlined the involvement of Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, in brokering the deal, as well as Joseph’s promise to Helen that this step would virtually guarantee the exaltation of herself and her father’s family in the Celestial Kingdom. Helen concluded that her sacrifice was a small price to "purchase" such a glorious reward. Upon hearing this, my heart sank, and I wept openly.
That very day, with my sensibilities still smarting from what I had heard, I resolved to discover for myself the correctness of the principle of polygamy. I immediately commenced a humble regimen of prayer, fasting, and meditation, in search of an understanding of polygamy. I attended the temple for the express purpose of gaining some small insight into the "new and everlasting covenant of marriage, including the plurality of wives". I eventually modified my supplications to the Lord, asking for a simple feeling of peace to confirm that polygamy was acceptable in His sight, as I had given up on ever being able to understand it. I approached the Lord with as much faith as I could possibly muster, but my sincere and honest pleas for comfort and confirmation went unanswered. After three long months of silence, I concluded it was time to embark on a new search for truth - a search that would take me beyond the priesthood and Sunday school lesson material and beyond the faith promoting articles in the Ensign.
[Later, when I shared this frustrating experience with Bishop W., he informed me that, "asking God for a confirmation as to whether or not something is true, without first believing, is tantamount to asking for a sign. God does not often give signs". This response surprised me. Even though I had believed (and at times defended) the principle of plural marriage my entire adult life, when I expressed a fervent desire to obtain divine confirmation regarding its more troubling aspects, I was told that I was asking for a sign. The only sign I was looking for was the peaceful confirmation of the Holy Ghost, speaking truth to my soul, providing me with a spiritual witness concerning the correctness of the principle of plural marriage. That witness never came.]
As I began my new quest, I discussed my concerns with Bishop A. (my then current bishop) and asked him for assistance in locating suitable reference material. In response to my request, he recommended a book he found on DeseretBook.com entitled, "Mormon Polygamy, A History". I immediately secured a copy of the book and began my study. This book confirmed the accounts I had heard on the Church History CD’s and unfolded, in a very factual manner, the disturbing origins and practice of polygamy in the Mormon Church. But the most devastating blow to me (even more alarming than the tender age at which Joseph Smith took Helen Mar Kimball as his polygamous wife) was the revelation of the fact that Joseph married 11 women who were already married to other men.
Confused and sickened by what I had learned, I became unable to sleep, eat, or concentrate at work. As more information came to light, the shock took a severe toll on my physical and emotional well-being. Continuing my investigation, I searched for church sources that could further corroborate the newly revealed facts surrounding Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage. My efforts led me to a May 1887 publication of an official Church periodical, "The Historical Record". Contained in volume VI of this periodical is an article written by President Joseph F. Smith and Andrew Jenson (Assistant Church Historian), which documents the plural marriages of Joseph Smith, listing twenty-seven plural wives who were sealed to Joseph during the last three years of his life. This list includes Joseph’s polyandrous unions (marriages to other men’s wives), as well as his numerous sealings to teenage brides. A search of the Family History Archives on lds.org enabled me to obtain the ancestral files for many of Joseph’s polygamous wives. Two of the ancestral files I retrieved from the Family History Archives are those for Helen Mar Kimball and Zina Diantha Huntington. One need only look at the dates to determine that Helen was married to Joseph at the age of 14 (the current age of my oldest daughter), and Zina was already married to Henry Jacobs at the time of her sealing to Joseph. Zina’s journal makes it clear that she and Henry were living together as husband and wife when Joseph secretly took her as his own plural wife. The extant diaries, autobiographical sketches, journals, and correspondences, of some of Joseph’s polygamous wives, further demonstrate the undeniable fact that there was a sexual dimension to their relationship with the Prophet.
