Mormon Polygamy Reform

Disavow Polygamy

Mormon Polygamy Reform

Reform Action #2 of 20   (see overview page)

In this theological essay, I’d like to make a case for the idea that regardless of whether God did or ever has sanctioned polygamy—admitting that early Church leaders screwed up with instituting polygamy does not need to destroy anyone’s faith in Joseph Smith, the LDS church or the church’s founding revelations. Much like admitting King David sinned with Bathsheba or that small parts of the Mosaic law were uninspired cultural norms wrongly attributed to God (think Numbers 5:11–22), or that the old LDS doctrines of racism through priesthood were as well, I believe separating the human from the divine in polygamy is simply a step the church needs to make in order to try and make past wrongs right.

The church needs to come to grips with the fact that early church polygamy may not have been divinely desired. And that even if polyamory is or ever was to be tolerated as a workable marriage arrangement among consenting adults, it should NEVER be institutionalized, promoted, or used in a spiritualized environment of manipulation by men in power.

[See ‘A Timeline of Joseph’s Polygamy‘ for details concerning information in this article. I still need to go through add add scores of footnotes with primary sources to everything I summarize in this article… so be patient]


Prelude. Who Even Started Polygamy?

To Begin with in this article, it’s important to address the question of who even started Polygamy. There’s a growing movement in the LDS church suggesting Brigham Young, and not Joseph Smith started polygamy. One major evidence in this argument is Emma’s testimony concerning the matter. The following first hand account of a question and answer session between Emma Smith and her son Joseph Smith III was published just after her death. In it, Emma flatly denies Joseph ever engaged in polygamy.

Question. What about the revelation on polygamy? Did Joseph Smith have anything like it? What of spiritual wifery?
Answer. There was no revelation on either polygamy or spiritual wives. There were some rumors of something of the sort, of which I asked my husband. He assured me that all there was of it was, that, in a chat about plural wives, he had said, “Well, such a system might possibly be, if everybody was agreed to it, and would behave as they should; but they would not; and besides, it was contrary to the will of heaven.” No such thing as polygamy or spiritual wifery was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband’s death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of.
Question. Did he not have other wives than yourself?
Answer. He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have.
Question. Did he not hold marital relations with women other than yourself?
Answer. He did not have improper relations with any woman that ever came to my knowledge.
Question. Was there nothing about spiritual wives that you recollect?
Answer. At one time my husband came to me and asked me if I had heard certain rumors about spiritual marriages, or anything of the kind; and assured me that if I had, that they were without foundation; that there was no such doctrine, and never should be with his knowledge or consent. I know that he had no other wife or wives than myself, in any sense, either spiritual or otherwise.

Joseph Smith himself also Denied and Denounced Polygamy in EVERY public instance

In ‘Address of the Prophet—His Testimony Against the Dissenters at Nauvoo’ (Sunday, May 26, 1844), shortly before his death, Joseph stands by his assertion that everyone accusing him of Polygamy was lying.

Be meek and lowly, upright and pure; render good for evil. If you bring on yourselves your own destruction, I will complain. It is not right for a man to bare down his neck to the oppressor always. Be humble and patient in all circumstances of life; we shall then triumph more gloriously. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. I labored with these apostates myself until I was out of all manner of patience; and then I sent my brother Hyrum, whom they virtually kicked out of doors. (

Its important to understand that the question of whether Joseph engaged in polygamy is a he said/she said investigation into which the answer cannot definitively be known. There is a good amount of evidence that he did engage in polygamy, however a VERY good argument can be made that the practice actually began with Brigham and his post-Nauvoo contemporaries, who conspired to create a massive cover-up in order to protect the church and possibly Joseph’s reputation from the huge corpus of slander spread around by Joseph’s enemies concerning his accused sexual improprieties. Nearly all of which could very well have all been fabricated as nearly ALL of it comes from either 1-enemies of Joseph in Nauvoo, or 2- from ‘witnesses’ who were loyal to Brigham speaking during the Utah period after Joseph’s death. Either way, one group was lying and creating a complex cover-up. The only question is, was it Joseph because he wrongly dabbled in polygamy for a moment and then completely rejected it causing much of the leadership to turn on him as he excommunicated those who would not give it up?  Or was it Brigham and his inner circle who wrongly believed the defamation of William Law conspirators and lied/rewrote history to absolve themselves and those who believed the false spiritual wifery doctrine?

For the sake of argument, in this article we will not argue against the truth of whether Joseph participated in polygamy, but against the current predominate narrative, led largely by Brian Hales concerning the rationale for Joseph Smith’s supposed polygamy.


Many of the church’s most prominent founders rejected polygamy

Oliver Cowdary and David Whitmer believed polygamy was not of god. After supposedly acquiescing to it for a time, Emma also denounced it – and ever after denied she or Joseph were ever involved in it. Joseph’s living sons were all ardent opponents of polygamy and made trips to Salt Lake City to try and convince the Saints of as much. Many of the early members of the Quorum of the twelve who left the church, denounced polygamy. Both its institution and cessation caused the largest schisms in the church’s history (involving both members and top leadership). David Whitmer, one of Joseph’s closest family friends, wrote an entire book combining his faithful testimony of the Book of Mormon with an outline of Joseph’s mistaken dissent into infidelity and polygamy. His treatment of Joseph is kind, faithful and fair… but firm that Joseph was deceived in instituting polygamy. One of Brigham Young’s wives likewise wrote an expose on the horrors and ungodly beginnings of the practice. Along with some of these early church members (whose testimonies are unfairly denounced as apostate), I hope to show within a framework of one believing and faithful to the modern LDS church how polygamy could not have been from the same source as Joseph’s earlier revelations.

For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him. (D&C 3:4)

From my reading it seems hypocritical to believe that the “god of good” and god of moral agency taught of in 3 John 1:11; Ether 4:12 and especially D&C 121:35–44 would send an “angel with a drawn sword“, to impose polygamy on his supposed people by coercing his prophet to go behind his wife’s back, and perform a secret mock wedding before a secret sexual relationship with his hired 17 year old house-help. (Emma did not know about this supposed “marriage”, and kicked Fanny out of the house when she found out about it). LDS members can read about this first “polygamous” relationship in paragraph 9 of the new church gospel topic essay, and the rest of the story in the online version of the new bookJoseph Smith’s Polygamy” sold at Deseret Book. As hard as it is to believe, this is exactly how polygamy was “revealed”, and it’s the narrative the new church essays are tacitly asking members to believe! Of course the church essay leaves out all the above details which are readily available in contemporary first hand sources. Instead this is what the Church essay says of his affair with 17 year old house nanny, Fanny Alger.

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel [with a sword’s] first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents… After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. ( > plural marriage in kirtland and Nauvoo)

I suggest that once members investigate all the facts of early LDS polygamy it becomes obvious, even to the faithful lds worldview, that Joseph and the Saints were at best allowed like the ancient prophet/king David and other prophets of the scriptures to “follow the dictates of their own wills and carnal desires” (D&C 3:4) in introducing the doctrine of dynastic polygamy. The Book of Mormon makes it pretty clear that “God” gives to people according to their desires. And learning the details of early LDS polygamy that are coming to light, it’s easy to see how the same might be said of the early LDS Saints as was said about the ancient Jews in LDS scripture. Jacob 4:4 suggest God’s covenant people can be “stiffnecked” and “blind”, without being disavowed by God—in fact according to this, divinity eventually just gives people what they want even if it leads to trouble.

