Defending Joseph

joseph grove

Joseph Smith was told as a young man by an angel of God that his “name should be had for good and evil, among all nations, kindreds, and tongues; or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (History of the Church).

Unfortunately much of the evil spoken of Joseph arises from within the church and comes back to the topic of polygamy.

I have a few friends who are otherwise active and “faithful” members who go as far as to say they “dislike” Joseph Smith and/or that “he was a pervert.”  “Sex was his weakness or downfall” they say.  One such friend serves in a stake presidency.  You will never hear him speak of Joseph over the pulpit.  I think this is a tragedy.

Now, I know not everyone feels this way about Joseph in the church.  I certainly don’t feel that way.  But, like most Mormons I’ve had to rely upon the church and its approved Deseret Book list of authors to answer my questions on this issue to inform my opinions.  I know some personally have who left the church after reading Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling.  A Deseret Book approved author.  I think the church has done a very poor job in resolving most people’s concerns regarding Joseph and polygamy, despite its best efforts.

In reading some of the church’s recent teachings, it seems apparent why many are still left with very unsettled feelings over this very strange period in our history.  Here’s a sampling of the church’s handling of the subject:

Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30). Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes.  It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population.  Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,”covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.

And so as an LDS person growing up in a convert family outside of Utah, these were the best arguments we could imagine or muster, always informed by our study of the church’s teachings and in the end always justifying the practice of polygamy all while defending pioneer ancestors I could not claim as my own.  I admit, it was always awkward and usually humiliating.

“Well, why don’t you practice polygamy today?” I was invariably asked.  “Because it’s illegal now and because the Lord revoked the commandment a long time ago.  Oh and back then Utah was not a state”  I might respond.  “But, it was illegal then too wasn’t it?  Isn’t that why the U.S. Government was challenging your church?”  “Well, yeah, but…..”  Always, always awkward.  And at the end of the day, Joseph came out as the perverted scoundrel that started the whole mess.  That impression is too often left in our minds also, as much as we try to ignore the feelings, those seeds are planted if we trust the church’s narrative.

I have family members who, to do this day, while active in the church, despise polygamy and are not comforted by the church’s teachings or essays.

In fact, a young active latter-day saint recently posted his feelings on his blog about his concerns over polygamy and his understanding of D&C section 132.  He concluded polygamy was a false principle and is now facing church discipline with his wife as a consequence.

I find this very disappointing since the church came out just recently and said LDS people will not be disciplined for supporting same sex marriage online.  But apparently if you support traditional marriage online, you will face discipline.  Am I missing something?  Now, I understand there may be other factors related to additional doctrinal disagreements held by the Van Allens.  But, why not simply let people believe as they choose and continue to patiently teach them?


Kirk and Lindsay Van Allen – Facing Church Discipline for Rejecting Polygamy (D&C 132)

Such is the incredible confusion and comedy of errors over this and many other topics, further exposing the church’s inability to lead in matters of doctrine.

This last week, however, I came across the best and most logical defense of Joseph Smith regarding “polygamy” that I’ve ever read.  Ironically this defense is made by a man who the church recently excommunicated.

I highly recommend this 48 page essay to anyone and everyone.  Far too many people have erred too long on this subject.  Joseph’s name has been spoken evil of in far too many wards and stakes throughout the church.  The church itself has left Joseph hanging, by promoting its view of the truth.  It has not properly defended this man (with the truth) to whom we owe the restoration of the gospel.  The very man whom our Lord has anointed as choice seer, as true prophet, and as the legitimate key holder of this last dispensation.

Joseph Smith wrote the following from Liberty Jail after receiving letters from his loved ones.  His words endear me to him and inspire me to want to be one of his friends.

“We need not say to you that the floodgates of our hearts were lifted and our eyes were a fountain of tears, but those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause or provocation, can have but little idea how sweet the voice of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling . . . until finally all enmity, malice and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings and mismanagements are slain victorious at the feet of hope; and when the heart is sufficiently contrite, then the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers, ‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.'”  (History of the Church, 3:293; the last portion of this paragraph was later canonized in D&C 121:7–8.)