Canonized as holy scripture in the 132nd section of the Doctrine & Covenants, the principle of plural marriage is clearly delineated as a sacred tenant of the Mormon faith. The central nature of this tenant is demonstrated by the current practice of Mormon men being sealed for time and all eternity to a second wife, in cases where the first wife has passed away. Furthermore, Bruce R. McConkie succinctly confirmed this belief in his authoritative volume, Mormon Doctrine, wherein he stated: "Obviously the holy practice [of plural marriage] will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium." In light of these facts, I found the statement that, "it [polygamy] is not doctrinal", made by President Hinckley in a nationally televised interview with Larry King, to be very baffling.
Joseph Smith stated on numerous occasions that he entered into the practice of polygamy, only after being threatened with death, by an angel with a drawn sword. After learning the true nature of Joseph’s involvement in polygamy, I had to ask myself the following questions: "Is it reasonable to assume that a kind, just, loving, moral God has such blatant disregard for the sanctity of marriage (and life itself) that He would have his humble servant slain for refusing to take another man’s wife as his own? Or, is it more likely that a mortal man lied?"
The answer is so crystal clear to me now, that I find it extremely difficult to comprehend how some find it easier to hold God responsible for Joseph’s marriage to teenagers and married women, than it is to hold Joseph himself responsible. For me, this issue goes far beyond the character of Joseph Smith. It goes to the very nature of God. To believe Joseph’s account, is to profess belief in a God whose own actions go against every holy attribute He is supposed to possess - a God who, at one time, commands, "thou shalt not commit adultery" and "thou shalt not kill", and at a later time, in essence, commands, "thou shalt commit adultery or thou shalt be killed". I do not believe in a God whose nature is so mysterious, that He would feel it necessary to kill His anointed servant for refusing to commit adultery.
I view the institution of marriage as a sacred trust, and consequently, I am fiercely loyal to my dear wife and absolutely devoted to my kids. For me, morality and goodness are absolutes – not fluid, ever-changing attributes, wholly dependent on time and circumstance. My conscience cries out in opposition to a married man marrying and having sex with other women (especially married women and young teenagers). That Joseph Smith, himself, engaged in this very conduct is virtually indisputable, and I believe his behavior is inexcusable.
Shouldn't moral individuals possess a healthy degree of skepticism towards anyone professing a revelation from God as authorization to commit adultery? Joseph’s justification for his actions was clearly delineated in a written marriage proposal to Nancy Rigdon (daughter of Sydney Rigdon), wherein he stated, "Whatever God requires, is right, no matter what it is . . . even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation." Nancy courageously rejected Joseph’s proposition, despite his Godly justification.
To be unaware of these happenings, as I was until recently, is one thing. But having read the first-hand accounts, as recorded by the actual participants in their letters and diaries, I can no longer plead ignorance. Knowing what I know and refusing to acknowledge it, would be a betrayal of my conscience. I refuse to accept the idea that God would demand such behavior of his anointed servant. To profess that He would, in my opinion, is to profess belief in an immoral, unjust God – a God that, I must say, I do not believe in. On the other hand, to claim that Joseph Smith acted on his own, in these immoral activities, is to undermine his character, credibility and authority, hence calling into question every word that has fallen from his lips. Either way, I flatly reject him as a servant of God.
Though polygamy has been the catalyst for my journey out of the Church, it is by no means the sole reason for my disengagement from Mormonism. I have taken my pursuit of truth very seriously. It has included numerous trips to Salt Lake City, where I have conducted interviews and gained access to valuable historical material, including: the Book Of Commandments, early editions of the Doctrine & Covenants and Book Of Mormon, the Lectures On Faith, all 26 volumes of the Journal of Discourses, and other historical documents not readily available to the church membership at large. (The one and only edition of the Nauvoo Expositor, published June 7, 1844 - a copy of which, I currently have in my possession – was especially enlightening.) Suffice it to say that, the body of evidence I have examined does not support the Church’s claim to divine authority.