But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness… Wherefore, because of their blindness… God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble. (Jacob 4:14. See also Alma 29:4, Ether 12:29)


All earlier revelations (including the Bible) forbid or frown upon polygamy

In fact in every instance prior to D&C 132, Joseph’s revelations denounced and forbid polygamy. Although current LDS apologists like to twist and redefine the meaning of the Book of Mormon phrase “to raise up seed unto me” into meaning “multiply seed” ( see Jacob 2:30), the Book of Mormon actually condemns polygamy (click the following expando-link for a deeper understanding of the Book of Mormon phrase “raise up seed unto me” and how a revelation denouncing polygamy was twisted into an excuse to practice it!) Expand Me


The Book of Mormon explicitly condemns David and Solomon’s use of  polygamy to multiply children and build their dynasties (see Jacob 2:23–26, as does Deut 17:17).  Early LDS leadership ignored the context and meaning of this condemnation and used a few ambiguous words in the revelation to justify the righteousness of polygamy. Specifically they twisted the words “raise up seed unto me” into something meaning “increase the population for me”— something that the revelation does not say. The verse in question says,

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise [polygamy is to be forbidden]”. (Jacob 2:30)

To “raise up seed” does not in any way infer the use of polygamy to take many wives to multiply seed or increase the population. It is a direct quote from Genesis 38:8, referring to a caveat of the Mosaic law in Deut 25:5–7 (which Christ referred to in Matt 22:24) where if a man dies without having children, his brother (even if already married) was to take his brother’s widow as a (second) wife in order to “raise up seed” “in the name of his brother”. In other words, to “raise up an heir” to the brother. Or if a wife is infertile a second wife could also be taken to “raise up seed” to the family (like Abraham & Sarah). Since in ancient law, property was tied exclusively to men and their children, in this way the wife could bare children who could still lay claim to the birthright and her dead husband’s assets, and thus preserve the family name under civil law. (or a childless couple could get a property heir through a surrogate.) Both the story of the early Patriarchs as well as Judah and Tamar draw on this law of birthright to illustrate how god “rose up” seed or a “righteous branch” through the folly of his servant’s gross improprieties (see Gen 38, Gen 21, Gen 29:21–35, Jer 23:5–6). To suggest that this reference meant that God might randomly command his people to start engaging in rampant dynastic polygamy in order to increase population is unfounded in scripture and frankly a bit twisted.

Even the Mosaic Law — which suffered the cultural practice of polygamy — forbid that it be practiced by Jewish leaders as a dynastic tool to multiply many wives (see Deut 17:14–17,17).

“Neither shall he [a Jewish King] multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.” (Deut 17:17)

The 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants stated specifically in section 101 that, “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife.” (It was taken out in 1876) I suggest that instead of using and searching for scriptures to justify and defend the rightness polygamy as we have since 1845, the Saints need to begin to use and focus on scriptures which prove that historical prophets and church leaders often made mistakes! And also emphasize scripture which teach that when some spiritual being comes and commands a person or prophet to do some puzzling act they know might hurt others, they should “try the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).

“I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation… that that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils…Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;” (D&C 46:7–8)

Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand (see Jacob 4:14), and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God. And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—  (D&C 50:31–35)

Once you educate yourself to all the facts of early LDS polygamy, you’ll see why its a pity Joseph and the Saints didn’t better follow the advice of these early revelations which taught the saints to constantly be on the lookout for false revelations which lead to poor outcomes. The problem is that according to the records, some of the girls and women that Joseph propositioned, did seem to receive spiritual confirmations that polygamy was right — they seem to have seen it as a great honor to be “chosen” to be with the prophet, whereas likely as many (including Emma) felt inspired to denounce it as not of God (go figure). Joseph’s revelations also gave a great answer to deal with these types of contradictions concerning personal revelations. It can be found in the Law of Common Voice & Common Consent which teach that all supposed revelations should be democratically put before the church for a vote of confirmation (I write about this elsewhere). If Joseph and these assorted girls felt polygamy to be right, it would have needed to be put before the body of the church and voted upon so that Emma and the church as a body could receive a spiritual confirmation for or against it as official church policy (Mosiah 29:26, D&C 1:19–20, D&C 26:2; D&C 28:13, D&C 38:21–27, D&C 102, D&C 104:71–85, D&C 51:4). These scriptures apply democracy to revelation, knowing it’s easy for a few people to confuse their own feelings or false revelations with real ones, but it’s far more difficult for a whole church to do such. And no one should have been coerced into accepting any supposed revelations by threats of destruction from God or stories of destroying angels. Nor should anyone have been coerced to believe Joseph’s revelation of plural wives with indoctrinating sermons suggesting “the prophet is always right”. Putting a vote to the body of the thoughtful and prayerful members of the church as a whole is the best way to avoid the deception of false revelations and assure church revalators are receiving revelations which represent the desires of the whole church, instead of just the desires of a few.

4 …for I know that [God] granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction. (Alma 29:4)

But that’s absolutely not how polygamy was introduced, and Joseph instead propositioned girls in secret, mostly behind his wife’s back, and often (according to several sources) with a story of how an angel with a drawn sword was forcing him to start polygamy or face death.

The scriptures are full of prophets who sin or misrepresent god’s will

The scriptural record suggests its fairly common for prophets and priests to royally screw up. The mistakes and misunderstandings of Old and New Testament spiritual leaders seems to be a central theme of the Bible. Some of the most prominent prophets in the Christian scriptures seem to be allowed (or led?) to do stupid and sinful things which end up fulfilling their roles of being archetypes or symbols of the people they lead. Moses & Aaron were not allowed to enter the promised land because they boasted and took credit for God’s miracle of giving living water to Israel from the rock (Num 20:12,24). This harsh symbolic curse may have been related to Moses’ and Aaron’s previous acts of murder (Ex 2:12; 32:25-29). The deep symbolism in their mistakes and curse almost certainly was meant to be a foreshadow of Israel itself not entering Christ’s Kingdom of God because of pride, fanaticism and genocidal violence all in the name of God — culminating in their rejection and murder of Christ with his living waters. (see Num 20:8–12, Jer 2:13, John 4:10, D&C 11:24). In a very similar vein, David who was a prophet and king “after God’s own heart”, killed Uriah to sleep with his wife and was not allowed to finish God’s temple  (Acts 13:22, 2:30, 1 Sam 13:14, 2 Sam 11-12, 1 Chron 28:2-6). This was yet another sin almost certainly foreshadowing Israel’s coming inability to fully build the kingdom of God amidst their whoredoms and thirst for blood. Abraham’s willingness to transgress former commandments and murder his own son (see Gen 9:4–6), and then faithlessly have a child with his servant who he later allowed to be banished, may have been a foreshadowing and archetype of the violent division which would develop among his posterity and his posterity’s eventual murder of the “Son of God”. We should not forget that even Peter, the chief apostle, denied his Savior– likely as a scriptural foreshadowing of his dispensation’s coming missteps (Matt 26:75, Thes 2:3).

In fact LDS scriptures such as D&C 84:23–27 and Jacob 4:14 strongly suggest that the unchristian aspects of the Old Testament narrative like polygamy, brutality and genocide were not the will of God, but the result of Israel’s own wickedness and “hard hearts”.  Scriptures like Romans 1:24, Acts 7:42 & Psalms 81:12 echo the same message by stating that “god turned away from [from the ancient Israelites]” and “gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” The narrative advanced by these scriptures is that God gives “his people” and leaders lots of freedom to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” as Paul put it (Phil 2:12). Paul seems to suggest that an individual or prophet’s relationship with God ends up being a “mirror” of themselves (1 Cor 13:12 see NIV version). Perhaps this is why Mosiah tells us that a “seer” who “looketh for that which he ought not” would cause him to “perish”. Because both personal and prophetic revelation often ends up being a reflection of our own desires. And evil, violent or lustful desires bring revelations of evil, violence and lust which lead to destruction (Mosiah 8:13,19. see also Alma 29:4).

Instead of the redemption of Zion occurring in Joseph’s generation (D&C 10:33), and in Missouri as the “only place appointed” (D&C 101:20), the Doctrine and Covenants says that because of divisions and “in consequence of the transgressions of my people”, they would have to “wait a little season for the redemption of Zion—That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands” (D&C 105:9–13). It seem obvious when one really gets to studying the polygamy and crazy fundamentalism of the Kirtland and Nauvoo Saints, that they largely reaped the consequences of their own sinful issues. And if one is to believe the revelation’s of Joseph Smith, an argument can be made that they were chased to Utah to have some quiet time to learn to actually obey the early revelations they were given— revelations such as the one’s that forbid polygamy and sexual exploitation (D&C 90:35–37; D&C 42:24–25,75,80 D&C 59:6; 66:10).