Far too many of us have been inspired to lock Joseph in the cells of uncertainty (at best) in our minds and hearts because of false teachings allowed by those who ought to be more informed on these issues.

Joseph also wrote:

I have no enemies but for the truth’s sake. I have no desire but to do all men good. I feel to pray for all men. We don’t ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more. What if all the world should embrace this gospel? They would see eye to eye, and the blessings of God would be poured out upon the people, which is the desire of my whole soul.  (History of the Church, 5:259.)

I love our prophet Joseph.  I stand to sustain him and invite any who doubt his mission or who believe him to be a fallen prophet to especially read this essay from Denver Snuffer.  A man the church should thank for his brilliant defense of a prophet we should all give the benefit of any doubt.  A prophet who gave his life for the church, even when the Lord had commanded him to escape.

“If my life is of no value to my friends,” he said, “it is of none to me.”  God I love that man.  His words should both inspire and haunt us at the same time.


26 thoughts on “Defending Joseph

  1. Lena Hansen

    For me, the most obvious evidence that early members of the church spread lies (evil) about Joseph practicing polygamy, to further their own power/agenda, is revealed in the DNA evidence of the reported descendants of Joseph by other women. A study done 4-5 years ago found no related DNA of the people who claimed to be descendants of Joseph, other than the children he had with Emma. It is true that some of the claims could not be verified, due to early death of the child, but of the cases they could verify (70%), none were descendants.


  2. DeL

    Thank You for this article! I also Love Joseph Smith! I consider him as a Friend and a Mentor! Thanks for taking a stand! DeLane 🙂

  3. Anon 23

    i also give Joseph the benefit of a doubt that he didn’t fall for polygamy (which Christ condemned as adultery), for there is no proof whatsoever that he did, but we have tons of proof from Joseph himself that he constantly warned the Saints about falling for it or falling for any person or prophet who might preach or practice it.

    But even if Joseph was innocent of polygamy he practiced & wrote numerous other things contrary to the commandments of Christ and thus Christ said it’s impossible that such a person could be a true prophet.

    Those who truly study & follow Christ’s words would see that and not give Joseph the time of day.

  4. anonymous

    for me, one of the things that i struggled with as a member of the church is the atomicity of it’s “lessons, messages, and principles” as i understand them. it seems to me that many of these “lessons, messages, and principles” don’t last beyond the current conversation or breakout (whether that be a talk, meeting, class, or otherwise). when i read the quote below (from the blog post), i immediately think of the quote from spencer w kimball which i have included below as well. to me, these two quotes feel like they contradict in principle. after reading the second, the first feels opportunistic. like we want to mask something the world thinks is bad by showing them reasons it is good from the world’s perspective; which to me doesn’t seem to align with other church opinions. also, i understand that there is a surging sentiment that newer prophets trump older prophets so i also included a link to the current aaronic priesthood lesson which leverages this quote and asks the related question which is below the link.

    “It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints.”

    “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (spencer w kimball)

    Why is it important for a couple to have a similar economic, educational, and cultural background? (question from lesson in link)

    there are also other quotes from spencer w kimball which i think are more direct but i will leave them to you to discover or know as i think the point is covered in the excerpts above.

    let me be clear that i’m not trying to convince anyone else that they have to feel the same way. rather, i’m very open to appreciate hearing other’s opinions. so i look forward to your honest, sincere, thoughtful, and well-intentioned feedback and ideas.

  5. anonymous

    anon, i have a sincere question for you and want to be clear that i am looking to understand other opinions and not trap you. so in that spirit, i will say at the start that it seems to me that what paul teaches to the corinthians in chapter 7 is that if they are single, they are best off remaining single. now, if they can’t control their sexual urges then go ahead and get married. but they are better off not marrying. that’s my reading of the verses below.

    For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (1 Corinthians 7:7-9)

    to me, telling people not to marry seems to contradict other directions explicitly and implicitly. i can accept that perhaps i am misreading paul’s message based on substance, context, or otherwise (including the potential disclaimer that precedes these verses). personally, i have always chalked this up to the humanity and individuality of paul.

    i wonder if you could share your thoughts on this. and if you feel that this is contradictory – which i’m not saying you must – i’d like to ask, do you consider paul a prophet? i will say for me that i do. he is one of the prophets who i enjoy reading the most based on the framing of his message. and in truth, that very chapter itself has some teachings that i fully subscribe to and which i think the lds church does a sinful job of teaching (or not teaching).