I believe many Latter-day Saints would be stunned by the extraordinary doctrines expounded in numerous sermons, delivered by Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, and faithfully recorded in the Journal Of Discourses. "Blood Atonement", which I found to be particularly disturbing, is one such doctrine that quickly comes to mind. In an address to LDS Institute instructors, Boyd K. Packer remarked, "there is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful". Elder Packer’s statement reveals, what I believe to be, a concerted effort by the brethren to suppress non-faith promoting historical facts. The withholding of these "not very useful" truths has, indeed, resulted in a more sanitized version of LDS Church history. The resultant transformed religious institution, known as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", is, undeniably, a wholesome organization. However, I now recognize that goodness and truth are not necessarily co-dependent.
Heaven knows I am far from perfect, and I certainly have my share of faults, but I can say with confidence that I am a man of integrity. Being such, I expect honesty from others. And when it comes to an establishment of religion, claiming to be God’s only true Church on the face of the earth – to which I have selflessly devoted my entire life – I not only expect full disclosure, accuracy, and absolute honesty, I demand it. In this area, the Church has failed me, and the realization of such has been a keen disappointment.
I completely agree with President Hinckley’s assessment that, "Either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground." His declaration leaves no possibility of the Church being partially true or mostly true. According to President Hinckley, all of it is true – every historical claim, every revelation, every verse of scripture, every prophetic utterance, every divinely sanctioned act – or none of it is true. My investigation of the past two years has led me to conclude the latter. Nevertheless, regardless of our divergent theological views, I believe we continue to share the same core values, and it is my sincere hope that you will still consider me to be your friend.
Subject: Smith married girls before their puberty
Many Mormon leaders and historians suggest that sexual relations and the marriage of Joseph Smith and his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball, fourteen at the time was "approaching eligibility."
There is no documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was "approaching eligibility." Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar's culture. Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, were very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. American women began to marry in their late teens; around different parts of the United States the average age of marriage varied from nineteen to twenty-three.
In the United States the average age of menarche (first menstruation) dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age. The mean age of first marriages in colonial America was between 19.8 years to 23.7, most women were married during the age period of peak fecundity (fertility).
Mean pubertal age has declined by some 3.7 years from the 1840’s.
The psychological sexual maturity of Helen Mar Kimball in today’s average age of menarche (first menstruation) would put her psychological age of sexual maturity at the time of the marriage of Joseph Smith at 9.1 years old. (16.5 years-12.8 years =3.7 years) (12.8 years-3.7 years=9.1 years)
The fact is Helen Mar Kimball's sexual development was still far from complete. Her psychological sexual maturity was not competent for procreation. The coming of puberty is regarded as the termination of childhood; in fact the term child is usually defined as the human being from the time of birth to the on-coming of puberty. Puberty the point of time at which the sexual development is completed. In young women, from the date of the first menstruation to the time at which she has become fitted for marriage, the average lapse of time is assumed by researchers to be two years.
Age of eligibility for women in Joseph Smith’s time-frame would start at a minimum of 19 ½ years old.
This would suggest that Joseph Smith (in his late thirties) had sexual relations and married several women before the age of eligibility, and some very close to the age of eligibility including:
Fanny Alger 16
Sarah Ann Whitney 17
Lucy Walker 17
Flora Ann Woodworth 16
Emily Dow Partridge 19
Sarah Lawrence 17
Maria Lawrence 19
Helen Mar Kimball 14
Melissa Lott 19
Nancy M. Winchester [14 or 15]
And then we have this testimony:
"Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed. I told him it was horrible to talk like this."
- Joseph Smith's close confidant and First Councilor, William Law, Interview in Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1887
Short Bios of Smith's wives:
Whatever the average age of menarche might have been in the mid 19th-century, the average age of marriage was around 20 for women and 22 for men. And a gap of 15 to 20 years or more between partners was very unusual, not typical. Whatever biology might have to say, according to the morals of his time, several of Joseph Smith's wives were still inappropriately young for him.