Joseph’s revelation on polygamy in D&C 132, coerces Emma into polygamy in an evil way

To show how ridiculous the idea that God commanded Joseph to introduce polygamy the way the record says it was introduced— we’ll use the churches new essays on the topic. But first sit back and enjoy a short video illustrating what “positive spin” is.  You’ll need this humor as we go through the Church Essay and see how certain forces in church leadership continue to try and positively spin Joseph Smith’s polygamy in ways that aren’t telling the whole story. It’s not unlike the positive spin applied in the past to the church’s doctrinal denial of Blacks to the Priesthood. But just like the Church has finally admitted their complete error concerning that historical misstep, (without the church imploding!), I have faith the Church will also eventually stop making excuses for the early prophets and saints and just admit that there’s no way Mormon polygamy was of God. And church leadership will be able to stop making fools of its members by trying to spin obviously evil things off as good. This kind of honesty is the first step in helping repair the breach of trust that the whole polygamy experience has left many members and ex-members with.

Part of the problem with the church essays and portrayal of polygamy is that they use “positive spin” to distort the details and temporal relationships of what went down in Mormon polygamy. They make it sound like Joseph and the early Saints were all continually against the idea of polygamy and then God suddenly came out of the blue and commanded them to do this hard, hard thing. They leave out the context that many of the Saints were pushing for polygamy as early as ~1832 because they had been seduced by the doctrines of Jacob Cochran. Joseph and the saints are instead portrayed as faithful and innocent as they selflessly obey a sudden and impossible to understand commandment from God. Once you look at the historical facts, however, this narrative falls apart. You see instead that in about 1834 Joseph foolishly put himself in a compromising situation by allowing a well-endowed attractive 17 year old girl to live with him in his home— quite likely when his wife was sick, pregnant and likely not fulfilling him sexually (look carefully at the timelines of his Marriage to Fanny vs the birth of Frederick G.W. Smith). This situation led to a sexual relationship to which Joseph “confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness” after the truth came out. Around four years of fidelity go by before Joseph and other leaders come up with the spiritual justification of polygamy which they begin to practice completely in secret behind their wive’s and their people’s backs. A story of an “angel with a drawn sword” is used to convince women that these men are just fulfilling the commandments of a forceful Old-Testament-like God (and have little say in the matter). And D&C 132 appears in order to justify the practice. A “revelation” which manipulatively threatens Emma and other wives, saying that if they don’t let their husbands fulfill the practice “they will be destroyed”. After three years of marrying somewhere between 33 and 40 women (and documented sexual relations with as least eleven of them), Joseph is strangely the one who gets destroyed, instead of the women who were threatened in the revelation. To illustrate the distorted nature of D&C 132, think carefully about the manipulation being used in this verse of Section 132, and the irony of who actually gets destroyed after Emma rejects polygamy. Bracketed clarifications mine.

64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things [of polygamy], then shall she believe and administer [additional wives] unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law. (D&C 132:64. see also v. 26)

Did you catch what this verse is saying? It manipulatively has “god” saying that if a man who has the “keys” to the law of plural marriage teaches his wife about it, and she does not believe it and administer the law by granting him additional wives, then God will execute her! 

Some of the other language in the revelation make a lot more sense when you draw from letters and other historical information from the time. Verse 51 for instance opaquely commands Emma to “not partake” of something in relation to polygamy that Joseph had already offered her.

51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice. (D&C 132:51)

What was it that Joseph offered Emma that she’s later command not to partake of? There are multiple sources which suggest it was some kind of mutal agreement where Emma could take a “spiritual” husband (aka plural husband). William clayton, Joseph’s scribe said this,

This A.M. President Joseph took me and conversed considerable concerning some delicate matters. Said [Emma] wanted to lay a snare for me. He told me last night of this and said he had felt troubled. He said [Emma] had treated him coldly and badly since I came…and he knew she was disposed to be revenged on him for some things. She thought that if he would indulge himself she would too. (William Clayton and George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton)

Some FAIR apologists try to assert that it was a divorce that Joseph offered, which as we’ll see makes absolutely no sense given the context. But William Law, Joseph’s second counselor in the first presidency at one time, echoes William Clayton’s testimony about what Joseph offered her in regards to plural marriage. He suggests that Joseph had offered Emma a plural husband in return for allowing Joseph to take plural wives.

Joseph offered to furnish his wife, Emma, with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in her house and to be well treated, etc (Letter from William Law to Editor Dr. W. Wyl – 1887)

As we’ll see toward the end of this article, the part of this statement concerning keeping “some of them in her house” is corroborated by some of the very girls (plural wives) that were allowed by Emma to “room with Joseph” for a short time. In yet another document, Law states that he talked with Emma about the polygamy issue and revelation on multiple occasions, in one of which Emma concluded that she clearly got the message in the revelation telling her that she must submit to the doctrine or be destroyed.

“Well, I told you that she [Emma] used to complain to me about Joseph’s escapades whenever she met me on the street. She spoke repeatedly about that pretended revelation. She said once: “The revelation says I must submit or be destroyed. Well, I guess I have to submit.” On another day she said: “Joe and I have settled our troubles on the basis of equal rights.”  (William Law interview with the SLC Tribune – 1887)

Really the best evidence that the above accounts are accurate is the crazy emphasis that D&C 132 puts on the idea that polygamy was not to be an “equal rights” endeavor. After saying essentially, “just kidding Emma, I was just testing you” in verse 51 the revelation spends verses emphasizing the fact that only men of the high priesthood could have multiple spouses, not vice versa… and they had to be virgins. A detail that Joseph seems to have overlooked as he sealed himself to already married and widowed women.

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. 62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.  63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed

So the revelation makes it official— Joseph and the other high priests could have one or two or ten virgins and it wasn’t adultery (with or without their spouses consent). But contrary to Joseph’s earlier offer, if Emma tried to take an additional husband she would be destroyed.  And not only that, if she didn’t give her consent for Joseph to take additional spiritual wives, she would be destroyed and God would give Joseph “an hundred-fold wives” regardless of her opinion on the matter.

52 And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those [women] that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.
53 For I am the Lord thy God, and ye shall obey my voice; and I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things; for he hath been faithful over a few things, and from henceforth I will strengthen him.
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment [of giving more wives] she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world… wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds. (D&C 132:52–55)

Once again, the coercive manipulation is glaring. By July 1843, when this “revelation” was given, Joseph had taken some 28 women to wife. All but 3 of those were within a year of the “revelation”. Its unknown at what point Emma found out about these secret marriages going on behind her back. The only solid date that can be given is May 1843, a few months before D&C 132 is “received”. As is often the case of women who find out about their husbands affairs, perhaps Emma began making excuses for her husband who she believed to be above such infidelity. The revelation seems to suggest she had raised objections to Joseph suggesting that many of these woman were adulterous predators praying on his fame and notoriety (instead of the other way around). To assuage these fears the “revelation” assures Emma that any of those women “given to my servant Joseph… who are not pure… shall be destroyed”. But once again, Emma is threatened with death if she didn’t accept and promote Joseph’s polygamy. The records suggest that this manipulation worked on Emma long enough for her to “give” Joseph four women to wife and bed (see evidence of sexuality). But after some soul searching she joined the three witnesses in rejecting the revelation and the doctrine of polygamy, but not Joseph’s prophetic calling or the Book of Mormon. Her behavior of denial, acceptance, regret then denouncement helps make sense of why she seems to have lied to her children until her death about her and Joseph’s involvement in polygamy (she blamed it all on Brigham Young).

Joseph’s excuse that an angel with a drawn sword forced him to institute polygamy is reminiscent of this Back to the Future’s scene. “Silence earthling! I am Darth Vader from the planet Volcan”, you must take multiple wives and sleep with them or I will melt your brain!” 🙂  It’s really kind of a ridiculous idea to suggest God would ever behave that way. (Yet the recent church essay’s suggest just that!)

The evidence is overwhelming

I know this is a lot to take in for a faithful LDS member who wants to believe the best of Joseph Smith. Especially when the Book of Mormon and so many of his early revelations teach such profound sacrifice, wisdom and self abnegation.  But after reading pages of dairy entries, transcripts and quotes in the polygamy repository I reference at the end of this article, this seemed to be the most probable conclusion. Let me hit this home by quoting the legal transcript of the court deposition of Emily Partridge (Young)—Joseph’s 17th “plural wife”, who “married” Joseph at age 19. This testimony was given during the “Temple Lot Trial“, where the Utah LDS Church was attempting to prove ownership of the Independence Temple Lot. In the court case, plural wives of Joseph were sent to testify of their marriage and sexuality with Joseph in hopes to secure legal title of the land. Emily Partridge (who married Brigham Young after Joseph’s death) was one of the few that Emma actually knew about and “gave” Joseph out of fear of disappointing the Lord and being destroyed. Like all of Joseph’s conjugal relationships, she would have sex with Joseph (according to her testimony), but never live in the same house. You can see how confused she is in the deposition, lying, stumbling over her statements and not fully understanding the questioner’s use of the words “roomed”, “ever” and never. Her confusion, and likely fear, is a good example of how most LDS people feel as they learn that Joseph’s “polygamy” was often nothing more than two years of “marrying” scores of girls and women so they could come and have sex with him but never share in any of the actual joys of marriage. (After two years of this, Joseph is murdered.) Bracketed notes mine.

Q. Had you roomed with him [Joseph] prior to … the night after you were married the last time?
A. No sir, not roomed with him.
Q. Well had you slept with him?
A. Yes sir.
Q. [Had you] slept with him … before the fourth of March 1843? [their marriage date].
A. No sir…
Q. Did you ever live with Joseph Smith after you were married to him after that first night that you ‘roomed’ together?
A. No sir. Emma knew that we [her and other girls] were married to him, but she never allowed us to live with him.
Q. Do you make the declaration now that you ever roomed with him at any time?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him in the same bed?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How many nights?
A. One.
Q. Only one night.
A. Yes sir.
Q. Then you only slept with him in the same bed one night?
A. No sir.
Q. Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How many nights?
A. I could not tell you. [obviously a lot more than once] Q. Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him but one night?
A. Yes sir. [apparently many sexual visits but only one full night stay?] Q. And that was the only time and place that you ever were in bed with him?
A. No sir. [no because there were many sexual visits] Q. Were you in bed with him at any time before . . . you were married?
A. No sir, not before I was married to him. I never was
(Temple Lot Case depositions. full transcript available here. See also the Malissa Lot deposition here, which is very similar, but perhaps even more specific about the nature of the sexual relationship)

Emily Partridge was the daughter of Edward Partridge, the first Bishop of the Church. After the Saints came to Utah, Brigham Young took the girl (who was 23 years younger than him) as one of his many wives. This heartbreaking confession by a young girl manipulated into sex at age 19 and a life of polygamy by both her father and “prophet”. Read the following LDS scriptures and re -read Joseph’s earlier revelations and contrast them with Joseph’s last few years of life—and ask god what is true and what is not. And more importantly, ask yourself which parts are good and worthy of supporting, and which parts in need of being reformed.

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. (Moroni 10:12–14)

11 But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good.
12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good… (Ether 4:12)

8 Yet you [Joseph] should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.
9 Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.
10 But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;
11 Except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift. (D&C 3:8–9)

Another damning confession is that of Sylvia Sessions Lyons.  On her deathbed in Utah, Sylvia confessed to her daughter Josephine that she believed her to be the daughter of Joseph Smith. Josephine wrote in 1915,

Just prior to my mothers death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days on earth were about numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret from me and from all the others but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church. (Wells, Emmeline, “Patty Sessions,” Women’s Exponent, v. 13, September 1, 1884, p. 95)

This testimony is supported by many other pieces of evidence, including the admission of church presidents of it’s truth in order to prove to Joseph Smith III (who did not at the time believe his father practiced polygamy) that his father was indeed a polygamist. The worst part of this confession is that recent DNA tests on Josephine decedents show conclusively that Josephine was mistaken… proving that not only did Joseph have sex with his his “plural wife” Sylvia… but he was doing so while Sylvia was still married to, and having sex with her lawful husband (Joseph married Sylvia during the time of her husband’s disfranchisement from the church. After he short time, they got back together). One can see all the available evidence of this adulterous relationship called “plural marriage” by Joseph in the following well-researched video.

Please go to the online version of Brian and Laura Harris Hales new book on Joseph’s Polygamy (sold at Deseret Book, but available in it’s entirety online). If nothing else, read each piece of evidence concerning Joseph’s Sexual relationships, and connect the dots by comparing it to the new church essay on Joseph’s Polygamy. Read the many links I provide in this article.  I think everyone will come to the same conclusion, that no matter how you look at the evidence, Joseph’s Polygamy appears to have been contrary to the character of Jesus Christ and the revelations given to Joseph earlier in his life.

Really this is all pretty common information, and I encourage you to search the issues yourself. Hundreds of original documents can be found at Another great resource is  The more comprehensive but less faithfully framed information at MormonThink is also worth some study. But in the rest of this article, lets just go through these truths hidden within the positive spin of the Church Essays. I’ve copied relevant parts of the first essay on polygamy, and placed my commentary in red. Click the image below to go to the annotated essay.

Follow this link for an annotated version of the church essay which outlines issues with the essay.

From “Some of smith’s older wives were sometimes used to prepare (or groom) younger girls for smithi. One of these was elizabeth Durfee,…

copy here.

“Soon after this he was at my house again, where he occupied my Sister Almira’s room and bed, and also asked me for my youngest sister, Esther M. I told him she was promised in marriage to my wife’s brother. He said, “Well, let them marry, for it will all come right.””
– Joseph Smith’s personal secretary and church patriarch, Elder Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review”


Some notes, I hope you’ll consider (that I’ve been meaning to share with you)
A think there’s a bit of a middle way anti-polygamy adherents are missing.

1. I haven’t heard ANYONE bringing up what I think is an obvious possibility that Joseph dabbled in the idea of polygamy and spoke about it with a few of the brethren for a year or two (say between 1841/42) and then completely repented of it when he saw the effects of even the idea of it on people like William Law (who was abhorred by it, but needed a reason to excuse his brothers misdeeds), and Brigham Young (who wanted to RUN FULL BORE with it.) I think the ‘dabbling’ in the idea of it was a natural outgrowth of the doctrine of sealing (With some reasoning… If you’re getting spiritually sealed to a lady for the next life now, then aren’t you technically married in this life.. in a way?)
I think that Emma’s words to her son the year before her death suggest something like this where she heard there was talk about it… “Answer. There was no revelation on either polygamy or spiritual wives. There were some rumors of something of the sort, of which I asked my husband. He assured me that all there was of it was, that, in a chat about plural wives, he had said, “Well, such a system might possibly be, if everybody was agreed to it, and would behave as they should; but they would not; and besides, it was contrary to the will of heaven.”

2. Another angle I haven’t heard discussed that I think is important.
The Nauvoo Neighbor says flat out in the second paragraph that Joseph felt there was a “conspiracy” against him. It also brings out the motives of those conspiracy. At least William Law’s brother and Dr. Foster had been accused of what sounds like galivanting or even raping young girls. So OF COURSE they are going to start spreading rumors of Joseph was the one doing the sexual improprieties. Combine that with the above idea that Joseph dabbled in it, introducing the idea of spiritual sealings and entertained the idea that it might be how polygamy in the bible was justified and that it might be a true principle and you’ve now got a recipe for disaster.
3. ONE MORE POINT. The above nauvoo-neighbor article also explains how Joseph seem have stopped doing private meetings and started having everything recorded in the last few years. I think this combined with Brigham and others being away on missions CAUSED HUGE MISUNDERSTANDINGS where they may not have fully understood that his proposition to some of the girls when he dabbled in the idea of spiritual wifery were to be married in the next life, not this one. An that after this short period of dabbling he was seriously denouncing the idea of spiritual wifery but some brothern truly thought he was still on board with it from the small discussions he’d had with them years earlier and that many (such as BY, John Taylor) never really knew what was going on because discussions on polygamy/spiritual sealings were the least of their worries the last few years. The rape, murder, and political issues (spoken of in nauvoo-neighbo) far outweighed anything on that.

Also super important to note- When Hyrum’s kids became the Head of the Church. Polygamy truly ended.
(I don’t buy that Brigham helped get Joseph Killed, i think he was just an opportunist that got promiscuous after his wife died, misunderstood Joseph, really wanted polygamy to be a think, believed the lies that Joseph had been involved in it, and so changed D&C 132 to ‘protect’ joseph and the church’s reputation and justify his own desires to marry lots of women.)
So it was CONSPIRACY (mostly by William law, Foster and a number of others) and then a COVER UP (by Brigham Young, John Taylor, etc) by those who believed the lies of the conspirators.
And that cover up is still going on today by church leaders.
Let me reiterate that in order to rationally believe Joseph did not practice or believe polygamy up to his death one must believe in two grand conspiracies of people who deliberately or well-meaningly combined to misrepresent his actions and beliefs.

One by enemies of the church in Nauvoo to try and justify their own immorality. (And the massive #metoo type scandals which occurred in 1841-1844

And a second by leaders of the Church after coming to Utah. I believe largely well-meaningly based on their own misunderstandings of Joseph’s teachings and intents with spiritual sealings, his momentary dabbling in the idea of polygamy, their belief in the false rumors spread by group one, and their desire to justify their own desires for polygamy and clear Joseph’s name from the slander that they believed.

Work to Eliminate Any Cult-like Behaviors

Reform Action #1 of 20   (see overview page)

The word “cult” typically has a fairly derogatory meaning. So most of us Latter-day Saints really take offence to those who stigmatize our religion with this label.  On my mission I was simply baffled by how so many other Christians could call us this with real concern.

It wasn’t until years later when I started looking at the practices of fundamentalist organizations (like the FLDS under Warren Jeffs in Colorado City) that I began to see what so many protestants and even Catholics were referring to when they called us a cult.  Its very hard for us LDS people to see these errors in ourselves, but we need to study what is wrong with organizations like North Korea, The FLDS, Scientology or other “cult-like” organizations… and stop being like them in the subtle ways that we are.

In one sense a cult is simply “a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherent“. By that definition, every religion is a cult. But what I (and most the world who call us this) are talking about is another definition. One that deserves the derogatory association it has. It is “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing” especially misplaced faith and/or admiration of a charismatic leader leading to some level of psychological enslavement. As in a personality cult.  A cult in this essence is a dictatorship of sorts, where the leader or leadership has convinced a body of adherents into adoring and upholding them using manipulation. Really it boils down to leaders holding more control than they rationally deserve. Control based on physical force, or on psychological manipulation. (For example, ‘you should obey me because God told you to, or because I have mystical powers, or because your eternal soul is at stake, or because I have a divine mantle, not because I have rational evidence to support what I believe God’s Spirit has taught me.)

This is why closed dictatorships like North Korea and many other similar governments of the past are usually called “personality cults”. Many of the masses in these systems absolutely adore their leaders. In fact they are fanatically loyal to their leaders in psychologically troubling ways, because that loyalty has less to do with what their leaders have actually done for the society personally, and more to do with a culture of manipulation and indoctrination which trains children from a very young age to see and consider their leaders as divine with mystical qualities out of reach for the general masses. To understand the troubling ways Mormonism behaves like a cult, (and the things we should change) simply read this list and watch these videos on known personality cults and then compare them to Mormonism and then a respectful and intelligent discussion on what might need to change can begin. Another good starting point is the article The Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to the Only True Church Doctrine, which gives a scriptural basis on why Mormonism should not maintain power or authority by virtue of its priesthood.

Here are some warning Signs that your in a Cult, From the Cult Institute.

  1. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions, promoting fear of leaving the organization.
  2. Opposing critical thinking.
  3. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving. (families & friends disowning or ostracizing members who leave the organization)
  4. Excessive and inappropriate loyalty to leaders. (unquestioning and often irrational obedience)
  5. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability of leadership.
  6. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
  7. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
  8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough” (love and acceptance is far from unconditional).
  9. The group/leader is always right.
  10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
  11. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
  12. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”.
  13. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
  14. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
  15. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.
  16. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
  17. Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.
  18. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.

I lay a thorough theological and scriptural foundation for reforms concerning cult-like behaviors in my article, The Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to the Only True Church Doctrine.

The remainder of the reform steps outlines in the ‘needed reformation’ section of this site outlines ways to eliminate the unscriptural, cult-like practices which have crept into Mormonism from its earliest days.

What’s your polygamy? Lance Allred speaks in a TED talk about his experience growing up in an FLDS cult in Montana.  One of many modern FLDS cults which simply carry on the polygamous system created by Joseph Smith and lived by mainstream Mormonism until the United States Federal government forced its abolition.

If the LDS church were a government, and its leaders held political power as well as religious power (as we assume they may some day), what would it look like? It may be hard to nail down exactly, but we know it would be autocratic (absolute top down governance). And it would have very little transparency in its finances and in the inner workings of the top most leaders. North Korea has been changing rapidly since Kim Jong-Un took control, but it strikes me as strangely similar to Mormonism…

Much like with Mormonism, North Korea’s “order” and righteousness come at a great cost. The facade of happiness and beauty hides the sinister shadow of those who don’t conform. The non-conformists are dealt with strictly, harshly and often without mercy. Some documentaries demonize North Korea and its history, others paint it as misunderstood and benign. Whats the correct view?  I guess it depends on your perspective.

What is it that makes this Islamic cult creepy? Its the sneeky suspicion that these “happy” ladies aren’t actually thinking fully for themselves. Much like the North Korean’s there’s a feeling that someone has manipulated them in a way the robs them of their human right to full self determination (free agency).

I’m not saying Mormonism is just like any of these organizations. I am saying that Mormonism shares incredible similarities with them. And if there are things that seem “cult-like” and unnerving as you watch these videos… then make sure Mormonism isn’t like that… and if it is, work to change it. In my view that starts with eliminating the unscriptural autocratic governance system that has developed within Mormonism.

As previously mentioned, the remainder of the reform steps outlines in the ‘needed reformation’ section of this site outlines ways to eliminate the unscriptural, cult-like practices which have crept into Mormonism from its earliest days.

Reform exclusive truth & priesthood claims

Reform Action #3 of 20   (see overview page)

Reform any unscriptural exclusive truth & priesthood claims.  D&C 1:67–68 says clearly “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.” We need to take a hard look at the ways we might be ‘declaring more or less than this” in our teachings.  Specifically we need to reframe three completely unscriptural teachings.

  1. The teaching that Mormonism is the only true church. (this teaching is directly contrary to scripture)
  2. The teaching that Mormonism’s priesthood is the only valid priesthood on earth. (also contrary to scripture)
  3. In general, we need to stop promoting false dichotomies in our truth claims (its all true or its all false). Do a better job at maintaining the multidimensional scriptural metaphors without imposing rigid church-wide interpretations for them.


Teachings #1, and #2 above are completely contrary to revealed scripture, as explained in the following articles..

Re-examining what LDS scriptures say about the ‘Only True Church’ doctrine

The Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to the Only True Church Doctrine

Like good music, the scriptures are purposely written in metaphor so they can be interpreted differently depending on where an individual is in their life and ‘stages of faith’ progression. We need to stop “adding to or taking away” from those metaphors by creating such rigid institutionalized interpretations of those metaphors. For instance, the scriptures teach clearly that the temporal church and priesthood are a type, symbol, imitation or attempted copy of the ‘true and living church’ which exists in heaven (Alma 13:16, D&C 77:2, Matt 6:10, Heb 9:23–24, D&C 128:12–13, 52:14–see this article). A misinterpretation of D&C 1:30 and a handful of other scriptures have caused us to disregard (D&C 10:67–68, Moroni 7:16–17, Mark 9:38–40, etc.) which teach clearly that all who are repentant, moving toward Christ,  do good & preach Christ are part of “His Church”. (see this article: Re-examining what LDS scriptures say about the ‘Only True Church’ doctrine for an in depth look at the scriptural and doctrinal evidence).  Likewise D&C 86:8–10 (see also D&C 88:17–18, & Abr 1:4, 2:11) as well as a host of other scriptures show clearly that our traditional idea that the priesthood was “lost” during the great apostasy is not entirely true. (see this article for clarification or how Mormons are not the only one’s with valid priesthood and that the keys restored to us, deal with our particular mission only).  Reform our teachings to properly portray the church’s role in working WITH the other members of Christ’s “spiritual church” to help to gather all our Christian brothers together in Christ (Eph. 1:10, D&C 27:13).  Also reform our teachings on priesthood elitism to more fully align with the more humble approaches taught in D&C 121.  Root out and put an end to the cult-like practices which result from these misunderstood doctrines (persecuting and deriding other Christian churches because of our traditional teachings that they are part of the Church of the devil, marginalizing, demonizing and shunning those who leave our communion because of our false teachings that leaving the LDS church means going to a lower heaven than those who stay, raising our leaders to god-like status and vilifying those who speak against them, etc..).  See this video for details on many of our cult-like practices in need of addressing.

Stop promoting the false dichotomy of “either Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is true… and thus its all true, or it’s all false” (see here for examples). All church’s and earthly organization’s believe and promote both truth and error. At least three other major religious founders claim to have seen God and/or Jesus within a decade from Joseph Smith; Siyyid Shírází (Founder of Bahá’í Faith; 8 million adherents), Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad (Aḥmadiyya Muslims; 20 million adherents), Hong Xiuquan (prophetic icon of Chinese millennialism). Just because Joseph was given a dispensation of restoration, does not mean God did not give other prophets and religious founders dispensation’s of their own. Having multiple prophets and priesthood lines on earth HAS BEEN THE RULE for the entire scriptural record. Our suggestion that in our day things are ‘different’ and now God suddenly has ONE priesthood line on earth is an unscriptural false tradition based on pride. All prophets are fallible and run the risk of introducing negatively oriented material and concepts into their revelations, practices and doctrine, all receive revelations as they are able and reveal heaven as they see it “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12).

The words of Christ to the Israelites (and Nephites) might well apply to us, when he says

and they [my leaders] understood me not when I said other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and they too must I bring, that there will be one flock, one shepherd”. (John 10:16, 3 Ne 15:21)

And I command you [my leaders] that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of… (3 Ne 16:4)

Eliminate autocracy by balancing consensus rule (democracy) with guidance from ordained leadership

Reform Action #4 of 20   (see overview page)

Reform governance in seasoned regions of the church, working to eliminate autocracy & “divine dictatorship” and implement the democratic principles revealed in our scripture. Restore the law of common voice where possible in the selection of many congregational-level callings. Do better at respecting difference of opinion and re-instituting the vote as a major form of decision making. (this does not necessarily apply in regions where the church is new).


The law of common consent is delineated in the following sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. D&C 20:63–66, D&C 26:2; 28:13, D&C 38:21–27, D&C 102:5–19, D&C 104:71–85, —  More importantly the law of “common voice” (a form of democratic representative governance) is established in D&C 38:34; D&C 41:9, D&C 51:4, D&C 58:49, D&C 102:3,12; D&C 104:71–72; Acts 1:26, Mos 29:25-30. Voting is specifically prescribed in D&C 20:63–66; 102:5-8,12,19; Acts 1:26.  Church members are specifically instructed in D&C 124:144 to vote their “approval” or “disapproval” of chosen leaders — including those presented by revelation.  The Church political structure as delineated in the Doctrine and Covenants appears clearly to more closely resemble a representative ecumenical council where a perfect balance exists between decisions and policy coming from the bottom up according to what the spirit of God speaks to an inspired people and direction from the top down according to what God’s spirit whispers to the leading high-priesthood (see D&C 1:18–20). This order of government given in the D&C accords with the tradition of ecumenicism which historical texts suggest was passed down from the earliest Christian fathers to the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches. These systems helped serve as a basis for political democracy in the ancient Christian World. Our current LDS church system which demonizes religious democratic governance as uninspired is nothing short of religious totalitarianism and needs to reform to accord with Christian and LDS scripture. Our cultural and unscriptural practice of asking for a mock vote of “sustaining” or “opposition” (in which everyone is just expected to agree), instead of a true general vote of “approval” or disapproval” (preferably on multiple candidates), tends to discourage the democratic principles taught in our founding revelations (D&C 124:144).

Even the Didache or “The Lord’s Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, which is likely the earliest extant Christian writing yet found (likely written between 90AD – 150AD), has the author telling some unknown group of early saints to “appoint for yourselves, bishops and deacons…”

“Chapter 15. Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof. Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers…” (Didache, from early Christian Writings. Roberts Translation. 150 AD)

It can be argued that every organization needs to find that delicate balance between democratic and autocratic control. The balance between top-down and bottom-up decision making. But it seems clear that LDS revelations strongly suggest that local church governance, was to be decided far more democratically than at present (decisions coming from the bottom up according to inspiration given to members), whereas top-down “revelatory” appointments were generally restricted to certain newly created quorums and appointments as well as possibly some specific quorums. The Doctrine and Covenants explicitly states that Bishops (D&C 51:12), church social workers, and church property managers (D&C 38:34–37) may be “appointed by the voice of the church“. Even though in new stakes it was common practice for them to be appointed by revelation through the head of the church (D&C 72:8, D&C 41:9), or “ordained by the direction of a high council or general conference” (D&C 20:67). D&C 102:8–12 specifically delineates the manner in which the church “high councils” were and are to be appointed by revelation of “unanimous voice” (v. 3) and “vote” (v.5) of a church council composed of various members assembled for that purpose. After organization, vacancies in the high councils were to be filled by a more autocratic “nomination of the president” (see v. 8-9. However that president was to himself have been elected democratically by vote of the council, or “chosen by the body” as it says in D&C 107:22).  [footnote: all of this only when a literal descendant of Aaron cannot be found, if found this office was to be primarily appointed and then passed from father to son. see D&C 68:19, 107:17 see also Redefining the LDS (Protestant) View of the “Great Apostasy”]

In LDS and Christian scripture, strictly autocratic structures are only prescribed in early formative periods of a dispensation or in periods of apostasy (1 Sam 8; Mos 29:25-30; Ether 6:22–24). Autocratic or totalitarian states in which decisions and policy only proceed top-down by a dominant, elite hierarchy are repeatedly criticized. Christ’s law strictly delineates that people are to be led by their own faith and agency, even if it is to their own destruction (D&C 101:78; Jacob 4:14; Ether 12:29; 1 Sam. 8:6–9).

Despite the fact that it was never really followed, the revelations in the D&C, as I read them, seem to suggest that even Stake High Councils were to be elected by some type of democratic, representative system. (Likely by lower ward council representatives and not by popular vote. See D&C 107. ) The High Council then would chose the Stake presidency (as a microcosm, they would follow the same direction given in D&C 107:22, where the presidency is “chosen by the body [of the council].”  The manner of choosing the Seventy is not specified, but using the scriptures I have so far presented we can assume they were to be chosen by democratic revelation given unanimously to the lower body (likely each Stake High Council choosing one representative to serve or by democratic unanimous voice of the council itself) rather than autocratically.

The evidence given in the Doctrine and Covenents and Acts 1:12–26 concerning how an apostle or “traveling twelve” was to be replaced are ambiguous. In the case of Judas’ replacement its unclear as to exactly who was to be involved in the vote. Acts 1:15 specifies that 120 believers were present for the vote presided over by Peter. But there is absolutely no indication as to whether only the eleven voted or some larger number of officials or even if all 120 took part.

I believe that the idea of church councils have and should embody the principles of democracy. Leadership assembles councils, which would ideally consist of individuals representing the heart and will of the people. The council should serve as the vehicle for democratically integrating the voice, will and needs of the people into the every level of church leadership and decision-making. The council also serves as unit which balances the democratic voice of the people with the autocratic direction of the leadership. Unfortunately decision making all too often does not occur this way in our Church. Instead leaders too often use scripture to justify a “divine dictatorship” where God’s authority is used to justify human decisions. (Contrary to D&C 121:41 & the 3rd of the 10 commandments.)

Leaders often forget scriptures which teach that the heavenly “Lord” is a face or archetype of an entire realm of completely equal individuals–a group consciousness which is unified in heart, mind and purpose (D&C 76:94–95, John 17:21–23, Moses 7:18). They instead pretend “the Lord” is a heavenly dictator whom they alone act as mouthpiece. The Doctrine and Covenants makes clear that church power is not to be derived or maintained this way (D&C 121:41–42). The scriptures specify that “power and authority” should not be maintained by virtue of priesthood office or position (ie. follow the prophet because he’s the prophet or leader because he’s the leader).  Furthermore, no priesthood decision in the Church is binding upon any member unless that member receives a witness and conviction from the Spirit concerning that decision (D&C 50:15–20, see Oahspe Chap 7 Book of Jehovah for clarification).  Emphasis on “following the prophet” discounts the scriptural directive to be an entire church of prophets (D&C 1:20). Policy should optimally be enacted primarily by the unanimous decisions of the councils gathered to represent the heart and will of the people (D&C 107:27–32).

The purpose of the Restored Church (and the work it is doing in heaven) is actually to “gather in one” the existing Christian churches into an ecumenical union (see D&C 10:64–69, 101:43-67, Eph 1:10, D&C 27:13, 84:100). Just as the ancient Church was meant to gather in a brotherhood of the existing Judaic synagogues, the order of the end-dispensation gathering is not simply to gather individuals, but Christian congregations into Zion. In order to do this a certain level of autonomy must be given to those converted congregations & their leaders. In the early apostolic church, the gathered congregation maintained its leadership structure under the Aaronic priesthood—but was now overseen and kept unified by the regional level (stake) High Priesthood & apostleship. This is why the early Church (as well as modern LDS revelation) specifically allowed/allows for Levites to lead congregations “without counselors”, with only their existing Aaronic Priesthood (See D&C 68:14–24, D&C 84:18D&C 107:15–16,76).  This is also part of what made the early Church so successful, Jews did not necessarily need to disavow the old covenant (thus Peter & Paul’s argument in Gal 2 )—they simply needed to accept that a new covenant superceded it. In fact, they may not have even needed to be re-baptized… as a priest like John the Baptist with the Aaronic Priesthood legitimately possesses the needed congregational authority to baptize “throughout all their generations” (D&C 84:17–18, see also Abr 1:4, 2:11).  In regard to the present dispensation, we have completely lost sight of this anciently established order or gathering. Our overly-autocratic structure (and overreach of the high priesthood) has all but made the “gathering in one” of existing Christian congregations impossible (in our case entire Latin Catholic & Islamic congregations should  bring the most fruit; especially after the coming fall of Western Christian nations.). We must pay closer attention to the order presented in our scriptures in order to re-establish the less autocratic union/church of Saints presented in the Lord’s latter-day revelations. One which not only builds congregations from scratch, but seeks out existing Christian churches, properly authorizes their deserving pastors according to revelation (giving them the priesthood as well as two Elders from the Stake to act as helps or counselors), but then letting them lead their congregation according to the dictates of the Spirit. (All congregational authority falls under the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood except that of the Elders and High Priests who must give the Holy Ghost. The Elders & High Priest are to be managed and directed by the Stake President who is the actual president of the High Priest Quorum. The function of these quorums actually makes more sense if you think of them as being “apart” from any congregation.)

Overly autocratic coercion and manipulation always bring disunity. Disunity is the ultimate form of apostasy (D&C 38:27). Scripture suggests that God’s dictates on war, murder, government, priesthood availability, sexual practices and most aspects of morality change a bit according to temporal circumstances. But a unity in equality & love is the ultimate requirement of group exaltation (D&C 105:4; 38:27, Moses 7:18).

Restore the balance of power between stake and central church priesthood leadership

Reform Action #5 of 20   (see overview page)

D&C 107 explicitly dictates that the “stake high council” is to be entirely “equal in authority” to the traveling twelve (12 apostles), first presidency & central stake in Zion. The church needs to obey this scriptural mandate for essential autonomy or balanced power of the “Stake” structure.  The revelations given to Joseph Smith on the Church political structure far more resemble the Evangelical government structures than the current LDS or Catholic hierarchies with a perfect balance of power between the Stake government and the central church government. Tight hierarchy is often necessary when an organization is young & unstable but just as Protestantism was the natural and destined progression of Catholic hierarchy, its now time for the church to follow our own scriptural mandates and reform our priesthood structures by bolstering stake influence and reducing centralization & institutionalization efforts from SLC ( especially for seasoned/mature regions).  As well expanding the influence of the patriarchal order of the priesthood.

36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.

37 The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion. (D&C 107:36–37)


Imbalance in central & local government structures promotes social instability and religious apostasy in regions where the general church membership is as spiritually mature as the leadership. The Doctrine and Covenants specifies that the Stake or “Standing High Councils of the Church” are to be “equal in authority” with the “Traveling High Council of the Church” (or “twelve apostles” as we call them–D&C 107:24–37). This is meant to create a perfect balance of power between local and central church leadership.  Our scriptures promote an ecumenical organization (Christian union or democracy) as revealed to Joseph and early American statesmen (multiple but equal states/stakes united in a union by a scriptural constitution-see D&C 107, D&C 101:80, D&C 109:54) — not an autocratic state.  The current over-centralized system which mimics ancient Jewish & medieval institutional monarchies or the pre-reformation Catholic system is expressly forbidden & forewarned of in our scripture ( 1 Sam 8, Mosiah 23:6–9, Jacob 5:48, 2 Ne 28:12–14; 1 Ne 13:4–9, Acts 23:1–5, D&C 123:7). At this point in our history this over-centralization in seasoned areas of the church has caused a disconnect & power struggle between LDS church leadership and certain spirit-filled aspects of the people.

The stake is a complete unit of the church and has the exact same power and authority (over its members) as the traveling twelve do over the church (D&C 107:36), but this balance is NOT currently maintained in the Church. Members universally have vastly more faith in the traveling “12 apostles” than the stake “12 apostles” (ie. the stake’s high council, see D&C 107 for clarification on our misuse of these titles). This has had a STRONG tendency to backfire as mature members see the follies of church leadership’s past mistakes. I dare say that currently stake High Council’s NEVER fulfill their “equal” role as a check and balance to centralized authority and autocratic dominion. The current general authorities of the church have been raised to celebrity and even demigod status. (Demigod: a person so important as to seem to approach the divine or be godlike in some way.) This leader-worship is a form of idolatry, which leads to apostasy when members learn of the follies of leadership. The current imbalance has members and local leadership expecting to be “commanded in all things” by Church Headquarters, which stems from an imbalanced emphasis on the source of spiritual power. In both political and religious hierarchical environments, when power structures become too lofty, cutting leadership off from equalizing human interaction with the populace— social instability, power mongering, leader worship and mass apostasy will always be the result. (This same political disconnect between leadership and the people is currently imbalancing the U.S. government structure as well.)

It can not be overstressed how detrimental the current idolization of the president of the High Priesthood (prophet), and traveling high council (12 apostles) is. Giving these men god-like status, and creating the idea in the mind of the youth that the majority of their words and actions are “the mind, and will of the Lord”, causes many to leave our communion when they are confronted with repeated contradictions and episodes of church history with prove how completely fallible and human they are. When a church or nation humbly asks their people to respect their leaders best efforts, it preserves the people’s agency. When a church or nation (such as North Korea, historical China, Egypt, Babylon or Medieval Europe) manipulates a people into obedience by an impressed belief that their leaders actions are synonymous with divinity—agency is subverted. An increasingly large number of members are becoming sensitive to this imbalanced, disregard of D&C 121:41 and are leaving.

Great sacrifice engenders great respect.  Christian/LDS scripture suggests the highest levels of heaven are justly filled with those who sacrificed and suffered the most on earth (as symbolized by Christ). Although they are undoubtedly wonderful people, current church General Authorities (who receive quite generous church stipends and overwhelmingly live in large east-bench SLC and Bountiful homes, with above-average incomes; sitting in their large throne-like chairs in General Conference), are quickly losing the respect from outsiders for their increasingly lack economic and organizational humility. If these good men would monetarily and authoritatively humble themselves, their example would go a long, long way in gaining & retaining church membership” (D&C 24:18–19, Luke 22:35, Luke 9:58, Alma 39:11–12).

We need to find effective ways to balance local authority with centralized authority… people need to feel like their agency & inspiration matters. (ie. led by agency through personal group revelation, not autocracy or some kind of “divine dictatorship”).

Find effective ways to get more input from members and ex-members on how things can be done “by common voice”. Find ways to establish how doctrinally “mature” an area is, thus dictating how much power “the traveling high council” should wield (they need more power in new areas–but less in mature areas).  This will be a very difficult reform to implement because the majority of those perceptive to this imbalance have left the church; and it is incredibly difficult to give back spiritual & political power once it has been centralized. Perhaps decentralization could be accomplished by using tactics similar to the following.

-invite more local leaders and even non-member guest speakers to speak at General Conference (so we hear a lot less from the 12, and a lot more from stake presidents and high counselors at General Conference). Continually stress the authoritative equality of a stake president to a general authority. We have got to find ways to stress the equality of local and church-wide leadership.

-tone down the blind obedience and groupthink rhetoric in church talks and curriculum.

-in the same way that has put the stories of every-day LDS individuals in the hands of the investigator, curiculum needs to put more thoughts, revelations and writings of local individuals in the hands of the members. This problem of overcentralization has only began showing negative fruits since the advent of churchwide TV, magazines and internet… we need to use those same tools to balance over-correlation.

-just as is done withe the Ensign magazine, make more a forum containing the writings & works of every-day normal members (not just centralized leadership). Create stake versions of these media outlets–and encourage all members to submit material, in a way where they can receive valuable feedback from members and leadership. Have and the Ensign pull from the most popular stake articles–and invite these authors to give stake conference talks and even general conference talks.

-hang pictures of stake high councilors in seminary/institute classrooms, church publications and missionary discussion flip-books; not just the traveling twelve.

-somehow allow users to comment on general authorities (and local leaders) talks in forum in that they will read. This way they can have feedback as to those their talks offend, and ways which they are misunderstood or misspeak.

-stress the humanity and equality of general authorities. People know their neighbors are human and equal, but SLC authorities which few personally know are easily deified and idolized. Most LDS members believe these men have greater access to angels, God’s Spirit and God than a common member does. This type of idolatry can only lead to problems.

-allow general authorities to give talks in their native languages. (done!)

-the twelve need to go to far greater lengths to play down their own power. By believing it is OK to let people worship their “mantles of authority” they break God’s commandments (D&C 121:41), and create a system of inequality which eventually backfires; doing more harm than good.

-better teaching about the difference between priesthood and prophets is (see below for detail).

-create more and better tools to allow Stake Priesthood leaders to put messages into electronic forms of the Church Magazines (Ensign & Liahona) as well as stake email lists.

-Encourage Stake Councilors to rely on their own authority, and not use the words of “the brethren” to establish their authority. (Which actually lessens their authority.)

-Bring stake authorities together to vote on church policy.

-Effectively implement reform action #1, and reform action #3 will largely take care of itself…

Remove the doctrine of muted prophetic infallibility


Reform Action #6 of 20   (see overview page)

Remove the muted doctrine of prophetic infallibility from our scripture and teachings. (“Muted” meaning on the surface we say it’s not a doctrine we promote or believe, but we actually subtly promote it using muted language.) Church leaders and members often use the following excerpt from Wilford Woodruff’s Official declaration 1 (which aimed to end the church practice of polygamy) to suggest that God would never allow the church leadership to lead the church contrary to the will of God. Or in other words the prophet is infallible to leading the church astray.

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty… (official declaration 1)


The idea that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray”, as delineated in (official declaration 1) is contrary to the principles of agency and directly contrary to the counsel of D&C 3:9–11 & D&C 20:32–33 and many other scriptures. D&C 3:9–11 explicitly teaches that if the prophet transgresses he will simply lose his [revelatory] gifts, be left on his own and “become as other men”.

10 But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;

11 Except thou ado this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift.

The infalibilty of our leaders to lead the church amiss or awry is also directly contrary to the government of the church laid down in D&C 107, where revelation dictates what is to be done, should the leader of the church or any president of the High Priesthood “transgress”.

82 And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;
83 And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.
84 Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (D&C 107:82–84)

Note that in God’s revelation to Joseph there is ABSOLUTELY no intimation that God will kill remove the High Priest, but that the common counsel & twelve shall detect the transgression and as alluded to in D&C 68:33, record and testify of it before a “common counsel” of the church. The etymology of Acts 10:33 helps us to understand that the term “had in remembrance” means to bring up or mention or testify of the matter. After which their decision shall be the “end of controversy concerning him”.

Along with many other scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 107 not only suggest by revelation that divinity not only expects church leadership (including the High Priest who we often call “the prophet”) will sometimes “transgress” and lead others astray (Jer 50:6), but it also defines specifically how to deal with it when it occurs.

The very context of Woodruff’s statement is notably ironic. It turns God into an executioner of sorts who at some point in a church president’s uninspired leadership decisions, would take it upon himself to kill or “remove” that leader through some act. But the statement by Woodruff, made to legitimize the divinity of his decree for ceasing the church sanctioned practice of polygamy, immediately begs the question as to why “God” then allowed Joseph Smith to be “taken out of the way” shortly after instituting the practice in the first place! Shouldn’t Woodruff’s logic lead us to believe that if Joseph Smith was allowed to be ‘taken out of the way’ shortly after instituting polygamy, then it must have been because he was “leading the church astray?!”  So then why if Wilford Woodruff actually believes this concept of divine execution of leaders who lead the church astray,  didn’t he disavow polygamy from the earliest days of his presidency? WHY did he follow the practice until essentially forced by the government to disavow it, and then secretly continue to live it even after publicly disavowing it?

Scripture shows that this type of statement has been incorrectly typical of the church & political leaders of many dispensations (D&C 45:18; Alma 9:1–5), but is contrary to our founding revelations. (see D&C 121:37; 38:39, Jacob 4:14, Hel 13, ). Despite misconstrued arguments to the contrary, it is essentially a Mormon version of Papal Infallibility or the Divine Right of Kings.  If such a doctrine were ever part of God’s program, there would have never been apostasy during any past dispensation led by a president of the High Priesthood. Although it is comforting to our pride to think we are different; the scriptures warn that we are not (D&C 38:39).  The Doctrine & Covenants contains repeated warnings to Joseph, the early apostles and the early Saints that if they were unrighteous they could temporarily or permanently lose God’s favor. The scriptures suggest that the priesthood of EVERY dispensation falls into some level of apostasy from the moment it is established; because all men are fallible, and fallibility leads to loss of priesthood efficacy (D&C 121:37). As needed, prophets are commonly called from outside the popular priesthood to correct the course of both society and the church. Promises concerning the continuance of divine guidance and growth of the Church in scripture are always stated as being conditional upon the church’s righteousness.

Let the church vote on this doctrine (following the law of common voice), just as they should have been allowed to vote on polygamy & the priesthood ban on those of African descent.  Guaranteed, the Spirit will lead the people to decide that this statement and doctrine was a product of the times and should not be considered binding as doctrine.

D&C 1:20 and D&C 68:3–5 makes it clear that all members have the right to speak the “mind and will of the Lord” when moved by the Holy Ghost, not just the “prophet”. Each member has equal right to revelation, but no revelation is binding upon any other member unless the spirit causes that other person to receive it (D&C 50:19–24), and bind themselves knowingly and specifically to it by covenant. Thus church-wide, binding commandments must be voted upon and ratified “by the common consent of the Church” & major commandments are to be “received by covenant” after in initiate has received confirmation.

The idea that every doctrine or policy made by the prophet is “the mind and will of the Lord” is unfounded. The scriptures make clear that this applies only to things dictated “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”(D&C 68:3–5), and the best way to determine if that was the case is to have the Church vote on doctrine to assure the Holy Ghost has confirmed the truth to the Majority of the members (D&C 50:19–24). The Lord does not micromanage humanity or the Church. LDS doctrine suggests that only the archetypical Lucifer operates in such a dictatorial manner. The Lord rules all humanity by their desires and agency (Alma 29:4).  A prophet declares his own highest truth according to the degree he has aligned himself with God’s Spirit on an issue, but all priesthood leaders must ultimately make policy which balances the desires and highest light of the people with their own highest light, or they invalidate their own priesthood  (see the difference between priesthood and prophets).

We must remember that the Church/Israel’s religious High Priest is the groups representative before God, NOT God’s representative to the group. Revelation coming through THE GROUP MIND (spirit) inspires the choosing of the priests, and the KNOWLEGE AND WISDOM they are able to reveal from God is dependent upon the righteousness and desires OF THE GROUP, not of God.