  6. Bishop Anon Post author

    I too love Paul. I consider him a prophet. I find it fascinating that he and Peter did not get along well and that Paul was called outside of the church’s hierarchy so early on, which to me, seems to indicate that “house of order” does not mean what we suggest it does in the church today. I do often wonder if anything of Paul or others has been corrupted. A different translation for example says:

    To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (

    Catholic priests preaching abstinence from marriage leads me to believe that maybe the words of Paul could have been changed. I just don’t know.

    In this instance, however, my gut says that your reading of this passage is correct, assuming it’s a correct translation. And I agree that our church is guilty of teaching generalities it deems best for the masses. Hence the reason we now have “Words of Wisdom” as commandments. Clearly the church thinks it’s better that people have the “temptation” removed rather than learn moderation or seek the spirit for their own lives.

    I saw a lot of frustration as a bishop both within the bounds of marriage and without. One man’s “gift” was potentially his wife’s curse when it came to sexual compatibility. I think looking at the whole of Paul’s teachings is helpful BUT most of all, I hear you saying that in all things we must look to the Lord for personal guidance and direction – which I wholeheartedly agree with. I don’t love generalities. I think it makes us into pharisees and encourages us to wrongly judge. Joseph taught:

    “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

  7. Ben

    I also enjoyed Denver’s article about the subject, although it’s taken some thought to see the truth in what he’s talking about.

    I also love the arguments presented in this blog

    When I read Denver’s article, then the latest article from the blog I just mentioned about Helen Mar Kimble, it finally clicked in my head Denver was onto something. In fact, I’d go so far to say Denver’s article is the missing link to what was really going on, and it explains the weirdness behind what we have from Helen Mar Kimble and others too.

    Joseph was not a polygamist, and “sealing” has been misappropriated by Brigham and Co.

  8. anonymous

    Bishop Anon, thank you so much for your thoughts. I’m not sure if you and Anon23 are the same but I am guessing that you are not. My comment was intended in response to his comment.

    That said, thank you so much for your time and thoughtful words.

  9. Dan

    Very well said. Thank you for your testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith. The only thing that caught my attention here was at the end when you have a picture of Joseph getting ready to jump from the window. I believe Joseph was thrown from the window by willard richards after him and john taylor killed Hyrum and Joseph. This is another piece of history that the church has kept a very tight narrative on. Once you begin to understand Josephs true nature and how so many men of his day wanted such a different agenda then a much bigger picture begins to show itself.

  10. Bishop Anon Post author

    Yes, it appears anon has become a very popular name :-). I did think that was to me and apologize for assuming so. Thanks for reading and for your great contributions.

  11. Anon 23

    In response to your questions, I do not consider Paul a prophet, I have doubts as to whether he was even a righteous man, for so many of his teachings were not righteous or right or according to Christ.

    For example his beliefs in the inequality of women, which are not in line with the Golden Rule or what a righteous man would believe The example you also gave above with him advising against marriage would also be against God’s teachings, for I believe Christ was married and he believed marriage was the ideal of all people. I believe it is not good for man or woman to be alone. For in marriage and family life I believe we have the greatest opportunities to become Christlike and gain true charity, especially the more imperfect our spouse or children may be.

    When we are single we more easily naturally become more selfish, for we are not called upon to constantly daily sacrifice for others living with us and put their needs and wants 1st, be it spouse or children.

    I agree that Paul did teach many true and good things, but so do all false prophets teach mostly true things, but he taught too many things I believe are false to consider him on ‘prophet’ level, for that requires such a high degree of understanding and obedience to Christ’s commandments and teachings, which he does not convince me he had.

    I don’t believe it is best to remain unmarried for singles, though I do believe it is best for widows and widowers (and of course divorcees as Christ said) to remain unmarried because they are still married to their deceased spouse and will reunite with them one day and remarriage will only cause unhappiness for the deceased spouse (and often the children) and eventual suffering for the ones who remarried who will have to separate in the next life and repent of their feelings for one another for Christ taught that there is no polygamy in heaven and he showed that marriage lasts forever by visiting Mary after he was resurrected, who I believe was his wife.