It is a pure myth that 19th-century American girls married at age 12-14. You merely need to go to your local courthouse and ask to see the old 19th century marriage books. Take a look at and pay attention to the age at marriage. Sure a very few did, but it was far from the norm. The vast majority of women married after the age of twenty. The case is even true in pioneer Utah among first marriages. Mormon men in their twenties started out marrying someone their own age. Then later these older men married girls under twenty to be their plural wives. But the first wives were the age of the husband and married over the age of twenty. This is still the case is the rural Utah polygamist communities.
Coale and Zelnik assume a mean age of marriage for white women of 20 (1963: 37). Sanderson's assumptions are consistent with a mean of 19.8 years (Sanderson 1979: 343). The Massachusetts family reconstitutions revealed somewhat higher mean ages. For Hingham, Smith reports an age at first marriage of 23.7 at the end of the eighteenth century (1972: Table 3, p. 177). For Sturbridge, the age for a comparable group was 22.46 years (Osterud and Fulton 1976: Table 2, p. 484), and in Franklin County it was 23.3 years (Temkin-Greener, H., and A.C. Swedlund. 1978. Fertility Transition in the Connecticut Valley:1740-1850. Population Studies 32 (March 1978):27-41.: Table 6, p. 34).
Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 63; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (NY: Oxford University Press, 1980), 6; Nancy F. Cott, "Young Women in the Second Great Awakening in New England," Feminist Studies 3 (1975): 16. Larkin writes,
Dr. Dorothy V. Whipple, Dynamics of Development: Euthenic Pediatrics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966)
Subject: From the Mailbag: What kind of parents gave their daughters to Joseph Smith?
From a curious lurker here, who e-mailed me directly:
"Deconstructor, it seems to me that I read somewhere that JS really "demanded" the mother of [Helen Kimball] but the husband agreed to give JS the daughter [Helen]. If this is true...what kind of parents did the girl have? Correct me if I am wrong."
That is correct, Smith first demanded Heber C. Kimball's wife, but ended up getting the fourteen year-old daughter, Helen. Here's from the historical record:
Heber C. Kimball's Wife, Vilate
“During the summer of 1841, shortly after Heber's return from England, he was introduced to the doctrine of plural marriage directly through a startling test-a sacrifice which shook his very being and challenged his faith to the ultimate. He had already sacrificed homes, possessions, friends, relatives, all worldly rewards, peace, and tranquility for the Restoration. Nothing was left to place on the altar save his life, his children, and his wife. Joseph demanded for himself what to Heber was the unthinkable, his Vilate. Totally crushed spiritually and emotionally, Heber touched neither food nor water for three days and three nights and continually sought confirmation and comfort from God." Finally, after "some kind of assurance," Heber took Vilate to the upper room of Joseph's store on Water Street. The Prophet wept at this act of faith, devotion, and obedience. Joseph had never intended to take Vilate. It was all a test."
- Official Biography of Heber C. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball, Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer." By Stanley B. Kimball, page 93.
There is a mountain of historical documentation that Joseph Smith demanded other men's wives. Even FAIR has written a paper on this. Some women agreed, some refused. What happened to them afterwards is very interesting:
You ask what kind of parents Helen had. Well, this is what her father, Heber C. Kimball, taught about polygamy from the pulpit:
"I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly."
- Apostle Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses Vol 5, page 22
These people were religious fanatics. Just like those that burned at Waco following David Koresh or those who drank poison kool-aid at the command of Jim Jones, these Mormons were entranced by Joseph Smith and did what he said.
At the same time, you can understand why those that were not enamored with Smith wanted him castrated or dead.
Subject: Decon, what was Heber C. Kimball's piggish quote about righteous Mormon men . . .
I haven't found that one yet, Steve. But I did find some other morsels or Mormon goodness:
"I think no more of taking another wife than I do of buying a cow."
- Apostle Heber C. Kimball, The Twenty Seventh Wife, Irving Wallace, p. 101.
Speaking to a group of departing missionaries...
"Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake."