A review of Joseph Smith’s personal practice of plural marriage indicates that he was sealed to about three dozen women but could have been sealed to several more if he had desired. In addition, he may have had plural wives that have yet to be identified.
Joseph Smith’s actions implementing the practice of polygamy personally and among his followers might have been less than idyllic. Like all prophets, Joseph was not infallible nor did he claim to be. This was probably easier for those who knew him to accept than for us who have read more of his virtues than failings in traditional religious forums.
This reality makes some members of the Church uncomfortable. In that there is no shame or sin. Reconciling our moral compasses with fragmented details of peculiar events that are contrary to a contemporary religious world view may be a feat that some may not be able to achieve. But it would be a mistake to let something not understood unravel that which is.
If nothing else, an indepth study of early Mormon polygamy reveals its complexity, leading to not easily answered questions. On the one hand, the necessity or desirability of the earthly practice of plural marriage in modern times—let alone eternity—seems nebulous, but on the other there are the personal spiritual witnesses of participants propelling the practice in Nauvoo and later in Utah.
That they would see things so differently than we do should bear weight in our evaluation. As members we may feel a necessity to resolve these seeming inconsistencies.
Having gone through this process, we suggest a more open approach. Knowing may not be as important of a destination as continually searching and learning is as a journey.
And where we allocate those investigative energies is important. Joseph Smith himself declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”1
This is a brief overview of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. If it has piqued your interest, then please check out Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.
- History of the Church, 3:30; from an editorial published in Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 44. (back)