    I have known too many people who have been regularly visited by their deceased spouse to think that remarriage is good or needed or God’s will, for if we and our spouse are righteous, our spouse can just continue to visit us and comfort and talk to us, embrace us, eat with us, etc.

    We either promise ‘eternal’ love and faithfulness at the altar or we don’t.

    Paul clearly did not honor and respect women nor understand that marriage to 1 person for all eternity is one of the grand purposes and tests of this life.

  12. Anon 23

    I believe that quote from Joseph is false (which I doubt really came from Joseph anyway, but just was attached to him). I believe it was a philosophy of men who were trying to justify their unrighteous behaviors, most likely polygamy, for it was contrary to the teachings of Christ.

    Joseph understood that truth and doctrines don’t change and that everyone on earth in every circumstance is expected to keep the same laws and commandments as everyone else in any age or time. Joseph taught that if he or anyone else, even an angel, ever taught something contrary to Christ or the scriptures, then we are not to believe they or it is right, but to disregard them.

    That’s why the story about Joseph falling for an angel commanding polygamy couldn’t be true, for Joseph would never have listened to such an angel preaching contrary to Christ, unless Joseph had fallen so low as to disregard what he knew was right, which is possible too.

  13. Anon 23


    It certainly would make sense that Taylor and Richards killed Joseph and Hyrum but I have always wondered why Taylor was shot, did the mob not realize he was on their side?

  14. Dan

    I believe joseph shot taylor in self defense. Hyrum died first. Joseph knew at that point that the one to rightfully take his position was dead. I believe richards then killed joseph and threw him out the window. Within less than a month after the incident the next person to have right to take Josephs position who was josephs son died while under the care of richards. Brigham young then took on the role of prophet, seer, and revelator. And then we end up with exactly what certain mem wanted to begin with which is a new testament church. This is just my take on this. Please research it for yourself. Do the research and you may find that there is no possible way in which the official narrative could have happened the way we are led to believe. Oddly enough the materdom i believe can be linked back to Joseph condeming polygamy. But that may never even be discussed until or unless a certain missing edition of the times and seasons magazine can be recovered. But then again this is just my personal take on it. Im simply wanting to understand the bigger picture here and i may be completely off track so i am open to whatever there is to look at here. I believe Joseph smith was a good and virtous man who intended no harm to anyone. I believe he is actually more than we have given him credit for.

  15. Dan

    Correction… Josephs brother Samuel not his son died while under the care of Dr. Willard Richards.

  16. Anon 23

    Thank you for that interesting reply Dan. I have never considered that things could have transpired that way in that jail that day, but it does make far more sense then the version we are given by the Church, for why else would Taylor & Richards be there if not to make sure of Joseph’s demise, they certainly were no supporters of Joseph, unless Joseph really was far worse then we think and really did fall for the evils of polygamy and lie about it all to save face, for he at least understood it was wrong, even if he may have fell for it as most men do in some form.

    But I believe Joseph was probably innocent of polygamy and wouldn’t go along with it like most of the other leaders obviously wanted him to.

    And while I agree that Joseph was probably sincere in his desires to start a good church that maybe taught more truth then the current churches of his day did, and while he did prove he understood much truth, it appears he did not understand all of Christ’s Gospel nor teach or live it, and thus I believe he lied about the origins of the BoM (having obviously written and compiled it with help from others), and lied other scriptures he and others produced as being revelations from God (when so many of his revelations were actually contrary to God’s commandments), though as many religious leaders do, he could have really believed his ideas were coming from God, instead of his own mind.

    But clearly he did not follow Christ and did many things contrary to the commandments, and sadly was just another false prophet who took advantage of people for his own gain & pride.

  17. 2BizE

    As far as polygamy is concerned, I concur with president Gordon B. Hinckley when he publically stared that he did not believe polygamy was doctrinal.

  18. Diane

    Amazing! From my study of church history and ballistic reports, I have reached a similar conclusion.

  19. Rebecca C

    This is great. We need more people to write in defense of Joseph Smith. He truly is anointed by God and to speak harshly of him bears consequences. I am of the same mind as your blog post.

  20. Dan

    I have had alot of thoughts on the angel with a drawn sword. If this instance did happen then why does it go against so much about the gospel. If this did happen then could we be looking at it through our own cultural lenses. A diologue with this angel is never presented so we automatically begin to come to conclusions. The sword itself as i know it is an emblem of kingship. This could have been one of the reasons why lamon and lemuel were down right pissed when little brother returned not only with the brass plates but with the emblem of kingship. One of the things that Joseph was promised was a kingship. Simply because his second anointings would have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise upon him recieving his promise of exhaultation. I personally think that a threat to practice polygamy is a bunch of BS. However, if there was an angel with a sword i think it is worth looking into in much greater detail.

  21. mxhudso

    I am a convert to the Church of 20 years this past March. I’m the only member of the Church in my family. I have read all of Denver’s books, but there’s a topic which I have not received a satisfactory answer. I know this is a long post with lots of sources to consider, but anyone willing to provide a valuable and doctrinal explanation to me would be greatly helping me with one outstanding issue I do have with Joseph.

    I have some serious questions about apparent racism in LDS Doctrine, including statements from Joseph Smith. I found a very interesting series of blog posts about this topic and I would really like some answers/opinions about whether or not this was truly of God or man’s fallible mind?

    Please read the articles below and let me know your thoughts? I’m really struggling with this. Do we chalk this up as one of those things that Joseph was just wrong about and that he was still a fallible human being? Or is there a true doctrine here that I just don’t understand yet? How could an inspired Prophet think this way? Or do you really believe that blacks were cursed from the pre-existence and that all of those early teachings and the priesthood ban was actually from God? Or were those just the mistakes of the common thinking in the 19th Century as the modern LDS Church has suggested in it’s recent articles disavowing earlier teachings? Below this link are two other pieces that are worth considering as a background to this whole race question:

    Other articles that should not be ignored:

    In the article above, someone in the comments section posted a video from Blacks in the Scriptures which produced an apologetic piece which provides a plausible explanation to the supposedly racist ideas promoted in the Book of Mormon. It’s a long video but very interesting:

    Do you buy that explanation?

    Below is a follow up article that challenges the Blacks in the Scriptures group and that video they put out on you tube. This is presented in the form of a Cartoon scenario slide show just to try and create a real life conversation that could be had among black investigators…

    Following is another thought-provoking and concerning article that was posted after these – adding onto the other one’s which I mentioned above. Denver Snuffer tried to briefly explain this by saying that “blood lines matter” but that it’s more complicated. But what if I was black? I can understanding writing off the positions of later LDS leaders like Delbert Stapley and even Brigham Young, but this is not a good look for Joseph and I really want to understand why he was right about what he said and how we are supposed to view these stances in relation to God not being a respecter of persons?

    How would you explain Joseph’s position against abolishing slavery and his sympathy towards slave owners and the apparent 19th century racist ideas in the Book of Mormon in addition to the clearly racist stances of later Church leaders all the way up until 1978?

  22. Bryan

    I am always a little surprised when I hear people say they don’t believe Joseph practiced polygamy. All I can conclude is they haven’t studied much of the history. The RLDS tried to hold the position until they came to acknowledge that evidence really is overwhelming. Here are a couple questions to consider on the topic:

    Why is there not one credible professional historian that will give credence to the idea?

    How do you explain that all the different groups (Joseph’s close friends, his bitter enemies, old followers that left his church, others that disagreed with him for different reasons and were not connected to those who led opposition groups, etc.) all agree that he did preach and practice plural marriage even though they are not on the same page about almost anything else?

    How do you explain these different groups essentially telling the same story when they would not have colluded in a conspiracy?

    If all the supposed wives of Joseph and others who testified of first-hand knowledge of his engagement in the practice were involved in a grand conspiracy, why do we not have one whistle blower coming clean (out of hundreds of participants) exposing the conspiracy for what it was? Not one!

    How do you explain the revelation we know as D&C 132 being read to the Nauvoo high council during Joseph’s lifetime without any record of Joseph correcting the error and stating it did not come through him?

    I know there are several other points but these are the first that came to mind.

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